Recently I was introduced to the concept of “girl listening”. It’s a literal translation of a Swedish neologism, “tjejlyssnar”, proliferated via social media and meaning to listen to a song obsessively, on repeat, over a long period of time. Questionable gender stereotyping aside, it’s an apt descriptor for the effect Stockholm-based production duo SW has had on yours truly, having even now not tired of the ricochet of ‘Beats for Babes’, with its anxious palpitations that skip across a dazed autotune vocal and droll sense of humour.
If you’ll excuse the overly familiar tone of this introduction, it comes as a rather appropriate one for the presentation of a project by visual artist and “part-time single mom” Susanna Jablonski and audio-engineer and healthcare worker William Rickman. Their Soundcloud features a handful of tracks as well as their 2014 SLOW WAVE EP, where the music seems to transgress the boundaries between the personal and the political with a remarkable fluidity.
Songs like ‘Europe’, ‘EU Bermuda’ and ‘Globalisation of Care’ come accompanied by a detail photo of a painting by artist Oskar Hult. Its tactile pink, blue and yellow graded brushstrokes complement the acutely felt audio of tracks you can almost touch. These songs – produced by a band whose own initials make up an abbreviation for Sweden – come accompanied by a link to a Creative Time Reports commission by fellow artist and ongoing collaborator Santiago Mostyn, titled ‘Breaking Social Codes: An Outsider in Sweden’. It’s a video project that’s soundtracked by SW’s ‘Delay’ and features the San Francisco-born, now Swedish-based transplant exploring the idea of “belonging” in a country with a liberal-left self-perception that seems rather incongruous with its lived reality of ethno-racial segregation.
Even without words, the aesthetic of SW reflects a similarly ideological depth. In kindly producing a mix for aqnb – simply called SWAQNB – it features songs by Gucci Mane, Tirzah and outsider Gospel artist Otis G. Johnson. There’s Ghanaian performer Charlotte Dada’s Beatles cover ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, a German-language track by 70s acid folk band Witthüser & Westrupp and excerpts of SW’s own productions, including a pitch-shifting slow-mo rendition of Phil Collins’ ‘Can’t Turn Back the Years’. The result is a track listing that traverses countries, genres, remixes and sound quality to produce a truly integrated exchange between artists worldwide.
At the time of conducting the following interview, SW have played one live gig in a club in Stockholm and have 171 followers on Soundcloud. That needs to change.
** I see you’ve both got your own practices, what inspired SW?
Susanna Jablonski + William Rickman: Friendship, good vibes and sharing a certain taste in music and language to communicate with each other.
Susanna: William helped me to do post production sound on a short film and we worked really well together.
W: I remember hearing Otis G. Johnson at Susanna’s place early in our friendship and being completely absorbed and amazed. We’ve been sharing musical finds with each other since then and one cold winter day we decided to record a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Tougher Than the Rest’. We didn’t plan on having a band together but after that we knew that we had to do it.
S: Also, I was really into Weirdsville before I knew it was William.
** Earlier you mentioned the visual aspect as crucial to your work. What about it is important?
S: I feel that ‘visual aspect’ isn’t quite the right way of looking at it all. I’m an artist as well as a musician and those two fields exist together and both contribute meaning to the projects I’m working on.
SW: It’s one dimension of expression and collaboration.
** How much involvement did you have in the ‘Delay’ video with Santiago Mostyn?
S: The title for ‘Delay’ was inspired by a Skype conversation with Santiago. When he moved back to Stockholm after being away for almost a year, we talked a lot about how to deal with some of the people here. I did some of the camera work and Santiago showed us the rough cuts. It’s going to be shown at Moderna Museet in Malmö this spring and at another art venue here in Stockholm.
** I suppose I ask, and I’m interested because I’d had my first experience of Sweden (Stockholm) recently and then read the Susan Sontag essay [‘A Letter From Sweden‘] Mostyn references in the Creative Time Reports piece. It makes some interesting observations. Are these ideas you both think about as a band, as people and as artists?
SW: We don’t separate those things, being a band, artist, people. You’re asking about Swedishness.
Of course, our expression will be coloured by the place and time we’re in, and right now we’re living in Stockholm. That’s something that’s actively, intuitively and subconsciously reflected and dealt with in our work and lives. As Santiago mentions in his text, Stockholm is a segregated city with an extremely homogeneous middle class.
Sontag makes some interesting observations, though quite exaggerated and written with an almost anthropological claim of how Swedes are. It’s problematic to categorise a population like she does.
Some of the characteristics she describes are painfully and comically familiar though. It’s hard not to be aware of how ‘closed’ many people are, but still with this unpleasant ‘Swedish’ self-satisfaction. The worst part is that people haven’t changed their satisfactions about being Swedish but the society has changed drastically since the 70s and there’s nothing left of that ‘ideal’ society anymore. Now it’s like any other European right-wing government with neo Nazis in high positions and it’s been like that for some time now.
** What drew me to your music was all the elements you mention as important to the work. Your sound and visual aesthetic, as well as its themes. Do you think you can elaborate on what inspired the SLOW WAVE titles?
SW: We work intuitively and when it’s done, we know what it’s about. We feel our titles resonate with the sound, and the sound reflects us and our current state of being, our minds. It’s about everything or anything we feel strongly about when we’re making it; emotions and thoughts, followed by decisions.
S: For instance, when working with ‘Globalisation of Care’ I went to a lecture by Silvia Federici about the ‘Globalisation of Health Care’ and that was all over my mind.
** But then you also rarely use words in the music itself, at least in that SLOW WAVE EP, how does the sound you produce reconcile with these concepts?
SW: Words are not always needed. A title can say enough. SLOW WAVE came to us while making our first EP. The music is slow wave.
S: William also really likes things in general that come in slow waves ;).
** When you say “Europa 2015. Neutrality is not an option”, what do you mean by that?
W: Neutrality is at best irresponsible, at worst apathetic. I want to expect more than that.
** How has live performance been so important to William’s Wierdsville project and how do you envisage that developing with SW?
S: I think it’s an amazing setting. People in a room, maybe they’re even prepared to focus, listen and look. It’s one of the few, analog and collective experiences you can get these days. It could be whatever we want or don’t want it to be at that exact time.
W: With Weirdsville, I have brought in guest musicians playing drums, electric bass and trumpet. Naturally that has changed the sound a lot. I really enjoy working with recorded pieces to make a live rendering and rehearsing different parts while giving space for improvisation. That always gives me new sonic ideas.
I’m into the meeting and the sharing that happens in a performative situation. Hearing the music in that context makes me hear and experience new aspects of the songs. Shared attention is a beautiful thing.**
1. SW – ‘Phil Collins’
2. Sebastian Nykvist – ‘Growing Out’
3. Dakota – ‘Babe’
4. Lil Ugly Mane – ‘On Doing An Evil Deed Blues’
5. Gucci Mane – ‘Point In My Life’
6. Sade – ‘Never Thought I’d See the Day’ (L-Vis 1990 Sunrise Edit)
7. Tirzah – ‘I’m Not Dancing’
8. Loose Joints – ‘Is It All Over My Face’ (MAW Joint Dub) SW Edit
9. SW – ‘Ann-Marie’
10. Brandy – ‘Afrodisiac’ (Dozing Remix) ~wEiRdSviLLe Works~
11. Drake – ‘OVOXO’ (Teams ∞ Trust Edit)
12. SW – ‘Phil Collins’ (Spelljack Edit)
13. Irma Thomas – ‘Two Winters Long’
14. Charlotte Dada – ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ / Field recording São Paolo
15. Ken Parker – ‘How Strong’
16. Witthüser & Westrupp – ‘Lasst uns auf die Reise gehn’
16. Otis G. Johnson – ‘Time To Go Home’
17. Sean Paul – ‘Like Glue’
18. SW – Trailer Music
19. The BBC Sound Effects Library – ‘Seawash, Calm’