What to do after the album? After wrapping up extensive touring for her 2017 album Domino, Cajsa Siik found herself back in the studio and a little off the inspiration trail. In a letter Siik wrote to accompany her new EP Low Light Key Sessions, she says she felt as if her “sharp senses had become more numb. I didn’t want to write anymore because there was no space”. The solution was to start over on a new project, based on being “driven by what I felt in the moment”. Taking inspiration from her collaboration with keyboardist Mikaela Hansson and watching her grandfather’s old videos, and other sources, it all came together and became Low Light Key Sessions, which arrives at the end of this week. We met Siik at her studio in Enskede to talk about it.
So to start from the beginning: what would you pick out as the start point for the process of making this EP? In the letter you wrote to accompany it, you talked about having writer’s block and feeling numb and wanting to start something over.
I’m not sure I had writer’s block, but for sure I felt I needed something new. I released the album Domino a year ago, and after that I played a lot, I was on tour, solo, playing a lot. And I felt that I really missed being in the studio. And I felt that I’ve also been travelling a lot by myself. I wanted to start a process that was totally driven by what I felt in the moment. That didn’t have any pressure on it at all. I wasn’t even sure when we started recording this EP that I was going to release it at all. It was just focused on having fun with it, letting emotions out. And I wanted to do it with someone I trusted and admire a lot musically as well, so I asked Mikaela Hansson. And together we started to experiment in different places. I had written all the songs, so the songs were written already when we started, so the process started with us just letting go in the studio and having a lot of fun with it.
If we think about your previous albums, they’re not entirely pop-orientated, there’s usually a mix of styles in there, but they will be lead off by a more poppy single and have that element in there. But this EP is very different, it’s just five tracks and they’re all kind of stripped-back, piano-driven. So were you conscious going into this EP that you wanted to make a shift in your sound and what kind of project this would be?
I really had an urge to slow things down a lot. I didn’t want to focus on being efficient in any way, not when it came to the recording process or the songs. So it was like, if we want to have a thirty-five second intro that’s fine, and just let the sounds lead the way in a way. And I also decided that I wasn’t allowed to play any guitars. Because I’ve been playing a lot of guitars lately, and I love that, but I still wanted to have another input. Mikaela is a keyboardist and she’s good with sounds, and she has a lot of cool stuff in her studio. So that’s why I named it Low Light Key Sessions, because when I started the process of recording it, I knew we were only allowed to use keyboards. So no drums, nothing else. So if you want to create a sort of rhythmic pattern, then we have to use the keyboard, and cut it up and experiment with the sound from the keyboard.
Do you feel that unlocks a different way of writing? Because when you take guitars out of the equation, and you have to work with something that you’re not as familiar with as with guitar, it kind of opens up a different way of making music?
Yeah, definitely. Even if you take the same chord on guitar and piano, it creates different vibes of course. It changes the way I sing as well a bit, I think. To sing with a key instead of a string, it affected my way of singing as well, which was interesting for me as well, in that process.
You said you wanted to slow it down with this EP. Was that kind of inspired by the fact that you were travelling so much? Because when you’re travelling so much and in motion all the time, you don’t really have any time to yourself. So did that play a role in deciding that you were going to take some space for this one and slow down the writing process?
In a way. But I like being on the road and I like to keep things at quite a high tempo in general. But I think I was more focused on slowing things down music-wise, but of course it has a lot to do with wanting to take the time. I didn’t tell anyone about the process either, I wanted to have the time to let it be what it is, without outside influences like release dates or expectations in any way, except our own. But when you’ve been travelling a lot and on tour for a while, you have something inside of you that wants to keep on moving, but you also want a break. And a new thing can be a break sometimes. To not play the songs you’ve been playing on tour, to instead play new songs.
Does it also feel refreshing that you are making this EP without the pressures of how you would traditionally do an album. Without release dates, without let’s say market pressure, the idea that you should have a single that can go out first, whatever. You said ‘we can have a thirty, forty second intro’, you don’t have to restrict yourself.
I wouldn’t say that I usually restrict myself when I write. But at the same time, when I write an album I focus a lot on dynamics. So I like writing those songs that are efficient in a way, and then the others that demand more patience. But I think that having this EP format was one of the goals. I didn’t know how it would sound, but I knew I wanted it to have this format. I also thought about releasing it as a 20-minute single track, without separating the songs in any way. But I let go of that idea after talking to my label [laughs]. But the idea of creating a little world, from beginning to end. If you listen to the EP, then hopefully you have to take a step into a world. It takes a bit of patience to listen to it, because it is quite slow.
It kind of feels also like your most open EP. And you mentioned that you wanted to write ‘completely guided by emotions’, to take the first feeling or sensation you had and just run with it. How is that as a method of writing, does it feel unguarded?
It is unguarded. I’ve written these songs, and they’ve come from somewhere very, very important, and sometimes the lyrics are very honest and open, and also kind of simple in a way. It’s not as metaphorically written as the older songs, it’s more straightforward. It’s kind of scary in a way to do that. But I had my guidance, and I knew that was the way it was supposed to be. And also, when it came to choosing the sounds for these songs, it was like ‘whatever comes, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. And leave it like that’. And then the process has a sort of flow.
Less editing and thinking over?
Yeah, there’s just the keyboard and we press record and just do something. If it’s beautiful it’s beautiful, so just leave. Don’t cut it up into pieces and try and do it better. It’s sort of comforting in a way to do that.
Is it less stressful, because you don’t have to spend time agonising over every possible thing, how you could have done it differently and so on?
Exactly. And that’s why the process was so inspiring and I felt very happy in the process. And then you get the point when you have to call it something, and say I made an EP or whatever. And you look back on the songs and think about them. But now I just look at them and think, ‘this is the way it was supposed to be’. And that’s nice.
You talked in the letter about the desire to make music, about how it’s something that you can’t take for granted, that it’s something that has to be nourished. Do you feel that making this EP has helped you get over the numbness that you talked about at the start of the letter, and nourish that desire again?
Definitely. I needed to do this. It’s sort of going back to the core of why I started in the first place. You know that you have that core, and you remember how it felt when you wrote your first song. And when you’ve been making music for a while and you’ve been touring a lot, you have your ups and downs. But that magical bubble is what I enjoy the most, making the music. I really had the urge to go back to that. Of course, I had that on the last album as well, it’s not that I haven’t had it for a long time. But I think I lost it for a while, and this was the way to get back on track. It’s inspired me to write even more new songs. I’m already onto something else, because I had a lot of creative energy. Because I was focusing on the right thing, not the result, the process. Because the process is the best.
Let’s dip back into the writing there for a second. You mention the Super-8 tapes your grandfather made from his travels around Europe and America, and how you watched them a lot during this process. How did they inspire the record?
The first time I saw these tapes was six years ago. My family found these tapes in an attic when my grandmother passed away. I saw these films, and I thought I could use them someday. I didn’t know how, but I knew that I would. Because I could see that my grandfather was filming in a certain way. He was documenting his family, because he was an architect and an artist, so when he was taking these pictures I could sense that was after something.
You could sense what he’s going for, like an artist connection or something?
Yeah! There were six and seven hours of just beautiful pictures. When we started the process of making this EP, I started thinking about these films, and thought maybe this is the project for these. So I sat down and went through the seven hours and took notes, and tried to have a dialogue with my grandfather. Because I could tell when he was inspired. So I took the parts I wanted to use, and cut them up and created five videos for the five songs. So I’ve been listening to each song and finding the images that suit each song. In the final editing of the videos I got help from Elinor Wermeling – an amazing photographer I’ve been working with a lot.
So each song has its own section from that archive that you’ve put together for it?
Yeah, the sections that I felt suited the song. So it was sort of a dialogue with my grandfather. I watched video of my mom when she was nine-years-old. Some were classic home movies, which are kind of rare to see in the early sixties, and they were also filmed in the United States, where they lived for a year. I was thinking a lot about history and politics and how things have changed. There’s a lot of dimensions to all that material.
It’s the kind of thing that starts you thinking about a lot of stuff, going through family archives and things.
Yeah. And they’re gone, my grandpa is gone, my grandma is gone. I just met my grandpa a few times, because he passed when I was just one. So I didn’t have a relationship with him at all. So this was kind of a way to communicate with. Which is interesting, because I didn’t know him, but I could kind of see things through his eyes. I wanted to talk the texts that are connected to these videos. There’s been a process of writing these texts, which I’ve involved 20 people in. The idea with this EP is to have dialogues in different ways. In recording there was a dialogue with Mikaela, then there’s the idea of the dialogue with my grandfather. And I asked 20 people to join me, and divided them into five groups. Every group was given a theme, that was connected to one of the songs. And each group got an instrumental version of the song and we asked to use it to reflect on that theme. This EP is supposed to be about intuition, so if they only write four words, or a whole half a page, it doesn’t matter, whatever comes through in those four minutes. Then I took those 20 texts back, and I used them to write new texts based on my thoughts about what they had written. So I used them to make these videos based on the texts. So they’re a dialogue with all these other people. I want to give them credit for the texts, because I didn’t write them on my own. They were very important and they’ve been very open and taken their time to do this, so I’m very grateful.
So tell us about the releasefest?
So it’s on an old ship from 1911, and it’s by the Vasamuseet. So you just go from Vasamuseet straight down to the water. It’s this wooden, brown, beautiful ship, and it’s called Deodar. The releasefest starts at 18:00, and we’re going to play a few songs, and there’ll be beers and sun and music.
Cajsa Siik’s Low Light Key Sessions is out on June 8 on Birds Records. Her releasefest, where she plays live along with Frida Selander, takes place on the Deodar on June 12.
Main Image: Cajsa Siik at her studio. Photo: Austin Maloney