Serenades are a duo consisting of Adam Olenius from the Shout Out Louds and Markus Krunegård from Laakso. In their respective initial projects, the two delivered spirited indie pop with a sweetness only Sweden knows how to deliver. In Serenades, dream pop is the objective, with lush production and heavenly vocals being a staple of each song.
The two pair their voices together on each track, creating a unified voice that soars over waves of keyboards and crisp acoustic guitars. The soundscape they produce is a perfect bed for their irresistible melodies which seems to come as second nature to the two. Having released their debut single “Birds” last May, they have since put out a digital EP entitled “Come Home,” featuring the transcendent “Oceans,” for which they released a video for in November.
In late December, we caught up with Adam and Markus for a chat over at TeaNY in NYC. Over a cup of tea, we talked about their genesis, the songwriting process, and some of the differences between the US and Scandinavia.
First off, how did you guys meet?
Markus: The first time we met was in Germany on the Autobahn. We were buying ice cream at a petrol station. I think we were already competing with each other at that time. Adam had already had launched off into the world, so we [Laakso] were like, “Here they come – the fucking Stockholmers.”
What year was that?
Adam: It was 2004.
M: It was early but we didn’t really become friends until 2006 or 07.
A: I remember we were offered to open up for Grandaddy, so everyone in Stockholm was excited, but then we were told “Yeah, there’s going to be another band opening instead,” and it was Laakso [laughs]. So I kind of hated [Markus] for a couple of months but then we started becoming really good friends. We met up at bars and festivals. You know, small scene.
When did you guys start writing together?
M: Around 2007 I think. Like instead of doing whatever you do when you meet a friend, we started writing songs because it comes natural for both of us. Adam went on his tours everywhere and I did my stuff in Sweden mostly but we always would call each other like drunk at night like “Yeah we should do this! We have to do it man!”
A: So actually it was just drunk texts for about three years and then finally it was a good point after the “Work” record for the Shout Out Louds. We just booked a studio and were like “we have to do this.”
What’s the songwriting dynamic like? You say you’d get together and write songs. What is the interplay between you two?
A: We made rules – sort of like a dogma for the band that we should have. Very positive and uplifting lyrics and that would be big and poetic. Almost like a mantra or a hymn.
M: There was no competition. It was really relaxed which I think led to a positive vibe.
A: We didn’t really know that we were possibly going to release it over here. It was very playful because there was no pressure.
Tell me about music listeners in Sweden. Do you feel that they’re more into domestic music or artists from the US and UK?
M: It’s a small country so you have to look abroad. You have to be interested in the rest of the world. Music in the Swedish language is easier to break through in Sweden because there is this language filter. It’s a good crowd in Sweden, they’re interested.
A: We have good festivals. A lot of American bands and bands from the UK will play because they know Swedes are really into it. Smaller bands like War on Drugs – I mean just amazing shows.
Do you guys still live in Sweden?
A: Yes. Actually in a month from now we’re going to be neighbors [laughs].
M: The Serenades mansion! [laughs].
What do you guys feel specifically this act does that you feel you can’t do with your other projects?
A: The main thing with harmonies and the singing together at the same time – it creates this new voice. And also just the idea of one guy to fight with over ideas instead of four. I mean I think it forces ourselves to be more open to ideas. When you grow up in a band together, you know exactly who doesn’t like what, then you’re sort of like, ‘Well, add that guitar because it can sort of sound a little bit like Yo La Tengo,’ and you sort of have a lot more references with a band, but for us it’s just about liking the song.
M: I never feel like there’s fences with what I can do musically but basically what we do, only we can do because it’s me and Adam. I mean it’s a boring answer but we are Serenades and that’s why we sound like that. We haven’t thought so much. It’s like 98% gut feeling and 2% thinking and now later on it’s interesting hearing other people listening and seeing what it sounds like saying “Yeah I’ll check that out!”
What is the status of your other projects?
M: With Laakso, I mean we’re all friends so we’ll see if we’ll do something more. We have a coffee now and then.
A: [Shout Out Louds] will be recording back home. We’re producing it ourselves with a sound engineer we like, so it’s a luxury now, especially since I’m going to be on the road with Serenades, to have a whole year to work on the next Shout Out Louds record. It’s an important one. It’s nice. Everyone’s been traveling and working. There have been some babies…I think that’s going to come out in a year from now.
When was the first show you guys did?
A: In May. We had a really nice theater with strings and two extra guys on vocals. It was very big and epic.
What instruments are we talking there?
M: In addition to our usual setup, we had strings. Two violins and a cello…it’s beautiful. I mean it looks good. People can’t always hear it so well.
Do you have a preference? Do you like to be more grand or skeletal.
M: I think the the change is nice. It’s fun having started off lo-fi as just the two of us and then getting up on stage and it sounding like “The Wall” or something [laughs].
Who shot the “Oceans” video?
A: Ted [Malmros] from Shout Out Louds. He got to know a guy who was filming on the water traveling the world, so you can get free film from him. It’s from Hawaii and South Africa.
On the song, “Come Home,” was it your intention to write a Christmas song?
M: It’s a tricky one – writing a Christmas song, but I think we pulled it off. It’s a narrow path.
A: I love the Flaming Lips song, “A Change at Christmas (Say It Isn’t So),” So it had that sort of production idea when we wrote it, and we were thinking of the “Tunnel of Love” record by Bruce Springsteen. It’s such a beautiful album – really underrated.
M: Yeah I mean if we’re talking about references, that is definitely one. We needed some advice from the Boss.
I feel like Sweden is the most well known country in Scandanavia for new, cutting edge music. What about the rest of the region?
M: Norway has quite a following. Denmark is bad though. They’re not embarrassed to just promote themselves, like you meet a band and they’re like [in Dannish accent] “We are the Sonic Youth of Denmark.” It’s like “How can you say that?” [laughs].
Serenades will be hitting South By Southwest in March followed by a tour of the US. Their “Come Home” EP is now available on iTunes and their first full length, “Criminal Heaven” will be release internationally in April.
Here’s the video for the band’s first single, “Birds.”