Swedish singer-songwriter Skott is a tricky popstar to categorize. Since her debut single "Porcelain" (2016), she has been praised for her genre-defying sound, and in sitting down to speak with her, the reasons for this become clear—there is no hint of anything contrived about her as an artist; she seems, instead, to be guided by an intuition that translates into self-contained musical gems with their own unique identity. Her discography possesses an almost synaesthetic quality: she uses every resource at her disposal, whether it’s psychedelic visuals, rich soundscapes, or a versatile vocal register to manifest an emotion itself. Now, Skott has released her new Chapter 1 (Acoustic)—a collection of stripped-down renditions of some of her most career-defining songs so far.
Beginning with "Wolf," which garnered a “HOLY SHIT” reaction from Katy Perry back in 2016, she has replaced an entire orchestra with a single guitar, allowing her voice to become the main instrument. Moving seamlessly from husky, urgent verses to the fragile ululations of the chorus, she somehow manages to encapsulate the visceral pain of heartbreak in its most pure form. In the same vein, Skott has gone back to the basics for the accompanying music video: moving from the epic narratives and landscapes of her previous singles "Mermaid" (2017) and "Glitter and Gloss" (2017), she takes central focus for the first time. Sitting casually on her kitchen countertop, microphone in hand, the intimate setting feels as though she is personally seronading the listener inside her own home.
BUST caught up with Skott to talk about her latest release, inspiration during the pandemic, and her folk roots.
First of all, how are you? How have you been coping during the pandemic?
I'm good, thank you. Of course, it's been a bit strange not to do any live shows and stuff like that. But, to be honest, I spend so much time in the studio, which is kind of an isolated place already, so I've just focused on writing more music. It’s been really hard for other artists that had whole tours planned, but I didn't have any big tours coming up, so I've been okay.
Speaking of the studio, imagination seems to play a central role in your music both in terms of the songs and videos. Have you found quarantine to be a creative time?
Yeah, it has been. I feel like I've written a lot of new music. I think, absolutely, the creativity has been working, but you never know. What even makes you creative now is so strange and different, and the flow really goes up and down, but it's been okay. You just have to draw inspiration from other sources I guess. And, exactly, imagination is the thing. If you don't get to meet people that inspire you out in the world, then you can dive into a great video game or daydream.
Yes, I know that you’re a fan of video game music because of its transcendent nature. What music have you been listening to recently, and has it been able to transport you out of quarantine?
I've been writing so much that I’ve not been listening to music so much when I get home from the studio. That’s kind of the downside of working a lot with music: I tend to listen less to music during those periods. I need to rest my ears a little bit!
When you have spoken about your songs in the past, you talk about them almost as though they have a mind of their own, so I’m interested to hear where you begin when coming up with a particular song?
Yeah, that’s kind of something that just started to happen. I started to see some of the songs like that, and even covers of the songs. To be honest, I think it started with me being quite shy when I started as an artist. The first year, I was not very keen on the idea of having just my face on the covers. That felt a bit scary because I didn't like the camera, but it also didn't really inspire me, and I couldn't really connect my face to the music in the way that I wanted the cover to really connect with the music.
So, I started using my imagination—like, thinking about what visuals the music brought up for me. There are little symbols that are drawn into the picture, which are basically like a spirit animal or a spirit creature. It’s a fun part of the process to have this creature come to life and to imagine it when the song starts to form. And when I’ve finished the production, the creature gets more and more clear. And I try to put that on the cover.
Yeah, because visuals seem to be a very important part of your artistry.
Yeah, and it's really fun! And now I'm less shy with the camera, but I still really love this part when I get to meet the spirit creature for the song, so I continue to do that.
Now you’re releasing acoustic reworkings of your songs, which you’ve described as “stripped back and raw.” How does this bring out a different side or persona to the songs?
I haven't really done many acoustic or naked and raw productions, because I love the big worlds and different elements that I get to play around with when I do the big productions. But there's something so honest in just going back to how the song was initially written. For example, "Mermaid" just started as an instrumental piano song, and then eventually I played around with singing to it. So, it really feels like I’m going back to the roots of the music, which feels special, just to take it back to how it sounded in the room where it was created for the first time on just a piano or a guitar.
And it feels kind of simple to do just an acoustic version. I just love how I've been realizing that the few times I did live acoustic versions, that it's not necessarily simpler, as I have to focus even more when I sing because I have fewer tools to tell a story. So, you have to tell the story better. And so, though big productions are fun, it's almost as though you can hide behind that a bit too much. So, it's been a necessary part of my personal growth as a musician, as well as an artist, to make it so raw and honest; you can't really hide behind anything. So, here's my words, here's the song. Straightforward.
That’s quite refreshing with today’s pop music often being so heavily produced.
Oh yeah, it's very polished and often quite processed. I’ve also discovered that the lyrics also get to shine in a different light, because there's so many different things to think about with the big production stuff—which I love, but [with acoustic] all of a sudden, the words just come through in a completely different way. They strip it down, which has also been a very cool part about the acoustic EP creating process for me.
I think what also inspired me at the beginning to do this—and when I, [for] the first time, really understood how cool it is that that my music has reached someone in some way—was when I saw people for the first time doing their own acoustic versions of my songs. I still can get very emotional when I see an acoustic video of my song. You can't fully understand that that probably means the song has reached a few ears. Hopefully someone might have listened again because they liked it, and that's really cool to think of, but it's still hard to grasp and fully understand.
Sometimes I hear my songs in different ways when someone else makes a cover of it. That’s my favorite too—when people send a video of an acoustic version or when someone finds something on YouTube that I didn't even know about and shows me; like this choir singing one of my songs with an entire arrangement, it's jaw-dropping to me. So, I also got inspired to make covers by my fans, when they’re just with a guitar, playing the piano, or just singing in their bedroom. So, I wanted to share my own [acoustic] like this as well because it becomes personal in a different way.
And, of course, you haven’t been able to play live in the last year. Have these covers been a good way to kind of stay connected with your fans?
Absolutely, yeah. I released an album last year, and since then, I’ve been working on album number two. And meanwhile, I've wanted to stay connected since I couldn't perform or anything, but there wasn't any way to connect during the pandemic. So, that's also been a good thing about the acoustic versions, because you feel like you’re communicating something.
Your new video for "Wolf" is out now! What inspired the concept of this version?
Since it’s been a strange and isolated year, it’s been hard to do any grand things. So, my first thought was to do what people often do when they do acoustic versions: where you go to a nice studio and record the videos there. But I was thinking a bit about the purpose of doing this album and how I wanted it to feel more intimate. Then I came up with the idea to somehow make my apartment look vibey somehow so that I could share my home with fans. So, I ended up in the kitchen. I’m basically sitting on the counter-top in my small kitchen, which put me in the right mood and mindset for this, because you can get physically much closer to me. So, at first it felt like a stupid idea, but it turned out nice, so I'm happy I made that decision.
In general, when it comes to your videos, they often have grand and mysterious narratives. I’m interested to know how you come up with that imagery. Does the song come first, or do you have these visuals and concepts vaguely in your head before you come up with the song?
I think the melodies, chords, and harmonies come first. And then the lyrics come because the melodies and harmonies bring out some emotions, which I’m able to understand after a while. But also, around that point, I start to see some visuals in terms of environments or colors during the process, but I don't put so much attention on them at that point. So, I wouldn’t say it comes first because it definitely starts as some kind of urge in my tummy. And then the chords and the melody comes, and then some words and visuals start happening. But that’s an interesting question: when does it actually come to me? But I think it's around there.
When the production is in place, it gets way clearer because certain colors can really change depending on the sound of the production. It can take you from maybe a green forest world to some kind of sci-fi robot world depending on what I did with it. So, a lot can change, but I think the core will stay the same from the first raw song that is created, which is most often on the piano.
You had a very unique upbringing in a tiny community in Sweden with very strong folk roots. Does that continue to influence your music strongly?
I do think so. For me, it was a normal upbringing because I didn't know anything different, but I’ve realized to some people, it can sound a little weird. We had quite strong folk music and violin traditions. I would dare to say that every second person was playing the violin when I was growing up. So, we had big gatherings in the summer where you would just go out to the middle of the forest somewhere, and you would often wear folk costumes and play all night. It was really cool to be around that growing up because making music didn’t have to be so perfect. You can be the toddler with the violin and go and play with the best players. You’re always welcome even if you can only find one note and if you don't know the song but you just find a way to join. That mentality is so playful and open. So, I think it made me brave because I didn’t have to be perfect.
I went to music school later, where I tried Classical and Jazz, and there were so many people there who grew up with strict music rules their whole life. And there were right or wrong ways to play the instrument. So, I didn't do well at that school because I was playing the violin really wrong! But that was fine where I grew up, because no one really cared about the technical aspects so much, so I didn't become great, technically, as a musician. I have the same thing now with the piano, where I play it completely wrong, but I still play it in a way that works.
It also helps to train your ear as well because if you go and sit next to a group of people playing something, you try a little bit until you know the song, then you can play along. So, it was a lot about just listening and trying to figure it out. It’s not the end of the world if you do it wrong—as long as there's some kind of vibe or emotion. That’s really what it's about in the end. That’s what’s nice about pop music as well, because it can also be like that. You don't have to follow strict rules with either singing, instruments, or production.
The emphasis on emotions over technique must help with your song writing as well.
Yeah, I think it also brought me some courage, because I'm maybe not the person that would want to go up on stage at all if I didn't have something to show that I'm super proud of. I need to make songs that I can kind of lose myself in because I get really nervous on stage, so the only way for me to really enjoy being on stage is if I have a song that I can lose myself in, which I'm really proud of and that I want to show people.
And finally, your first song "Porcelain" came out five years ago in 2016. Do you have a standout moment from your career so far?
I think it would be during my first show outside Sweden. I remember being completely thrown off when people started singing my lyrics out loud, because I hadn't really processed or understood that my songs had reached somewhere or reached people in a different country. That was completely mind-blowing. I can't remember which country it was, but I remember that was a very special feeling.
Stream Skott's new EP here.
Photo credit: Peter St. James
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Gigi Michie is a graduate of The University of Cambridge with a degree in Classics. She loves books and films from all different cultures; particularly those that focus on the female experience. Follow her on instagram @gigimichie.