Name: Alexander Sjödin aka Sailor & I
Occupation: Singer, producer, multi-instrumentalist
Current release: Sailor & I’s "The Life That Kills You" is out now via METAPHYSICAL. The track is a collaboration with Ruede Hagelstein. Read our Ruede Hagelstein interview.
Recommendations: I would like to recommend two albums. Steve Reich - Music for 18 musicians and Talk Talk - Spirit of Eden.
If you enjoyed this interview with Sailor & I, visit him on Facebook, Instagram and Soundcloud for current updates and music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
When I was growing up I was lucky to have parents who supported my musical interest, so I had a lot of instruments in my boy's room. My friends were always over at my place and we used to play everything from punk, rock, pop and later on jazz. When someone got bored, we changed instruments, that way everyone got quite good at the rock ensemble instruments such as guitar, bass, drums and keys.
I remember that we were always exploring sounds through listening to new records. Even though we were writing our own songs at that time, it took me many years until I actually started to produce music myself that got released..
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
It’s something I still struggle with, the possibilities are endless - what is possible to create sound wise. But I also feel that in terms of the tonality of the music I make it hasn’t changed a lot over the years, more like the instrumentation - what kind of instruments and sounds I use. But the expression of the music is quite intact.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Not sure I understand what you mean with “sense of identity”, but if you refer to how much of my personality that comes out in my music, I would say about 99% I only make music that is reflecting my own emotional journeys. I decided to dedicate my musical activities to what I really love and feel is meaningful and I believe that’s when you give space for your identity to shine in your music.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Two things basically, learning how to actually record the music and to transform a feeling into something that other people can listen and connect to in the same way as I did when I created it. I guess there’s no real trick here, only spending a lot of hours, trial and error.
It’s funny, because replacing a melodic part, a rhythmic part or anything that adds to a track is often really hard. Often musicians and producers talk about the 'first magic take' and there is something really special about that raw expression. So I guess that there’s one good lesson apart from learning and learning and learning about new technical things music production related: Meaning derives from communication, even if, from a technical point of view, it might not be the best vocal sound, the most beautiful reverb, etc.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I started with a cassette tape recorder, tracking chords so I could practice playing guitar solos on top of them! When PCs became standard in every home and the first DAWs came along, my friends started to record that way. Since they were much more into the technical aspects of music production and more into songwriting, it was a natural way of balancing the work by using the old traditional formal ‘the right person at the right position’.
After a few years I got so stressed because I felt that I always needed someone’s help to be able to record my songs, so I started producing myself with a laptop, an interface and a cheap mic. Today I’m very into old instruments, for the love of their sound characteristics, so I’m mainly working with Ableton as my DAW and then recording things into loop sections and then building songs from that. I love the warp function.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Definitely! When I started to use analog synths and drum machines I was completely blown away by how raw and fat they sounded. That’s where a new chapter in my creative journey started.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
It really depends, because I’m involved in many different collaborations. Sometimes people just want me to sing and very rarely do I want to do that - I need to be completely in love with their track. Most recently, when I started my label Arvet, I happened to be very much involved in most of the releases, sometimes arranging, producing, composing or just giving feedback. That’s also a way of collaborating. Since I have a musical background, playing different instruments, writing songs and producing, I feel that I can take on many roles, it all depends on what the context is.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I don’t have any routines. That’s probably why I have this kind of work. I get up, make coffee, go to the studio and start playing around with ideas, either existing or creating new ones.
Recently, I go to this lunch place close to this studio which is specialised in making fish dishes, so I have a fish soup and then ice cream. I go back to the studio to record some more, checking e-mails and then I go and meet up with my sons, playing tennis, riding skateboard, making music or something similar. In the evenings we most of the times end the day by watching a movie together under a certain theme. This spring we saw a lot of the old Italians films from the neorealism period.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
My breakthrough was probably when I got a scholarship from the Grants committee of Arts in Sweden as a composer and they gave me the possibility to hire a full scale string orchestra. It sparked new ideas, strengthened my confidence and resulted in my two first releases, Tough Love and Turn Around.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
To me it’s a way of living. To be able to be creative you need to be an open and curious person. But to be able to get into the creative bubble, it’s also important to really have time to spend in this bubble, so the ideas can be developed into something more than just ideas. This is the challenge, because time is money and you need both in your life.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Yes, I believe the creative process is about healing, healing yourself and healing others. That’s why we create. I don’t really see how it can hurt, rather that it can activate emotions and memories where you haven't healed yourself yet, and then the music comes in and triggers the feeling of being hurt. Music is very powerful, if you allow it to step inside of you.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think everything we create is a reflection or answer of/to what we have experienced before. And music is also a language. So therefore everything is really connected and it could sometimes be difficult to say what is too similar to something that's been made before, what is unique and what is not - it all depends on who's experiencing the music.
I believe that humans are adaptable, adjustable beings that tell stories to connect to others, not only solely for the purpose of doing it for ourselves.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
Interesting question and this question would require a very long answer … In short, I think our senses are there to guide us - what do we need to be able to survive, what should we avoid, etcetera. It’s a mix of emotions and physics that is rather complex. Music obviously activities our senses and I think it’s about what kind of energy we have in our system. Sometimes we react in a certain way to one song, sometimes we don’t.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
My definition of art is quite traditional. Art is when you have created something for a specific purpose. Let’s say you take some paint and throw it on a piece of paper, you can then call it abstract art, but according to my definition it’s only abstract art if the purpose was to make abstract art. So it’s not about how enjoyable the creation is to look at, it’s more about the theory behind the creation.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
The main difference between words (written words) and music is that music is something that travels in space, into your system. Music is energy and can therefore connect to you in a different way.