It doesn’t take more than a second from the moment I ring the downstairs buzzer until the front door opens. Up the stair I am met by an open door and as soon as I walk into the living room I realise that I haven’t entered a regular home. In the middle of the living room in this one bedroom flat is a large white cabin. Björn Olsson has invested 36 000 Swedish crowns in a soundproof compartment which occupies his living room. Here he records add ons or vocals which completes the recordings he makes in his studio on Orust on the west coast.
To the right of the cabin is the childrens’ double bed. Björn Olsson has two children from two previous relationships who lives with him every second week. Next to Björn’s bed, a bed without legs in the other room, sits a record player.
We sit down on the balcony which overlooks the Älvsborg Bridge and the harbour. It is the maritime theme which has dominated Björn’s instrumental solo albums. After skaldjurssviten (a series of albums named after various shell fish) it seems as there won’t be any more.
You don’t feel like getting up on stage again?
– And play live? No, Björn laughs. You know, I have nothing to play.
You would never want to perform a concert with the songs you have released in your own name?
– No, no, no. Oh my God, I really didn’t mean to make solo albums but then there were five and then it becomes a burden, why are you not making solo albums?
Björn speaks just like he plays guitar, few words are repeated, few chords are used. It is the combination of them and in the melodies that you find his strength. And in the ambient atmosphere he folds into the songs, as an arranger and producer.
– I made the solo albums mostly because when I quit The Soundtrack of Our Lives it felt like everything went down the toilet and I had to continue doing something. But it was a relief as well, Soundtrack was a massive effort and it is not something I miss, I am pretty intense and I got a lot done there and then it was such a bloody sense of relief to let go of all that and do something else.
So it is the field of recording wherein Björn has his future. Maybe an uncertain future. His producer colleague Jari Haapalainen recently talked to the national news paper Dagens Nyheter defending illegal downloading as he considers it a good way to discover and get hold of otherwise inaccessible music.
What is your stance on file sharing?
– The same as Lars Ulrich. I think it is so impressive that he was against it so early on, I like Lars Ulrich a lot because he did it with that face he’s got, the way he looks, but I don’t have a direct opinion about it, I adapt myself. I mean, I see it this way; fuck it is good not having to be a producer then. I will have to be good at mixing instead.
The quitting is something that has followed Björn throughout his career. The first time he was recording with Mando Diao they came together in the studio of the former Fireside guitar player, Pelle Gunnerfeldt in Stockholm. The mood turned sour.
– I felt like they didn’t listen to me so I though that they might as well record it themselves. So I just quit. Then I phoned Gustaf and he mocked me, he asked if there was a help line where members of bands I have quit could phone. Fucking cheeky he was. And I had been nice lending them mics.
A few years later the collaboration between the guys from Borlänge and Björn was picked up again. Under certain circumstances. The ground material was recorded but then Mando Diao left to go on tour and Björn was left alone with the material in the studio in order to elaborate and finish mixing the album.
Something Björn Olsson finished in 2008 was what would become the last recordings of Alf Robertsson before he passed away just before Christmas. A collaboration which came about in a peculiar way. Björn talked about his fascination for Alf in a newspaper interview. Alf Robertsson’s old friend from Gamlestan (an area of Gothenburg) Jan Skånberg (also the dad of the base player in Anticimex) read it and sent it to Alf who six months later told a newspaper that he would make a comeback after his stroke and that Björn Olsson would produce it.
Björn was standing on a Gothenburg street, Andra Långgatan when he read it and thought that he had had a blackout.
– It was a bit irksome, every time I picked him up, ”Oh, Alf Robertsson is sitting next to me”, and I felt so small and meaningless. I felt young and had no authority.
– The first time I met him he was in such a rotten state but still he went on for three hours telling me exactly what he wanted to do. That is a wonderful memory. Oh my God. It is pretty typical of Alf that he would record being in that state. It is a typical Alf Robertsson manoeuvre, he was like that his whole life.
What did you like about him?
– He was so charismatic as a person and the music is so uncluttered and everything. When you hear Mitt land for example you sense that he is missing a certain barrier, even though he was really intelligent he never tried to be poetic, it was very straight forward like when he was reading a poem over Du gamla, du fria (Sweden’s national anthem).
What was it like playing the finished songs for Alf in the hospital?
– It was so good. You know, people probably don’t know what he was like, he had such authority and was so incredibly bright but he was completely finished then. But I had enormous respect for him, during the recording it was not like I was helping an old man, but we were afraid of him. So it was a bit nerve wrecking playing the songs for him and he could fool me around, one song was a bit jazzy and I didn’t want to play guitar on it and he noted that and teased me for not knowing the chords.
– He was feeling pretty well at the end when he got to come out of the hospital. He was sitting up at mine smoking, talking a lot and then we went to a restaurant so there wasn’t so much recording going on really. He couldn’t properly match his mental strength with his voice, it was so weak but on the track Jag lämnade mitt hjärta i Göteborg the energy came back and that was fun cause I saw week by week how much better he was becoming. He spoke better and he almost lost the traces of the stroke on his appearance, he could talk and move his eyes at the same time.
– When he was singing he was in a splendid condition but only a week later he had a heart failure and was very tired, but I didn’t know what it was. Then he was so fucking tired that he couldn’t do it anymore.
Did you talk about how he was feeling? He must have been aware that it probably was his last recordings.
– Sometimes we reached the subject but he was very good at keeping going. He was never down; he had the hard times behind him with the total silence after the stroke. He had sat at home with the depression that follows a stroke. So when he came out again and we went to Burger King on Järntorget (square at the west centre of town), it was such an amazing feeling for him. I looked at him, he just sucked in the whole of Järntorget and I did the same – it rubs off on you.
You are rarely seen at gigs. Are you not drawn to the live scene even as a listener?
– No. No. It was a long time ago.
– Really don’t know. But I still listen to fuckloads of records, not to anything new but I listen to my records. I’m also on Youtube a lot. I look at everything with Andy McCoy and Hanoi Rocks and Status Quo. I read everything about Andy McCoy.
Is he your idol?
– Yeah, I really like him, always have. Have loved Hanoi Rocks since the 80s. I like Andy McCoy so much that as soon as I have some peace I would like to do an album with him, but I don’t know if he knows who I am so I haven’t dared to contact him.
You don’t know Conny Bloom who played with them?
– No. But they weren’t so good in the last edition. But Andy McCoy is so good it’s unreal. I mean, coming from Finland with the glam rock thing. If you look at Guns N’ Roses you’ll see that they have taken so much from them. And I read interviews then, Izzy Stradlin said that he liked Finnish rock. It is also cool that Andy McCoy is old and worn out. It is as valuable as someone who is young and fresh. Maybe even more valuable because there are so many more young and fresh people.
The time is now ten o’clock at night and the sun is on its way down over the Älvsborg Bridge and the Göta River. Björn Olsson has also had a hand in all of Håkan Hellström’s albums, as a song writer, studio musician or producer. He is especially pleased with Ett kolikbarns bekännelser, their closest collaboration where Björn also produced. On Håkan’s latest album Björn wasn’t that much involved in the recording which was mostly done by Jocke Åhlund in Stockholm.
– I feel a little bit like I have quit Håkan, I havn’t really but it is nice not to have anything hanging over you. I am first and foremost a music fan.
Translation: Marie Lindström