Interview: Nils Folke Valdemar

Nils Folke Valdemar - Photo courtesy of Nils Folke Valdemar

Nils Folke Valdemar - Photo courtesy of Nils Folke Valdemar

Nils Folke Valdemar is at odds with himself.

The Swedish singer-songwriter is a bit of an enigmatic contradiction, but endearingly so – both hesitatingly well-articulated and commandingly soft-spoken, torn between writing and performing, between nostalgia and progression, between the desire to stay hidden and the need to be honest.

The first of these conflicts is the result of Valdemar’s theory that a song is never just a song. This is why some of his will take years to finish and others have yet to see the light of day – because he doesn’t always feel they’re complete.

“Even old songs I’ve recorded, I keep doing different versions of them…because the recording will never be the song,” he said. “The recording is just a recording of a version.”

Instead, Valdemar insisted his live renditions of music are where the songs come to life, doing the work he feels they’re intended to do.

“You have to see my shows to know what I’m about…because that’s where it all comes together,” he said. “If you listen to the recordings it’s just a part of it. Like, I’m only in it for the live thing.”

Such a statement coming from a musician like Valdemar, whose only show in the past nine months was last week’s Indie Pop Days festival, might come across as odd, but considering his admitted propensity toward shyness, it makes sense.

“I [get] stage fright and I get very nervous and I behave oddly, but I still like playing live,” he said, highlighting the catch-22 aspect of relishing something that also makes him uncomfortable. “[But] I prefer playing…small shows, or at least in small spaces, where you can see all the people.”

Yet even when Valdemar isn’t releasing music or playing shows – both of which has taken a backseat due to work – he maintained he’s still an active musician, whether that means practicing regularly to keep the songs fresh or rethinking his approach to songwriting. His current preoccupation, however, is figuring how to step back from the music a bit. Not the music itself per se, but the way in which it is created and captured.

“I’ve sort of painted myself into a corner with too much equipment,” he said, explaining the cost of improving at his craft as one of the reasons why he is more reluctant to record so much. “I want it to sound like I’m playing live in the room, but it’s hard to get that feeling when you record on hi-fi equipment, so I need to step down, I guess.”

Additionally, as he’s become better at crafting tunes and recording them, Valdemar feels as though, through the process of improving, something unique is also lost.

“I don’t really like the idea of knowing what you’re doing. Like, when I know what I’m doing in music I get bored,” he said. “I want it to be a new experience all the time.”

This is why, he explained, the music he made in his early years of songwriting tends to be his favourite overall.

“I like my first recordings the most…because they’re as simple as they could get,” he said. “And sometimes I think that was the best music I’ll ever make.”

Another component contributing to his fond outlook on the past is the naïve tendency of most solo songwriters to be more candid when first starting out.

“One of the hardest parts is to be honest and sort of dare to show people what you’re doing, [and] I’m way too shy to sort of push everything out there,” he said, sharing that sincerity is what he strives to accomplish in his music. “[But] I like my early recordings because they were so honest.”

Still, there is a payoff in the honesty, regardless of the fact that it doesn’t come as easily as it did in his early years.

“I find it rewarding and cleansing to be able to express yourself in a way that’s so direct and so honest,” Valdemar said. “It’s really hard to do…but when you sing it, it’s like so so much more direct.”

And it’s that directness that both scares and validates Valdemar, as he attempts to be truthful yet reserved, and to keep his emotional distance without putting on a persona.

Ultimately, it is not philosophizing about the logistics of things, but rather the songs themselves that help him reconcile all the conflicts in his songwriting world. And at the end of the day, the subtle balances are tipped in favour of the music, which is what he said it all comes down to.

“The best part of writing music is the music,” Valdemar said. “[And] if it was more bad than good, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

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