NMR Interview: Fredrik Solfors from 'The School Book Depository'
We have a series of interviews pencilled in for the next few weeks, and we're delighted to start things off with a chat to one of our favourite songwriters, Fredrik Solfors from none other than 'The School Book Depository', the excellent Swedish project that we've written about a few times in recent years.
NMR: We love the new album 'Bob and the Pitchfork Mob', can you tell us a bit more about the themes behind the album, particularly the title track?
''Thank you! Well, instead of just conveying your ideas or explaining your views in a straight forward manner I try to use some kind of narrative or story to give some context or chance for the listener to make his own interpretation. In these times a lot of people like to see things in black or white, being served answers in oversimplified tweet-form, I hope a story can give those subtle nuances that might shed some light on why we act the way we do. ”Bob” is a fictional character that showed up on my first album and I’d thought it would be interesting to develop the character like you sometimes follow a character through a series of books. Bob is an older American guy that feels left out as he has seen society transform dramatically from industrialism to postmodernism. He is being pushed further out into the fringes of the political landscape with growing distrust of the government, re-enacting the American civil war on weekends and trying to live ”off grid” in his trailer. ”California” is also a song that stretches over a long time period. It’s a continuation of another song I wrote as a teenager in which I squeezed all my longing and dreams, now to be concluded and evaluated decades later.
Another theme is the environment and how we treat it. The songs ”Sasquatch”, ”Floating” and ”Lunar Billboards” depicts this human striving for ”progress”, at any cost. I think contrasts can be very effective when writing lyrics. In ”floating” there is this contrasting feeling of enjoyment and disgust when you’re pleasantly floating on your back in a river that you know is also shared by plastic bags, dead animals and chemical waste. You know that your modern comfort is built on things that might destroy us further down the line, that there is a price tag to almost everything you do.''
''...modern comfort is built on things that might destroy us further down the line, that there is a price tag to almost everything you do.''
NMR: I like the reflective way you conclude your albums in particular, with 'Treadmill Heaven' on your last album, and 'Skywalker' on the most recent release. What is the central idea behind ’Skywalker'?
''As a kid I had, and still have, a very vivid imagination and I dreamt a lot at night. The boundaries between fiction and reality were not always that sharp, for good and for bad. You didn’t want to share all your fears and concerns with you parents so sometimes you turned to fictional characters or imaginary friends for comfort. They never judged or called some counsellor for professional help, they were just there. So this song is kind of a lullaby, where the younger me talks to a poster with Luke Skywalker on it in hope of getting guidance through my dreams or fears. I guess songwriting has replaced those scenarios now in order to straighten some shit out and keeping me somewhat sane.''
NMR: So since the first album I would suggest the world seems to have found itself in a darker place of intolerance towards others and environmental destruction, how has that affected the lyrics and tone of the album?
''A lot I guess, it’s a rich paint pallet to get colours from. Just the fact that Trump got elected is just so weird and it just gets weirder. Seems like the opportunities that was brought about with social media just tears us apart. Pick any totally crazy idea and you’ll find thousands of like-minded people confirming your beliefs. Seems like people seldom reflect, only act on impulse. It’s sad but a gold mine if you want things to write about. But I try always try to find humour and hope in it though, and there is plenty, at least humour. I’m a pretty cheerful guy but the darkness is more interesting to explore I guess.''
NMR: The question that I often consider is whether music can really change things, as maybe it was able to do in the 60s... how do you view the role of artists and their releases in 2019 and whether they can influence social change?
''I think and really hope so. When it comes to professional artists it seems they use their fame to voice their agendas and opinions more through social media rather than their music and lyrics. I think people these days might have a shorter attention span, they don’t have the patience to reflect on lyrics, it’s just a rhythmical flow of words. I think you have a fantastic chance as an artist to get your ideas and messages out so you should really try to fill those three minutes wisely. Lyrics is a part of songwriting that is often overlooked I think. It seems like fame drives most artists more than the craft and the satisfaction of making something you’re proud of regardless of streams. In Sweden they rarely ask you about the musical content, just fame and things everybody can relate to. It never gets past the lowest common denominator. Thank god there are a few genuinely interested that regard music as something more than just entertainment.''
''It seems like fame drives most artists more than the craft and the satisfaction of making something you’re proud of regardless of streams''
NMR: I guess it's an obvious question to ask about musical influences, but your music seems to take references from so many different genres and places, can you tell us which artists have helped shape your musical direction? And what was the last 'new release' you liked?''
''My earliest musical influences came from my parents. Dad was into blues and Jazz and my mother liked Dylan, 60ies pop and classical music. U2 was a band I liked a lot as a kid and moved on to British Shoegaze and later to American Lo-fi bands, like Pavement and indie rock like Dinosaur Jr and Weezer. When it comes to a bit more recent influences a milestone record was ”The Soft Bulletin” by Flaming Lips. I like that record because it combines brilliant pop songs with a very interesting and orchestral sound while at the same time maintaining some kind of edge that makes it stand out. The lyrics are also somewhat vague with small everyday stories that make you sense some deeper meaning without being able to pinpoint it, almost like The Eels which is another band I like a lot. ”The photo album” and ”Transatlanticism” are two albums by Death Cab for Cutie that inspired me a lot both musically and lyrically. I get inspired by all kinds of music though, from old school hip hop to Motown and post-rock. I must say though that I have not found any recent album releases that has made me totally overwhelmed lately. On the other hand I have found a lot of great artists and bands by the help of these algorithms on Spotify and other platforms. Loney Dear is a brilliant Swedish artist who has been around quite a while now to name one.'
NMR: So what are the future plans for the 'The School Book Depository', any chance of live dates?
''I hope so! I have had a few gigs with this project and I’m looking for more venues to play at. It’s been a challenge to recreate the songs live but I’m getting there I hope. I have only played in bands before and there is another dynamic to that , It’s quite another thing being all alone on stage with all the technical gadgets you rely on to work, pretty nerve wracking at times! Apart from that I’m constantly working on new songs so there will be more releases ahead but I don’t rush it.''
Thanks for your time Fredrik, we look forward to hearing future releases!
Don't forget that 'The School Book Depository Album' called 'Bob and the Pitchfork Mob' is highly recommended, and if you like quirky unusual Indie Pop we also recommend our Non Nordic selection of the week which is Birmingham band 'The Nature Centre' - read about them here.