Adée, the soul/pop/hip-hop artist from Sweden known to her family as Ida Olsson, has been on our radar for a couple of years now, dazzling us each step of the way with her crystalline vocals and her unabashedly feminist agenda. And watching her perform at this year’s SXSW Festival only made that feeling deepen as she commanded the stage with grace and conviction, joined every step of the way with a four-piece backing band that included producer David Ekströmer and guitarist Ulf “Bitte” Appelqvist.
Olsson’s story is an impressive one, too. She was born and raised in a small rural village and lived a relatively rustic life before deciding to depart for Stockholm to learn production and try her hand at singing in bands. As you’ll read below, once she soured of that, she took the reins and started her own project. The world has been opening up as a result with international tour dates, a song chosen as the anthem for a conference on gender equality, and performances for heads of state in her home country.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Adée and her crew during their trip to Austin this past March to learn more about the spirit of her music and a bit about how she maintains her calm amid the whirlwind of acclaim and work she finds herself in. She was also kind enough to pass along one of her amazing promotional items – a tote bag with the words “I’m A Woman” printed on it – that we are giving away with a few other fantastic items and a mystery prize. Click here to get your entry in before the August 11th deadline! Then hurry back and our interview with the multi-talented Adée.
Although the music is released as Adée, watching you perform this week, it feels much more collaborative, like a group more than a single person.
Adée: Yes, very much. It started with Bitte and I. We started to lounge dates together. My new soul songs that I wrote myself. He helped make them better.
Bitte: You called me and cried. Tell that story.
A: I played with a reggae band and…I’m really structured and like to be on time and prepared. They were the typical reggae band, like, “Rehearsal? Is it today?” I had a really important show and they refused to rehearse. So I called Bitte and cried. It was, like, “Please play with me!” That was six years ago. So we played a lot together. [David Ekströmer] joined in 2013. He’s also the producer and we’ve started to write together.
B: It’s kind of surreal how we actually met, and how we the chemistry just clicked between us. Even this trip and being here, it’s something that’s brought us closer to each other.
A: We know who snores really loud. [laughs] I didn’t say your name! So we’re working a lot together even though it’s my name and my face. We met a couple guys earlier and they were, like, “This can’t be right. There’s a girl on the cover but there’s two guys!” So it’s strategic that way.
Is the songwriting then a very collaborative process between the three of you? How does that work?
A: It’s very different actually, from time to time. Most of the time, Bitte sends me obscure movies or recordings of him playing the guitar. I put it into Logic and loop it up and I write the top line. Then he steps in. It’s nice to have three people to go through. We know if it passes all three of us, it’s a good song.
B: I know the music of James Brown and Aretha. I grew up with all that. I put that together with your electronic thing. I’m newborn.
But all the lyrics come from you, Ida?
A: Yeah most of them. Not the latest song. David wrote the chorus, but that’s the first time I think that’s happened. I’m kind of strict with my lyrics.
David Ekströmer: It’s only one word in the chorus. “Make my day.”
A: You wrote three words! But yeah, the lyrics are mostly all mine. But they have input into it. Like, “You can’t say this,” or “It’s not pronounced like this.”
B: You’re really the writer in this.
I ask because, as much as i love every thing in this, your lyrics really stand out. I think of a song like “Woman” or “Circle of Violence” where there is a political and feminist side that comes out. Is that important to you to have that element in the music?
A: At first I didn’t think it was important but then I had, like, 20 songs that were about that. And I was, like, “OK, this might be important to me.” Writing “Woman” was a big thing for me because I wrote it and then the Nordiskt Forum Malmö picked it up. So it’s really from my heart about domestic violence and being a woman. I think it’s very important. If I have this space on stage and some people are listening to me, I want to say something important.
There’s a lot of talk nowadays about female musicians like Grimes or Björk who have talked about people are very dismissive of them as artists because they are women. Is that something that you’ve had to deal with?
A: Not so much in this project but I’m studied to be a producer for three years at school and I felt in that environment I got more neglected. “Oh, did you really produce this?” So I started a project in Sweden called Future Songwriting where I work with really young girls in a studio environment and in songwriting. Just so they get more comfortable with songwriting and take their place in the studio and learn more and be more brave. It took a lot of time for me to say, “Okay, I can learn this.” I want to help them ease their way up.
Within the songwriting process, do you two—Bitte and Daniel—defer to Ida and trust her instincts?
B: Yeah, of course. I think we have a good balance of different opinions. Since we’ve been working together for three years, I think we’ve found each other’s grooves and tastes for how we want it to sound. Even though we have different influences, we combined it to one thing: soul, jazz, hip hop, R&B, pop sometimes.
Is that a reflection of all the music you guys listen to? Do you listen to a wide range of stuff?
D: We’re really open minded. This is something we always talk about, but what I love about us is that, since i hopped on, this ability to see things in a different perspective and listen to each other, it’s not always about getting your own words out there. You’re really keen to listen and change ideas. I never saw the world in that perspective. That makes me even happier to be a part of the group because i appreciate that harmony and that feeling.
Do think that your open mindedness both socially speaking and musically comes from where you were raised. Do you think being in Sweden has some impact on that?
A: Yeah, i think so. We’re not into Swedish culture and music so much. We are all influenced by American music but we still have the Socialist ideas from Sweden. We combined the two, I think. I heard in an interview with Jill Scott from a couple of years ago where she said that you have to write about something that’s important to you and reflects you as a person. That really spoke to me. I can tell my story even though I grew up in a village on an island with 200 people! Every person has a story and everyone deserves to tell it.
It’s been a really busy time for you and for everybody in this project. How do you maintain your sanity and keep your head together?
A: Personally, I have a horse. My mom is a trainer and she allowed me to keep one of my horses. It sounds like she’s really rich, but it’s a really tiny horse! She has horses herself so she said you can keep him here and I’ll take care of him while you’re away. That’s been really nice for me because I lived in Stockholm while I was studying music production and I couldn’t bring him and that made me a bit insane. So that’s my personal down to earth time. But I think every time we perform on stage, it’s like, “Oh, this is why we do this. This is so much fun. This is why we travel around the world and do all these crazy things.” It’s always fun to perform and play the songs.
Do you have a sense of what you want from your career?
A: I’m kind of bad with thinking ahead. I’m always satisfied in some way. I know when we wrote “Woman” and got to perform it on national TV in Sweden and we got to do this big arena show. I was crying in the car when I rode home the next day, thinking, “It can’t be better than this. I can get another job now! This is it!” So I think I’m always surprised when these things happen. I can’t really imagine them. I think, i just want to keep being on stage and writing my songs and feeling inspired. So as long as I can keep that and work with these guys, it doesn’t matter.