The European Interpol? Ten Questions w/ Swedish Dark Rockers Principe Valiente
While the international style and media cognoscenti have enthusiastically embraced Scandinavian design, music, and even philosophy-of-living these first two post-Millennium decades, there is still a kind otherness, a bit of mystery and fierce independence about the way things are carried out there. And so in the earliest days of the pandemic, when most of the world was embracing a strategy of isolation and social distancing, the government of Sweden adopted a policy of herd immunity, reckoning that if enough people became infected, an overarching immunity would be achieved. It didn’t quite work out as hoped.
During this time, the very active Stockholm music scene was sent into flux and chaos, with the act of performing live as well as that of recording in a studio both suddenly subject to these stark new conditions. Darkwave quartet Principe Valiente (that’s Italian for “Prince Valiant”) were very much in the midst of assembling a new album when COVID hit – and vocalist/bassist Fernando Honorato, guitarist Jimmy Ottosson, keyboardist Rebecka Johansson and drummer Joakim Janthe eventually found themselves having to record apart from each other for the very first time.
Having released their self-titled debut a decade ago in 2011, the band have extensively toured Europe since (even opening for Peter Murphy), and built a significant following across the Continent. Indeed, their smartly contemporary post-punk / gothic rock stylings have garnered them a legion of dark-hearted devotees, who have embraced them as a kind European Interpol. And though Honorato still very much does possess a similarly visceral, sometimes spine-chilling howl of a singing voice, the new album Barricades (their first for US label Metropolis) finds their sound going decidedly more widescreen than ever before.
To be sure, from the opening/title track, a sense of the epic and cinematic is immediately evident – and it’s almost impossible not to draw comparisons to The Chameleons‘ mid-’80s work. Other tracks like ‘Porcelain’ and ‘Tears in Different Colors’ marry strikingly lush atmospherics with a gripping sense of anxious urgency. And guitarist Jimmy Ottoson seems to have been spending a lot of time with his Cocteau Twins records, as exquisite flashes of Robin Guthrie-esque chiming surface regularly, only adding to the sonic warmth and lavishness of the entire proceedings.
We caught up with Honorato and Ottosson for a chat about how it all came together under difficult conditions.
The Barricades album is really a product of the pandemic?
Fernando Honorato: More in the sense that the recording process was quite different this time due to the situation and the isolation. We began work on the demos already in 2018, things took time and we didn’t began to record properly until February of 2020. So in some sense we were lucky enough to record the drums together just before the restrictions took place here in March last year. I actually got COVID in March as well – not the worst type you can have, but the long-term type, and I’m still struggling with fatigue and concentration problems. But I’m much better and I can live almost normally again. So it was a combination of the restrictions, my illness, and two of the band members living outside of Stockholm now. It was easier to get an album done this way and it actually worked out very well – but it was a long process.
How would you describe the situation in Stockholm in the early months of the quarantines, and what is it like now?
FH: In the early months when the rest of the world were very restricted, Sweden didn’t have those rules. In my opinion it was bad leadership. After awhile it became similar to the rest of Europe, anyway, but never as hard. Now things are more open again, I’ve already done some DJ sets, and it was quite weird at first – but then it was like nothing ever happened. I really hope we can go back to normal soon again, but health is priority one.
Was it difficult, or an interesting new challenge for the band members to have to record each apart from one another?
FH: Personally I had more control. I’ve always had this red light fever in the studio when recording vocals, but this time I recorded the vox and my instruments all by myself with the home studio. More comfortable and I had a better self-confidence somehow. My goal was to sing some really advanced stuff in one take, like Morrissey or Jeff Buckley.
What is the significance of the title?
FH: It refers to the first track on the album, it’s a metaphor for the poor ability on my own part in the past to set barriers and limit myself without actually realizing it. Fucking things up unconsciously to protect yourself. And that it can be something quite beautiful too, when you meet someone who also experiences it in his or her life.
How is the overall mood different on this album from previous recordings?
FH: More intimacy, both in the sense that I did all the vocal recordings alone at home and had more control of what I was doing – but also regarding the choice of mixer this time. Adam Stilson’s great work, patience and understanding of what we wanted had a big significance for the results. Many songs were also much more a cooperation between me and Jimmy on the actual composing, but also with the band during the mixing process.
What would be your most concise description of the album?
Jimmy Ottosson: It’s a daydream companion with a few benign nightmares.
‘Porcelain’ is quite an emotionally widescreen track – can you tell us what it was inspired by?
JO: Actually, the working title for ‘Porcelain’ was ‘Purple Rain.’ Making slow, pompous rock music is kind of tricky, so you might as well aim high from the start, right? At the end it turned out more of a Disintegration-era track, but the purple ’80s mood was somehow integrated in the video. The inspiration was the challenge, I guess – not to write another 143 bpm post-punk track.
What is going on in the video?
JO: It’s a kind of drama in paradise theme. That guy throwing away the ring and smoking a lot of cigarettes…a honeymoon trip gone bad? If he is just skinny dipping at the end or not is for the viewer to decide.
How has the experience been working with Metropolis Records for the first time?
JO: We are honored, of course. That lineup of great and legendary bands, and to find ourselves there is just insane. Everything has been very smooth so far, you can tell they are real professionals.
Are you hoping the band will get to America in 2022?
JO: We have toured Europe extensively for a decade or so, but sadly never gotten the chance to go to America. It seems like we have some kind of a fanbase in Peru and Mexico and I would love to go over there to meet people and play. Of course North America – especially the USA – has been massively influential on my life, and a boy’s dream for a very long time.