Kool Kat of the Week: Sweden’s Sofia Talvik On Drivin’, Dreaming and Playing the Drunken Unicorn Sat. Jan. 21

Photo courtesy of Sofia Talvik.

Singer/songwriter Sofia Talvik may hail from Sweden but she’s no stranger to America, with five full-length albums and nine EPs, having blown away audiences at Austin’s SXSW and holding the distinction of being the first Swedish artist to play Lollapalooza. In fact, she’s likely more popular here than in her native Scandinavia. Her current two-year American tour rolls into the Drunken Unicorn this sat. Jan. 21 where she’ll be opening at the release party for Divine Isis‘s new EP SCREAM, with Pocket the Moon also on the night’s bill.

The comparisons Sofia has drawn to Joni Mitchell, Aimee Mann and The Cranberries caught our attention, and listening to her music, an otherworldly edge, surprising twists and powerful, haunting vocals make her much more than just another pretty folk-pop-acoustic performer. In other words, in Scandinavian music terms that Americans can understand, she’s no ABBA retread and not quite the enigmatic eccentric of Bjork, but carving her own unique and welcome niche in the music world. Sofia’s roots also are pure indie and the 21st century of vagabond on the Internet, being a self-taught musician who started building a following by giving away her songs online. And well, we have a sweet spot for anyone driving cross-country from gig to gig in an old RV.

All of which adds up to being a Kool Kat, so we decided to ask Sofia to tell us a little bit more about her roots, her music, her tour and her plans for this Saturday’s gig.

ATLRetro: How did you get started in music and decide you wanted to be a professional singer/songwriter?

Sofia Talvik: I had played the piano since I was about eight years old, mostly playing classical music. So turned I was 18, I wished for a guitar for my birthday but  had no idea how to play so I started writing songs to learn. I never had any dreams or ideas that I would become a pop star or anything like that. I just did my songs that I played for my friends now and then. After a while I recorded a demo and sent it to a radio show for unsigned music who picked up my song, “Ghosts.” All of the sudden people started to email wanting to hear more, so I put up a Website where I just uploaded my songs and started playing live. Then it just kind of went from there.

Photo courtesy of Sofia Talvik.

You’ve been compared to Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Belle and Sebastion, The Cranberries and Aimee Mann, but who do you consider your influences—especially more classic Retro performers (i.e. ‘60s, ‘70s or before)?

It’s hard to pin down influences I think. All the things you listen to and experience become your influence. I did listen to a lot of ’60s music when I was a teenager and I love Janis Joplin, but I don’t think anyone will hear her as an influence in my music. I actually started listening to Nick Drake – who by the way is one of the big 60’s artists – after being compared to him and I love his music, but he was way better at playing the guitar than I’ll ever be (laughs).

You’ve said you’ve had a stronger response to your music in America than in Sweden. What’s the music scene like in Sweden and how do you fit into it? And how does it compare with what you’ve experienced here?

I think mainly because Sweden is so much smaller than the US, there’s not enough people to keep the diversity going. If say five percent of the Swedish population listens to my music, compared to if five percent of the American population does, that’s a huge difference. That’s the difference that will make you being able to live off your music or not. I also think Sweden is more of a trend-sensitive country, so when something is in trend all the radio stations will play it, and if it goes out of trend, no one will care all of a sudden. Here in the US, everything goes on at once. You have radio stations that just play folk or just play pop here. There’s always an audience here for your music, you just have to find it, and that’s what I’m doing with this tour.

How does a Swedish artist come to write a song about “Florida”?

Well, in 2009, my husband was on an exchange program on his job and we stayed in Orlando,FL for three months. As Sweden is kind of a cold and rainy country, I was looking forward to coming to “The Sunshine State.” But the first two weeks when we arrived it rained constantly. My husband was working so I was basically just sitting in the apartment writing songs. “Florida” is like a diary note from those two weeks, and the forecast in the beginning of the song on the album is actually a real one from that time.

Is there any story about how you became the first Swedish female artist to score a spot at Lollapalooza?

I was part of an online music competition called Famecast and got to the finals in my genre. So they actually flew me over to Austin, TX where I got to perform for a jury and an audience. I didn’t win, but the booker for Lolla saw me there and I got the gig. Playing the Lollapalooza was one of the coolest things I’ve done. That festival is huuuuge!

You’ve got a VW bus on one of your posters and you’re traveling around the US in an Old RV. That sounds mighty Retro to us – how’d you score those wheels, where did you start, how long have you been on the road and what’s your favorite on-the-road Americana experience so far?

My tour is called Drivin’ & Dreaming, because it’s all about touring and living the dream. We actually don’t tour in a VW bus even though that would have been really cool, however, it would probably also have been a lot colder than a newer RV. My husband and I started out the tour in Florida in December where [we] bought this old Gulfstream Conquest from ’94 which we fixed up. It looked pretty good until we started tearing off the wallpaper and discovered it had water leaks all over. But we just tore everything out and now it’s really nice inside – our little home on the road.

So far the tour has been amazing. We’ve met so many wonderful people who invited us into their homes, for dinner and brunch, helping out with stuff etc. We’ve also got to see a lot. We were around Florida in December which was nice and warm and then we headed up to GA, SC and NC. Savannah, GA was wonderful and we stayed there for a few days. In Charleston, I woke up in the middle of the night because someone tried to steal the bikes we had mounted on the back of the RV. That was scary. But mostly it’s been positive experiences. One of the best things is that I get to do this with my husband. He actually quit his dayjob back in Sweden to come with me on tour.

You’ve also been described as emerging like a Lady of the Forest, the slideshow accompanying your current shows brings the mystical world of Scandinavia to life, and your Website asks “do you believe in fairy tales?”  Now that sounds like your music also has roots in the rich folktales and traditional music of Sweden or do you mean something else and more universal?

I think I’d label my music as a mix between the melancholy of Scandinavia and the mysteriousness of the American South. You won’t find me singing about trolls and elves or anything, but I guess my music does have a bit of that overworldly feel to it. I think you can definitely tell that I’m not American in my way of writing lyrics and melodies, even though I am singing in English.

What would you like to share about this Saturday’s show at the Drunken Unicorn? We’ve heard that you’re performing with an acoustic guitar and some 3D video visuals.

I’m really looking forward to playing there, and I hope there will be a big crowd that will be there for the music. I’m solo on stage, and my music isn’t crafted to overpower drunk people talking and watching TV (laughs). I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to play a lot of listening rooms and coffee shops on the tour, and I always try to make my show the best one so far. A girl with an acoustic guitar – you may think you’ve heard it before, but I promise there’s more in this show than that.

What’s next for Sofia Talvik?

My new album, THE OWLS ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM, will be released January 31 and is up for pre-orders on my Website now. My tour will go on for two years so that will also keep me busy. In February, I’m doing an official showcase at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Memphis, so I’m really looking forward to that too. In the nearest future, thoug,h I think we’ll have to find a campground so we can charge our house battery in the RV a little.

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