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Taken By Trees under tree red jumper Louise Enhorning
Nine Songs
Taken By Trees

On her new mini-album Another Year, Victoria Bergsman pays tribute to musical hero Colin Blunstone. She talks Alan Pedder through her favourite of his songs, and eight other pivotal tracks from her life.

31 December 2022, 12:00 | Words by Alan Pedder

Victoria Bergsman never thought she would cover the songs she loved so much by Colin Blunstone, but the 50th anniversary of his solo album One Year was a chance she couldn’t say no to.

With fans including Pet Shops Boys’ Neil Tennant and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, The Zombies singer’s solo debut belongs high up in the canon of first-rate breakup records. Elevated to classic status by the stunning chamber orchestra arrangements that give its bruised and tender songs a sophisticated flair, and by Blunstone’s unmistakeable voice, it’s thoughtful, romantic and discerningly crushing – all adjectives that could also be used to describe the work of Taken By Trees.

Bergsman’s solo project began 16 years ago, launching within months of her departure from The Concretes, the Stockholm band she had formed as a teenager with friends Lisa Milberg and Maria Eriksson. Since then, she has released four albums, moved to Los Angeles, got married, had a son, and, during the pandemic, moved her life back to Stockholm.

Another Year, then, is a homecoming in more ways than one. It sees her back on Rough Trade Records, who released her first two albums, 2007’s Open Field and 2009’s East of Eden. It sees her reuniting with two-thirds of Peter, Björn and John, whose inescapable hit “Young Folks” featured Bergsman on vocals (Björn Yttling also co-produced Open Field). And it sees her once again collaborating with some of Sweden’s most talented and interesting women.

Where previous records have had understated guest appearances from Lykke Li, El Perro Del Mar and Elle-Kari of The Tiny, Another Year is co-produced by Freja Drakenberg, who records as Freja the Dragon, and features young pop vibraphonist Esther Lennstrand and spontaneously recorded backing vocals from Frida Hyvönen, who dropped by the studio one day.

The choice to use vibraphone in place of the string arrangements of the Blunstone originals was made early on in the planning, once Bergsman finally agreed to go all in on the project. “Several people suggested that I should do a tribute to him, since he’s one of my favourite singers of all time,” she tells me over the phone. “But I knew that I couldn’t use strings. They were not allowed, because they are so much a part of what he did.”

“I knew I wanted to use vibraphone but I didn’t know how. I just had that mission. Then when I got introduced to Esther, I fell in love with her playing immediately. She and Freja are both really sweet and talented people, and it was so playful and fun recording these parts.”

Impressed by the unique interpretations, Blunstone talks in the press release for Another Year about his excitement at hearing his songs “brought back to life” with “such a melancholy and contemporary edge.” When she got the news, Bergsman says she started to cry. “It was so sweet,” she says, tenderly. “I was so nervous about him hearing the songs!”

Bergsman says she plans to carry the inspiration she felt while recording the tribute into the studio sessions for her fifth album, which she hopes to put out in 2023. “I have almost all the songs done now,” she says. “I’d like to use the same kind of setup as for Another Year… but maybe add some strings this time.”

When it came to choosing her Nine Songs, Bergsman says she struggled to narrow the list down from an initial twenty or so. “It was really hard! The nine I picked might not be the most perfect pop songs ever made, but they are songs I have a special connection with, a memory.”

They include, of course, her favourite Colin Blunstone song, but also songs that remind her of her husband, of her son, and of a reckless teenage trip that defined her short-lived goth phase.

“So Fresh, So Clean” by OutKast

VICTORIA BERGSMAN: Whenever I go on a plane, this is the song that helps me through my fear of flying. I have listened to this song so many times during take-offs and landings. It is my comfort song. It rocks me into a steady, happy place.

I play it on a loop and have it on the loudest volume to drown out any sounds coming from wheels or wings getting adjusted and prepared. The song feels very sturdy and solid to me. It’s very polished, very tight. And it’s always there, strong and fresh and clean when everything feels scary and chaotic.

BEST FIT: How long have you been using “So Fresh, So Clean” as your plane song?

Almost 15 years, I think. I’ve been a fan of OutKast for a long time. I guess they’ve been my main go-to hip hop act, and I think they’re brilliant. I love their album Aquemini.

My fear of flying comes and goes. I thought it would be easier when I had a child, and it was easier for a little bit because my focus would be on him. But that kind of disappeared and I realised it was me, and I’m scared. I think it’s crazy, being up there. I probably overthink it too much. As soon as we land, I’m good.

“Rubin and Cherise” by Jerry Garcia Band

VICTORIA BERGSMAN: I love how this song just starts. We stumble in and there it is. The drums feel a little ramshackle. Almost as if the drum kit is about to fall over. My favourite kind of drums, slightly behind on the beat. Jerry Garcia’s voice is so soft and sweet. I love his pleading vocals, and when he sings the word “heart” it really feels sincere. And it’s always big images with his lyrics. He really takes you places.

My husband is a Dead Head, and “Rubin & Cherise” is one of many Grateful Dead / Jerry Garcia songs he introduced to me. It’s the one that really got me into their music.

BEST FIT: Was he making you mixtapes or was it just something he would have on at home?

Well, I met him while I was living in LA and I didn’t have a car in the beginning, so he would pick me up and drive me around. He would often play The Grateful Dead in the car. Usually the live albums, which are the best anyway, I think.

I’ve learned that they aren’t very good at being in the recording studio for some reason. Maybe because everything’s too orchestrated. They’re much better live, when they could be spontaneous and do whatever they liked. I love the earlier live recordings, when you can really feel that there was so much going on. I can’t listen to the later recordings, when Jerry got older and he was into heroin. It’s just too sad.

I was always very skeptical of The Grateful Dead because I’d only listened to the studio albums and they’re so boring, I think. But getting into them while driving around and falling in love… how could I not like them then?

Jerry Garcia said that “Rubin & Cherise” is one of his favourites of his own songs, even though writing it was a bit of a struggle and it took about three years to finish. Has that happened to you, where a song that you've worked on for a really long time ended up being one of your favourites?

Usually not, because I think you just get so tired of it when that happens. There is a song that I’m struggling with right now that I love very much but I know it needs another part for it to be good, and I still haven’t found that. I usually write pretty fast but this particular song is so annoying. It’s sticking around and I know it’s gonna be beautiful but it needs the perfect part.

“The Shadow of Your Smile” by Astrud Gilberto

VICTORIA BERGSMAN: This song is so sad, but so beautiful. I always get an image of a sandy beach on a moonlit evening when I hear this song. To me, Astrud Gilberto’s voice sounds like an instrument, some kind of woodwind maybe, and she uses her voice so rhythmically. She is a big inspiration to me.

Since I started making music I’ve always struggled that other people were better at instruments than me. I’m not very good at guitar or piano, and sometimes it didn’t feel enough to be ‘just’ a singer. Then I heard Astrud Gilberto and it made me more relaxed and to appreciate the instrument that I do have, and to take care of that instrument.

I don't know if I have a favourite Astrud Gilberto album. I need to find them on vinyl because I only have a couple of collections. Maybe I should start with the one that this song is on. Do you know which one it is?

BEST FIT: It’s also called The Shadow of Your Smile and it’s really lovely. I recommend it. Have you ever tried to do any bossa nova style songs yourself?

No, but I've been wanting to. My next album is all over the place stylistically. Usually with my albums the songs are in one musical world, but this upcoming one is not like that. It’s looking in many different musical worlds, so I’m a little tempted to try something like that. It’s fun to sing bossa nova, I think.

“Catch” by The Cure

VICTORIA BERGSMAN: I was 12 when I first heard The Cure. My brother introduced them to me. I loved them from the get-go. The music was sad but trippy. I then became a goth girl for a couple years and was a die-hard Robert Smith fan for a while. I even had a hamster that I named Robert Smith.

BEST FIT: Tell me more about this goth girl period.

It was pretty short. It was a hard time, becoming a teenager. I became a vegan because Robert Smith was vegan, and so was Morrissey – I was really into The Smiths, too. That was hard for my family, I think, to be so very strict about what I could eat and what I couldn’t eat.

Actually, just the other day I was talking to this girl I became good friends with just because we were both so into The Cure. I asked her how we met and she said she thought it was just because we saw each other out roaming around in Stockholm and we just knew. We could just tell that the other one was into The Cure.

We ended up doing a lot of weird and super nerdy things togethers. We dressed up like him, of course, and when we were 14, I think, we went to Copenhagen to see them live without telling our parents. We just called them from the station when we arrived, and of course they got mad. We actually saw The Cure walking around on the big main street in Copenhagen but we didn’t dare say anything to them.

Wow, that’s a long way to go when you’re 14, from Stockholm to Copenhagen.

Yes, and I don’t recommend it to others. It was a crazy thing to do. And now I have a son, I’m like, oh my god, he’s not going to be allowed to go anywhere [laughs]. But we had a lot of fun.

Everything was about Robert Smith for a while. I bought one of the first Cure singles and found a piece of unused chewing gum in it. I still say it must have been his, and I still have it. It’s still in the plastic.

Eventually I moved on and discovered other music. I mean, it was kind of boring being a goth. A bit depressing. And I’ve always loved all kinds of music, so I was curious about so much. My brother is three years older than me, and he had a friend who had an older sister, so music was sort of passed down the line that way. I think that’s how I got into The Smiths.

He used to listen to so much music. There was always some new record on every morning, so it was fun to explore music in that way. It was a lot of indie, a lot of pop and rock, but later he got into dancehall and some reggae, so I heard that too.

“Don’t Worry Baby” by The Beach Boys

VICTORIA BERGSMAN: This is a perfect song to me. I wish I had written this. I love songs with lyrics that are comforting, reassuring you that everything will be ok. Whenever I feel sad or low, I put this song on. And I’ve probably listened to it on planes when I haven’t listened to OutKast.

Honestly, I don’t know how long I’ve listened to The Beach Boys. I feel like their music has always been there. When we started The Concretes, we were very into The Beach Boys and other music with lots of harmonies. I really listened to the harmonies, because I’m a singer, I guess.

If I had to choose a second favourite Beach Boys song, it would be “Feel Flows”, but of course I like “God Only Knows” as well. I think it’s beautiful.

BEST FIT: What’s interesting about “Don’t Worry Baby” is that it’s very connected to one of the other songs you chose, “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes. Brian Wilson was apparently obsessed with that song and wrote this one as a sort of homage.

I forgot about that! I had read that somewhere. Now that you mention it, maybe I did connect the two subconsciously.

I read that this song was actually originally offered to The Ronettes, but Phil Spector turned it down. In the end, though, Ronnie Spector made her own version on her 1999 album She Talks to Rainbows. Have you heard that?

Sweet. I haven’t! I like that she recorded it anyway, once she got free from him.

“I Can Feel the Fire” by Ronnie Wood

VICTORIA BERGSMAN: When my son was about three, this song came on while we were sitting outside on our deck in LA, having a barbecue. It was on a playlist I had made that summer. He started moving and bending his knees up and down. He loved it, and it was one of the songs he requested a lot.

BEST FIT: Cute story. How old is he now and what’s his current jam?

He’s eight. This summer we were listening to a lot of John Denver in the car and he was into that. He liked the feelgood country songs, the happy, jolly ones. But he’s also into a lot of weird kid stuff that I don’t know. Music he’s heard while playing Minecraft or something. But he’s always liked “I Can Feel The Fire”. He used to say “Play the fire song, mamma,” so maybe it brings back fond memories for him.

What is it that you like about this song?

I like the steel drums. They come as such a surprise, but they work right there where they are. It’s also interesting that Mick Jagger is singing backing vocals. He just can’t hold back. He’s trying to take over but, the song is Ronnie Woods’ and he is the one coming through. It’s his strongest solo song, in my opinion.

Would you say that you’re a Rolling Stones fan?

I think they have very good songs, but that’s it for me. Their music never really touched my heart or anything. I’m not a fan of Mick Jagger’s voice. The voice is very important to me. If I don't like the voice, I can't listen to the music.

“Caroline Goodbye” by Colin Blunstone

VICTORIA BERGSMAN: This was the first Colin Blunstone song I heard. It must have been around 1999, and it has stuck with me ever since. I told myself I was never going to do a cover of this song. It was just too complete and perfect as it was.

The lyrics are about a break-up he was going through at the time with the model and actress Caroline Munro. I know he said somewhere that he really tried to use a different name than Caroline for the song so it wouldn’t be so personal, but no other name worked as well for the melody.

BEST FIT: Do you remember how you came across Colin’s solo work?

I think it was the boyfriend of Lisa, our drummer in The Concretes, who played it for me. Many of us in the band were fans of his, and we wrote more than one song about him on our album, In Colour. One is “On The Radio”, and then there’s “Song For The Songs” which has a verse about him too. There’s a line in it that goes “Then the strings come in and ask you not to mind / as he says farewell to Caroline.”

So, really, his music has always been around me since then. I just love his voice, always.

What is it that you love about it? Is it something you can describe?

Well, it's interesting, since I met him for the first time recently, and meeting him really added something to my vision of him because he seems so fragile in person. Like a little bird or something. But then he has this strong, big voice, although it can also be very small in some places.

It’s impressive. It sounds like he could do almost anything with his voice. I think he’s very humble in his singing, even though you know he could sing like Mick Jagger if he wanted to. But he doesn’t. He's very tasteful and careful with his singing. He really chooses where to go, vocally.

I love the sensitivity in his voice, and I love when he sings so very, very softly. It reminds me also of Astrud Gilberto, that softness.

Not many covers records come with a quote of approval from the original artist. That must have been huge for you.

It was. And then meeting him? Oh my god. It was in Stockholm at a club called Nalen, where The Zombies were playing. It was a bit weird because he had a mask on and we were two metres apart, so it was hard to really get through to him how much I love what he does. But hopefully he got it. And I know he thinks it’s a beautiful tribute. He told me over and over when we met.

You’ve said that “Caroline Goodbye” is your favourite of his songs. Is your version also your favourite track from the mini-album?

I haven't thought of my favourite! Hmm. I think I like them all equally, though the hardest one to make was “She Loves The Way They Love Her”.

Well, maybe “Caroline Goodbye” is my favourite, now that you say it. Because I feel so strongly about the original, maybe that comes through.

“Dancing Queen” by ABBA

BEST FIT: ABBA was a band that often came up when people wrote about The Concretes. I’m not sure if that was just lazy journalism. I mean, how big an influence on your music have they actually been?

It probably was just lazy a lot of the time. But I think our album In Colour probably was influenced in some way by ABBA, because we recorded it in Atlantis studio where they used to have the grand piano that they used on the recording of “Dancing Queen”. It’s also where I recorded my first solo album, Open Field.

Other than that, I think ABBA were not a big influence on the band. We did cover them once though, and I’ve always been a fan. I wish I could have written songs like that. So many brilliant melodies. “Dancing Queen” is a classic pop song to most people, I guess. It’s just so well made and solid.

Which song did you cover?

It was “Happy New Year”. I think we were playing in London that night. We also did “This Will Be Our Year” by The Zombies.

Did you play the “Dancing Queen” piano on Open Field? I can’t believe that album is 15 years old now.

Yeah, I got to play it. It was designed by the instrument maker Georg Bolin, but I don’t think the piano is there anymore, sadly. It was sold at an auction.

Open Field was a very tip-toeing, scary album for me to do. I can hear that it’s very hesitant in parts. And we recorded it very fast, in, like, five days. It’s crazy that it’s been 15 years.

“Be My Baby” by The Ronettes

VICTORIA BERGSMAN: “Be My Baby” is a perfect song. I mean, who doesn’t like that song? Ronnie Spector was such an incredible frontwoman. An incredible singer.

When I started The Concretes together with Maria and Lisa we were very into ‘60s girl groups and rockabilly music. We wanted that big Phil Spector sound I remembered, and this song has that. We didn’t sound anything like that, of course, as we struggled learning to play instruments. But we had a song called "You Can’t Hurry Love" that shows the inspiration in some ways.

BEST FIT: It's a classic in its own right, I think. You were working with producer Jari Haapalainen on the first Concretes album. What do you remember about trying to get that sound you were after?

Well, he was very hard to work with and we clashed a lot. We always clashed. I remember my roommate Maria, who was together with him then, saying that we were too much alike. That we’re both super stubborn and need to do things in our own way.

Honestly, I can hardly listen to that album because it was so hard to make. I mean, it turned out well, I think. But not at all sounding like Phil Spector pop. To me, at least.

I did notice that you’re a Taurus like me, so I guess the stubbornness thing checks out.

Yeah. It’s a pain, but I get things done!

Another Year is out now on Rough Trade Records.

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