With six full-length albums already under her belt and an agenda to release one per year, local synth-pop heroine Molly Nilsson defies Berlin’s laissez-faire lifestyle. On Tuesday, September 15 Berghain hosts the record release party for her most recent album Zenith.
Growing up in Sweden, Nilsson’s musical output wasn’t meant for anyone else’s ears but her own. After moving to Berlin and taking up work at Berghain’s coat check, she fortunately changed her mind and released her 2008 debut album These Things Take Time via her own label Dark Skies Association. She quickly gained a following, especially among Berlin’s queer scene – not least pushed by her appearances at raunchy hangout Ficken 3000. She’s since been recording and touring the globe to ever-growing audiences. On Tuesday, September 15, she returns to Berghain to celebrate the release of her sixth album Zenith.
Do you miss working at the Berghain coat check?
It was probably the best job I ever had because of the atmosphere and the people that worked there. When I did the release party two years ago for The Travels, it was a really interesting thing to be on the other side suddenly. Before I went on stage, the sound guy said to me, “Wow! It’s so cool that you used to work here, and now you’re selling out the house. You must be very proud of yourself.”
This month, you’re releasing your sixth album since 2008. It seems you’re quite prolific.
I’ve been trying to release one album a year. That’s been my goal. I think a year is a good time to measure your life. If I waited longer, too much would happen, and too much would change that it wouldn’t have the same consistency. I feel like the faster you work, the better.
Is every album like a diary for you then?
It reflects what’s going on in my life, but it’s not a diary in the literal sense because then I wouldn’t be publishing it. It’s personal, but it’s not private. I do see it as one long story with different chapters, like a series of books that has the same hero throughout all of them. Or maybe not a hero, maybe it’s more like a detective solving different crimes. [Laughs] I want all the songs that I publish to say something to more people than just me. Sometimes I write songs that are really like a diary, and then I feel like, “Okay, this is only interesting to me.”
Your new album is called Zenith. You haven’t peaked, have you?
I turned 30 last year. A lot of people have this age anxiety about turning 30, leaving one decade of your life and going to the next. But I was so happy, so eager to become 30, that I celebrated my 30th birthday nine months early. It was such a great feeling to let go of the twenties and let go of a lot of things. I’ve never been so comfortable in my life. But I don’t think it’s the only zenith. My feeling was to make an album that was an eternal sunset. I also thought it was cocky to be like, “This is the best!” But I don’t really want to imply that all my albums after that will be worse.
Was the uplifting tone of the album a conscious choice?
Last year was a very heavy year, not just for me personally. Maybe because it was the Year of the Horse, which is a tough year in Chinese astrology. All the wars that broke out, so many negative things in the whole world, all of this got to me as it got to everyone. I felt like I couldn’t make anything positive then. I felt so politically depressed. So I had to wait. I wanted to put something out with a positive feeling, to have this energy that these are just hard times we’re going through, but things will get better. And I hope that when people listen to it that I’ll be able to transmit this feeling of an optimistic outlook on our time.
Except for the first single “Lovers are Losers”, maybe.
It refers more to the fact that as soon as you love something, you have something to lose. It’s a very tongue-in-cheek title because people assume that I’m saying, if you’re a lover, you’re a loser. But what I’m saying is that you have the risk you might lose something you love. It’s a celebration of being a loser. It’s this word that we throw around about people, as if they mean nothing – in media, in this capitalist world that we live in, where being a winner is the best thing. So I’m actually defending every loser, which I have always done!
Early on, you gained a following in the Berlin queer scene with performances at Ficken 3000.
When I started making music, I noticed that I was very embraced by this scene. I didn’t exactly know why that was. I think the queer scene is a great place to try things out because it’s so much more open-minded and forgiving in the sense that you can also screw up. You’re never a failure, somehow. Now it’s half and half. I don’t feel like I’m only a queer scene artist now. But it’s just because it took a while for the straight people to catch on.
You’ve been avoiding interviews for a very long time.
I had this ‘no press is good press’ policy because I felt the music really does its own work. I don’t need to take it out for walks on a leash. I also started writing songs as a way for me to express things that I thought were difficult to express verbally. It made no sense to sit and talk about it. But, I guess, at the same time, I do have a lot of things to say. [Laughs] And when you don’t say them yourself, people will say them for you, and chances are that they won’t say them right. It’s like with Pythagoras who didn’t want anything left behind of his work. So he destroyed everything, which, in the end, meant that his enemies wrote his history. I felt like maybe I owe it to the music.
Releasing your records via your own label Dark Skies Association, you embraced DIY from the start.
It’s very democratic. A lot of industry people, musicians and producers, were all male. Women haven’t been really let in. The DIY thing – with everyone being able to record a song if they have a phone, computer or anything – has led to more women everywhere. The whole major label discussion – it’s like asking a chef if he would like to work at McDonald’s, you know. Why would I want to do that? At times, it was quite difficult because you don’t have anyone backing you up, not just in the industry but morally. But if you work hard on what you wanna get out there, with a sincere heart, everyone will in the end embrace that. Of course, just because you can make a song doesn’t mean that you have a song to make. But giving everyone the chance is great. And every voice deserves to be heard.
MOLLY NILSSON’S ZENITH RECORD RELEASE PARTY Tue, Sep 15, 20:00 | Berghain, Am Wriezener Bahnhof, Friedrichshain, S-Bhf-Ostbanhof