Korallreven is the result of a decade-long friendship that blossomed into a musical collaboration between Marcus Joons (lyrics, vocals, visuals) and Daniel Tjader (keyboards and production). The two met while Marcus was still studying in Malmo, Sweden and Daniel was busy with his other, slightly more famous band, The Radio Dept. Initially the project served as a way to focus Marcus’ self-described lack of direction and provided a creative outlet and island of refuge during what Daniel called, “A kind of chaotic period in our personal lives.” “It felt like during the darkest times it was something you could daydream about a little,” Marcus added.
Almost three years after the project’s inception the duo released An Album by Korallreven, an unapologetically beautiful full-length that relies heavily on their vibrant color palette and layers of sound with very high thread counts. Marcus describes the record’s poetic optimism as, “An imaginary place or state of mind where you feel carefree, where you feel fast and strong and healthy and where you can run fast forever.”
Performing live is still a new experience for the pair. “I’ve never been on stage before. Daniel has never sung before. But it’s totally in line with us to play the ninth show of our career headlining at Bowery Ballroom. Because it’s been like that. We got a record deal before we had songs. We got a booking agent before we had a live show,” Marcus told me. Fortunately the band has gotten a helping hand from some influential friends – Yours Truly is presenting and shooting their show in San Francisco, early supporters Gorilla vs. Bear added them to their SXSW showcase and famed videographer Jamie Harley helped arrange an elegant visual presentation made up of images curated by Marcus that blend perfectly with the music behind them. Korallreven’s live presentation stays true to the band’s aesthetic with the focus firmly on music and visuals in an attempt to create a feeling for the audience rather than resorting to any kind of on-stage dramatics. The duo is already at work on a new album and have started debuting a new song with a heavier dance beat that may surprise some and certainly has us curious about the direction of the next record.
How did the Korallreven project begin?
Marcus: Korallreven started with just an MP3 on the Swedish label Service back in 2009. Then Patrik from Acephale contacted us through Service to see if we had any more material and I lied and said yes. Then we started to work on an album even though we didn’t really know anything at the time. We just learned through the process. I had never sung before. Daniel had never produced like full songs before. I’d not even been singing in the shower but I had to do something because I don’t play any instruments.
Daniel: Yeah, you were a bit of a reluctant singer at first.
Marcus: Yeah, but I slowly got used to the idea.
How was it working with some of the other collaborators on the album?
Marcus: It started with Victoria (Bergman from Taken by Trees) who is a very dear friend of mine. We were living in New York and I was playing the album for her and she really liked it. It worked out perfectly because we had always wanted a female singer for “Honey Mine” because we didn’t want it to feel so much like just an electronic duo. We wanted it to be grander than that. When I heard Juliana Barwick for the first time and I played it for Daniel it was really, really exciting and special and something very fitting for the album. I was excited because I was in Samoa when I got the idea for the project and even though hers is not religious music as such it felt like there was a link between her singing and the atmosphere and some of the things that I’d heard there.
Daniel: A kind of spirituality…
Marcus: So we sent her the song “Sa Sa Samoa” and when she said yes it felt like the last piece of the puzzle.
Daniel: Also that song wasn’t really a song before she got it, it was more of just a sketch. Then when we got her stems back we were like, ‘We have to do something with this.’ So we extended it into a proper song.
Is that how a lot of the songs came together? From instrumental sketches?
Daniel: Well, a couple of them we had ideas for vocals from the beginning like “Honey Mine” and “The Truest Faith”.
Marcus: Well, in like 93% of the recordings we have a melody or a chorus and then we think about the instruments from that and then try to make something completely different when we combine them. Sometimes then it becomes magic. It’s a bit like when you look at a catalog before a trip and you imagine a place but when you’re there it’s not exactly like that but most often it’s even better than on the pictures.
Some of the remixes for the singles are very different from the original. How did some of those come about?
Daniel: Some are through friends.
Marcus: Some are dreams… They’re all very different. Like the Elite Gymnastics one we really wanted that but also they are on our label. It’s one of our favorite releases from last year. We really loved their record. It’s good because we have so much in common with them. Not as much musically as the attitude towards music, even combining art and visuals.
Daniel: And they made everything we could have wished for with their remix.
How has it been for you Daniel? Because this project is so different from The Radio Dept, has it been fun?
Daniel: Yeah, it’s definitely expanded my horizons. Also, I have a totally different role in Korallreven. In The Radio Dept we’re like three different producers who always want to get the sound in one direction or the other. So you have to fight for it and sometimes with them I’ll just take a small step back and say, ‘Ok I’ll just lay down the keyboards.’ But here I’ve been put in the producer’s chair. Marcus produces too, but it’s me that has to have the know-how so he can say crazy ideas and then I figure out how to make it work. Which is a good partnership really. I think there are a lot of these kinds of modern partnerships going on now. People are developing new ways of working together. Rather than just being a band, being a bunch of musicians playing together and then a label picks them up and pairs them with this producer and the producer becomes responsible for the outcome and the musicians just do their work as musicians. Now everything is different thanks to technology. But at the same time, doing everything yourself is really hard because you have to be like fucking Leonardo da Vinci. Meaning you need to know a little bit about everything to make it work.
You guys have done some really eclectic mixes and the influences on the record are so broad – have you been listening to anything lately that’s really grabbed you?
Marcus: When you start to work on the next album that’s something that drives you to find new things to listen to. We’re very different when it comes to that. Daniel is quite into dance music. Like soft hard stuff. Can you say that?
Daniel: (Laughs) I don’t know what that means but OK.
Marcus: And I’ve been quite into UK dance music and Soca music at the moment.
Daniel: That’s Soca music not soccer music.
Marcus: Yeah, but that too eh?
Daniel: Soccer music? Yeah, we love that. (Laughs)
What has the response to the band been like in Sweden?
Daniel: I guess it’s been pretty good but it’s very much centered around the bigger cities, specifically Stockholm.
Marcus: And you need to get played on the radio there…
Daniel: To become sort of indie mainstream.
What is the radio like there?
Marcus: A lot of Swedish Bruce Springsteens.
Daniel: It’s a bit like radio in the States, like NPR, where there’s one channel that plays music for people between like 15 and 25 to 30 and the rest are just commercial radio stations that play mainstream pop. But this one has been very important for promoting Swedish indie music within Sweden and helping artists break through.
Marcus: They play “Truest Faith” quite a lot but I think that they think some of our stuff is too complicated or repetitive or something to play on the radio. It’s more like people are talking about it with friends, I think it spread like that more than anything else.
What about through blogs?
Marcus: There’s not that many blogs in Sweden.
Daniel: I think most people read American blogs.
Marcus: I think so too.
So being on American and UK blogs gives you some credibility in Sweden?
Daniel: I think that bounces back to Sweden yeah.
Marcus: There are some people that really know about you in Sweden too but it’s a bit different because I think people in the U.S. tend to be a bit more enthusiastic.
Daniel: (Laughing) Tend to?
Marcus: Like, ‘That’s amazing!’ And in Sweden it’s more like, ‘Yeah, that’s good.’
Daniel: Very subdued.
I always wanted to ask, are there any drummers in Sweden? Because so much of Swedish music uses programmed drums.
Daniel: (Laughs) I guess that’s fair but I could easily return the ball and say, ‘What is this obsession in the US with drums and drummers?’ Because we’ve heard this a lot with The Radio Dept. People in the audience yelling, ‘Get a drummer!’ And we’ve been like, ‘Yeah, well, fuck off.’ (Laughs) No, we haven’t said that but come on… I can see that you can get some more dynamics going with a drummer but I hate, I mean really hate listening to a drummer soundchecking. (In bored voice with hand motions) Boom, boom, boom. So it takes time, they take space and then there’s another guy or girl you have to deal with. Also, you get limited to the sounds of a drum kit and there’s so many different drum sounds that we want to explore. I definitely like drum pads that are loaded up with your samples or even just a sound that can be played live.
Marcus: And we have that on stage now because Niklas (Daniel’s brother) is playing a drum pad on a few songs.
Daniel: So that’s how we feel but we can’t answer for the rest of the Swedish bands.
Photo Credit: Lucy Bridger