Foto-© Anna Drvnik

Ein knorriger schottischer Folkie mit Kultfaktor und eine bekannte schwedische Sängerin, sogar mehr als das – ein strahlender Indiepop-Star der 90er Jahre: Es ist nicht gerade die naheliegendste Kollaboration, die sich auf dem Album The Great White Sea Eagle (Domino; Veröffentlichung am 13. Januar) entfaltet. Doch tatsächlich haben James Yorkston (51) und die The Cardigans-Frontfrau Nina Persson (48) eine überraschende gemeinsame Platte gemacht, die ihre unterschiedlichen Talente wunderbar zusammenführt.

Nicht zuletzt funktioniert das Projekt eines vielbeschäftigten Singer-Songwriters und Schriftstellers (zuletzt 2022 The Book of the Gaels) mit einer Quasi-Pop-Aussteigerin wegen der tollen Backing-Band. Mit dem unkonventionellen, ebenfalls aus Schweden stammenden Second Hand Orchestra hatte Yorkston vor zwei Jahren bereits das zauberhafte The Wide, Wide River (Domino) eingespielt. Nun drücken die Orchestermusiker um Mastermind Karl-Jonas “KJ” Wingqvist auch Liedern wie Sam And Jeanie McGreagor, An Upturned Crab oder Keeping Up With The Grandchildren, Yeah ihren ganz besonderen Sound-Stempel auf.

Der mit seiner Familie in der schottischen Küstenregion Fife lebende Yorkston ist im Zoom-Gespräch spürbar begeistert von der Zusammenarbeit mit Nina Persson, die seit dem Soloalbum Animal Heart (2014) keine neue Musik mehr veröffentlicht hat und nur noch gelegentlich mit den Cardigans live auftritt. Tatsächlich ist die helle, klare, ja schöne Stimme der Sängerin aus Malmö eine perfekte Ergänzung zum charmant herben, etwas windschiefen Vortrag ihres musikalischen Partners.

Was auf The Wide, Wide River irgendwie noch fehlte, nämlich eine leichte, folkpoppige Note, es ist hier nun in fast schon opulenter Form zu finden – besonders im Ohrwurm-Song Hold Out For Love, dem potenziell ersten James-Yorkston-Hit. Über das gemeinsame Projekt, die Chancen einer Studio-Reunion der Cardigans und Yorkstons weitere Pläne haben wir mit den beiden sympathischen Musikern aus unterschiedlichen Welten gesprochen (Album-Review in Kürze).

Hi Nina, hi James! It’s a pleasure to talk to you. Well, let us start with your new album, The Great White Sea Eagle. It’s a great listen from start to finish, a heartwarming record. So, James, when did this album start as a collaboration project with your Swedish friends?
James Yorkston: My first album with The Second Hand Orchestra was recorded some years ago, The Wide Wide River. KJ got in touch with me and said: Hey, do you want to come and play a show in Sweden at the end of your German tour? So I said: Yes, I’d love to. And then he asked: Shall we book some studio time for versions of your old songs? But that didn’t really appeal to me, and I said: Why won’t I write some new songs? And they sounded great, so eventually we made the album, it got really good reviews. Then I didn’t want to make the same thing again. I was writing on the piano, that changed the emphasis from writing on the guitar. KJ said: Yes, it’s a very good idea to try something different. And he suggested that we get another singer, and Nina was the name that really appealed to me. And here we are.

So, Nina, how was your first reaction when he asked you to join for an entire album?
Nina Persson: Well, actually, when I was asked by KJ and James to join I hadn’t met James. I got sent a couple of his new songs, and I was recommended to listen back to the other record with The Second Hand Orchestra. And I loved it. Then we talked on the phone a little bit, and eventually we said: Just go for it. James visited me for an afternoon in Malmö. We played together, then we really thought it would work, and we made the record. So, we didn’t have a lot of experience with each other before we recorded. But it felt like a good match already from the point when KJ suggested it. James and I trusted his “Fingerspitzengefühl”.

Is it correct you first thought of James Blunt when you heard about James…?
NP: Can you just tell me where you heard this (laughs)?

The Scotsman wrote that, in December.
NP: No, that’s not true. Just a joke that James was telling on stage. We laughed a lot. I don’t want anybody to think that. No, I was very happy that it was James Yorkston all along.

James, you started your new songs on piano, not on guitar as usual. How did this influence the moods and atmosphere of these recordings? To my ears, the sound is warmer, milder, even more “poppy” now.
JY: I’m playing guitar for 30 years now, so I can play guitar a bit. And I’m playing piano for just three years, so I’m not as good. My voice is not the most accurate instrument. So when I’m playing on the piano, my fingers go different places, it’s a marvel to me at the moment. It opened different scales, different chords, new inspirations. An openness.

Nina, please tell us about The Second Hand Orchestra. What makes them so special?
NP: I think the idea of this band was to sound more beautifully shaky, more organic. There’s a really comfortable feeling of an orchestra, a full band. There’s brass and strings and everything. There’s a pop sensibility for sure, but a lot of other sensibilities, too. It’s such an exciting band. There’s a curiosity and a sensibility, a beautiful choreography.

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James, Nina as a singer is not your only prominent guest musician recently. We saw Phil Selway of Radiohead playing in your videos as well. When did he join the project?
JY: Phil is not on the album, but he did the tour with us, and he’s doing future shows with us. Yes, Phil is a friend of mine, we met years and years ago. He opened a show in London for me, and we got on very well. He’s such a lovely, super sweet guy. He doesn’t take himself particularly seriously. He’s always laughing. Our drummer couldn’t make it on the UK tour unfortunately, so Phil was the only drummer I knew, and I had to ask him. He loved to do it, and he fitted very well. Not the worst drummer in the world (laughs).

Nina, if you think about the Scotland/Sweden connection – do you see a bridge between both countries musically? For some listeners, a Scottish folk singer and a Swedish indie pop star might be quite different.
NP: I don’t know the Scottish scene particularly well. And I never really before practised anything that you would call folk music. But I’m grown up with it, in my family. We sang all the time, we sang the folk songs and the drinking songs. That’s been a big part of my particular upbringing. I think it’s still quite a big part of Swedish culture. As countries, as cultures, there are some similarities that have to do with temperament, with climate, proximity to water maybe, living in the outskirts of the Western world. So I think there are connections.

James, the lyrics are always important in your songs. As an example, An Upturned Crab is quite moving. May I quote? “I made a life on the road/and I thought I was doing grand/but the gold remained at home/and I missed watching you grow.” That’s beautiful – and sad. Does your job as travelling musicians make you melancholic sometimes?
JY: It’s a tricky thing talking about lyrics because they are very personal to me, often about my family, my friends. Not always easy to say. I think when you’re writing, obviously there are points on the road when you feel melancholic, and you miss your family. But, on the other hand, I have the music inside me, I can do it for a living, and it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like I’m exploring something amazing, with people like Nina or The Second Hand Orchestra.

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You also have a great singalong track on the new album, Hold Out For Love. I fear, never in my life I’ll get rid of this earworm melody. So, James, did you perhaps write your first Yorkston hit?
JY: (laughs) I hope not. I’m very happy being under the radar. That song – I was driving with my son, and we always make up some idiotic songs, nonsense, it doesn’t mean anything. One day we were driving along the coast, and we started making out Hold Out For Love. He didn’t want a credit for that, he’s embarrassed, what would his friends say… So I recorded it to my telephone, then when I got home to the studio I recorded a quick demo. Later we recorded it in Stockholm, with Nina and The Second Hand Orchestra. It was separate from the sessions (in Scotland). And now I love singing it.

So, Nina, I have to ask you that because a lot of fans will want to know: Will there ever be a Cardigans reunion in the studio, with a new album?
NP: No. We said “I don’t know” for the longest time. But now I can say: No, there won’t. I was wondering myself, there was this question hanging in the air for years. But no, we won’t. We’ll continue playing shows, and we’re trying to make this somehow fresh for as long as we can, for as long as we enjoy.

My last question goes to James. You are famous for collaborating with very different musicians of very different musical styles. Who would You like to work with next? Are there any new, surprising plans on the horizon?
JY: I’d like to work with Nina again… I don’t know. I have so many things on at the moment. I had a book coming out last year, I’ve already written a soundtrack to a film. When we’re talking about Yorkston/Thorne/Khan (recent trio project), I’m doing some new work. Then we’re doing these shows with Nina. So I’m not looking for another singer. Just wait and see.

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