By the end of last year’s European summer, Frida Hyvonen found herself facing something of an odd conundrum. Having already completed a round of tours for her beautifully rendered second album Silence is Wild, the Swedish singer, songwriter and pianist had gladly accepted guest roles in an 11-piece traditional ska band as well as in a Finnish orchestra. The only problem, she recounts, was that the experiences were just too damn enjoyable.
“People actually danced when we played,” urges the 32-year-old in her softly spoken manner. “They just danced and danced and danced and really participated in that way, which I kind of came to feel is the way music should be.”
Although relatively unknown outside of Scandinavia, Hyvonen’s two studio records – 2005’s Stockholm Prize-winning debut Until Death Comes and 2008’s Silence is Wild – have made her something of an indie luminary in her native country. Dance records, however, they are not.
“I feel like I owe it to my audience to give them more of a rhythm or something to move against, so they can be a part of the music,” she offers, chatting over the phone from her temporary flat in Stockholm on the eve of her maiden Australian tour. “Sometimes during shows I’ll be like, ‘Hey, you can dance to this song.’ But my music is not really very danceable – it just makes people feel awkward.”
“I’ve been performing in theatres a lot, where people have to sit still, and I’m beginning to feel that I take too much attention up there onstage,” she continues. “So it’s like, ‘Maybe this isn’t right?’”
Nonetheless, Hyvonen’s piano-based compositions and quietly feisty song-craft are nothing if not engaging. Since emerging on the international scene, her oeuvre has found its resonance in both a stark intimacy and an almost loquacious sense of dramatism. While Until Death Comes saw Hyvonen deliver her unadorned, matter-of-fact lyrical sketches in the form of elegiac piano balladry, Silence is Wild’s stark, seemingly confessional verses were counterbalanced by a clutch of swooning, almost theatrical full-band arrangements.
The rowdy honky tonk of Scandinavian Blonde pitches a snide, slightly unhinged take on cultural typecasting, where the spindly, impish piano melody of December belies a incredibly sober, diaristic reflection about the experience of abortion. “You’re the only man in the room, you’re by my side / When it’s my turn to get the injection, you’re sent outside,” she sings. “We’ve had a problem with boyfriends / They often faint if they see blood, the nurse explains.”
“I’m really curious about what happens when you actually build a special world on a record or onstage,” she muses. “At the same time, I often just long to do things very clean and acoustically and with no props and no false eyelashes,” she laughs.
“It’s really a fine line between being too familiar and too strange – I want to be somewhere in between.”
Music was always a part of Hyvonen’s life. Growing up in the small, northern Swedish town of Umea, she wrote her first song on the piano at the age of seven (“a simple instrumental piece in D minor”) and spent her childhood consuming anything from Madonna, Neneh Cherry and Michael Jackson to traditional Swedish folk music.
Nevertheless, writing and playing music didn’t take a serious turn until Hyvonen moved to Stockholm in her early twenties. As she goes onto explain, the moment she realised she had a talent for song-writing was the moment she wrote the first song for Until Death Comes.
“The first song that I was really happy about in that way made me want to make an album out of it,” she says. “I must have been about twenty-two or twenty-three and it was about four or five years before the album came out, but I just knew it.
“I think something changed when I started writing songs out of letters that I had written. It was like ‘this is a really rhythmic letter’ and I would write it into a song. It was like a new door had opened, like a way into something, because I wasn’t especially goal-oriented when I did it. So it was like, ‘This is a good song! I wrote it and I like it!’. It was like something that was an extension of me, like a quite pure expression of something that I can associate with.”
Suffice to say, it wasn’t long before Hyvonen became ensconced in the craft. When it came time to begin writing the material for Silence is Wild, she packed up her life in Stockholm and journeyed back to the relative isolation of the northern Swedish countryside. “The most important thing for me when I’m writing is to be in a place where I cannot be disturbed.”
Seclusion, Hyvonen explains, affords a particular creative permeability. “When you’re in a city, you have to put up guards and shields because there is so much impression,” she says. “It’s easier to relax and be kind of thin-skinned if you’re in a safe environment, which is really interesting for the writing process. You reach a level of intimacy with yourself faster.”
Creativity, though, is hardly an exact science. And for Hyvonen, that’s the precise seduction. “The thing I love most is the fantastic feeling and the pride that you’re somewhat of an alchemist for that moment,” she urges. “Out of nothing you draw up a formula that has a life of its own, which is extremely fascinating and somewhat addictive.”
And that counts for playing live as well. She may not have her audience dancing, but connection is still the key. “I really long for something onstage and I know when it happens, but I don’t really know how it happens,” she pauses, drifting off for a moment.
“It’s about making the audience feel very outward and inward at the same time,” she offers finally. “It’s like making a circle, perhaps.”
Silence is Wild and Until Death Comes are available through Chapter/Fuse.