In 2014 Vita Bergen released debut album Disconnection, an ecstatic listen of ponderous party music, and quickly rose to the skies in the Swedish scene; the record was nominated for a Manifest Award and band members William Hellström and Robert Jallinder were on everybody’s lips. Five years and a second album later, the band have morphed into a solo project after Robert left the band at the end of 2018. However, remaining band member Hellström opened the door for collaborating with other artists – and there are lots of other artists on the upcoming third album.
As Vita Bergen releases Another Day In Paradise, we spoke to the man in charge, William ‘Wille’ Hellström, about the transformative period, his first solo album, the value of streaming music, and being fully engaged in research studies alongside his music career.
The Five Million Milestone
How’s the general feeling a month ahead of the release of the new album?
Mostly it’s about missing people in general and missing friends a lot. I haven’t been at a venue or a club since February last year when we did our latest show in Oslo. The band haven’t rehearsed much the last year because everyone had to cut off ties to people they don’t necessarily have to meet every day. And we’re used to hanging out quite much in the band so it’s been a bit of a struggle.
We turned down a few opportunities to do live streams when everyone else was doing it in the spring last year because it’s so boring to be on stage with no one to perform to, but in the long run we needed a reason to meet and thought “Fuck it, let’s do this to have a reason to meet, rehearse and hang out again” (laugh). You really miss those moments when you’re about to enter the stage where you build up this tension together in the band just minutes before the show is about to start. That feeling is almost gone now.
It must at least be inspiring to see that people listen to your music a lot. You posted a small celebration on Instagram about reaching the five million streaming mark. What does it mean to you?
When not much else has happened the last year, nothing encouraging or positive, you need to celebrate the little things (laugh). It’s not a huge thing, but for me five million is much.
When I started doing music I didn’t expect anything, just that someone would like it. I knew my family would be supportive, but they’re expected to (laugh). But you want someone else to like your music, people you don’t know that would pick it up and say “Hey, here’s a great new band”.
At the time I lived in this really small and crappy apartment in Gothenburg with awful drapes from the 70s that didn’t let any light in at all, a shithole, but I recorded everything in that apartment using software gear even if I didn’t know anything about how to do it. It was complete chaos and I’m still amazed that anything worked out, but it up in my first demo. On the back of that five million streams is amazing. People have listened to my songs five million times! It’s insane! But maybe they just have it as background music and don’t really listen (laugh).
But do you get addicted to follow the statistics on how people listen to your music?
Actually not, I don’t like to do it because it would stress me. Five million isn’t really anything when you compare to other bands, but it’s a big deal for me.
This whole industry is a bit weird because there’s no real value attached to streams, not for me nor the listener. If someone, by chance, would pick your song for a major playlist on Spotify – that’s what happened a friend of mine – you would get a million streams in a few days, but what does it mean? People didn’t listen to any of the other songs. In that sense it doesn’t really matter.
My label is responsible to get me on playlists, but finding the right lists for me is super hard. How many songs are released every day? It’s just a massive amount of songs and to expect playlist curators to find your music, and find it good enough for their playlists, is just a stupid thought.
Just before I released my first songs ever, I sent emails to hundreds of people, magazines and radio stations across the world. If I were lucky they would return and say “It’s not really our music” (laugh). At least that’s something, usually you won’t get a response at all.
What’s most impressive is that while you have, soon, released three albums you also finished a medical education and are in the middle of your PhD studies. How do you find time to keep up with Vita Bergen as well?
(laugh) I just love working with projects, to get caught up in something completely, finish it and then start with the next project. You just have to plan it well. But it has happened that I brought work with me on tour and just pulled off a deadline a few minutes before we play a festival gig.
If you want to do it, it will work out. I don’t watch TV or do many other time-consuming things that other people do.
Has the pandemic even helped you in the sense that you don’t have as much on your plate as usual when you can’t tour? I guess you will have more time left for other things.
It should be like that, but I start other projects instead (laugh). I bought an old car and started working on it because I can’t stand not having anything to do (laugh).
But let’s say that the next record will score an all-time high for you and you get the opportunity to do bigger tours. Will you do as José González and leave your PhD studies to see how far you can get with Vita Bergen?
(laugh) Let’s say I’m an optimist. I’ve just finished my second year as a PhD and it worked out so far. I’ll make it.
A collaborative third album
In a few weeks Vita Bergen is about to release the third album Another Day in Paradise, and for the first time Hellström has been writing the album on his own. Co-founder Robert Jallinder left the band at the end of 2018 to continue on what used to be his side project Moonspeak, but for Hellström the newfound opportunity to control every creative aspect of Vita Bergen opened up for collaborations with other artists, something that wasn’t possible as a two-piece. Ex-girlfriend Josefin Eklund turns up as a guest vocalist [listen to the single Falcons] and illustrator Yoyo Nasty is responsible for the artwork, to mention a few collaborating names on the album.
I just had a brief listen to your upcoming album “Another Day in Paradise” ahead of this interview. What’s different from the two records you’ve released, except that it’s your first solo record?
Quite many things happened like I don’t sing on all the songs myself. There’s a female vocalist on two and a half songs. That’s new. But what’s weird about that is that when I released the singles with her people said “What the fuck are you doing?”, like I was about to ruin it all with a guest vocalist. I don’t really understand why.
This record is more laidback, finally. When you’re young and everything is new to you it’s easy to be caught in the hype when you start doing well, and it’s super easy to end up with people who pull you in a certain direction, people who think very highly about themselves and at the same time drag you down. You don’t understand how it works out when you’re young and you take on the role you get from these kinds of people. I was very much like that. Just look on new bands; when they finally get some attention, they’ll be sucked into this cool gang of people, and although they’re not good for you, you will continue playing the role because you don’t want to lose the position you just have achieved.
Today I’m like ”I don’t give a shit about that” because it’s not me to be that type of person. I didn’t want that role and certainly not act like I’m that kind of person. I just want to feel like I treat people well and to surround myself with nice people.
I was sucked into all that bad stuff at the beginning but it’s gone now. That’s what the album represents, a new me.
It seems to be a lot more collaborations on the new album and not only in terms of music.
Most definitely, and that’s how I want it to be. I know how the whole recording process works out by now and to make it more exciting and refreshing I want to work with other people because it’s inspiring and to learn something new from it. Before I thought I knew best about everything but it isn’t like that. But I had to pull myself away from the music and look at it as it was an entity in its own right, something you feed with what it likes best. That’s when collaborations will do the job.
For example, Yoyo Nasty has worked with the cover art for the singles and the album which add something creative to the music, and I just feel that it’s awesome that she wants to work with me, not the other way around. To be part of her process is great for me.
It sounds like it has been quite a transformative period for you as an artist, but you don’t feel you want to have more control of the creative process after Vita Bergen became a solo project?
Not at all. In fact, it was more like that when Vita Bergen was a duo, although it was chaotic, we thought we had some sort of control (laugh). It’s completely different today.
Like with Yoyo Nasty; I just say “Here’s how it sounds, what do you wanna to do?” and she’ll get the space she needs because she’s the best at what she’s doing. “This is what I’ve done, you do the interpretation, ok?”. That’s how collaborations should work out and what makes it fun to collaborate. Why limit people’s creativity?
It’s the first solo album of Vita Bergen. Do you feel any pressure to prove that you can make it on your own?
(laugh) No! Not until you reminded me about it! But there’s no prestige in it at all, even if I want it to be a better record than the last one just reach out even more. I think it’s an awesome record even before it has been released.
The first album ”Disconnected” was nominated to the P3 Guld Awards and with nominations come attention that open doors for you. Is it something you have back in your head when you write music, like “Next time I’ll win that award”?
Sure, nominations are great because of the attention. It would be a lie to say anything different, but I don’t think about it all the time. You can’t really do anything about it anyway and you would go crazy if you were trying to make music just to win an award.
It’s really good for bookings though and to get offers to collaborate. But you also need to be a bit business-minded because it opens doors to so many things and you need to decide what is good for your project and not. In what context do I want Vita Bergen to be visible? That’s a tough decision to make.
I have turned down a couple of collaborations because it wasn’t really something for me, but you also need enough money to put food on the table, don’t you (laugh). You need to feel good about what you do. On the other hand, you also play a major part in collaborations which means that you can decide how it should work out and the direction of it.
How far do you hope Another Day In Paradise will take you? All that touring abroad must mean you’re reaching for an international breakthrough.
Yeah, but I’m trying to be realistic about it. A year ago I played at by:Larm and Eurosonic [festivals], two great shows where everything worked out perfectly with the band. We got a new booking agency in Germany and were about to do a major European tour. You know when you feel “This is it, we’re taking a huge leap forward”. And then all this happened.
I worked really close with a PR agency in Germany to reach out to a wider audience, but as it seems like it won’t be possible to tour for a while now. It all came to a halt even before we had a chance to start. The album was supposed to have been released in August last year, followed by a tour, but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons (laugh). That’s why the album has been postponed a while as well because I felt exhausted from all meetings I had with labels, PR agencies, booking agencies, publishers and that kind of people, and then it all stops because of a pandemic.
That’s why I try to stay a bit realistic about my options in the future.
I know you did a few shows in the USA as well. Where do you feel it works out best, Europe or the US? It’s two different music cultures.
I really don’t know why I have this picture of America as the promised land for music, but I guess I grew up like that, many of the bands I listen to are from the USA. But I would rather tour Europe than the USA if I’m going out for a two-week tour. It’s easier to travel in Europe. America is the opposite and it’s really, really expensive to tour in general when you consider the costs for backline, travels and work permits. But if I get the chance I’ll do it, it’s quite an adventure.
I also love the German audience. Glitterhouse [German label] released the two first records in Germany and helped us reach out a bit. The last time I was in Hamburg I played at Knust, a lovely venue and a great crowd. I’ll be back, that’s a promise (laugh).
Photographer: ©Richard Bloom
Vita Bergen pages