AN INTERVIEW WITH A NORDIC SOUL
It's not often we get to interview an international multi-platinum selling musical artist but early this year Magnus Carlson's album 'A Nordic Soul' absolutely stole the show here at Suit Yourself towers, as a special Christmas treat Magnus took some time out of his very hectic schedule to do this interview for us and for that we can't thank him enough. Cris gets to grips with this international superstar to talk with him about his life, success, music, collaborations, Fay Hallam, Andy Lewis and Paul Weller's Black Barn studios as well as his number one selling album - Merry Christmas everyone.
Hi Magnus, first of all, can you tell us a little about yourself, where you are from, where your love of music came from and your early musical influences.
I was born in 1968 in a suburb to Stockholm. Lived there all my life. I have no siblings so (apart from playing football) music was a great companion for me. I always taped Music off the radio and I bought records from an early age. I was about 7 when I bought my first LP (The Sweet). When I was about 9 punk happened and I got into that. And that obviously was followed by post-punk and new wave. I was up for anything new and exciting. There were no subcultural gangs at my school except heavy metal kids. A few punks, a few new romantics. There were No mods there, so I didn’t know about that until later. Clothes, I was always into smart clothes and I dressed like a football casual and listened to all sorts of cool music. I think I was a ”kind of” mod without knowing what it was! Record sleeves were my only way of knowing what my favourite bands looked like! In high school I got to know other people who were into the same things as me and I started to go to gigs and dancing clubs with them and travelled into town to go to all the record shops. Then sitting with mates listening to records. It has always been about Music and football for me. Sweden was different to England then. In my late teens I travelled (by boat) to London and that was amazingly romantic! I didn’t write or play my own Music until much later. In my mid 20’s. I’m a late bloomer! And I have always been a DJ. I still run a monthly club night in Stockholm called Bangers’n’Mash. I’m just a Music fan who it turned out can also sing and write songs.
Can you tell us where and how it all began for you, how did you get your first break and what the experience was like.
In the mid 90’s I worked as a bartender in a place that was very popular with musicians and actors. At the time I was very much into 50's and 60's Music. Soulful and dramatic stuff. Together with some already experienced musicians who I used to serve at the bar, I started a group that was heavily inspired by the Walker Brothers. I was the Singer and that style really suited my voice. We called ourselves Weeping Willows and released our first album in 1997. It was an immediate hit in Sweden. Our first album is now a Swedish pop Classic. I’m a lucky guy. So I quit the bar job and I haven’t looked back since. Weeping Willows have had our ups and downs for sure. But most of our albums have been number ones and are gold discs here. We are now one of Sweden's biggest acts. At the moment we are finishing our new album with producer Barry Adamson. I have released 16 albums in Sweden with different bands or as a solo artist. Almost one every year. I like to do stuff. Music is my way of socialising outside my family. And I still go to my football teams (Hammarby) every home game. Now being an honorary Lifetime member of the club.
What was it like to achieve early success and looking back over your illustrious career do you look back at this time fondly?
I look at it as I’m constantly learning and trying new things. As long as it is within my taste. But ”mod” is a broad spectrum as we all know.
During working with Weeping Willows you went on to launch an extremely successful international solo career, did you find the transition easy?
Weeping Willows have never quit. It’s been close... as every long term relation. But I’ve always done things outside of the band. Jazz, electronic stuff, soul, pop in Swedish... even ska! The rest of that band is fine with that and they play with other big acts here. That’s part our long-lasting relationship. It’s good to play with and get to know new people and trying new styles. It keeps me on my toes. And being a person who likes ”all things mod” it keeps me happy!
What advise would you give a young singer looking for his/ her break?
Play/sing live as much as you can!!! It’s the best way. And don’t let anyone steal your hard earned money! I’m not a money person. But I have had all my money stolen from me by bad Management back in the day. I was just too naive and nice. It was not pleasant. But still always be nice to everyone you meet. No one will help an asshole in the end. Respect Hard working people!
You are now an international singing star particularly in your home country of Sweden releasing 20 plus albums, a lot of them becoming gold and platinum! You have also sold out huge arenas, made countless videos and appeared on Television as well as duetting with other huge international artists, how do you manage to keep your feet on the ground whilst living in the clouds of celebrity?
It is very important to know who you are and what you like. In your heart. Money can come in handy but it is important to do stuff you love. I am liked here for being known as a down to earth type of guy so that is also a part of why people buy my records and come to the gigs. Its difficult to last long without being liked. Success comes hand in hand with being honest with what you do. In the long run. I’m 50 now. And I am more popular than ever. I’m living proof that it can be worth the Journey. I have been up there, almost forgotten, skint, been lucky again, stupid, smart. It’s just like Life. It’s not worth much if you don’t DO or TRY anything. I’m just humble and happy for anything happening to me. And i take good care of people I work with. Ask Fay Hallam! :-)
Can you tell us at what point you realised you had hit the big time and a couple of funny incidents as to what it’s like to be famous.
It was an immediate success for me. So i didn’t have to struggle. Sorry! But I didn’t realise I knew the craft until a few years ago. I’ve always felt like i was just lucky. But now i understand it’s probably luck combined with all the work I have put in and all the small steps I’ve constantly taken through the years. But it’s easy to work when it’s with something you love isn’t it? The years just fly by. But I remember every gig I’ve ever done.
When I was very new to the game I sang for Burt Bacharach. He received a prize in Stockholm and I sang This guy’s in love backed by a 100 piece symphony orchestra. I do those kind of gigs a coupe of times every year now. But at that time I was a complete newcomer. I was very nervous. He was my idol. I looked at him and he saw I was nervous. He smiled warmly and gave me Thumbs up and that felt so deeply touching! After the award ceremony, he came to me and thanked me. I couldn’t believe it! I was and am a huge fan and he was so humble. I learned a big lesson that night. Always give and be thankful and kind. Thank you Burt!
One of your album releases ‘A Nordic Soul’ (See below review) strikes the heart of the sixties/Northern soul sound, it’s obvious that you have a real passion for the music, you first released some of the tracks in Sweden, what made you want to re-record the album in the UK?
Most of the Swedish record was recorded at Paul Weller's Black Barn studios with Andy Lewis producing. That was my suggestion as Andy was in Pauls band at the time. I had known Andy for well over ten years from DJ'ing at my club. I always liked the foreign language versions of Classic mod and soul tunes. That was standard in the 60's. I wanted to do that in Swedish. So my only wish was to do a soul/mod album in Swedish. And it went to number one here and stayed on top for four weeks! The first mod album ever to be number one in Sweden! At least since 1967. After that my record company thought we should do it in English as well to see if it could work abroad as well. It’s just a labour of love. I’m not looking for or expecting anything. I am just happy at my age to finally have done it. Releasing mod vinyls outside of Scandinavia. Just the fact that it’s been appreciated, talked about, danced to and reviewed in the UK makes my day really! And the fact I was on Jools Holland's show. That for me is an amazing childhood dream come true. There is so much Music out there but there is a lack of soulful mod and jazz singers today. I try to fill that gap.
You ended up recording this masterpiece with some incredible artists including Fay Hallam, how did this all come together?
I met Fay after i did Jools Holland's show. I came out of the studio just buzzing and went to the pub to meet up with Andy Lewis. And he had brought Fay along. I have loved her since the 90's but never met her before. I immediately asked her if she wanted to duet with me on a track and she ended up doing a whole summer tour as my hammond player this year. At my gigs, she also sang her songs beside our duet. It was absolutely great. She’s amazing! My favourite contemporary artist. She’s the only one I relate to on a deep note with what I’m doing.
You recently toured the album to great success, what was it like here in the UK?
I would love to try to do more gigs in the UK or anywhere. But people need to come and buy tickets otherwise i can’t pay the band!
Do you intend to do more recording in the same style?,perhaps a follow up album?
I will definitely do more. But my next release is a new album with Weeping Willows that will be out in march. I have done 19 albums in 22 years with these guys. I like to have a high tempo of releases though. Like in the olden days when an artist constantly released singles and albums. I cant stand working on Music for years! Write, record, release! Play live! All the time! Maybe the next solo album will be with my mod jazz group the Moon Ray Quintet? I don’t know. At this exact moment, my mind is on the new Weeping Willows album. Barry Adamson is sending us mixes of the tracks every day now so my focus is there now. Thanks for asking btw!
What’s next in the world on Magnus Carlson? Gigs, releases etc.
Weeping Willows has just finished a huge sold out 23 date Christmas tour in Sweden, I will now see my wife and kids for a few weeks. Then i will get restless again!
Are there any other recording artists you would like to work with and who would be your dream to duet with (either dead or alive)
I have a little secret thing planned together with some very well known UK musicians. It’s a single. If we get it together in the end!
You have lead a roller coaster of a life, from humble beginnings to international superstar, if you met a young Magnus what would be the one piece of advise you would give him?
I only regret a few personal things. But without failure or mishaps, there is nothing to write songs about! Life is meant for living, as Frank Sinatra sang!
MAGNUS CARLSON - A NORDIC SOUL - ALBUM REVIEW.
Magnus Carlson heralds from Sweden, has produced 16 albums and this, his latest release hit No 1 in the Swedish charts. A Nordic Soul is a collection of modern Northern soul style tracks with a couple of dance floor classic covers thrown in for good measure.
The album was originally recorded in Swedish like all other Magnus Carlson albums. When it hit the number 1 spot it was decided to give the UK audience a listen and has been re-recorded in English at Paul Weller's Black Barn studio with the incredible talents of Makin' Time's Faye Hallam, music supremo Andy Lewis, Fredrik Ekander and many other musical maestros.
From the minute the needle touches the vinyl of this 14 track masterpiece you know you are in for a treat as the opener 'From now on' hits you like a steam train, a 100 mile an hour dancefloor killer which depicts the rest of the uplifting tracks on the album, four minutes in and you think you're in for a bit of a breather but oh no, 'Now that it's over' featuring the vocal talents of Faye Hallam keeps you on the floor busting more incredible moves. That's it, time for a sit-down. I don't think so, Magnus' epic version of Frankie Valli's 'Beggin' keeps you at it and it's not til the fourth track 'Keep on dreamin' you get a chance to take stock of what's going on but even this tune is very reminiscent of the later days of Northern soul with its incredible Salsoul feel, lush strings and beautifully produced by Mr Lewis, as is the unstoppable 'Now that it's over'
'What if' slows things down slightly to a more floating sound, a mid-tempo beautiful piece that allows us older generation a go on the dancefloor, 'The long way home' and 'Flames' finish side one of the album beautifully with Magnus belting out vocal performances that leave the hairs on the back of your neck standing on end.
So, a cup of tea and a small sit down and it's time to nail side two, and what a way to kick things off with an incredible version of Eddie Holman's I surrender, now you would have to be a bit brave to have a go at this one as Eddie's vocals are very high pitched on the original, that coupled with the fact that 'I surrender' ranks as one of the Northern soul scenes favourite all-time records means that the pressure is huge when doing it justice, however Magnus has done the track proud and brings his own unique style to the proceedings turning a classic into a modern day masterpiece. Onto 'My love is not blind', a funk-infused mid-tempo groover followed closely by 'Wait for love to grow'. now, this track the third on side two is very much in the style of The Style Council and Stone Foundation, you can imagine that Mr Weller would be sat at the back of the studio nodding approvingly. A real hand on heart track for the album.
'The Torch' delivers another belter with Magnus' voice rising and the backing track a stomping mid-tempo hand clapping piece of genius, the words tipping their hat to the Northern Soul scene with the line ending in 'Keep the Faith'
Finally we move into what I would consider a modern version of the three before eight from the Wigan Casino days, after listening to the whole album you feel you've been taken on a journey through one of the best all-nighters of your life and the last three tracks really slow things down giving you that true end of night feel. 'Broken promise land' a beautifully slow piece echoes the Northern Soul floors from the late sixties whilst 'The ties that bind us' has a more modern twist. The album wraps up with 'Eternal love' a final piece of the puzzle bringing together the picture of an incredible hour of music.
A Nordic Soul - is a true masterpiece in music making, from the 100 miles an hour floor fillers to the mid-tempo growlers right through the end of night goodness, Magnus Carlson delivers an incredible album that deserves to be in any record collection.
You can see that Magnus' highly successful career in Sweden is about to be echoed in the UK and if you have a chance go and see him live, go. Until then buy the album, you won't regret it, however, the soles of your feet might.
MAGNUS CARLSON - A NORDIC SOUL can be bought from this LINK
Words - Cris Davies