Kristoffer Bolander on his stripped-down third album and its therapeutic purpose: Interview

After three albums with folk pop/Americana band Holmes, songwriter Kristoffer Bolander decided to embark on his own adventure and started writing music for his solo career. Just like Holmes, Bolander wanted to reach out of Sweden and started to look for a German label, and three years after Holmes’ last record, he released his debut solo album I Forgive Nothing on Hamburg based Tapete Records and quickly gained a following in Germany which saw him touring the country frequently the next few years.

Another three years later Bolander returned with the bombastic What Never Was Will Always Be album, a record that became praised by music media and saw Bolander working with co-producers for the first time. However, on his recently released third album, 3, he returns to the sound of his debut album, a record seeing him involved in the overall production for the first time as much of the album is produced in his home in Vänersborg a few miles north of Gothenburg. The album is also Bolander’s most personal record to date and is based on his experiences of going through two years of psychodynamic therapy which made its mark on the album’s lyrics.

A hot summer day in Gothenburg, Messed!Up sat down with Kristoffer and chat about his transition from Holmes to a solo career, the work with 3, and why Germany is a great touring country.

Embarking on a solo adventure after three albums with Holmes

The first time I saw you on stage was in the Americana band Holmes. Is that where you have your musical background?
Yes, but I’ve never called it Americana because I never fully embraced that whole culture, like wearing a hat. It’s too stereotypical for me, and if I would have done it, it would look like a parody of myself (laugh). Holmes, I would say, was a folk pop band, but I guess the slide guitar made people put the Americana trademark on us. But I listened quite much to that type of music when I grew up and of course I’ve picked up some influences and used it in my own music as well.

But I understand why people, especially media, want to categorize the music you do, it’s easier to refer to bands and genres to help readers out who haven’t listened to your music yet. In some genres it’s even a huge advantage to be branded because you will automatically get an audience. A friend of mine plays in a power metal band and that type of fans are dedicated. It’s enough to say “Here’s a new power metal band” and you’ll get a thousand streams because it’s such a popular type of music.

After the last Holmes album, it seems like you had a three-year long break before you released your solo debut album I Forgive Nothing.
I had a pause from releasing music but I continued writing new songs, I never stopped doing it. What was different was that I didn’t have a band to rehearse with.

It was a sort of transitional period where we didn’t know if Holmes would continue or not. Larisa who played accordion in Homes left for music education in Finland. At the same, I felt that we had released three albums with Holmes and I wanted to try out something new. My first solo album I Forgive Nothing could have been a Holmes record but I wanted a change, just something new to happen. But I brought in Holmes members in the studio; Johan, the guitarist in Holmes, plays guitar on my debut album which may be the reason it sounds a bit similar to what we did in Holmes. You can see it as a transitional record between two projects.

Was it also a long process to find a label to release your debut album?
Something like that. I had two demo songs, really basic demos, and wanted to get out of Sweden and find a label abroad. Holmes played very few times in Sweden, we did mini-tours in Europe almost twice every year. It was a lot more fun to play abroad because of the adventure that came with it.

What was interesting though was that we played at many rundown punk venues in Spain, Portugal, Italy and France, and it was always like a hit-and-miss affair. Some venues were great to play but others really horrible, especially when we had crowds full of punks (laugh). Those times you asked yourself “Why did they book us?”. In Italy you never knew; one night could be amazing, the next you wondered if you would survive the show. In the long run we started to play more in Germany where all venues are much better.

When I started to look for labels for my own music I randomly picked five German labels because I like to play in Germany, and Marcel Gein at Tapete Records got back to me. Apparently, he had supported Holmes with his own band a few times. Let’s say a bit of luck and personal connections helped me to get a deal with Tapete, especially when you consider that I only had those two demos to show up (laugh). 

It seems like you have quite a following in Germany when we look at our numbers for the promotion before today’s interview, but there’s almost no interest at all in Sweden. Has it been harder to reach out on home turf?
It has been really tough to get any attention at all in Sweden and I don’t know why it is like that. But it hasn’t really mattered to me. Holmes didn’t even try to get booked in Sweden. At times I feel that it’s nice to keep your home off the touring schedule. It means that you tour when you’re abroad and will have a break when you’re home.

At the same time, it’s not as fun to do longer tours anymore. I don’t like to be out on the road that long today. When you feel like that it would be a lot better to tour more in Sweden because you can go back home between shows. If you tour in Europe you will be out for at least ten days, probably longer, because it would be too expensive to play just a weekend.

The reason Germany is interesting to me is that you can tour for two full weeks and play every day if you want to. It would never work out in Sweden because you can’t play on Sundays and Mondays here, no one would come out for the show. In Germany people come out whenever there’s a show, it doesn’t matter what day it is. But there are at least ten cities in the size of Gothenburg, places I never heard of before I played there, and with a large population like that it’s easier to get people to come out for shows I guess.

Personal experiences on the third album

Music has long been recognized as an effective form of therapy to provide an outlet for emotions, there’s a wealth of studies touting the benefits of music on mental and physical health. While working with his latest album 3, Bolander went through a long period of psychodynamic therapy and his experiences ended up as lyrics on the album, making it his most personal work so far.

3 also sees Bolander taking a step back from the large sound on What Never Was Will Always Be and it is a stripped-down record similar to his debut album, but a record that still keeps some of the electronics on What Never Was Will Always Be. And it’s also his first album to be released on Welfare Sounds.

Your latest album 3 was released recently, three years after What Never Was Will Always Be, and it’s quite a different album. The large sound with lots of electronic layers in the background on the previous album is gone and you’ve taken a step back to make something sounding a bit similar to your debut album. Was it intentional to make a stripped-down record this time? Or was it a result of the pandemic and working on your own?
I wanted 3 to be a mix of the first two records, and get a consistent sound throughout the record, just like it was on my first album but keep some electronic sounds from the second to not get a completely acoustic record in the end. What Never Was Will Always Be was kind of diverse, maybe a bit too much. I remember the reviews and all the songs on the album were someone’s favorite, but never the same song (laugh). That’s great to hear of course but it was a bit too diverse for me.

On the previous record I also had co-producers for the first time, I’ve never worked with other people on my songs before. But it turned out fairly much like how I wanted it to sound in the end because I already had good demos to start from. 3, however, sounds exactly like I want it to do because I did almost the full production on my own, even the synthesizer parts. I made it all at home and brought it to Anders at the Nacksving Studio to add drums and a few more things, but most of it is me.

It’s the first time I’ve done most of the production myself. But it wasn’t the pandemic who made it happen like that, I wanted to try it out. Most of the album was written before the pandemic arrived last year and we started to record the first week of the pandemic, but then the bassist couldn’t join us and I played bass as well. I just wanted to learn more about how to do it on my own.

What’s really great at the moment is that I’ve learned how to produce my own music by now. When we had Holmes I wrote the songs and gave instructions in the studio on how I wanted it to sound like but today I do it all at home myself.

I remember the press announcement on 3 and how it pointed out that the album is a result of you going through two years of psychodynamic therapy. How important has the songwriting process been as part of the therapy?
It meant quite much to me. I was at therapy sessions once a week for a few years and the things we talked about stayed in my thoughts for a while and I turned some of it into lyrics later. That process, writing the lyrics, is a sort of therapy on its own and contains pieces of what we talked about at the therapy. I’ve always been quite personal in my lyrics but never like this before.

But where do you draw the line on how personal you would allow yourself to be in the lyrics? You never look back and think “Why did I write about that”?
No, I’ve never felt like that. But I’m just personal in the sense that I write about a few things I’ve experienced in life, I’m not private and write about everything. Just to tell people that I’ve been through therapy was huge for me, I never talk about myself, but it was important and part of the therapy. But the press announcement was an emotional challenge, to put me out there for everyone.

I’m far from being an extrovert person. Many people’s social lives changed on a massive scale during the pandemic but for me it was pretty much the same, my daily life didn’t change at all because I like to stay on my own. While many of my friends have left Vänersborg, where I live, [small city north of Gothenburg] for Gothenburg and Stockholm I have stayed, and I won’t leave either because city life isn’t for me. I rarely come out for concerts anyway – it must be something really special if it happens – nor am I interested in other social activities in the city either. It’s not really who I am. I like it at home.

Speaking of home; you changed label from Tapete to Welfare Sounds which is operated by Per Stålberg who also grew up in Vänersborg. Is that the reason you ended up on Welfare?
Yeah, I’ve known Per since I was a teenager and it felt natural to ask him about releasing the record on Welfare. But it started already when I recorded What Never Was Will Always Be; I did the recording at Welfare but released the album on Tapete Records. But this time I wanted to work with Welfare all the way.

It’s not released yet, but I’ve also recorded my first song ever in Swedish, at the same time as we recorded 3. I’m not sure when it will be out but hopefully soon. And I have written more songs in Swedish, I just have to record them. Maybe I have this idea about releasing something in Swedish in the future (laugh). It’s just fun to try out and see what comes out of it.

Like everyone releasing records during the pandemic you haven’t had the opportunity to tour the album yet. But now the live scene is back although with limited capacity. Are you trying to set something up this summer?
I did a show in Stockholm in June and we’re on it in Gothenburg as well. Welfare is helping me out to book something, but I will play quite soon at home in Vänersborg. Other than that I look forward to my German tour in May next year.

I usually don’t do shows during the summer because there are not many clubs open or there are only a few people turning up because of holidays, no one stays in the cities in the summer. But this year is different due to the pandemic and it seems like everyone wants to come out for shows.

What’s in your plans for the rest of 2021 – if it’s possible to plan for something at all?
Let’s see how the fall unfolds, you can’t really allow yourself to do long-term plans as it is today, but maybe I do a few shows in Sweden. I don’t have anything booked at the moment but maybe a few popup shows will turn up.

I’m also working on new music and almost have a full album ready, maybe it will be done in the fall, and hopefully I can go into the studio and record it later this year.

But I’m really looking forward to the German tour next year and hope that everything stays fairly normal to make it happen.

Photographer: Krichan Wihlborg
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About J.N.

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.