Unintended consequences

By - Apr 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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By Jon M. Gilbertson

Sweden apparently values a well-rounded education for its children. That’s probably why Emil Svanängen – the man who releases modestly constructed, eminently beautiful albums under the curiously affectionate name of Loney, Dear – was playing clarinet when he was 8, then playing piano and fronting a jazz trio in his teens.

Even after a few years of less directed musical pursuits, he got a bit of help from Jönköping, the town where he grew up.

“I got a computer from my hometown,” Svanängen says. “They started to rent them out for the citizens, and that is how I got the opportunity to have one. I started recording with it and real cheap equipment and making record after record, and suddenly, I had a fourth record ready.”

That record, Loney, Noir, initially came out in 2005, and in much the same manner that Loney, Dear records had always come out. Svanängen had played and recorded the entire album himself, largely in his apartment or in his parents’ basement. Then he transferred the stuff to CD-R’s, put together some cover art and sold the things.

And he was fine with doing that.

“I was quite happy, and I wanted the music to spread, but I wasn’t chasing anyone to release it,” he says. “It was living on its own as it was. The only pressure came from myself. I could sell albums the day I was finished and it wasn’t a problem. It was a good situation to check out how people could react to the music.”

In one of those rare occurrences of pleasant serendipity, however, the good music of Loney, Dear went further than Svanängen had intended. It started getting attention in the Swedish press, and the British imprint Something In Construction released the third Loney, Dear album, Sologne, in 2006. And that March, Svanängen visited Austin, Texas to perform – with a full band, no less – at the South By Southwest music festival.

“Our manager wanted us to go there, and that made a change for us,” he says. “He’s more interested in progress than I am. That is where things started happening.”

Shortly thereafter, Svanängen got an e-mail from Tony Kiewel, the head of A&R at Sub Pop, the deservedly famous indie label that introduced Nirvana and Postal Service to the world. The label wanted to work with him, and he, in turn, was ambivalent toward the label.

“I got a record deal in the mailbox and I didn’t sign it for five weeks because I was kind of afraid of it,” he says. “I think I was afraid of too much touring and tough jobs. They wondered what had happened to the deal.”

He did sign, and so it was that Loney, Noir finally got its stateside release this February. It’s the sort of record that should do better on an indie than on a major: its songs deal in small-scale majesties, in slow build-ups to moments of exquisiteness and the magnificent quiet restlessness of the music isn’t necessarily an easy sell.

Because Svanängen was never really interested in selling it – to an extent beyond two or three thousand copies, anyway – he remains hesitant about doing so. Nevertheless, he’s somewhat willing to tour, and thus a reasonably accurate live reproduction of the instrumentation of Loney, Dear, which ranges from quotidian acoustic guitar and drums to (natch) clarinet and pump organ, requires him to work with other musicians.

“I just started to play with people and it felt good,” he says. “I had a good friend who wanted to bring along a friend of his who was a good bass player, and it turned out well, quite organic.”

The current Loney, Dear lineup includes Samuel Starck on keyboards, Ola Hultgren on drums, David Lindvall on bass and Malin Ståhlberg on a couple of minor instruments and as a counterpoint singer to Svanängen’s hushed, feminine quaver. While the live Loney, Dear has already shared stages with (among others) Sonic Youth and Bloc Party, Svanängen isn’t yet comfortable with the stage itself.

“This is really our first exposure in America,” he says. “We’re going to tour 12 weeks in three months. We’re no party animals, so that’s going to gave us in some way, and it’s going to be interesting to see.”

After that, Svanängen hopes to go back to the (home, alone) studio and finish off Loney, Dear’s fifth album. Should he find the time.

“I think I’ve made a half album at least,” he says. “So many things are happening now, and I’m trying to remix and re-release the old albums as well. I hope I will have it finished this year, but I thought I could have it finished last summer, so who knows? I hope I will have spare time someday to make more music, because that is what I really want to do.” VS

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