Sarah Assbring is a lovely Swedish songstress
who records under the moniker El Perro del Mar. Her first album,
self-titled and released in the US in 2006, showed a knack for simple
hooks and nostalgic shoop-shoop vocals. Lyrically, the songs were
heavy with melancholy and disappointment. This April finds a new
album and new color scheme on From The Valley To The Stars,
which introduces synths and choirs, and contains songs about jubilation,
studying clouds, and everything turning out all right. Both albums
are beautiful in their own right and work as fine counterpoints
to one another, perhaps each with a touch of irony. El Perro del
Mar is returning to the US for an extensive tour with fellow Swedes
Lykke Li and Anna Ternheim.
How do you feel about lyrics in music? Are they the focal
point? Are they a distraction?
They’re definitely the focal point, or maybe rather the point
from which everything starts. Certain words put together in a certain
way really speak to me [emotionally], that they themselves carry
harmonies or musical colors. It is very important that the words
I do use (yes, I’m aware they’re not too many) are meaningful
to me, that I mean them every time I repeat them, and that they
have to match perfectly with the musical and instrumental coloration.
What is your approach to translating recorded songs to
the live setting?
I used to find it difficult. The recording situation for me is
completely within my power and control, my self-created world of
sounds and harmony. The live situation is anything but that, and
I used to almost find it disgusting and damaging for the music.
I couldn’t really see the point in it, to be honest. But touring
with my band and learning how to be a part of the organism which
playing together with other people really is, I think I learned
a lot and grew from that. And so I took that insight with me into
the studio when I recorded the new album. Now I’m really excited
to be playing and performing the new songs on stage. I mean, just
to be there to see and hear what’s going to happen to them
in a different environment is going to be beautiful and awesome.
Was there a particular album that made you first consider
becoming a musician?
I started out wanting to be a singer, first and foremost. I remember
being amazed by Annie Lennox and Kate Bush as a kid. I was totally
into their way of going in and out of different personalities, almost
as a form of acting when singing. They often used subtle kinds of
phrasing and other vocal techniques which I, to this day, still
find very inspiring.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Finding and keeping the love of my life.
How did where you grew up influence your exposure to music
and your tastes in music?
My dad, from very early on, used to play me his record collection
and tell little anecdotes about different albums and musicians.
Usually it was jazz and blues, and very often it was the kind of
music I was too little to understand at the time, but I remember
it opened whole new worlds to me every time I heard something new.
He explained about musical coloration, intricate rhythms, and different
ways of listening to and understanding music. I’m sure that
gave me a key to being open to all kinds of music. He often spoke
about the strong physical effects music had on him and I knew I
could feel what he was talking about, like when he was referring
to the way Dave Brubeck played a certain kind of tune on the piano
or the strange piercing sounds Miles Davis got from his trumpet.
He played me a lot of classical music as well, so I got into that
from early on, too. All of that has been extremely important to
me. I have this physical need for being around and making music,
and I think I’ve had that inside of me from the very start.
Are you more painstaking or improvisational about the recording
I’m very much both, especially so on this album. I wanted
to keep the innocence of a first-take recording so I tried [not
to be too] self-critical. I usually work and record alone and try
to be as organic as I can... I am a perfectionist, but on this album
I really wanted to cut myself some slack.
What was the greatest decade in music?
Oh, that’s just impossible to say. It all depends on which
decade I myself am in, I guess. Right now I’m [into] the 1720’s
What are three things that you love?
The forest, a warm bed, and time on my own.
What makes you unhappy?
Misunderstandings, stress, seeing the film Our Daily Bread.
What have you always wanted to do, but haven’t yet?
To travel across Africa.
What are you listening to now?
Toumani Diabaté’s New Ancient Strings
Identity Theory's recommended listening: "People"
and "From the Valley to the Stars" by El Perro del Mar
Image courtesy of Johanna Hedborg