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Artist Diary with ... SOFIA TALVIK - July 28, 2008

"My first gig was outside in the freezing cold on a market place in Stockholm, and my third was at Sweden’s biggest rock festival."

picture SongQuarters' April 2008 Songwriter of the Month Sofia Talvik focuses in her exclusive Artist Diary on something every artist aims for: making it in the US.

On the back of her upcoming third album, produced by Tobias Fröberg (credited also for Top 20 UK act José Gonzalez), Talvik describes the hardships and triumphs of touring and making contacts in America.

Her step forward follows two critically-acclaimed albums, the last one released on her own label and including 'It's Just Love', a duet with legendary Suede guitarist Bernard Butler.

Sofia Talvik
by Sofia Talvik

We both knew the minute we walked into the radio promoter’s office that this would not be a pleasant meeting. What we didn’t know was that it was going to be the only awkward meeting ahead of us on the entire trip.

After talking up my music, boasting about how he didn’t even own a computer (well how do you keep updated, then?) he finally gave us an offer that was so close to a rip-off that we just smiled politely and said we’d get back to him some other time.

We had heard all the stories of artists and small record labels being cheated but we had the confidence that we would somehow be able to tell the bad fish from the good. After all, we might be new to the US but we were not new to the business.

My husband and I started the independent record label Makaki Music when I was on my way to release my second album ‘Street of Dreams’. We just had so many ideas that it seemed stupid to sit back and hope for someone else to pull the strings. We felt confident and strong together - and we were right.

Little over a year later, here we were in Los Angeles, California, with a schedule filled with meetings and a new album to present, my third.

“We had so many idea that it seemed stupid to sit back and hope for someone else to pull the strings.”

After ten sunny days in San Francisco and a shoot for a fashion and music magazine we rented a car and followed the beautiful, winding coastal Highway 1 down to Los Angeles. Even only a few weeks before we left, I didn’t think we’d get that many meetings, but once we started sending emails, contacting people on MySpace and Facebook, our schedule started filling up.

We were full of hopes, anticipation and giddiness. Would we meet the person who would help us break this album in the US?

Driving around Los Angeles, we gave out a sigh of relief about having spent a few extra bucks on GPS. Making it from one meeting to another in time would have been a nightmare without it - even though it made us go around in circles for half an hour before we could leave SF for LA.

We were all over the place - literally! We met indie record labels, hotshots in the movie industry, publicists and music supervisors - and they all seemed to like the new album, or at least they appeared to. How can you know really, besides the feeling in your gut that tells you that this is something truly special and that everyone just has to love it as much as you do?

My new album, ‘Jonestown’, was probably the hardest ever album for me to make. Not because of the songs, not because of the expectations, but because I didn’t produce it on my own this time.

My first two albums I produced by myself and they’re really organic and acoustic but I didn’t want to be predictable and make a third album in the same manner. I wanted to make something different, but which was still me. So I hired another singer/songwriter to help me develop my sound.

Tobias Fröberg has released three albums on his own and has worked with great artists such as Kathryn Williams and Peter Morén from Peter, Bjorn and John.

”A Swedish reporter once told me I should quit writing in English. “Why bring sand to the Sahara desert?’”

Neither of us knew what would hit us when we started working together. You will have to look hard to find two people that are more different from each other than Tobias & I but that is probably also what made this album so great in the end and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

We may have had some differences but the one thing we have in common is our sense for beauty; apart from being the hardest, this is the most beautiful album I’ve ever made. Tobias helped me capture a sort of timeless beauty in my songs that makes me think of dusty desert roads in Nevada and the crisp, high air in Lake Tahoe. Somehow this trip became a road movie to a soundtrack that was already there.

Sofia Talvik 02A Swedish reporter once told me I should quit writing in English. “Why bring sand to the Sahara desert?” He said, “You could have a nice career here in Sweden, singing in Swedish”. But I didn’t want to settle for a “nice career in Sweden” , a country slightly larger than California but with a lot less people. I love Sweden, but it’s just getting a bit tight for me.

And besides, I write in English because I love the language, not just because I have some fixed idea to be the next Norah Jones - although that would be kind of nice too.

So I ignored him, made another album, booked a flight to the US and packed all the lovely messages of admiration and appreciation people from the US had sent me over the years in the back of my mind. I was going to bring something much better than sand to the Sahara; I was going to bring my music to the US.

When I started playing the guitar at 18, I just wanted to change the piano for something lighter. I didn’t have any thoughts of becoming a performing artist until a Swedish radio station picked up one of my demo songs and added it to their playlist - where it stayed for 5 months. Suddenly my mailbox was overflowing with emails from people who wanted to hear more.

My first gig was outside in the freezing cold on a market place in Stockholm, and my third was at Sweden’s biggest rock festival, Hultsfred. But everything didn’t go as fast after that.

I made my name through hard work, playing live a lot, and constantly adding my new songs for download on my simple website. I guess I’m just a hard worker, but a hard worker with a lot of dreams and imagination. And I was lucky enough to find someone as ambitious and imaginative as me.

“My first time in the US was horrible. The trip to Austin from Stockholm was about 16 hours and I only got to spend one day there before I had to get on the plane back home again.”

When I started dating my (then future) husband, he thought my songs were a bit silly. He was more of a Monster Magnet kind of rock fan, but I finally won him over and now, he’s probably my biggest fan (if anyone out there feels they’d like to challenge that, feel free to email us), and I couldn’t have accomplished half of all this without him.

Last year I received an email on MySpace from a guy telling me I should apply to an online competition called Famecast. I was busy with something else so I simply forwarded the email to my husband without even checking out the site. Then a month later he told me I had made it to the top ten on the singer/songwriter stage.

I was baffled. I didn’t even know he had applied for me, but there I was with my video in the top ten. And then I made it to the finals and got to go to Austin, Texas to perform live. My first time in the US was quite horrible. The trip to Austin from Stockholm was about 16 hours and I only got to spend one day there before I had to get on the plane back home again.

I had never been in a competition with my music before and the stress along with the jetlag made it all surreal and exhausting. I was nervous as hell when I entered the stage, and then my guitar microphone didn’t work so someone in the crew just put someone else’s guitar in my hands and told me to play, as if it wasn’t hard enough as it was.

When I watched the tape afterwards, I felt like those poor people in the American Idol tryouts, the ones who can’t sing and don’t even know it. I’ve probably never been more disappointed with a gig in my life.

But the judges were really nice - much nicer than the ones on American Idol - and even though I didn’t win the competition, I won something so much better. Because here I was, my second time in the US and a lot less jetlagged, when the Famecast people emailed me saying the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago wanted to book me.

We spent a few wonderful weeks in the US, meeting so many interesting people, experiencing so many beautiful places but the thing I’ll remember the most is that exciting feeling of following your dreams, and I hope it was only the beginning of what will be many more visits. At least I’ve got one planned already ... in August!

Photos by
Emelie Asplund &
Shelby Duncan

Read On ...

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* Unscrupulous promoters, idle roadies, inept management all feature in Westland's artist diary