Swedish starlet Marlene brings together the slick electro-pop production Sweden is known for with a unique R&B sensibility. Here’s to hoping the world is ready for her upcoming release.
We certainly are.
There are enough ridiculously talented Swedish pop vocalists that you start to wonder if something’s in the water. At the same time, a lot of them are executing simple variations on a theme. But every so often, there’s an individual that stands out from the crowd. Marlene is one of them.
In her debut EP ‘Indian Summer’, Marlene delivers crisp and youthful but maturely controlled vocal runs over hooks that land somewhere between electro-pop and R&B. It’s like Rihanna meets Tove Lo. Just higher on the “fun” scale and lower on the “erotic” one.
Whether it was her parents support, a school system that encourages the craft of music, or the long, dark winters that feed months of melancholy composition, Marlene has the recipe to create something pretty special. “My whole family on my mother’s side is very musical. For blessing the food, we would sing before we would eat,” says Marlene. You can hear her smiling over the phone. “We would sing in dozens of harmonies. That was just the way I grew up.” After Marlene’s insistence on taking lessons, her parents agreed to get her a private piano teacher. She was seven. Seeing where her career has taken her, there’s little doubt they made the right decision.
“So I was playing classical piano since I was seven,” explains Marlene. “But I also always loved to sing. We did that Lauryn Hill song ‘Joyful, Joyful’ in school before summer vacation, and I sang the solo for it. When I was at home practicing, I realized I could actually do what she did pretty well. I was 14 at the time.”
From choir solos to church ensembles (Marlene grew up in Jönköping, a city with a multitude of churches), Marlene had a number of musical outlets for her and her friends. But it was quickly becoming more than a hobby. Along with piano, Marlene began singing lessons and joined two bands through a school program. And when the school’s curriculum called for the exploration of multiple genres (including rock, jazz, country, and pop, and more), Marlene fell in love with what it was like to make music her own.
“I didn’t feel like other people wanted to try things,” says Marlene. “I didn’t want to just learn songs, I wanted to try new expressions. When we did each genre, I wanted to have my own expression of how I did that. When we did rock, we performed Hyperballad, by Bjork, with an upright bass and drums, and I played piano. I would always do my own version of things. That was my way of finding how I wanted to express myself.”
After graduating (and having played enough live shows to get familiar with being on stage), Marlene started touring with other Swedish artists, singing background vocals, and exploring whatever musical channels she could find. “Most people from school wanted to continue their music education, but I knew how to use my voice. I wanted to start really doing it.”
Like many stories in the music industry, Marlene’s discovery occurred through the confluence of her own hustle and a good amount of luck. One of the guys in a band Marlene was playing with started producing and writing songs with a friend. And when they needed someone who could demo their songs, they asked Marlene.
“They called me for a new track for this songwriting camp. It was my first time in a studio on that level. I came out and demoed their song that day, and the next day another group called me in. I ended up there every day that week doing demos and got to know a lot of people. We went out one night with a songwriter from the camp, and he showed one of his friends who was a publisher at EMI Music Publishing one of the songs. Six months later, I was signed as a songwriter.”
Ever since, Marlene has been busy writing music, both for herself and others, and all the while trying to identify what she refers to as “her own unique expression”. So when she began writing with Swedish pop singer Ji Nilsson (a kindred spirit of Marlene’s now) and the songwriting flowed in unique way, she was thrilled. “I had written some tracks that were supposed to be for Rihanna, so I invited [Ji Nilsson] over and we started writing. We clicked right away. It came so easy. And then we started to write for me. We wrote Bon Voyage and Stay Awake and Indian Summer. It was meant to be.”
Since the release of her EP almost two years ago, the radio in Sweden has picked up four out of five songs, which initiated quite a whirlwind for a musician who was used to relative anonymity. “I went from being no one to having almost all of my published songs on the radio. That was a year and a half ago. So I needed to take some time to regroup. I thought, ‘Ok, I’ve done that. That was stressful. Now what do I want to do? What is my direction?’”
Marlene’s new direction has indeed involved a bit of break. But as of late, it’s involved a lot of writing and studio time. New producers (different from those used on Indian Summer) have helped her begin to craft a new kind of sound. Her own kind of sound. One that she’s pretty excited about.
“Early on, I did whatever,” says Marlene. “I could work with anyone, write anything. But there wasn’t direction. Now I’m much more particular about what I do and what I want to say and how it sounds. It was nice to be naive, because now I worry. But for good reasons,” she’s quick to add, with a smile. “I have a goal now. And I strive for that every day.”
The result of that striving is a slew of new music that will arrive in the Spring of this year. “My new music flirts with the ‘90s, like Janet and Craig David. But it’s also R&B and dance.”
Knowing that, we’re confident 2016 is going to be a great year.