Magnus Carlson, one of Sweden’s most successful male artists, announces the release of his debut UK solo album. Released by Cosmos Music, A Nordic Soul is out on June 22nd, 2018. Matt Mead overlooks Magnus’s career to date and exclusively interviews Magnus for Louder Than War.
A Nordic Soul is a portrait of a very skilled and experienced singer originating from Stockholm, Sweden. Meet Magnus Carlson. Magnus grew up on all things British, collecting UK vinyl from the age of six and watching Jools Holland’s The Tube in the eighties. Indie, northern, blue eyed soul, up tempo horn driven mod tracks and bitter sweet love songs. It’s all part of his history and it’s all part of A Nordic Soul.
The album was recorded in Sweden and the UK. In part with Magnus’ Swedish band Weeping Willows and some of Sweden’s best session musicians, in part with a slew of top British musicians, produced by Andy Lewis at Paul Weller’s Black Barn Studios in Surrey. Eighties Teen Queen of the Hammond Fay Hallam features on the upcoming single ‘Now That It’s Over’ and on the nod to the northern soul classic Tainted Love that is ‘The Torch’, also co-written by Hallam.
Despite being filled to the brim with Anglo Nordic collaborations and drawing deep inspiration from the northern soul genre, there is a certain Swedish melancholy that shines through on the album.
Magnus has several Gold and Platinum records under his belt already. In the past year, he’s started to make inroads in the UK too, with celebrated EP release The Northern Soul Sessions, a record that displays his deep passion and artistic mastery when it comes to this particular soul music genre.
Magnus’ mission stems from a broad musical church though. He quickly followed up the EP with a Christmas mini-album Snow Like The Snow. Recorded with his long-time band Weeping Willows, a highlight of the album was a version of Glasvegas cut A Snowflake Fell (And It Fell Like A Kiss) alongside Norwegian songstress Ane Brun.
The BBC have already shown early support with plays on both Radio 2 and 6 Music, and in March Jools Holland invited Magnus onto his show for a 30 minute special – including an exclusive live performance with Magnus, Jools and his famous Rhythm Section.
LTW: Hi Magnus. Can you tell something about your background? Where you grew up? First memories as a child?
Magnus: I was born 1968 and raised in a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden. This year I turn 50. Time flies! I grew up with my mum and dad in the 70s and 80s as an only child so I spent a lot of time on my own in my room listening to Music. Music was my only company a lot of the time. But I wasn’t a lonely boy. I played football half of the time and sat in my room listening to Music the rest of the time. I Always had a cassette in my radio ready to record whatever sounded good on the radio. Mixtapes were fun!
My parents didn’t play instruments and they never listened to Music. They just weren’t very interested. They were both working full time. My dad a bricklayer and unionist and mum in an office. All the money I got from my parents went to buying records. I started with hard rock and glam and moved on to punk and then new wave/indie in my teens. But through my idols I also learned about soul, reggae and rock from the 50s and 60s. What they were influenced by. By reading interviews with the artists, I got to know about their history. This was obviously before the internet so information about Echo & The Bunnymen for example, was hard to get in remote Sweden. Reading every word on record sleeves was a magical pastime! I was too young to go to gigs, and I didn’t have any friends that liked the same music as me so I wouldn’t have anyone to go with anyway. My footie mates thought I listened to very strange music. Like U2, New Order, The Cure and the Smiths! It wasn’t until I was about 14 when I moved to another school that I got mates to share music with. This is when I started to go to gigs.
I never thought I’d be in a band. I wasn’t really interested in playing. I liked singing on my own but never desired to be in a band. That came much later. In my twenties. I’m a late bloomer. When I started with music it happened quickly. I am now working on my 18th album since 1997. In different bands and as a solo artist.
What was the first music you remember hearing? Where was this and what age?
If we don’t count children’s music, like Disney’s Jungle book etc. I unfortunately must have to say Kiss’ first album. I really loved them as a 7-year-old. All the other kids did too. Girls listened to ABBA.
The first piece of music that hit me in my 9-year-old soul was when a teenage neighbour called Lelle played me Anarchy In The UK by The Sex Pistols. It totally changed my world. After hearing it I stopped listening to hard rock and became a punk. It was harder and more exciting than Kiss. Being a punk in my school meant you had short hair, tight jeans and a t-shirt on which you wrote something yourself. Maybe one or two band badges pinned to it. Easy and cheap! Lelle arranged my first gig. Me and three mates miming to the whole of Never Mind The Bollocks in his back garden with all the other neighbours in the audience! I was Steve Cook. I still get Goosebumps thinking about the thrill I felt!
When did you start to get into more serious music? Who were these artists you were listening to?
When punk ended, I moved on to Joy Division, New Order, The Cure, The Smiths, The Bunnymen etc. There were no mods in my school so I didn’t get to know about that subculture until I heard The Style Council. But I knew in my heart I was a mod because I was also into fashion. And I had an open mind. I listened to reggae, soul, disco, 60s stuff and hip hop. All these things were equally good to me. I was a mod without knowing it.
When did you first start singing? Who were your early singing influences?
I didn’t start singing until I was about 25! Just because me and some friends started a band playing only cover songs. Sad ballads. At the time, I was into crooner Music, deep soul and country. I was getting deep into the American music history. That’s when I learned about Northern soul. But Walker brothers, gene Pitney, Elvis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Hank Williams and lots more. The Timeless soulful stuff suited my voice and my band quickly got popular in the Stockholm underground scene. This was the time of David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino movies. We were in that zone. Sad and mysterious. Wearing suits. In 1996, we started writing our own songs and called ourselves Weeping Willows. 1997 our first album Broken Promise Land was released and was an immediate national success. I stopped working in a bar and have been singing fulltime ever since!
Were you in bands from an early age?
No never. I was just a Music fan.
For readers that may not have heard of your material how long have you been a solo artist?
I have been in my band Weeping Willows since 1996. We are one of Sweden’s most popular groups. That is my mothership. But from time to time I release solo albums and form other constellations. Weeping Willows has certain musical rules. But whenever I need to do other kinds of Music like Jazz, Northern soul or Electronic stuff I do it as a solo artist. Or when I sing in Swedish. I get the best of both worlds. I have the cake and still get to eat it. I’m a lucky guy with a lot of freedom. Also, I think it’s better to work with different musicians. I learn more then. I get better. Plus, in Weeping Willows we don’t get tired of each other. Weeping Willows is like Star Trek. We all go out on our own missions and bring back important knowledge back to the mother ship. I don’t consider myself a composer even though I’ve written a lot of music. I’ll gladly work with other songwriters. Or sing covers. All that is important is that its good music!
Do you have any career highlights you can share with us?
Oh wow! 21 years of ups and downs! I’ve always released music from my heart, and I’m proud of that. Most of the stuff is timeless. I’m constantly learning and getting better with every record I make. I play live a lot as well, which is the best school. Last year I did 125 gigs. I love it when its versatile. When it’s not the same over and over again. A highlight could be that special feeling singing in a jazz club or on the main stage at a festival as a headliner.
But my personal highlight was last year with the Weeping Willows. In 2010, we drifted apart and came very close to splitting up. But in 2014 we came back, and now it feels like we will die as members of that band. We’ve been up to heaven and hit rock bottom. It is rare and very precious to have that relationship. Last year we played three sold out shows backed by a full symphony orchestra in Stockholm’s biggest indoor arena. In three years, we went from being ex famous has-beens to the peak of the bands history. And I feel humble. Never give up if you have something meaningful.
You’re soon to be release a stunning Northern Soul, Soul killer of an album A Nordic Soul. When did you decide to record this album?
I released most of this stuff in Swedish last year. It was number 1 in Sweden for 4 weeks and went gold. The first mod album being number 1 in Sweden ever! Or at least since 1966. Certainly, the first Northern soul influenced album ever in Sweden. I love to dance to Northern soul. I’m not a good dancer but I love it. Since a lot of it was recorded in England (Paul Wellers Black Barn studio) I got to know a lot of musicians. And the interest in me grew. I released 5 or 6 of the Swedish singles in the UK sung in English over the last year and it was time to compile these soulful singles into a UK album! Fingers crossed you will like it. I would love to tour the UK.
How do you write/record the songs that have appeared on the album? Do you find it easy to write and record material?
This album is made from bits and pieces recorded over a few years. It’s the best of my latest soulful songs. Some of them are covers, some written by me and some written by friends of mine. Making Music for me is a social thing. I like football. I like teamwork. Maybe it is because I don’t have siblings. The people I team up with in music and when I follow my football team are like family.
Each song on the album sound immaculate, lush production, a tight band backing each song, orchestration dipping into a lot of songs, plus luxurious backing vocals. Can you tell us the nucleus of the band who helped the songs and how they were drafted into the album?
I always play with the best of the best musicians. I hand pick every player. It is so important that everyone is in the know, gets it and knows how to do it. It’s also important to have fun together.
Are you planning on going on tour in support of the album?
No plans yet. I’m still waiting for someone to call me and offer me help with booking shows. Anyone? I might put together an English backing band. I recently sang with Fay Hallam’s group. They were great.
Finally, who do you consider as the greatest soul singers who have influenced you at the moment?
There are too many! The thing with the Northern soul scene is its always about the songs. Thousands of amazing 7” singles! The rare one offs! The combined feeling of Joy and hurt.
All words by Matt Mead. Further articles by Matt can be found at the Louder Than War author archive page.