Jesper Anderberg, The Sounds

How can I not promote a songwriter who reads Shakespeare to prepare to write for his band's latest album? That's what Jesper Anderberg, keyboardist and songwriter for The Sounds, did.  The band hails from Sweden, so English is not their native language. Anderberg read some Shakespeare, a man whose writing he admired for its lyrical quality; Midsummer Night's Dream was his favorite.  According to Anderberg, you can almost sing the lines from that play.

The Sounds' newest effort, Something to Die For, will be out the end of March on SideOneDummy Records.  It's the band's debut release for the label.  Read my interview with Jesper Anderberg after the videos, and listen to "Better off Dead" from the new album at the end.

A lot of the songwriters I've interviewed have some talent as a visual artist.  Is that the same with you?

I've always been a songwriter.  I have no artistic talent. Laughs. I can't even draw a car.  And it's weird, because my siblings are good artists.  But I don't know how to handle the pen. 

That's odd.

Yeah, I know.  I've heard about that connection before.  A lot of songwriters here in Sweden, especially in electronic music, are industrial stylists or architects.

When did you first start writing songs?

I was about eight or nine.  I started taking classical piano lessons when I was six years old.  Then I moved on with a friend in elementary school and started a band.  That's when I started writing songs.  When I was fourteen, I got a Roland MC303, a type of drum machine/keyboard that lets you sequence stuff.  I was staying up all night and working on electronic music with my brother.  We had a band we called Evil Clown.  Those songs are still pretty fun to listen to.

When you're an adult and write songs, you write because there are things you want to tell the world.  But what do you have to say when you are eight or nine?

I wouldn't say I wrote a lot of songs, but I do remember the first song I wrote.  I read a diary from the time when I wrote it. Maybe the best way to explain it is to talk about Legos.  I was really into building Legos when I was a kid.  You read the manual that tells you how to build something, and you just build and destroy, build and destroy. Over and over.  After a while, you get sick of it.  When I was playing classical piano, I was focusing on reading notes, reading composers like Chopin.  After a while, I wanted to do something myself.  I wanted to do something other than build the same Lego structure or read the same notes.  I wanted to play new stuff, not other people's stuff.

How do you begin the songwriting process?

It varies.  We've always written the music first.  But on this album, a few were written with the lyrics first.  Usually Felix and I write the songs.  We need to get off on something, even something small, when we are writing. It's like when you meet someone and talk to them, there's got to be something that keeps you talking to that person.  With music, It can be a beat, it can be chord sequence, or it can be a weird guitar or keyboard sound. It can just be one bar that sounds awesome.  You don't know what it is until you put words to it, but it's there.  It usually all starts with a small bar that we get off on.

How collaborative is the process with you and Felix?

Usually Felix and I write together, but sometimes we do it separately.  He does his thing and I do my thing, and when it's 50 or 75 percent done, we call in the other guy.  But we also give feedback to the other.

You mention that a couple of the songs on the latest album started with the lyrics.  Why was that?

I had something I wanted to say.  For example, the last song on the new album is called "Wish You Were Here."  It's about a breakup I went through during the recording process.  When you're together with someone, your girlfriend might ask if you can write her a song.  And of course you want to write a song for someone you love. It's the most romantic thing.  I tried when we were together, but I couldn't. 

Then we broke up. I came home from the studio around 3am the day we broke up.  She had sent me a text, a pretty heavy one. I got sad and wondered what I should do.  So I picked up the guitar, and five minutes later the song was done.  Then I went to bed.  It was like therapy.  Even though the lyrics came first, the melody came naturally.

How often do you approach the process with something you want to say?

The chord progression can often give me a feeling.  We usually talk in colors about songs, like what kind of color a song is.  An angry song like "The No No Song" is somewhere between blue and red. It means that it's got the anger of red but the cold of blue.  There is no heart.  But blue is also dancy for us. 

When we do a set list for shows, we talk in colors.  Each song puts you in a different mood, and of course the lyrics will reflect that.  The thing with lyrics is that a whole song doesn't have to have one red line.  I don't think the verse and chorus necessarily have to match. Some songs have to be like that, of course, but with some songs the chorus can be about one thing and the verse about something else.

photo credit: Per Kristiansen

photo credit: Per Kristiansen

Where did you get that?

From U2, actually.  I mean, the chorus can't be about nuclear war and the verse about taking out the trash.  With songwriting, what I've noticed about myself is that I need to finish my sentence before I go home, or else it will be hard to pick up where I left off. We've had so many half-done songs, that because of laziness or fatigue, don't get done.  We'll have a great song that just needs one more little thing, but we'll be tired from a long day and decide to pick up the next day where we left off.  When we come back, it's just not there anymore and the song never gets finished.

So you have a lot of half-written songs?

Yep, probably over 100.

Do you think you'll ever get to to them?

The optimistic side of me says we will, but the realistic person says that it will never happen. We've tried, but it's never been successful when we do that.

It's hard to recreate that emotional moment that made you start writing the song in the first place.

Exactly, and that's sad, but also that makes every song unique.  You could only have written that song during that one point in your life.  On this latest album, when it came to recording and producing, we kept a lot of the emotion we had in the demos, instead of trying to rerecord it in another emotion. It's easy to lose the feeling during the recording of the song that you had when you first demoed it and fell in love with a guitar lick.

Speaking of guitar, what do you create with?

I usually prefer the piano or keyboard.  But the drum loop is also very important to get movement in a song.

How disciplined are you as writer?

Hardly at all. Laughs.   I don't sit down and write every day.  I should.  I try to write every day in the studio.  I don't think, though, that if I tried harder, it would get any better. 

Does that worry you? That if you go too long the well is dry?

Yes.  Every single time we start writing an album, I get that feeling, wondering if anything is going to come out.

How do you overcome that feeling?

When you are on tour, you always collect inspiration, whether you realize it or not. We watch a lot of other bands and observe how other bands do it.  That inspires us a lot.  You save a lot of things you think about when you are on tour.  I write a lyric here or there that I might be able to use later. Every time in the studio, there are worries that I've lost it or that I can't recreate what we had on the last album. But usually that goes away as soon as I have a bar that I really like.  

You do some writing outside The Sounds. How does writing for other people make you a better songwriter for what you do in The Sounds?

I don't think necessarily that I become better.  Writing is all about finishing. When you write for another artist, you learn about finishing songs because you have a deadline; someone wants something by a certain time.  Writing songs for yourself is weird because you don't know how it happens, but when it's for someone else you are forced into writing.  That can be good because you get less afraid to try new things.

I like getting into projects that push me into new ground.  We did a song with a rapper in Sweden. I've never written a rap song, but I wanted to try it.  The only thing we can do is fail.  And we need new experiences like that.

What's your ideal state to write a song?

Angry and sad.  Laughs. You can't write songs when you are too happy.  It gets too corny.

How do you know when a song is done?

Good question.  You never know.  It's so hard.  You can fuck around with a song forever.  I would say a song is done when it's finsihed written, but then you have to record it.  Or maybe it's done when the CD is pressed.  Laughs. When we were mixing the album, the last day we raised the high hat 1db. One db.  No one will notice that, but that's how we work with music.  So for us, I guess it's finished when we run out of time.

Does anything you read influence your songwriting?

I read a lot of Swedish stuff, but movies inspire me a lot as well.  Especially if I read an English book, and the language is beautiful and I can see how the author uses his words in an unusual way.  I actually started reading Shakespeare for this album.  The way he writes is poetic but very lyrical in a songwriting sense.  You can read his words and almost sing them.

What plays?

I remember reading Midsummer Nights Dream.  I love that play.  It's hilarious.

When you write, you're writing in English.  Does that present a challenge?

Yes.  Obviously our vocabulary is not as big as a native speaker's. But when we write, some things we think sound corny or cheesy might not sound that way to you.  That's tough. Our manager is Canadian, and sometimes he reads our lyrics.  He's say, "Why did you take that line out?" I'll tell him it sounds corny, and he'll have to explain that it may sound corny in Swedish, but not in English.  Some things are lost in translation.  On the other hand, sometimes people complicate lyrics, and our limitations can make things simple and thus better.