Described as the musical equivalent to a John Bauer painting, 24-year-old red-headed Swede Simone Andersson Wingfors aka Skatan effortlessly enchants our ears with her theatrical voice and entertaining song structures whilst transforming our minds into a dark Scandinavian forest with magical characters and unpredictable rules. Despite ambitiously releasing two musical canvases on her own record label Creature Sounds and supporting Danish innovators Efterklang on tour, her adventurous and artistic baroque Pop is still fairly unknown on the music landscape with a lack of presence on Last FM and YouTube. Five years after meeting Skatan at a chance encounter in a London bar, it was time to catch up on her current progress by talking about her self-directed music video debut for Set It Straight, her intriguing dream project and how music fits within in her life.
Simone, how have you developed over the past 5 years and how do you think you have improved?
I’m much more secure with my voice these days and the same goes for the piano playing. I’ve performed pretty many shows, so I’m more comfortable on stage and can enjoy it better and be more present. I studied for one year which gave me new tools on how to write songs and lyrics and I think I put more thought into each song nowadays compared to five years ago. At least I can choose to do so.
Do you still travel a lot and what do you like most about travelling?
This summer I’m planning to travel in Europe. I want to visit a friend in Barcelona and maybe hitch hike around a bit, work on farms and meet new people. Hopefully I get to play at some places as well. I’m not that keen on the part of moving from one place to another. What I enjoy is to get to a new place and be there for a while, get to know it and the people it houses.
How old are you now and how easy is it for young Swedish people to become musicians and do they often feel obliged to study music at school?
I’m twenty-four and can’t say I know but if I should speculate I’d say it’s probably more easy than in many other countries. Even though there are constant downsizing on aesthetic subjects in school and culture over all in our society, I think we have had a tradition of evaluating music in the education system and outside of school. I’d say it’s quite easy to practice music, but of course it’s all depending on you social status and where you grow up.
In most of the music schools and especially the universities the majority of the students are white middle-class kids, mainly men. And there’s also the difference of being a musician who can live on music and who plays for the fun of it. At least I have felt obliged to. Previously for the wrong reasons but now I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to study it since every year I get to devote entirely to music is a fantastic year. Since I do have the privilege to study music for free, I’m happy to take the chance.
Why did you decide to name yourself “Skatan” rather than use your real name as your professional moniker?
I’ve never been keen on the idea on “being” my music. I want to make the distinction between my private self and my music. Skatan is the Swedish word for magpie and it’s a name that came to me by chance.
What themes do you write about most in your songs?
A lot of my lyrics are my way of dealing with this f***ed up world and our relation towards nature and each other. I also like to write in a first person perspective but pretend I’m someone or something else.
What music did you listen to as a child and what voices do you admire?
It changed a lot but those I remember that I was really into in periods are Britney Spears, MC Solar, Eminem and the only one I can truly appreciate today: Monica Zetterlund. My parents listened to all kinds of music, like Gipsy kings, Esma Redzepova, David Bowie, Pavement, Bonnie Prince Billy etc. The greatest voice I know belongs to Nina Simone. I fall for voices which hold its cracks and thorns.
Apart from music, what else inspires you?
Books, films, dreams, friends, tram rides, the forest and people’s destinies.
Your songs always sound multi-layered and eclectic, what instruments do you play and do you perform with other musicians live?
Live I mostly play piano and sing, sometimes the guitar as well. When I record songs at home I play anything I can find; saw, glockenspiel, accordion etc. I recently bought myself a loop-station which I’m trying to be friends with! Yes, I’ve played with some different people during the past years. I think I would go crazy just playing alone and I would really miss the interaction and creativity which occurs when you play with others.
I have seen you are very active on Spotify, how does the application help you as a musician and do you think it’s important for the music industry?
I’m not that informed in the matter but I do think it’s a good idea that should be developed more in order to gain small artist better. At the moment most of the cash flow stream into the biggest record companies pockets. I have earned quite many falafels thanks to it though, so I’m happy.
Your latest video for “Set it Straight” was uploaded on YouTube in October, where was this filmed and who filmed it?
It was filmed in a birch grove in the neighbourhood where I grew up. Since I didn’t have any budget I decide to do it all by myself, which was idiotic since I’ve never done anything like it before. I stressed around sewing dresses in ultra-speed, trying to find people who wanted to be in the video and forcing my friends to help me fold origami whilst comforting me when it all became too much. It was pouring rain on the day we were supposed to film so we postponed it by one day and then the next day the actress didn’t show up so my cousin had to jump in at the last minute. But it worked out. I directed for the first time while I filmed and I’m so grateful that all participants endured my confusion.
What is your next mission and plan of action?
At the moment I’m in a process of exploring my nightly dreams. The idea is to compose and record a quick song every time I remember a dream. So far it hasn’t been that many because I’ve been quite busy, but you can listen to some here. I’m thinking that I’ll collect dreams until after summer and then I’ll go through them and see which ones I want to work more with and develop into a live-set.
Can you recommend any of your musical friends to us?
Oh, there’s so many of them! With fear of forgetting someone: ISSA, Lilo Sillas, Cicely Irvine, Hawk.., Don-qui 5, Slowgold, Alice B, Niki Yrla and Joel Bille, who usually plays drums with me but also makes beautiful and fun music. You’ll find most of them on Soundcloud!