“What was the question again?”. Zacharias Zachrisson (yes, Lykke Li’s brother) is a hyperactive thinker. Several times during our interview, his train of thought races off in different directions, and after exploring each of them, he asks to be directed back to the original question, so he can be satisfied he’s answered it. His music reflects that mindset – since debuting his Vacation Forever project earlier this year with the single Blank Ocean, he’s been releasing songs that are full of energy and spark, raw restless art-rock that refuses to settle comfortably into any genre.
But Zachrisson’s hyperactive mind goes in other directions too. Initially a member (the drummer) of lush-pop band Tussilago, he left the group after a panic attack during a gig at Revolver in Oslo. Vacation Forever is his way back into music, a solo project where he’s trying to step beyond those nerves and anxiety. His debut EP is out soon, so we met him for along chat about where he’s going now.
You left Tussilago right after the release of their debut album, so what was the journey from that point to the start of Vacation Forever as a project?
I left Tussilago because I was suffering from severe stagefright. And I was having mental problems, I went through some shit, diagnoses and stuff. And I had to leave the band to straighten shit out. So I left Tussilago, I went to India for a while, smoked DMT there and had a religious experience. I came back to Sweden, then I started working on the so-called Vacation Forever project in Portugal. I made a full-length album there, and it just sucked [laughs]. It was the worst album I ever heard. But I realised that after a while, I was sending it to labels, and they were like ‘Man, you have to work on it a bit more’. So then I just scrapped that whole album, and started from scratch. And the funny thing was that it was a producer from Finland (Jarkko Heiniö) who mailed me and asked if I could play drums on this Finnish popstar’s album. Because he thought I was still playing drums in Tussilago. So I was like ‘No, I don’t play drums anymore, I have my own project, do you want to record me?’. He was like ‘Sure’, so we went into the studio, and from there we totally clicked, and worked together almost every day for half a year doing demos. Then I took the demos to LA, where I met Jeff Bhasker, and I got to signed to his label, and then I finished the project in LA, final mixes, artwork and so on.
So would you count the album in Portugal, or your work with the Finnish producer as the start of the project?
That [the Finland recordings] was the start of Vacation Forever. So it’s still early in this project, I’ve only released a few songs. But I have a full EP coming out, I have another EP that’s already done, so I’m working on my album right now. It’ll be out next year.
When you’ve left a band, due to stagefright or nervous tension or whatever, does it make you apprehensive about coming back to the music scene?
Yeah, I was totally freaking out about it, because I was so afraid that it was just going to repeat. So while working on Vacation Forever, I had doubt all the time, and I was saying to everyone: ‘I’m not going to do this as a live project’. So in the studio I was going nuts with all the synths, because I thought I wasn’t going to play this live anyway. So I was going crazy with all the arrangements. As you’re going to hear on the EP, with the songs that are bigger, longer and more out there. But yeah, I was super afraid, because I thought I would have a panic attack onstage or some shit.
Because I was wondering if when you started it was just supposed to be a recording project.
Yeah, it started out as a recording project. But meanwhile, when you’re recording, you meet all these people, and they’re like ‘Woah, this is dope!’. And you get some confidence from that. And also, you have to do it. The way I do music, you have to perform it, it’s just a part of what you have to do. Even though it’s terrifying to get up on a stage and play music. Because the reward is big. I realised that later on. Also, when I decided to play live, I got the band together.
You first show was at Under Bron last year right?
Yeah, and my second show was where it happened with Tussiligo, my last show with them, when I left the stage. When I said ‘Fuck this shit, I don’t want to do this anymore’, and I just left. My second gig was at the exact same club, in Oslo, at By:Larm.
Yeah, that was my next question actually. Because you had the panic attack with Tussilago at Revolver in Oslo. Did playing back at that venue again feel like overcoming a barrier?
I was so afraid of playing again there. I thought the exact same thing would happen again.
Because it must be traumatic enough playing live again, but playing live at the exact same place must be a whole other thing?
Yeah, it was totally traumatic. I was tripping out before. But when I got the band together, my live band, I was super open and honest about my stagefright. And everyone’s been so supportive. And we’ve rehearsed three days a week, for half a year before we played live, and really worked it in. Because that’s the only way you can overcome it. Work really hard on it, and practise so much that even though you’re terrified onstage, you know in and out what to do. So I did that, and it went ok. It went ok! The first song at Under Bron, I kind of freaked out and missed the whole verse, and all the members in the band were like ‘uh oh, he’s doing it again’. But I just pulled myself together, and it was amazing. What was the question again?
It was about going back to Revolver in Oslo, and if playing that venue again felt like overcoming a barrier.
It did. It for sure did. Also, for me, the gig at Revolver was kind of bad, but a lot of other people were like ‘this is fucking amazing’. By:Larm said we were like the best live act, and that gave me the confidence to say ‘fuck, I can’t go around thinking that I suck all the time, because apparently I don’t’. So I realised I had to stop with this nonsense. Like, I puked before one gig. But now I know, no matter how nervous I am, even if I didn’t sleep the night before, I know I can pull it off. It’s kind of ok.
I want to talk about the sound of the music itself. You’ve said that you spent a lot of time in America working on this project, time in LA, time in Hawaii and so on. And listening to the songs, they sound a lot like they’re influenced by the American indie scene. Because if I was thinking of bands I would compare you to, I would think of bands like MGMT and Foxygen, rather than any Swedish bands. So would you say that American scene had an influence on that sound?
Yeah, MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular, I think that’s one of the best albums ever. Because it’s so playful. And yeah, the Swedish indie scene can be kind of lame. Foxygen, they can do whatever they want. They have a little bit of irony in it, even though it’s serious, and it allows them to be a bit playful, and not stick to one genre. They play around with everything. And that’s what I like to do too, because I listen to such a broad range of music, I listen to all music. When I started this I wanted to sound like Deerhunter. Then I wanted to sound more like The War On Drugs. And then it became Deerhunter, The War On Drugs, a little bit of The Stone Roses, I mean I’m heavily influenced by the Manchester scene also. Like I love the Manchester scene.
That’s in the kind of trippyness of the music, the fluidity?
More like the way they use guitars, like the effects they have on the guitars, the way they strum. Like The Cure guitars, New Order basslines. Stuff like that. But now I think I’m leaving synths behind me and going more straightforward 90s indie, American indie.
Which you can see in the trend of your singles I think. Because there is a real diversity in the style of your music. The four singles you’ve put out so far all sound pretty different. You’ve got Backstage Panic Attack, which is spaced-out chillwave. Kamikaze Love, more like a straight-out rock song. Then I Changed My Life For You, as you’ve mentioned before, is like a Suicide song, with that relentless repetition, but like a glitchy, colourful take on it. Do you feel that kind of creative restlessness, that you take inspiration from a bunch of different places all the time?
Yeah, because I also move around all the time. And I’m super-impulsive. And I don’t have the patience to stick with one thing. I do songs pretty quickly, and then I move on. When I get inspired by something, I do the song the same day as I got that inspiration, then I finish it and then I move on. It’s like impulsive pop, I call it impulsive pop. Also, because it’s so early in my career, I haven’t set a genre, so I can do whatever I want. My genre’s like tropical emo, so I can do what the fuck I want, because I made it up. Whatever I do, it’s tropical emo.
Is that then how your writing process works, you write quickly, have a bunch of demos and then pick the highlights?
Dude, I write like fifty songs, and then I choose five of them. I have so many songs. If I don’t find the lyrics within an hour, I just go ‘oh, I’m never going to make this’. But lately I’ve been working in a way that’s like ‘ah, maybe this is worth working a little more on’. But I haven’t worked with a producer in that sense, so nobody’s stopping me. So what’s why it’s so spread out. You’ll get the full picture when the EP’s out, you’ll see the full journey. Because there is a red thread going through them, there’s something in common between all the songs.
Yeah, because even though your styles are different, the aesthetic is kind of the same. The sound signature. Then the structures go a million different places.
That’s also because I’m just starting out. And with Vacation Forever, I play all the instruments and stuff. So I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I got to know what I was doing, so the songs got more structured as pop songs as I was playing them. And now I’m like ‘Fuck, I wanna get back to when I didn’t know what to do’.
Going onto the lyrics, the lyrics tend to be quite escapist. Because you’ve got like Blank Ocean, which is this nostalgic song for childhood lost, and I Changed My Life For You and Kamikaze Love, which are these dramatic, overwhelming love songs. So is that part of the Vacation Forever philosophy, that reality should be kept at a distance, and you want to focus on these things that are way out of the everyday?
Yeah, totally. I want to create my own universe, where my heart is allowed to bleed, where you can say that and it’s ok. You don’t have to hide everything. Kind of like The Cure, they’re just out there with the lyrics, they’re just so honest and pure. And if you create your own universe, you have your own rules, and in my universe it’s ok to be like super honest about what you’re feeling.
Do you feel that songwriting is a method of emotional release for you? That you can blast whatever you like into those songs?
I suffer from so much anxiety. Small things may not affect other people, but they affect me in such a big way, so I have to write that down. And it’s always about a broken heart or my fucked-up mind. I don’t like writing about nature or stuff like that, it doesn’t me anything to me.
It doesn’t resonate with you?
No. My old band Tussilago were always singing about a beautiful lake, or like acid and LSD. My lyrics are more gritty I guess.
So you’re signed to a major-affiliate label, it’s Jeff Bhasker’s label right?
It’s actually an indie label.
Isn’t it Universal-affiliated?
Yeah, it’s under the Universal umbrella. But all indie labels are. So I’m signed there. And I just turned down Geffen Records actually.
I wanted to ask about that. Because I think everyone had seen ads for Vacation Forever on their social media over the past few months, it’s been everywhere. So it kind of feels like this project has a lot of backing behind it. But it’s not what you’d call major label music really, it’s weirder and more artsy and abstract. So I was wondering, what are your ambitions with Vacation Forever? Do you feel like you want to a major, big streaming pop artist? And do you feel, because your music doesn’t fit into that scene now, that you can change what hits those big numbers? Do you think you can make this style of music big?
My goal is to reach as many as possible of course. I would love that. I would love to travel the world and play live. I think the music scene right now has been so commercial for a while, and I think people are getting tired of it, and I think this kind of music is going to find some space again. Right now it’s just hip-hop and ironic commercial music, it’s all about that now.
Because there are waves that happen like that sometimes. When MGMT first broke for example, no-one would have said their music would go big.
Exactly. I mean, my aim is to get as big as possible. I think it has the potential to be like MGMT, or my favourites like Deerhunter. They’re headlining festivals and stuff. The War On Drugs are like massive, but how long did it take for The War On Drugs to become that big? It was only with the record before last when they signed with a major label. But you have to work your ass off. If you want to do this music, you have to think like five years ahead, because this music is not going to be poppy. You have to build it up slowly. When I got into Tame Impala, their album had been out for three years. And they weren’t big by the first album. It had already been out for so long, and they were just starting to play festivals. So it’s a long journey, you have to work really hard, stick to it, and keep on grinding.
And you believe that you can have success on your own terms, without compromising the sound?
Yeah. But I’m going to start working with a producer now. He’s worked with Ariel Pink. Actually also look at Ariel Pink, he’s big as fuck, he’s big as fuck in LA. And listen to his like first albums, they’re insane.
That was another of the acts I was going to say your style reminded me of.
I’ve been listening to him so much, because he also just does whatever he feels like. I think that’s a great thing, don’t give a shit, just do your thing. I actually might go to LA at the end of the summer and work with Ariel, maybe write some music with them. Because there’s no scene here for that kind of music, there’s no bands, for me that sound like that. I think I’m doing it a little bit, but I don’t know anybody else doing it. I like HOLY, he’s doing his thing. We’ve been writing together, we were in LA together. We influence each other a lot, we write music together a lot.
So EP 1 is out on July 13, with EP 2 due afterwards. Am I right in saying that these were initially going to be an album together? Why did you decide to split them in the end?
Because the album as a format is not really that important. I would love to do an album really, but coming from nowhere and releasing an album, all those songs could disappear into nowhere. People might only listen to one song. So I decided to split it up, and release almost every song as a single. Also, now you can write a song and mix it and release it in two days. You can do whatever you want, you don’t have to stick to the album format.
Vacation Forever’s debut EP EP 1 is out on July 13 on Kravenworks.
Photos: Lykke Li Timotej