One of the brightest-sparking new stars in the Swedish pop scene, Örebro-born Hanna Järver stands out in the modern pop scene for her way with words. Järver has a powerful way of spinning a lyric, of wrapping her words in that magical way that perfectly captures moments, feelings, regrets, bad nights out, relationships, whatever (if it hasn’t already happened, it’s guaranteed that someone will soon get a Hanna Järver lyric tattoo). She pairs those words with sharp, snappy pop productions that have already won her plenty of fans (a section on her on TV4’s Nyhetsmorgon was headlined ‘Hanna Järver has been described as a pop genius‘). After releasing the terrific Närke EP in 2016, Järver is finally about to release her debut album, So Long. We met her to chat about it.
So debut album out on April 13. How does feel, has it been coming together for a long time? Are most of the songs post-Närke?
I think all of them except one have been written over the last one and a half years. So all except one are very new. It’s been a long-time dream [to release an album], it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Närke was an EP, so it’s not quite the same thing. But both of them are conceptual ideas, but this is a little more of that. For Närke, one of the songs was two or three years old or whatever.
So with an EP, you write the songs first then decide to turn them into an EP, whereas this is writing specifically for an album?
Yeah. It’s like when you’re writing you think ‘I’ve done this type of song, so now I want to do this one’. You want the dynamic. For it to feel natural. It’s been a very special, and also very hard at times process.
I wanted to ask about that stylistic change. Because it seemed to me that the songs were maybe more subtle and low-key than the ones on the EP? Because on the EP you have Anekdoter and Allt och Ingenting, and they have these big explosive choruses, but the rhythms and the melodies on the album are kind of soft, like on tracks like Manna Manna.
I think I wanted to do something that would be more fun, and easier to play live. That’s very important to me, I come from playing in bands, being in bands, and it was kind of hard with Närke. To translate this very electronic soundscape to the live show.
Was Närke primarily computer-written?
It was a mix. I’ve always had three musicians, but before we had backing tracks. So it felt a little like we were just playing along to the backing tracks. But I wanted to change that, so now everything is live. The feeling is so different, playing with backing tracks to playing without. I guess for the audience it depends on whether you’ve a ‘music person’, if you think about it in the same way. But for me it feels so much more real [without the tracks]. For me it adds something. So it’s going to be so much more fun.
It feels more dancey and rhythmic in a lot of places, so maybe it’s just more suited to being played live?
Yeah, I think so. We went away for four days, me and the band, and rehearsed all of the new songs and all of the old songs, y’know in the new way we’re going to play them, and it felt very natural somehow. It was nice.
You spoke about your past in bands. You generally get spoken about as a pop artist. But you’ve played in bands, you did a cover of a Tough Alliance song, you’ve worked with Jonas Lundqvist, and you’ve said that Jonathan Johansson and Bon Iver are some of your biggest idols. Do you think genre is more of a flexible concept for you, that you don’t see that division between say the indie world and the more pop world?
Yeah, I think so. My writing has changed a lot, if I look back like five, six or seven years. In the beginning I was pretty far away that pop structure, I listened a lot to Björk and Bon Iver, James Blake. It was very free [structured] somehow. I don’t really know how I got here from that, ha ha! I don’t know how it became so poppy.
You describe yourself as a very text-based writer. So when you’re writing songs, what’s your process for lyrics and then applying them to music?
I like to write lyrics outside of the studio, because I think it’s much easier to think when you change environment. So sometimes I just go sit somewhere for a day and write. And it’s very fragmented, lot of random lines. I usually write a lot, very randomly, and in the studio I’ll collect the sentences.
So you’re going into the studio with a notepad?
Yeah. It’s not like I write whole lyrics and then I go in there. I like to put them together, almost like a puzzle in the studio. I think it’s easier to adjust the melody to the lyrics than the other way around. Otherwise they can be forced.
You said that when you started writing you began writing in English. And then you switched to Swedish because you wanted a stronger connection to the words. So is that an important part of your songwriting, that you feel you need strong control over and a strong personal connection to the words you use?
It’s like that. But I also think it has changed since I started. In the beginning it was very therapeutic, more like diary-style writing. And now it’s like the opposite, it’s exhausting writing lyrics. I think if you look at the whole process of writing a song, producing and recording is like the playful, fun part. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it can be sometimes.
Maybe less emotionally draining?
Yeah, exactly, it can be fun. But writing lyrics, I wouldn’t say it’s fun. It’s more of a struggle, and it’s really important that the lyrics are good. If the lyrics aren’t good, then everything else doesn’t matter.
So you’re that kind of artist where the lyrics have to be good? Because for some artists the lyrics are just filler, and the music is all they care about.
No, I think a bad lyric ruins everything. And I also think I have a lot of opinions on what’s a good lyric and what’s a bad lyric, and you also develop a craft. It’s really hard! I think I judge other people harshly in it, but I also judge myself the same way, maybe even more harshly.
A lot of your songwriting and lyric-writing is very narrative, and I think that’s something that applies to this album on songs like La Neta and Jävla 80-Tal, and on others too. So you do use lyrics as a way to process events and memories.
Yeah, I do. With Närke it was a lot like that.
The Örebro-focussed EP.
Yeah, it’s about being 18, 19, what happened there and why do I want to go back now, everything. I think this album is not so much focussed in the same way. There are some ways, I mention places, both in Örebro and Stockholm-related places, like the restaurant La Neta. But I think this album is more existential.
You have the two instrumental interludes on the record. What roles do 06:45 and 12:26 play on the album for you?
I think it’s both an old idea of how an album should be structured, but also the first song, Bara Få Va Enkelt, starts like bang!, so either I had to write an intro or make another track. But I also feel the album is divided into two parts.
I was thinking that. It’s softer, more ballad-y after 12:26. And before that is kind of the poppier side.
Yeah. So that’s also a reason. And on the vinyl, the B-Side starts from 12:26. So I wanted the first part to be easier and the rest more exciting.
You produce everything yourself. Is that the way you like to work, to have control over the whole process yourself? I think you mentioned in an interview you look up to Grimes because she does that?
I do. In the beginning it was very important to me to do everything myself. Partially because I wanted to get better, to feel like I could do this. And if I compare stuff I did four years ago to now, you can get a bit ashamed of what you did then, it’s like that for everyone I guess. But it’s also like ‘wow, so much happened in four years, how did I learn all of this?’. So I think it was a good decision for me to do it like that. I’ve always been like that, I never wanted help in school, I’d rather sit with the math book myself and be stuck on one exercise for the whole lesson than asking for help. That can be good and bad, I guess sometimes it’s better to just ask someone, but it’s the way I am. But I feel like after this album I don’t have anything to prove. I’ve shown that I can do this, I don’t have to impress anyone anymore. And the most important thing is that I’ve proved it to myself. So now I feel that if I want to collaborate I can do it, if I don’t feel like it I don’t, but I don’t have to do anything just because. Also, before I had recorded everything myself, which was easier because it was more electronic, but on this album it’s real guitars, drums, everything. So now I’ve had to work with musicians, and it was fun doing that. It felt more alive and real somehow. It was a good decision.
So, album out in less than a month, so what happens after?
I have four dates in May, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Örebro and Växjö, and I’m going to play some festivals this summer.
Photos: Albin Sjödin