Music is deeply rooted in Gothenburg singer, songwriter and musician Albin Lee Meldau’s life history, his parents both have their own connections to music making and Albin himself has been working professionally for many years. Releasing his debut album earlier in 2018, ‘About You’ offers a rich yet candid portion of Meldau’s immersive artistry.
The musical direction takes many forms from vibrant dance pop, to stark balladry, to swooning soul but the decoration is less the point, the detail in the songwriting and the emotions of the voice is what drives this music. In many ways the songs are living, breathing creatures. The songs document a period in time but the experiences they tell are universal, the perspective is each listener’s prerogative.
Meeting Albin in Manchester, ahead of a show at famed gig space Night & Day Café, we talk profusely about his passions, glancing over topics of ‘About You’ and his upcoming projects. We uncover a genuinely thoughtful, passionate and plain-spoken person. No pretence, complete transparency. A refreshingly pragmatic look behind the curtain of the artist and his world.
If you were to describe this past year in one emotion, what would that be?
Albin: “Oh… Epic. It’s been good, mind-blowing; also very hectic. But, yeah, it’s been fantastic. Been travelling a lot, working all the time, I released my first album… and then it’s been a lot of TV stuff for Sweden. So I’ve been constantly working but it’s been nice. All good. All good.”
Congratulations on the album release earlier this year.
Albin: “Thank you very much.”
‘About You’ has received some great reactions so far. What was your first reaction to hearing the album in full—can you actually listen to your own work?
Albin: “Yeah it’s like, you have to listen to it so many times so you get really fed up with it well before the release date… the album was ready a whole year before it got released… Ah, but my reaction? I’m just very honoured, you know. It’s like a chapter in the book, it is what it is, and I’m very happy with it. But it’s so long ago… it’s a few years back in my head, so it’s like a diary. My reaction was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s coming out now!’ This is ages ago.
“No but, just totally over the moon. To be able to do it is always an achievement, but then all the nice words and the reactions… it’s deeply humbling and just fantastic.”
Perez Hilton recently wrote a very positive blog post on ‘Same Boat.’ I feel that song in particular has been quite pivotal, it’s reached a lot of people and it seems to be a song that people recognise you for. How do you feel about that song personally? How it did emerge?
Albin: “I love the song. It’s very simple, it’s very classic. It’s my Elton John imitation. It was actually written by my piano player [Kalle Stenbäcken]… so, he had a great song, I made the lyrics and sang it, made the vocal. It’s the only political one we have. It’s quite simple really, you know, the melody… like, all being in the same boat: who’s in boat, who’s drowning, who’s dying… I mean, there’s not many songs like that nowadays especially to get it out, to actually be able to do it on a mainstream kind of level is quite an achievement, so I’m very proud. It’s a great song, honoured to have been a part of it.
“But like I said, this is just a chapter. Like a snippet in the story. So it was what it was, and I’m just over the moon that people like it. Then like I said not many people say that nowadays, and if they say it they say it in a blingy kind of way. This is quite subtle.”
What’s your most nostalgic memory from making ‘About You’?
Albin: “To make an album, it took about three years to do it. Nostalgic? Well, I have many nostalgic thoughts but I have memories of writing the actual songs, you know, as I don’t have any real memories of making the actual album…
“Well, we went to… my friend Pedro Ferreira has a big studio in my hometown, and we were there for a month, and that studio is one of the best studios in the world, and I brought my producer Bastian Langebaek from London, and we were all there for a month with my band—strings and everything—so that was pretty f****** epic, to be able to, to take your time, you know.
“And I’m very happy to have grown up there and worked there, because you can’t really… it’s one of the top twenty studios in the world and I can just be there for endless time, so the record sounds like it does very much due to the fact that I could spend that time there, so I’m very happy with it.
“How long it took… you know, how many actual hours it was, in the same room, just recording—and then writing, we went around the world doing sessions for two years to get material for the album. So yeah, that’s probably the one: the month I spent in those studios.”
I spotted on Instagram that you’ve been in the studio recently, what have you been working on?
Albin: “Oh my God. A lot of stuff. I’m doing my next album… you do that continuously, you know what I mean? That’s not something [you complete all at once]… I’ll keep on going at it. I’ve been doing sessions. I’ve done this huge TV show we have in Sweden, it’s called So Much Better. It’s a Dutch concept, they have it in Germany they have it in every European country but England. It’s seven acts covering seven acts’ shows, basically, well it’s one third of the population that watches it so it’s been, like, six months of preparation and a lot of work with that. Still, now, every other day I get to do a lot of work with that. So I’ve been in the studio, for that, a lot. And then, yeah, all kinds of stuff. A Christmas EP coming, I’ve been doing an acoustic EP with songs from the album and one new one coming so you’ll have an acoustic version of some of the songs from the album.
“So I just keep on… I’m scared to death that I will lose it, so I just keep on doing sessions and going to the studio as often as I can.”
Have you noticed any new themes emerging in your writing?
Albin: “Nah! It’s the same old depression and love sickness. Like I say, it depends on what you do… depending on my surroundings. Therefore it’s important to travel, to live your life as a normal person and not just only see green rooms and airports, that’s basically it you see… so I need to go think, and sit and study people, just have a coffee, sit watching the street, stuff like that, you know? Every little thing.
“But that’s just like being an author or a journalist, you try to find interesting subjects basically, so you go surround yourself in those environments, and that’s what I’m working on now. So you can’t work all the time unfortunately you have to work even harder and be… yeah, going new places, seeing new stuff.”
What is one of the best reactions you’ve had to your music?
Albin: “From someone else?”
Charlotte, BSS: “Yeah, from someone else.”
Albin: “Oh I don’t know. I’ve had so many wonderful people loving me, it’s a bit surreal. I don’t want to listen to it… you can’t take it seriously, you just do your job like anyone else. People come up to you and say, ‘Oh, you’re a f****** genius. La la la.” Well, I find the bus driver a genius, he can stand people all day and he doesn’t get that, so. A lot of people that really love you, that is deeply humbling and that’s why you do it, but you can’t be listening to that, you know what I mean?
“My Mother is a musician as well and when I grew up—she’s a music teacher—I played the trumpet and I’ve been singing in choirs my whole life, she always told me I was Jesus Christ so I never believed her, why would I believe anyone else? You know what I mean? So I try to take a little bit of chill pill in that… and now I’ve had the opportunity to work with major stars and major world class producers, they get that wherever they go, you know what I mean? So it goes off after a while.
“Some of the best ones you get… I got one today from one of my colleagues she called me and told me that I was ‘F****** amazing,’ and that was deeply humbling because she just called me in the morning to tell me good luck, you know? So I get it all the time. I can’t pick one. It would be unfair to every nice wonderful person that does it. But every time it happens I still don’t believe it, you have to pinch yourself.”
Do you have to be in love to write a good love song?
Albin: “You have to be dying to be writing about death, that’s the same thing. We’re all dying, we’re all in love, like, you can’t really think like that. That depends on how good of a writer you are! [Laughs]
“But yeah, of course. There’s only so many things you can read about sex until you do it, same with travelling, you know what I mean? But of course, what is, ‘in love’?
“And also, I’m 30 now—I’m not saying I’m not in love—what I’m saying is, I can make a theme up. Or maybe I can take someone else’s theme. When I was a bit younger, though, I had to go all Gonzo and just do everything and find out that way. But it depends on the writer I think. But it does help, of course.”
Can emotion be formulated into a song?
Albin: “Well, that’s sort of any art form for me. Can ingredients be put together into a dish? That’s the same thing. It’s colours with paint, or visual arts. That’s what I believe a good artist does—and that’s why I’m impressed with the bus driver because he don’t let his emotion bother him, he just drives the bus safely for everyone, you know what I mean? So that’s the same way you have to treat it.
“Of course the emotions is where we go off, where we start, and we try to tell a story—emotion is what you need to tell a story really. But then when you’re on stage and when you do it every day you just need to be like the bus driver: stay steady on the hand, and do your job, and be professional, and do the same thing every time, and be respectful for the people that come to listen. So it depends if you’re talking about writing songs, if you’re talking about playing them.
“But yeah, of course you do. It’s like any other job really, it’s just that you try to feel much more because that’s where you start off, you know what I mean? And you can’t have bad days and stuff like that. The emotion is why I think ordinary people wake up in the morning, like my Father, wake up at half seven to go to some job he hates, it’s not because he likes to go there, it is because he needs the money to pay for us, do you know what I mean? When I was younger… or whatever it was! That’s also an emotion. So that’s where everybody starts off, I think.”
You speak about your parents and their musical backgrounds often, it got me thinking: have you ever performed live with your parents before?
Albin: “Oh, every Sunday night before dinner. Not on stage, but why would I? My Mother is a great jazz act and quite famous in Sweden, there’s no point. And my girlfriend is a wonderful singer and artist herself… we do different things, I don’t want it to rub off, and I think they feel the same.
“But one day maybe. It would be a great laugh. Get the whole family in, and be a country and western band! My Mother and Father’s divorced so I don’t think they wanna stand on stage together. [Laughs] Yeah it’d be good. Or maybe I could have a lot of kids and they could play, and I can just stand there, and get the money! [Laughs].”
What does performing allow you to do that writing doesn’t offer, and vice versa?
Albin: “Good question. [Pauses]
“To be able to write you need to play and to be able to play you need to perform, so it’s all in one, it’s all joined together. If you perform well, then you can play well, and if you can play well you can make music well so it’s all a part of one really. But what does it allow me to do? Good question that is.
“Go to different places I wouldn’t have gone to otherwise. When you go and write you go to LA, you go to London, you go to New York, you go to Stockholm, you go to… maybe, Amsterdam. But that’s, sort of, it. I’ve been to Dublin writing. But it’s not like you’d go to Kansas City. And I’ve had small gigs and massive gigs, like, I went playing in Russia a few months back, that wouldn’t have happened if it was writing. So, I get to travel and see the world which helps with my writing. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
Do you have the band with you tonight?
Albin: “No no no. I’ve started playing a lot by myself, I love playing with the band but it’s a different thing. On a stage like this [at a 200+ capacity venue] there’s no point. And they’re very expensive… like one of them is a Chopin master [he’s talking about Kalle Stenbäcken]. He travels the world playing his classical piano. I have to pay him the same as he would get—and I won’t play with any other band. And it is that with money, of course, but I will do a better show in a smaller venue, alone.
“But of course if I play a TV show or anywhere where I feel it will add something, I always do. But yeah, I love playing with my band. I love my band.
[Talking about his show later in the evening] “It’s a totally different thing, this is a singer/songwriter [venue]… when you do the band, it’s full on. It’s choreography, then it’s not even the same style of music really. The ‘About You’ record is a dance-y, full production, pop album, when I play here it’s more like… this is what I usually do on the street, this is more like what I’ve done all my life.
“And to do that, I need to do both. ‘Cause that’s really what I do. And I can do both, but that’s what I want people to see. [Painting a picture of his bigger production shows] So it’s all these lights, all these effects and s***, it was nice to try that but it’s too much unsettling equipment to be carrying around. Bull s*** really. I like the simplicity of just standing on the street and it gives a vibe, especially in the UK and Ireland, so it’s just an honour to be able to do that ‘cause it’s hard, you know. It’s way harder to keep people interested for 45 minutes alone than it is to have the whole band coming.”
You’ve mentioned in interviews that you’re a foodie, do you have a favourite local cuisine you’ve sampled so far?
Albin: “In England? The curry is lovely.”
Charlotte, BSS: “Yeah. Or anywhere in the world.”
Albin: “Yesterday I had oysters, I was in Dublin… I had oysters for a starter and then I had the best tandoori lamb chops—‘cause my girlfriend wanted it because she doesn’t eat oysters. Then I had an Italian luxury ice cream, so that was one of the nicest meals in my life.
“That’s one the biggest and best things about it. I get to go all over the world, like, America, Asia, all kinds of places and eat quite fancy food, not super fancy though, but if I want sometimes, you get taken to Michelin guide s***. So everything from the top level down to street food I like. But yesterday the tandoori lamb chops in Ireland, with Irish lamb, was, like, top five things I’ve ever had. Food. Yes! But it doesn’t need to be fancy. It just needs to be good. Food is the s***. It’s art.”
Listening to music, making music, experiencing live music; to me it can be transformative, cathartic, and emotional but it’s also a way to discover and learn, connect with others. What has music taught you?
Albin: “There’s like millions of things I’ve learnt through music. Like, my Mother is a music teacher… I played the trumpet from the age of four one hour a day otherwise I wouldn’t get any food. It wasn’t a choice, it was a part of school, otherwise there’s no football on Saturday; there’s nothing. And my family didn’t have much money so we didn’t go travelling or stuff like that. My Father took us to England every time he had some money, it was very expensive in the Nineties to fly as well. So music has taught me everything.
“That’s what I do, that’s what gave me the opportunity to make a career and without it I probably would be, you know… homeless, dead, or just given up basically. So it’s given me everything. I’m bored extremely easily that’s why I work all the time and just go everywhere, wherever I can. And music somehow has given me more patience, but definitely more persistence. Like now I can keep going at a thing for a year or two before I’m finished with it. Earlier I could just do it in the day, otherwise it was s***.
“So persistence is probably what I’ve learnt since signing and doing this thing with Albin Lee Meldau. But otherwise… everything I’ve learnt, basically, that’s how I got my first girlfriend, that’s how I got money, the whole thing; life basically. It’s my golden egg. It’s my lucky number. That’s my secret. That’s where I go to, you know. Every person has that within themselves but I feel like me wanting to be Zlatan Ibrahimović. This is what I do. This is what’s given me the confidence to be who I am. And if I didn’t know I was able to do it then I wouldn’t have the confidence. So it’s given me everything.
“But most of all it has given me the persistence to… you know when people doubt you, I’m like, ‘Eh, I will see about that!’ And without music I wouldn’t have had that… in any aspect really. So confidence and persistence. That’s about it. But like I said, I’ve done this at least one, or maybe, two hours a day since I was four. Probably more.”
Charlotte, BSS: “To stick at something for so long…”
Albin: “Yeah when I was a kid, I had to. I had no choice. When you get up to the age… when you start meeting girls and s***, I started doing it for the girls. Now, when I’m older… I did a few years as a wedding singer and a busker for money. Now, I don’t know really why I do it. But I do it anyway. And I’ve got the persistence and the confidence that I will not fail. And music has given me that. Without that I don’t know where I would be.”
Albin Lee Meldau’s debut album ‘About You’ is out now on Astralwerks – Stream/Purchase the record here.