SONIC EXPOSURE :: Siri Karlsson

“Since the start people have been telling us about the visions they get when they listen to our music. Music at its best is some sort of escapism or release of the mind. It seems that our music summons up all kinds of images, landscapes and emotions into people’s minds and hearts, ours, but still very much their own.”

SONIC EXPOSURE :: Siri Karlsson

Siri Karlsson (Photo by Mira Åkerman)

Far out there

“Långt Där Ute” (Far Out There) is the closing piece of The Lost Colony—the new album by Maria Arnqvist and Cecilia Österholm (together known as Siri Karlsson)—and the best introduction to Siri Karlsson’s music, which is all about exploring the wild depths of the imagination, diving into the fantastic unknown, engaging with the alluring occult. Arnqvist (alto saxophone, piano, vocals) and Österholm (nyckelharpa, tenor nyckelharpa, vocals, percussion), are influenced by folk, jazz, rock, electronica, classical music and more, and their music reflects it with a grand, exotic marriage of elements. The Lost Colony is also judiciously dipped in ’70s-style psychedelia which blends perfectly with everything else, and adds another dimension to the music. The album (released earlier this year on Flora & Fauna) encapsulates the duo’s most colorful and daring work to date. A tribal-trance-inducing sonic brew filled with witchcraft, folklore and mysticism.

Igloo logo The story?

Maria :: I met Cecilia in a student dorm in Uppsala where we both lived and studied at the time. Now we’re based in Stockholm. We jammed a couple of times and one day Cecilia knocked on my door and said she got a gig in Rio de Janeiro. She asked if I would like to join. I love traveling and was about to write my master thesis, so I said yes. That’s how Siri Karlsson was born! We started a bit backwards, with a tour in Brazil, then West Africa where I’d been living for a while. Then we got around to record our first CD, ‘Mellan Träden’ (in between trees) that we released on our own label in 2008. It is more traditional in style and mirrors where we were at musically together at the time. Cecilia has a background in folk and I had a more general sense of Swedish folk tunes but was more into improvisation/pop/reggae at the time, although my background is in classical piano. Siri Karlsson is a project with Cecilia on keyharps and voice and myself on saxophone, voice and piano. We took our name from Siri Karlsson, who lived in the Southern parts of Sweden around the end of the 19th century. She was quite an eccentric lady full of imagination and ideas, who played the psalmodicon. But, she’s actually a fictive person we made up…

Cecilia :: I have a background in folk music but my dad is a jazz cornet player so I have always felt closely connected to improvisational music. We met at a party where we played together and discovered our instruments (key fiddle and alto saxophone) melted nicely together, and we shared the same musical ideas about improvisation and strong folk music melodies. Together as Siri Karlsson we try not to bind ourselves to any genre. We usually work with pictures or stories and feelings when we compose songs. We like it dirty, emotional, dramatic, epic and fun.

Igloo logo The new album?

Cecilia & Maria :: We’ve worked with a producer, Jari Haapalainen, on our two latest albums because we like his style. He is very sensitive and puts emphasis on emotion rather than perfection, which suits us very well. He also plays the drums with us now. But, before we go into the studio we work many hours only the two of us together, trying to find the core, the right expression and best arrangement for each song. We rehearse a lot as a duo and when it’s time to go into the studio we invite musicians we like—some have become more rooted in Siri Karlsson and important for our sound, like Jari on drums and Simon on guitars on our latest two albums. Each contributes with their personal style. Torbjörn Zetterberg on bass has been playing with us live for a while now, and he has also contributed to the new album, ‘The Lost Colony’. ‘The Lost Colony’ features some new guests as well, on additional stuff like percussion and vibraphone. And what’s also new this time is that we have a song with lyrics, by a guest writer! The songs get there final dress just before recording or during recording. We always record live, 2-3 takes for each songs. Then some additions, like singing, percussion etc. That’s why we are so thorough with describing pictures, ideas about the songs. We always have a duo version of all the songs, the “originals” so to speak and we perform as a duo as well.

We like working with a concept for every album. The second album ‘Gran Fuego’ was closely connected to the fictive person Siri Karlsson that we have made up. She lived at the turn of the 20th century at the time when most women, due to society’s conventions, never got the chance to express all their creativity, bound to the duty of the house, not able to work in what they wanted or travel to where they wanted. So the music is sort of traveling all over the world but in a peculiar way. Impressions of stories told from travels.

‘The Lost Colony’ has a different approach, it is darker and more political. It is an epic in which each song represents a separate chapter. “MIR”, peace in Russian, is dedicated to Putin. Russia invaded Ukraine when we were actually recording the album. But, it is a request to all people, in large and small to act for peace no matter what, now. ‘The Lost Colony’ to us is like a freestanding location where we as individuals and collective can breathe experiences, personal dealings, anxiety, happiness and dreams. A place reassembling the wilderness, which is out of range for most people today. The video for “Långt Där Ute” (Far Out There), directed by David Giese, provides a glimpse to ‘The Lost Colony’. It was recorded at a very beautiful place that we came across a few years back in the Southern parts of Sweden, once a noble estate dating from the 12th century where nature is magical. Memories and pictures from that very place were actually one of the sources of inspiration for ‘The Lost Colony’. When we compose, we usually compose separately but work out the material together. On this record we have two songs composed together. We like to challenge ourselves, go further, be brave and just do music that we love and want to do. We also feel the album has a psychedelic sound—(whatever that is :))

Igloo logo Live?

Maria :: Since the start people have been telling us about the visions they get when they listen to our music. Music at its best is some sort of escapism or release of the mind. It seems that our music summons up all kinds of images, landscapes and emotions into people’s minds and hearts, ours, but still very much their own. When we play on stage, we always aim to reinvent the songs, not in the tunes and arrangements necessarily, but in the microcosmos of music making. This time we’ve also brought some elements and scenography on stage to add to the feeling. We were also curious to check how it would affect our music and us on stage. So far we love it. But we’re not bound by it. Most important for us is to stay free in mind, to trust our guts and go for what turns us on.

Igloo logo Memorable reaction?

Maria :: Once we played at a traditional folk festival in Sweden and an old man, actually very respected musician and figure in the folk scene, shouted at us after an unamplified duo performance where we made some noise—”What was that! That doesn’t belong here!”—quite interesting and inspiring reaction!

Igloo logo On heavy rotation?

Cecilia :: Mariam The Believer, Timber Timbre, Björk. Tom Waits (Rain Dogs)

Maria :: Exploring old and new, Les Big Byrd, Kriget, Erik Satie, José Gonzales, Ane Brun.

Siri Karlsson | The Lost Colony | SoundCloud | Flora & Fauna

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