That high, lonesome sound from Sweden
by Michael Freerix
NOTE: This article originally appeared in Folker
Six years ago, Fredrik Kinbom left Sweden, his homeland, and moved to Berlin. This change of place was kind of a revelation for him. He had lived in Brighton for 12 years before, and after that moved back to Sweden. But he found it hard to adapt back to life in Sweden. Friends invited him to visit them in Berlin. Immediately, he felt at home there.
As a teenager in Sweden, Kinbom started to play bass in a heavy metal band, "which is kind of normal there," he explains. "Even famous pop-producer Max Martin, who has written hits for Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys and many others, started in Heavy Metal." But even before joining a band, Kinbom had written his own songs. "I started writing my first songs early on," he remembers. "It was more interesting to me than to play music written by others." The Swede moved to Brighton in his early 20's, where he was getting positive reactions to his songs by UK music industry professionals. He became pretty much involved in the music scene there, touring with other bands, making his own music.
But then, out of the blue, something happened that changed his life. Sitting on a bus with his guitar case beside him, on his way home from rehearsals a person sitting next to him asked if he was playing guitar. Both chatted for a while, and the guy told him that he played guitar, too, but lap-steel-guitar, a very special one, called a 'Weissenborn.' The Weissenborn is an all-acoustic guitar, invented in the 1920's by Herrmann Weissenborn. Born in Hannover and trained as a builder of instruments, he moved to the USA in 1902 and established a mail-order guitar shop in Los Angeles after the first World War. He sold ukuleles, guitars and his own invention, a 'Weissenborn-lap-steel-guitar,' which was actually inspired by a Hawaiian Guitar build by Norwegian Chris Knutsen. After some changes in the construction, he sold his invention in the USA with great success. Entirely made out of wood, this instrument is played lying on your knees, but offers a strong and solid sound.
Some days later after the bus encounter, Kinbom bought a vintage American lap steel on eBay. While playing this instrument for the first time, Kinbom fell in love with its sound, and it changed his life. He immersed himself more and more into the sound of the Weissenborn, which is not easy to play. He still toured with bands, to make a living, but rock music was now less interesting compared to that eerie and warm sound of his new lap-steel-guitar. "Well, you must really practice hard until you get something out of it. But when that happens, there is nothing else like it." He had taken his instrument with him when he moved back to Sweden, but he was looking for a different kind of music scene, and could not find it.
But he then arrived in Berlin, where everything fell into the right place. On this short visit, he immediately felt at home, and by chance, he was offered a furnished apartment. Kinbom grabbed the chance and has never regretted it since. With a bag of belongings and a Weissenborn, he moved to Berlin, feeling quite comfortable there, and found artistic partners quite easily. He toured with other Berlin-based artists like Gemma Ray and Ned Collette. But he wanted to delve more into acoustic sounds. And ad made him curious. There was a harmonium given away to anybody who was willing to move it out of the apartment, and Kinbom took the chance. This instrument even had an interesting story. It seemed to be left over from the American occupation of Berlin, when harmoniums where used as substitute for church organs in field-services.
Now working mainly acoustic, Kinbom's new record is called Songs for Lap Steel and Harmonium. It is not his first one, but one with a very specific story behind it. "It used to be like this: I had assembled a bunch of songs and I realized, it was time to record an new album," he says. But this time, he wanted to focus on the sole sound of the lap-steel and the harmonium, writing songs for just these two instruments. So Songs for Lap Steel and Harmonium contains 11 Songs with a very dark atmosphere, based on improvisations that would transform into songs over a matter of time. In one of these, Kinbom tells the story of the Lancaster-Bomber that was shot down over Berlin during the World War II and fell into a small Berlin lake, the Krumme Lanke- he reflects upon the nearby houses and gardens, that where build during the 1930's for exceptional SS-officers. But it is not only these morbid themes that Kinbom is drawn to. On "The Wealthy Toad," he sings about unbelievably rich people, who do nothing for society but only looking down upon people who are not like them. But he does see himself as a 'political songwriter'- instead, he is writing songs out of observations and experiences, and lives with a deep sense for history.
Kinbom writes incidental music for theatre too, and would like to work for film, and is currently working on some collaborative writing projects. "But the main focus now is first and foremost to tour the new songs for lap steel and harmonium," he says. "To find new interesting places, where my music fits in a live context."
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