You can’t have brightness without the dark. The complex synergy between happiness and sorrow, light and dark, forms the core of I Break Horses’ second achievement Chiaroscuro.
Departing from the shoe-gazey atmosphere of the much praised debut Hearts, Chiaroscuro is draped in electronic loops and heartbeat drums and, above the layered sound, Maria Lindén’s soft yet perfectly clear vocals rise, like washed up pearls on a muddy beach. There seems to be an infinite number of soundscapes hidden in every song.
Maria, who began working on the project a few years back together with fellow band member and lyricist Fredrik Balck, never intended the project to step outside her Stockholm studio and onto the stage. But when I speak to Maria on a rainy day in December she has recently returned from a tour with Sigur Rós and arenas filled to the brim with expectant audiences. For a musician suffering from stage fright, Wembley must have seemed like a terrible dream come true.
The paradoxical combination of fear and pleasure provides a fitting backdrop to the music of I Break Horses. During our conversation it becomes clear that Chiaroscuro is shaped along the silhouette of Maria’s emotions, casting shadows both light and dark.
What inspired Chiaroscuro?
I let my mental state lead me through the creative process. I was in a bit of a dark place last year and I used my music as a form of therapy and that contributed to the album’s sound. I also watched Twin Peaks all over again for the first time since I was a kid. It was a weird year. For about six months, I watched Twin Peaks at night and sat by myself, writing very dark music.
I imagine that Twin Peaks could be very inspirational, being so surreal and dreamy.
It brought back a lot of childhood memories. I was too young to watch it when it was broadcasted on Swedish television, but I watched pieces of it when I had the chance because I loved the soundtrack. It was definitely inspiring. I found new soundscapes.
You’ve mentioned before that you consider yourself an instrument rather than a performer or front person. Do you still want the music to take centre stage?
I do, although I enjoy playing live much more now. I never saw this project leaving my bedroom studio. I had planned to be some sort of anonymous person in a home studio releasing records and I waited to play live until the very last minute when I felt like we needed to do a live show. When it comes to creating music, I’ve always had confidence, but I’ve suffered from stage fright due to some terrible classical piano concerts I did as a kid, where I freaked out and it was terrible. I’ve had to challenge myself in so many ways. Two years ago I couldn’t see myself on stage, but now we’ve played Wembley arena in front of 12 000 people and it scared the hell out of me, but I actually enjoyed it. To me, that’s a huge progress.
I spoke to Alisa Xayalith from The Naked and Famous recently and she told me that, as an introverted person, she never imagined enjoying live performances, but now she has found another side of herself who can do it and who likes it.
I feel the same way. I have to be another person on stage. You have to take some sort of role up there and that has helped a lot. It’s like cognitive therapy, you have to force yourself and do it again and again. I’ve taken that confidence into the making of the music as well. With the debut, I tended to drain the vocals in reverb, because I’ve never considered myself a singer. I used my vocals the same way I use a guitar, like another instrument. But with this album I wanted it to be harsh and I wanted the first takes of my vocals and I wanted to make them creepy.
I think I’ve learnt a lot from playing live. I want more dynamic and dramatic songs and it has been helpful to work against the frights and understand that I won’t die from being up there.
“Chiaroscuro” means light-dark. How do you think the word encapsulates your music and what you want to express with the album?
It describes a period of my life. The time when I wrote the songs and recorded the album was a roller-coaster year emotionally. I frequently experienced the lowest lows and the highest highs and wrote the music in relation to how I was feeling in the moment. I think that’s why some songs, to me, are the brightest songs I’ve ever written, very dancy and more upbeat, while the darker songs are the darkest I’ve ever written.
I read an interview with a musician, I can’t remember who, and she described her music as a funeral where people can dance. I felt very connected to that. I imagined a sad person on the dance floor when creating this album.
This interview was originally published on Radar Magazine's website.