Fashion and music have long been intertwined, but today they are related in a different way from before. Meet two acts who are active in both fields, living and creating in between these worlds and changing the shape of popular culture.
Cousins Adam Odelfelt and Benjamin Lavén and their longtime friend Carl Hjelm Sandqvist have been playing their brand of synth pop together as Tella Viv for more than two years. Like many groups from Stockholm, all members have played in several bands already. The term “Stockholm band” means more than just a group from Stockholm – there’s a scene going on that’s difficult to define. Singer Hjelm Sandqvist muses on the subject: “I think we have a very Swedish sound in Stockholm – it’s about small things like phrasing and the way you produce. There is a lot of interest in Swedish bands abroad and when there are references to ‘Swedish bands’, people are usually talking about groups from Stockholm.”
Outside of the band, Hjelm Sandqvist works as a model (he’s currently on the books at Nisch Management), something that often becomes the focus in interviews with Tella Viv, bringing both positives and negatives with it. Hjelm Sandqvist views it with mixed feelings, saying that nobody know what the focus may be in a year from now, so it’s important that the music remains the main objective. Odelfelt and Lavén don’t see it as a problem, either – “As long as it doesn’t take anything from what we’re doing or change the perception of us, as if I were a solo artist [they don’t mind],” says Hjelm Sandqvist. “I find it interesting to do interviews with people who don’t know anything about that side of my life. Some weeks, in some cities, I can be recognised in the streets, but otherwise I’m very ordinary. No one usually has any idea about what I do – they think I’m a dopehead rather than a model.”
Having one foot in fashion and the other in music is not unique for Hjelm Sandqvist or Tella Viv. He feels the relationship between the divisions of pop culture has changed recently. “I guess the lines have been blurred. There is the opportunity to do both. Musicians are expected to be seen in fashion. Many people want to style artists and it’s very important that the artist’s integrity is kept in mind. Bands can get a bigger response when they become figures that the fashion industry wants to work with.”
Another artist connected to the fashion world is Sarah Assbring, who released her first album as El Perro del Mar more than 10 years ago. Some things have changed since then but some have not. Assbring has always tried to create what feels true to her rather than what will please the masses, but with her new album, KoKoro (meaning “heart” in Japanese), she has shifted her perspective from herself to the world around her. The subject of the record is the equality of mankind – how we are all born the same and should therefore be viewed as equals.
A key element of El Perro del Mar’s lengthy existence is that Assbring’s creativity also encompasses fashion and art, which influence everything she produces. “Everything runs parallel through what I do. I almost get more inspiration for my music from other forms of art than I do from music. It has always been that way, from photo art to architecture and sculpture, among others. When I’m gathering ideas for a new album, those are the art forms that I create a referential library with. I make a mood board before I start writing, which is like a palette that becomes the emotional foundation of what I want to write.”
Fashion has recently become an even more prominent part of El Perro del Mar: while making KoKoro, Assbring has been working with stylist Nicole Walker, who runs Amaze, a springboard for experimental fashion, and who has also worked with Hjelm Sandqvist.
“My and Nicole’s thought behind the visual idea of what I am, or who I am, is the free image of an assembled identity,” says Assbring. “Both high and low, beautiful and ugly, which gives me new freedom to portray myself in different ways. We are both uninterested in classic fashion photography and the image of a pop artist, so that makes Nicole even more cut out to work with me.”
To present El Perro del Mar as an amplification of Assbring, a lot of thought is put into the clothes she is wearing – something more than a good look is required, something that will show who she is and go well with her music. Walker’s input has been instrumental in helping her achieve that.
“Through Nicole I have gotten the opportunity to meet young designers – some of whom are still at school – who are incredibly talented and whose garments I’ve worn both on and off stage. I feel that there are many newcomers who are really pushing things forward at the moment, drawing up completely new guidelines to what fashion can be.”
Many artists choose to play it safe when it comes to fashion. If a designer makes a stage outfit, it is usually for someone famous who is backed by a major label. That doesn’t interest Assbring as a person who sees brilliance in artists of any trade. She herself, through the multi-faceted project that is El Perro del Mar, has realised she needs to follow her own rules and trust fully in her own vision. She lights up when talking about new designers, but recognises how difficult it is to work in the fashion industry and retain creative integrity, as with any artistic industry.
“Something you have when you are young is the freedom to be brave. I understand that the fashion world is difficult to survive in and I get why you can end up playing it as safe as possible, which I feel has been the case with Swedish fashion for a long time. It’s a relief to see a new wave of young designers daring to go for the unsafe option and I hope that they will continue to do that for a while. It’s such an injection, like the inspiration I get from looking at Nicole’s Amaze.”
El Perro del Mar combines the courage of a young artist with the maturity and knowledge of an experienced one. Diverse artistic outlets have been brought together on KoKoro, an album based on respect for art as well as an acknowledgement of human equality. The blend of impressions that Assbring has gathered under one album title is an injection of energy in itself, much needed in the world today.
KoKoro is out now on Ging Ging
Enter El Perro del Mar’s musical atmosphere by listening to our special made playlist below:
Enjoy Hjelm Sandqvist’s inspiration and influences for Tella Viv below:
All available at WHYRED.COM
2. Jacket: HALE
4. Jacket: Kramer
7. Jacket: Kaye