It’s possible no-one on the Swedish pop scene has had a more meteoric career rise this year than GRANT. Caroline Cederlöf had only released one single, Waterline, at this point last year, but since the start of 2018 she’s performed at the Grammisgalan, released her debut album In Bloom and has now been tapped by Tove Stryke to join her as support for her winter tour. We caught up with her to talk about her lush, sweeping pop music, her career so far and In Bloom.
Just over a year ago, you had just released your first single Waterline. Now, a year on, you’ve released a debut album, gone on your own headline tour and are about to go on tour with Tove Styrke. How have the past twelve months felt from inside the storm, has it felt like a rapid rise? Has any moment in particular stood out for you?
I didn’t notice the storm at first, but things have definitely changed. Success never felt rapid, only work changed rapidly cause I do what I did before, only a lot more. But when I think about how it’s only been a year, it feels amazing and kind of overwhelming. I have wanted this to be all of my life for so long, and I’m so immensely grateful. I have dreamed but I never expected anything. The Grammis award here in Sweden feels so intimidating to me but holy fuck, I did play at this year’s gala, that’s insane. That moment stood out and I’m really proud of myself for having had the courage to do that. I thought I savoured the experience but everything really strikes you months afterwards. Apparently I process things kinda slowly.
Your musical background is as a jazz school student, and after graduation you decided you wanted to move onto something else. At what point would you say GRANT started as a distinct project? And how does your jazz education play into your music today?
I think it was pretty distinct for me from the very start of me writing my own songs that I was going in a not so jazzy direction simply because I was too interested in pop music and what it could be. But the experience didn’t have a name until years later. That being said, what I do never feels like a distinct project to me, cause I can be surer of what I want now but I also evolve constantly in terms of taste and what I want to write about and how I want to write it. It’s more like a GRANT-cloud than a GRANT-box. It’s also just me, being me and I’m having problems pinning myself down or maybe I’m actually a box and I just don’t see it.
People might get the idea that you’re a very literary artist just from song titles like Catcher In The Rye and Gravity’s Rainbow. But there’s also a fluid poetry in your lyrics, especially in lines like ‘orchids in the rain’ from Shimmer. Are lyrics a major part of the artistic picture for you, and what’s your usual writing process? What effect do you want your lyrics to achieve? And do you have influences outside of music who inspire the way you write?
Lyrics are what connect the song to me, what makes it truly mine because I only write about personal truths; I dissect my everyday life and pour it into music. At this point everything must be autobiographical for it to matter to me and so I take the extra time with lyrics, not always to perfect the words as much as I need something to write about. I need to live in the lines. It can be time consuming but it’s also therapy and I wouldn’t want it any other way cause it makes me feel better. I ultimately hope someone can relate and feel comfort, like I’ve found comfort in music. But it doesn’t have to be too serious either, I don’t ask too much from my listeners apart from listening and thinking about what they actually hear. That actually seems like I’m asking a lot, but I mean, it’s pop; it can only get so complicated. But that don’t mean it must be poorly written. I read, though not as much as I used to but literature is very important for my writing process, it’s a source of inspiration that I truly value. It also makes me feel smarter than I actually am.
Your music is often described as dramatic pop, and I think that comes from just how much performance is in it. Especially live, but even just on the recorded versions, it’s music that moves in this very theatrical, expressive manner, especially in the vocals. Is that something you’ve worked hard to get into your music, to make sure that every song is a high-art performance on its own terms?
I want every song to matter of course, and be stand-alone pieces, but the drama also comes from how I hear anxiety and love, you know, those big mind-boggling feelings have musical landscapes. It could change, but right now it’s more often big sounding with strings and horns than small and tasteful. It’s just the way it comes out naturally and I’m not going to fight it, it’s fun to work with. My voice is as expressive as the taste in the words and sentences.
Part of that drama and performance comes from the emotion in the songs, and it feels like that emotional connection to the songs has always been a part of your identity, right from your debut with back-from-the-edge anthem Waterline. Is having your songs highly-charged with personal emotion and connection something you feel you need as an artist?
Yes, absolutely. It’s all I’ve based myself on as an artist. If it isn’t true, I don’t see the point of me singing it. There are better performers and singers, but only I could sing about my feelings and truly do them justice.
The music on In Bloom is also interesting, because it stands out from a lot of the recent pop music of today. There’s all this organic instrumentation like piano, trumpet, violin, but it’s not going for that retro sound, it’s updating it and mixing it into modern production and electronic instrumentation too. What were you going for in your musical style? How did you develop it?
I was originally going for a mix of everything I like, but I didn’t want to sound exactly like them, I want to sound like me and I also hear the production from a lyrical perspective. I let my gut steer through the different sounds I try out but of course I find these sounds mostly through references. I don’t think organic instrumentation has to sound retro and I don’t think all types of electronic music sound so fresh and cool, I don’t think I need to choose between one and the other. It’s a balancing act to make something new out of the existing, but it’s part of the fun and how all types of art develop. I mean, I’m not groundbreaking, I’m just doing what I like and find interesting.
In Bloom arrived only a couple of months after your debut single, it was quite a quick intro as an artist. What’s coming up next for GRANT? Where do you see your work going next and developing into the future?
I’m still figuring that out but in a way I already know exactly how the next chapter is going to sound. Performing takes attention off of song writing but it also feeds the process. I’m writing a lot right now, trying new things but also settling for the natural just as before. It’s shifted a bit though, what comes naturally. It’s exciting. I’m building on what’s already there and paving a way for a future me. I hope to perform more, because that’s how I truly come alive and being on the road is so much fun. My secret desire has always been to be a rock star on the road.
Finally, as well as your upcoming tour with Tove you’ve got a new song coming out, a cover of her Changed My Mind. What attracted you to that song? And what was the process of taking it into GRANT’s world?
It’s such a great pop song and the melody felt up my alley as well as the lyrics. The lyrics can be amazingly ambiguous if you want them to and I wanted to explore that. Tove’s version is very playful so I wanted to address the more desperate and vulnerable side of the lyrics. Both our versions share a sense of irony I think.
I stripped the production down to the melody and had an idea of building it again from rhythmic strings and from there I felt comfortable to build it as I liked, it felt different enough and just like me. A year ago I’d be afraid of singing someone else’s song but it was so much fun to do something that was musically challenging without the dead seriousness that comes with my own song writing, only fun.
In Bloom is out now on Sony, and GRANT’s cover of Changed My Mind is out now. GRANT plays Berns as support to Tove Styrke on December 15.
Photo: Angelina Bergenwall