Stefan Nilsson is a very talented keyboardist/Composer from Sweden. He started playing music at around 11 years old and would progress to college where he studied with Gunner Karl Hagen. At that same time he had a very successful jazz/rock fusion band named "Kornet", which put out three albums. This would lead to a very successful career as an award winning composer for films as well as a successful recording artist. Recently, Stefan went back to his jazz/rock roots and has released a new album titled "The Gift". The album is dedicated to the late Magnus Persson who performed on the "The Gift", as well as Johan Hasselquist, Patrick Boman, Erik Soderlind, Maz Schultz, Rafael Sida Huizar, and guest singer Aminah Al Fakir. I recently talked to Stefan about the new album and his career.
R.V.B. - Hello Stefan, from the other side of the world. Is it cold over there in Sweden?
S.N. - It's not quite winter time yet. The winter comes in one month. What's the weather in New York?
R.V.B. - It's pretty warm. It's around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This year it's been a relatively warm November but last year we had a brutal winter. It was like living in Sweden. (Hahaha)
S.N. - I heard about it.
R.V.B. - Being from Sweden... do you ice skate or go skiing?
S.N. - I like to ski, yes. Where I was born up in the north, there was a lot of ice and snow.
R.V.B. - Sweden has very good skiers in the Olympics and their Ice Hockey team has won the gold medal recently.
S.N. - Yes, they are very good but it's not my thing.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your new album "The Gift". I've listened to it quite a few times and I find the songwriting fabulous. The songs move nicely from one to the next. What is behind the title "The Gift"?
S.N. - Thank you very much. I've been working on it for 2 years. There is a famous painting called "Karma-og gaveprincippett done by Paul Dyrholm. I was inspired by that. You can see it in the inner CD. It's the round CD. The music is a gift to the people from me.
R.V.B. - The song is placed 3rd on the CD. It's a Bach song, and I noticed you changed it a lot. You really spruced it up and It's very exciting. I was very impressed with how it built up momentum and you added the electric guitars at the end. There were a lot of things happening in that song.
S.N. - Johan Sebastian Bach is one of the only composers where you can manipulated his music into jazz/rock. I feel that's a gift from Bach to me. I decided to do this song about 10 years ago but I was never satisfied with it. When I met these guys... now I got it right and it's the 1st time it's recorded. That's another reason I wanted to call it "The Gift".
R.V.B. - I really enjoyed that one. The opening song on the album is "Yttersti". What does that name mean?
S.N. - I'm born in the north of Sweden with a landscape of forests and lakes and Yttersti is a place with nature with a lake. They have concerts in late August in the summer on the lake. They have had them for fifty years and I have performed there many times.
R.V.B. - The song seems very (poppish) and good for the radio.
S.N. - I have a shorter version that you can find on YouTube that is good for the radio. It is a short mix. It is also on Spotify.
R.V.B. - I also saw you performing the song live on YouTube. Now on this album you mixed originals in with covers . When you went about writing the originals... did you have the complete product in mind.
S.N. - I write songs one song at a time and a few of the songs were written fifteen years ago. Now I gave them a new shape. The first track was written 3 years ago. The band that's on the CD hasn't played that much together and we began just for fun. Everybody in the band has played way back in the 70's. I had my band Kornet back in the 70's, and we made 3 albums. In the 80's and 90's I did soundtrack music and not really jazz anymore. I had a longing to go back to jazz/rock with this album I met these musicians and we started just for fun and decided to make recordings.
R.V.B. - Well for a project that started just for fun... it sure came out real nice. How old were you when you started playing an instrument?
S.N. - I started playing on my own when I was around 10/11 with the piano at home.
R.V.B. - Did you come from a musical family?
S.N. - I have a cousin who is a musician. He was one of the first to sing pop music in Swedish... most pop music was sung in English. His name is Pugh Rogefeldt and he's a legend.
S.N. - I studied classical music when I was 19 years old. That's when I had the band Kornet in the 70's. Then I came to Stockholm for 2 years. We had a lot of jobs with the band, so I stopped the education to concentrate on the band.
R.V.B. - I see that you studied with Gunner Karl Hagen. How was that experience?
S.N. - It was fantastic for me. At that time, nobody at that music academy talked about jazz. It was only classical. He was the only teacher that encouraged other music.
R.V.B. - Did you have any favorite jazz influences from the Jazz/rock genre such as The Mahavishnu Orchestra?
S.N. - Yes, I listened to Weather Report, Mahavishnu, Chick Korea, and I always wanted to play Bach in this style.
R.V.B. - You did a lot of work for movie and TV soundtracks. Do you approach your writing differently for that aspect?
S.N. - Writing a song is totally different from composing a score for a movie. In a song I work with text, and I also know from the start that my song will be in the front of the sound in the final mix. Score music, often doesn't have as much melody lines as a song. It's more just like an accompaniment to the film scenes... backing up what's happening on the screen. I wrote for films such as "Pelle the Conqueror" and it got an Oscar for the best foreign language film.
R.V.B. - You won a few Swedish awards also?
S.N. - Yes, for comic films and drama films.
S.N. - I've worked with Tommy for over 20 years. We had a band in the beginning and we did a lot of concerts. In the 80's, we did a lot of touring around Scandinavia. Then we had a Tommy and Stefan duo and we had the record "Jaques Brel"... I did the piano work on it. We also had a record with a band in 1988.
R.V.B. - During my research, I came across a very nice song of yours... "Gabriella's Song".
S.N. - "Gabriella's Song" is music from the film "As It Is In Heaven" in 2004. I worked with Kay Pollak. In the manuscript, he said that there should be a song and they wanted me to compose it. I was inspired for a long time by the music from the movie "Titanic", which was from James Horner. He passed away in a plane crash. He was my favorite and I'm really sad about it. I had the idea for a song many years before. I wanted to write a song for a Swedish movie and when there was a place in the manuscript for a song... that was the time for it.
R.V.B. - It's a very pretty song. I saw a video with an orchestra playing it.
S.N. - Yes. It's a big hit. A lot of artists and instrumental groups have covered it. There's a really nice recording of it from a French and German brass band. It's on YouTube and Spotify
R.V.B. - So you have a lot of people covering your music.
R.V.B. - How was your experience playing at the Montreux Festival?
S.N. - It was fantastic. I believe we played a 1 hour set in the afternoon. We were young and nervous but the gig was fun and funky. It was with Bjorn J:son Lindh, Janne Schaefer, Per Lindvall and Christian Veltman. The Brecker Brothers played before us and Stanley Clarke played after us. Later on Van Morrison had a really great set. We ha a great time at Montreux. Around the same time period, we had worked with The Brecker Brothers... Randy and Michael and Will Lee on bass. We played some music from my album "Music for Music Lovers."
R.V.B. - That record received some airplay in the United States, I understand.
S.N. - Yes, we had a good review from Billboard.
R.V.B. - Did you ever play in the United States?
S.N. - In the 80's I visited Jojje Wadenius, the Swedish guitar player who played with Blood Sweat & Tears. He lived in New Jersey and we were visiting in New York. I also had another trip when I performed at the St. Mark's Church in the Bowery with a Swedish poet Brono K Ojer and The Swedish author Rolf Borjind. It's the same church that Patty Smith performed with her poetry reading project. In the middle of the 90's, Tommy Korberg and I were invited to New York and Los Angeles to perform at private engagements for Swedish people who lived there.
R.V.B. - I understand you have a Steinway Piano... what other equipment do you use?
S.N. - I have a Steinway grand and when we made "The Gift" record I did not use an acoustic piano on it. I wanted to use electric instruments on it. I used a Roland RD-700 NX. I use that for my live performances as well.
R.V.B. - It did give it that nice jazz fusion sound.
R.V.B. - How often do you practice?
S.N. - I don't practice so much now. When I was younger I practiced a lot. Now I take one thing at a time. I'm going out on a tour in December playing Christmas songs in churches. Now I am concentrating on this.
R.V.B. - That sounds like a nice project for the season. Will you be playing any church organs?
R.V.B. - Can you tell me how it was working with Magnus Persson.
S.N. - In the 70's and 80's we worked together... we had a rehearsal place together... and we had a quartet. In that project we had a saxophone player Glen Myerscough. He was from the band "The Disciples. He also worked with Andre Crouch. He made the music a little more jazzy. The bass player was Stefan Brolund and Magnus Persson was on percussion. Magnus was a talent and he got a lot of jobs. He toured with Eagle Eyed Cherry and they played in the States a lot. He also played with a lot of other artists in Sweden. At the same time, I was writing my film music, working with Tommy Korberg as well as others, and I eventually lost contact with Magnus. I ran into Magnus again about 4 years ago and we decided to play together again for fun. Then some of the other musicians came shortly thereafter. The percussion player Rafael Sida Huizar came later. It was nice because we had 2 guitarists and everyone had side projects. If one had a job the other could play. It was the same with the two percussion players. If Magnus was gone Rafael played. When we did the record, I wanted everyone to be involved.
S.N. - Aminah Al Fakir came later. She's a guest singer. We had recorded the album and I listened to it and I thought "We could use a female voice." She has a very high register and you can hear it on the first track. She's like a synthesizer.
R.V.B. - I saw her on the video.
S.N. - Aminah is on the short mix version video on Youtube. She also has her own music on there. She's a singer/songwriter.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on the album... congratulations on your career... good luck on your Christmas tour and thank you for taking this time with me.
S.N. - It was really nice to talk to you Robert.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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For more information on Stefan Nilsson visit his facebook page www.facebook.com/stefan.nilsson
Thanks to Robert Steven Silverstein
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