The PV Q&A: Maja Ivarsson of the Sounds On Getting Older, Rediscovering Sweden (and Sweden Rediscovering Her)

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BY Tom Lanham

“We’re not living in America/But we’re not sorry,” sneered Swedish frontvixen Maja Ivarsson on the title track of her band the Sounds’ Blondie-frothed 2002 debut, Living in America. But she wound up eating those words recently, when she actually relocated to California to move in with her LA boyfriend. And—as her group issued its fourth salvo in 2011, Something to Die For—she was fitting into West Coast surf-and-skate culture quite nicely, until the relationship ended, sending her right back to the familiarity of her homeland, where she currently resides.

But everything happens for a reason, they always say. And the Sounds are now more popular than ever in Sweden, thanks to a rollicking new fifth effort, Weekend, and “Living in America”-catchy anthems like “Animal,” “Great Day,” “Young and Wild,” and the self-explanatory “Shake Shake Shake.” Additionally, Ivarsson reveals, a strange series of serendipitous events put her back on the national radar in ways she never expected, which kicked off, oddly enough, with the painfully crooked healing of her broken tailbone. “I put it on my Instagram, like, ‘Oh, I’m a little nervous—I’m gonna get this MRI scan today, so wish me luck!’” she says. “So it was just that, nothing more. But it ended up in the Swedish tabloids, with all the headlines exaggerating it like crazy, like I was dying, or I was in a panic in the emergency room. They turned it into a much bigger thing than it actually was.”

And things only accelerated from that point on…

PureVolume: From your tailbone incident to thoughtful new Weekend tracks like “Great Day,” “Too Young to Die,” and even “Young and Wild,” it seems like you’ve been thinking a lot about mortality lately.
Maja Ivarsson: Yeah. And you start to wonder about it. But maybe it has something to do with age, you know? I mean, gosh—we’re getting old. Well, kind of. I just turned 34 last week. But I kind of like it so far. And I want to grow old. I think it’s a beautiful thing, getting older, as long as you don’t totally turn ugly and fat and unhealthy. Although I have gained some weight lately. But hey—why not? And I think when you write songs, and this goes for most people, there’s always a certain time in your life, like your teenage years and your early 20s, where those years are so intense and so dramatic. Especially in our lives. We had a big breakthrough with our band and everything was going really well, and we were partying like crazy. And I think that’s an everlasting inspiration for songs. Even when you’re turning 34, you still relate to that kind of feeling and what it was like. So I think it’s good to have those stories in your back pocket and be able to pull ‘em out when you want to write something about, say, what it’s like to be young and wild.

You recorded Weekend back home in Sweden, too, at Svenska Grammaphon?
That’s not our own studio, which is Arnioki, like our label. But you remember that band Soundtrack of Our Lives? It’s the bass player’s studio, and it’s a fairly well-known place in Sweden. And we were actually living in the studio, because there are different floors with several different studios, and another floor with a small kitchen and five different bedrooms and a little TV area. I was in there for seven weeks. I went to Stockholm for two days, otherwise I was in there the whole time.
What food powered you through Weekend?
It was not potatoes! We had crisp bread—it’s, like, a Swedish thing—with cheese, and I had a lot of eggs and the guys had Thai food. I’d go to a pizza place around the corner and have some pizza and whiskey, but that’s pretty much what we had. It was the same food every day. And you do become a bit schizophrenic and claustrophobic. But it’s also good, because you don’t get distracted to do other things. So we were very creative in those seven weeks: We had 14, 15 songs, we didn’t overthink everything, and we just recorded it when it sounded cool instead of trying to make a song perfect. We tried to capture that naïve sense of being in a band that we had at the beginning, when you don’t know too much. Except that music should be played with your gut, not with your brain. On our last album, we were overthinking every song, pretty much. It was a little too much brain, too little heart and guts.
While you were living there, did you catch anybody drinking milk from your carton?
Ha! We were actually pretty good when it came to writing our names on stuff. So when you look in the refrigerator, you know that this is mine, that is yours. But we’re still kind of generous with each other. I had more than enough ham, cheese, orange juice, and that crisp to spare.
So you’ve been rediscovering Sweden. But Sweden, it appears, has been rediscovering you.
Yeah. I’ve been doing this TV show back home and a radio thing that’s pretty big. It’s a Swedish television show that translates to “So Much Better,” and I was doing the third season. And it’s one of the most popular programs on Swedish television—you get asked to do it. The production company reaches out to different artists: seven different artists, from seven different genres of music, and seven different ages. And we all live in a house, a summer place, but it’s not like Jersey Shore. It’s serious television. So the seven of us hang out and have dinners and do different activities, but at the end of the night, we interpret each other’s songs. So there were six other artists interpreting Sounds songs, and it was like a total surprise, because I’ve never heard them performed that way before. And then I had to interret six songs, one by each of the other Swedish artists. So it was a very cool thing, a very fun TV show to be part of.
And the radio thing?
It’s an old Swedish tradition that’s been around for 40, 50 years maybe. It’s called “Summer in P1,” and P1 is one of those old radio stations that’s been around forever. And every year, they pick 40 or 50 different people, like scientists, actors, sports people or celebrities, somebody who has something to say. And you get an hour and a half, and you can talk about whatever you want. It’s one of the most listened to radio shows during the summer. But this year, they asked me to do it, and it’s like a real honor to be asked. And when the summer was over with, my show was the most downloaded, most listened to show of the year.
And you talked openly about some pretty personal stuff, like the abuse you suffered in childhood.
I just told ‘em about my crazy life, and apparently it was quite interesting to listeners. I told ‘em about how I’ve lived a pretty rough life. I mean, my childhood wasn’t all bad, but there was a lot of shit going on that was not super cool. A lot of people think of me as very cocky and confident, and I am all that. But I can still get broken down, like anyone else. But I got a lot of letters from young girls who finally had the guts to tell someone that they’d been through the same thing. So that was in the tabloids forever. And now I can’t go anywhere in Sweden without people coming up and talking to me and asking me stuff. So it’s been a very crazy and super intense year in Sweden.

And there was all this online controversy when you did a duet with some Swedish pop star named Darin—everyone wondered if you were an item.
He’s super cute, and he was hitting on me like crazy. But he’s like 25, 26, and he has a young way of acting, as well. And I don’t think it’s very sexy when you have to be like somebody’s mom. But he had his breakthrough on Swedish Idol, so that was in the tabloids, as well.
So there truly is no such thing as bad publicity?
True that! Word! Everything that’s happened has only made our band bigger in Sweden. I mean, we’ve always been a big band in Sweden. But now I think Inga, 56 years old, from a tiny little village in the middle of nowhere, now she knows about us, as well. Now everybody knows!

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