Masterfully blending folk sounds and acoustic pop, Swedish singer/songwriter Sofia Talvik first took the music world by storm in 2005 with the release of her debut album, “Blue Moon.” Since then, she has released several more albums and EPs and has done over one hundred shows all around the world. Ahead of her performance Wednesday, March 11 at Milwaukee’s Art Bar, I had a conversation with Sofia, asking about her upcoming album “Big Sky Country,” as well as the inspirations behind her earlier work, producing her own albums, and her life on tour.
I read that you produced and recorded your first two albums all by yourself, and that your first album, “Blue Moon,” was recorded in 40 hours. That’s amazing to me! What was that experience like?
Talvik: Actually, I’ve produced all my albums myself, except for “Jonestown” which was my third album. I guess it’s because I’m a control freak (laughs). I would, however, love to work with Dave Cobb one day. I think he’s a great producer.
“Blue Moon,” which I recorded in 2005, was mostly live takes, all of us playing together in the studio. So once you had a great take, you could move on to the next song, and I am lucky to have some really talented musicians backing me up.
How is that experience compared to having someone else producing? Would you ever consider producing your own album again in the future?
Talvik: That’s actually my favorite way of recording, and I wanted to do it that way for my new album as well, but it was just not possible at this time.
Back in 2008, you became the first female Swedish artist to play at Lollapalooza (Chicago’s annual music festival). Compared to some of your first-ever gigs, that must have been quite a different experience for you! How was that? Do you enjoy the atmosphere of music festivals?
Talvik: It was an amazing experience. Lolla is a huge festival and I love playing music festivals. It’s just so much fun, and you can always find something great to check out. I think my backing band was the biggest winners though.
Talvik: Because they got to hang out and relax and listen to bands, while I was running around doing interviews all day. But the Lollapalooza gig was part of my first US tour, so you could say that it gave me a craving for more.
You’ve performed all over in both the United States and the world. Where has been the most memorable places to perform in?
Talvik: Unfortunately what springs to mind when you ask that question are usually the venues where things went horribly wrong in some way. Like in San Francisco, when the owner of the venue told me he thought I sounded like Jewel, and then told me he hates Jewel. How do you respond to a thing like that?
But really, anywhere with a good and listening audience that are all having a good time, that’s a show I will enjoy. It’s been great touring in Germany and Ireland this past year, too. There is just so much history, and so many wonderful castles there.
Is there anyone you’re dying to perform or collaborate with?
Talvik: I actually sort of halfheartedly tried to pursue some sort of collaboration with Dave Cobb for this album. Dave produced Jason Isbell’s album “Southeastern,” which I absolutely love. But when I was recording my new album “Big Sky Country,” I didn’t really have the funds or possibilities to make him an offer. I’m hoping millions of people buy my new album so I can team up with him for the next one!
What have your previous experiences in Milwaukee been like? Good, I hope!
Talvik: I think the people I met in Milwaukee are the friendliest people I met on my whole U.S tour, and I toured through 37 states in an old RV for 16 months. Now, I’m not just saying that because this is an interview with a Milwaukee newspaper. We had some really bad luck with our RV when we toured up to Milwaukee, and we met some wonderful people who helped us fix it and just took care of us in the nicest way. I still feel moved when I think about it.
I’d like to know more about the EPs you’ve released. You have a group of four, each one titled a different letter spelling out the word L.O.V.E. What was your inspiration for that?
Talvik: I had written the songs for a new album and thought it would be a fun thing to let my backing band produce one EP each with the new songs in whatever way they wanted, without me butting in. It was a fun experience: one turned out electronica, one was pop, one was more Americana, and one was classic singer/songwriter. It was fun to see what my guys came up with. Then I let four rock bands each do a take of the EPs as well, so there were four cover EPs called H.A.T.E, with my songs, but recorded in a whole different way. But after that project was done I produced all the songs in a cohesive way and released it as a full length album in 2012 called “The Owls Are Not What They Seem.”
I have to ask! “The Owls Are Not What They Seem” is an obvious reference to David Lynch’s show Twin Peaks. Has his work been an influence to you at all?
Talvik: I am the biggest fan of Twin Peaks, and I think David Lynch is brilliant. I am looking forward so much to the new season that will be airing in 2016. Maybe they can use some of my songs! (laughs) Anything that is brilliant is an inspiration, because you always strive to be brilliant yourself and try to take clues where you can find them.
Your newest album, “Big Sky Country,” is going to be released next month. You’ve described it as a “storybook of adventures and hardships, about sometimes doubting yourself but also finding strength within yourself”. What’s something you hope your listeners take away from it?
Talvik: I hope that people will find that the songs are actually about them. That’s what I always hope when I release something. I think that’s the ultimate proof that you’ve written a good song, when people can listen and read their own life and feelings into the words. I really hate it when people ask me what a certain song is about, because I don’t want to ruin it for the listeners. Once at a show in South Carolina a man came up to me and told me a long, long story about what my song ”King of the Willow Tree” meant for him. It was all very emotional. Now, what if I had told him the song was actually about taking my dog for a walk? I don’t have a dog, and that’s not what the songs is about, but you get my point.
For me, “Big Sky Country” is probably the most emotional album I have made, but the reasons for that are personal, and I hope that other people can find their own stories in the songs.
What was your childhood experience with music like? Was it always something you’ve wanted to do, or did that come later in your life?
Talvik: I grew up playing the classical piano, but after playing for ten years with a teacher I realized I didn’t read the note sheets. I just listened and copied. Then I grew tired of the piano and wanted to do something else, so I picked up the guitar, and here I am! It wasn’t a dream or a conscious choice at the time to be an artist, but I’m glad the guitar is a little bit lighter to carry than the piano now that I’m touring so much.
After the release of “Big Sky Country,” what’s next for you? What are you hoping to accomplish now?
Talvik: I hope to take America by storm with the new album so I can come back and buy another old crappy RV and tour the rest of the states I missed on my last tour.
Big Sky Country will be released on April 14. Talvik will be performing at Art Bar on March 11 at 9pm. The performance is free to the public and all ages are encouraged to attend.