It is a tad eye-rollingly predictable that, increasingly, you'd hear an excellent piece of pop music and its geographical place of birth would transpire to be Sweden. Perhaps Swedes simply do it better and not just where crayfish parties are concerned. The Nordic kingdom has already given us the likes of ABBA, Roxette, Ace of Base, The Knife, Robyn, Lykke Li and First Aid Kit (to, rather criminally, list only a few) and the latest Scandi-kid to cause an inordinate amount of exclamations of "AMAZING!" is 17-year old Amanda Mair.
With a look of Joe Le Taxi-era Vanessa Paradis and sonic comparisons to Kate Bush (which, to be honest, we can't actually hear), Mair put out a couple of stunning buzz-makers, "House" and "Doubt", last year, garnering excited anticipation for her self-titled debut album, which came out in Sweden in February. Justifiably, the 10-track set has received much love from critics. The songs benefit from a delicate production, enhanced by an impressive rhythm section, Mair's innocent delivery and what is, hands down, the best backing vocals arrangement you'll hear this year.
The album finally gets its UK release in June, just in time for Mair's 18th birthday and London show at Hoxton Bar & Kitchen. It is preceded by the single, "Sense" (video below), which comes out here next week.
We met up with Mair on her second ever visit to London (she was allowed to take the day off school!) and, by way of advance disclosure, we have to admit that we arrived at the interview incorrectly assuming that she had written the songs on the album (the credit-less promo CD of which we had been playing constantly, nay obsessively, in the weeks leading up to our meeting). With hind-sight, some of the lyrics do actually come across as having been penned by someone perhaps a bit older, but when you hear Mair singing them it's as if they could not have been written by anyone else.
When did you start writing songs?
I actually didn't write the songs on the album but that's the next big thing for me. I want to work on my song-writing.
Ah. Who were they written by?
Johan Angergård from the bands Club 8 and Acid House Kings [who also runs Mair's record label, Labrador] and Philip Ekström [from Swedish band the Mary Onettes], who also produced the album. When I first met Johan he asked me whether I wrote my own songs and when I explained that I didn't, he started sending me demos that were written by him, Philip and other Labrador artists. I then picked the ones I felt that I can relate to and be comfortable with.
What was the first song you picked?
It was "House". That was the first one we recorded and it was also my first single.
You are still at school in Stockholm, studying music.
Yes. I actually started singing when I was about 8. I took singing lessons. I also started playing the piano when I was 8 or 9. I was interested in going to musicians' school from a young age but before I was introduced to Labrador I never really thought about releasing an album or getting a record contract. That was a very big thing to happen to me.
How did that come about?
In 2008 my mother asked me if I wanted to record some songs for fun. It wasn't something I had thought about. But she was, like, 'I can send them to your grandma and your cousins!'. So I said ok, let's do that. And I'd never recorded songs before or even been to a studio before that. So we started searching for anyone who could help me with the recording. And we found a musician called Tom Steffensen through my sister's boyfriend, who'd recorded with Tom before. I recorded three songs with him. They were cover versions.
What were they covers of?
"Hallelujah", "Your Song" and [Regina Spektor's] "Samson".
And what did you end up doing with the recordings?
My mother sent them to my grandmother and that was that. But then three years later I got a call from Tom saying 'do you remember me? I recorded some songs with you' and I said, yes, of course. He told me that he'd played the songs to Johan at Labrador. Tom played drums with Johan's band. And he said that Johan loved the songs. I met Johan a month later and we then started talking about recording an album.
So it was all out of the blue for you.
Yes. It was a decision that me and my parents talked about quite a bit because at the time I had three years left at school. As I said, it was a very big thing for me and all very new. I had a lot to learn. Sometimes it was a little bit scary but it's really worth it. I'm comfortable with all this now [gestures to indicate interview scenario].
How have the people in your school reacted to your very sudden success?
They're very happy for me. But it's a musicians' school and a lot of people there do this sort of thing...
You grew up in Lidingö, which is the same island that Bjorn and Agnetha from ABBA live on -
- and since ABBA's huge international success, there's been quite a lot of big Swedish acts dominating the charts all over the world. What do you think is the secret ingredient to Swedish artists' success?
I don't know. Maybe it's because we have very good music education. At High School age you can go to musician's school. They teach you everything you need to know. Like songwriting and recording techniques. I go to singing classes.
So far, you have mostly been performing solo on the piano. Will you be touring on your own as well?
Actually, I just had my first gigs with my band in March. We had a small tour in Sweden and it was really amazing to play with them. A whole different experience to playing on my own. It's awesome to have a band behind me. I feel like I'm not alone.
What is your favourite track on the album?
That's a hard one. It's very hard to pick just one song. But I love "Doubt". That's the song I can relate to most.
There have been very positive responses to your first video, for Sense. Will you be doing any more music videos for this album?
Yes, the next video will be for "House". We haven't shot it yet. We are just discussing ideas for it.
Is there any pressure on you to start working on the next record already?
We're already talking about what I would like to do for the second album. I want to write my own songs. Maybe not all the songs on the album but perhaps a few. But I have no idea what it will sound like.
Are there any other artists that you would like to work with?
Ane Brun. I am so stuck on her new album. I listen to it every day. So maybe her.
When was your first visit to London?
In November. I had a gig at the Underbelly. My mother was here with me. We stayed here for three days after the gig and went on a tour bus, shopping and to see Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. I had a great time here. There's a lot more people here than in Stockholm!
"Sense" is out on Monday on Labrador Records. The album, Amanda Mair, is out in June. Tickets for Amanda's show at Hoxton Bar & Kitchen on 13th of June are available here.