Interview: Titiyo & Theodor Jensen “Keep Company.”
Keep Company is a collaboration between Sweden’s reluctant ”Queen of soul” Titiyo and pop maestro Theodor Jensen. The duos self titled debut received great reviews across the board and the spring/summer live shows have been equally well received. I sat down with the slightly mismatched pair in the plush lobby of Stockholm’s Hotel Rival for a chat about music, fear, evening dresses and, well… art.
Jörgen: Listening to your respective back catalogs your partnership seems a bit unexpected. Still, when I heard the Keep Company album it all made perfect sense. There’s a certain ”soul mate-vibe” going on. How did you two find each other?
Titiyo: There’s a parallel to be drawn with Allison Krauss and Robert Plant, if one wants to. That collaboration had no logic to it whatsoever until you heard the record.
I discovered Theodor long after everyone else, via Fläskkvartetten (Swedish avant-garde string quartet). I thought his voice was very interesting and radiated a very high level of integrity. It made me curious. Then I met him while touring with Freddie Wadling and… I guess we became friends basically.
When we came home from that tour Theo and I did a show with Klubb Killers and Theo wrote our first song, Side By Side, for that. After that show there really wasn’t a whole lot to think about. We knew we wanted to work fast to keep the momentum going. The plan was to write together but Theo was just too fast for me (laughs). The songs just came pouring out of him. I got to put the final touch to the songs though, so it very much feels like we did it all together.
Theodor: I think we had a kind of underlying sense of recognition from the start. That’s something you can’t create. It’s either there or it isn’t. But because of this the recording process was very painless. I’m just grateful that this thing fell in my lap I guess.
Titiyo: The writing was mostly done mailing soundbites and snippets back and forth. That gave me space to find lyrics and melodies in my own time. Theo can be very dramatic so for me it was important to do parts of the work on my own. He gets into this sort of director-mode and it can get pretty intense. I threatened to kill him once actually (laughs)…he gave me some space after that. But apart from that the key for us is definitely the mutual respect we have for one another. I guess both of is wanted to incorporate the other in our respective worlds.
Theodor: We decided on which songs to use and then we started trying arrangements and stuff. It was easy work for the most part (laughs). That being said there was a kind of silent war going on during the mixing sessions. I’d go to make some coffee and when I came back Titiyos vocals was much higher in the mix than when I left. So I sent her out on some errands and boosted my own vocals in kind (laughs).
Jörgen: Theodor, there’s a kind of logic to your back catalogs that leads up to Keep Company. Listening to your old track Let’s Leave, for example it all seems to fit together in a way. Over time, what view do you take on your own creativity and writing?
Theodor: Wow, that’s great to hear! I feel that way too, although it’s not something I planned. I do think the creativity is closely linked to some sort of personal growth and progress. Hopefully your evolution as a person shows in your work.
I remember I once had these Kirkegaard-esque thoughts about moving into a religious phase after being in the ethic phase and stuff like that. It all gets really pretentious, I realize that. And normally I don’t analyze myself in this way. I’m sure there’s a way to talk about these things that sounds cool…
Jörgen: Titiyo, you on the other hand have a very diverse back catalog. From your work with Kleerup, the stuff you did with Blacknuss All Stars and so forth. How do you choose your projects? Are there any dream albums that you have yet to record?
Titiyo: Doing something with Thom Yorke… I guess that would be a dream project. He doesn’t strike me as very approachable though (laughs). I move pretty fast between different projects. We’re doing this now and it’s great. But I can already feel the visions of the next record coming on.
Then it’s this whole ”soul queen”-thing. It pisses me of no end. It’s like calling Robyn the queen of R n’ B. I mean it’s been a while since she did anything even remotely R n’ B. Myself I’m not sure if I ever really was that ”soul”… Maybe some guest appearance with The Blacknuss Allstars…
Jörgen: Even though you have quite an impressive track record I sometimes get the feeling you’re not that hungry for it, singing I mean. And you’ve said you only started singing because you needed a job?
Titiyo: Yeah… I think that non-hunger is in fact dressed up fear. I’ve noticed it gets more and more difficult to handle reviews for example. Doesn’t matter how good they are. If it’s a 3 out of 5 I don’t even read it. I’m a bit of a chicken like that.
We played Malmö recently and went out to celebrate afterwards. A girl came up to me and started criticizing my dress. Bit of a Twilight Zone-moment for me that. I don’t buy into the idea that you’re supposed to put up with that kind of shit just because you make music and perform on a stage.
Jörgen: And I hear you’re afraid of death?
Titiyo: (Laughs) Compared to Theo I’d say yes, definitely. I think a lot about that stuff…fear of flying, fear of falling icicles…that the world will just keep on turning without me. That’s a bizarre thought! (Laughs) Theo’s not bothered about stuff like that. I asked him once. He said he’d never really thought about it. I think that sounds quite nice actually.
Jörgen: A lot of artist, if not all, seem driven by a need for attention and the love of many. How do you handle this thing where people voice their opinions about your work? And why do you write music?
Theodor: Some reviews I’ve read have made me very, very happy so it’s not like I don’t care about what other people think. On the other hand I think you can get lost if you let that stuff affect what you write.
“I make music cause I have to” is a popular answer… When I think about it it’s almost like a kind of silence takes hold of me when I haven’t done anything in a while. And then I get the urge to have a new idea, to say something. But what is there really left to say…and so the process begins.
Jörgen: What’s the album about? What can you tell us about the lyrics?
Titiyo: I think it’s about a sort of decadent romance. Decadent in a good way, that is. Not that fancy kind of romance, but the kind of broken, stained thing. Sometimes working, sometimes not. Theo was about to be a father when we made the album and I think that shows in a way. I have a feeling he grew up making this album…
There’s something in My Love Confessed that I like very much. The kind of stuff I sing there is usually sung by men. That alcohol tinged romantic thing where the hero drifts from bar to bar. Peter Svensson (of The Cardigans) also had that…not being afraid of the hard words.
Theodor: Generally speaking I’d say it’s about companionship, love, redemption, forgiveness… Or maybe there’s not special theme at all. Every song is it’s own small world I think, but they are connected in some way. I think the lyrics speak very much for them selves. If anything seems cryptic it’s purely accidental.
Jörgen: How did the work on this album differ from other projects you’ve been involved in?
Theodor: I think the big difference for me was a kind of unforced democracy, given that we both sing lead. There wasn’t a whole lot of compromising going on. Very painless without being non-dynamic. To me it was just a joy to go to the studio in the morning.
Jörgen: It’s a pretty impressive line-up you’ve got on the album. Basically the cream of the crop as far as Swedish musicians go. I mean you’ve got Georg Riedel (famous for writing the original score to the Pippi Långstrump movies) on there!
Titiyo: Johan (Lindström, producer) and Theo acted like Gene Simmons had walked into the studio when Georg showed up. Very cute. But actually we kept the circle of musicians pretty tight. Whoever happened to be there at the moment got to play. Mostly it was Johan, Josef and Theo. Personally I got to début on drums. I think that says a lot.
Theodor: Johan is so fast at realizing ideas in the studio. He’s very good with piano, lap steel, synthesizers and stuff so it was easy to lay down the basic tracks with him.
Jörgen: You’ve both been in this game for quite a while. What’s it like making records in Sweden today compared to when you first started out?
Titiyo: Well…downloading has changed things I guess. I stings a little when you’ve put so much work into a project, both creatively and money-wise. And then someone can just click a button and snatch it. On the other hand it’s been very good for making music in an artistic sense. The indie world has gotten bigger and more small acts are making it now.
I think artist are getting back to what it was like a hundred years ago. You get by playing for meals and a few pints (laughs).
It has to be said though, that the big loser in this are the major labels, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.
Theodor: Everything is less grand I guess. Not just because you’ve made a lot of records, but because budgets keep shrinking. Also there are a lot of records being released now, which makes for a more indifferent attitude among music fans.
Jörgen: But if there’s no money to be made in music you might as well make exactly the kind of music you feel like?
Titiyo: Yeah, and then you are free! I think about that a lot…might be nice to have another job on the side. I’m actually looking into that.
Jörgen: Will we see more music from Keep Company?
Titiyo: I think so, definitely. It’s about timing of course. There are songs to be written…kids to feed, that sort of thing. But I’m pretty sure we have another album in us. Theo wants us to go to Africa to record. He’s really in to black music. Me I mostly stick to white music it seems (laughs).
Jörgen: Can you give us five albums you need to hear before you die?
Wrecking Ball – Emmylou Harris
Hejirah – Joni Mitchell
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Also some good classical stuff…Mozart, Chopin…
The Very Best Of – Maria Callas
It’s a bit boring but Dylan’s been my single biggest inspiration so…
Shot Of Love
Time Out Of Mind