Finding Beauty In Every Small Piece: Meet Swedish Vocalist KLARA

London-based Swedish singer/songwriter KLARA is best known for her song, “These Woods (Human Made),” which was featured in a commercial for Volvo UK in 2017-2018, which also peaked at number one on the Singer/Songwriter iTunes download sales charts in the UK. Since then, she’s released two singles with music videos: 2018’s “Broken”, and most recently “I Can’t Speak For You”, in 2019.

KLARA’s music finds its strength in simplicity; it is intentionally sparse and envelops the listener in a sighing, meditative mood. Even her visual accompaniments match this bare aesthetic. The videos for “Broken” and “I Can’t Speak For You” feature KLARA taking time to herself in an empty field of snow, while she seemingly thinks aloud, working through the complex interpersonal dynamics described in her lyrics with a stoic calm.

FRONTRUNNER spoke with KLARA about the magic of simplicity, the importance of connection, and why she loves Tracy Chapman and Bon Iver. We also learned more about her homeland and her favorite instrument.

The video for “I Can’t Speak For You” was filmed in an area of Sweden called Dalarna. Why is that a special place for you?

When I was ten years old, we moved from Lund (in the very South of Sweden) to Dalarna, situated three hours north of Stockholm. My mum wanted to stay at this beautiful farm – a non-profit course and guesthouse surrounded by forests and lakes. We were meant to stay only for six months but ended up staying in the area for three years in the end, as we loved it so much. The place is magical for me as I got to grow up so close to nature where I learnt to ski and ride horses, and where I could swim in the lake and pluck berries in the forest. Very idyllic. At the farm we also had a photo lab, sauna, ping-pong table, rowing boats, and canoes, so I joined in a lot of different workshops there.

I also experienced living in a community with a lot of strong female role models, as the workshops were run with a feministic perspective. They taught me to believe in myself and also take responsibility for the farm, the guests and the people we lived with there! I still have close friends in the village where we come to visit often. The nature and the way of living there truly is calming and very different from my London life.

Photo credit: Dave Chase

The “Broken” video takes place in the snow as well, and “These Woods (Human Made)” also references natural landscapes. Do you mean to evoke particular scenes from nature through your music?

The longer I live in London, the more I realise how much nature means for my well-being. Nature helps me calm down, reenergises me, and gives me focus. Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely love living in London because of the pulse, the energy, the amount of creative and interesting people I meet, but I forget that I get stressed.

I haven’t yet learnt to meditate, [so] after a while my brain feels like a hard drive so full that it can’t comprehend any more information. Also since nature was a big part of my childhood, it makes me become more playful and live in the moment. In the song “These Woods”, I talk about how our childhood memories play a part in who we are today. I like feeling nostalgic thinking about good memories, and going back to idyllic places grounds me.

You have said that “I Can’t Speak For You” is made stronger by its sparse arrangement. Can you say more about why? What draws you to minimalism or simplicity in your songwriting?

I love stripping back songs to their bare bones to see if they still hold up, but also as I love the beauty of a single instrument when it’s played well. The cello is one of my favourite instruments, and I really wanted it to have space to shine. I also love vocal harmonies, and with a sparse arrangement they have space to breathe. Dan Weinberg, who composed the piano parts for this piece, made such a beautiful part for me to play, so I wanted that to be heard too. Basically all the components are beautiful in themselves so a sparse arrangement helps every little piece of the song to have their moment.

Photo credit: Dave Chase

You play piano and guitar, but you’ve said the cello is your favorite instrument of all, and it features in many of your songs. What makes it your favorite?

Both the piano and guitar are such brilliant instruments to write songs with and to sing along to, but the magic of a cello is hard to describe. It’s the depth of tone that the shape of the wood structure gives the cello, but also the sound of the bow against the strings, and how my cello player Klara Schumann creates tremolo and glissandos that make me shiver. Out of the twelve tracks on my album I think I have cello on six of them so you can really tell I love it!

I noticed that you reply personally to a lot of the comments on your music videos on YouTube. Why is that important to you? How else do you connect with your fans?

Thank you for noticing! It is important for me to respect the time they put in to listen to my music and to make the comments, as the listeners responses truly make me happy. I spend so long writing the songs, practising and recording them, that it is such bliss for me to see that someone appreciates listening to them. I am a very social person, so I speak to people after concerts but I also like to spontaneously reply to people on Instagram.

Photo credit: Dave Chase

What’s your favorite thing you’ve heard from a fan about what your music means to them? What’s the most surprising thing? 

Yesterday, someone described to me how they deeply, emotionally connected to the lyrics of one of my songs. They told me they felt I conveyed something personal with my lyrics and that it spoke to them. I love that! Lots of people write to me to say they find comfort in listening to my songs when they have lost someone dear to them and that is truly more than I could have comprehended as I wrote the song. Someone else recently contacted me to let me know that they had used my song ‘These Woods’ at their wedding, as the soundtrack to their walk down the aisle! It’s wonderful to hear of my music playing a small part in important moments in people’s lives! 

You got to meet Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and spend time with him at his music festival in Wisconsin, Eaux Claires. Can you tell us more about that experience?

We met backstage at Glastonbury and had a beer together. I felt like a very lucky girl to have a long one-to-one conversation with him.

I remember thinking, “At what point in this conversation shall I tell him [that] I absolutely love everything about his creative being, and if he would find it intrusive of his festival experience if I told him that I love his voice, his songwriting, his production style, and also how emotive he is when he is performing?”

He was so positive, warm-hearted, and truly lovely. He invited me to come to his festival later the same summer. He said just bring a tent, stay and hang out with us. I didn’t play the festival, but got to enjoy how brilliantly, musically curated it was; how they had thought through every single detail about the artist backstage area, as they are artists themselves. I came back the following year, too, and got to hear Bon Iver’s third album being premiered right there at the heart of where it all started. A musical moment I will never forget.

Who are other musicians you’ve had the pleasure of meeting, either in your childhood or adulthood, who inspired you to keep writing and playing songs? 

Even though I have met a lot of musicians, I have mainly connected via the music, instead, which can be equally magical and inspiring. My earliest memories are sitting with the lyrics to The Beatles and singing along to them. My first true fascination with someone’s full body of work was Tracy Chapman. I learnt all the songs, bought all the records, started playing guitar properly because of her, and went to see her live in Stockholm, Copenhagen, and London. I felt inspired by her love for organic instruments, heavy focus on lyrics, melodies, vocals and thought through instrumentation.

What are some of your favorite venues to play in London, and why?

My top three London venues to play would be Union Chapel, Palladium, and The Royal Albert Hall.

I loved playing St. Pancras’ Old Church and St. Giles in the Fields because of the atmosphere. I think church venues and old theatres make the best concert venues because of the serene atmosphere, the ceiling height, the sparkling crystal chandeliers, and the comfy red velvet seats.

Photo Credit: Alex James

What else do you have planned for the rest of 2019? Any plans to come to New York?

We are building the album campaign this year with a few singles and music videos. I will start 2020 with my album release, which I am super excited about. I would love love love to play New York, and promise to tell you first when it happens!

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