Q&A: Meet Albin Lee Meldau, A Soulful Voice Transforming the World Around Him Into Musical Poetry

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I first met Albin Lee Meldau outside the infamous Capitol Records Tower off Hollywood Boulevard. The setting was a far cry from his native Sweden, yet the historical legacies that enveloped the space served as an undeniably fitting place for the soulful star in the making. Music has surrounded Meldau since his inception. Meldau was raised in Sweden by his jazz vocalist mother and British punk rocker father. The two seemingly disparate worlds gave birth to a talent rife with an appreciation for the varied musical traditions of a time past, all viewed from the guise of an artist seeking to carve out his own hallowed spot in music history.

Meldau has arguably already began making a lasting name for himself in music with his captivating, soul-tearing renditions of modern indie-pop. The singer-songwriter’s series of EPs, Lovers and Bloodshot, showcase an artist whose profound expression of modern pop music encompasses everything from soul, blues, and rock. Fans and critics alike have clearly taken notice of Meldau’s well-versed ability to craft engrossing poetry with his time-worn voice and arresting songwriting. The likes of which have garnered him over 300,000 monthly listeners on Spotify alone, a nomination for Best Newcomer at the 2017 Swedish Grammy Awards, and the first ever Anchor Award for best emerging talent. 

Meldau has managed to strike a chord with not only the music industry’s elites and fans but with us here at Ones to Watch as well. So, I sat down with the voice and mind behind these spellbinding works to attempt to figure out the man behind the poetry.  

OTW: How did growing up in Sweden affect both your own music and how you approach music?

Albin Lee Meldau: My mother is a music teacher and my father is a singer as well, working in the theatres as a lighting director. My father is from London and my mother is from Sweden. I always lived in Sweden, but half of my family is in England, so I lived months of the year in England ever since I was a kid. Sweden has helped me in thousands of ways. We’ve had a government that has supported arts and culture for almost a hundred years now. So, in every possible way–free music education, benefits for rehearsals, all kinds of shit. I used to be a busker and a wedding singer. Busking was my main income, and that’s tax-free in Sweden, well up until $12,000, so it was a nice little extra income for someone that’s just getting started. So, I was influenced in many, many ways. We have our sound, just like the Cubans, the Jamaicans, the Americans, or the English. We have our own thing and that shaped me into who I am. But it’s also the English side that influenced me. And the Jamaican side too. My father always played reggae for me and my mom loves Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour, and African style things. So, I grew up in quite a weird, leftist musical kind of household. My father and my mother divorced early but both of them helped me. I played the trumpet and sang in choirs [growing up] and she used to have a tiny little TV. She used to lock it in the cupboards, so if you didn’t practice your singing and your trumpet, you weren’t allowed to watch the tele. We only had four channels anyway, so she was a very big part of my musical upbringing. I have no degree, but I work as a music teacher, so I’ve got to thank them for everything.

OTW: You clearly had a very musical upbringing. Was music what you always thought you would end up doing?

ALM: Nah, nah. I wanted to be a football player. I played football all the time, forever, up until I was sixteen. Then I played a Brazilian team and I never went back. It was easier for me to express my world and spread my poetry in this way. But if I could do it on the pitch and be #10 in the World Cup finals, I’d trade it for this easy. I live for, I dream about football. I’m a sports guy, a simple sports guy. I like dogs, I like weed, and I like football. That’s basically it. The older I get, the less interested I get in football though, cause it’s all about the money now. They just spend $220 million on a transfer fee, so it’s getting silly, and it’s getting to a point where they change teams like underwear. It’s not the same anymore for me anyway. Maybe it’s because I’m older, but I don’t know $220 million for one player is going to take his mind off football and more on just sponsorships. But yeah, I wanted to be a football player and not for the money. I just wanted to score. No, but this is the thing I do, and I try and treat it the same–stay in shape, try and work harder. Woody Allen said something really smart, Success is 10% talent and 90% being prepared and able to do your job. Cause you only get one chance, so it’s an honor to be here. It was really hard just getting through immigration. Damn, I never thought that would happen (laughter). But no, actually he told me I was never going to get this Visa. He was the rudest man I ever met. It was awful! He was very, very not digging me, but I had to stand there and get that bloody visa. The trip from being nobody on the street to sitting here, it only took five minutes, but it was a lot of work–a lot of things that had to come together. Yeah, I’m here to do my job and spread my poetry to the world. That’s basically it. It is my diary, and I don’t do anything but try to write music.

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OTW: You often describe your project as a diary of sorts. Could you explain that a bit more?

ALM: Well, this is my poetry. These are my thoughts and experiences. We live from emotions and we make stuff out of emotions. Like, every word should be thought of. Shakespeare and them they’ve influenced me a lot. I mean all my favorite poets, everyone in the world. I know I can sing, but the question is can I write? You have to do both, and that’s what I’m working on. Life is a journey, man. Music isn’t a competition, but life is a struggle. We got to remember that. We want flesh; we all have our own problems. It doesn’t matter. I just have a vent. And I’m so happy for that, cause if I didn’t have that vent, I’d be fucked. I’d be on the streets. So, this is a diary. It’s what I do now. You can’t take it too seriously. You’ve got to have a distance with everything. It’s hard. Yesterday, I did a bloody session with Diplo, and the day before that I did a session with Scott Storch. When people walk in bling and smoking dabs for five-hundred dollars in a day, crazy shit happens to me now. You have to keep a distance and keep on working. That’s what you do. Don’t let it get to you. People are all flesh, man. They are great geniuses, but they’re also hard workers. You can’t be anywhere if you don’t work harder than everyone else, and that’s what I’ve learned. And this is the thing about America, people here, they grind. They work seven days a week, and they fucking get their shit done. Cause there’s competition, and there’s always competition. Everywhere. So competitive, it’s ridiculous. That’s something I really like about America, because competition is a good thing. If you don’t like that, well, go back to Sweden and just hide. But yeah, I’m honored, man. You have to pinch yourself every day. Remember that you need to spend more time on your work, the better it goes. No partying–well I’m not saying no partying, but what I am saying is that the majority of things you do shouldn’t be shaking hands. What you should do, is just fucking keep on doing your shit. That’s important for me, to be able to do my stuff. I don’t mind going around, shaking hands, cause that’s what you need to do, but if I have a session with someone that’s where we make our gold. 

Someone told me quite early on, someone really famous, he told me there’s only two rules in this business. First, is to write a good song, and the second rule is to follow the first one. So, that’s the only thing that’s going to matter in the end. And I need to remember that. It’s mind-blowing shit, but you can’t let it affect you in that way. I’m half-beyond twenty-nine this year, and soon to be thirty years old. If I was twenty-two and went into Scott Storch’s house, I’d get fucked on the dabs and no song would come out of that, so it’s the little things. Wax on, wax off. Do your shit. Come prepared. Boring ass shit. People ask me all the time, “tell me something fun, tell me something fun.” Well, I can tell you that you need to prepare and you can’t just come there and think that it’s going to be fun. It’s not going to be fucking fun; it’s going to be a lot of hard work and more, more, more work all the time. That’s the biggest lie–that people think with success and money comes less obligations. That’s bullshit. It gives you a stomachache, doesn’t it? I’m just happy on every level that I can continue to do my shit, and that’s the most important thing for me. Cause I don’t want my diary to be about rooftops–it’s not fucking interesting, you know what I mean? So, that’s what I try and do, keep it real with what we do. Remember, my friends back home they can’t pay the bills, with terrible addictions, and terrible life stories and shit happens. And I need to keep in touch with that shit. A good poet sees and hears not the big man but the little man, and the little man got a story to tell.

OTW: Would you say you actively transform the world around you into your poetry?

ALM: Yeah, that’s what it is. It can be anything. It can be a snowflake falling. It can be motionless sound of anything. It’s just emotion. Yeah, you just have to, like a filter, like a machine, take everything I see and put it into something.

OTW: When did you write your first ever song?

ALM: My mom taught me how to do pop productions very young. I had a band from the age of eight, playing with all her favorite students. I wasn’t popular in school (laughter). My mom was the teacher, I got the best grades all the time, and I was playing the trumpet all the time. So the first song I ever wrote, I was eleven. She used to do these little shows in school where we could play, and I started playing youth halls very young, then I had a few years where I only played football. And then I started doing music again, as soon as I wanted a girlfriend.

OTW: Did it help you get a girlfriend?

ALM: Oh, yes. I’m shit at everything but cooking and playing music.

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OTW: Girls do love that.

ALM: They can’t be asked to cook. So they’re like, “why don’t you cook me something?” I was going to cook anyway (laughter). So, cooking is what I do, and I play music, so that’s why I got into both. Well, now cooking I got into because I wanted good food, and I couldn’t afford to buy it in the restaurants. Yeah, so that was actually why I started to learn twelve-bar blues or try to play solos–cause I wanted to impress some girl I wanted at the time. One of my favorite footballers, he’s called Peter Crouch, they asked him, “What would you be if you weren’t a footballer?” And he said, “I’d be a virgin” (laughter). I’m not saying it’d be that bad, but I am saying it’d be pretty fucking awful. If I didn’t play music, I’d be fucked. I can stand in line for a few hours, not forty hours a week. I’d get bored and forget about it, just stand there singing and get fired eventually. Yeah, but if I didn’t do this, I’d be a music teacher.

OTW: You’d be a music teacher?

ALM: Yeah, cause I can do that. I know I can. I’ve been with my mom in this classroom for all my life, and I took over for her for six months, and I’m going to work as a music teacher when I get back to Sweden. I’m going to give it back to the kids. That society has made me. Kids are funny, man. I realize the better it goes, the harder it is to keep them quiet. Like, the only thing they’re going to ask about is Scott Storch and Diplo. I’ve got to keep them in order and that gets harder and harder if I’m on the television, so I’ve got to enjoy it while it lasts. It’s a good job.

OTW: What’s been the most surreal part of your career thus far?

ALM: You know, there’s more people listening to my music then there is in my country. So, I have millions and millions of streams. I get to do all kinds of wonderful things, but what really, really amazes me is that people listen to my shit. They don’t know who I am, but they’ve heard it. That’s the biggest thing. It’s thanks to all the wonderful people here; it’s thanks to my team. I’m just a megaphone; I just want everyone to hear me. We are exhibitionists, we want to tell people our story. I mean I’ve met some fucking amazing people, and I have fans who have produced David Bowie’s records, so that’s amazing. But to hear a child sing your song, realize it’s you and then freak out that’s even bigger cause children don’t lie. They can’t. People in general, they like it. They’re fans. I meet them all over the place all the time, and that’s amazing. Scott Stroch was fucking epic though! Yeah, but all that name-dropping business–I’m a Swede, we don’t do that shit, and I’m not very Swedish so I can do just a little bit of it (laughter). 

The most epic thing that happened to me–I was with my ex-missus, and it was a shit day. I knew it was over with. We were walking down Oxford Street in London, and I was going from session to session, station to station. I looked there next to me, and to the next of me is Alexis Sánchez. Alexis Sánchez won the Chile South American Cup twice, he’s played for Barcelona, and he’s the biggest Arsenal player we have now. I’m like fuck there’s Alexis Sánchez in the middle of the street for no reason, and he just walked off. I’m like, “it can’t have been,” so I started chasing him, and I was running and he got scared so he started running a bit. So, his bodyguard came and was like what do you want? And I started screaming the place down and he was laughing and he left. So, if I wouldn’t have had a session that day, I wouldn’t have met the biggest Arsenal player we had at the time. I’m a sports guy and that was due to a gig or a session I was going to have. I’ve never felt that honored to shake a hand.

OTW: On the subject of your songs, I love the song and story of how the song “Lovers” came to be. Would you mind sharing that story?

ALM: Yeah! “Lovers” is a reggae song from the late ‘70s. My father lived in London, and they had a reggae band. That’s the only tune I ever really loved, so I had to nick the good shit and take half the money. Yeah, no, to be able to work your father is an honor. So, I get to work with everyone, even family. My mom is a wonderful jazz singer; I’m producing her new EP. My missus is singing on my whole record. I have a few little more things coming, from within my family, strictly root shit for my art, and that’s going to be fine dope ass shit. Yeah, man, “Lovers” is quite simple. It’s beautiful lyrics–that’s poetry for you. It’s wonderful. So, I wanted it to be a big ass thing with a lot of ambiance on it and slow it down. I just tried it, and it fucking worked. That’s what I do. When you get to work with big ass people, it’s more like an addition. You get one layover to do something and you’ve got to pull that off. But when I’m back in my hometown, I’ve got a whole week, or a month, or a year, or a lifetime. “Lou Lou” and “Lovers” were both written under those circumstances. There’s something in the air in Sweden, something with the northern lights, we have a different ambiance. There’s a lot of Norway and Swedish acts that are doing greats with that ambiance I’m talking about. It’s like if the northern lights were a sound, and the vibe of it is very hard to get. I work a lot in London, I work a lot in New York, and I work a lot in LA. Most of the shit, I do all my recordings in Sweden. It’s home. We do well. Sweden has one of the biggest music exports in the world, Max Martin and shit. They’ve got it all. If you can make it there, you can make it here, you can make it all over the world.

OTW: You guys did have ABBA, arguably one of the biggest pop groups of all time.

ALM: Yeah, it’s number three in the world of all time. To this day, they sell the most records of anyone in Australia, but they invented pop music. They own everything, they started this shit. It would be an honor to meet them. They do some epic things, like “Dancing Queen” that is a great song. I’m a reggae fan and a blues fan, but I listen to everything. I was listening to Eurythmics the other day. It came out in ’83 and it sounds so fresh, it could have been released today. Yeah man, just listen to everything, try to grasp everything, get emotions out of anything.

OTW: As far as music upbringings, your dad was more of a punk rocker than your mom–

ALM: They were both punk rockers, but in London and Sweden punk is very different. Punk came to England first, so the Swedes got it ten years later. The English punk isn’t as political in the same way, it’s more about smashing people over the head with a fucking bottle. Swedish punk is the same, but it’s much more leftist and super political. It’s more like prog music, but yeah they had the green hair and shit.

OTW: So, what made you decide to immerse yourself in the world of pop, as opposed to punk or jazz?

ALM: I’ve done jazz, blues, and roots for all my life. Like I said, I want people to know me, look at me, and like me at the same time. And if you play a very small genre, it might happen. But why did I start this? I wanted to get my old girlfriend back. That wasn’t going to happen. She left me, cause I was a bum. And I just said, well, I’ll get my own superstar and get on the silver screen, so that’s how it started. What I do is pop music, but it’s very broad. If you listen to “Persistence,” someone called it spaghetti western, and I fucking like that compliment. Then I do something with Diplo and Scott Storch, it’s totally different, but it’s all within this boundary of Afro-music. Even Black Sabbath is Afro-music. It’s all African beat and drums. I’ve done a lot of classical music, and that’s not African music. That’s 14th century up until now. All the bits and pieces just assembling together, and I’m not racist when it comes to sounds. Some things I don’t like, I’ll say that’s not my cup of my tea, but I’ll fuck with the artists. I’m going to do my job until I’m rich enough to just do reggae, but that’s different. What even is pop music? Popular music. The Beatles are pop music. I’d say Louis Armstrong is pop music, so why wouldn’t I want to do it. Also, I’m getting older. I got to do shit. I can’t just be hanging around. Like I said, the old one left me for being a bum, and that’s not going to happen again. Last time that ever happens. So, that’s it. That’s why. This is my education, this is my job, this is what I do. So, I could at least work as hard as anyone else or harder. My friends get to be doctors, lawyers, and architects, and they get kids and houses, I want that. I don’t want to be sitting with my guitar in a bar like in forty years, which could easily happen. I’m not out the danger zone yet.

OTW: How is work on the debut album coming along?

ALM: It’s coming, mixing it now. I’ve got something more, but still going with shit loads of work. And that’s an honor. Like I said, when I get back [to Sweden], I’ll get the strings and the brass and do my mom’s record, and then I’ll do my girlfriend’s record. Just going to see what I can get, start working on my Swedish roster.

OTW: So, how would you ultimately go about defining success for yourself as an artist?

ALM: Damn that’s a hard one. It’s not materialistic. Cause who loves a woman more than the oceans? This is for the Lord, but what I’m saying is everything strives towards the ultimate complexity. Like Quincy Jones said one good thing, “we’re not here to chase dollars, we’re here to chase goosebumps.” He managed to do that, and that’s the goal with music–to make it as good as possible. Just like football, just like any sport, I want to score as many goals as possible, I want to get the title, I want to see how good I can become. Not because I want the statue, just because I want to see if I can do it. Success is when I get goosebumps from myself, and other people agree. That’s success. 

It’s a very hard question. Someone who says money wouldn’t be here. It doesn’t hurt to have money, but if you do it for the money, then I think the goosebumps will disappear. It’s got to be purely for the soul, purely you. I choose to turn to the utmost complexities, the Lord, the universe, or whatever you want to call it, but life itself slides towards the utmost complexities, doesn’t it? The really successful acts or producers that I’ve met, like my favorite that’s I’ve ever got to work with is Tony Visconti. I’m proud to say he’s a fan and a friend. He did all David Bowie shit, Thin Lizzy, he is the fucking producer. He takes time to listen to everything that everybody sends him, cause he wants to. He doesn’t need to and he just listens to everything to see if he finds something that gives him goosebumps. He takes time for everybody, why wouldn’t you? That’s the biggest, baddest shit I’ve ever heard. “Ziggy Stardust” that’s the album. What can I tell you? Just keep on working. Dreams do come true if you work hard enough. Like I said, 90% is getting here on time and being prepared to do my fucking work. It’s such a boring answer, but if kids want to drink, they better get some knockout punches first. People looked stoned, but they’re not. They’re cunning music businessmen. If you get the chance, don’t fuck it up being stoned, or lazy or ignorant. I’ve been close a few times. Don’t think you can write a song in a day. So that’s basically it mate. Never give up and spend more time on your craft than on bullshit.

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OTW: Is there anything else you wanted to mention?

ALM: Yeah, yeah, one thing. To all you wonderful people who are listening to my music, I love you all dearly, and I hope to see you soon.

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