IN CONVERSATION: I Break Horses

IN CONVERSATION: I Break Horses

If this crisis and Lockdown is like a long dark tunnel with no end in sight and an uncertain entry back into normality, then I Break Horses incredible third album Warnings which comes out next week on Bella Union, might just offer a shaft of light at the end of it.  I Break Horses aka Maria Lindén says “Each song is a subtle warning of something not being quite right.”  Thus each song concerns existential anxiety and the fragility and precariousness of life and our connections to one another.  It couldn’t be more of a prescient record for the surreal and alarmist times we are living through right now. 

Swedish artist Lindén sketches out widescreen cinematic soundscapes in her bedroom and invests them with her magnificently haunting vocals and vast vision. Crafting each song in her bedroom, she meticulously pieces together layers of mellotron, glistening synth loops and underpinning them with a pulsing rhythmic mainline.

Heartstopping and enveloping, ‘Death Engine’ is draped in dreamy mellotrons, haunting loops and analogue synths, while Lindén’s exquisite vocals sigh with the echoes of Liz Frazer or Sinead O’Connor her lyrics crackling with immersive dramatic tensions.  It’s about the troubled minds of today’s youth in our harsh contemporary times and a suicide attempt of a friend.

Hypnotic recent single ‘Neon Lights‘ meanwhile retools the electronic carousels of her earlier work ‘Winter Beats‘ from 2011’s debut Hearts, but refines it and expands upon it to scale new heights.  Lindén says its “an anthem for all of us who have ever felt like we didn’t fit in. It is trying to give a glimpse of hope to all outsiders who feel like they can’t find their way and to show the world that being a ‘misfit’ is a beautiful thing, not something to be pushed aside.”

Six years in the making and since the release of previous long player Chiaroscuro and after numerous false starts, in my opinion Warnings is I Break Horses most definitive statement yet and the best album I’ve heard so far this year.  So I sent Maria Lindén some questions to find out a little more.

Hi Maria, how are you?  First of all I love the album, it’s the best I’ve heard this year.  How are you coping with lockdown?  And is it strange releasing music at this time?

Hi, and thank you so much!! I’m doing ok thanks, staying safe at home and in my secluded studio space. About 1 hr walk between the two places so getting some exercise at least! However it’s very frustrating not being able to plan any gigs or festivals this year, it will be a difficult year for releasing music for sure.

I heard you write many of your songs in your bedroom, how do you make them sound so vast?

First of all, I tend to spend an unhealthy amount of time on the songs, sounds. The endless possibilities when mostly working on a laptop can be devastating time-wise for a person like me, but at the same time, I don’t really mind spending all that time on trying to find interesting sounds.

You worked with Chris Coady (credits include Beach House, TV on the Radio) on the record what different perspectives did he bring to the songs and production? 

Chris’s mixing really leveled up my bedroom recordings. There was this wonderful and immediate understanding of what I was after for this album with him from the start. Normally the mixing stage is mostly a pain for me but with Chris it all just came together perfectly, he’s incredible.

Did you have song structure in mind writing these pieces or not? I read you watched your favourite films on your computer (sound muted), which films and were they originally like imaginary soundtracks? 

I never have a structure in my mind when writing my sketches, I strongly believe that the songs dictate the way recordings happen in the end. Though I’d say the theme in common for the films I watched – broken relationships between broken people – surely had an impact on how the album turned out, both musically and lyrically. I remember I watched “Bad Timing” by Nicholas Roeg a lot.

How do they start life with a beat, a synth motif, a riff? Or does it vary? Do you layer each part and how do you know when to stop?

It varies but I tend to start with a beat most of the time. And no, I definitely don’t know when to stop when it comes to layering! I need help there.

Were there any touchstone artists or albums you were listening to over the period of writing the record or do you deliberately avoid other peoples’ music when you are writing?

During the actual writing process, I tend to be naturally busy with my own composing and don’t really have any interest in other music. But I assume there are subconscious references to other music that might emerge later on, and that I’ll realise I’ve been inspired by as time goes by.

You say you had several failed collaborations between your last album and this record were there times of frustration when you felt like giving up and what kept you going?  Is it important to not force the creative process but to let it come naturally?

Exactly, I cannot force the creative process. Period. So yes, when things turn into a dead-end street collaboration wise it can feel a bit sad naturally. But at the same time, my integrity as a composer is always going to be stronger and more withstanding than any collaboration or even collaboration attempt. I guess my music will always find its way out from sketch to result if I feel it’s good enough.

You say ‘Neon Lights’ is about outsiders and misfits and seeing light at the end of the tunnel?  Do you want it to provide some comfort some feeling that you aren’t alone?

Yes. I have always had a weak spot for outsiders and people not living as regular lives as common people do. So should ‘Neon Lights’ offer any support or strength to any of these people I will be very happy.

‘I’ll Be the Death of You’ is like a tapestry of beats and synths it sounds quite glorious what kind of synths did you use here?  Did the words come after you had the music?  It sounds quite emotionally honest and direct to me, what’s your perspective? 

Thanks, I used several synths but the main ones were my mellotron MD4000 and OB-6. Most of the time words come after I have the music, I remember I had the phrase “I’ll be the death of you” early in the process though..! And yes, I think overall that the lyrics are very honest and direct if you will on this album. It simply needed to be that way.

Death Engine’ was the first track I heard from the album it’s quite extraordinary.  You say you were trying to process the suicide attempt of a friend and reflect the mental health crisis in generation Z.  In what way?

Thank you, it’s my favorite song on the album. So luckily this person was taken into care before it was too late. At the time it was very shocking of course. I did not see that coming at all. I was affected for months after. You know, one of those near-death or near loss experiences I guess. It made me realise how fragile life is and how delicate people’s mental health can be.

How could we approach suicide and mental health in a more healthy, compassionate, and empathetic ways to help destigmatise the issue?

Not sure I am the best person to answer that or is the one who should be answering that, to be honest. Those are questions that need to be raised more urgently on a political level. But perhaps this pandemic will bring new and different topics to the table. I can only assume that mental health issues sadly will be a palpable consequence in the aftermath of these troubled times. On a smaller scale, reach out to people more often, ask them how they are. And listen.

You’ve toured with M83 and Sigur Rós; latterly, U2 in a dream world when we are over the crisis, who would you like to tour with in future?

It would be a dream to be on the same bill as Spiritualized in the future.

Thank you for your time

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