Agnes Talks Conquering America, New Music & Why Swedish Pop Is Absolutely The Best
While doing some pop music journalism in Stockholm last week (namely, an in-depth investigative report into why Sweden produces the very best pop in the world — more on that to come), I was lucky enough to snag some face time with one of my very favorite Swedish superstars in the game: the great Agnes Carlsson, generally known by the mononym Agnes. She was rocketed into stateside success in 2010 with the global takeover of her amazing dance single “Release Me,” which went to #1 on the US Hot Dance Club Songs chart and became a Top 10 radio hit all over Europe.
But instead of rallying hard for a big international push to follow up that initial launch, when the time came to release her next album, Carlsson scaled back the vision, foregoing the huge commercial sound of her mega-successful 2008 LP Dance Love Pop for a moodier vibe on 2012’s excellent Veritas, which had more in common with the gorgeously melancholy electropop vibe of Robyn than with her chart diva contemporaries.
Teaming up with Patrik Berger (Robyn, Charli XCX), Jonas Quant (Hurts), and Nervo (Kylie Minogue, Rachel Stevens) paid off in terms of quality, on songs like “One Last Time” — even if Veritas was only released in Sweden.
It’s a loss for the rest of the world, and when I stopped by the singer’s sound check before her show at Gröna Lund in Stockholm last weekend, I told her so. But, as she explained, it was important to her that she focus her energies where it mattered most — rather than courting further international approval.
“It was important to know exactly what I wanted to do,” Agnes said. “With ‘Release Me,’ everything happened really fast. Suddenly, I had a lot of record companies all over the world contacting me. When I started working on the last album, I started out writing in L.A. and I was there for six months. But I felt that I didn’t write the songs that I wanted to do. I was working with a lot of people, and they were really great, but for me, it was important to go back to where everything started — to go back home and try to figure out what I wanted to do.”
But that doesn’t mean the international domination train has stalled. “I feel like I’m ready again because now I’m more confident with myself and my music,” she explained. “But I needed those two years to take a break.”
Recording the album in Sweden, among her people, felt like the right thing to do. “I think we are really good at pop music,” she said. “I don’t know why, but there are a lot of really, really great songwriters and producers from Sweden. Pop music is the best from here. I think it’s because there’s a lot of great songwriters who always listen to each other and they’re like, ‘Oh, okay, they’ve done this. I can do something better!’ When you have something close to you, you’re always on your toes.”
As for the sound of Veritas, she said that it wasn’t a calculated departure. “I love moody kinds of music,” she said. “When I listen to music, I like to mix happy and moody. With this new album, I thought it was exciting to make the production not too perfect. TO make it a bit dirtier. I think that’s why it went more moody.” She laughed. “I don’t know — I was co-writing all the songs, so maybe that’s why!”
While she preps new studio sessions, one of the standout tracks from Veritas — the excellent “Got Me Good” — has been given a refix courtesy of Swedish DJ Bassflow, who injected it with a new vibrance. “It was so fun for me to do that song, because I’d had one song that I was listening to a lot — ‘When Love Takes Over.’ There were two girls from Australia who wrote that song. I love their stuff and I really wanted to work with them. So my manager called them and asked if they were interested and they were like, ‘Yeah, we love Agnes!’ So they came to Stockholm and we did this song together — so for me, it’s really important, because it’s the first song we did.”
It might be a smart calling card if she chooses to give the UK or U.S. another shot, which she says is in the cards. “I do really want to go back,” she said. “Two years ago when I was there touring, it was incredible. We say Swedish people are a bit shy, but you’re not in America! It’s really incredible when you stand up on stage and perform. It’s so much love.”
Photo via Gröna Lund