Electronic music is the mainstream. From musique concrète to audiovisual sampling, from elektronische Musik to minimal techno, from the Telharmonium to the laptop, electronic music has graced the music scene for almost half a century, spawning a multitude of new styles and genres.
While pop acts have taken inspiration from electronic music for decades, the 2010s has been the first era in which electropop artists could themselves be considered pop stars as the new wave of electronic music surfaced and gained heaps of attention at the beginning of the decade. While some have clung to a stubborn belief in the underground, other electronic artists have used the mainstream for inspiration.
Around the beginning of the “electropop decade”, a guitar-playing sound technician grew tired of playing in bands that didn’t lead anywhere and embarked on a tour as a sound technician for Swedish electropop act Niki & The Dove. While being on tour with one of the most popular bands in Sweden at the time, the electronic music scene opened his eyes to a new type of music, and after buying a Moog synthesizer he started to experiment on his own.
A few years later, Simeon Pappinen Hillert’s alter ego Silveräpplen had released the debut EP Pretentious Lofi Inc. and while being in lockdown during covid-19 he wrote not just one but two new EP’s. The first, Dream Box Distorting, was released in May this year and the second is set for a release in the fall.
Messed!Up strolled down to Simeon’s studio in Gothenburg and ended up in a chat on keeping music simple and being fed-up with guitars, especially middle-aged white men playing guitar.
Keeping music simple
Silveräpplen is your first electronic music project, you have a background in guitar-based pop music. How did it come about that you started working on electronic music?
I played in several indie bands, but nothing really happened. You know, you have all these bands and it takes lots of your time to write songs and rehearse but it doesn’t get you anywhere. I also felt that my guitar skills got worse, at least I didn’t improve on anything because I played guitar in one band and bass in another. It just didn’t work out for me. Somewhere after 2010 I left all bands, had a break from music and started to tour as a sound technician with other bands, and while doing that I met a lot of bands in the electronic music scene.
I started to tour with Niki & The Dove as a sound technician at the time when they had their breakthrough around 2010 or 2011, they turned up in this new wave of electronic bands which was popular at the start of the 2010s, and I realized that music is more than guitar pop. A few years later I bought a Moog synthesizer and thought “Ok, I’ve bought a synthesizer, now I really have to learn how it works out”. When I recorded other bands in the studio they often had synthesizers but I didn’t really know how they worked out. From that point, when I bought my own, I started to get really interested in electronic music.
I also remember I was recording a band that did lots of stuff in Ableton and I didn’t know what it was at all and had to learn it from scratch to be able to mix their music. That’s when I started to experiment with electronic music myself, and it just became a lot more fun to learn about synthesizers than trying to improve my guitar skills (laugh).
What opportunities do electronic music offer that you don’t have with guitar-based music?
It’s a lot more about sounds, and I’m a sound technician which makes it more interesting to me. And I also believe I’m a better sound technician than I am a guitarist (laugh). It’s just interesting to be able to sequence your music and mix it on your own, you don’t need to bring in a band if you don’t want to. I’ve never been a virtuoso on anything, but with synthesizers I can at least add layer on layer and make it sound great, that’s what I find interesting.
From the outset, Silveräpplen has been about making it simple and not spending hours on finding the perfect melody or sound. At least that’s how I think it sounds like. What I like most with electronic music is that it’s fine to just have a bassline, a beat and a melody and it’s done, you have a full song.
But it happens that I can’t stop adding layers of sounds. That’s why some of my songs end in chaos (laugh). I’m trying to stick to my original idea and keep it simple though. I rather find cool sounds that I can use than try to make the perfect melody, it’s just more interesting to me.
It has also been good for me to have a project where I do it all myself. Silveräpplen’s first songs I did at home, at the kitchen table. They’re written in between my daily chores. You know, something is delayed for an hour and I can spend a full hour on adding sounds or a layer to my music. It may not end up being a monster hit when you do like that, but I’ve decided that it’s what Silveräpplen should be about – keeping it simple.
I have a daughter and don’t always have time to be in the studio. Some weeks I can’t work on music at all, some weeks there’s no end to how much time I have. When it is like that it’s a lot easier to have a one-man project rather than trying to meet up for rehearsals with a band. It wouldn’t really work out. But I’ve never spent a full workday in the studio working on Silveräpplen’s music, most of it is a result of me having a few hours left.
How middle-aged men with guitars created an electropop artist
In May, Silveräpplen returned with the release of his second EP Dream Box Distorting alongside focus single “Flickering Lights”, a masterful display of Simeon’s vivacious energy, thick with electronic elements, and the single was immediately picked up by renowned podcast PSL.
Luckily, and as an opportunity to keep the momentum going, the pandemic lockdown that left Simeon with fewer jobs than usual last year opened up for more time being spent in the studio, and he reveals that there are two more EP’s on the way. And he will return to the guitar again.
However, although he’s a fan of mixing electronic sounds with acoustic instruments like saxophone and flute, he’s a bit nervous about going back to the guitar on his forthcoming EP because there are too many middle-aged men on guitars out there already.
Your second EP Dream Box Distorting was released in May and gained some attention when it was picked up by the PSL podcast [Grammy-awarded Swedish journalist]. How much does it push you to start working on something new just to keep the momentum going?
Of course you get a push, that’s just amazing attention. That type of attention is great for your confidence but I’m even happier about the fact that people seem to like what I do. Friends of mine that I’ve met in my work as a sound technician like it, and that makes me both happy and a bit surprised.
The pandemic has helped me out and gave me time to work on new music, I already have new music on the way; there’s a new EP coming up in the fall and I’ve started on yet another EP as well.
How did you come up with the idea to write Dream Box Distorting? You released Pretentious Lofi Inc. just ahead of the pandemic last year and a year later Dream Box Distorting turned up.
Like I said, I had more time than usual because the pandemic put a stop to much of my other work. But Dream Box Distorting was something I worked on after the EP I’m about to release in the fall. The forthcoming EP was pretty much done when the pandemic arrived and I just continued working on it in isolation until I realized that I had too many songs for one EP and decided to release two EP’s instead. But it wasn’t all about me, people I’ve collaborated with – other musicians – also had time. In that sense the pandemic has been great.
Your debut EP Pretentious Lofi Inc., wasn’t all electronic. Among other things, you had acoustic instruments in the background, mixed up with electronic sounds. Is your intention to combine it even more in the future?
Dream Box Distorting is actually the most electronic EP I’ve released so far. Pretentious Lofi Inc. is based on loops but has a lot more acoustic instrumentation in the songs. On the latest EP, Sofia Andersson plays baritone sax and different flutes on “Flickering Lights”, and she will join me live as well.
When I was in a band there was always a sort of ground rule that everyone in the band would play something on all songs. But why? As it is now I write the basic structure for songs, the framework, and invites people playing an instrument I feel would add something to the music. That’s what’s makes it interesting to have your own project.
On the next EP there will actually be guitar which makes me a bit nervous (laugh). Well, I have it on “The Echo of My Heart” on the latest EP as well but you won’t hear it that much. Actually, from the beginning I put the guitar in the intro of the song but it sounded so wrong. I thought I’d done a cool electro song but when I added the guitar it sounded like Kent [major Swedish pop/rock band] and I had to cut and paste and reorder everything (laugh). If you listen to it today you will hear the guitar when the vocals start, just to hide it a bit (laugh). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Kent, but I don’t want to sound like them, but that’s what happened when I added guitar.
To me, it sounds like you’re fed up playing guitar.
Maybe a bit, I tend to associate guitars with lots of annoying things, but mostly with white middle-aged men with guitars (laugh). Of course you can do cool stuff with the guitar, it’s just that most of it is already done and there are very few surprises left.
There are many new female guitarists that play in a new way and make it exciting to listen to guitar music, like Tuva in Pale Honey or St Vincent. They do something new and different, and that’s interesting to me. It may be that I’m fed up with too many men on guitar; it’s a pretty boring stereotype. If there’s a new band containing four 35-year-old men playing guitar, they need to be really good if I would start listening to them. But of course I listen to guitar-based bands as well, I love bands like Pixies because they’re a great live band, and the latest The Strokes record is built on some really awesome guitar playing.
As you said, you’re a sound technician and usually that type of person is very meticulous about details. How much does it affect you in the studio when on your music?
I know but for me it’s almost the other way around. Or I rather decided from the start that I didn’t want to overdo things. I’ve had lots of projects before where I never finished anything, that’s one of the reasons I want to keep it simple in Silveräpplen.
For example, I have an Elektron Analog 4 [synthesizer] and I used it to make the structure for a song and recorded it on two channels only. Of course I know it would sound a lot better if I would have recorded it on several channels and one track at a time, but I’ve decided that I won’t do it like that because it won’t be Silveräpplen otherwise. For me it’s like “That’s it for tonight, this is how far I’ve come, let’s keep it like that and don’t work on it anymore”. There’s something fun and exciting about it.
You have released two EP’s and have another on the way while you’re working on a fourth EP. You’re not interested in releasing a full album?
I don’t think it would get me anywhere at the moment. It’s also easier and more fun for me to release three or four songs together, songs that have some sort of common theme. But I love the album format, it’s just that my ambitions would be too high if I was to write a full album, and that makes it hard for me. At the moment it’s easier to release EP’s but if I happen to get established in the scene after three or four EP’s, then it may be possible to release a debut album, but not as it is today.
People listen to music in a weird way today, I realized it when I released my first EP. Most music will pass through unnoticed and it’s best to release everything song by song and then put together an EP later. On the latest EP, “Flickering Light” got most of the attention on Spotify while the “The Echo of Her Heart”, the second song, didn’t get many streams at all.
But I would love to release an album sometime. I listen to albums myself, but as I’ve learned from releasing my own music not many do it today. That’s where the problem is.
What’s on the schedule for the rest of the year?
First, I would love to see people on the dancefloor again. When Silveräpplen started I had this idea that I won’t do gigs like everyone is used to, I would love to play at a club in a break of a club night rather than being booked for a show where people come out just to watch me play. That’s how I think electronic music should be performed live.
Next thing coming up for me is to plan for live shows, especially how to play live again. At Oceanen we’re three on stage but I’m not sure if it will be like that all the time. I did one show just ahead of the pandemic and it was me, Annelie on keys – she’s an electro artist from Gothenburg – and Sofia on saxophone. But Annelie can’t join me at Oceanen and I have to program much of the electronic sounds before the show – and that’s lots of work.
When I play live I usually work with loops and very little backing tracks, the rest is live. It’s all about deciding what I want to play live and what is possible to play live. Some things are not interesting to play and other things are too difficult.
Other than the Oceanen gig I really hope to snatch a few more gigs this summer before the fall arrives and I release my next EP. At the same time I’ll continue working on the fourth EP. It could take something between a weekend and three months to get it done (laugh).
But get back to me after the summer and maybe I have a fair idea about how things will look like (laugh).