There’s never been a better time to be a Swede in the UK. With all things Scandi hotter than ever, the low-key, mellow pop sound that is coming to characterise this trendy Nordic country just gets more and more appealing.
De Montevert – real name Ellinor Nilsson – is the latest export from Stockholm making waves on these shores and beyond. Her debut album is almost four years in the making, following a 2012 Scandinavia-only collection of audio sketches, and Ellinor says her sound has changed significantly since those humble beginnings.
“I used to do this electro pop, cute [thing], with the glockenspiel,” she says. “Really, really cute things. But now it’s just electric guitar and singing. I think I changed a lot in personality. We all mature and we all change in our lives, and so do our references and our interests and stuff. I think that’s the same with music.”
We’re chatting ahead of her gig at Camden’s Dublin Castle, secreted away in a dimly-lit store cupboard – it may not be comfortable or offer much in the way of illumination, but at least it’s quiet.
Drawing comparisons to the likes of Kim Deal, Cat Power and PJ Harvey, her voice and compositions are raw and sincere and despite its pop sensibilities, there’s a darkness that gives her music an edge. Those names, however, mean little to Ellinor.
“I’ve never actually listened to any of those artists,” she admits. “I get it’s a good comparison, I get that, but I don’t really know what’s going on.”
What’s going on is that she’s getting attention for a sound that’s striking a chord. Having grown up in a musical household listening to a lot of Enya, Swedish folk music and Mike Oldfield, she cultivated an interest in music early, and got her first violin aged four. She went on to master the cello – she’s classically trained – and study sound engineering and music production in college. Everything has influenced the music she writes today.
“I listen a lot to Angel Olsen and a Swedish band called Amason,” she says as she considers her influences. “It’s commercial pop really but with electric guitar, and I listen to a lot of Swedish 90s bands. There’s a band called The Bear Quartet, that’s my favourite band of my whole life. I especially like the album Gay Icon.”
So how would she describe her own sound? “Rough pop,” she says, searching for the right words. “Moody. Vibey. My brother calls it Dark Lounge.”
When she’s writing, she’ll often start with just chords. “I’ll just sit with my guitar and play. Then I sing a melody and I record it instantly on my phone and just sing some lyrics. Often, I listen to it afterwards and it’s like: ‘Oh, I can really apply that to this thing that’s happening in my life right now’. Basically, it comes from the heart, I think.”
Pop, and other genres, can frequently be crafted with the listener in mind first and foremost but often the most affecting music comes from within – even if there’s a danger of drawing criticism for self indulgence.
For Ellinor, it’s about reaching inside herself. “I think it’s all completely about me!” she says. “I just hope people like it. Maybe I’m not too obvious with lyrics and stuff… I try to keep it private sometimes but I think I’m transparent anyway. I think the people that my album is all about know that it’s about them. They can figure it out.”
She finds inspiration from the periods of depression that haunt her and struggles to work without having experienced a low, although it takes coming out of it before she can do anything productive with it. “That’s why I didn’t write for three years, because I was too depressed to write anything,” she says. “I write when I come out of a depression – when you don’t feel anything anymore. You’re not happy, you’re not sad – you’re in between, and everything is objective.”
There’s not one part of most of us that would wish that spiralling sense of despair on anyone, least of all this warm and open young woman huddled over a low-wattage light bulb in a broom cupboard. But let’s hope it’s not another three years or more before we hear more from this remarkable talent.
Photo: Nick Sayers
Follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram – @K_imbot