Sambassadeur | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Swedish Pop Grandeur

Apr 29, 2010 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

For the most part, Sambassadeur seemed to miss the global Swedish music explosion of the mid-2000s. But since debuting on Swedish über-label Labrador Records in 2005, the band has released some of the most sublime melodies in Scandinavian indie-pop. Singer Anna Persson formed the band with fellow Swedes Joachim Läckberg and Daniel Permbo in the university town of Skövde, later adding another Daniel, surname Tolergård, when the band realized they needed a bassist. The band recently released its third album, the symphonic European, an album which boasts a grander sonic palette and more of the stunning melodies for which the band has become known. Under the Radar had the chance to speak with Persson to discuss the band’s history, its new album, and the reason the four-piece has never yet set foot on U.S. soil.

Frank Valish: Where did you grow up, and what sort of a part did music play in your youth?

Anna Persson: I grew up in a quite small town called Lidköping. It’s around 150 kilometers from Göteborg, and after that I moved to Stockholm and eventually to Göteborg. And about my musical influences growing up, it was from Marianne Faithful, Velvet Underground and Nico, and this kind of oldies, in a way. I always listened a lot to that. But also bands like Guided by Voices and the more lo-fi bands. Teenage Fanclub has also been a favorite. So I guess it varies, a lot. I’ve got quite a lot of musical references.

You went to university at University of Skövde, correct?

That is correct. And that is where I met the other guys. Everyone lived there for a couple of years, but no one is from that town actually. We went there and I got to know the others. It was basically because we had the same tastes in music, so we decided to start a band.

Were you all studying the same thing?

No, it was all different things actually, from language to design, media.

I also read that you all did a bit of traveling in your youth.

Yeah, especially Joachim and Daniel Tolergård. They’ve been friends for the longest time. They knew each other before Skövde. So they went to study in France, in Avignon, so they are really keen on the French culture and the French music a lot. Joachim got me also into Serge Gainsbourg and that kind of stuff. I didn’t know much about French music until I met him.

I understood the band was named after the Serge Gainsborg song (“Les Sambassadeurs”), so I wondered whether you were all fans growing up, but I guess Joachim picked that up during his time in France.

Exactly, and then he played that music for me and to the others. So that’s where the band name is from. I kind of like the band name, but it’s been quite hard, because no one knows how to spell it and no one knows, in Sweden, how to pronounce it, if it’s like French, Swedish, or English. So we have made it a little bit hard for us.

How long was it before you moved to Göteborg? Did you all finish school first?

Yeah, we did, except Joachim. He quit school actually, and started to work instead, and did some other stuff. But yeah, me and Daniel stayed for three years in Skövde before we moved on to Göteborg.

Did you move because Göteborg had more of a music scene?

Yeah, our aim was never to stay in Skövde. It’s a small city and there’s not much going on, so I guess that was one of the reasons. And Göteborg seemed like a natural choice. The music scene, it’s not big compared to New York, but for Sweden it’s a big city.

When you started, it was really do-it-yourself, home-recording. Had you always desired to make the music bigger and more ornate and involved, or was there a point where you felt your songwriting abilities outgrew the limitations of home recording?

In the beginning we didn’t have any choice. We didn’t have a record deal and we couldn’t afford recording in the studio or anything, so we just did it ourselves. So then when we got the opportunity to record the second album in the studio, we took it, because we thought it would be good to the music and to the band to do that. It was coincidence that made it. It wasn’t our desire to sound [like a] DIY, lo-fi band, but it was how it turned out to be on our first record. But actually it’s quite fun to listen to the first record now, because at the moment we thought it was really luxury sound and we thought it was really good, the recording, but now when we compare it, it’s also like an experiment to see what has happened with our music since then. But basically, I think, it’s the same kind of songs but they are in different recording contexts, so the expression, of course, differs a lot.

I understand this album took two years to make. What was the process like for you? I know you used a lot of different musicians. Was it difficult in terms of realizing your vision for the songs in that sense, getting musicians and putting things together? Did your vision change as you worked through the process of writing and recording?

Actually, I think we’re just really slow in making songs. So I think one of the songs that’s on this record, we had the idea all ready for the other album, but since then, it’s only like we made six or seven songs in two years. So I guess we’re really slow. We wouldn’t want to rush the process just to release another record. We are kind of picky. We wouldn’t just like to release songs that we aren’t really happy with. That has been really important to us. And then we choose to record the album in the same studio that our last record was recorded in. We didn’t have that much time in the studio, and this time it was much easier and the process in the studio becomes much softer because we already knew Mattias [Glavå] and the musicians, so we didn’t have any starting time. We could just go straight into the studio and record.

Did you use the same extra musicians as on Migration?

On Migration, we didn’t have any strings. We used synthesizers. The pianist and the drummer are still the same. But now it’s like several new people involved than on the last record.

Did you know right at the beginning of the writing process for this album that you wanted to expand the sound a bit and use more additional musicians and strings?

We figured that out during the writing process. I though it would be really, really nice to use real strings for this record and to see what they could give to the sound. To us it was important, but I’m not sure that it is to the audience, because some thought that we used the string quartet on the previous album as well. So the synthesized strings seem to appear as real strings. I don’t know.

Did you score all the string parts yourselves?

Yeah, exactly. Joachim and Daniel Permbo made the arrangements for the strings. And we did like a draft or a sketch before, that we recorded at home, that we made on synthesizers and drum machines, and then we got into the studio and recorded it with real drums and guitars and strings. We were really satisfied, because the string quartet figured that the string arrangements were kind of professional. And we had no idea. You never know how the strings work if you don’t play it yourself. If you hit a high tone note or it’s impossible to play this way. But they were happy with the arrangements, so it was nice.

On a completely different note, can you tell me about the Payless commercial [“Kate,” from the band’s 2006 Coastal Affairs EP was featured in a Payless Shoes television ad in America that summer]? How did that come about?

It’s been strange. It was a TV commercial. I haven’t actually seen it myself. But was it on the television for the States. That’s nice. It was Labrador that asked us about it and we were like, ‘Yeah sure.’ And we got quite well paid, so we were satisfied, but we haven’t really seen the commercial, unfortunately. Maybe it’s on Youtube or something.

Have you ever been to the States?

No, actually not. We would really like to go there. And we got some offers to play now, but we couldn’t go.

Well, I read that Joachim has some pretty serious fear of flying.

Yeah, yeah, it’s true. So that’s basically why. But we’ve actually looked up, there’s this boat that’s called the Queen Mary 2. It takes like six days to go, so we actually considered that opportunity. But then we need someone to pay for the trip. It’s quite expensive, like 12,000 or 11,000 dollars or something one way, one person. So it’s pretty expensive unfortunately. It leaves from Southampton, so we also have to travel to Britain, and then we can take the boat.

So everything’s still up in the air with that.

Yeah, exactly [laughs]. But we’d really like to go, and hopefully we can arrange some either boat or planes, really strong planes for Joachim, to take us over the Atlantic.

How much touring have you done? How far have you gone outside of Sweden?

We’ve been all around Sweden, from the north to the south. For Migration, I don’t remember exactly, but maybe we did around 10 gigs in Sweden, but we’ve also been to London twice. And we’ve been to Germany, Spain, and Austria, Vienna. So we’ve been around Europe a bit.

How easily does the music translate to a live setting? I read that you initially played with a drum machine?

Yeah, and backing tracks. That’s also been a kind of a transition for us, because now we have been more and more orchestrated over the years, and now we have decided to throw the drum machines and the backing tracks away, in the forest. Just now, actually, we have rehearsed with the string quartet, the same that’s on the record, and the pianist, so we will be a new live Sambassadeur going around. It’s so much better. We try to be more kind to our music these days, and to do it justice live as well.



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May 7th 2010

Great interview!

Americans, who wants to chip in for Joachim’s boat fare?

Nazrul Islam
December 2nd 2019

This is very useful information for those of you who have studied abroad, let us know in the comments if you can think of any more good reasons to study abroad and whether you agree with the list so far! Thanks again for the post.