We continue our foray into the music industry with a feature on a musician we’re pretty sure you’ve never heard of. We were introduced to Niels Nielsen through our partnership with Audiosocket. He’s one of their success stories, getting a solid paycheck from licensing his music. He talks about the surprise he felt when he first heard his song on MTV and for the haters who say it’s selling out, he has a few choice words. He’s from Sweden and is now part of a three-piece band (that still performs under his name), in addition to a touring manager for larger Swedish indie rockers GHOST. He has been making music since 2005, so he’s seen a lot of changes in the industry, and in his own style. Here he talks with us about his latest projects, his songwriting process, what it’s like to make music that doesn’t fit neatly into one genre and his dream to never have a “real job” again.
I watched the DPEND music video and I wonder, do three people make up Niels Nielsen, or is it just you?
Niels Nielsen is my real name and between 2005-2012 I released a bunch of different records where I just played around however I wanted. I never thought of it as a band or that I had a specific image to live up to–just plain fun music making. But since I always had a bunch of shows to play, I ended up with the same guys playing with me. We decided to do this as a group and share equally not just live, but also in the studio. So we’re a three piece band right now, but with my name. We didn’t want to work something up from the start, instead just keep on going in the direction I’ve already started, so yeah, it’s my name, but it’s a three piece band. For now.
Does that video represent a love of sci-fi? Was the concept yours?
When we started working on this album we made a bunch of decisions to make things clear. Like I said, I had changed my sound so many times and worked with no real image and no real continuity so for this album we decided to make a logo, work within a theme, and for the last two or three years our interest in synthesizers and electronic music grew so we decided to skip guitars and acoustic instruments. We labeled our sound as “Space Pop” and it worked in our favor since people seemed to understand what we did. Dan Brännvall, known for his work with his band “Den Svenska Björnstammen” (The Swedish Beartribe) wanted to see us fly out in space, and he produced the video for us. We just shot everything in one day and three months later we got the result. An old-school video, with lofi FX made with a great deal of humour. We loved it and released it. So the concept was not ours but based on our current image.
Where are you based?
We are based in Norrköping, Sweden, two hours south of Stockholm in a city with a lot of things going on–music, art, design, yeah we love it here. Wouldn’t trade it for Stockholm ever.
How often do you tour?
We never really toured properly since my previous releases always were very “DIY.” Some years we made 10 shows, some years 70. Mostly smaller shows under the radar, but we’ve started to get more attention lately and we’re planning a more proper European tour this fall.
How is the experience of licensing your music?
When I first heard my lo fi tracks on MTV and other places I was really blown away. I’ve always wanted to put my music together with films, series and commercials but I just never worked for it. Now it’s just great to see how people in Australia can find my songs just ‘cos they heard me in a YouTube video promoting something I didn’t even know about. It could be scary not knowing always where you’ll end up, but so far so good. And to get some extra paychecks doesn’t hurt. I haven’t been able to make a living out of my music until recently, and a few years ago I guess this could be described as “selling out” but the truth is, it’s a fucking great feeling to get paid for doing exactly what you want. I’ve never done music to make money. But when you make money out of the music you write and record, it’s a pretty damn nice feeling.
What is the process of songwriting for you? How long does it take to finish a song? A record?
Songwriting is a matter of finding time to work for a couple of hours. I could write a song anytime anywhere, but I find myself more and more stressed out about other things that needs to be done. But I’d say an afternoon to write and record the first version of a song. After that it’s always different. If I’m supposed to do a record I usually leave the track for some time, but if it’s just for fun or a single, it wouldn’t take more than a day or two to be finished. Of course, this record took me/us three or four years to finish, but I started working as a tour manager (for Swedish metal band GHOST) which obviously took a lot of my time.
Do you feel like you fit neatly into one genre?
I’ve never felt that, and people have always said that to me and pointed out it could be a good idea to stay in one genre. But fuck that, I mean, I’m not that kind of guy who “wants to be unique” and all that. I just can’t tell what type of music that will come out. I never decided that I’m gonna write pop or electro or rock. If I have a guitar at home or in the studio it’s likely to be a guitar-based track, and if I’m surrounded with analog synthesizers I will obviously use them. I guess I fall under the category “pop” or “indie pop” since I sing as I do and since I like old school songwriting like The Beatles, but no, I’m just writing and recording, if people wanna label me or complain that they can’t, it’s not my problem and I really really really couldn’t care less about it.
Do things in the music industry work differently now than they did when you put out your first release in 2005?
Yes. When I started to release tracks in 2003 we didn’t have Myspace or Facebook. I just uploaded MP3s and got feedback and shows from that. When everything really collapsed, I started my own label since no one dared to touch new bands if it wasn’t a guaranteed success. Now when the industry finally realized you can still make money out of cool bands and artists it’s easier. I just signed my other band Dead Soul to a pretty well known Scandinavian label and even if you won’t get very big advances it’s really nice to work with professional people. I love DIY-labels but to be honest, the industry might be full of assholes but it’s also full of valuable people and knowledge. The guys at Sony or Universal aren’t all bad, and I’m really glad young bands now have the chance to be signed and get a chance to grow. The DIY scene can be a great start but for most bands it’s a dead end after a few records. You need to grow and make money in someway if you wanna keep on going. I’m not saying that applies to all, but you get older, you’ve got bills to pay, and it takes a great deal of time to record and write, and if you have to have two day jobs to survive that fourth record might never be recorded, and most bands gets better over time so that fourth record might be the one the takes you to the next level… So I’m really happy that we have Spotify and iTunes and all that digital stuff, so it’s easier to put out a record. It’s nice with vinyl and CD (we still release our stuff like that) but for most bands and listeners it isn’t that important. It’s a happy few that buys our vinyls, but if that’s 100-200 people on a release, we have so many more listeners online. Some people even buy the vinyl and never plays it since they don’t have a record player.
Any shows coming up that we should know about?
We’re playing a big new festival here in Norrköping June 29 – Bråvalla Festival. It’s the festival’s first year but it’s already one of the biggest festivals in Sweden so it’s really nice. A lot of our friends our playing as well (Ghost, In Flames, Slagsmålsklubben, Maskinen) so it’s gonna be both nice to play and nice to watch friends and drink beer all night.
Other than that things are still in progress since the album just came out. We just live and see. We have our other band Dead Soul which is growing quite fast so we are working 24/7 on music right now which is most important for me. I NEVER wanna have a real job again. This is my life and I’m pretty sure the other guys in the band feel the same.
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