Carl Liungman in interview on his solo piano debut album Born – “burgeoning, searching and hopeful”

Carl Liungman is a Swedish pianist whose music is oddly enchanting. Releasing his debut album at 48 years of age, he’s established his particular style through years of film music, […]

Written By Noel Maurice

On May 22, 2020
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Carl Liungman is a Swedish pianist whose music is oddly enchanting. Releasing his debut album at 48 years of age, he’s established his particular style through years of film music, providing backing to experimental poetry slams and working as a bar pianist.

Carl Liungman is influenced by neoromanticism, neoclassicism and modern minimalism, and he is particularly fond of displaying the contrasts of the light, harmonic structures of the 18th and 19th centuries together with jazz, pop and complex contemporary music structures.

This is minimalistic piano music, burgeoning, searching and hopeful, that opens up both the living room and inner room of the listeners heart. Neither major nor minor chords are dominating, transforming the music into a quaint soundscape with the naivety, self-assurance and wonder of a child. Born is piano music devoted to its simplicity and intimacy, as understated as it is energetic, like the melancholy of reflection, in the light of life.

Photo Credit Gabriel Flores Jair, Sweden

indieRepublik: You’ve played piano from a young age…at what point did you realise it was something that would be central to your life, a career that you would pursue?

Already very early on after I started taking piano lessons I felt that the piano was my instrument. I didn’t start especially early, rather I was 9-10 years old. But I was target-oriented with the piano. In Sweden we have music schools for everyone financed by taxes, so it was not a thing for ”only the wealthy”. You could choose an instrument, and the tutor saw potential for me with the trumpet. But I immediately chose the piano instead. Don’t know why. No one in my family played any instruments except for my grandfather playing some piano and violin at times when I visited my grandparents. But I grew up in a home with a lot of rock music on the stereo (Rolling Stones, The Beatles etc.) and also classical music (a lot of Mozart) as well as experimental (Tangerine Dream).

“This is minimalistic piano music, burgeoning, searching and hopeful”

I also watched many movies with my film-history-studying mother and was very fond of film music. I was a careful listener. I observed things: pictures and music, and went to art exhibitions with my mother as well.

At the age of 12-14 I recognized my particular abilities to remember music and melodies and to mimic and play music I heard on TV series and in films. And to improvise on the piano from that ability with memory that I had. I started songwriting and to cooperate with other musicians. Got my home studio in the mid 80s and started playing Jazz piano at the age of 16-18.

I took part in national Swedish talent and music competitions and became a finalist in the Sweden Got Talent competition of the time. It was at this age, between sixteen and eighteen, that I came to the point that music would be central to my life, a career.

Studying at the university in Lund, Sweden I started working as a bar pianist. This trained my songwriting and Jazz piano a lot. After that I went to a Classical composition school where I met the late, great Swedish composer Sven-David Sandström. He inspired me saying the core of music making is to never let go of your first idea/concept. Work with your concept of music and work it through no matter what other people say.

indieRepublik: Your debut album is out on 22nd May 2020 – how do you feel about its release? Was it a long time coming? Are you excited or nervous or both?

In the big picture it was really a long time coming! Haha. I am 48 years old. But as they say about some creative people – it seems like I am a late bloomer. There’s also an explanation for this. It started around ten years ago when I met my lovely girlfriend (we are not married) Malin. She is a great musician too. I started to evolve in my piano playing and improvisational songwriting. She made me see and explore and evolve my own way of playing the piano. After a lot of Internet contacts in the music business on SoundCloud I got great feedback on my piano music and with Malin’s support I wrapped it up around 2017-18 and in December 2019 I decided to record ten songs I felt could fit in my story BORN. A story of my life or of someone else’s life. A universal musical life story.

I am really excited. But also quite calm inside of me. Because it feels natural. Like the album has finally arrived to me. The first one. More is to come! I am a bit nervous when it comes to live sessions. To play live in front of audiences. I have done it a lot, but not very much as a solo pianist for a crowd of focused listeners paying to see me perform.

indieRepublik: Could you tell us about the record; what the inspiration was, how it came about, why you put these pieces together…?

As I explained in the previous question I started to wrap my improvisational piano music together a couple of years ago. The pieces became entities that started to fit together. Both in the expression, the harmonies and the story I want to tell with my instrumental music. There is a lot of the art of film making in me. I don’t see pictures but I get inspired by rhythm in the picture editing, atmospheres and messages in films and how these work together with the soundtrack. For example in The Godfather (Nino Rota), Inception and Interstellar (Hans Zimmer), Once Upon A Time In America (Ennio Morricone). And also music in old 70s and 80s TV series as The Macahans, North and South and The Hulk (Joe Harnell) Those examples inspired me musically for the album BORN.

indieRepublik: How did you come to work with the label COMEDIA?

I have been living and working in Stockholm for several years and met Claes Olson/Comedia in the music business in Stockholm. I visit seminars, concerts and also beside my music, I work with cultural politics in an organisation for artists’ unions in Sweden.

Claes Olson and I started talking and I noticed that we both have the experience of the rock and songwriters scene in Sweden, and also a personal interest in the music that I work with. Claes is fond of Philip Glass and Mike Oldfield and others. And I think both Claes and I saw a potential in starting working together.

“I had tried several grand pianos and contacted studios. But it was when I heard about the Benny Andersson (ABBA) studio on the beautiful inner city island of Skeppsholmen in Stockholm that I was curious.”

I have never entirely stayed in one or another genre of music. For example I have never started my own Jazz trio, and not a rock band, and not stayed in the genre of Classical composers. I have tried it all but I’m focused on my own style of music and own way of handling my music creation as walking in a track in no specific music genre.

indieRepublik: You recorded the album in the studio RIKSMIXNINGSVERKET , which belongs to Benny ANDERSSON from ABBA. Was that the label’s choice or yours?

It was my own choice. I had tried several grand pianos and contacted studios. But it was when I heard about the Benny Andersson studio on the beautiful inner city island of Skeppsholmen in Stockholm that I was curious. I contacted the studio engineer there, Linn Fijal, and we coped well. She is nice and calm as a person and very professional in the music studio business in Sweden, as I heard from a number of people. And when the Fazioli grand piano felt great to me I decided to record my album there. I made it in a couple of hours on a calm December day in 2019.

indieRepublik: You speak specifically on finding that the piano there fitted your playing. What was the piano – and how much does the specific piano you’re playing influence your playing, and in what way?

I listened to the Benny Andersson solo piano album that he recorded on that Fazioli grand piano. And I heard that the microphones and the piano itself had the tone of sharp treble, but not too sharp, and a massive tone in the low registers. When I tried playing this piano myself I felt immediately that the mechanics of the keys was nice and in my taste. It has to be a quite light key feeling and quick response in the keys for my way of playing the piano. The instrument itself influences my playing a lot. I can even have difficulties playing on some pianos and really bad playing sometimes on digital pianos. I work with the key response in my inspiration during my playing.

indieRepublik: Apparently the studio specialises in having an array of unusual microphones – any particular standout mics that you used in your recording?

I myself am not very much into the world of microphones and that wasn’t an issue for me. But of course I asked Linn Fijal in the studio about the microphones. Then I trusted her professionalism and knowledge. And of course the main reason for my decision to record there was the Benny Andersson solo piano recordings from that studio that I listened to. I loved the ”crispy” clear sound. My recording was made using the Thuresson CM402 and the AKG C24.

indieRepublik: You mix 18th and 19th century music with an interest in both jazz and pop…how does that come about – and how does it influence your music?

It is my childhood with hearing a mixture of jazz, rock and pop as well as Classical and experimental electronic music. I am both trained as a Classical pianist (I love Peter Jablonski) and as a Jazz pianist (and love Keith Jarrett and Esbjorn Svensson). And also as a pop pianist (I like Elton John or John Legend piano).

Combining Classical techniques with more ”chordwise” jazz piano playing have enabled me to explore my own way of handling the piano. I see every genre as important. Every style can inspire. No one is wrong or bad. Every musician, every pianist has his or her own universe of playing and for me to study and explore.

The expression of the 18th and 19th centuries inspire me. And the expression of Stravinsky in the 20th for example. As do the expression of the ones I mention above.

indieRepublik: You also make music for film scores, is that correct? Could you tell us something about that?

I started in the 90s making music for theatre plays, photo exhibitions, live poetry slams and short cut films. But I want to get back into the soundtrack business more these days. Have been paused a couple of years. Music for computer games interests me too.

indieRepublik: What could you tell us about yourself that might surprise people?

Hard question to answer. Haha. ? I am quite good at carpenting, constructing and building houses as well as stone walls etc. And I work hard with my precious piano hands, sometimes too hard and too challenging for my own best interest. Of course I am careful in not getting hurt. But maybe this is a good surprising answer from a pianist?

Another thing is that I am left handed in writing and everything. But my fastest and best piano hand is my right hand. I find this interesting myself. ?

indieRepublik: Coronavirus has made performing music difficult; and pushed even more at how precarious a musician’s life and livelihood is…how would you like to see things change after the virus citation ends? And how – if at all – do you think things will change?

This is a big issue and an important question, which is hard to give a brief reply to. I work with cultural political issues in Sweden and follow the debate. The music business is very peculiar when it comes to the creators and the small amount of money in the business that is given the music creators, the composers and musicians. It is shameful that the big music businesses earn so much money and that they keep most of the money for themselves. The content makers must be rewarded much better in the future. But of course there is an issue with all amateur makers of music competing with the professionals, and how to make differences between the money being paid for professional music and for hobby music making.

After the virus crises I hope we see a better debate in the music business about the content makers and their salaries. The money flow is wrong and way out of proportion at the moment.

indieRepublik: Please tell us where we can find your album, and where we’ll see you playing when the venues open up again (outside of Sweden).

My solo piano album BORN is available digitally worldwide on several music streaming services. In a while the album will also be available on CD and LP.

I hope to be able to play live outside Sweden in Germany and other countries when societies open up again. I love Berlin, but have not been there in many years. I’d love to travel to Berlin for a concert

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