Viktor, where does your love for West Coast music come from? And what role did music play in your parental home?
It comes from my older brothers. Being the youngest of six, I had the luxury of not having to look for great music – I was surrounded by it. Put differently, I was more or less indoctrinated. I knew the names and faces of the session giants by an early age and remember singing Toto songs on the school yard. Somewhat unusual but I did actually have friends. This was in the mid 90’s and most kids listened to the flavour of the month. My first record was ”Chicago 17” and from that day on, I was hooked. Having listened to this genre all my life, there’s this familiarity to the music. ”Airplay” is just as much childhood to me as Donald Duck. While I’ve somewhat outgrown Donald Duck, Westcoast came to stay.
Which artists have particularly influenced you?
Great singers, well-crafted songs and strong melodies in just about any genre usually gets me going and while I listen to quite a variety of music, I’d definitely say that it’s the Westcoast scene that has influenced me the most. It would take me half a day to list all the artists but to give you an idea, I’d be happy to share a selection in no particular order: Jay Graydon, David Foster, Bill Champlin, Michael McDonald, Pages, Bill LaBounty, Marc Jordan, Toto, Chicago, Bobby Caldwell, Kenny Loggins, Al Jarreau, Jerry Hey and all of those great studio musicians, producers and engineers who made these records possible. The liner-notes heroes. It just seems like there was something in the water in L.A. during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Other than that, pick any album by James Taylor, Don Henley or Jackson Browne and you’re in for greatness. Superb lyricists. Crosby Stills & Nash and America can do no wrong either. The whole Laurel Canyon scene brought us some great records. Joni Mitchell and Carole King wrote songs that resonate to this day. I’m actually a huge Frank Sinatra fan too. The albums that he did with Nelson Riddle are just incredible – beautiful arrangements. Same thing goes for Charles Aznanvour. Listening to him on a late summer’s night makes the morning arrive in the blink of an eye – what a voice! I’ve also listened to a fair share of jazz, old school R&B and classical over the years and, good lord, I love bluegrass. The self-titled Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice album is one of my all-time favourites. Swedish singer Tommy Körberg can interpret a song like few others and, above all, he’s one heck of a singer. I idolised him as a kid. Gilbert O’Sullivan has written some gorgeous melodies in his career, just listen to ”Nothing Rhymed” and ”Alone Again”. Wow! OK, I think I’ll stop before we run out of paper. I guess that all of the above artists have influenced me in one way or the other but the centre of my musical universe is without a doubt Westcoast.
When did you start writing your own songs?
I was 11 and my father, who’s a music teacher, had installed Cubase on our computer. Being somewhat fed up with playing Solitaire – I sucked at it and just clicked at the cards – I started toying around with this great music software. I didn’t know many chords but the ones I knew, I used a LOT. I wouldn’t want to hear those compositions today but at least it gave me a little understanding of song structure, harmony and melody. Knowing few chords was actually a good thing at that time, as it made me work harder on the melodies and less on the complicated stuff. Without a good melody, it doesn’t matter how good the arrangements or how sophisticated the chord progressions are. Anyway, I soon found out that I loved writing songs and that was the start of a lifelong passion.
You have been working as a journalist and communication professional for years, you have recently become a father, why did you decide to go public with your music right now?
I wonder the same thing as I have less time on my hands than ever. Especially since being blessed with a little boy in January, I have other priorities than sitting in the studio after arriving home from work. However, people say that you get more efficient when you become a parent and I guess they are right. I get an hour here and there and once in awhile, a song gets done. As wonderful as it is to spend time with our new friend, I also believe that it’s important to continue being creative and channelling whatever it is that needs to come out. If I don’t do that, I get crazy. It’s definitely a balance act.
With your second single “Monotony”, a duet with the great Bill Champlin, a life dream comes true for you. Bill’s music has a special meaning for you. Tell us a little bit about your passion.
Simply put, Bill’s my favourite singer. His tone, phrasing and improvisation just speaks to me and on top of that, he’s a tremendous songwriter, arranger and producer. As if that wasn’t enough, put an instrument in his hands and he’s as funky as a bow-legged monkey, to cite Emilio Castillo. Bill has the full package. To do this duet with him is definitely a dream come true. I’m nowhere the singer Bill is and he took the song to a whole new place. I’m honoured to have him on it.
Is it true that you started a Bill Champlin fan website at the tender age of twelve? Rather unusual for the mid-90s, what did your school friends think about it?
I grew up in a beautiful area of northern Sweden called Vilhelmina. Mountains, lakes and lots of snow during the winter. In our family, snowmobiling and music was religion. At 12, I was too young to drive the snowmobile and, honestly, quite a lazy saxophonist. Instead of practising, I found myself at the computer. Fuelled with youthful enthusiasm, I created a fan website about Bill Champlin, which I ran throughout my teens. I learned a lot and I guess that’s how I got into journalism and communication in the first place. As for what my friends thought about it all, I think I managed to turn a few of them onto Westcoast. Well, God knows I tried anyway. It was a hard battle. I remember sneaking a cassette tape of Westcoast classics to our bus driver and he played it for a few minutes until someone ran down the aisle and ejected it. Soon thereafter Coolio’s ”Gangsta’s Paradise” blasted out from the speakers. It’s a hard life, isn’t it?
How did you meet Bill? And how did it finally come to the duet? Please tell us a little bit about the recording process of “Monotony”.
I’ve met and corresponded with Bill through the years and he’s as cool and sweet as they come. For this duet, I asked him if he was up for the gig and he said yes. I had to pinch myself. After that we just did it as an online session, sending files back and forth. The Internet can be a scary place but it definitely has its moments. My wife and I were living in Berlin at the time and to put the song into a timeline, ”Monotony” was recorded before ”A Little Denial”.
Do you have any other music legends on the list that you would like to work with in the future?
Not really, this was a special thing. I just want to continue working with people that are way more talented than I. People who know how to serve a song. It’s an ongoing learning experience for me as these two songs are the first full productions I’ve made. I love songwriting and arranging but I’m not a very good instrumentalist. I know enough to do what I do but when the songs come into the hands of great players, the music comes to life.
Viktor, already your debut single “A Little Denial” had attracted a lot of attention in August. The song would not have cut a bad figure in 1982 either. Did the great response surprise you positively?
Thank you very much. It was definitely a surprise but obviously very flattering. Instead of keeping the songs in the drawer, I figured that I could just as well start releasing them. It was almost an archival thing because when a computer crashes, the songs sink into oblivion. It’s kind of like the tree that fell in the forest but no one was around to hear it. Did it make a sound? For me personally, it did. It’s the comfort of the writing process that drives me but since digital distribution is so easy these days, it seemed like a good idea to release the songs and have them recorded properly. When my son gets older, maybe he will get a kick out of hearing them. If anyone else enjoys them, that would knock me out and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Also on “A Little Denial” you have worked with great musicians like drummer Phil Robertson and your brother, bassist Fredrik Jonsson. None other than Juno-award winning mixing engineer John Bailey mixed the song. An impressive cast for a debut single. Where did you get the good contacts in the scene from?
At the risk of sounding like a really old person, this Internet thing creates a lot possibilities. I just get in touch with musicians I know are great, present the song and then we’re set to go. The session scene of the 70’s might be long gone but musicians are still up for sessions. Phil is an incredible drummer with a deep pocket and as for John, he floored me with his mix of ”A Little Denial”. Very musical. Fredrik was easy to get in contact with since he’s my older brother and as luck would have it, he’s also my favourite bass player. He’s a seasoned bassist in the Swedish music scene and knows his way around any genre, always serving the music in a beautiful way.
Is it true that you still have hundreds of songs in your drawer?
It’s true but most of them are sketches, lacking a chorus here and a verse there. I guess it would be possible to piece them together Frankenstein style but I prefer looking forward, so I’m usually writing new stuff instead of trying to fix something I wrote five years ago. That’s not always the case, though. The song I’m currently working on was written quite a while ago. I had the verse and pre-chorus finished but it needed a chorus and a bridge, so I wrote those sections a couple of days ago. To be fully transparent, I actually wrote ten choruses and went with the one I liked the best. I usually do that. I can be pretty obsessive about getting the melody right. Now it just needs some lyrics.
There is one last question, of course: Are you planning to release a debut album? And if so, when?
I’d love to but as my life is at the moment, I can’t see that I’ll have the time to do it. I’ll probably continue releasing digital singles since that’s easy and accessible. I do love the album format, though, as it creates room for songs that aren’t flexing their muscles too much, the kind of songs that need to grow on you. With that said, I can see an album somewhere on the horizon but I can’t put a date or year on it just yet.
Viktor, thank you very much for the interview!
Thank you! It was my pleasure.