By Aaron van Dorn
Sweden’s Victoria Bergsman first rose to international prominence as a guest vocalist on Peter, Bjorn and John’s world dominating hit “Young Folks.” Originally a vocalist for the shambling indie rock ensemble the Concretes, Bergsman went solo in 2006 as Taken by Trees in search of more creative freedom away from the large group dynamic.
“I have a strong ambition and ego, so I just have to be my own boss,” Bergsman said about working in a group. “I think it’s more like, just working with just one person at least makes it … I don’t miss the big collaborations. That stresses me out, actually, because I don’t have enough control. It was rough working with one other person through the album process.”
Bergsman’s latest album as Taken by Trees, Other Worlds, is a fusion of her plaintive, strongly melodic vocals with the diffused island sounds of Hawaii and Jamaica. Bergsman took the Beach Boys song “Diamond Head” and Augustus Pablo’s “AP Special” as templates for what she wanted her latest album to be like.
“They have been stuck in my head,” she said of the song, “and I wanted to achieve that kind of feeling or atmosphere that they both have. Nature sounds … very heavy beats, but on top of that, beautiful, melodic stuff going on. There’s something mysterious about them, too. You’re not fully sure what’s going on, behind the corner. I’m not sure how they came to me. Songs come to you and you just love them.”
The steel guitar-meets-loping reggae beat carries throughout the album, supporting sturdy, memorable Jan and Dean-influenced vocals.
“I thought a lot about classic rock songs, kind of almost over-the-top, basic songs,” Bergsman said. “I wanted catchy melodies that are like ‘50s, ‘60s. The lyrics are quite simple and basic. When it comes down to that, when you fall in love like that, it is that simple. And that magic, you get it. That’s why I wanted those songs to be very straightforward in melody. I hope they are, at least.”
Reggae is a strong, but not overt, influence on the album. At first, Bergsman said she felt hesitant to jump full on into the world of reggae.
“I maybe never dared to try and step into those grounds,” she said, “because it’s so much I feel you have to be from Jamaica or something to do it … I don’t know, I just didn’t see myself doing it. I was very admiring from a distance. Yeah. I never thought I would dare to try it. It’s not pure reggae, but it’s a hint of it, like an homage.
“The reggae just came in all of the sudden,” she explained. “I started singing to kind of a reggae beats and kept going. I was amused by singing in it. I had never done that before. It was just pure pleasure for me to do that. And I was also surprised that I hadn’t tried it before. There was no plan with the reggae — we just blended it in.”
Recording in Hawaii is a drastic change from Bergsman’s last record, East of Eden, which was recorded in Pakistan with the help of Pakistani musicians.
“For the Pakistan record, it was very scary there,” Bergsman admitted. “A dangerous place to be, but also very beautiful and amazing people. I love the nature there. It’s very inspiring. People seemed to live for real. It’s life and death there all the time. It was more extreme … it kind of shook me and put me back, realizing I have to do something and live. So it was amazing, but also very stressful. And scary, because I know it’s dangerous there. And as a woman also. It’s a very different environment to go from there to Hawaii, but I felt I needed that, I needed some poultice for my soul. For some pure beauty and … overwhelming beauty, almost.”
(Check out these tracks:
Taken by Trees, “Dreams” http://youtu.be/JKHZcQF9g1g
Augustus Pablo, “AP Special” http://youtu.be/719924Uts1w
The Beach Boys, “Diamond Head” http://youtu.be/7FHFG2AlzKg)