I Break Horses: dancing in the dark, and letting in the light
The second album by the Swedish duo was inspired by gloom but aims for happiness with a dash of ‘Twin Peaks’
Maria Lindén: ‘I’ve always found myself going into darker places, ever since I was a kid’
‘Dance songs for a funeral” is not a description you hear of many bands, but when it comes to I Break Horses, it seems to make perfect sense. After all, the Swedish duo of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck did meet on an internet forum for hypochondriacs several years ago, so their musical DNA courses with an essence of anxiety and melancholia.
To that end, you might imagine that the protagonist of such a sound is a rather dour individual, but Lindén is friendly and upbeat as she sits in her cosy apartment in snowy Stockholm. The first I Break Horses album, Hearts, a collection of hazy songs that borrowed heavily from dream-pop and shoegaze, was released in 2011. It was critically acclaimed, but peppered with a sense of unease and self-doubt that Lindén says is never far from her mind. When it came to creating a follow-up, she wanted to make a concerted effort to make a more upbeat record.
The new album, Chiaroscuro, does just that with the pulsating synth-pop of Faith and Berceuse, yet tempers the dancefloor fillers with the measured, epic throb of songs such as You Burn and Heart to Know.
Named for an Italian phrase that means the use of contrast between dark and light, usually in terms of visual art, many of the songs were born out of a difficult period in Lindén’s personal life last year.
“I was more confident making this album, but at the same time, I had a pretty rough year last year, and I was pretty stressed-out,” she explains. “Several things that happened in my private life made it a pretty dark period, but the recording and writing process was more playful.
“It was also a much faster process this time because I forced myself to limit my set-up with this album. On the debut album, I’d spend hours and hours and hours just creating sounds, then I’d develop a song and arrangement around a specific sound. With this one, I completely changed that around and said to myself, ‘No, you can only use a piano or one synthesiser when writing the songs’, and then I did the production after. It didn’t take me a long time to get to the core of the song, so it was less frustrating in many ways.”
Lindén says she has always had a propensity for gloominess. “I’ve always found myself going into darker places, ever since I was a kid,” she says. “The first songs were the darkest pieces on the whole album, because that’s where I was mentally at that time. Then I got to a stage where I was like, ‘Oh, please, just snap out of it.’ I forced myself to find some relief in positive vibes and positive harmonies, and to snap myself out of my misery, really. It worked pretty well as a therapy, to do that. I guess I’m always near to that sort of sadness, and it was important to me to be able to actually write and release songs such as Medicine Brush. But now I’m ready for some lighter songs.”
After touring Hearts for more than a year, including a tour in the US supporting M83 , Lindén found herself burnt out creatively. She and Balck took a year away from the band before regrouping to begin work on the second album, which was recorded in the first six months of 2013.
“Touring was a lot of fun, but at the same time I was really, really tired,” she says. “I’ve been pushing performing live back for as long as I could, because I’ve always had this huge stage fright. You get used to it and it becomes easier, but you still feel pressure each night to walk on to a stage and do something you’re terrified of doing.
“I took a break and then when I finally felt that I had some inspiration to write, I started to feel the pressure of what people were going to expect with the second album. But I had to force myself to let that go. Once I knew what kind of album I wanted to do for myself, it was pretty easy to let it go because I knew that it wouldn’t necessarily be a better album if I kept hold of it. I was sure that I wanted to do a darker album and I also wanted to bring it more electronic sound to develop the colder-sounding themes that I had been writing.”
In a weird place
Although she has played the piano and violin since childhood, a big influence on this album came in the form of another formative art form that ties in with the album’s off-kilter vibe.
“I didn’t listen to much music during that period; I came home from that long tour and I just wanted some quiet time, so I spent the days writing music and then watching Twin Peaks from the start in my spare time,” she says. “Being all alone, I was in a kind of weird place and I think that shines through sometimes. My parents wouldn’t let me watch Twin Peaks as a kid because it was too scary, but I remember the theme music. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard, so I recorded it on a tape recorder when my parents weren’t looking, and I listened to it over and over and over again. I think that definitely had a huge impact on this album.”
As downbeat as it might sound, there is an uplifting feel to Chiaroscuro, further buoyed by Lindén’s good-natured enthusiasm. Having been through the depths of depression and come out the other side, the album is a good reflection of its titular definition.
“Of course, you don’t want people to get depressed listening to your music,” she says with a giggle. “It sounds cheesy, but I always want to give people hope because I’m hopeful as well, even if it looks really dark sometimes. I want people to be happy during the shows, and I want to have something they can dance to. Even if they feel as if they’re at a funeral.”
Chiaroscuro is released on Bella Union tomorrow