Call Me is Anna Nordenström, an electronic pop singer based in the international capital of electronic pop, Stockholm, Sweden. Her debut album, A Sort of Company, is out via Luxury Records, the Swedish home of fellow sad romantics Makthaverskan. It’s full of melancholy, introverted ballads that call to mind Bjork’s Homogenic and Vespertine, or “Dancing On My Own” if Robyn had stayed home instead of going to the club.
Nordenström has a beautiful, flexible voice that sounds airborne even when she’s heartbroken. Her producer, Ilon Vejde, builds scaffolds of synths and strings around her voice while adding subtle surprises, like a fleeting crack of autotune on “Disclosed” and downtuned, spooky Knife-style backing vocals on the otherwise upbeat “Ella.”
We talked with Nordenström over Skype and met her cat Albin, a handsome, fluffy fellow who was not interested in the interview at all. She struggled slightly to express herself in English, although she sounded nearly perfect to our ears. Plus, her music is plenty expressive.
Is this your first English language interview?
It’s the first speaking one. I’ve done some email interviews, and for some blogs that write in English but the interviews have been in Swedish.
I couldn’t find much information about you online. Is that on purpose? Are you trying to cultivate an air of mystery?
No. Well, maybe. This is something people are always telling me. “We can’t Google you! Call Me, what a stupid name.” When I decided to call me Call Me, I didn’t decide on that because I didn’t want to be Googleable. But if people really want to listen and hear, they can find it other ways than Google, and that’s the most important thing.
Do you write all the songs?
It’s all me from the beginning. I wrote all the lyrics and all the harmonies and singing melodies, but then I’ve been working with a producer named Ilon Vejde. Most of the songs are created in Logic, like computer-made sounds, not all of them, but a lot of them, and I’m not with good computers. So he has been a big part of how it sounds. We’ve done a lot of it together. It wouldn’t sound anything like it does if it weren’t for Ilon.
So he’s your primary collaborator on the album? It’s the two of you on there?
Yeah, it’s only the two of us.
What are some your influences, musical or otherwise?
I think it’s very hard to say one person or one musician or one thing that’s given me my inspiration. Inspiration is always very fluid. And I can be inspired by, like, I don’t know, a dog or a girl. It’s always floating around.
One thing this past year when I recorded this album, there’s been sort of a change in the Swedish music industry. There are a lot of non-cis male gendered musicians that have taken space and been given space also, and have been standing up for political rights and stuff. That’s been inspirational, and it’s also created a safer environment. You have other people around you who aren’t male “geniuses,” so that’s been an inspiration this year.
If you mean music influences, The Knife, and Karin Dreijier’s other project Fever Ray, I’ve been listening a lot to them. She’s my idol. If I were to pick one person that’s influenced me musically, it would be Karin Dreijier, I’d say.
Who are some the people you were just talking about, these non-cis male artists who are inspiring you?
Planningtorock is one I like a lot, and Silvana Imam, a Swedish rapper, and her girlfriend Beatrice Eli. Ji Nilsson… there are so many! These are people who are taking space that they deserve, and daring to be political about it.
Is there any political undertone in your work?
The song “Change” on the album is the only song that has a clear political message. It’s about the Feminist Spring and feminist movement. But it’s really hard with lyrics. Music is a very powerful tool to get your message across, because a lot more people can listen to a song, and feel like, “I understand this, and I agree with it.” It’s a lot more easygoing, I don’t know the word in English exactly. But if you compare it to watching a political debate on TV — there are a lot of people who are excluded from that, because they don’t understand the language. But music is very powerful because it’s so easygoing.
From the beginning, you have to create something that you like and that you can stand for, and if that also can have a political message or some other message that’s important, then that’s another beautiful and good thing, but it can’t be forced, like “you have to do it,” because it’s really hard. When there are a lot of people, musicians and artists in general, that are making a statement, then it’s also easier for others to do. It creates an environment.
These are people who are taking space that they deserve, and daring to be political about it.
Yeah, a supportive environment. That makes me wonder if you have a sort of philosophy to what you do? Can you summarize what you’re about?
Do you mean with my music in terms of a political movement, or in general?
In general, like what sort of mood are you trying to capture?
I didn’t really realize while writing and recording it, but now everyone’s telling me it’s a quite sad album. Very melancholy, and not very happy. I didn’t mean for it to be like that, it just came out that way. That’s not a nice message [laugh].
I said in some interview that this album was inspired by total happiness and total unhappiness. I think that you can be unhappy, like that’s more of a state of mind you can be in for a longer period of time. I don’t think you can be happy in the same way. “I’ve been happy for years,” that doesn’t exist. But I think that you can be unhappy for years. Ugh, that’s sad. But I mean happiness, that’s more of a thing that you strive for, you want to achieve happiness, and then you do feel happy at times, but I see it as more moments, beautiful moments, that you can achieve. This album is something like that. It’s very sad and melancholy. You don’t get happy by listening to my music. But the last song on the album, it contains only one sentence, no, two maybe, it’s like “it’s alright, we can make our own thing, we don’t have to know how.” I think that sums up a lot of the other lyrics like, “well, life sucks, but it also can be good at times.” I also want there to be a feeling of hope. And I think there is.
Do you do anything besides music? Do you have a day job?
Like a pay rent job? Well, I work way less than I should, but I work from time to time at a, what do you call it, a home for kids with autism, and disabled kids. They come and stay there to give their parents some room. I don’t know the word in English. It’s like a group home, but they live at home too, and they come stay there for a couple of days. It’s for the parents to have some space.
I work there from time to time. Not that much, though. I haven’t been now, because it’s been so much with the album, but now I think I have to work so I can pay rent.
Does that influence your music in any way?
Yeah, absolutely. It definitely gives you a new perspective on your own life and your problems. Like I could have a shitty day and hate my life, and then I come see these kids … I can see the world through their eyes, and they can get like, “life is ruined if a show on TV is cancelled,” or they can be as happy as ever if they see a cat outside the window. Also, of course, that I’m very lucky. Maybe it has given me something in my music, probably without me knowing it.
Do you perform live? That was one of the things I couldn’t find.
Yes, I do. I haven’t done it at all this year, because I haven’t had any time to put my band together because we’ve been in the studio all the time. But now I have some shows planned. I had a release party in Gothenburg last week, and I will have one here in Stockholm, and I have a few others. In the summer there will be more shows.
Do you have any plans to come to America?
I would love to! It would be so fun to go. To go anyway, but to play would be the most fun.