South-east Sweden shares some attributes with the American South: population density is low, pastoral communities are plenty, god is greater than the prime minister, and it is the birthplace to many great Swedish musicians because there’s not much else to do than playing music (or dedicate your life to motocross if you ask our Vaggeryd-born co-editor DJ Pappaledig).
Growing up in a small town in the south-east Swedish region Småland, Cornelia Adamson shaped the sound she later would label “Southern Goth”. Leaving her neighbourhoods and Christian background behind to explore the world, she moved to London just to return to Stockholm a few years later where she created the moniker we know her by today, Virginia And The Flood.
Two years ago she left Stockholm, settled in Gothenburg and just a year later she released her debut album “Aqua Duck Down”, a record leading to a nomination for best singer-songwriter/country/Americana the Manifest Awards at the beginning of 2020.
After having her for a live session in May, we caught up with Cornelia at a local pub in Gothenburg and chat about being super busy in many different projects, writing music for a second album and the need to leave home and isolate herself to be able to write music.
Distractions: “I can’t say no”
You’re quite a busy person and collaborate with lots of bands, and just recently you became a permanent member of Tomma Intet. Where’s your focus?
It’s definitely on Virginia. The last months have been a lot with Tomma Intet because they wanted me to do the whole new album with them. It was to supposed to be just a single, ”Ta min hand inför din gud så ska jag dra dig ner till helvetet”, where they feature Virginia And The Flood, but they wanted me to continue and I’m on all songs on the record now. It was such a great feeling after the single and I couldn’t say no (laughs).
Because Tomma Intet have released some singles and recorded an album, the last months, I do a lot with them at the moment and not Virginia. The single I made with Kanot was just a one-off project though, because we wrote that song together. In Melody Fields I’m just a session musician, nothing else – I think (laughs).
But are you the type of person who needs to be continuously busy and creative to get input to your own music?
To some part it’s like that, but it’s mostly because someone asks you to do something with them, and when you’ve done one thing you want to do more because you always find it awesome. Maybe it’s not a great way for keeping a focus on Virginia but I can’t say no (laughs). Yes, it’s super fun; no, it’s not the best way to run your own campaign.
At the moment I’ve released music with both Kanot and Tomma Intet and just started to write and record music as Virginia And The Flood again. But although it seems to be a lot, things rarely happen at the same time, it’s not like I have to choose between four different tours (laughs). But I can’t keep a clear focus on Virginia at the moment, it’s too many things out there.
I’ve read that you have a Christian background and that you and your family were active members of the church in your hometown. Aside from religious values, my experience is that church is like a huge music school and offers a great learning ground for musicians. From early age, you’re often encouraged to play instruments and sing. Did those childhood years in church leave any marks on your music career?
Quite much I would say. From I was very young I was encouraged to play and perform and you learn that your friends are not competitors which I suppose makes it easier – you’re part of something greater than just being an individual. When you get support like that from early age you also grow confidence.
Church is just like the music schools, or at least some sort of music school, although it’s also about the message in the music. But you also need to have a family that’s interested in music or play instruments to grow a real interest in music yourself. I played classic piano for almost ten years but I did it because I was inspired by my sister playing the piano.
But the piano turned into a guitar?
Yeah, I wasn’t creative enough when I played piano and always felt I couldn’t liberate myself from the notebook, I was just free and creative when I sang. Like most musicians I wanted to feel free, and I picked up the guitar and started to learn just by listening to songs, not using tablature books or anything like that.
You don’t think spontaneity and creativity are different today and if you add piano in the future on your records you’ll get back to it?
Maybe, but I also stopped playing for practical reasons. I lived in Stockholm for ten years and moved around a lot because it’s difficult to find a permanent place to stay, and you don’t want to drag around a piano when you do that (laughs). It was much easier when I was young and we had a piano at home. You just sat down and played when you had time for it. But I haven’t played in years now and if I ever want piano in my music I just get someone else in for the job (laughs).
But how much have your Christian background affected your lyrics?
I really appreciate having that kind of background although I left church many years ago because I feel I have different perspectives on life. I’m sure that my lyrics have been tainted by my childhood; if you grow up with biblical texts or whatever you grow up with, it’s just natural to find references to it in the lyrics.
I also find it interesting to mix those kinds of texts with my sense of humour, probably because I don’t want it to be too serious (laughs).
The pressure of creativity
There’s an inevitable pressure on the second record for any band. In fact, it’s a difficult proposition for any band, particularly one that has found immediate success with their debut and are under immense pressure to record and release a follow-up before the hype disappears. Either you surpass your debut and keep your fans or disappoint them, or you are nothing more than a flash in the pan.
The list is of victims of the infamous the Difficult Second Album Syndrome (DSAS) is long. White Lies, The Strokes, The Stone Roses, MGMT and Franz Ferdinand are just fractions of bands that couldn’t repeat the debut album success due to time pressure in the writing process.
The cliché that you have a lifetime to make your first album and only a year or two to make your second holds true. When much of that time is spent shuttling from airport to hotel, recording radio-station idents across the country – maybe even the world if your debut album becomes an unprecedented success – and telling earnest interviewers from Berlin to Bangkok exactly how you came up with your band name, it can become even harder to retain a sense of perspective.
Cornelia is well aware of the problem and also realized she needs to leave home and isolate herself somewhere else to find her creativity. But corona bought her time; when everything else has been cancelled, writing music is the only thing left to do.
You call your music Southern Goth and on the debut album there are definitely references to country/folk music. Where do you get those influences? Is it because Småland, where you come from, is Sweden’s equivalent to the American South?
(laughs) I’ve never seen it like that actually, but I grew up close to High Chaparal [cowboy-themed amusement park], but hopefully I’m not drawing inspiration from that (laughs).
My dad used to listen to folk music and had this huge passion for Bob Dylan and American folk music from the sixties, and I guess I got my interest from him. But I do it quite differently and have my own take on it, it doesn’t really sound like American folk music.
Considering the state of the world and how it affects the music scene there’s not much else to do than writing new music. You said you’re in a new writing process with Virginia. Do you plan to release something later this year?
I don’t know yet, but let’s wait and see. Most of my plans came to a halt kind of abruptly and I haven’t really found my way yet and what to do instead. But at least I’ve started writing new music for Virginia and hopefully there will be something to release in the fall, but I don’t know what it will be yet. I’m just about to leave for a few days to write new music.
In general I’ve had a rough time to adjust, it’s like I’m on a mental break (laugh). I remember when the lockdown started in March and I thought “Great! I will have lots of time to write new music” because at the same time I also lost my job and suddenly I had all the time in the world to write music. But it didn’t really pan out that well and all that free time didn’t turn into anything (laughs).
But I guess it has a lot to do with that I released my debut album last year and really needed to catch up with things and get back to a normal life again. When you’re in the writing and recording process you put everything else in life on hold, it has to wait until you’re done, and it means that you need to catch up with friends and clean up your flat after you’ve released the record (laughs).
At this point, after allowing myself to have a long break, I’ve found motivation and inspiration to write music again, but it was necessary to have that long period of doing nothing, a detox of the album process.
But isn’t it also about the huge pressure to release a second album? Usually you have your whole life to write your debut album but just a year to release the next.
Most definitely! Your whole life was dependent on that first album, nothing was allowed to interfere in the process, but when it was released it was like “Ok, it’s out now, that’s it” and I just felt empty (laughs). But even if I’ve had a long break I haven’t been completely off the music. I was away during the spring for a few days to write new music, it hasn’t been a completely non-creative period.
You’re that type of person who needs to leave home to write music?
Sort of. I’m trying to understand how it works out and how I can be more efficient. At the moment I sit down when I don’t have anything to do for an hour or two, but I started to realize that I’m the kind of person who needs to be isolated to not get distracted by people who want to hang out with or get away from all these things at home that I have to do. I need a sort of complete isolation to make it work out, to disconnect from the real world, turn off the phone and those things, just to get into the creative world.
When I moved from Stockholm to Gothenburg two years ago I thought “Great! No distractions! I can focus again”, but today I realize that it was because I didn’t know that many people at the time. A year later I’m stuck in the same dilemma (laughs). When you realize things like that, it’s better to plan for a week off and leave home and all the distractions behind.
My debut album was recorded at three different locations, in Hälsingland, Värmland and in Stockholm, and it was great to be somewhere else for a while. It’s great for creativity but sometimes I wish I would be more organized and structured and would be able to this at home, but if I was like that I’m afraid it would feel like an ordinary job if I organize it in after a schedule, and that frightens me more because the fun with doing all this would disappear.
I did a music job a while ago – you need money to live as well (laughs) – and at the beginning it was quite fun but in the long run after several rounds of feedback and rewriting what I’ve done, it started to feel like a job and I lost the fun with it. I really want to be in control and make the decisions (laughs). At least decisions about my own music. I love to play with other bands and feed on their creativity and I feel fine with it and don’t need to be in control then. It’s just super cool that they want me to play with them.
I was thinking about you being in control; is it important for you to keep your role as Virginia when you collaborate with other bands as well or do leave your own character and become Cornelia in those situations?
It doesn’t really matter to me, it works out fine to be either Virginia or just myself. The single with Kanon was a featuring single where Kanon featured Virginia And The Flood, and Tomma Intet’s ”Ta min hand inför din gud så ska jag dra dig ner till helvetet” became a bit weird because it was a featuring single and then I became a permanent band member. It’s just a fuzzy line between my character and myself, and I don’t really care about it at all.
Most bands and artists target a wider audience after a while and want to get out on a European tour. How are your thoughts about touring Europe when we’re back to normal again?
That’s the plan. I played at Reeperbahn Festival last year and really want to play more in Europe, as much as possible. The worst thing with the current situation is to not be able to play live at all and to be isolated at home. I’m used to visiting friends in different cities and really love to travel around.
I was about to play Focus Wales in May and would have done a show in London after that but it was cancelled for obvious reasons. That was something that could have got me more shows in Europe but hopefully there’s a new opportunity when we’re back to normal again.
What’s first on your agenda when we’re back to normal?
I want to get out and play shows again but at the same time I want to record new music just to have some new songs to set the goal of releasing a new album later. When I released my first album it was a lot of really old songs on it and I want to make a new record with new songs being connected together in a different way than on the debut.
My priority is to release new music and hopefully do a festival tour next year to compensate for everything that has been cancelled this year.
Virginia And The Flood pages