Sweden's David Carlson's Music Embodies Multi-Culturalism
There are some things that strike you immediately about David Carlson and despite his great talents as a songwriter, singer, guitarist and a poet, all of that takes a back seat to his personal achievements that are of far more importance, becoming sober eleven years ago when he won the battle over alcohol and after many years of being misdiagnosed, he finally obtained the appropriate medical assistance in the past couple of years and with the aid of the correct medication and hard work on his part he now effectively manages the bipolar part of his nature.
One of the more striking things that you notice about David Carlson when he speaks is the genuine sense of gratitude with which he lives his life. It is never pretense, but it flows as naturally from his lips as his beautiful vocals on songs such as “Till Alla Dom.” You hear the warmth and the pride in his voice as he pauses momentarily during our conversation to take a call from his son.
Carlson has worked with some of Sweden’s more prominent artists, as a member of the Raj Montana Band with Dan Hylander and Py Backman, a band that garnered four gold abums. He has also performed and / or recorded with Tove Naess, Susanne Alfvengren, Mikael Rickfors and the late Ted Gärdestad. Carlson toured as a member of The Crickets, which at the time included two original members of Buddy Holly’s band. Yet despite all of his musical accomplishments over the past four decades, at 56 years of age, David Carlson finds himself closer to a new beginning to his career than merely being someone quietly fading into the past. With a new found energy and a sense of purpose, his recording studio is humming along with a busy schedule, he has a new album in the works and he continues to dream of international concert tours.
From his home in Stockholm, Sweden, David Carlson spent more than three hours talking to us recently in a preamble to the actual interview, the interview and in follow-up conversations both on the phone and online.
Born in Göteborg (Gothenburg) in southern Sweden, to a Swiss mother and a Swedish father from the start he was exposed to a diversity of cultures and music. He is well traveled having studied during the 1970s at the Guitar Institute of Technology in Los Angeles, United States, now known as the Musicians Institute and visiting several countries including neighboring Denmark, India, France and Greece.
Diverse cultural and musical influences are evidenced in David Carlson’s new single “Both Worlds,” a beautiful instrumental that opens with Jill Nord’s non textual, melismatic vocals and that features David Carlson playing several instruments including choral sitar, guitar, and flute, as well as providing the percussion. The listener is swept up in the grandeur of this breathtakingly beautiful song that features contributions by some of Sweden’s finest artists including, Stefan Gunnarsson (piano), Maria Blom and Benna Sörman (background vocals), Jonas Sjöblom (tablas, tin whistles) and Danish musician Lars “Larry” Danielson on bass.
“A year ago I went to India for three weeks. I always wanted to go to India and I really loved it. I love traveling and I love meeting new cultures, so I went to Goa. Everybody says it is like India light. There are other parts that eventually I will visit, but I really loved it. What I really find strange in the world right now, since I have found my spirituality is there are so many names for the same thing. I have so much respect for Islam or Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity. Everybody is talking about the same thing. In “Both Worlds,” there are two parts (to the song), first you have the intro, which is very Indian and you have the choral sitar and then comes the simple melody with (he sings the words) and that is Sanskrit. It is a Hindu mantra. On the bridge I took an old Catholic prayer, which goes ‘Light up the darkness, let us find peace Oh Lord.’ Then I added my own words, ‘Let unconditional love be the sword.’ It is just like a statement that we are all talking about the same God only in different ways. This might be spaced out, but I seriously believe that if we don’t find connections between the religions on this planet then we are really in bad shape. It is so important that the organized religions find a way to communicate.
Sweden is very secularized. I always miss that with the United States, because you can say God bless you and that is something beautiful to say to somebody else and it is something beautiful. If I say (and he says it in Swedish) everybody looks at me like are you a f###ing freak? Are you Christian? People are very scared of talking about spirituality openly,” says Carlson.
The respect for diversity of cultures and learning from them to make his own life better, also surfaced on David Carlson’s 2007 album Vuoitasrita (Tribute to Laponia).
“Vuoitasrita (Tribute to Laponia) is a Swedish album. It is my tribute to Laponia. It is a funny story, because in the ‘90s when I was a troubador and living in the south in Strömstad and I ended up in Laponia (far north of Sweden) for the first time. It is probably one of the most beautiful places in Sweden and very few Swedes make the effort to go up there. I was there playing in a hotel in the afternoon, but I wasn’t playing the nights. I met a lady who was working at the hotel and her name was Åsa Kullin. She said to me you have to come on the Sunday and I was leaving on the Monday. On Sunday night I was showing my pictures. I have a picture show, because I am a photographer and I went down there and there were a lot of people and tourists. She was showing pictures and they were the most beautiful photos that I have ever seen and she was telling stories about them. I was so inspired that I bought seven of her postcards.
I traveled the 2,500 kilometers back to Strömstad and I wrote twenty-five minutes of music. I sent the music up and she played my music for every picture show that she had.
In 2007 I (decided) I wanted to take some of those songs and do an album, so I redid them and I wrote some new music.
The people in Laponia are like the Swedish Indians and one of their sacred mountains is called Vuoitasrita. That was my tribute to that, all of the songs on the album, except for one. “Killadoon,” doesn’t have anything to do with Laponia, but it is a nice song. When I wrote it and I played it for people they thought it sounded very Irish, so when I was looking for a name for it, I took out a map and I was looking for a cool name. I found that a little south of Galway there is a small village called Killadoon. For one of my projects I am going to take the album and I am going to go to Killadoon and walk into the pub and say here I wrote a song about your village (He then laughs heartily).
Another of the songs from the album
Vuoitasrita (Tribute to Laponia) is
“Ritual,” and Carlson talks about that song, “It is setting the mood for the
whole vibe up there. (The song) doesn’t really have any rhythm. It is just like
somebody singing up on the mountain (he vocalises the sounds).
That is the way the indegenious people (communicated). When we didn’t
have any iPhones we had a way of communicating over longer distances. It is just
like somebody standing on a mountain singing one of these songs.”
To understand how David Carlson arrived at this place in his life we need to go back to Taby, a suburb of Stockholm, to which his family moved when he was two years old. That is really where his journey begins.
“Taby was just one-half hour from Stockholm, by train and it was very easy as soon as I got a little bit older and interested in music, to take the train to town. I grew up in the seventies and it molded me for the rest of my life, because now I am a hippie without long hair. I remember when the movie Woodstock came out, I went all by myself when I was 11 or 12 years old when I went to a cinema to watch that movie.
There was a big music movement in Sweden at that time. Now it’s weird, because you talk about Progressive Rock and they called it Progressive music, but it was more political. It was anti-commercial music and everybody could play. In Sweden a lot of people were engaged in the struggle about Vietnam and taking sides. That is when I was a teenager and when I really got started. I was like everybody else of my age, the first time that I heard Jimi Hendrix it completely blew my mind when I listened.
I remember my mother came home when I was seven or eight years old and she had bought me some Beatles singles. She was really cool and I had a lot of music in my home. My dad used to play Jazz guitar and double bass when he was going to university and my mother was a Classcial piano player and she was very open to everybody and everything. My father played for me Stan Getz and mainly Charlie Parker, so I grew up with that and I always liked it.
I am very grateful, because I had a lot of encouragement at home for playing music and for also finding my own way. I think the (Beatles singles) must have been from the album before Rubber Soul (The album was Help!). I remember one of my first vinyl LPs that I listened to was Rubber Soul and then (I listened to) Jimi Hendrix. Next I heard Led Zeppelin II.
A side story, Led Zeppelin II was pretty cool, because when I lived in Los Angeles in ’78 – ’79 and I went to that guitar school, I recorded a demo with a friend from school. He said meet me down at Mystic Sound Studios (one of several studios where Led Zeppelin II was recorded). We went down there to record the demo and I was standing in the control room when I saw a small plaque and I realized that was the studio where they recorded the album. That was really cool.
At that time (when he was growing up) you were either The Beatles or the (Rolling) Stones and I have to admit, nowadays I enjoy the Stones and I think it is really funny. I will never forget when I got my first Rolling Stones single and that one I remember which one it was. It was “Painted Black.” I just said to my mother, this is (expletive), because this guy can’t sing (he laughs). It is really interesting when you talk about where you get your musical influences and listening to The Beatles I was more like the Paul McCartney guy. I loved Paul McCartney and George Harrison. John Lennon was cool and he was part of The Beatles, but his songs were too rough for me, so I liked “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” (1968 album The Beatles (The White Album), “Your Mother Should Know,” (from the 1967 Magical Mystery Tour album) and “She’s Leaving Home,” (from the 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album), but to me it was The Beatles.
I never bought Rock music, but I played Rock music. To me there is a difference, because Rock, that’s energy and I love to play Rock and Roll with a band. In Sweden I am mostly known as the guitar player with Dan Hylander and we were playing in a band called Raj Montana Band. We were the biggest band in the eighties. Today, people who know me, recognize me from that. They always connect me to being a Rock and Roll guitar player. I love doing that.
After The Beatles I started listening to the The Mahavishnu Orchestra and John McLaughlin. It was really extreme, Progressive Rock Jazz and (I listened to) Chick Corea and all of this stuff.
Everything changed and I started listening to Symphonic Rock like Genesis and Yes and Gentle Giant. I was part of a band in Sweden called Overture and we had one song that was twenty minutes long and that was in ’75-’76 – ’77.
Even here in Sweden we got Guitar Player Magazine and I bought it every month that it came out. I read about this school that they started and now it is called Musicians Institute, but at that time it was just guitar players and it was called Guitar Institute of Technology. I thought oh wonderful and I always had a longing for the United States and Hollywood. I was like wow I want to go there. I was sick and tired of the band that I was playing in because of the very small wages that we got for playing gigs. It was school dances and stuff like that. (We put all of our money) into renting the same equipment (as the big stars). The keyboard player had to have the same Hammond organ as Tony Banks in Genesis. We were dreaming about the Rock star life and going in limousines.
I talked to my parents and my granddad had left me a small inheritance for my higher education and I said I want to use that and go to L.A. They said cool and in August of ’78 I boarded a plane and I went to Los Angeles and I stayed there for one year. It was absolutely fantastic.
It was a shock coming home to Sweden, because when I got to Los Angeles, there was this openess between different musical styles. I remember one day I saw that Toto had released Toto (self-titled album, released in 1978) with “Hold The Line,” (# 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart) and in the hallway I saw Steve Lukather with a big guitar case. He was there, because he took Bebop lessons. It was things like that. When I went to the Playboy Jazz Festival I got the feeling that if you are a musician and you meet another musician it doesn’t matter what level. Of course there are assholes and big egos, but I talked to so many world famous musicians that were touring the world and they were humble and it was so inspiring.
There is a wonderful story about the first day and roll
call at the school. The school was situated on Hollywood Boulevard and there
were so many good teachers and good guitar players, Joe Diorio, one of the best
Jazz guitar players that I ever heard, Ron Eschete and Don Mock. After concerts
we got to hear them play and they blew us all away. There were a lot of good
musicians and they (could also be) very blunt. They said, now that we have your
money, your tuition, you are sixty guys coming into this class and we know that
only ten of you will make the final exam. The rest of you will maybe go to the
beach or smoke dope and party, but for you ten guys that are going to make it
just take notes on everything, because the coin is going to drop down ten years
from now and things that you heard here are going to make sense. When I heard
that I just decided that I was going to be one of those ten guys. There were ten
people that finished the one year course.
I put a lot of effort into it and I got three special awards and I was the only one who got those three awards. There was one for continuous performance, one for most improved player and the other one was for the student most likely to succeed. I have them on the wall in the studio, because I am proud of them. I didn’t expect to get those, but I stayed at school until one o’clock and I practiced all of the time.
That year was absolutely amazing. I had brought my Les Paul, my Rock guitar from Sweden, but I got myself a Jazz guitar and I just played a lot of Jazz over there. That is what I listened to when I went to clubs and so forth.
When I came home (to Sweden) it was just like a cold shower, because I realized that I am never going to be able to make money playing Jazz, unless you get up to the top. We have wonderful Jazz music in Sweden and very good Jazz musicians. The thing is if you compare Sweden with ten million people living here and to the population of the United States… (His voice trails off). It is the same thing today, because if you are a small artist in a genre that is very small and you are in the United States you can still get such a big following. If you make an album there you will still be able to tour the United States, because there are so many people perecentage wise there are enough, so you can make a living out of it. In Sweden if you are in a small genre (it is not easy).
I wanted to work. I took up my Les Paul again and I got gigs and I ended up in this band. I love being in the studio creating music, but the thing that I enjoy the most is being on stage and playing in front of people. I started doing that. Because of my talent I got good gigs, but there were other much better Rock guitar players that maybe could have done a better job that me in the beginning. I am not degrading myself, but it is just healthy self criticism,” he says.
Two of David Carlson’s other albums, White Feather released in 2004 and Ringar på Vattnet released in 2009 are also well worth checking out. White Feather was his first solo album and it was produced by another stellar Swedish singer, songwriter and musician who will be featured in Riveting Riffs Magazine soon, Stefan Gunnarsson, someone Carlson refers to as a genius and one of his best friends.
We became friends and I talked to him and I said I want to do this album. He said why don’t you come up (to Boden, Sweden) and do it in my studio? I went up and we recorded White Feather at his studio. At that time he had the first digital studio (in Sweden) and you could just record four tracks digitally. It was very low budget and we had very simple equipment.
I (still) listen to it today. I remember he said that maybe we should do a little bit more commercial stuff. There is a song that has a fadeout that is one minute long and I said I’m sorry we will keep that fade and he said, but it’s not good for the (radio) and I said I don’t (care), because I’m going to listen to this album in twenty years and I am going to listen to it and say this is good. It is what I wanted to do at the time.
My biggest inspiration and biggest influence is Joni Mitchell. She is ruthless, no compromise and she has been doing her stuff ever since she started. I first heard Joni Mitchell in 1975 in Paris when I was traveling by train in Europe. I heard the album Court and Spark and it completely blew my mind. It was just wow. Ever since then I have been buying every album that has been coming out. She has been a big inspiration, so I wrote this song and it is going to be on my English album. I want to do it now, because I would love to find a way to get it through to her. I would like for her to hear the song,” he says.
Why the title White Feather?
“I am very into Native American Indians (In Canada known as First Nations). I must have been an Indian in a former life, because I have been inspired by them. The song “White Feather,” is an Indian name and that is why I call the album that.
I wrote a song called “Listen to the Wind,” which is going to be on my English album and it is about how I went to the United States and I met a guy who took me into his culture,” says Carlson.
The blending of different cultures continues on White Feather, with the song “Ida.”
David Carlson explains, “Crete is a magical place and the highest mountain on Crete is Ida. I haven’t been on it, but I have seen it from a distance and I was trying to capture the feeling of love that I have for that island, because I have been there a couple of times. It is where I started writing music, writing lyrics and poetry. It was in the beginning of the eighties and when I was there I got so inspired. It was just like something new happened in my life.”
When teased good naturedly that he was still trying to hang onto the hippie years of his life, he laughs softly and says, “You will never get the hippie out of me. It is going to be there somewhere. It is funny, because I was living in a village called Paleochora. I never went to Matala where Joni Mitchell wrote these famous songs, (He then sings some lines from Joni Mitchell’s song “Carey,” from her album Blue) ‘The wind is in from Africa / Last night I couldn’t sleep / Oh you know it sure is hard to leave here Carey.’ I spent three weeks not far from where she wrote that and it is pretty cool. Most of Blue, which is one of her best albums, was written there.
(He then tries to recall the lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s song “Case of You,” from the album Blue.) ‘On the back of a cartoon coaster / In the blue screen TV light / I drew a map of Canada / Oh Canada / With your face sketched on it twice.’”
There is a backstory to the album
Ringar på Vattnet and it has to do
with the challenges that David Carlson has faced with being bipolar.
“For seven years I got the wrong medicine because they gave me antidepressants. Two years ago I got a fantastic medicine that works perfectly and there are not any side effects. It was just like coming back to life. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong, because even though I had been clean for (all those) years, I still had those short manic periods of euphoria and then very long depression. I kind of suspected it was that. To me it was the best thing that happened to me (getting the proper medication). With the ups and downs of the disease, I knew when I was going up and I was feeling a lot of energy and inspiration. I knew that would end, so finally I didn’t dare even when I was up to start any projects, because I knew that it would end. For the past two years I have been stable and I am very passionate. It doesn’t affect my feelings like the antidepressants, because they closed off my emotional life in a way.
Anyway, when I started planning the project in 2006 I was in a manic phase. Everything was going well and I had the economic backing for doing this album down in Coppenhagen, but in 2007 when it came time for me to go down there and record it I was so depressed. I had so much anguish that it was just unbelievable. I went down there and I almost did not play any guitar on the album. I just sang my songs and this producer loved my songs. It was a nightmare in the studio, because I had to muster all of my energy to be able to be there between ten and six. When I got back to the hotel room I almost fainted from exhaustion. I am so amazed that what came out of that album is at that level. You can’t tell (from) my voice, but I was in hell when I did (the album).
One of the songs that is on Ringar på Vattnet “Till alla Dom,” is a beautiful song and David Carlson will be releasing it again, as a new recording, this time with some of Sweden’s biggest artists appearing on the “Till alla Dom,” including Mikael Rickfors, Maria Blom, Dan Hylander and Marie Bergman.
Carlson says, “I wrote the song (originally) for my friends in Narcotics Anonymous. If I try to translate the chorus, ‘This song is for all those / That were born with a longing home / This song I want to give to those / Who want to start again / Those who honestly let go of everything / To try to find a new path / To those who just keep walking.’ That is the chorus.”
David Carlson provides some interesting perspectives about how American artists and Swedish artists interact with their audiences and once again he demonstrates an attitude of gratitude concerning his chosen craft.
“Music is so universal and it is also a universal language. There are so many people out there that would kill for the chance to be able to go up on stage and to play an instrument. Music has to do with emotions and I enjoy good lyrics and poetry and the combination of good poetry and good lyrics with very good music is a way of communicating without (talking to one another). If people listen to the lyrics or they listen to the melody, it is just magic.
(I am not) bad mouthing Sweden, but there are a lot of people who are good and talented and they make a career, but they don’t really care so much about their fans. They don’t care so much about the audience. I feel that American artists that I listen to take care of their fans. It is communicating and respecting people. It’s the same when you are in a band and I know that is one of my strong points, the vibes are very important and that you have contact with the other musicians on stage. Something happens and the audience will notice it and you get it back ten times.
I am very dedicated to my art and to my songwriting, but I learned in recovery and in life with all of my experiences that you never end up where you thought you would end up. The only thing that you can do is to be very present and you have to do a lot of hard work and now I am doing it,” he says.
David Carlson is the kind of a guy that it is easy to pull for, to cheer on and what is even better is you get the sense that underneath all of that talent and that now very calm, peaceful personality that a lot of really good things are bubbling just under the surface.
You can listen to some of David Carlson's
music here and you can also visit the
David Carlson website
Second Photo from the top is of the Raj Montana Band. Return to our Front Page
Second Photo from the top is of the Raj Montana Band. Return to our Front Page
This interview by Joe Montague published
2016 is protected by copyright and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine ©
All Rights Reserved. All photos and artwork are the exclusive property of
and are protected by copyright ©, All Rights Reserved
This interview by Joe Montague published February 15th, 2016 is protected by copyright and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine © All Rights Reserved. All photos and artwork are the exclusive property of David Carlson and are protected
by copyright ©, All Rights Reserved