One of our absolute favourite music videos from 2009 was Sarah Assbring, a.k.a El Perro Del Mar’s clip for Change of Heart, from her previous album, Love Is Not Pop. It was a strangely captivating and effective film, which brought Assbring, who – up to that point – wasn’t particularly well know outside her home country of Sweden, international interest. Today she releases her fourth studio album, Pale Fire, on London-based label Memphis Industries. It’s a subdued but beautiful collection of songs with an early 1990s feel to its sound. A good indicator of the record’s direction is the first single, Walk On By (video below), with its unmistakable Foxbase Alpha vibes.
Tonight Assbring shares the album with her London audience in the live setting of Village Underground. We caught up with her ahead of her return to the London stage and heard all about the new record, her exciting expectations for the new year and, erm, “bombasm”.
The new album has been some time in the making. What or where was the starting point for it?
I let it take some time to grow and evolve in my mind which is one of the reason it sounds as it does, I guess. I went to New York to start the writing so a lot of my ideas for it fell into place there. As with all my previous albums I do some research before I feel ready to start the actual writing: gathering various kinds of inspiration and material. My starting point for Pale Fire was that of being in a dark state of mind but the further I got writing it, I felt I wanted to go against that darkness. That’s where the light of love and hope comes in.
Pale Fire seems to be saying to the listener: believe in glimmers of hope. On balance, would you say that you are mostly an optimist?
I think I’ve become an optimist growing older, definitely. I used to be a full-fledged pessimist when I was younger but I guess time and life experience teaches you to never stop fighting, never stop hoping. As to survive, I guess. Life’s put me through many sad things but I have more hope now than I’ve ever had.
Do you have a personal favourite track on the album?
I really love the song Pale Fire. I think it’s got something to do with the fact that I can’t really put my finger on it, that I can’t nail it down. That usually is the trick of a good song for me. You just want to hear it over and over and it still is a little bit of an enigma. I feel like that about that song.
Which song was the hardest to write and complete on this project?
The song Hold Off The Dawn was tricky to put together and wrap up, I remember. I had a clear vision of it in my mind but it was so much harder to realise.
…and, conversely, which one did you find the easiest?
I Was A Boy was a song that just found its way naturally.
It seems in vogue for solo artists not to release music under their real names. What was the reason for you choosing to use the moniker El Perro Del Mar?
To me it’s just the perfect way to fully express myself. It enables me to be naked or vulnerable but also to be all the things that I’m not. It offers me a freedom my own name wouldn’t give me.
There’s a lot of finger-on-the-pulse music coming out of Gothenburg at the moment. What’s your relationship with the city?
Gothenburg’s really been a hard city for me to come to terms with for a long time. It’s now that I don’t live there anymore that I manage to see it with a bit more tenderness and forgiving eyes. The one thing that makes it unique for me is that I seem to be able to work and concentrate there like nowhere else. I guess I find some clarity and focus there that, so far, has made me decide to record all my albums there.
When was the first time you ever came to London and what do you remember most about that visit?
I think I was around 9 years old the first time I was in London. Me and my family traveled around Britain during a summer. I remember being very psyched about London. I wanted to do and see all the typical things like see Big Ben, visit Madame Tussaud’s, eat fish & chips, shop at Harrods and so on. I was quite the little anglophile as a child and I loved speaking English with the British accent and all.
Where was your first London show?
The weird thing is that I don’t recall where it was. I think it might have been during a tour I did together with José Gonzalez around my first album but I’m not sure which venue it was. It was a grand place though.
You’ve previously collaborated with fellow-Scandipopsmiths, Jens Lekman and Lykke Li. Are there any others of your contemporaries whom you’d like to work with?
Right now I’m too busy to think about collaborations, unfortunately. But I’m never a stranger to working with other artists or musicians.
The album’s first single, Walk On By, has a very early 1990s Saint Etienne feel to it. Are you fond of that era in music?
I am. I mean, part of it has a nostalgic meaning for me since I was in my early teens in the 90’s – the music from that era has a romantic veil and an aesthetic beauty over it that I love.
What stuff do you listen to when it’s just you and your headphones?
I’ve been listening to Aphex Twin a lot lately. He’s been a hero of mine for a long time but I started going back to his stuff again. Love him!
Your Village Underground show tonight: what can we expect?
Minimalism, bombasm and emotion.
OK, we’re definitely excited about the prospect of “bombasm”, whatever it turns out to mean. Do you plan to return here again for more shows next year?
I do hope so! I have to give birth to a baby in January, first.
Pale Fire is out today on Memphis Industries. El Perro Del Mar plays Village Underground tonight. Get tickets.