Hailing from a northern city within Sweden’s Lappland region, Blänk aren’t exactly fitting into the glacial and smooth Swedish Pop template we’ve come to expect. For one they’ve got a rapper in their ranks, and for two they like to work within the realms of R&B as much as they do Pop and Hip Hop. With a new EP, Áurinko Rising Again, out now on Grind Records, we caught up with the trio to get their collective viewpoints on all things music.
Bowlegs: Help us out here – we’re trying to pin a genre on Blänk and are failing miserably? How did you reach the sound we’re hearing now, and is it an amalgamation of the various personalities within the band?
Blänk: We have mostly failed at pinning a genre on ourselves too, and we’ve grown rather fond of that. All of us are different in personality and music background, yet when we come together we somehow find common ground sonically by all adding our own flair to the songs. Since we started, we’ve just had fun trying new stuff and each developing as artists, which probably happens because there are so many different things about us – Lina is kind of a Pop singer with an Indie Rock-ish vibe and is actually the band’s only true musician, Simon is a rapper who grew up on Folk Music and Techno, and Klas was a “Golden Age” Hip-Hop head who wanted to try new things. When you combine all of that and each one of us has a bit of creative influence, you’re gonna get something genre-bending. We have fun, we all learn from each other, and the one thing that ties it all together is an overtone of Electronica splashed with that typical “Swedish Melancholia,” since we’re all Swedes. The best we could do in terms of describing our sound is “Eurotrash,” which still might not say a whole lot by itself.
Bowlegs: How did the group get together originally, and is there common ground musically that you agreed was the starting point for the Blänk sound?
Blänk: Blänk actually started with just Klas himself as he was going through a transitional period as a producer, and felt the need to evolve his Hip-Hop sound. Although it didn’t fit solidly into one genre, I guess you could say the starting point was Hip-Hop fused with Electronic music, but with the caveat that ANYTHING goes. Klas and Simon knew each other from making music together before, and Klas was also neighbors with Simon’s mother. where Simon also lived whenever he visited Sweden. Simon ran into Klas up the street while Klas was walking his dog, and in typical Simon fashion, Simon asked for some beats. After warning that “I’m doing something new,” Klas gave Simon a CD of beats – beats he heard blasting through the wall from Simon’s mother’s apartment the very next day, as Simon was writing the lyrics to what eventually turned out to be our breakout single Shirt Off. Lina and Simon met as Simon was randomly performing in a parking lot as a 16 year old, not knowing they would make music together years later. Lina came into the Blänk picture when Klas, who has also spent years as one of Sweden’s prime music journalists, interviewed her at a music festival after a performance with her band The Touch. As is usually the case when someone meets Lina, Klas was pretty impressed with her talent and charisma, so he invited her to come make music with Blänk. Obviously it was a perfect fit, and all of a sudden Blänk wasn’t just Klas anymore – it was Lina and Simon too.
Bowlegs: Your debut album came out back in 2009 – do you see the new EP as a radical departure or a natural progression?
Blänk: More of a natural progression, definitely – with the way we make our music, we’re not even sure we have such a thing as a radical departure. If anything, the new EP is a radical progression. We’ve gone deeper into exploring our different personalities, we’ve developed as a unit as well as individually, and we’ve refined our sound by continuing to allow ourselves to disregard genre boundaries and go fucking crazy. One big difference since the last time around though, is that we’re even more meticulous in our production. Klas might put together four or five completely different versions of a track before it’s finished, all the while gaining feedback on each draft from Lina and Simon. With three multi-faceted personalities, it can get pretty intense; fantastic, but intense.
Bowlegs: Used to be so Colourful incorporates Hip Hop within your glacial production. This isn’t a genre we might expect from a Swedish group -yet you’ve shared with stages with the likes of the Cool Kids and Lupe Fiasco? How did they react to your brand of Hip Hop, and can we expect more rapping on the next release?
Blänk: We’ve always been well received in Hip-Hop circles – perhaps because Simon and Klas spent so many years making music in the genre and have an understanding of how to incorporate the nuances that speak to Hip-Hop fans. The Cool Kids heard Shirt Off and vouched for its commercial viability pretty much as soon as we got off stage, which was a great feeling. Some people who are only casual listeners of Blänk might only hear the Pop influences and write us off as far as Hip-Hop goes, which is why Simon at times likes to remind people that he can in fact “Rap his ass off,“ as he so eloquently puts it. That said, it’s very likely that you’ll hear more rapping since we actually do have some very Hip-Hop influenced singles on the table, but our creative process revolves so much around spontaneity that there is really no telling. It might be Lina delivering a verse with supreme swagger like she did on Doing My Dance, or it might be Simon displaying how compulsively he raps since leaving the corporate world. We don’t know for sure how or when, but there will be more rapping, that much we can guarantee.
Bowlegs: I love the track Seaside, it is often sparse in arrangement yet flows with an effective atmosphere. What is the process when building up an arrangement for a track – and is it hard to leave a track fairly empty and proclaim it as complete?
Blänk: Klas is very sonically driven – he’ll listen to the production in a track before he analyzes the lyrics. Like we mentioned earlier, he is so meticulous in his craft that he can make four or five different productions, not just arrangements, of the same song before completing it. Sometimes that means making a new beat, sometimes it means trying a different vocal effect, and sometimes it means removing entire verses based on what fits the song best – Simon actually got scratched off of Hurting twice, with two separate verses. This kind of borderline obsessive creative process has also allowed us to create songs where we say a lot by saying a little. Sometimes the whole ensemble isn’t needed, especially not for someone with an ear as trained as Klas’. He has become an expert at creating that sometimes trippy, atmospheric feel through understanding where subtlety and dynamics converge – the kind of arrangements you feel more than hear. Lina having the perfect voice for a song like Seaside of course didn’t hurt either, so Klas was able to complement her whisper-like delivery and girly vocals with the right production to create the ambiance we were looking for.
Bowlegs: I understand one of the members, Klas, is a former reality TV star? Tell us more?
Blänk: Yes, Klas was on one of the very first seasons of the show Expedition: Robinson, which became such a huge success that it was eventually adopted by US networks as the show Survivor. Klas ended up as one of the final two contestants, which of course meant he was on the island – and on TV – for the entire duration of the show. Mind you, this was when Klas was in his weightlifting, semi-pro soccer playing, straight-outta-Ryssbält prime, so the result was quite a bit of attention. We’re talking gracing the cover of teeny-bopper magazines, being treated like royalty just for appearing at night clubs, getting interviewed just because – all the hallmarks of today’s reality TV stars. You could say he was something like a Swedish predecessor of “The Situation” from Jersey Shore. That’s why Klas is the way he is now: plays the background, a bit reserved, kind of unimpressed with all the hoopla – basically the opposite of what we mostly see from a starry-eyed aspiring rapper like Simon, since Klas has been in the spotlight already.
Bowlegs: Do you think the success of artists like Weeknd and Frank Ocean are creating a new interest in modern R&B? Are you fans?
Blänk: We are definitely big fans of them both. They, along with Drake and to a certain extent Kanye West, have helped usher in a sound that strays from the way most people traditionally view R&B; it’s often a bit darker, less “oooh baby I love you”-ish, more rap-influenced, and doesn’t focus as much on showcasing one’s vocal range as it does melody and lyrics. There are certainly elements of our sound that can be compared to the both of them – such as a distinct melancholy vibe at times, or the atmospheric sound we discussed earlier – but in general, we feel like we differ rather vastly from them both in that we sometimes go way out in left field. Though you might imagine them making a song like Seaside or Used To Be So Colourful, it’s a bit of a stretch to think of them making something as Indie Pop-sounding as “Do This Thing” or a Deep House, Lounge and Hip-Hop influenced track like The Song I Sing. We like the fact that we’re a little all over the place in that sense – that is Eurotrash.
Bowlegs: Finally what is planned now the EP is out – have you started writing an album, will you be touring for the rest of 2012?
Blänk: We’ve actually been working on an album quietly for almost three years, and some of the music we just released is from that period. We’re not rushing anything, we’re just going to keep releasing good music in different ways until the time seems right for a full-length album. It could be in a month or in a year, we don’t know for sure – but we know we’ll be prepared with amazing music when the time comes. We’ll certainly release some more singles before the year is up though. In terms of touring, we’ve been spending so much time in the studio so we’re ready to hit the road and go beyond Sweden again. We’ve had a lot of fun playing in the States and would love to go back and continue building loyal fans on the college scene and beyond, and we also have our sights set on doing more around Europe – festivals, clubs, mini-tours, you name it. Blänk is open for business.