Sitting as I am overlooking Gothenburg’s sun dappled canals and winding cobbled pathways it is impossible not to feel an affinity for this little city: its quiet charm and calming rhythm beckoning you into its arms. Watching it swell with festival revellers and sun worshippers has only enhanced its personality, one which I’m still getting acquainted with but one with which Sarah Assbring, known as El Perro del Mar to you and I, is very familiar.
As with any city you spend any real amount of time in, Gothenburg and Sweden at large have worked their way into her artistic output, occupying the guitars of her first full length, playing with the keys on From the Valley to the Stars, swimming in the choruses of Love Is Not Pop and now, finally, inhabiting the colder sample heavy Pale Fire, the release of which is just around the corner. So, who better to help us unravel the mysteries of its incredible musical wealth?
Gothenburg has a huge wealth of talent – Lissvik, Rasmus Haag, Eric Berglund, Fredrik Lindson – Do you feel connected to any scene in any way?
To me Gothenburg artistically and creatively represents locking yourself away, not being or wanting to take part in any other scene than your own, storing and working for something not meant for the city itself first. I don’t know if that really is such an inspiring thing about a city or the people active in it, not for too long anyway. But yes, the little city sure has brought up a lot of great talent but I don’t consider me being or ever having been a part of any scene in any city.
Sweden, in general, is often associated with cutting edge pop music. Some say it’s very much connected to the governments openness to supporting musicians financially with grants and so on. What do you think makes it such a cultural hotspot for new music?
I definitely think the government grants have a huge impact on the Swedish musical climate. It enables a creative freedom, a possibility for the not so commercially viable music to flourish and grow stronger. I don’t however know if Sweden is more of a cultural hotspot for new music than any other city really. I’m sure you’d find a lot of great and exciting stuff in for example Johannesburg or Lisbon should you just decide to shift focus.
Do you feel Gothenburg itself has had an impact on you as an artist, do you feel that your surroundings affect your music?
Well I guess it has, as any city you spend a long time in but it depends really. In the beginning of a writing process it is very important so I usually do a lot of travelling or get a place to live somewhere that feels right with what I’m working on. While in the actual recording process I more or less lock myself away in a dark, windowless studio and then then environment is of minor importance.
It’s been three years since you released Love Is Not Pop which saw, once again, another progression artistically. ‘Future pop’ perhaps? How do you feel you’ve moved forward with the new material?
Most importantly I think I’ve been trying to free my mind, to move as seamlessly as possible between whatever genres, to try and create something that feels and sounds unique. In the past I’ve been quite controlling in the way that I work and record, so forcing myself to be freer has been a challenge.
So, what can we expect from the new album?
Rebellion. Uprising. Youth. Ruins. Love. Innocence. Corruption. Darkness. Light.
From the two songs released post Love Is Not Pop (‘What Do You Expect’ and ‘Innocence Is Sense’) – the level of electronic, disco experimentation feels much stronger than ever before – could you tell me a bit about how you arrived at this sound from your much more pop driven breakthrough in 2006?
Well, the last two years I’ve been very much into dance music, like old school house and chicago house especially. I think I’ve also been drawn to instrumental music in a stronger sense this time. This album represents me completely where I am today and what I’ve been going through these past two years. My first album represented my life then in the exact same way. In my life as well as musically my fuel is that I’m never fully satisfied, never completely happy. I have to move on, I have to keep looking. To me it’s the purpose of everything and what inspires me to keep going.
How did the record come together then, have you had to approach things differently than before?
I spent a lot of time writing. For some reason I found it rather difficult coming up with the right way of putting things this time. My life had been quite turbulent so I guess I had a lot of things to process, things to get over, things to clear out of my life so I guess it needed the time it took me. The record itself has been travelling between Stockholm and Gothenburg, Rasmus Haag’s (of Studio, producer of Love Is Not Pop) influence is there but in the end I produced it myself.
I wanted to make something that was thematically dark but musically/harmonically and maybe even lyrically bright. I wanted to see if I could make that kind of album.The record is also gifted with the perhaps most mysterious bass player in Sweden, and the best. His name his Timo Lundgren and I owe him a lot for adding his unique sense of funk to the album.
I think I always need to find ‘the tool/instrument of the album’ before I head into working on any album. With my first album it was the guitar, the second the piano and the flute, the third the bass and the chorus effect. With this album I started playing around with samples. I’ve been sampling sounds from movies or my own voice and turned the sounds into new instruments in themselves. This way of working gives me freedom to explore but still held within a thematic boundary so to speak. I like that way of working.
You have spoken about how the concept of heaven informed From the Valley To The Stars, is there any kind of over arching concept hidden beneath Pale Fire?
There is but I want to give it to the listener so they can take this album to his/her own special personal place. I don’t want put too many ideas or paint too many pictures for people. Music works best when you’re allowed to shape your own imagery around it.
What kind of things have brought you to this point, from things you’ve experienced in your life to music you’ve been discovering along the way?
I sometimes find other music has little effect on me and my work when compared to my experiences, what I have gone through or what I’m going through in my life. Music is usually a means for escape – bringing hope, consolation or empowering me but my experiences and being confronted with life is very much what has brought forward all of my records so far. It’s not something I plan or choose, it’s just how it works for me. My music is like a third arm for me, it’s there with me whatever happens. It cannot be denied nor unaffected.
Finally, whilst we have some days left in Gothenburg ourselves we wanted to ask: If you were to take us on a magical mystery tour of the city for the very first time, what three things would you show us and why?
Hmm, I would start by showing you the surroundings of the hideous mall Nordstan where we’d get a good insight into how Gothenburg and Sweden in general treat Romani people. From there I’d take you on a tram ride where we’d sooner or later be stopped by the Gothenburg public transport company’s own Gestapo team – the Västtrafik ticket inspectors. There we would all find ourselves being treated as suspect joy riders and being taken off the tram or more likely being pushed and held down on the seats while waiting for the police to arrive and handle the whole affair. After having been somewhat delayed we’d finally find ourselves at the top of Majorna and Systembolaget where we’d have to hurry inside in time to buy ourselves a bottle of wine before closing time. Then we’d head to a good spot by the water where we can watch the Denmark ferries pass us by while the sun slowly sets. Time well spent in the real light of Gothenburg city.
El Perro Del Mar’s forthcoming album Pale Fire will be release in the first week of November. Tour dates surrounding the release will be announced in due course.