The Mary Onettes: Interview with Philip Ekström | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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The Mary Onettes

Beauty from Loss

Mar 08, 2010 Web Exclusive
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After having graced U.S. shores with a (very) short tour in the fall, Swedish four-piece The Mary Onettes are primed and ready to bring their particular brand of lush, ‘80s-inflected pop music to the States once again this spring. The band will be working off its latest album, Islands, it’s second with Swedish indie record label Labrador. The album may be the band’s best to date, inspired largely by the loss of several important people in singer/songwriter Philip Ekström’s life prior to and during the writing process. Ekström speaks with Under the Radar, sharing some of the hardships that came with Islands and discussing what is ultimately a triumph of spirit in music.

I want to say first that I love the new album. But I understand that you lost a lot of the songs you had written when your computer got stolen. What happened?

Philip Ekström: What happened was that the same day we came home from the U.S. tour in 2008, I came home to Stockholm, and the same day I had a burglary. Someone broke into my car and stole the hard drive and the computer and the equipment we had for the tour. And when I came home, there was power failure in my building, so the backup disc also crashed.

How much did you lose?

I lost basically everything I recorded for three years.

Oh no. Was that a significant part of this album?

Yeah, I think so. I lost five songs that had already been recorded, and a lot of other stuff. It was the beginning of a really hard year. Because right after I came home and this happened with the hard drive, a lot of other things happened that were really hard for me. It was just going downhill, or maybe uphill.

You had to go uphill. I understand. Did you re-record those same songs that were lost for this album, or did you start from scratch?

I started from scratch [on the older songs] and I also wrote five new songs. Just to put some new energy into the project, I started to write new songs. When I look back now, I think maybe it was for the better, because the songs became much better.

Did they change when you rerecorded them?

Not really. But I did some changes in the lyrics and did some changes in the instrumentation as well. We added real strings to the songs. That was one element that we added.

You alluded to the difficult year that followed for you. I understand that there were some people who passed away, which that affected the songs you were writing.

Yeah, absolutely.

Is one of those people the girlfriend’s mother who is referenced [in “Cry For Love”]?

Yeah. She was a really important part of my life then. She passed away only like two weeks after the backup discs [were lost], so it’s really a tragedy, and it affected me a lot, a really lot.

Did you find that you drew from those experiences in the writing of the new songs? You said you already had five songs written before.

Yeah, and even those first five songs. Both my grandmothers passed away just before the U.S. tour, and those songs were about feelings of being left alone, so basically there’s two parts of the album. Five songs before the U.S. tour, five songs after.

Was “God Knows I Had Plans” one of the songs that was written beforehand?

It actually was. But I changed lyrics in that one a little bit.

In that song, it sounds like there’s almost remorse over having left. Are you referring to going on tour in that song?

Maybe a little bit actually.

How long was the writing process, and I guess I’m talking specifically about the later five songs? Did those come together pretty quickly?

I think it took almost a year, actually. The last song I wrote was “Cry For Love.” And I wrote that just before the summer, actually. So it was basically a year.

How difficult an album was this to write, given the subject matter? Was it difficult to write or was the process more of a cathartic and healing one for you?

Both, I think. Sometimes, I was really struggling with this. All I knew was that the songs were very important to me, in the sense of healing. But I couldn’t really tell whether they’d be good to other people, because I had problems playing them for other people. I wasn’t ready for people to review it and react to it. I would say it was difficult to write the songs and to record them But I guess that was a good thing.

Was there a hesitation on your part in even putting these songs out?

Yeah, I think from time to time I was thinking I didn’t want to release them. Some of the songs I was thinking of not putting on the album, but the other guys were like ‘Oh we have to do them, please, please.’ They kept saying to me that we should release them, and I’m glad we did.

In the recording process, was there a conscious effort to balance the gravity of the lyrics with a more kind of uplifting sonic backdrop, like you talk about with the live strings?

Yeah, I think so. That’s one of the things, but when I did that, it was not on purpose. It just became that way. And I realized it when the record was done. There was such a big contrast between the lyrics and the music. The music is really almost, I can sometimes feel that the melodies are kind of happy in the way. And the lyrics are sad, but I think that’s a good combo.

Is it difficult to listen to now and is it difficult to play live?

No. It’s not difficult to play the songs live. They are a bit difficult, because they are more different rhythms and we have to really make an effort for the new songs to sound good live, with the different instrumentation and stuff. But I don’t feel that the songs are hard to play because of the lyrics or the feelings. I think it’s pretty good for me.

On a completely different note, we spoke before the debut came out, and we talked a lot about the things you’d been through with record labels in the past. This is your second full length with Labrador. I wonder whether you feel things are pretty stable for you guys as a band now. Does it feel like a weight has been lifted or something?

We feel very comfortable with the label and with the work we’ve been dong with Labrador. We definitely trust Labrador and everything, but it’s a bit chaotic in the band, between the members. We, I don’t know how to say it really, but of course we feel that things are really starting to happen for us, and that’s a good thing. I don’t know if things will happen. It’s hard to know what happens. I don’t know what to say.

Is everything okay with the band? You said it’s chaotic.

I think so. I think so. But there’s been a lot of things going on through these years, so sometimes we’re a bit worn out, you know? But I think we have a really great feeling when we play live. I think we have potential as a group. I think we have great communication, but of course, I’m a bit hard to work with sometimes I think. I don’t know. I think we all are a bit difficult.

It’s the same group of guys, right?

Yep. Has been for 10 years.

That’s a long time.

Yeah it is.

Finally Philip, have you done any new writing since these songs have been finished?

Yeah, I have actually. I’ve done three, four or five almost new songs. So I have. I’m thrilled.


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March 10th 2010

ooh. Wonder when we’ll hear the new songs.

January 10th 2011

The indie dream pop quartet from Jonkoping, Sweden still channels its ‘80s and ‘90s influences - we sense Echo And The Bunnymen and The Stone Roses - but draws a glorious setting of its own. Islands evokes the dreamy winter wonderland of their native country, shrouded in snow and shadowed by grey clouds, pierced by a far-off white glow. “Rolex Submariner