Molly Nilsson is from Stockholm and currently resides in Berlin, but when she reaches the Straight, she’s not calling from either of those European capitals, but from somewhere a lot closer to Vancouver.
“I’m in Penticton,” she reveals. “Just hanging out for a few days. Just relaxing and not doing very much at all, basically. Drinking wine. It’s really hot, but nice.”
The singer is on a summer holiday, taking an all-too-rare break from the full-time business of doing pretty much everything. Nilsson produces her moodily shimmering indie synth pop by herself, runs her own label (Dark Skies Association), does all the album art herself, books her own tours, and performs live as a solo act.
She’s also a very prolific songwriter, and the six full-length albums she has released since 2008 barely scratch the surface. “If every record has 10 or 11 songs, more or less, I’ll probably have 30 or 40 for that period,” Nilsson says. “But I just take 10 that I think are the best or that I feel are the most representative or something. But there’s a lot of songs that just go into some kind of private bank of notes. They’re not bad, maybe. Sometimes I go back and I find ones that I wonder why I didn’t put them on the album, but at the moment it just didn’t make sense. For every really great song, I feel like I have to make three bad songs also.”
Based on her output to date, Nilsson has an uncanny knack for picking the keepers. The bittersweet “1995”, from last year’s Zenith LP, is a wistful meditation on the addictive sadness of nostalgia (“So what’s wrong with living in the past?” Nilsson ponders in her signature detached style. “It just happens to be the place I saw you last”), employing Microsoft’s Windows 95 operating system as a metaphor. “I Hope You Die” (from 2011’s History) is a romantic fantasy about spending your life with that special someone, but that reverie is undercut by a matter-of-fact reminder that we’re all just going to die anyway. Oh, and it also equates being in love with being a football hooligan.
There is never just one layer to Nilsson’s lyrics, and they are always spiked with her deadpan, sardonic wit. “I’m always close to having a sense of humour, even in really bad times,” she says. “I think it’s a part of who I am or how I see the world, but also, if I was writing a song that was just sad, I couldn’t even listen to it myself, I think. I try, in the lyrics, to always put a twist in there. And after a while that twist just becomes a part of the song; I don’t even hear it. Sometimes I’ve written things and I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll throw that in there. That’s really funny.’ And afterwards it’s not funny anymore, it’s just a part of the statement.”
Molly Nilsson plays the Biltmore Cabaret on Saturday (August 6).