The long talk
“It’s mandatory to sing in the shower or while heading down the freeway far beyond speed limit,” she says. The Lilou. I meet her and John over a cup of hot peppermint tea in their apartment in Borås. The rooms are sparcely decorated, but everything seems to be arranged like an art exhibition. “It’s all about aesthetics,” she remarks on my appreciation. “I never stop moving things around until they pop. The same goes for melody making or recording a song.”
“How I present myself has become equally essential. I used to feel uncomforable drawing attention to myself, but a couple of years ago I started to wear bindis and bright red lipstick, and nowadays I smile when people stare at my pink hair and smurf blue pantyhose. It’s not supposed to be perfect. It’s supposed to be me. Nothing else is good enough.”
John looks into the distant as he starts to speak. “I was just a kid when I heard Tony Clarkin’s ‘Les morts dansant'”, he says while pouring tons of honey into his tea. “And I was mesmerised by that cruel war song. I wanted to write that kind of lyrics.” He looks at his wife and smiles. “But it was Lilou who taught me how to look beyond what had already been written and write my own story. She made me think about originality.”
And his wife is nothing but originality. “If there ever was anything standardized about her,” John says, “it disappeared long time ago.” However, as unlikely as it may seem, she hasn’t always been that self-made centerfold primadonna who “cuts like a chainsaw” as John puts it. In fact, even though she loves to sing, Lilou did not think of a singing career until she met John.
“When I was younger I didn’t like to hear my own voice,” she remarks while offering me yet another buttered scone. “I thought it sounded too low pitched, but in recent years I kind of like it, it gives volume and depth to the songs I sing.”
“I used to think a song like ‘God’ would be too challenging for me, but nowadays I´m like an eager child constantly playing with new genres and techniques to expand my vocal range.”
“I have always sung a wide variety of songs,” she continues. “I have this thing for American slave tunes. I guess everyone around me knows I love ‘Wade in the water’,” she laughs. “And Swedish folk music. Write that as well, songs like ‘Liten Karin’ and ‘Vi sålde våra hemman’. They are timeless, stretching back through the ages.”
She leans back in the couch and offers me a scone before carrying on. “Those ancient folk melodies have passed through my vocal chords some ten thousand times since I was old enough to walk. Runs in my blood, girl and woman.”
“She was probably a seter girl in another life,” John says, “and I guess I must have been a soldier. I listen mainly to political punk rock, military marches and old war songs, ‘The haughs of Cromdale’ and such.” He fingers slowly on his iron wedding band as he speaks. “To me, cute lyrics with a fluffy tail is not worth reading or listening to.”
“Motörhead is poetry,” he states firmly. “I would honestly call them the greatest songwriters in modern rock music. Read ‘Capricorn’, ‘Orgasmatron’, or ‘War for war’ and you will see. They are just underestimated because they were a metal band and wrote about aspects of life most critics didn’t understand. The relentlessness of loss, pain and death.”
“My grandparents were murderers, that’s how I became a poetic freak, and I guess it’s reflected in what I like to read and write. Twisted Sister’s ‘The Beast’, The Waterboys ‘Red Army Blues’ and Ewan MacColl’s ‘The ballad of accounting’ are examples of songs that have transcended beyond the romantic and instead painted the world, not in the colors I wanted to see when I was younger, but the colors I feel are right,” he says, while his eyes wander towards the bowl of buttered scones.
“In a sense I think those songs represent everything we try to hide from ourselves. Calling death a thin veil between two worlds might have improved some of my poems, but I’ve seen people die and I know that veil isn’t just a veil but also the worst horror imaginable. It’s the personal holocaust. A sharp nail digging into the back of your heart. And Lilou is the only person I know who is strong enough to dive into that horror and sing while surrounded by total darkness.”
“You’re such a cutie,” Lilou says. “I just let the lyrics guide me.”
She has listened to many powerful voices throughout the years. Bill Withers’ “Ain’t no sunshine”, K.D. Lang’s version of “Hallelujah”, and Nina Simone singing “My baby just cares for me”, those are just some of her favorites. “But I have never wanted to sing like them, instead I have tried to refine my own voice. John writes the best poems I have ever read and it’s vital for me to do them justice.”
John chews on a hot scone before continuing. “Lilou is never on stage,” he says. “Therefore it’s easy to write for her. She is never the artist trying to please an audience. She is Lizabeth in ‘He Broke My Neck, Joséphine’. She is the grown up child looking back in ‘God’, singing to an absent father. She is the narrator in ‘100 Faces’, the honest voice most of us spend a lifetime trying to hide. She dives into it just like I do when I write it, and we both do it in a conscious way.”
It sounds almost like a fairytale. Her biography. Lilou grew up with an abusive father and an absent mother in a small village deep in the woods of Dalsland. Cut off from the rest of the world, as it seemed to her, she longed there would be something more to life than the geographical and mental isolation she experienced.
She recalls one of her first strong memories, a moment that changed her life: “I was just five years old when I said ‘no’ to him. I knew what he did was wrong. I don’t know where I got the strength from but somehow it made him scared enough to step back, maybe he thought I was going to talk. I have carried that voice within me all my life and it has only gotten stronger for every fight I have had to win. The girl from Antarctica, that is me.”
John encountered the impact of mental illness among his relatives at an early age. Aged five he had already survived weeks of solitary confinement and severe mock executions from his sadistic grandfather, Sture Lundström, dead in 2007. He witnessed two murders before the age of six, both carried out by his grandfather, something that he later has referred to as “the moment I died and someone else took my place.” It was these brutal events that laid the inspiration for songs such as When murder victims die and Petrodollar wars.
In 2012 after a complete mental breakdown he began to find a way out of “the worst hell someone could ever imagine” through therapy. “It’s all there in my lyrics,” he says, “like a map of my twisted life story. I used to think it was just too quirky but the more I write the more I realize that people actually recognize themselves.”
During John’s therapy, Lilou & John realized they shared a common interest in the obscure, dark and pain-ridden parts of human conscience. “We are perfect for each other,” John says, “we are basically two freaks who grew up in dysfunctional families and managed to escape our mental prisons. In later years we have realized we can combine our forces. I do the writing and she does the singing.”
They are perhaps best described as “rebels”, always moving outside of any box people like to drag them into. Dark ethno-rock, accoustic folk-pop or dirty punk rock, nothing is terra incognita and nothing is too controversial to convert into lyrics and melody.