The celebrated solo-musician Johan Karlson comes from the small town of Hässleholm in southern Sweden. For the last year or so, he has travelled around Europe under the moniker Familjen (The Family) to charm worked-up electro admirers at every stop. Last month, Familjen was one of the biggest acts playing the Iceland Airwaves festival. When he had satisfied the crowd with his high-pitched tunes the Grapevine caught up with him in the green room.
Could you begin by telling me about Familjen, how did it all begin?
Well, I don’t know really. I have always liked making music on my own since I was little and I had been engaged in doing Familjen-kind of music for some time when I introduced some of my work to a friend of mine who worked in the publishing industry. He had somehow heard that some of my pieces, which had never left my house, might have some potential. He was, apparently, impressed by some of it and told me he wanted to release some of my work. I was enthralled of course and immediately agreed that we’d simply go for it. At first we took it slow and released an EP but it was soon obvious that there were clear grounds for taking the whole thing further and so we published a full-length. Everything really took off from there…
You have always worked alone until recently when Andreas Tiliander became a part of Familjen. Have things improved subsequent to this addition?
It isn’t exactly that black and white to tell you the truth, it is still only myself that composes all the music and am in fact still the only actual member of Familjen. What has on the other hand changed is that my dear friend Andreas, who is a great musician to say the least, has joined me in my live performances, and he has definitely made them much more lively and energetic. Besides him we have a few extras, for example the singer who sings in two songs that give us a hand once in a while. So yes, things have improved a lot, at least the live performances have. I was so new to this all and didn’t exactly know what to do on stage but I think we are finally reaching the point where somebody might actually find our performance fun to watch.
The music you compose is considered by many one of a kind, so in your opinion where does it all come from? What would you say inspires you the most?
I think the things and people around me have a great influence on my music. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not talking about my band fellows, I just tell them what to do and they do it. But I base my songs on my own experiences. But bands I listened to in my teen years have also affected me a lot, such as Daft Punk and Guns’n’Roses.
Recently your single ‘De snurrar I min skalle’ has been peaking charts all over and you are slowly becoming a recognised name in the industry. What is it about you that made you succeed?
It isn’t me for sure! When I think about it I find it most likely that it’s my agent that has made all this happen. In recent months I have been invited to several music festivals around Europe like Iceland Airwaves of course, and it has truly been a blast. I was really shocked when I saw all the people here singing along with the lyrics, even the Swedish ones! It was crazy! I had no idea I had reached that status. I thought that was just what skyrockers like U2 experienced.
So you have been playing a lot of festivals lately? You must have some rock’n’roll-ish tour thrills you could share?
I sure have a lot of those but I’m not sure if I can tell you. This is a widely read publication isn’t it? But well, I guess I have one that isn’t that nasty. We were doing this tour with a band called Kent, and we did about thirteen gigs with them. One time after a gig we had gotten tremendously drunk and we decided to go to a bowling alley that was open 24 hours, but after a few rounds we decided to spice things up a bit and made up the rule that every time you missed a pin you had to take one piece of clothing off. So you might say it was strip bowling. And finally we were all down to our socks and when Andreas ran after the lane when he was dissatisfied with having missed a few pins with his family jewels flapping against his thighs we noticed all the flabbergasted people around us staring at us, and we realised it was so late that family people had actually started showing up for a nice Saturday relaxation. We couldn’t help but feel like true rock stars at that point.