About two and a bit years ago, Nadja Evelina debuted with the single, Finast Utan Filter, a spiky, peppy pop song that quickly exploded onto the radio and shot the Bollnäs artist straight into the rising stars lists in Sweden. A couple of years and an EP later, she’s now on the brink of releasing her debut album. Vi?, a smart, modern pop record that charts the rise and fall of a relationship and marks a new peak in Evelina’s songwriting, is out on May 3, and we caught up with her to chat about it.
So you broke through with the single Finast Utan Filter, but I want to go back and see how we get to that point. That song had the good fortune to be this relatively big hit, with over 1.7 million streams at the moment. But let’s take a look at your career up to then – how did you get up to the point where you released Finast?
So basically, I lived in Bollnäs, and I always sang and played piano, but I never wrote songs. Until I was 18, and it was the year I was supposed to graduate. I was in a band, and we were in a music contest. We had a mentor in that competition, who afterwards told me ‘You have to apply for this project, and you have to write a song’. And I was like ‘nah, I don’t write songs’, and she was like ‘Well, you do now!’ [laughs]. I was scared and nervous, but I wrote the song and applied to the project, which was a project where we met ten songwriters each week and had mentors come in once in a while. [Musician] Margit Bergman was one them. And we had different songwriting exercises, many of them very goofy, but they were just to help us find the flow. After that, I realised it was something I wanted to do, and I applied for the music school Musikmakarna. I went there for two years, and the second year I did an audition with Marit. Up to then I had only written in English, but she wrote in Swedish so I tried that, and found that was something I wanted to do.
You mentioned that you’re a literature fan and you read a lot. So is being deep in the Swedish language and playing around with the words important to you?
Yeah, I’ve always read a lot of books, it was something very important to me when I was growing up. So it was like different part of me came together in a way. The I came into contact with my friend Anton, who’s a producer, and we made Säg Till and Finast Utan Filter, they were the first two songs we produced. We clicked really well musically and personally, and that’s how they got made.
When you released that single as the debut, and it went on to be a pretty big hit. When you release a song that does that well as a debut, was it weird to take the next step?
Yeah, because we weren’t prepared at all. We thought ‘Well, maybe our friends will listen to it’, we didn’t expect at all for it be played so many times. It took a while for us to put together the EP after that, because the other songs are more emotional tracks, and less catchy [than Finast] in a way.
I imagine it also changes your plans a bit, because say you plan to put out one song, then another and see how it goes, and build it up gradually, and then you put out one and it just goes ‘whoom!’.
Yeah. I think we were more planning to explore something as we went. I wrote the way I wrote, but I think [at that point] I wasn’t really grounded in myself or my writing. I was planning to have more time. But I’m really happy with how it turned out.
Moving back to the present and getting onto the new album. Even before I started listening to it, something that struck me when I looked at the tracklist was just how short and specific all the song titles are. They have titles like Beach House, and Läst 01:42, and they’re almost impressionistic, you read them and you get these little glimpses into what the songs are about. Was that kind of intentional?
I like to keep titles short. When I write I like to keep it short, and concise. I think there are so many impressions for everyone to take in in everyday life, so I like to keep it short.
Sticking to the lyrics, something else I noticed what that a lot of your writing is very specific when it comes to place. You notice in songs like Min Stad: “Hörlurar längst Bondegatan” (Headphones along Bondegatan). Du: “Alla gröna jackor vid Medis” (All the green jackets at Medis), “Vi möter på Kåken” (We meet at Kåken). I picked up that, instead of generic places, you tend to put the name in. So when you listen to the album, you can almost see the songs popping up on the map of Stockholm. Is that something you wanted to do intentionally, to make them more specific and more in-built into real places?
I think it’s because I’ve written the album over a time when I myself have moved here. So every day was exploring a new place, and I think using the places’ names in the songs is trying to make myself at home in a way. I notice it even when I speak, that I was happy when I realised you could walk from Medis to Skanstull. It’s like the city coming together for you, when you live in a place. You notice it in the record, because it’s been part of my personal process to feel at home in the city.
So it’s more a journey of your relationship with Stockholm than a desire to write in that way, to make it hyper-specific?
But I also think I like when other people mention places, because I feel they’re telling me something about that place. There’s a culture of writing about Stockholm, in old books like [Hjalmar] Söderberg, maybe old writers write about Stockholm in that way, and I think it’s a tradition I’ve been influenced by, in a way.
It’s interesting you picked up on the trend that you were getting to know Stockholm through these songs, because that comes to a head on the album with the closer song, Min Stad. There’s the relationship which is the main narrative of the album, and then it comes to you finishing with your relationship with Stockholm as a city. Your relationship with a person ends, but you start one with the city.
Yeah, that’s what we were looking to convey. It was also that when we were making the album, when we mentioned a specific place, we tried to go to that place and sample the city noise. So anywhere on the album, where a part of the city is mentioned and there’s a city noise sample, it’s from that place. We went around with a little microphone for two days to capture them.
Another lyric I picked up was from Stämpeln På Min Hand, and it was “Jag vill tillbaka till något vi har aldrig haft” (I want to go back to something we’ve never had). Then that connected with something you said about Beach House, and you said ”Den handlar om att veta att det är noll procents chans att det man håller på med ska bli till något bra eller fint, men att fortsätta ändå för att… ja varför då egentligen?” (To know that there’s zero chance the thing you’re doing is going to become something good or beautiful, but keep going with it because… well, why actually?). It strikes me that a long of your lyrics are about a desire to get to that dream situation that isn’t there for real, and you know yourself it can’t happen for real, but you’re always reaching for it. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, absolutely. And I think me and many others are dreamers, and in this modern dating world many of us do that, I think. I think many people have been in similar situations. It feels good to be basic like that in a way [laughs].
That comes back again later in the album with Läst 01:42. You have this album full of aspirational daydreaming, thinking up scenarios that you don’t really believe in but you’re hoping for. The it comes to this line, which I think is the last line on the song: “Du hade fått en gång till om du hade sagt någonting” (You would have gotten another chance if you said something). So there the dreaming is still going on. Then it finishes with “Du hade fått en gång till om vi hade haft någonting” (You would have gotten another chance if we had anything). So there it ends totally. So was that intended to close off the story going through the album, and all the dreaming that happens?
Yeah. And that was the last song we wrote, because we realised that Min Stad wasn’t a part of the main story. It’s from after, when it doesn’t hurt anymore. It means something in a way, but it’s where it doesn’t hurt and it’s moving on in a way. And we realised that my process, where I realised [the relationship was over] wasn’t on the album. So we wrote that.
So it was specifically written for that reason?
Yeah, to close it. Because that had happened in my thought process and emotional process with the relationship, but it wasn’t on the album. We really wanted to tell the story. It was a mess, and all the songs were written in a mess. But when all the songs were written, we started to sort out, and place them almost chronologically, and we realised it was a story, in a way [laughs].
How long did it take to put them all together? Because I guess the songs were written over around two years?
Yes, some of them were recorded earlier, but in August last year we realised if we were going to make the album we had to do it now, and we had to set a date and whatever and push ourselves to do it. So we’ve just been recording them, and it’s fallen into place, bit by bit. I think writing is very much about discovering. You’ve blurred what you want to say, and it’s only at the end it makes sense.
So it was only at the end of making the album you realised what it was about?
Yeah. I worked with two producers, but mostly Anton Engdahl, and he’s been really great at asking questions about it. He calls me and says ‘Well, what about this song?’, very supportive and has been a great sounding board in putting it all together.
Onto the music of the album. I noticed that compared to the music on the EP, which had a very straight, airy pop style, the album goes in a couple of different directions, and you notice it straight away with Du, the first proper song, which is almost like an indie-rock song in the way it’s written. And then there’s Stämpeln På Min Hand, which is more funky, upbeat synth pop. I was wondering if the differences in sound between the album and EP is because you felt you had to move your sound onwards, or was it just that it’s a longer process so you get to explore different styles?
I think it was more of an exploring situation. We were listening to a lot of different music, compared to when we recorded the EP, so we had a lot of different references and we had been talking about doing more of a synth-y sound, which we hadn’t had the chance to do before because the songs took the shape they took. I think Beach House was the first song where we realised what the sound was going to be. It was like a platform song, because it sounds a bit like the old songs, but it also has a new sound, so it was a platform we could move on from, and place the other songs around. We had so much fun, I get happy just talking about it. Of course it was hard in places, and we had a crisis just before it was finished, but we had really good fun and a really good flow.
You also decided to self-release, on your own label Hjärtat, so what was behind the decision to do that?
I just felt like it was time in a way. We felt really sure about the music, and we did that by ourselves, so it felt natural to release it by ourselves too, and have whole power over the process in a way. I decided while I was making the record, but looking back, I don’t think we could do it any other way. It’s just such great freedom to have, though it’s also very stressful [laughs]. But it feels really worth it. You get the full creative power and that’s what matters. Because the writing is such a big part of my life that I couldn’t have it any other way.
So now with the album out in three weeks, how does it feel?
It feels scary of course, because you don’t know if people will like it or listen to it. But I feel really happy that it’s time, and I’m happy to be going out and playing shows. I’m really excited.
Nadja Evelina’s debut album Vi? is out on May 3. She plays at Debaser Strand on May 25.