Interview by Alessandra Cognetta and Miriam C.
Intro by Alessandra CognettaHaving the chance to speak directly with an artist is always an incredible experience. You get to see the essence of their music through their personality in ways that a written interview is not able to provide. This time I got to chat with Elin Larsson, the lovely and cheerful vocalist from Blues Pills, an international band whose style is a mix of psychedelic rock, blues and soul. They started making music back in circa 2011 and have just released their first album through Nuclear Blast. Blues Pills has already grown a lot and shows great potential to grow even more. Their debut album is inconfutable evidence of this, as is their relentless energy on stage. Read below for a nice, in-depth conversation about music, recording methods, unexpected accents, art and optimism. Hi Elin! First of all, nice to meet you and welcome to Femme Metal Webzine. How are you?
Hi! I’m doing good. It’s pretty warm here in Sweden, unusually warm, but I’m just enjoying it because I don’t know how long it’s gonna last!Blues Pills is quite a young band, but you already have an important discography. So, let’s take a step back: could you introduce the band to us from the beginning? How were the “Blues Pills” born?
The Blues Pills was born in late 2011. I actually lost my job in Sweden and I had saved up some money – it sounds like I was rich, but I wasn’t – so I rented up my apartment and took a trip to California and the United States. During my visit there I met Zack (Anderson) and Cory (Berry), the bass player and the drummer, who were living in California at that time, and we became friends. The bass player started to jam some acoustic guitar and I was singing and we wrote some songs. Later, we showed them to Cory and we all were like “Yeah, we can try to record this!” and then we recorded it in a garage. Later on they kinda put it on YouTube and I remember it ‘cause I was like “No, we shouldn’t do that! We shouldn’t put it on YouTube!” (laughs) and they said “Yeah, we should!” and they put it up, it was really good of them. I don’t know if it’s because I’m Swedish that I’m like “No, we shouldn’t!”, but doing that we got offered to release some stuff on an EP by a little Swedish label and we also got offered a tour in Spain with one show in Portugal. But we were only three people back then. We thought “We can do that! Sounds like fun!”, but we needed to find a guitar player for the band and Zack and Cory used to play in another band before. I think Zack started playing with them when he was about sixteen, so he’s young, but he’s been on the road playing music since he was sixteen. One time they played in France in this town where Dorian (Sorriaux) is from – this was years before the Blues Pills – and they saw Dorian playing when he was really, really young. We became friends on Facebook and they started talking and when we got this tour offer we asked Dorian “Do you want to go on tour with us this summer?”, because he was free from school and we asked if he could do some solos on our demo and he was like “Yeah, I’m just gonna ask my parents!” (laughs). So they let him and we all met up in Sweden and practiced for about a week and went on this tour. After the tour we all felt a connection and a good response, so we really thought that maybe we had something there, because before that we were like “This isn’t gonna work! All from different places…”. Eventually, all the guys moved to Sweden and now we live in Örebro. We’ve all been basically living in the same apartment up until a few months ago, so we’re like a little family: we practice together, spend time together even not when we’re on tour and stuff like that.That’s really interesting because you anticipated my next question: you’re from Sweden and, as you said, Dorian is from France and Zack and Cory are from the USA. How did you manage to work together, when you were distant from each other? And what does, in your opinion, being from different countries add to the band from a cultural and creative point of view?
In the beginning, when we did that demo, I think I recorded some vocals from Sweden and then I sent it to Zack. Same with Dorian, at the beginning he sent solos from France. But after that tour we’ve all been together, so we haven’t had that problem. We had some problems with one of the guys’ visa, so we had people filling in for him sometimes, but that kinda solved itself with time. I think the driving force in the band is probably Zack, he’s really positive! Which is really nice for me, because before I hung out with them I was with positive people but maybe not people that think they live in a dream and that you can definitely succeed.Optimism?
Yeah! Because I don’t know what’s wrong with Swedish people (laughs), but a lot of people aren’t optimist here. Of course that’s fine too, you can be whoever you want to be. I think Dorian is really organized, especially in the beginning. Now he’s kinda “chill” I guess, but in the beginning he was really organized, which is cool, and he still is. I was kinda shy and didn’t have much confidence in myself before I met them. I’m the “fixer”, I fix everything!After several EPs, your self-titled album has been released on 25th July. May I ask when you have started composing for it? I’ve also read that you decided to record and mix the album analogically, leaving aside all the digital shenanigans, is that true and why did you prefer analog over digital?
The songs have been written since we were in the studio and we started the band, because we released some EPs and some demos, but all this stuff was basically recorded by ourselves and sometimes we had some friends help but just on a hobby level. We had so much going on and we barely had anything, we borrowed a bunch of stuff during those EP and demo recordings. We couldn’t really focus on the music, we had to focus on “How should we pull this amp through the whole town and get to the next location?” (laughs) and when we recorded the studio album we wanted to give some of the songs that we had already released a new life because I think they’re actually good songs and they should have been worked on more and recorded fairly, or otherwise they would have been forgotten. I wouldn’t want that. Some songs we wrote since about two years ago up until in the studio, which is something new. I remember me and Zack wrote twenty pages of text for one song, because we were “No, this isn’t-”, “No, I don’t feel this” and then we wrote something new and “No, no, no!”, so that was a new thing for us, feeling that kind of pressure. But it was fun! We learned a lot.
Yeah, we recorded on a 2 inch tape machine and it’s mixed all analog and it’s been recorded and produced by Don Alsterberg in Gothenburg. We choose that because we wanted to get some of the “live” feeling on the album. We’ve been on tour for two years now and we kinda have built a bit of our reputation on the live shows and we wanted to have that kind of feeling, or anyway a bit of it, in the album. I think you can get this “warm” sound when you record on tape and a “full” sound and you hear that dynamic in every song, you hear when Cory beats harder on his drums or when Dorian strums harder or when I sing louder and you can feel it, it’s more organic-sounding. I think that’s what we wanted to do and after doing this I think we don’t even wanna record digital again! When you are in the studio you can’t take a bunch of takes, save them and cut it together, you just have to trust your ears and your guts that that was the take for the album. I think that’s real, that’s how it’s supposed to be.You anticipated me again! Must be some kind of mind reading powers… (laughs). I actually wanted to ask you about your work with producer Don Alsterberg (see Graveyard’s “Lights Out”). How did he help you mold and enrich the songs on “Blues Pills”? In particular, how did he approach the material and what advice did he provide during the recording sessions?
Don is, first of all, one of my favourite persons in the world. All of us in the band like this guy and we learned so much! He’s really talented, but I think he’s more of a music listener than an actual musician. He gave advice to all of us on our instruments, but what he taught me was that I should hold back some. He told me that I don’t have to blast so much, because then it takes away that effect when I do it. It can be really good when you don’t sing as loud and you can make that expression as well as the blasting expression, I think that was really cool. He gave us really good advice and he told us what he didn’t think sounded that good, “Maybe we can find something else”, or “Maybe now that sounds a bit the same all the time, so maybe you guys can figure out some new part here”. It was never him who played something and told us what to do, he was more listening and then saying “That is amazing. Just do that again and I think that’s gonna be great”. I think he’s an absurd listener and it was really cool to work with him because when you work with a producer they kinda touch your music, which is scary for a musician or a band. It wasn’t so with him, he really got into it, he was into the band and the music 120%. He wanted to make every song the best possible and that is rare, I think. He’s really great and he found all the guitar sound and tone – he’s a really good sound engineer and technician – he tuned the drums and just helped with everything.As we stated before, “Blues Pills” isn’t your first release. I was wondering: did you feel any pressure from the outside, based on your previous works? Where there some specific expectations you had for this album?
Yeah, of course! I mean, it’s been kinda hyped. We’re really happy about that, that so many journalists and promoters and people in the industry are interested in our band and put effort in writing about us, that’s a band’s dream! Of course it has put a bit of pressure, but we try not to think about it because what it all comes down to is that we are happy with how it turned out and we are happy doing it. Same with the music we play live, it’s all about the happiness. We try not to focus on the pressure, but of course I’ve been thinking that maybe some fans are gonna be upset since we changed “Devil Man” on the album, probably some will. I also think some of the fans, hopefully all of them, think the songs we released before are way better now. Maybe not! We play “Devil Man” as the old version when we’re live, it’s kinda been our trademark. We changed it on the album because we wanted to add something if we had to release it a third time (laughs), so we just wanted to spice it up and use a different version. I also think it’s cool that a lot of fans have been a part of Blues Pills from the moment we put demos on YouTube until we released our debut album and they’ve been a part of all the releases, live releases and now this album. We’ve grown as musicians and composers and as a band and I think it’s really rare for them to be a part of that, I’ve never been a part of that! It’s really special. When we re-released “Devil Man” some people complained that the demo we put on YouTube was way better so there’s always gonna be fans and listeners who think the first things are the best, but we are all really satisfied with it.
Listening to the album, I feel thrown back to the golden era of the 60s and 70s, especially with your voice, which in my opinion shares some similarities with the divine Janis Joplin. I think it has a really good sound and even just talking to you I can hear that original tone. By any chances, did you enjoy your journey with the time machine back to Woodstock? Jokes aside, where does your passion for the 70s come from? Was it because of a specific interest or was it a natural thing to adopt that style?
My dad has always listened to the Beatles, he’s the biggest Beatles fan and likes more pop-psychedelic bands. So there was a lot of music playing at my home and I actually started to listen more to soul vocalists in the beginning, like Aretha Franklin, but of course Janis Joplin was spinning as well, since my mom and my sister love Janis Joplin. I even remember, I think I was ten, when my sister sang at her school “Me and Bobby McGee”. But you can also say that the mainstream music was always there, I mean I was listening to Spice Girls as well (laughs)! I have to admit. It’s all around you, so you hear it even though you don’t wanna hear it. I was lucky to have a lot of friends interested in music that showed me some records and we always exchanged music. I remember I listened to The Doors, that was one of the first more psychedelic-rock bands, except for The Beatles and Joe Cocker. Eventually I went to music high school and these guys in my class wanted me to jam and sing in their band and they were doing a tribute to Black Sabbath. That opened a completely new door to me. I basically have gotten inspired by a lot of music from my friends. Just hanging out with these guys in my band I found out so much new music and I think they also have found new music from me. These days you can just go out on Facebook and someone’s posting something and you’re like “Wow, this is great, thank you! I’ll check this band out” and that’s great!The label’s press release cites acts such as Aretha Franklin, THE ORIGINAL FLEETWOOD MAC, LED ZEPPELIN, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and CREAM.
They put everything in there (laughs)!Yeah! But in the end there is a connection. Something reminds me of this band, something reminds me of that singer, so it makes sense in the end. Anyway, how do you feel being mentioned along with these legendary artists?
It’s a great honour that people mention us with Led Zeppelin and Janis Joplin. For me they’re like Saints and legends, I don’t really understand it or believe it. I don’t walk around thinking “Yeah, we’re as good as Led Zeppelin and I can sing as good as Janis Joplin!” (laughs). No one can sing like Janis Joplin and no band can sound like Led Zeppelin or sing like Robert Plant. Of course we’re influenced by them, but I still think all musicians and all people have their different tone and sound, like you said. When we started the band, we listened a lot to a record by FLEETWOOD MAC called “Then Play On” and I can even hear some parts that are clearly influenced by them. But not stealing anything, that’s not okay. Which is cool, I don’t know how we can do that.Well, when you listen to something, whether you like it or not – as you said for the Spice Girls – your mind records that and keeps it and it has an influence, even an indirect influence, so that’s maybe what happens with music.
Yeah, that’s smart! I’m gonna use that answer next time!The WDR Rockpalast is the Mecca/the ultimate dream for rock fans and playing there means that you have found your way into the fans’ hearts and caught the interest of the media, too. What can you recall about that specific gig? Is there a particular moment you remember, be it positive or negative? Something that had an impact on you.
We played there two times, which is just incredible! I remember the first time we played there, because we came from the studio and we hadn’t really practiced and we were getting so nervous because that was the first time. We had never played in front of a camera for a TV channel. We also were kinda confused mentally, because we had started to rearrange a bunch of the old songs, so I remember one song – it’s actually kinda funny, negative for me!, but kinda funny when I think back to it. Somehow we were supposed to try this new end on “River” at that show and then I forgot the lyrics and started to get super nervous and somehow started singing in British! Like “I can’t… find…(imitates British accent)”, which is hilarious, but that was the weirdest thing, I’d never done that before! So that was something negative, I guess? On the first show we were kinda stiff, some in the audience were really into it but then they felt kinda stiff sometimes, so maybe that’s something negative.
But the positives… we had a great time and some songs we played really well and we got to play on Orange amps and the vibe there was really cool and there were really kind people there. Except for my weird British thing, overall the show was great and something we remember. The Rock Hard Festival is another one we really like because of the sound, but I have a negative experience on that too, because my monitor was cutting out, it was clapping all the time, so that show was hard for me to sing. But overall I think we sounded tight and the audience was really good.A special mention goes to the magnificent cover artwork envisioned by Dutch artist Marijke Koger-Dunham. Would like to share some thoughts about its subject and what it portrays?
For me, when I look at the artwork, it has all the differences: the sun and the moon, the dark and the light. All our differences make a whole. You have to have the dark to have light. It combines. All the differences in the world combine to a whole. That’s the feeling I get when I look at the artwork and I think it’s incredible. Marijke Koger-Dunham, she was in this collective from the 60s called “The Fool”. And she’s famous! She used to paint for The Beatles and she painted Eric Clapton’s guitar and she did a bunch of artwork in the 60s for bands, like The Incredible String Band, she even painted some buildings in San Francisco. So, before we found this particular artwork by her, we always sent some pictures that she had made to other artists, to get inspired when we asked them to do something for us. Then Zack told me “Maybe we can ask her, get a hold of her!” and I was “Yeah, sure…”, I’d never thought that would be possible. But he found her e-mail and wrote her a message telling her how much we liked her artwork and that we are a band who plays psychedelic rock/soul/blues inspired from the 60s and 70s and we were releasing our debut album and would have loved to have her paint something for us. Then she wrote back and said she would love to do that. And we thought it couldn’t be true! She said she could either paint something new or we could license some of her older paintings from the 60s. Then she sent that picture of the cover and we thought “That’s the one! That’s perfect”, so we were really honoured that she wanted to be a part of this album and I think it’s an amazing painting.I agree! So, you’re gonna be playing some shows this summer. Would you like to tell our readers about your next tour plans? Where can we come to see you perform? Are there some places you’re looking forward to visit?
I’m definitely looking forward to Rome and to go Italy, because we’ve never been there. I’ve been there once when I was very, very young and I remember it was awesome, so I would love to go back! I actually hope we have days off so I can explore. I’m looking forward to playing in Portugal, because it’s been so long since we’ve played there and I really like Portugal. But we also are going to play in Switzerland and Germany, mostly in Germany. And this fall we are doing a tour in Europe. It’s not completely confirmed yet, I hope that it will maybe get some more shows in Spain, Italy and Portugal. Because now it’s just Germany, Austria and Switzerland. We will be on that tour with support by a band who’s also on our label, The Vintage Caravan from Iceland. They’re really young and I’ve heard their live show is supposed to be really good, so it’s gonna be fun! After that we are working on a tour in France and the UK for November and in December, hopefully, we’ll tour Scandinavia and Sweden, because Sweden is… we haven’t been playing here that much! I don’t know why, but we have been playing way more in Norway, which is cool because I really like the landscape there and the people are really nice, too.We’ve come to the final question, Elin. I thank you once again for taking the time to talk with us! Please greet freely our fans! Thank you so much!
I want to say thanks for the support and hope you guys will dig the debut album and see you in Italy!
Photos by Stefan Heilemann