Axel Boman: “I’m More Motivated Than Ever to Fight For Music”
Axel Boman: “I’m More Motivated Than Ever to Fight For Music”April 19, 2022
In a startling announcement in March 2022, Axel Boman announced that he would not only be dropping one new album — but two — on the same day.
Across 18 tracks, LUZ and Quest For Fire present two distinct yet complimentary musical voyages that traverse through themes of sorrow, enlightenment, adventure, delight, cynicism, and belonging. Both albums offer a patchwork of emotions, stitched together through Boman’s precise synth work, rhythmical expertise, surging pads, and proficient sample work.
While the double LP marks Bowman’s first solo output in a decade, he hasn’t exactly remained quiet since releasing his celebrated 2013 album Family Vacation.
Along with a busy touring schedule, the Stockholm-based DJ and producer has treated fans to releases on labels like Mule Musiq, Pampa Records, Kompakt, and Correspondant, while serving up remixes for Disclosure, Acid Pauli, Maribou State, and more.
That’s on top of his duties with Studio Barnhus — the label he founded alongside fellow Swedish artists Kornél Kovács and Petter Nordkvist back in 2010. Since then, the Swedish imprint has helped introduce artists like Bella Boo, Baba Stiltz, Mount Liberation Unlimited, Off The Meds, and many more (including his Talabomen project with Spanish artist John Talabot).
With both Luz and Quest For Fire out now via Studio Barnhus, we spoke to Axel Boman to learn more about his decision to release two albums on the same day, the collaborative energy that made these records a reality, the demons he fought along the way, his forthcoming live show, and more.
Thanks for joining us, Axel! How are things?
Great! After spending the last four months in Los Angeles, I’m back in Stockholm now. My wife is from there, and it’s always super nice to escape the Swedish winters. We’re now planning on possibly staying there for a couple of years. We’re back here to get things together and try to figure out life in LA.
So onto the fact that you just released two albums on the same day — LUZ & Quest For Fire. First, can you tell me about the decision to release two LPs simultaneously?
While Studio Barnhus has always been an independent label, we’re slowly morphing into the major label’s way of thinking about how you’re supposed to do things. Since we have grown into a platform for our other artists, we fell responsible for them and they have a certain expectation of how their music should be released.
So when it came time for my own things, I took advantage of my total freedom to do something unusual. I want to experiment with formats and how you are supposed to consume music in an age where it is hard to navigate your way through the next thing. So if you have the possibility, just fuck around, you know?
At first, I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to do three albums. I’ll be crazy with it.’ But as soon as I started working with my graphic designer (Robin Ekemark) and this other artist who became an artistic visionary of the project (Erik Lavesson), it all started to come together. I found that I was way too close to everything, and he helped clarify what it was we needed to communicate with these two albums. And it’s also so refreshing when someone else is telling you what to do.
I had 60 sketches or ideas for demos. And my graphic designer had so many ideas, so we didn’t really know where we were going. So all we needed was to bring someone else in to help us define the whole thing. And he steered us in the right direction.
This is your first solo record in 10 years. How long has it been in the works, and how does it feel now that the release date is just around the corner?
Most of the stuff is fairly new. I would say nothing is older than like five years, most of them coming to me before lockdown, during, and after. But I don’t think that necessarily has anything to do with the outcome of the music. I’m always in the studio. I’m always working. With most of my sketches, I have difficulty seeing a thread between them. They can come out erratic and directionless, so it took a while to narrow it down from the 100 or so projects I started with.
I needed to kind of refresh because I knew I was about to have a baby, and I was coming to the US because we were not happy in Sweden during the pandemic. So I was not in a good place. And I just kept thinking, ‘Fuck, all of those times I was in the studio, I could afford not finishing a track or just go have a beer instead of working.’ It came to a point where I needed to prove to myself that I could do it, and I needed to do it now. I was fighting demons to get through it, but I think my persistence paid off. Now I’m more motivated than ever to fight for music. It was all part of the process.
And now, leading up to the release date, it can be quite terrifying. It’s not easy to get judged. It makes you want to shut everything off. And more than that, you’re curious. You want to be there to make sure the ship is sailing. But in the end, you can’t control it.
After putting together the final 18 tracks for the two separate albums, how did you choose what went where? How would you describe the range of sounds on both LPs?
I think I was dabbling in the dark and light of the human psyche, exploring how one doesn’t exist without the other — the bliss of the dance floor and the introverted aspects of instrumental music in general. Not only in us and in techno or whatever, but in everything. I was trying to find that kind of balance between naive melodies and darker sounds with a lot of soul. It doesn’t come with a lot of soul if it doesn’t have some type of darkness or sadness.
Your label has made some incredible discoveries over the years with artists like Baba Stiltz, Off The Meds, and Bella Boo, some of whom feature on your two new albums. Can you tell me a bit about your relationship and creative workflow with these artists?
One of the oldest tracks on the album is the one with Baba Stiltz. That one is dated way back, and I really had to twist his arm to kind of force him to let go. I had to bring him down the studio, had him sing it again, doing take after take. He’s become such a perfectionist and is such a fucking pro. It’s amazing; he really doesn’t stop, always fixing layers and fine-tuning tracks. But that attention to detail is what makes him the force that he is.
And with Bella, we are super close. I help her with her music all the time, and she helps me with mine. She has all the right stuff and so much potential. She can go wherever she wants. And also, working with Kristian Harborg, the saxophone player who features on my album, has been fantastic. It’s super rewarding to work with instrumentalists.
Is there any new studio gear you’ve acquired that you’ve been geeking out about?
I recently got this mixing board, an old Soundcraft from the ’70s — the same type King Tubby used in Kingston. Lots of high pass filter sweeps. I absolutely love it!
You approached this project alongside your friends Robin Ekemark (design) and Erik Lavesson (words and art direction) — can you tell us about some of the main inspirations behind these two records?
One of the first things that Erik had us do when we brought him on was to watch these movies. He gave us a hard drive with tons of films related to what we were doing, and one of them was the movie Quest For Fire — a Jean-Jacques Annaud film from the ’80s that takes place 18,000 years ago.
It imagines what a Stone Age proto-language would sound like, and in the movie, they learn how to preserve fire, but they don’t know how to make it, so they are just desperately walking around trying to keep this fire alive. It was something that Erik was drawn to listening to this music, maybe because it was dealing with very basic human instincts. Somehow, dance music always is.
Robin started going to the countryside to do spray paintings because it would remind him of wall and cave paintings from the neolithic era, and he was looking to channel that medium. He’s always very organic when he works, the same way I am with music. I give him the tracks, and I never know what I’m going to end up with, but I know it’s going to be something that isn’t very conventional. And I love that.
Erik’s role was kind of as a guide, a leader, someone to just point us in a direction where we could begin to formulate things. He could sense we were eager to work, but we were just slapping a bit of color here and there until he came along and was like, ‘no… this.’ It was so cool. I like the idea of bringing in an artist to help me finish my music. You don’t bring in a composer or another musician. You bring in someone else who tells you to like, watch a movie. Get inspired.
Is there anything else you’ve been working on that you’d like to tell us about?
I’ve recently been rehearsing a live show that I’ve been building for some time now. I wish I could say I’m a bit further into the process, but the spark is there. I’m feeling really inspired and it’s something I really want to play out.
Would you say that the two new albums and all this new music in your repertoire factored into this decision to create a new live show?
Most definitely. Especially because I’ve always been such a messy producer, never organizing my folders or saving different projects. For once, I’m saving everything. I have all these stems ready to go and shout out to Matthew Styles for really helping me with this. He’s been so instrumental throughout the mixing and mastering process.
Now I’m just building a matrix that I can use to perform it in a way that makes sense for my brain, and its inspired me to go back to past projects and collect those stems as well. Then it hit me, ‘Shit, I have quite a big catalog! It would be fun to take tracks like “Nokturn” and “Purple Drank” and “Eyes Of My Mind” or stuff from the new records and make something new.
Of course, now I’m drowning in possibilities. That’s always the tricky part, I guess. But better to be drowning in possibilities rather than to be reliant on only a few tracks.
What else can fans expect to see from Studio Barnhus this year?
Aside from my new albums and Bella Boo’s fantastic new release, “True Romance,” we’ve got a newcomer on the label named Wallace, who will be releasing an EP on Studio Barnhus soon. Already Dixon, Jamie Jones, and Âme have all been playing it, so I know this one has legs. Also, Kornel and Bella Boo have more releases coming along with more remixes for Off The Meds, who will also have another record coming out this year.