Swedish singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Alexander Sjödin doesn’t fit most of the archetypes associated with electronic music. Under the moniker Sailor & I he mines a territory that brings to mind the melancholic, ambitious and richly orchestrated songwriting of Sigur Ros or Bon Iver, as much as the deep Balearic techno class of DJ-producers such as Solomun and Dixon. And yet it’s all done in such a way that you’re liable to hear his music crop up in the sets of unashamed populists like Pete Tong and Eric Prydz. He is that rare creature, a serious, boundary-pushing producer who has the common touch. The name Sailor & I came as a result of reading psychology in high school, the duality of the moniker representing the two wills competing inside Sjödin – reason and drive, ego and id. As it is for many people, music has always been a release, from Sjödin’s discovery of Beastie Boys and Kiss to a Road-to-Damascus moment when he was lit up by an orchestral performance on television as a boy. Dan Prince gets the world exclusive on the eve of the release of his debut album…
Alexander a huge welcome to DMCWORLD, where in the world are you today?
Hey! I’m in Stockholm right now.
Such a busy time for you right now with album and single releases plus live shows to prepare for, life’s good though huh?
Life’s never been better! Of course there is a lot of things to do, but that’s what I’ve been working towards for many years, so being busy nowadays is kind of a proof that things are going the right way. I would be very anxious if I woke up and had no clue what to do the same week as I release my debut LP.
Let’s kick off with the new single ‘Chameleon’ which follows’s last year’s album taster ‘Black Swan’ which had everyone from Pete Tong to Huw Stephens raving about it. ‘Chameleon’ has been championed as ‘motorik pop with a beating heart’. Please talk us through the sounds of your new baby…
‘Chameleon’ is one of the songs that just popped up from nowhere. I was going to play around with a synth and in just a few minutes the track appeared (in my mind) and I was lucky to catch it and record it the same day. It happens to me a lot and it all goes very fast, from nothing to a song. I guess it’s one of the things behind why I still feel so exciting about making music – you always stumble upon something new, something unexpected. First thing I had for this song was a synth pad loop I made with the Korg DW8000, I pitched and loop something I had recorded before. Then I recorded the piano, which kind of created the form for the song. I knew I wanted to put in some brass and turn the minor chord change into a major chord change on the choruses, then open up the track with a pretty hefty harmonic move. When you work with only a piano as the bass and without a lot of chord instruments it’s easy to transform the harmonics that way and it can give a very strong emotional effect. Other than that I recorded the DSI Pro 1 as a sub bass and then recorded my main vocals and stacked up some choirs on top of the brass. The drums are pretty basic, wanted to have a big sounding electronic kit. Used some samples for a drum recording I did a few years ago, pitched them to the tune and made the arrangement. That’s it.
‘Chameleon’ arrives through the new long player ‘The Invention Of Lonliness’ which is out this week on Skint. How long did it tale to create?
It’s hard to say how long I was working on that album because some songs or ideas might have been with me for quite some time but in a different form or costume. I think we decided to do this as an album in the fall 2016 and maybe 1-2 months later it was done. It goes pretty quick when you don’t need to involve a lot of people with a lot of different opinions and the team at Skint have been very supportive, so it all went extremely smooth.
Whilst we are on the subject of ‘Black Swan’, got to tip my hat to the Maceo Plex remix that had us buzzing late last year. Why was Mr Plex in particular brought in for rework duties, we love him!
This is a good story. I wanted to have him as remixer for some time but didn’t know how to approach him so that he would actually listen to the track. I was pretty sure that he would say yes to remixing it if he only heard it, as it’s so different from most of the stuff you’ve heard before in any genre and also because I had arranged it in a way (with the kick drum coming in first 4:50 into the track) that would be appealing to remix. I was with Joris Voorn when he were performing in Stockholm. Suddenly Maceo and his manager showed up backstage and apparently he was also going to perform that night. I thought, “fuck, this is my chance!”. So I told the manager I had a song I wanted Maceo to remix, he said “no way, it’s only 1% chance he will do it”. I thought, yes, 1% is still a chance. So I sent the track to him the same night, the day after they asked me for the stems to start the remix.
Now that is a great story! Well, there is an interesting tale behind your early path into the music industry. You began singing not out of desire to be a singer, but because you weren’t hearing the emotion or stories out of the singers you wanted to collaborate with? Basically things would get too complicated! What’s the story there, it must have been a very sensitive process?
That’s correct. Think about trying to cook food if you have very different preferences in taste, or if one is vegetarian and the other eats meat. It could be tricky if you can’t meet halfway. That’s how it felt to me at the beginning. I had an idea, which most of the time didn’t work out when I recorded it with another singer. It was tough not only because I felt that my idea didn’t work, also because the other person could be hurt when I wasn’t happy with the result of their performance. But, nowadays I also work with other singers and it’s much easier now. I think it’s a combination of me being more mature as a producer (and a human in general) and also the singers I work with are very professional and can take in both a music direction and add the magic thing that can only belong to them.
You have played live in far flung locations such as Japan, the US and UK. This must mean so much to you playing in front of your worldwide fans? Where have you really enjoyed performing?
I can’t think of a show I really didn’t enjoy. Maybe sometimes at the beginning of my career when I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do and how. It was a bit awkward on my first shows when there were DJs playing before and after me and I wasn’t quite familiar with that kind of concept of the event. I was used to going and playing concert venues, so at first I didn’t know where my place in this context were.
What was the last…
Amazing film / documentary you saw:
I chose to pick the latest as I watch documentaries all the time. “Sky Ladder: The Art of Cai Guo-Qiang. It’s a film about an amazing artist everyone must see. I was crying when he did his work “The Ninth Wave”.
Brilliant book you read:
Last couple of months I’ve read most of the books by Japanese author Murakami’s. Really enjoyed “Kafka on the Shore”.
Inspiring live artist you enjoyed:
Occasion you cried:
When my stepfather passed away last summer.
Time you told someone you loved them:
I tell my sons I love them every day, at least once. And it always comes from my heart.
Delicious meal you made:
I’m very into cooking, so it’s hard to say!
A famous quote from you regarding Sailor & I…”“This started as an indie band project, but now I’ve built a profile as an electronic act.” How did the change from the genres actually happen, a gradual process or were there some artists that made you see the light?!?
First I didn’t like electronic music at all (not so many years ago actually) and then little by little I got more curious and eventually I had an album made, all electronic songs! I don’t know how that happen.
You readily admit that Sailor & I is the sum of different sides of your personality and that part of this project is trying to understand your past life and why things have turned out why they have. So, how much escapism does Sailor & I bring you when you touch on or enter the darkness?
It’s more a form of getting deeper into myself, exploring new sides of myself. It’s almost like a way of meditating. Music has that effect on me. So to answer your question in an understandable way, I would say that it started like a form of escapism and now turned into a way of living, I make music every day as a part of staying connected to myself. When it goes a few days without any music making, I start to feel a little low.
And finally, what is the next musical project you are working on?
It’s album 2. It’s coming sooner than you will expect!!
‘The Invention of Loneliness’ is out February 24th on Skint
Sailor & I debut London live show @ The Pickle Factory, 2nd March
Tickets on sale now – http://www.alttickets.com/sailor-i-tickets