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There have only been pleasant surprises since Victoria Bergsman opted out of her Swedish pop outfit, The Concretes, in favor of pursuing a solo career under the moniker Taken by Trees. Though her solo debut was strong with Open Field, it seems that with Bergsman, good just gets better. Since then, she’s taken us to the lush soundscapes of Pakistan with East of Eden and most recently, transported listeners to Hawaii with Other Worlds. Since each of her records drastically differ, we were all too pleased to sit down with Bergsman at The Fonda Theatre in Hollywood to try to figure out what sort of role environment plays in her songwriting process.
All photos by Marv Watson
Other Worlds is a pretty stark transition from East of Eden, what inspired this?
Well, I was living in New York and I was not liking it there as much as I hoped and wanted something very different. I was in need of change in scenery and environment, longing for the tropics.
Based on your last two albums, it seems like the environment you are immersed in plays a big role in the overall sound of each album. How do you let environment shape the music you create?
I kind of let it do as much as possible. With it, it wanted it to kind of transform itself. I just let go and usually it works out. I don’t hold it, just want to let it go. Maybe it sounds weird, but for me, I love to see how a different environment changes the music and my ideas of arrangements and sounds. And it really does, it changes a lot depending on where I am in the world.
Many albums recorded in a tropical setting fall victim to a redundant sound, but one thing you did very successfully on Other Worlds is dodge those clichés. What was your process to integrate a sense of place into Other Worlds?
Well, that’s the whole thing that makes it so hard. It’s constant work with that balance. To go over and make it a tropical cliché, well I hope I didn’t. But it’s just not overdoing things, but also not holding back. That balance is what I work with.
Well, you do a good job of it.
Talking about Hawaii a little bit, while you weren’t writing and recording in the studio, how did you spend your time there?
Well, I never record in studios. I did on my first album, and I’ve done it before that. I understood on my second album that I’d rather do field recordings, so it’s wherever I am. I record in a room like this, wherever I am, when I feel like it. I don’t want to have it pushed, rent a studio or anything like that. So everything’s just integrated. In Hawaii and writing, and just cooking and bathing, traveling, I just did everything at the same time. I don’t really separate work, because it’s just me.
Since we’re talking about your recording process, what was it like working with Henning Fürst on this record?
It was great, he’s super playful and has a good ear. Very sensitive to what I wanted and I think we ended up being a good team. He got it, what I wanted. He has a good feel for those kind of beats I wanted.
Okay, to step backward in time a little bit, I wanted to ask why you chose to leave The Concretes when you did?
Well, it took me a while to understand it, but I was just not made for a big group like that. My ego was too big, my visions, and I didn’t want to compromise the democracy that we had. It just didn’t work for me. It took me, maybe, five years to get that.
Do you ever regret leaving the band?
Maybe the way it happened, because all of us–it wasn’t a very good moment. I just had to leave. I miss them as people, but not as a band. I wouldn’t want to do that anymore, so I don’t regret that. But it had to be that I don’t have them anymore, so that was sad, that part.
East of Eden and Other Worlds are an obvious departure from the pop sound you were cultivating with The Concretes and on Open Field, do you think you still carry those influences with you? Or did you let of go that and try to immerse yourself in something entirely new?
I have this belief that you have a few songs in you, and you alter them in different arrangements and instruments, but you are still working on three songs and changing them to short and long, happy or sad. I’m still me and I kind of work the same way, but I do think that rhythms are more important to me these days. Beat driven, a very strong melody. They are very important for each other.
So in your process, do beats and melody come first?
Yeah. And the usually a few words come, so I get the hint of what’s going on. What it’s about.
Moving on to your tour, how does it feel to be on the road with Jens Lekman, a fellow Swede?
Good. We’re old friends. Yeah, it feels very relaxed and easy. We’re doing a song together every night, we do a cover. It’s a Neil Young song, but we do the Nicolette Larson version of it. “Lotta Love.” It’s a disco version. It’s cool, my band joins his band, so it’s a big thing going on.
Okay great, well I’m excited to hear it! I just have one question left for you. It may be a bit premature, since you are just coming off the release of Other Worlds, but what comes next?
Too early to tell. I have an idea, but I can’t reveal anything right now.
Well, just to give us a taste, does it deal with you traveling somewhere new?
Okay, I’ll have to take that as an answer for now.
All photos by Marv Watson