Songwriting catches up with rising Swedish indie-pop artist Cajsa Siik to discuss influences, emotions, contrasts and the English language
ajsa Siik – pronounced Kai-ee-sa Si-yuk – is a Stockolm-based indie-pop artist. Her first album Plastic House came out in 2012, receiving both national and international coverage, including air time on American TV. Throughout her career Siik has contributed vocals and cello, playing for musicians such as Birgit Bidder, Jörgen Kjellgren, Montt Mardié and Amanda King. Late last year, she released her second album Contra, which was received as warmly as her debut. Songwriting caught up with Siik and discussed her emotionally conflicting catalogue…
How did you start making music?
“I started quite early, so music has been in my life forever. I began playing the cello when I was five and that’s basically how I got into making music, or using music as a way to express myself. Playing the cello to writing actual songs is different to me – the cello was a way of me getting to know music. I played mostly classical music and Swedish folk music from when I was 5 to 17, though I was always expressing myself in other ways like poetry and painting too. I began writing songs when I started playing guitar at 17 and then I just had a chance of combining my poetry with music, and that came naturally to me, although to start with it was all in secret.”
So when did it stop being a secret?
“It took some time to actually start thinking about my music as something I could record. I think it was when I was in my first band in Umeå, my home town. When we started recording our songs that started it off for me. I suddenly saw it as something that I really wanted to continue doing, and since then I’ve just kept on doing it. Back then it was a lot of focus on the songwriting; I was really into writing songs but I hadn’t really thought about being a performing artist. Then other things came along, like people asking me to perform with them, and it just started to grow into something, like a bigger perspective of songwriting and finding my own way of writing. That’s the process: I collaborated a lot and developed over time.”
Do you think your classical upbringing affects the way you write songs?
“I’d say I was influenced melody-wise, because classical music has a lot of melody. It taught me how to build melodies but I don’t think it affected the way I write songs, that comes more from the music I grew up listening to. I had a lot of influence from bands in my home town, like The Perishers and Isolation Years. I guess all the music I’m exposed to in different ways affects my songwriting. It’s just hard to pinpoint how because it’s not what I think about when I’m writing. Sometimes it’s hard to talk about how I write because it’s so intuitive.”
What was the music that you grew up listening to?
“I was brought up in a musical environment: my parents listened to a lot of music, mostly The Beatles and Frank Zappa. My Mom listened to a lot of the Beach Boys and a lot of Swedish music too, a lot of Swedish prog from the 70s and then a lot of rock music.”
Did moving from Umeå to Stockholm change your music in any way?
“I met a lot of musicians that were very inspiring to me and I made new friends; I was writing a lot of songs all the time. You meet new people to play these songs with, it’s a social process. Mostly I was very focused on writing, I spent a lot of time on my own, writing by myself, and I started to bring these songs to other people just trying to find different sounds.”
How did you approach writing your new album Contra?
“The first album is more acoustic and I used an acoustic guitar to write that album, and that changed. I wanted to write something rawer, something unpolished, allowing myself to be super angry, or super sad, or super hopeful, or fragile and strong and summing that up somehow. I wanted to find a new perspective on things and combine it with me giving it my all.”
Contra, is short for contrast?
“It is. Writing the songs, when you go through things, you don’t just feel one thing. If you’re supposed to feel love you have to know the experience of not feeling love, if you’re warm you have to feel the experience of being cold. You have to have these opposites to be able to know what you’re actually going through. I wanted to create an album that holds all these contrasts even in terms of the arrangement of songs on the album. That’s the cool thing about making an album, you have all that space. If people are patient enough to listen to the album then they can sense that I thought that through, and that I wanted to give something in a bigger perspective.”
What instruments did you use to write Contra?
“I still used guitar. I was working a lot on pre-production and I did a lot of recordings before I recorded the album and tried out different ways of building these songs. I used the electric guitar, I worked a lot with limitations, like I wrote a song on one string just to make me focus on melody and build from there. I write quickly: I can look down and write a song in an hour@ I don’t think a lot about what it’s supposed to be, it’s just something that’s there. After that I think about what sounds I want to use to express that song. I mostly think about lyrics and melodies to start with.”
What do lyrics mean to you as a songwriter?
“Using words you can express a certain emotion, then you can use melodies to create a new dimension. When I started writing music it was a magical combination. For me it’s to make the things I feel make sense somehow, to create something in that moment that’s true. My lyrics are always personal to me, its cathartic. Combining catharsis with lyrics keeps me sane… or insane, depending on how you look at it!”
Have you always written in English?
“I used to write a lot of poetry in Swedish but I found the English language gave me more freedom when I write songs. I can use the English language however I want to use it. English helps me create better metaphors that hopefully make sense to people. I may use the words in a different way than a native speaker would do, but you work with what you’ve got and use it in your own way.”
Tell us about your new single Follow You Down?
“It was one of the first songs I wrote, it was the kick-off for this album. The start is quite fragile and soft, and then it becomes a bit chaotic with a lot of rhythm. I think of it like a journey, you start off somewhere. When I think about it, I’m walking on a path for two minutes, but it’s a very long path, it’s a lot about time and the way we look about time and getting to know your fears and the capability of trusting.”
The next few singles you’re due to release aren’t on your album, is there any reason behind this?
“These songs are really important to me, but when I created the feeling of the album I felt like they couldn’t go on there. They had to be released some other way. It’s nice as well; some of the people that don’t have the patience to listen to the whole album might actually hear these tracks!”
Interview: Tilly Dowman
Follow You Down is out now, with Contra having been released last year on Birds Will Sing For You Enterprises