Klara Lewis discusses emotions, limitations, and her second album on Editions Mego

01 Klara Lewis Press-photo 2016 by Hampus Högberg

Klara Lewis is a Swedish composer born in 1993. Her critically acclaimed debut album Ett was released by Viennese record label Editions Mego in 2014 and was followed shortly thereafter by the Msuic EP, published on fellow SHAPE-supported artist Peder Mannerfelt’s eponymous label. We spoke with Lewis ahead of her sophomore album release on Editions Mego, titled Too, and her upcoming CTM Festival-organised show with Matmos at Berghain. 

Are you at home in Sweden now?

Yes, I just got back last night, I was playing at Click Festival in Denmark.

Was it an audiovisual show?

Yes, I use my own video projections that I mostly make myself and sometimes I collaborate with my boyfriend Hampus Högberg.

You mentioned that you started making music after a school task where you used the sound from footage that you had been filming. My friends had an exercise at film school where they had to “film” their environment with a camera that had its shutters off, only capturing the sound.

I guess I work in a similar way. I behave the same way around sounds as I do around visuals. I just always try to keep my eyes and ears open. I always have my phone and portable recorder with me. Most of the visual material was filmed with my phone – things I notice in everyday life or while traveling, etc. I film it and start manipulating it, heavily editing and processing, and working with a lot of layers. It’s basically exactly the same process with the sounds.

Your music is immersive. The field recordings are not referential, you forget they are even there. There is an overall flow to your music.

That’s definitely important for me. I collect tons of material and when I start to work on a track I go through my library which is getting pretty huge. I select sounds and start chopping them up and manipulating them. I never plan what kind of track I’m going to make. It’s basically about following the sounds and where they lead me and building a world from all of these small pieces. My main goal is to create something that feels immersive or like being in some other kind of state or place.

The emotional aspect is also important, I guess.

Yes, definitely. That’s often what leads me. I hear something in a sound and it makes me feel something. Then I try to capture that emotion.

Is it a momentary emotion that you have when you make a certain track rather than something you’d like the audience to feel?

I always work from my own perspective. When I started working I wasn’t sure what people would react to and whether it would work, but it seems like people are getting it. People seem to have very different feelings and reactions to my tracks. Some could find a certain track really beautiful while others could find it disturbing or playful. That kind of ambiguity is also fun to work with.

A lot of the music of similar genres ends up being suggestive, playing with emotions and manipulating them to an extent. Your stuff is more adaptable and doesn’t try to predict people’s emotional responses.

That’s what I want to do. There’s a lot of stuff within these genres that’s trying to be super dark or disturbing. That’s the easiest music to make. It’s much harder to make something that has a mix of all these emotions: it could be angry, violent, melancholic, but also hopeful and happy. Maybe that’s why a lot of people say that my music is very filmic because there’s tons of stuff going on and it depends on what your own emotions are at the time and how you read into things and associate.

Do you work with musical themes?

I’ve never thought about themes in that way. Sometimes when I work on a track I think it would be fun to make something that’s inspired by a certain musician or a genre…For example, on my new album on the last track I felt like I wanted to make a pop song. But most of the time I don’t have a plan, it’s about letting things grow organically and not steering them too much.

The names of your albums and tracks are whimsical. There’s “Ett”, “Msuic”,“Too” as the homonym of number 2, the second album…

I really like to keep it simple, but also have some ambiguity to it. With the new album, of course it’s the second one but it’s also about the word “too” – when something is too much, or too little, or too loud. In music journalism and criticism it’s about having to fit into boxes and when somebody is mixing things too much, people don’t like it.

Did you feel pressure after the success of your debut album?

A lot of people asked me about it, but honestly I didn’t think that much about it. When I was done with it, I thought, ‘Oh, this is it, maybe you should be more nervous’. But I just kept making stuff. I was curious to see where I’d end up with the material. Of course with the first album that really was the first stuff that I’d made. It’s not like I had been making music for many years. It was the only material that I’d made so far. The EP and now the second album was me keeping at it and continuing the development of the technique and the process.

Is the album a continuation of the first album in a way?

It’s a continuation, but obviously it sounds different because my technique has changed and I have more experience and confidence. When the first album came out, I hadn’t been part of the music scene at all. Now I’ve been touring and meeting people who I really look up to, playing in front of large audiences. And that has changed my perspective of my own music. When I made my first album I was sitting at home with small headphones, doing it for myself.

Would you say that the second album is more outgoing?

I guess so in a way, but at the same time I always just make music for myself. But there’s also a different kind of confidence and letting the tracks be longer with larger blocks, and letting things take more time and space. The sound is perhaps also bigger somehow. Traveling around and hearing my own music on good sound systems in big venues has maybe changed how I work with sound.

How do you actually make your music? Is it like weaving a carpet of sound from these various snippets and soundscapes?

It’s this organic thing growing from itself, with a lot of different layers. I think a lot of people would say that I do things incorrectly technically, but I think that’s also my strength. It’s not like I’ve tried to become the best at this and this software. I’ve found my own way of working and that also adds to the sound becoming something different. Sometimes it can become a problematic when people get stuck getting obsessed with becoming the best at different programs. If you know the right way to do stuff, you can get limited by that. Limitations can often be great. Handling random things happening, accidents and things that you’ve done wrong, is where interesting things can happen. The same goes for the sound. It’s really difficult to work with sounds that are sterile. It’s good if there’s some dirt in them.

How did your family react to your success?

I had a lot of support from my family, but they were also asking me if I was sure about getting into this industry. I’ve seen the tough side of this job because of my parents. They were surprised but I was too, I still am by being received so positively. There are very few people that can live off their music and I’m one of them and I’ve only been doing this for two years.

But I guess it’s something that had probably been brewing inside of you for quite some time. The music sounds mature.

Because of growing up in a family where there’s always been strange and interesting music, film, art and books around. I’ve grown up with the perspective that it’s something natural and that I can also take part in it. My father would often play me his new projects and ask me what I thought of them. I learned from a really early age how to communicate about music and trust my own judgement. That was a really important thing for me. It made me more prepared once I started making my own music because I’d have already thought about a lot of things, what I liked and disliked. I found my own aesthetics and taste when it came to sound.

What about your friends, how do they react to your music?

Most friends my own age that I know from school don’t listen to this type of music. They think it’s quite strange but they are very happy for me!

Are you also into some of the music they listen to?

I listen to all kinds of things. Smart pop music can be some of the most interesting, it’s not like I only listen to weird experimental music.

What are you up to in the nearest future?

My album is released on the 27th of May and my next upcoming gig is on June 1 at Berghain with Matmos. That’s going to be exciting.

I guess they also work with recontextualising sound a lot.

For this show, they are building the music entirely from their washing machine that they brought from the States. Really looking forward to seeing that!

Photo: Hampus Högberg