De Montervert is the musical baby of Ellinor Nilsson. She announced her arrival in 2012 with her debut record Vänner Och Ovänner, a album that showcased an ability to mix diverse electronic and folkier sounds, and one that gained her a cult following in Swedish indie circles. And after a three-year wait, that following is eagerly anticipated her upcoming self-titled LP De Montevert, out on Umeå label Nomethod Records on December 2. We had a little e-mail chat with Nilsson ahead of the record’s release.
Okay, so first of all give us a little background. Who is De Montevert and how did you start off as a musician?
My name is Ellinor, and I’m De Montevert. De Montevert is a very personal and transparent project that I’ve been working on for seven years now. It started when I was 19 and studying sound engineering and music production at a college in Sweden. I have been writing songs since I was 15 but it wasn’t until then I began to write more elaborate songs with electronic influences. I am a classically trained cellist and I have always been engaged in choirs and similar activities, so music has always come very natural to me. But at the age of 19, and in college, I found my peers. We wrote and played together and eventually all of us branded out and started our own solo projects. And since then I’ve been active as De Montevert.
You released Vänner och Ovänner three years ago. Does it feel like a lot has changed between that record and this, musically? How would you describe the differences?
A lot has changed since then. There is not a single electronic instrument on the new record, and that is probably the biggest thing for me. For me the electronic music I used to write now symbolises this young, naïve girl who wanted to be a hit on the dance floors, and that girl and I have so little in common these days. It’s also a darker, more moody record. I’m more transparent and uncensored in my lyrics. I wanted to make an honest album that could represent me as a person, and an album that I can give to the people in my life, to explain parts of me that sometimes needs explaining.
So can you talk us through your songwriting process? How does a typical De Montevert song come into being?
Most of the times when I’m really creative, I’ve recently been very very sad. It’s in the apathetic moments after a depression that I can gather my thoughts and truly understand what I’ve been feeling. So in these apathetic moments I just grab a guitar and start strumming. When I find something that I like I record it and improvise some lyrics and melodies. And when I listen to my improvisation I often find that I’m singing about things that I’ve thought of or felt. And if the melody works I put an effort in and write the whole song in a couple of hours. If I can’t figure out a good lyric or a great melody to the tune I put it aside. If I don’t get it now I probably never will. I can’t write songs based on themes or ideas, it has to come straight from the heart without thinking. It’s probably why everything is so personal and blunt.
I read in an interview that you have some classical music training, that you studied the cello. That’s something not a lot of alternative musicians have. Is having that background useful to you in your songwriting, to have that extra area of musical knowledge that you can dip into for ideas?
It’s not something that I consciously use but I’m sure it has affected my way of harmonising. A teacher in a composition class once told me that he thought it was interesting that I always ended my main melodies in compositions with a quint. Apparently it’s very common for the cello part in an orchestral piece to end on a quint. So since I was so used to that way of harmonising I incorporated it into my own composing. And I’m pretty sure that I still do that today, without realising. But I do love that quint.
I find it interesting that on the first single, ‘Let’s Not Run Away Together’, you build up this picture of a stereotypical domestic ideal (kids, house etc), but then the narrator decides to walk away from that. Can you give us a little more insight into what the song’s about, from your perspective?
‘Let’s Not Run Away Together’ is about a situation I was in when I was offered everything I thought I always wanted. A house on the countryside, kids, a big garden.. as you said, the domestic ideal. But It’s one thing to dream, and one thing to acutally have it. And I realised I didn’t want that, not now. I know it sounds like the easiest thing to do, parting from that idea, but when you’ve imagined your life going one way for so long, it’s quite painful to deal with the thought of saying goodbye to it. At least for now. So the song is about splitting up with another person, of course, but it’s also about re-imagining my own life and my own future.
The record took a long time to come together. Can you tell us about the writing and recording process, about how De Montevert was created?
I started to write songs for this record about two years ago. It was a slow process but after a year I had a few songs I thought would make a decent album. So I went into a studio and recorded the basics (drums, bass, guitars) but when we were finished I didn’t like the songs at all. So I kind of froze for a few months until my label manager finally asked me what was going on. He convinced me to try again. And I did. I recorded it all at my own house, but I still didn’t like it. Finally, earlier this year, something happened. I got really depressed (yey!) and started writing new songs, and within a month I had new material for the whole album. I’m so happy that I decided to start all over again. And I’m so happy that I keep getting my heart broken.
I also read in an interview that the actual recording itself only took two weekends. Do you think recording that quickly helps in some ways? That it stops you over-thinking and over-developing the songs and leads to a more natural sound?
That’s correct. I visited Umeå, where we recorded the album, two times this spring. We went through 2-3 songs a day, very efficient. I wanted an album to represent me and I have very little patience overall so I think that kind of fast work suited me very well. I think it’s helped me in a lot of ways to accept the songs as they are, and to love them for their simplicity and organic sound. There’s a lot of mistakes, but I love all of them. It makes it all come alive and float in a whole different way than it would if it had been thoroughly produced. The big problem with all the material that I originally had planned for the record was that it was too perfect, there was no life. That kind of perfection makes me doubt myself as a musician, it made me think I could never live up it. So I love the natural and dirty sound, it boosts my confidence.
And the album comes out on December 2. It must feel like a big moment, to finally have this thing that you’ve worked on and poured so much effort and attention into come into the world?
It feels so great!! I’ve been waiting for this too long now. It feels like I’m reborn and I want to experience all the wonderful and horrible things that awaits a musician in the beginning of their career. The support from an audience who knows every song on the album. The sound of chatter in a bar where no one notices you’re pouring your heart out from the stage. The rare hotel visits on a tour. The stained couch in an apartment reeking of pot in a suburb to a small town in Italy. I’m looking forward to all of it! But yeah, I’m going to celebrate this with cake, some champagne and tacos the day it’s released.
And finally, what can we expect from you over the coming months?
I will be touring Sweden in December and again in the beginning of next year. And later in spring I’m going on a European tour with my lovely bandmates.
De Montevert’s new album De Montevert is out on December 2 on Nomethod Records. On the same date she plays at an album release fest at Cantina Real, and on Monday 7 there will be an in-store signing at Bengans Stockholm.
Words: Austin Maloney