Agnes Carlsson left the spotlight – now she´s back
Imagine being an artist who hasn’t been on stage for at least four years. Imagine that the first concert you’re then going to do is in front of 60,000 people and you’re sharing a stage with names such as Kygo and David Guetta. Nervous? Not if you ask Swedish pop singer Agnes who made her breakthrough 10 years ago with “Release Me” and toured the world before stepping aside. Now, she’s back.
“I felt incredibly calm. Just before leaving the stage, I asked myself, ‘What’s just happened?’ The whole day was special as all the artists involved were so emotionally open. Everything was so full of love,” Agnes says.
We’re sitting in the bar at Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel, the day after the tribute concert in memory of Avicii at a packed Friends Arena. We’re surrounded by groups of visitors from all around the world preparing for this year’s Nobel Prize ceremony in the Swedish capital. Agnes, meanwhile, is contemplating the next phase of her career.
With last year’s EP Nothing Can Compare and the more recent soul single “Goodlife,” she’s up and running again after a long spell out of the spotlight. It was a break that she never had even the slightest doubt about taking. In fact, she’d already made up her mind to do so before touring in 2015.
“I was 26 then and I’d been in the music business for exactly 10 years. I quit my old record label and management at the same time. I had a clear sense of needing to do something different to grow as a person. Was it a difficult decision? No, for me, these kinds of big decisions in life are very easy to take. ‘OK, that’s that, let’s do it,’” she says.
The time-out was about finding answers to questions of identity that most of us wrestle with when we become adults for real – is this what I want? Or is it something that has just happened along the way? And if I don’t have this to lean on then who am I?
“I decided that I would take a long enough break that people would find it hard to ask, ‘And what are you doing now?’” she says.
What she has done is spend the past four years traveling around the world. She’s taken courses, spent time with friends and done the kind of things that people who haven’t won the TV talent show Idol often do, straight after high school.
“Eventually, I came to see that there was nothing I would rather do than music. Music is my very essence,” she says.
After winning Idol in 2007, Agnes became a big star in her home country of Sweden. Suddenly, she was transported from her bedroom in the small town of Vänersborg to the biggest of stages. It was a dream, but also an overnight breakthrough.
“I realized pretty early on, wow, what I’d give to have all those years practicing in a garage without any distractions. To be able to be in my bubble just writing music without anyone tapping me on the shoulder. And that’s what I’ve been able to do for the past few years, to get back to the time when I was 17 and nobody knew what I was doing in my locked room,” Agnes says.
Two years after her TV success, her career exploded abroad with the hit single “Release Me.” A major record label in the US invested heavily in turning the girl with the big voice into the next R&B-scented superstar. She began writing music with other songwriters in the US, but somehow it didn’t really work for her.
“For me it’s important to have the right energy when it comes to music. I’ve spoken to many artists and songwriters about being in a session when things don’t click. It’s like going on a date with someone and realizing as soon as you sit down, ‘No, this isn’t going to work.’ But then I’ve also been in situations when I’ve not liked the atmosphere in the studio, yet we’ve still been able to put a good song together, which feels strange,” she says.
May last year saw the first fruits of her new musical direction with the posthumous Avicii song “Tough Love,” a duet with her fiancé, Vincent Pontare, from the successful production duo Vargas & Lagola, who have worked with artists such as Madonna and Seinabo Sey. Vincent and Agnes have been a couple for 10 years.
“We didn’t plan to work with Vargas & Lagola, it just happened. When Vincent and I met, I was spending most of my time abroad and he often came with me. Then, when I took a step back these past few years, it felt natural for me to travel with him. It’s been brilliant to expand each other’s horizons. We get each other 100%. It’s fantastic having that kind of sounding board,” Agnes says.
Vargas & Lagola were also involved in many of Avicii’s biggest hits and it was through Vincent that Agnes got to know Tim “Avicii” Bergling, who died tragically in 2018.
“Tim was one in a million, a pioneer. It was even more apparent at the tri
bute concert just how incredibly creative he was, when all his songs were played one after the other. He was totally unafraid to try new things and dared to mix styles, high and low,” she says.
Are you inspired by his music?
“Absolutely. I’m inspired by people who do new things and talk straight from the heart. In my case, it’s about being true to myself. That’s the only thing that’s important. I’m happy that the music I make can, in many ways, sound different, provided it comes from inside me,” she says.
The Nothing can Compare EP is rawer and darker than the songs Agnes has released previously. The songs were inspired by an evening out with friends in Las -Vegas and describe the feeling of losing yourself completely in music and dance. It contains samples from both disco diva Donna Summer and voices from the LGBTQ classic “Paris is Burning.”
The EP opens with the sound of someone walking along a corridor on the way to the dance floor.
“It’s not just about going out and partying, it’s deeper than that. I’ve experienced myself how, with the help of dancing, all the crap can leave your body. When those perfect moments arise, there’s nothing else. They can be so healing,” Agnes says.
Salem Al Fakir of Vargas & Lagola describes Agnes as “a special voice with an equally special energy capacity in the studio, where suddenly everything can be on fire.” The singer’s personal and professional partner Vincent Pontare agrees.
“She needs to get the feeling that something feels right. When she does, it’s as though a new energy gear kicks in. One thing I’ve learned from her is that being a singer is about working hard. Agnes has a very strong work ethic, she never gives up. Without saying too much, she’s the same in her private life. If she wants to learn to embroider, she’ll go all-in and can sit in front of instruction videos for hours,” Pontare says.
During her “time-out” years, Agnes started to produce music herself, and researched what creates this energy. She recounts a course she took in singing bowl meditation, where Tibetan bowls are used for meditation or massage.
“It was so powerful. I went there to learn about bowls and came to realize that the -experience enables you to embrace everything in life, including music. For me, healing is about -being able to pass through powerful energies, just as you do with music. I can get really angry sometimes in the studio and have to tell myself ‘just sing.’ But if I don’t feel the right energy it doesn’t work for me. For me, life is about learning new things. Next on the list is to try hypnosis. It’s about being open to new things. Except you don’t need to take a four-year break to find that out.”
Published: February 26, 2020