Since she up and left the Concretes in what seemed like drop-of-a-hat notice back in 2006, Victoria Bergsman has become one of Sweden's most intriguing artists. Known to most people as the female voice on Peter Bjorn & John's smash hit "Young Folks," Victoria's solo career under the name Taken By Trees has been busy yet inexplicably underappreciated. After signing to Rough Trade, she's released two exquisite statements: her gorgeously understated 2007 debut, Open Field, and most recently, last September's East of Eden, one of the most beautiful records no one seems to have heard. To record her second album, Victoria retreated to Pakistan, a country known for its rich musical history but also its temperamental social and political environment ― not exactly the ideal place for a curious white Swedish female to go wandering. But despite the inherent risk, Taken By Trees was able to prosper creatively by recruiting a cast of amateur local Sufi musicians to give her meek, plaintive folk-pop exotic grace. Victoria took some time from her recent tour with El Perro del Mar to answer some questions about her expedition, as well as giving Animal Collective's hit a sex change.
What made you decide to go to Pakistan to record the album?
I had been listening to a lot of Indian and Pakistan music and loved how they used drums and percussion. I wanted to try and integrate those beats into my music. Also I felt the need to do something very different and far away from any traditional way of recording an album in a studio. Pakistan seemed mysterious and unexplored in a sense that not many Western or any Western musicians had gone there to record music.
Were you aware of the difficulties in travelling and working over there?
Indeed. It took me almost four months to be able to actually get a visa and invitation to enter the country. I think I was prepared but when I got there none of the preparations really mattered ― reality was so much stronger and right in my face. Far from what I could ever had imagine...
Was there any particular time where you didn't feel safe? Were there any unpleasant incidents?
I attended an Ashura Ceremony in the countryside, where men and young boys torture themselves in sympathy for a specific prophet that had been tortured to death. It was one of the most extreme experiences I've ever witnessed. So brutal. Also I had heard that women had been stoned to death when trying to get into a ceremony like this. Even though our host made sure everything was safe and promised nothing would happen to us I felt very afraid. I still have nightmares from what I saw there.
How did National Geographic pick up the film you made? Was that their idea or yours?
Well it is not a documentary for National Geographic, it is an EPK a friend [Marcus Söderlund, who also directed the "My Boys" video] of mine helped me do. It was made as a press film to help journalists doing their job in not asking the same questions over and over, since my experience in Pakistan was quite tough and I don´t feel like going over it again and again. National Geographic liked the film and asked if they could show it. I felt a bit awkward about it at first since it was not made for the public, but we decided it could be a good exposure and that we could reach more people that could enjoy what I am doing.
Judging by the film, the scenery is stunning. Is it the kind of place you'd recommend for a holiday?
The scenery is stunning and breathtaking in many senses but no, I would not recommend it for your holiday. It is not very relaxing. But, of course, it depends on what you're after in a holiday.
You obviously picked up a lot from the culture over there. What did you learn from the musicians you worked with?
To be more playful and humble. Smile when the power cuts out every other hour and drink some tea. To be more happy for what I actually got instead of constantly searching for something better, faster, stronger…
How was working with Dan Lissvik from Studio as opposed to Bjorn Yttling? How do they differ in production style?
They are actually not so different. The only difference is that Dan worked most of the time by himself while I was in Stockholm, he kept sending me various mixes of songs he had made and I would phone him up and we would discuss the songs and then meet more towards the end of the process. Björn and I worked in the studio side by side for about a week. They are both very particular and accurate and they are both very playful and creative. Dan is more of a percussionist and Björn is a keyboard and bass person.
What do you hope to do next? Are you interested in exploring different cultures and countries for each album to find inspiration?
I am always curious to explore and learn more about other cultures and countries. I'm not sure where I will go next. It depends also in how my songs turn out and what they "need."
You covered Animal Collective's "My Girls" and switched the sexes for it. At what point did you decide to record that song? Will that ever be released as a single?
I felt very strongly for that song "My Girls," those harmonies are so beautiful. I just love that song and I felt I wanted to do it as an homage to Noah, to show how much I appreciated what he did for my song "Anna." There are no plans in releasing it as a single, there was a video made though.
What made you decide to cover "Sweet Child O' Mine"? Did you ever think it would become such a success?
I guess I was into a Guns N' Roses phase a few years ago and I played around with the idea of covering one of their songs and so I finally did. No, I did not realize it would be such a success, how could I?!