Q&A with Swedish duo of Lighthouse (Mats & Linda Brandemark) -- Americana and Contemporary Rock

"Music is something that easily can unite people no matter what religion, nationality, gender; it is an important universal language."

Lighthouse Sweden: Navigation On The Roots

Lighthouse Sweden from Uppsala, Sweden creates a dynamic blend between Classic Americana and Contemporary Rock. Lighthouse is musical couple Mats & Linda Brandemark’s first joint endeavor. They have cultivated a sound that unequivocally belongs in the tradition of American contemporary rock. On their recent album Lighthouse delivers eleven tracks that guide the listener in an exploration of melancholic pop music, catchy Americana, and timeless rock n’ roll. Linda has previously toured Europe and played in Canada. She has released four solo albums (under the name “Linda Malmström”) and two EPs with Dragon Dolls. Mats has previously toured extensively in Sweden and recorded albums with his bands Big Road, Mobben and Fools & Friends. He has also toured the US, and Europe.

Photo by Kattis Strömgren

Mats & Linda’s collaboration started an evening in 2003, when they re-wrote a song to perform as a duet at a shared show at Katalin in Uppsala. In 2004 Linda and Mats started performing together as a duo, and from then on they have played shows all over Sweden as well as tours to Germany. In 2010 the idea of forming a joint band came up. The process of making their debut album took some time (mainly because the birth of two children), but in the beginning of 2014, Lighthouse played their first shows. In 2014, released their debut album “Lighthouse”. The brand new second album “Silence in the City” (April 2017) available on CD/Vinyl and on all digital platforms. Their have enlisted various guest musicians, including two pedal steel guitarists and California bluesman Derrick “Big” Walker on harmonica. All eleven songs are catchy and by turns melancholic, thoughtful or joyously rocking; the set itself is definitely recommended. Lighthouse can and will perform live in various ways. As a duo, back themselves up with acoustic & electric guitars, harmonica, percussion and harmony vocals. On top of this bass, piano, additional guitars and drums can be added.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What were the reasons that you started the Roots/Blues/Folk/Rock researches and experiments?

Linda: I started playing classical guitar when I was nine or ten and after a couple of years I started getting in to more singer/songwriter stuff like James Taylor, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. And then later on to more American folk and country. I had grown up with a wide variety of music through my dad. We lived way out in the country and with only 2 channels on TV – listening to music is what we did. So I started learning all of my favourite songs on vocals and the guitar (including Moonlight Shadow with Mike Oldfield, huge childhood favourite), and also got in to writing my own songs at the age of fourteen. And then it continued… I recorded my first full length album as a solo artist by the age of 18.

Mats: I started listening to blues and rock music when I was quite young, maybe 7-8 years old. Back then my instrument was the piano, where I tried to figure out how they played on the records and soon found out the basic chords and scales of the blues. What a revelation!  Early influences were the blues greats such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and also British groups like The Stones, The Animals and The Kinks. From my early teens, I started messing with the guitar, my first one being a beat-up halfsized acoustic.  During that period, I was a lot into bands like Canned Heat, Paul Butterfield Blues Band and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Eventually I joined my first band (as a pianist) at the age of 15. After that I was totally hooked. Around age 25 began my career as a singer/front man in the local Uppsala band Red Label.   My song-writing did not really start rolling until the 90’s. By then I’d gotten a bit into country/Americana, which shows in some of the songs I wrote for my 90’s band Fools & Friends as well as my 00’s band Big Road. Some of those songs are now on the setlists of Lighthouse Sweden.

How do you describe Lighthouse Sweden sound and songbook?

Linda: Our sound is characterized by energy and clarity I think. Each song is very different from the other but it has a clear theme, rhythm, and feel to it. I think a lot about what kind of emotion I want to share when I write songs and record them. And when I play them live of course! Our songbook is a mix between my songs and the songs written by Mats with Gunnar Hofverberg. I think that our different styles of songwriting and perspective complement each other really good.

Mats: The short description of Lighthouse music would be that it is eclectic… you can hear different influences in the songs...I myself started out listening to blues as well as the American and British pop charts. Through the years I have listened to various kinds of music: from root blues (Muddy, Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker etc.) on to their early rock heirs such as The Stones, The Kinks, The Who, Van Morrison etc. Apart from that I`ve had periods of listening to soul (Tamla Motown and Stax artists) as well as some jazz greats ( Miles Davis, Roland Kirk, Chet Baker to mention a few). Eventually I´ve gotten into a period of more country/Americana oriented music, listening to Hank Williams, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Gillian Welch among others. To end this long list of influences I have to mention Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty... all of which have been on my record player frequently

What characterize your music philosophy?

Linda: For me, music is energy and emotion; it’s about giving and receiving. So hard to talk about music in words sometimes, and it’s hard to tell what differs music that you really get affected by from music that leaves you cold. Think it has to do with sincerity. I like music that feels honest.

Mats: As for music philosophy, I really can´t say I have given it much thought... I try to play and sing and make as good songs as I can... with the aim of touching people´s hearts... be it a live audience or someone listening to our recordings.

"I wish that the cynical and sexual exploitation by the music industry would go away. Not good for the young girls and boys growing up." (Lind & Mats on stage / Photo by Kattis Stromgren)

Why did you think that the Americana music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Linda: Americana music for me is very lyrics based music, and it is also pretty basic, roots music. That kind of music for me is timeless.

Mats: Probably it has something to do with its origin in roots music and storytelling. That mixture of European and African culture landing on the American continent is talking directly to you.

How has the Rock n’ Roots counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Linda: I have been very much influenced by the women in American folk tradition. Growing up there were few other fellow musicians that were female, and role models are pretty important, especially when you are young. I thought the women in American folk and country, such as Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Gilliam Welch were great (and still are!), both as instrumentalists, songwriters and vocalists.

Mats: A whole lot, I would say. Sometimes probably more than I’m aware of.  As an example, I know that listening to blues records and black artists made me aware of the situation for black people in the US. Apart from improved social knowledge, I think the roots music also gave me a deeper contact with my emotions and at times a better understanding of the various phases of life… be it love, death, loss, hard times or good times.

How do you describe Silence in the City sound and songbook? What characterize album philosophy?

Linda: Three words; love, nighttime and the city. It’s one of those albums that you listen too driving your car through silent cities at night. That’s the theme, or the sound of the album.

Mats: If you compare it with our debut album from 2014, this album is shaped by an existing band and with a much more conscious goal. Working on the first album we were searching for a sound. On this album, we could rest in the certainty that we had the sound, and so we got freer in the process of making the album. This album consists of 11 songs that travel between chaos and peacefulness I would say.

"Genres are not that interesting to me as a musician. It is more for the music industry to talk about. I write songs, and I have a lot of different inspirations to my songs that I hear, from all the music that I listen to. (Photo by Kattis Strömgren)

Are there any memories from Silence in the City studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Linda: I remember recording vocals on “Hole in My Soul”. Usually when I sing my own songs they do not challenge me that much, I write the vocal parts adjusted to my voice (naturally). It’s when I sing other people’s song that I might surprise myself by sounding different or expressing myself in a new way. But by the end of Hole in My soul I really got into it and found a sound in my voice that I never really heard before. That’s really inspiring, because after singing and writing songs for about 20 years, you can get pretty tired of yourself.

Mats: Having Derrick Big Walker in the studio is always a trip. He tributed very much into making “Everybody’s been a fool” a song that really pops out.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams and studio which you’d like to share with us?

Linda: When I was 17 and studied music in Canada I played at a festival up in the Rocky Mountains. It was the most beautiful scenery I have ever been around, full moon over the Rockies, great music and cool people.

Mats: With so many years of playing live, there are plenty of memories of course... It´s a well-known musicians pastime, whenever we meet, to walk down Memory Lane and tell stories from the road (about great gigs, terrible gigs, weird gigs etc...) One memorable night that comes to mind dates back to April1989 at O´Keefes Bar in Brooklyn, New York. I was in New York City visiting my good friend singer/guitarist Wild Bill Durkin. During my stay in NYC he booked us some gigs with different line ups. On that particular Friday night in Brooklyn our drummer was Howie Wyeth, who played with Bob Dylan in the 70`s (the Rolling Thunder Review era..) We played two sets in that half full barroom, mostly ol´time rock & roll... and we were really cooking. Now I am glad to have a faded polaroid from the event.. Some guy at the bar took our photo after the gig... all sweaty shirts. I think I paid him a dollar for it. (this was before the mobile phone took over the world) There we stand: me, Wild Bill, bass player George Bacon and Howie Wyeth... frozen in time.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Linda: I miss sometimes the feeling that music is genuine, that songwriting and playing music, recording and playing live is a craft you learn and practice. And love doing. I miss the notion that music comes from the love of art rather than an urge to be famous. Regarding music, I hope that musicians would be able to live off their music, and that culture could be a bigger part of society. I fear that music & art will be considered an unnecessary thing. Music is something that easily can unite people no matter what religion, nationality, gender; it is an important universal language.

Mats: I can´t say that I look back very often. My hopes are that there will continue to be places, big and small, for live music. And that we don´t end up just having big arena concerts where you are 100 yards away from the stage.

"The short description of Lighthouse music would be that it is eclectic… you can hear different influences in the songs...I myself started out listening to blues as well as the American and British pop charts."

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Linda: I wish that the cynical and sexual exploitation by the music industry would go away. Not good for the young girls and boys growing up.

Make an account of the case of Americana in Sweden. Which is the most interesting period in local scene?

Linda: The concept of Americana is kind of new in Sweden. In the sixties it was pop, rock and blues, in the seventies progressive political rock, in the eighties sleaze rock and synth based pop. During the Nineties it was grunge and electronic music. Americana feels very 2010 – and forward. First Aid Kit was the first famous official Americana band in Sweden. Although I have been playing it since 1995, it was never talked about as Americana, but more singer/songwriter. So Americana is an “in-word” in Sweden right now, but I think a lot of people are unsure of what it is.

Mats: Here I can only agree with what Linda says.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Americana and Rock n’ Roll culture?

Linda: Genres are not that interesting to me as a musician. It is more for the music industry to talk about. I write songs, and I have a lot of different inspirations to my songs that I hear, from all the music that I listen to. Never think to myself; hmm, think I’ll write an Americana song now …

"I think music in general had a bigger impact on society some decades back. Now, a lot of people listen to music without patience." (Linda & Mats / Photo by Mikael Wallerstedt)

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

Linda: I work with local bands a lot, with informal education in rock/pop, and the other week I started coaching a young punk band, 13 years old, two guys and a girl. Their energy in the rehearsal room, their Swedish punk lyrics and their skills both made me really happy and much moved.

Mats: A couple of weeks ago me and Linda were guests at a wedding. At the party we danced to this great klezmer band from Uppsala, Flygande Bokrullen. Dancing like crazy to their music made me laugh and  it was exhilarating.

What is the impact of Americana and Roots music and culture on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Linda: This is a hard question and I am not sure how to answer this without writing an essay. Personally, I like music that makes you feel something – but not telling you what or how to feel. Music that expresses something that you can interpret in many ways. But I also do appreciate for example when songwriters like Steve Earl, Neil Young or Joan Baez write political songs and uses music as a way of getting a message through. It all depends on how you do it. But both mine and Mats basic philosophy regarding this is that music is more poetry than politics.

Mats: I think music in general had a bigger impact on society some decades back. Now, a lot of people listen to music without patience.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Linda: I would have loved to be at Woodstock! I now, not so original, but man it would have been so cool!

Mats: I wouldn’t mind going to The Bands Last Waltz concert (1977, I think it was). Man, what a band and what a night!  It would not last a whole day, though… but to make it 24 hours I could hang out with the guys after the show, I guess.

Lighthouse - official website

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