Swedish band Blues Pills managed to build very strong position all around the world over the years, including my home country Czech Republic. Their approach towards rock’n’roll, psychedelic rock or dirty soul helped them to build very loyal fan base and to become a leading element within “retro rock” wave. Band’s frontwoman Elin Larsson, which accepted an invitation for this interview, is one of the reasons for this success. Our chat was very relaxed and next to some news within her private life, we also spoke about her image, preferences within microphones, personal philosophy and why Aretha Franklin is her biggest inspiration. I conducted already a couple of interviews with Blues Pills members and I extremely appreciate this long term cooperation, as it allowed us to talk openly about some frustrating challenges associated with their latest album Holy Moly!.
This interview took place late July 2020 and it was originally used for a front cover interview in Czech magazine Muzikus, issue February/2021.
Did you manage to spend recent months of pandemic doing something you were keeping on a side? Finish reading a book, learning a new language or doing a spring cleaning in the garage?
I got married two days ago. (Laugh)
That’s amazing. Big congratulations!
Thank you! (Laugh) I think what I’ve learned through this pandemic was cooking, saving and using everything in order to skip going to the store all the time. My mom was always a huge inspiration to me, as she is an amazing chef. She could make an amazing dish even from the leftovers in the fridge. Next to that I signed up for a German and a Spanish class.
That’s great. Big respect for language lessons. If you want, we can keep it off the record, but if I may ask, where did you get married? Did it take place somewhere in the nature, with your close family and friends only?
Yeah, we were outside. It was only the closest family and one friend. We were in the woods next to a lake, so we were keeping our distances, but it was really nice.
That’s amazing, plus a huge dedication towards the band. I would expect, two days after marriage, you would be on a honeymoon.
Yeah. (Laugh) My husband Anders, has two kids from before, so we were just spending time with them. Now they’re going back to their mom, so I think we will do something these days, maybe next weekend. Traveling abroad is not an option right now, but we will figure out something to spend some time together. (Laugh)
Therefore I am really interested to know where does all that roughness on the new album comes from, as you seem really pissed off, really motivated and there is a huge portion of roughness. But you seem really in love and enjoying getting married.
(Laugh) We finished songs around 2019. We had a rough year before that. Not with my husband, but within the band, you know. Especially in 2018 when Dorian left the band and we had a break with a lot of shit going on. I lost my family member and my little dog in an accident.
Sorry to hear about that.
Yeah, and I lost my friend and some of our friends died as well. Out of nowhere. So it was mentally hard. Like, you know, we though the year-off would be fine. Because when you’re on tour, and you work so much, you don’t really “stay at home”. When you get home, you pay the bills and you’re off again. So all this stuff kind of builds up and you have to deal with it eventually. And I think this album is about that.
A couple of previous years were mentally hard and I think Holy Moly! is about that.
It was a shock when I heard about a separation with Dorian. I must say I enjoy his solo work and we spoke shortly before he joined Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge as a support for his solo tour. With the new album, I was really impressed how Zack took over the responsibilities within a guitar. I remember him as an impressive bass player, but he handled the guitar bloody impressively. I was a little bit worried at first, but he also has a taste for slow melancholic tracks, which I’m a big fan in Blues Pills.
I mean, he’s always been the one making all the riffs. It was always me and Zack writing the songs. Dorian, songwriting-wise, never wrote a song. But Zack never felt comfortable about being a solo guitarist, because he’s never done that. During the time when it was very unsure if Dorian is going to be in the band or if he was going to quit, I think he started to prepare. And he practiced and practiced and practiced. So when we were recording the album, I mean, he saw it as just another practice. That’s one of the reasons why I admire him so much, as when he gets an idea, he really gets super focused on it. And then he plays and plays and plays and plays. And I think he’s doing a great job. I’m just like, why didn’t we do this before? (Laugh) I think he’s awesome.
Beautiful rough voice
While you were talking about the challenges from the previous two years, what were your personal tricks to handle them? I went through some challenges in the past two years and I mainly relied on a morning meditation, evening yoga, good time with friends, running and losing myself in the forest on the weekends. What were your tricks, if I might ask?
Working out! (Laugh) I started to run big time, before the release of Lady In Gold. I ran so much, because I have ADHD. So when I get into something, I really get into it and I overdo it. Eventually, I got an infection on my leg. I did, I don’t know how you count it, but we count in Swedish miles, which is like ten kilometers. And I was running like one and a half Swedish mile, like every day, even and on tour. But when you do the running, you kind of break down all your muscles, you don’t build them. So now I also started to build muscles. So I go to the gym a lot. And I’m also having a doctor here that is helping me with my ADHD, so I get it under control. I am not taking any medication, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I’m just enjoying life.
Bravo, but talking about smoking, when I played a couple of tracks to my friends, during number of random, mainly barbeque events, everybody was asking me: “Great band man, but where the hell does the singer got this beautiful girl this roughness in her voice? God, smoking or is it just the maturity of the voice?” Where did you manage to get that sexy Phoebe voice?
(Laugh) I have something on my vocal cords, since I was a kid. We can call it a predisposition. I check it out every time with my doctor, when I come from a tour and he says: “I can see you have a very bluesy and rocky voice!” So I guess I was just sort of born with it.
Next to seeing a doctor once in a while, do you do some daily vocals practices and workouts?
Yeah. Because when I started to see this doctor, he kind of gave me an ultimatum, because my voice was fucked up when I got home from a tour. It was some time around our first album, I think. I was drinking and smoking, so he said: “You know, you have to choose now, because this is your career. Do you want to stay healthy and sing? Or do you want to drink and never sing again?” So that’s when I made my decision and it all lead to a healthy lifestyle. I’m a vegetarian, almost vegan, and I work out my vocal cords. I do warm up and warm down. I changed a lot. (Laugh)
My doctor told me few years ago: “Do you want to stay healthy and sing? Or do you want to drink and never sing again?”
Alternatives & Experiments
And as I promised, this is a gear oriented magazine. Therefore I was just wondering if there are some your favorite brands of microphones to use either live or in studio.
I use live the brand called Audix, which works very well for me, because in the past, it was very hard for me to hear myself, as it’s loud out there. Plus this mic catches the sound from one direction. It doesn’t pick up the environmental sounds. So that I use a lot but I am really not such a gear nerd. Like Zack, I mean, he knows everything about gear. Recently I bought my vocal mic that I used for recording of Holy Moly!. It’s from Beesneez Microphones, which is like a copy of Neumann. I bought it in Australia before it even got on the market. It’s supposed to be the best recording mic for female voices and I love this microphone.
Any sort of effects? Anything in that area?
No, I don’t have any. But I’m thinking about it. It would be cool to try out some pedals. Like some parts of you know, when we go live, that was my plan, but I am pretty much natural.
If you were supposed to get some ideas regarding the pedals, where would you go to ask? Zack is probably the first options, but I believe within the Facebook group of Blues Pills fans, there might be some gear nerds and you would make them very happy, if you would ask them for their opinion.
Yeah. Not a bad idea. (Laugh) But I don’t have any Facebook, right now. I deleted it. But, I think my dad is in that group.
Elegance & Roughness
And while we’re talking about life and the importance of relying on certain things live, I’m just wondering, where do you get your beautiful clothes? Do you have some favorite artists who are making the clothes for you, favorite store or a small design store?
I usually always go to thrift stores and you know, second hand stores. So I usually find them there. And I also have a friend Marit. She has a great store and I usually buy her stuff. She used to have a store in San Francisco called Lucy In Desguise. She helped me a lot, especially during our first EP releases. I also love to get inspired by movie stars and rock and rollers like Sharon Tate, Stevie Nicks and Debbie Harry. But I have a favorite store right now, it’s called & Other Stories. I think it’s a sister brand to H&M. But it’s like more it’s more expensive and they have designers, so it fits your body very well. You can tell somebody putted love into it.
You have a great taste and it was proven multiple times, when I saw you live, including a show in Tourcoing in the northern France, while we were on the trip with my friend, nuclear chemist now living in France, around Benelux. You looked amazing.
Oh wow! Thank you!
Same goes to your latest album Holy Moly!, which I am enjoying for some time thanks to a press download. We spoke about roughness and edginess, but when somebody hears Kiss My Past Goodbye, I mean, in what mood were you to say: “Kiss It Bitch!”? Come on. Where does it come from?
(Laugh) Yeah I finished the lyrics last on that one and through the whole recording I have the line “Kiss My Ass Goodbye”. Then when I’m saying “Kiss It Bitch”, it has plenty of the attitude already, so we changed it into “Kiss My Past Goodbye”. I think it has a lot of more attitude already. I’ve grown and matured and I stopped giving a fuck anymore, about what people are saying, you know. Throughout the years in Blues Pills, I matured a lot.
With age comes a taste for maturity, but also keeping the balance. I would like to share with you one of the best Czech female fronted bands called Nil, with a frontwoman Hanka. She has also an energetic style, but her singing sometimes goes so wild and screamy that even her co-players have to calm her down one in a while. It is breathtaking, amazing but sometimes it goes over the edge. Do you have an alarm in your head, to keep the balance and careful about the limits?
No, not on this one. Not at all. I’ve learned that from working with Don Alsterberg our former producer on Lady in Gold album. He taught me a lot about using also my small voice to sort of make my chest voice come in the right place. Because otherwise, if I use my chest voice all the time, it doesn’t have the right effect. I guess it’s the same with drums or guitar. You want harshness on the right places. So for me, I just have those thoughts in mind. But I also wanted to do it from my soul and my heart, because it’s such a real album. And so whenever I had like, a shit day, and I was pissed off, I recorded songs for Dreaming My Life Away or Low Road. And then, when I was pretty depressed, sad and falling apart, I did let California. So, that’s privilege of us having our own studio that we built. So when you record an album, that’s not how it goes usually, as you don’t have so much time and freedom.
If we move to another track, you did a right move placing Proud Woman, as an introduction song, to get the energy up. I remembered right away amazing British jazz band called Sons of Kemet. They named their last album Your Queen Is a Reptile and it is dedicated to inspirational black and African American women. So, I’m just wondering which women inspired you mainly for this track?
Yeah, I mean, one of the biggest inspirations for this song was my step daughter, which is seven. I was having her in mind. And then also one of my biggest idols, Aretha Franklin. She had a very fucking hard life. She had her first baby when she was twelve and her mom disappeared when she was four. She was also dealing with alcoholism and all these things. So I always have Aretha Franklin in mind. And this was just, you know, like an anthem to all women and people believing and striving for equality. You know, I’m not singing specifically about me. But at the same time, I wanted to emphasize to be just who you are, and be that person. Not to, you know, be something you’re not, and be proud of that.
When I was thinking about your fascination for Aretha Franklin, I was relating it to my long term professional challenge. I used to be very stressed that I am not able to reach a level of my older colleagues, as their experienced things, I am only able to read about. My generation has to catch up, but at the same time be aware of the latest releases. At some point I was experiencing a huge stress from the number of new releases. I learned to work with that but were you experiencing sth as: “Oh my god Aretha is so amazing. I will never be able to express myself as she did!”?
I mean, it’s always like, there is obviously one Aretha Franklin, one Janis Joplin. Yeah, we’re females and they’re my inspiration. But I think, for me in rock music, I had a hard time. I mean, I was always into soul, when I was a kid. There were not many female artists, I could look up to doing rock and metal. I mean, my first inspiration in life within heavier music was Ozzy Osbourne. Then it was Jim Morrison from The Doors. So, I think when I wrote this song, I thought this song should have been written years ago. But the cool thing about Aretha Franklin is, I was amazed by her voice when I was a kid, but now I really understand, what she meant. What she had to struggle with, as a black American woman in this industry, doing the cover of Respect at that time. I would never even think about competing with her. Because somehow she gave me my voice, because she was my teacher, as that was the music, I was listening to as a kid. Both her and Tina Turner, they are gods. I rather sing in in honor to them and do what I can. But I would never compete with them like this.
Few years ago, I had a great chat with Zack about his top ten favorite albums. He mentioned among many others Marvin Gaye, Fleetwood Mac or Curtis Mayfield. Was there for you recently some cool discovery fro sixties or seventies, where you said: “How come, I didn’t know about this before?”
It was probably Marsha Hunt. She has a record called Woman Child from 1971 and I have that record. I’m so proud of having that on vinyl. She had a kid with Mick Jagger and they were even married I believe. But then of course he was in the spotlight, so people tend to forget about her. She did a great cover Dr. John’s song called Walk On Gilded Splinters on this album. She has an amazing edginess in her voice and a taste for depth and a rhythm. You should definitely check her out. She’s awesome.
Thank you for your tip and doing this interview. I am more than sure, you will get some more positive feedbacks on your latest album and I really hope to see you soon in Czech Republic.
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this interview. You’re so nice.
Thank you. I really enjoyed it as well. Have a beautiful day.
You too. Take care. Bye bye.