The very real atmospheric compositions of hypochondriac Maria Lindén.

Photography by Cochi Esse

Swedish native Maria Lindén, a self confessed hypochondriac, is convinced she has acquired a fatal illness, so, as standard practice, she starts to Google her symptoms. This takes her to an on-line forum to discuss her illness with other people, presumably consisting of the ill and the not so. Amongst the ‘not so’ is her soon-to-be musical collaborator Fredrick Balck.

Fredrick too was a hypochondriac and when aliases were dropped and he and Maria began to openly speak to one another, they soon realised not only did they share mutual friends, but also music tastes. I Break Horses wasn’t so much born (Maria had been working on things for a while) but was now complete. In a previous interview with The Sun, Maria has said, “I hardly panic nowadays. Except for the swine flu alerts last year.” She also joked that her and Fredrick “Have competitions on our way to rehearsal; who can hold their breath the longest when somebody sneezes on the subway. Whoever gives up first is forced to use a public bathroom.”

While it may sound like a scene from a Wes Anderson movie, it’s most real and the results have given us ‘Hearts’, an album that plunges into the world of blurred, hazy and multi-layered electronics, guitars and atmospheres, but whatever you do, just don’t call it shoegaze.

Maria speaks excellent, slightly broken, very sweet English, almost as what I imagine speaking to Nico would have been like. It’s difficult not to become engulfed by her when conversing. As we begin to chat, she has put her dinner in the oven to coincide with the end of the interview. “Let me know when it starts to smell good and I’ll go,” I let her know. “I’m not a very good cook, so I just do easy stuff,” she confesses, “… so it pretty much smells like shit, actually.”

“It’s some sort of fish shit I’m doing today,” she continues, “but it’s food.”

Mmmm, fish shit. Maria is at home, which is Stockholm, Sweden.

“It’s a pretty stressful city,” she says. “It’s very beautiful because there is a lot of old buildings and a lot of water in the city centre, but stressful, and people are pretty cold.” She then goes on to explain how the parks have begun to “put in several one-person benches so that you don’t have to sit next to anybody. I don’t think I’ve seen that anywhere else in the world and the concept seems to be growing. It’s everywhere!

“It is beautiful,” she insists. “You should all come here and visit this cold, cold town!”

Still, I imagine the cold climate has the locals turning to each other for warmth? I mean, the music community in Stockholm is quite supportive, isn’t it?

“Ermm…not necessarily,” she laughs. “It’s more like everyone keeps to themselves, but I mean, with this project I haven’t played any shows yet. So it’s a bit difficult for me to say yet.

“Since I play all the instruments except the drums, I won’t be able to do that live,” Maria explains. “It takes a while to find the right people to play with and it’s not straightforward to get the sound live. I wanted to get the best possible people to play live with. I could have gone out there with a backing track and played the whole thing myself but I want to create something different live”

So, with no live shows under her belt and the album dealing almost exclusively in textures, layers and essentially elements that would be very difficult to recreate live, how are live rehearsals going?

“We’re getting there. I want people to experience the songs in a new way. It’s been very interesting to give the songs a new life because it will be a completely different energy bringing in new people and playing together as a band. Also, I’m the kind of person who wants to go back and change forever. I probably have ten different versions of each song, so I’m looking forward to changing things and making things differ from the album.”

In regards to the album’s tightrope walk between the contrasting emotions, Maria says: “I’ve always liked to mix something dark with beauty, and the record really is a mix between the two, although I was probably in a light kind of mood when writing the songs and realised the fragmented darkness afterwards.

“It was an enjoyable process though, recording the album, apart from some moments where I simply didn’t have the technical skills to do what I wanted. But enjoyable; the writing process is always enjoyable, but the finalising and mixing, when you have a specific sound in your head but you don’t have the technical skills to achieve it – that can be pretty difficult”.

For such a hard fought and personal project, Maria doesn’t actually write the lyrics for I Break Horses. That’s Fredrick’s job.

“People find it pretty strange that we do it in this way,” says Maria, “that I write the music and he writes most of the lyrics, but actually it works perfectly. He’s been able to say what I wanted to say in less words that I could ever write, because what I would need ten sentences for, he can do in one.”

When placed in context to the album, it makes sense. Maria’s vocals often feel otherworldly, almost detached from the project, as though they are their own entity, and by working in this unorthodox way, it has clearly created this idiosyncratic sense of atmosphere.

The record has been a long process for Maria; it took three years to complete. “Not because I was working on it all that time,” she hastens to add, “just that I was also working full-time too, so it was just a long process.”

Now comes a question that, if put to someone less affable than Maria, with less of a sense of humour, would be rather awkward. Have you been pleased with how ‘Hearts’ has been received? Have people ‘got it’? “Not Loud And Quiet!” she laughs. And we deserved that – in our August issue the album received a 4/10 review rating.

“I mean it’s my debut album,” she continues, “of course I get pretty sad when I feel like people didn’t get the point, and obviously because I’ve been locked up for so long on this record and worked so hard on it. But I feel pretty overwhelmed by the great response that’s been out there as well. I’m a very humble kind of person, so I’m just thrilled that the response has been really great. So it’s been both, I mean it’s my first record and I’m a human being, so I can’t be just like, ‘fuck it, I don’t care’. Maybe I will be more like that on the second album!”

Likewise, the record has drawn a lot of comparisons to specific bands and movements, primarily the shoegaze genre, and these are comparisons that Maria is less happy to court. “For example, many people have compared me to M83 and I haven’t listened to them at all actually,” she says, “so it’s difficult to say really. I mean, shoegaze is just one small fragment, but I didn’t create this record with the intention to make shoegaze music. It’s not shoegaze. I can’t understand this need for people to label music, but people seem to need to. I can understand the comparison, but it’s a mere fragment and I wouldn’t call this shoegaze music.”

In response to this lazy branding she says: “Just listen to the fucking music! Why do you need to label it? I think that’s just bad journalism. But I just want people to listen to the record and know that this is not shoegaze music.”

The fish shit is done, Maria needs to go, and she leaves our interview as charmingly as she entered it, simply deadpanning: “I will not enjoy my dinner.”

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