It could be the premise for a sitcom: three Swedish sisters, the daughters of a one-man band, trying to navigate the music business in Nashville. But this is no fantasy. It’s real life for the Bondesson sisters - Greta, Stella, and Sunniva – better known as Baskery.
And after growing an international following and garnering critical acclaim with its first three albums, the trio is in the middle of a year’s stay in the United States that could take the group from cult favorites to that always elusive next level.
“Being here has sharpened our vision for the future because you get influenced by this kind of chase that's going on,” said Sunniva Bondesson. “We have this year in Nashville and we definitely want to accomplish something more than remaining on this level. What we're doing right now is writing lots of songs and refining our sound, and we don't know if it's going to be an album that will sound at all like the other albums. It might even result in a new project for us. It's a little different and we feel like this is definitely some kind of turning point, coming over here and investing lots of time, being away from family and friends. So I hope that something comes out of it that kind of takes us to the next level, something solid.”
Road warriors that spend anywhere from 200-250 nights playing their brand of Americana-influenced music that has been described as everything from Nordicana to Banjo Punk, Baskery will arrive in NYC for shows at Hill Country in Brooklyn tonight and in Hill Country Live in Manhattan on Monday, and it’s probably the last time you will see them in venues of this size, as they are on the verge of big things both here and abroad, and it was back home where they first started hearing the buzz.
“We're a European act and we've been playing since we were teenagers, and back in Sweden and Europe, everybody kept telling us that ‘with your sound and your harmonies, you should go to Nashville and make your next record,’” recalled Bondesson. “And it never happened, but then a couple years back we met a publisher from Kobalt in LA, and he said 'Girls, I really want to start working with you, and I'm gonna sign you, but I would like to see you live in Nashville for a year to connect you with some writers and the industry and everything is happening in Nashville.'”
In January, “the darkest time of year” she laughs, they made the move. Forget the barbecue and the accents; the culture shock for the sisters came in another way – a musical one.
“In our family, we've thought of music, of course, as a job, because our father was a one-man band when we were kids,” said Bondesson. “Music was not glamorous or anything; it was something you had to do for a living. I have a problem with this kind of songwriting industry here. It's so well-organized and I would use the word 'unsexy.' You come into a room, and people sit there with their laptops and iPads and you're going to write a song. This is not rock and roll at all. (Laughs) I guess it's happening that way in Europe too, but I hadn't seen it before. It's super organized, and there’s that thing of music being so accessible and there's no mystique really.”
Music City really is music city, so it’s 24/7, 365 days a year. That’s good socially in terms of running into like-minded individuals on a constant basis, but when it starts making music more of a business, that’s when cities like Nashville can start to lose their appeal and their initial intent. In Baskery’s case, do they worry about losing their edge?
“Not at all,” she said. “It's more the opposite. When we got here we realized pretty soon that we were going to filter out our own sound even more, and we've done that, so it's just a counter reaction. But we are getting influenced by people here and how it works. People are very proactive and we're a bit humble when it comes to promoting our own band. We hardly have a card or flyers, we're really bad with that kind of thing, and it's much more organized here. So that's what we've kind of picked up. But when it comes to the musical side and aspect of it, we've definitely turned more edgy for every day that we've been here.”
That edge is evident in their songs, which is musically raw and lyrically bold, but when the sisters are in harmony, you remember where they call home. It’s an irresistible mix, and it’s a reminder that in the land that produced ABBA, there is still some grittier stuff, whether it’s coming from the Bondesson sisters or Swedish crime authors like Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell.
“Sweden is a great country to live in, and I think most artists in Sweden need to let out the dark side,” said Sunniva. “Welfare is great in Sweden and everything, and that's not what you want to reflect with your art and your music. You want to dive into that darker thing. Sweden has always been great in producing pop music like ABBA, and you have new stuff on the charts all the time from Sweden, but that doesn't really reflect our society or anything. What's more interesting is that Sweden is very liberal and nothing is really taboo. I think that's why people try to beat each other in doing the craziest or darkest stuff. (Laughs) Even within Europe, I lived in Germany for some time and people were saying 'wow, all the movies from Sweden, they're so dark and brutal.' And it doesn't at all reflect how Swedish people are. It's more sunny and really friendly, but it's a trend that started a long time ago, and people are trying to surprise and shock.”
Baskery aren’t trying to shock, but they wouldn’t mind sneaking up on the unconverted among music fans and surprising them. And once they get their hooks in, it’s game over.
“I feel our music is very rooted here, and people get it immediately,” said Bondesson of playing (and living) in the USA. “There's something in the groove and the rhythm pattern that's very American. People get our lyrics, which is fantastic, because back home in Sweden they really don't understand what we're singing about. (Laughs) But we've been playing together since we were kids, so things happen very naturally and we haven't really picked one genre. We jump between genres a lot, which is reflecting our musical tastes, which is basically everything, from ABBA to Led Zeppelin to blues, and the American audiences we've met so far are very musical and very receptive to different sounds. I think it could be really successful for us over here.”
Baskery plays Hill Country in Brooklyn on Saturday, June 14, and Hill Country Live in Manhattan on Monday, June 16. For more information, click here