Maria Linden of I Break Horses on My Bloody Valentine and why fans are more like soulmates
I Break Horses (due tonight with M83 at the Ogden Theatre) started out as the bedroom project of Maria Lindén. Chances are, if she hadn't been in contact with Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins and Bella Union fame (the label that also released a few albums by the Czars from Denver), we never would have heard Lindén's hauntingly gorgeous songs. She named the band after a song by Bill Callahan, even though her music sounds like nothing that guy has ever done. But it's a fitting metaphor for reigning in her own anxieties and fears to be able to take her music to an actual audience, though she rightfully prefers to refer to those who come see her music as soulmates.
Along with her partner in the project, Fredrik Balck, Lindén put out Hearts in 2011, an album that was met with critical acclaim. We spoke with the incredibly gracious and charming Lindén as she was at home in Sweden about how she got into playing the sort of dream pop she now creates, how hearing My Bloody Valentine was a big turning point in her artistic development, how she has learned to overcome a kind of perfectionism with her art and her love of the films of Wim Wenders.
Westword: Is it true that in Sweden you are required to learn two musical instruments in school? Which ones did you learn to play, and what do you feel that classical upbringing helped in your current musical endeavors?
Maria Lindén: Yes, that's true. And I think I owe a lot to that, actually. Being able to start having music classes from a very early age. I think for every Swedish musician, they are happy about this because they are able to, and it doesn't cost a fortune, and everybody can learn how to play an instrument.
Which instruments did you learn?
I was forced by my parents. They really wanted me to play the violin. Not forced, but it was negotiated. My mother really wanted me to play the violin, so she said, "Oh, you can pierce your ears if you start playing the violin." I really wanted to play the piano instead. We agreed on the violin, plus piano. Then I got some really nice earrings. I started with that and I think my music teacher understood pretty quickly that I was more interested in the piano, so the violin thing slowly [went away]. Maybe I played for eight years, probably, but then we played more and more piano so that's what I played during school time.
How did you get into playing anything that wasn't classical music?
I played classical music and a bit of jazz during school, but I think it was probably my brother that lead me into a different type of music from the start. My older brother, I always looked up to him very much, and he listened to a different type of music. I don't know, when I started to find an interest in the type of music I make now, I think it was when I first heard My Bloody Valentine and the Loveless album, because I had never heard anything like that before. I froze when I heard that album. That was the best I had ever heard, and I fell in love immediately.
There was something about those harmonies and their way of combining distorted and weird sounds with very beautiful melodies that I felt was really for me. So that was my turning point, because before that, I had been listening to regular, radio, pop kind of music. But that was the first time I heard something that truly changed what I started to listen to.
When you were trying to create those sounds, were you playing guitar?
I started to play the guitar during school as well but I didn't take any lessons. I started playing in bands and I got this ugly guitar from my parents. This electric guitar I wished for for such a long time, and they got me this really metal kind of guitar that I started to play in bands with. When I started to create those sounds, it was on that electric guitar. Obviously with a lot of effects pedals and stuff, you can make beautiful and weird noises with a piano as well. But at that time, I didn't have those effects, and it's a bit difficult to make those songs with a piano. But yeah, that's where it started. I got an electric guitar and tried to figure out to make those crazy sounds.
You were using effects pedals pretty early on?
I was about sixteen when I started to play the electric guitar. It takes quite a while, and I come from this tiny, tiny place in the southern part of Sweden, where you don't even have effects pedals to buy. So it was when I first moved to Stockholm where they have a lot more things, instrument-wise, and where I understood that, "Okay, I will need tons of effects pedals to create those kinds of sounds."
Nowadays, and for this album, I probably had like ten different effects pedals connected to my synthesizers and guitar. But at that time, it was frustrating because I knew it wouldn't work with just a distortion pedal. I would need some more weird things to work with to create those sounds. It developed over a long period of time beginning with figuring out how each effect worked.
In that November 2011 interview with the Quietus, you mentioned Stina Nordenstam. When did you first hear her and why was hearing her music a turning point for you?
I guess I should have mentioned her first. [Her music] was my first turning point and not My Bloody Valentine, that came later. It was about the same thing that happened as with My Bloody Valentine. There was something with her voice that was really special, very fragile and coming from another musical world, if you like, when you grow up with classical music. The same kind of experience when I heard My Bloody Valentine, though that was one step further toward a more noisy kind of sound. But I learned that I really liked the nerve that she had.
In your interviews, it seems obvious you're a very private person. What motivated you to share your music with anyone at all?
That's a very good question because I'm a very solitary kind of person. I spend a lot of time on my own and it's been a huge step to actually release an album because when I was making this music, it wasn't my intention to create an album, actually. I've always been interested in making film music and working with music in a different way. I think that's because I am a solitary kind of person who freaks out standing on stage. It was a big step but it started more with a friendship with the owner of the label.
Simon Raymonde of the Cocteau Twins, right?
Yes, exactly. I just ended up with a record deal and even if it wasn't my intention from the start, I felt like I wanted to do it anyway because suddenly I felt this urge that I wanted other people to listen to what I've been creating on my own in my tiny bedroom. It just changed the more I worked on songs. Of course we were very nervous to let go of a piece of music we made on our own and no one has heard it, and suddenly, with the release on Bella Union, I knew a lot of people would hear it. So it was kind of nerve-wracking. But I had an urge to release it anyway. And I'm happy I did.
How did you meet Simon Raymonde and come to work with Bella Union? Obviously the Cocteau Twins' musical connection resonates with your own work.
Exactly, exactly. It was a long time ago. I think it was back in 2007 when I first started talking to him on Myspace back when that was something people were doing. I just put some demos up there and that's when he contacted me. He wanted to hear some more, and we started to become friends and seeing if we could possibly work together.
It developed into a record deal, and they are a great label to be working with, and I'm happy it turned out that way. They're really beautiful people, and they really give the artist a lot of freedom to develop and do their own thing. That's really, really helpful. They are wonderful to work with in that way.