Hello Saferide

in the mid-�80s music journalist and pop theorist Simon Reynolds wrote an essay entitled “Against Health and Efficiency” in which he dissected the emergent twee-pop culture. His view was that the cutie kids were philosophically rejecting the dominant mores of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain—self-centred “health and efficiency”—and reaching back to an unattainable state of purity. Through a combination of pop and coy de-sexualization, the C-86 generation seemed to be revolting into conservatism. This may or not have been the case. Like most pop theorizing, a pinch or two of salt is advisable, but not with the indie pop currently coming out of Scandinavia. Hello Saferide is at the forefront of this new wave, and while her music is hardly breaking new sonic territory, it certainly embraces the present with glee. Her first British single, “I Was Definitely Made for These Times,” is a romp of brass and handclaps pointing out that her parents won’t be choosing her husband and that she’s unlikely to die of poor nutrition—the sort of celebration of the modern world that Jonathan Richman once cornered the market with.

Maybe it’s because Sweden never had a Margaret Thatcher to tell them there was no such thing as society. Maybe something got lost in translation. Anyway, while transatlantic pop wallows in egocentric selfishness, Hello Saferide communicates the value of friendship and community. When you see Hello Saferide’s multi-racial, mixed-sex band it doesn’t feel studied, it feels like an education by missionaries from a far better place. Their social-democrat utopia may not really exist but it’s nice to pretend it might. Ironically though, when I come to interview Hello Saferide leader Annika Norlin, she has an awful cold that leaves her supping olive oil throughout the following concert, and I seriously mess up the recording by doing it in a noisy bar. So much for health and efficiency.

In the song “My Best Friend,” you advise said friend not to get a film featuring Jedis or Hobbits. What film would you recommend your friend to get out instead?

Well, I have to think about that. The thing is, I have really bad taste in movies. I tried for a while to be the kind of person who appreciates the medium but it failed. I get too involved in movies. I basically just like really bad movies. I like really bad comedies. I like high-school comedies. I like Will Ferrell movies. I like that kind of stuff. Napoleon Dynamite.

So you’re not so much into art-house movies then?

No, not at all. All my friends only like art movies, and believe me, I would like to be the kind of person who knows who this Brazilian actress who made these amazing films is, but I have to the face the fact that that’s not me.

That makes sense because there’s a lot of humor in your music. Even when you have a very poignant lyric you undercut it with a gag or something. Do you ever wish your music was more arty, more “serious”; you’ve never wanted to be, I don’t know, Kate Bush or Tori Amos?

No, definitely not. I am very deliberate when I am creating my lyrics and I know exactly what feeling I want to create. And for me I always feel it a bit more when there’s some humour attached there, like in indie songs.

Like in the song “2006” the words seem kind of silly at first but then it really hits you. The line “I will learn a new word each day / today’s word is �dejected’” always gets me.

You’re so nice!

I mean it just seems a bit more real than saying “Oh my God, my life sucks.”

Yeah, I know. For me most of the time, not always, it isn’t, “Oh I’m so depressed,” but more that you’re a bit bored. You are like, “I don’t feel so good right now,” and things do usually get better. There’s always hope.

I have written down here: “domesticity and intimacy.” Your songs seem to focus on the minutiae of everyday life in a quite unusual way. For instance in “The Quiz” you go into great detail about preparing soup…you don’t get that very much in pop.

I am very interested in issues to do with class. As in upper class, lower class—things to do with that. I have always been very annoyed with people who are like…umm, I mean, in Sweden there are lot of people who have been to the university and all they do is sit in coffee bars talking about music and shit. I just like watching them, they inspire the things I write. But I’d say I make working-class music.

Really? You see your music as working class?

I hope so. For me I have a working-class mother and a middle-class father, I’m probably somewhere in-between.

Wow. I had never thought of your music in those sort of terms.

Ach, now I feel very pretentious for saying that. I just don’t want my songs to sound too smart.

Why? Do you think that it might alienate people?

I just want my music to be something that people can relate to more than anything else.

In Sweden you’re quite popular aren’t you? You’ve had top-ten hits haven’t you?

I think I am one of the more popular indie artists. I’m not massive; I have to think of something English to compare myself to. I’m not huge but people who are interested in music always know who I am.

Do you think you could become popular here? I can’t think of that many Swedish artists who are big in the UK but I could see you becoming popular over here. You see, my brother is into weightlifting and he’s always stealing your album off me. He listens to it while doing weights.


Yeh. He really loves it and he’s played to it to his friends and they love it. Maybe you could do a song about weightlifting.

Wow. That would be amazing. I have never thought of someone weightlifting to my music. It’s weird, the moment you start performing people will come to you and they mention which different countries they think your music would work in so some artists are told, like “your music will work in Spain,” “your music will work in France”; people always tell me my music will work in Britain and Japan.

Who would you say your influences are, who do you like listening to?

Actually the greatest influence on me is listening to people talking. That’s always been my biggest influence. Musically it’s mostly old country music. One my favourites is Tennessee Ernest Ford. They always have these quirky lyrics. I love Tom Waits and The Lemonheads.

The Lemonheads? I really like them.

Oh wow, did you know they had a secret gig in Camden yesterday? Did you go?

No, no I’m not too connected to these things. That’s sort of surprising; I thought you’d be into tweepop, Belle and Sebastian stuff like that.

No, I do like a lot of country but for the past four or five years I have been listening to a lot of indiepop. You know The Sprites? Do you have them in England?

No, I don’t think I’ve heard of them.

They are an American band and also a lot of British bands like Heavenly. It’s never, it’ll always be separate songs it’s not like one songwriter or anything that I like.

You have a lot of songs about hangovers. Do you party hard?

No, uh, the thing is, as I mentioned, I’m a big fan of Tom Waits and a lot of the songs on the album (Introducing…) are pretty old, like about seven years old. That’s when I was young and thought it was cool to drink lots of wine and then try and write a song about it.

Are many of your songs written in character? I am thinking of something like “Long Lost Pen Pal” because clearly you are not a middle-aged man masquerading as a teenage girl. Do you like to write in character?

Almost none of my songs are about me. A couple of songs, of course, but almost none of the songs are about things that have happened to me.

Would say though that the themes are true to your self? For instance, you write a lot about the value of friendship and—this sounds silly, but—people just being nice to each other.

Though I make up a lot of stories but I am still writing from my point of view. I come from a small town where people are nice to each other. I make up stories about the kind of people I do know: they have hangovers, they have good friends, small town people are nice to each other, not a lot of huge dramas happen but that doesn’t make what does happen less important.

Have you noticed any big cultural differences coming from Scandinavia to the UK?

I don’t know if this is an England / Sweden thing but when we play here we seem to play with a lot of rock [she pronounces it “rawk” but I think this is because of her accent rather than an intentional nod to the likes of Tommy Vance] bands. Again I don’t know if this is an England / Sweden thing or a rock / pop thing. Everyone seems very concerned about being cool. It really makes us feel like outsiders.

I have written about this.


In this country the indie culture is very much about how you wear your hair or how tight your trousers are. Are you really scared of feet?

Yes, that is one thing that is true. I am not terrified of feet but, umm, I have some kind of a thing, like my own feet not too scary.

You kinda see them a lot I guess.

So that’s OK. Female feet on another person: that’s OK, not too scary.

Is this with or without shoes?

Without shoes, like bare naked feet.

So like at the moment, is that OK? [I point at my own trainer clad feet.]

Yeah that’s ok. They have to be naked. The scariest thing would be naked feet on a guy I don’t know. It’s like a person I don’t know and then they took off their socks when we were in a train compartment; that would be the scariest thing ever.

How about you went to see the support band tonight and the lead singer, presupposing they are male, took his shoes and socks off?

That would be OK because I wouldn’t be too close to him. It’s just when they get up-close that’s when it’s scary.

Doesn’t this create some problems when you reach the “intimate part” of a relationship?


When you’re in the “intimate part” of a relationship, is this a hurdle you have to jump?

No, it’s OK then because I will know the owner of the feet.

I see. Do you ever have nightmares about feet?

No, I’m not that bad, not that bad.

Your lyrics are all in English. I take it English is a second language for you?


What makes you write in English rather than Swedish?

Well, I have made a record in Swedish as well.

Oh, I didn’t know that.

It was a first for me because I have always written in English.


I think it’s because English as a language is much easier to sing in, it’s a lot softer and a lot easier to rhyme in. Like, you have a lot of o’s and e’s and no’s, and it’s very easier to write lyrics with them. But Swedish is much…also my dialect is from the north, it is very harsh.

Harsh? Is it very cold?

It’s kind of hard to describe but it’s got a lot of consonants which are very harsh.

Oh the language! I thought you meant the environment!

No, no, no, no, no, the language. I have to fit in between the words hard to write things like “aaaaaaaah” to even it out.

What language is most of the pop in Sweden charts sung in?

It is in English mostly simply because it is easier to write and sing in English. Most Swedes speak English anyway.

It’s just funny because in England so few people are multilingual. Coming from Sweden is this annoying, the fact that English people rarely learn other language?

No, it doesn’t at all. No, I haven’t really thought about it.

Do you ever think in English? Because your songs are so clever with words it’s like you’d have to be thinking in English to be able to express the ideas.

No, I don’t think I do. I have always written a lot in English so I don’t even think when I write, I just write. It takes me about 10 minutes to write a song.

Really? That seems very quick. Is that the music and the lyrics?

No, no I just mean the lyrics, the music comes later.

How does that work? Do make up the tunes or do you take it to the band and work something out?

Mostly I’ll write a lyric and maybe a melody then take it to the band and try it out. It takes maybe about half an hour.

A lot of your songs have a very “big” sound. I am thinking of songs like “San Francisco.” Do you have an idea of what these songs are going to sound like when you write them?

No, that sound is because of Andreas Söderlund, the guitarist and my producer. I just bring in a melody and a lyric; I do have ideas about how I want them to sound though. For “San Francisco” I wanted kind of a gospel feel to it.

Ah, like when the choir comes in at the end? I thought that was a gay thing.

[Annika laughs in a slightly confused way.]

Because, you know. San Francisco is famous for its gay choirs. Do you know the song “Go West”? It reminds me of that.

Oh wow, I never thought of it like that! I was trying to do a gospel thing and San Francisco is like God. Like, everything in my life was shitty and then I went to San Francisco and that sort of saved me.

Have you been to San Francisco?

Yes, the song is mostly true. Not the stuff about being driven around in state-owned cars; but for a long time I was in kind of a bad place, then I went to San Francisco [the recording goes very fuzzy at this point, and she sounds like she says] and found my soul at Macy’s [this is probably not what she said].

Oh, I sort of thought the song was metaphorical.

It can be about anything that you want it to be about.

“If I Don’t Write This Song Someone I Love Will Die” appears to be about obsessive compulsion. Is this something you have experienced?

Yes, I think it is very common that people have to have very set routines. I suffered from this a lot when I was about eleven. Not too badly, but for instance if I touched something with one hand I’d have to go back and touch it with both hands.

Does it still affect you now?

No, not at all. I was very annoyed by that Jack Nicholson film (As Good It Gets) which treated it all like a big joke, it can really affect peoples lives.

So what did you do between having OCD and becoming a pop star?

I am a music journalist.

Ah. So you know what it’s like to be in my position.

[Laughs] Yes. I started off writing about music for different newspapers then I moved into radio. I co-host a show on Swedish radio called “LP3 Live Session” you can listen to it online. I’ll write the address down for you.

So you’re in the charts and on the radio.

I think it is good have two things, if one of the things don’t work out then you’ll always the other. It keeps me grounded. It’s like I’ll be on stage and people will be like “wow you’re wonderful” but then the next day I still have to go in to work.

What are you doing next musically?

There will probably be another Hello Saferide album but there’s also my Swedish language album. I am going to spend quite a bit of time promoting that in Sweden.

Are you Hello Saferide?

Yeah, I am Hello Saferide.

What about the band?

I think when we are playing we are Hello Saferide but I am Hello Saferide. To make things even more complicated my Swedish language project is called Säkert! Which kind of means safe in Swedish and that means I am Säkert! but when I have the whole band on stage they are all Säkert!

Would you ever release a record under your own name?

No. It is very important for me to separate myself form my music. You see I am a very private person.

But your songs are often very intimate.

Yah, but I think I am very good at knowing what things I like to tell about myself and what things I don’t like to tell about myself. I can easily tell the world I am scared of feet but there are other things I would never want people to know. I think it would also be different if I put out records under my own name because if I put out a record and it got a bad review, it would say “Hello Saferide sucks”—that would be a lot better to see than “Annika Norlin sucks”.

Have you got many bad reviews?

No, but it might happen.

By: Paul Scott
Published on: 2007-08-01
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