Manuela Iwansson

Swedish new wave punkster Manuela Iwansson debut album ‘Dark Tracks’  is a long-awaited effort that is the result of almost four years of work after unveiling her self-released EP ‘Dream Lover’ in 2018. Iwansson wears her heart on her sleeve as she belts across the ten tracks, familiarizing listeners with a darkness stemming from unmet desire and lovers lost. The Stockholm-based artist once toured the world with punk outfit Terrible Feelings but now looks at her solo career as an opportunity to make timeless new wave hits, boasting a sound inspired by influences such as Pat Benatar and Suzi Quatro yet entirely her own. ‘Dark Tracks’ exemplifies throwing earworm hooks in the middle of a rowdy yet heart-wrenching punk aesthetic, and we had the chance to chat with her about the project’s development.


It’s been four years since the release of your EP ‘Dream Lover’ back in 2018. You’ve since released a handful of anthemic singles that make an appearance on ‘Dark Tracks’, but you were relatively quiet from a release standpoint before the unveiling of your debut album. A massive congratulations! What did the period between both projects hold in store for you, and how do you feel now that the album is out?

It feels amazing! It has, like you mentioned, been a while. I started recording Dark Tracks in February 2019, and the original plan was to try and finish it that same summer. Instead, it got tangled up with other events in my life and had to be put on hold a bit. Then came a winter tour and then a pandemic! I had a bunch of tours and shows planned in 2020, but they evaporated. Like a lot of other musicians, I spent covid rolling my thumbs and going stir-crazy, but managed to finish the album even though it felt like wading through thick slime at times. Some recording sessions were cut short or postponed due to scheduling conflicts with the virus, and all the restrictions it brought. The process had to be a lot more fragmented than I had planned at first, but so be it! I’m very proud of how the whole thing came together in the end.

You don’t shy away from giving listeners a window into your own life, and many of the tracks on here seemingly surround themselves around deeply personal experiences. To what degree is this project a self-explorative effort?

Hmm, that’s a tricky question. Parts of most of my songs are, at least to some extent, self-explorative, or partially autobiographical. Lyrically, I usually re-work them a lot, and might remove bits that are too exposing, or try to disguise the narrative so it’s not so obviously about me. A friend of mine said that you should always write about what you know, and whereas I’m not sure I agree, I do think it is a good entry-point in regard to lyrics. Writing from my own point of view is also a challenge for me since I don’t necessarily like to expose myself, but I force myself in order to try and keep my songs as honest as possible. If I die I don’t want to have left anything unsaid. If that happens, at least it’s better to have said it in a song than not at all.

While a good chunk of the project is irresistibly rowdy and volatile, many wouldn’t understand the docility and introspective vulnerability that you often display to be synonymous with any punk sound before giving ‘Dark Tracks’ a listen. How would you say that your aptitude for openness has allowed you to morph your own sound?

This ties into what I mentioned above. I don’t feel any themes should be embarrassing to talk about. Say for instance that it’s a late night and you misunderstand someone’s intentions (“he does not have a crush on me”) and might feel foolish once you realize that. Instead of brushing it off, I like to explore my emotions in that moment. There is something interesting in impulses, even if we might be conditioned to not act on them. Singing (and talking) about feelings can at times be quite dramatic, but I am also a bit of a drama queen. Maybe I should thank my therapist for daring to open up.

You collaborated with both Bria Salmena and Jack Ladder on two separate tracks, and you worked with a whole cast of musicians and engineers to put the fabric of this album together. What was it like having this support around you, and how did they aid the project’s development to the finish line?

Since I’m a low budget indie musician, I am at times at the mercy of my more talented friends, haha. I am so grateful for everyone that chipped in on this. It’s important mentally mostly, to feel that you’re not completely alone in a weird bubble. Just having someone come in and lay down some guitar solos and say that a song is amazing is a very needed ego boost in an album process. So while it is very much a solo project, it is also a collective effort (also since I definitely do not play every instrument). Plus, working with other people is FUN! Songs can take on a whole different vibe in the studio! As for the duets with Bria and Jack Ladder, they were both my top choices for those songs, so I’m very happy and humbled that they wanted to put their touch to them.

‘Strangers on a Train’ is a track that you’ve credited as being one of the most important tracks that you’ve made to date. What does the song mean to you?

It is, essentially, the first song I wrote that felt like 100% me. The Dream Lover EP was me as well, but something clicked with Strangers on a Train. Perhaps it gave me more of a direction in which way to take things. I just like the way it all works, from lyrics to melody to the vibe of the recording. For a while I thought that if I never write another good song, at least I’ve written this one, but then I wrote some of the songs for the album and thought that “hmm, maybe I can actually do this more than once.”

What made you fall in love with punk and new wave in the first place?

I found my way to the local DIY punk scene as a teenager, a trajectory that is probably common for anyone feeling displaced. Punk for me meant learning that I could do stuff on my own; everything from starting a band to booking a tour to putting up a show. It also meant that going to shows became a regular thing, and then my own music interest took off from there. I remember hearing Lost Sound’s “I Get Nervous” for the first time and being mesmerized since I’d never heard anything like it! It’s hard not to fall in love with a sound that you feel is the soundtrack to your current life. That led to wanting to dig deeper into more soundtracks, only to realize that boy is there a lot of music out there.

The short answer: punk for the energy and new wave for the melodies.

You’ve cited Blondie, Pat Benatar and Suzi Quatro as some of your biggest influences. What do they mean to you?

Ooh! A lot! They all navigate a landscape of sultry rock ballads, nails-to-the floor rock’n’roll, and pure pop genius; a place which I too hope to inhabit. They are all cool-as-hell frontwomen in rock, so of course they inspire me! I could go on and on about how many good songs each of them has produced (the answer: MANY), but I’m just going to say that they are all amazing artists, and I am trying to do my best to pay homage and continue the tradition! 

The album is officially available across all streaming platforms. What’s next for you?

I really just want to tour and play shows, so fingers crossed I get to do that a lot next year! Plus get the vinyl out worldwide whenever it’s done… I also want to start recording new music, and have some sort of plan to try and have a second album done pretty soon. Since the process with Dark Tracks was so long, I wanna try and flip it and have a really short and intense recording period instead. But yeah, play live! Lots!