Malmo, Sweden native Lovisa Stahl is a wonderfully talented and beautiful woman who made the long trek from her home to be a part of CMJ’s annual music/booze-a-thon in NYC a few months back. Though I had no prior knowledge of her music, a chance encounter at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory during Culture Collide found us having a very pleasant conversation about any number of musical topics. You really never know who you’ll meet in NYC.
On her latest album, #2, Lovisa’s soulful voice and guitar playing shine bright, taking the listener on a captivating aural journey, heavy with well-directed instrumentation and storytelling. With a wonderful attitude and undying ambition, Lovisa Stahl is as determined as they come to make a name for herself in the music world.
I corresponded with Lovisa via email to talk about her history in music and performance and her visit to the Big Apple. And as a bonus, she (quite literally) just released a new video for the song “Claustrophobia,” which you can watch right now!
G- Hello and thank you very much for taking the time to speak with Live High Five today! How have you been enjoying yourself since coming to NYC? What has been your favorite part of the trip so far?
L – I’ve enjoyed myself probably as much as is humanly possible. I’m not so much for tourist things and shopping, more into interactions with people. So, my focus has been on meeting people in all different kind of contexts, like open mic nights, my own gigs, other peoples gigs, salsa- and blues dance and much more. I’ve met so many extremely nice, sweet, and helpful people here. I’ve felt taken care of by the whole town. And experiencing that feeling was the best thing. I’m madly in love with all of NY.
G- When did you personally start your instrument and did you get formal training?
L- I started to play the bass pedals on the organ at home as soon as I could crawl, but I started to take guitar lessons when I was 10. I went to the Academy of Music in Malmö and am now an educated music and guitar teacher.
G- So tell me a bit about where you are from… How is the scene and how are the responses at your shows?
L- I’m from south part of Sweden. The scene is good, and people in the audience are really good listeners. Of course, it’s a lot of hard work to get your music out and getting gigs is getting harder here as well, but nothing is impossible if you don’t want it to be, right?
The response I’ve received to my music is very nice. My fan base is amazing! They respond with such respect and love at my concerts. When I play, there’s an ambience, a kind of magic, and the audience contributes to that. I’ve had a lot of moments when I play and you can almost touch the emotions in the air. I don’t know what it is, but every show someone cries and someone laughs. I like feelings and I think I make it all right for people to feel things for a moment. That sentence might make more sense in Swedish, ‘cause we have a different culture of expressing feelings.
G- You are currently touring in support of your 2013 release, #2. How has the reception been to the new songs, and have you noticed any fan favorites off of the record?
L – The response is excellent! I’m so happy! I’ve covered a lot of genres on this record, ‘cause I write what I’m in the mood for. A lot of times, the lyrics ask for a certain style or melody. Hence, the favorite depends on what mood your in. ‘This Day’ is a jazzy, bossa nova/samba song I wrote in Brazil, ‘Claustrophobia’ is a dramatic milonga, ‘Shining Star’ is a boost song with a soul feeling. But ‘Sabina’ is the one that people has reacted the strongest about, even for reviewers that didn’t know the details of this very tragic story. I guess when you have a story in life that carries a lot of grief, it’s impossible to sing it without the sadness it brings with you.
I won’t leave you with a cliffhanger here, short story; Sabina was my neighbor while I was growing up, and she was murdered when she was 17.
G- I’m sorry to hear that. 🙁
Can you tell us about the recording process for the album? Where did you record it, who was behind the boards this time around, and how long did the release take to record and get ready for release?
L – When I do things, I have one rule: It has to be a cozy time. So, I brought my musicians to a giant beautiful house in the forest in Sweden. Once there, we put up microphones and did live recordings. We spent a weekend there and actually made almost the whole album; We just had to add a little extra instrumentation by people that couldn’t come (for example, my trombone player Paddy Sherlock lives in Paris.) Behind the boards was Henrik Alsér, and on his résumé you can see cooperation with people like Robyn, The Hives, Soundtrack of Our Lives and more.
We recorded in January and I released the album in May.
G- Can you give us a few examples of any bands or artists in particular that influence your style? Who do you typically like to listen to, and are there any acts you think we should know about?
L – I listen to so much music. I don’t know how it influences me exactly, but I guess it does. If I could give you three artists I would say Bonnie Raitt, Tommy Emmanuel and Nina Simone. I love listening to Dolly Parton… She’s such a good storyteller. It’s the same here, depends on what mood I’m in.
I have seen Dolly Parton live three times, so I recommend her and Tommy Emmanuel twice. I recommend going to any concert as often as possible.
But I listen to everything from her to Led Zeppelin. There are days when I’m just in to classical music, like beautiful guitar playing by Barrios (Agustin Barrios Mangoré,) and other days I just want to listen to Alicia Keys or Keziah Jones. On some days, silence is a virtue.
G- How has you reception been in the states, and how does it compare with your performances abroad, both in terms of how you play and the audience reaction?
L – I was received very well in the States. I’ve actually been lucky to always have a nice audience wherever I go. The big difference here is that people give me so much credit for my guitar playing. I’ve played for 22 years, and it’s very important to me. I like to play in different ways… I think it’s boring to play and listen to artists play the same way during a whole show.
In Sweden, they compliment me for my voice, which is really nice as well, but it’s like the things I do on guitar kind of is taken for granted. Lately it’s become much better here too, but it was so nice to get so much compliments for my guitar playing, since I really think about how to do it in best way possible.
G- What should your fans, both old and new, expect of the performances when you guys hit the road? What should some of the first time listeners expect to see when you take the stage?
L – This was a really hard question to answer, but I’ll try. I like stories, both in songs and between the songs (limited stories between the songs, though.)
I would say expect a storytelling performance. Even if I do an acoustic set, I still take a little visit through a lot of genres. In Sweden, I mostly play with a violinist and a contrabass player. Now that I know a violinist and bass player in US, the next time I’m over I might bring my Swedish ones or just the ones that’s already there. It’s always good to have fellow musicians all around the world!
G- 4 albums every fan of you should know about and why. Go!
L – 1. Sting – Songs From A Labyrinth: Sting sings Dowland. He sings every word as it’s the last time the word will ever be sung. Great arrangements for lute (and guitar).
2. Dolly Parton – Little Sparrow: Wonderful stories and great musicians.
3. Astor Piazzola – The Rough Dancer and The Cyclical Night: As dramatic and passionate as tango can be. It takes your heart and lets it dance on wonderful passionate tones of the bandoneon, violin and much more.
4. Louise Hoffsten – From Linköping to Memphis: Swedish blues singer/songwriter. A versatile Blues album, with good musicians and great songs.
G- Do you have a favorite song you have ever written? If you could only give 1 song to someone who’d never heard of you before, to try and make a new fan, what song would you give them and why?
L – I’d go for “Thousand Miles.” I wrote it when I was in a certain state of mind, and it seems like a lot of people are in that state. That song has been received very well from people, no matter age or origin.
G- Are there any bands or artists that you hope to share a bill with in the future?
L – I’d say all the artists I’ve mentioned in this interview!
G- What is the most memorable show that you have played to date? Where was it and what was it like?
L – It was probably the release of my second album. I have six musicians on the album and it was really nice to do a show with all of them. They are so extremely talented and I love playing with them as well as playing guitar in the background, just listening to them when they have solos. A fun part of that show was that in my song ‘Shining Star.’ I never know how long the solo will be, but this particular time there was a battle between the trombonist and violinist where they kept on for several minutes. It was awesome!
It was also the first time I performed “Sabina,” and that was very special and emotional. It went great, but a lot of people cried. I managed to not cry. It was a nice crowd of around 200 people that were there, and of course it’s amazing playing your songs for 200 people listening attentively. One lady that didn’t know who I was told me after the show that it was the best show she had seen in her whole life. She was 60! Then, she bought 4 albums. That was a very memorable night.
TED talk was also a very nice gig. I love TED talks!
G- Lastly, what advice can you give some of the young, up and coming bands everywhere who want to make it in music, on the road, and as a professional musician?
L – Enjoy every minute of it. It’s fun to play for a giant crowd, but if there’s only one person in the audience, enjoy playing for that one, ‘cause he/she is the one that actually came and, at that moment, they’re most important person to you. Don’t focus on the people that’re not there. Know where your goal is.
If you’re not having fun along the way, it’s not worth it. So enjoy every minute of it. Be stubborn, work hard and you’ll get where you’re supposed to be.