Americana revolves around early folk and gospel musicians shaping the ground for country and folk music, but the panorama of these roots is wide, taking in country and western, Appalachian, gospel, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues. Put simply, the whole genre builds on American history and stories about the lives of people throughout the Americanization of the continent.
However, 7 100 kilometers to the east of the capital of Americana, Nashville, and far off American soil, we’ll sit down with Daniel “Boda” Skoglund in Gothenburg to chat about his solo project Songs of Boda.
At Reeperbahn festival 2019 we came across Songs of Boda for the first time, one man and his guitar playing Americana-influenced songs on the tiny stage at Pooca Bar on our home turf in Hamburg. It’s music in the borderland of traditional folk and Americana, building on Daniel’s strong vocals.
In April we had Songs of Boda for a live session at Holy Moly in Gothenburg and while the life in exile continues for our editor, we just took the chance to sit down with Boda for a chat about “translating” American stories and artefacts into Swedish contexts, and his struggles on releasing a third album due to the covid-19 crisis. Because there is a third album in the works.
Growing up in schlagerland but learning from Jimi Hendrix
Borås, a few miles away from Gothenburg where you were raised, isn’t really a city you would associate with Americana. It’s known for a range of Swedish schlager artists as Christer Björkman, Magnus Carlsson och Shirley Clamp. How do you grow into an Americana culture on the back of such a tradition?
Actually, Christer Björkman was my hairdresser when I was about seven, and that’s probably my only relation to the schlager scene (laughs). Schlager hasn’t had any place in my life. My influences of guitar-based music derive from me learning to play the guitar at a very young age while listening to a lot of Jimi Hendrix, and that has little to do with Americana.
When you start learning to play guitar and have Jimi Hendrix as a role model, you should become a great guitar player and I turned out fairly good kind of quick, and with Jimi Hendrix’ music you also get the influences from the whole American music scene. That’s how important Jimi Hendrix is for music and for me as a musician.
But schlager – never! (laughs)
I spent some time reading reviews on your music and three artists or bands recur in most reviews concerning the sound of Songs of Boda – The Band, Eric Clapton and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Is that a good framework on how to describe your music?
I would never say I’m on their level but my music most definitely has elements of what they have done, I love all those bands. It’s just great to see my name in that context of artists as well, and it’s definitely an avenue I will continue to explore.
Eric Clapton was huge for me when I was ten and he released the “Tears In Heaven” record. I bought one of these guitar tablature books about the album and learned to play the whole record (laughs).
But when you consider the roots of Americana and its American traditions you’ll find it being very much connected to stories and artefacts of the American people. How do you translate that to a Swedish context?
That’s something I have been thinking about a lot because of the historical aspects of many artists’ lyrics.
I love the music of John Prine and that whole country aesthetic, but I can’t do the same thing because it wouldn’t really fit me. That’s when your roots are important, and I am from Borås, not America, and to write lyrics about American traditions would just be wrong. I have to put myself in a different context, where I belong and use that context’s stories.
An American artist once said that the ambition of many American singer-songwriters is to write about someone else, not themselves. A good songwriter can write stories about anything or anyone, but they don’t write about themselves. That’s for amateurs.
But I can’t see the point in it because it feels a bit weird if I don’t use myself and my experiences when I write music. Why would I write about someone else’s experiences? That’s just strange to me. Authenticity for me is to write about what you feel and what you experience. But maybe I’m not a professional yet and have to learn a bit more about life, and that’s fine for me because then I have a goal for the future (laughs).
Get back to me when I’m sixty and you will find me writing stories on waitresses’ in Borås (laughs).
If you consider the scene for your type of music in Sweden, is there enough space to get as much airtime and gig slots as you want, or do you feel squeezed out from the venues because other genres get more attention?
I understand that thought and maybe the scene is a bit narrow in Sweden, but for me, it has been good enough and I never really had any problems to catch airtime. I never felt that I’ve been treated unfairly because of the music I play.
On the other hand, I already was in the scene when Songs of Boda started because I played as a session musician in other bands before my solo career; if the scene is a bit narrow, at least I have a foot in it (laughs).
I know you’ve played quite much with Daniel Norgren before you started Songs of Boda. But when did you reach the point where you felt that you had to find an outlet for your own music instead of writing songs for bands?
I like to play in bands but it has never been enough for me. To return to me learning to play guitar at an early age; I very quickly gained a reputation as the “guitar dude” in Borås and liked that reputation, and I just followed that path in life because it was a comfortable life. I became a music teacher and started to play as a session musician. That was me for a very long time, Boda the session musician.
But what I really wanted to do was to write my own songs, parallel to play in bands. I just wish I would have started out earlier in life. Don’t take it as I’m bitter (laughs), I just wish I would have thought “Let’s write some songs just for me as well”.
But you never felt that you had an outlet for your own creativity in a band and could have continued on that path instead?
I have done it already, I have been writing songs together with other people for many years, but you always have to compromise (laughs). I think most musicians want some sort of control of the music they write. It’s not that I need to have total control and get furious if I can’t have it, but I want to have that special feeling for what comes out of the writing process.
I’ve had ideas about music for a very long time and now is the time to explore those ideas. That’s what I’ve done on two records so far. The last five years have been Songs of Boda years, not me being a session musician, and I feel very good about it. You evolve faster as a solo musician, it’s a very special learning process.
To release or postpone?
Amid wider devastation, the covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the musical world. With public gatherings curtailed, concerts, tours and festivals are currently ruled out, jeopardising employment prospects for musicians and the future of shuttered venues.
Artists and groups are navigating uncharted waters, offering discounts on merch to try to generate scrape-by revenue, hosting live shows, and going Instagram live with other artists. Many are asking themselves “Should I hold off on releasing until this is all over?”.
Songs of Boda wrestles with the same quandary facing many of his peers: How do you release an album during a pandemic?
Just like everyone in the scene you must have been affected by the covid-19 outbreak and cancelled shows.
Yeah, and I have a lot to think about concerning the upcoming album – when is a good time to release it? Usually you release a record and head off for a tour, but that’s not possible. Postpone the album? I just don’t want to wait until 2021, that’s too far away for me and I will lose interest and motivation.
The biggest problem to release an album the next few months and everything returns to some sort of normal situation again, is that all venues are already booked for the next year. All gigs that were supposed to happen now have been rescheduled, and bands releasing albums at this point won’t stand a chance to squeeze themselves into the schedule. For me that window is about to close.
About the new record; you’ve done two albums in two years by now, ”Iago” and ”Meanwhiling”, and when we had you for a live session at Holy Moly in April you played two songs I guess will be on the album.
It’s three albums! No one counts the EP, it’s always like that (laughs). But as I just said, the third full-length album is in the works. It’s all about how and when it will be released.
Maybe it’s better to chop up the album in EP’s then? Writing a full album takes time and when it’s done and I’m ready to tour, all venues are fully booked. I may have to rethink the situation a bit even if I prefer to write albums, but it’s all about feeding people with my music and keep up some interest for what I do.
Many new bands, above all young musicians, just release singles or EP’s today.
I know! Maybe that’s what I should do as well, but I kind of like the album format. It’s a bit boring today that music needs be a constant flow of new songs to people, like feeding fans with new songs. But what about quality?
But that’s how it works out today and maybe I have to adapt to it as well. I don’t know yet.
Back to the third album; where would you place it on a scale between ”Iago” and ”Meanwhiling”, two very different albums?
On “Meanwhiling” it’s just me and a guitar and just one of the songs have vocals. It’s a quicker process to write an album as “Meanwhiling”, I don’t need to make it work out with a band setting. But the third record will be more like “Iago” with a band again, I like that quite much.
But you perform both solo and with a band. At Holy Moly you were three-piece but on Reeperbahn Festival last year it was just you and a guitar.
Exactly! The Reeperbahn Festival gig was part of the “Meanwhiling” concept and that can’t be anyone but me on stage.
What’s sad is that on the level I am at the moment I can’t always afford to pay for a band and then it’s great to have the opportunity to play solo shows and don’t feel that you do it because you need to compromise. I just play songs adapted for that type of show, just like at the Reeperbahn Festival. When I do “Meanwhiling” shows it won’t work in another way either, those shows are made for me, and me only.
What’s boring though is that almost all discussions with venues and organizers is about budget limits, but then I can say “Ok, then you get me and a guitar on stage”, and I know it will work out equally good.
But it’s fair to say that I will be thrilled to get out and play live with a band when the third album is released. It’s something magical to be on stage with a band, just to have someone to interact with. That’s just an amazing feeling and a reason I continue doing this. It’s very creative.
You never had the thought of doing a remake of “Meanwhiling” and adapt it for the band?
I most definitely had the idea to do it live, and it will probably happen, but I won’t release a remake with a band. Well, maybe I get a feeling for it one day and just do it (laughs), but not now.
My ambition is always to make the whole process rather quick, it was like that when I did “Meanwhiling”. “Meanwhiling” built on the idea that “This is how it sounds like when I play guitar in a room next to the living room”. No struggles, no compromises, just me. As soon as you bring in a band you always end up in working on the details together and then it’s not a quick process anymore (laughs).
But you will never turn to backing tracks and start touring on your own with pre-recorded rhythms?
No, that’s not me at all. Before you arrived today I tried out a drum rhythm on the machine over there [a huge organ] but stopped it after just a few seconds. It will never work out for me.
Reeperbahn Festival last year was your international debut as Songs of Boda? Is it what you target with the third album as well, to do a European tour?
I have played in Germany a few times before Reeperbahn Festival actually, and also toured Europe with Daniel Norgren, but I would be more than happy to return to Germany after the record is out. I’m actually more excited about it this time because the kids are older now, last time they were a bit too young and I didn’t want to be out for longer tours.
But just book me (laughs).
Photographer: ©Richard Bloom
Songs of Boda pages