‘I don’t want anyone else to define whether my release is a failure or not. Music is art that sometimes generates a lot of money, but I think you will fail in the long run if you as a label forget to care about the artist and its art.’
Marlene is a pop star who never compromises with her music. We got the chance to visit her in the studio and talk to her about starting her own record label Sweet Music, working with Ji Nilsson, and what song she goes out dancing to.
Can you tell us a little bit about your story?
I grew up in a Christian family in Jönköping. We went a lot to church, so music has always been a big part of my life. I was seven when I fell in love with my grandmother’s piano so I asked my parents if they could find me a piano teacher. I’ve been doing music since then, in different forms… Schools, bands, doing backing vocals on tour for other artists and so on. The past eight to nine years I’ve been focusing on writing and producing music for myself and for others.
What was it like to start your own record label Sweet Music and why did you decide to do it?
To be honest I didn’t feel like I had a better option after talking to some labels back in 2016. I had some new music that I wanted to release that I really loved myself. I was looking for a label that liked the vibe and who understood the worth of building slowly and who valued an artist’s unique expression and art and who didn’t just focus on streams. But basically, I didn’t feel like we had the same view on that… The bigger labels need big, instant “hits” and I’m too sensitive to be under that kind of pressure. I don’t want anyone else to define whether my release is a failure or not. Music is art that sometimes generates a lot of money, but I think you will fail in the long run if you as a label forget to care about the artist and its art. So, I decided to be my own boss and release my own music myself. It’s such hard work having your own label and being responsible for everything you do, but the feeling when you finally get it out and receive the response from people all over the world who tell you wonderful things about your music makes it totally worth it. That response itself makes it a success to me, no matter the streams. I will try my best to always have that mindset when it comes to my own music.
It’s fun to have success of course and as a songwriter/producer I’d love to write big songs too. I mean really, really big songs. But having good energy during the process and enjoying what I do will always be a lot more important to me.
You have a project with your friend and fellow artist Ji Nilsson called Pure Shores. Tell us about that collaboration, how did it happen and what does it mean to you?
We started out as friends and went out dancing a lot together. We were always looking for clubs that played R&B, so we pretty much bonded on the dance floor and through music. One day back in 2012 I got some tracks sent to me from my former publisher that was meant to be for Rihanna. I didn’t want to write all by myself, and since I knew that Ji and I have the same taste in music I asked if she wanted to write the tracks together with me. She came over one hour later and since then we’ve been writing constantly for other artists and for my solo project.
To us it’s not a big difference from before, but we still wanted to take our writing to the next level and giving ourselves a name felt like a natural next step. We also got a studio together so now we work together almost every day.
I feel so lucky to be able to work with what I love the most, and to do that together with one of your closest friends is a dream. We still haven’t written a song for Rihanna though, but we’re working on it haha.
Your visual aesthetics, lyrics and sound all feel very unique and characteristic. Where do you draw inspiration from when you create a song?
First of all, thank you so much! What a great compliment. I love sounds and chords. A beautiful sound or chord progression always give me an instant feeling that I can use for writing the lyrics, so often the lyrics come after the chords. Let’s take my song “All I Want” for example. When I first heard the chords, I got a super happy feeling and it sounded like spring, so that feeling inspired the lyrics.
But sometimes I have a phrase in my head that I sing a melody to and I make the chords after that. So there are many ways to write a song and so much music out there to be inspired by.
What are you proudest of in your career so far?
It’s either being nominated for “Pop of the year” at P3 Guld Awards, or that time I was mentioned in Billboard’s own podcast called “Must-Hear Music Podcast” together with SZA and Lorde. We had all released new music that week and they picked us three to talk about. And this specific song that they talked about was a song that the labels here in Sweden didn’t think could be a single, so I released it myself. I feel so proud of sticking to my own feeling and that I was able to get my music all the way to Billboard without the help of a big label.
What are your plans for the future?
To finish my next album, love it, release it and go on tour all while I write some big songs for other artists together with Ji.
What is your favorite song to go out and dance to?
“In Common” with Alicia Keys! It has a sad vibe to it but all you want to do is dance. I love that combination.