Interview by Zach Grossfeld
Menke, a Swedish songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, fills us in on her recent creative inspirations, her love of analogue photography, time in the circus, and more:
Auxoro: What is the last painting, film, sculpture, photo, etc. that directly inspired you to create music or lyrics? What was it about that piece of art that stood out to you?
Menke: It was a painting called Green Sea from the ’Landline Paintings’ series by Sean Scully. You could see the painting as just stripes of colours but if you look at it for a longer time it grows on you.
It brought up feeling about how insignificant and meaningless our existence on this planet is and yet how we strive our whole lives to create something remaining and everlasting. How we, mostly blindly, try to fulfill our lives by achieving success or creating something memorable. It brought up questions in me about what we are here to do and why?
I named the song ‘Landline’ and it’s accompanied by a lyre.
A song that had a strong impact on you was a song called ‘Synd’ by the Swedish band Flesh Quartet. You had your first performance to this song while training circus. First, how did you get into the circus? And do you see any similarities between the creative process of training circus and creating music?
I’ve always been a creator and a lone wolf. I simply love to create, and I love to create alone. I sew my own clothes. I develop my own photos. I write my own songs. And it was pretty much the same when I practiced circus. My profession was the trapeze. I love being high up in the air and feel the thrill of doing volts in the air and just trust yourself.
Just like with music, you need to overcome your fears and trust your body and dare to let go. Because YOU are the only thing you got. Of course, you have your instruments and your gymnastic apparatus, but that’s not what will create the magic. The magic comes from the inside, growing inside out.
Steve Angello of Swedish House Mafia signed you to his label Size. Of your music, he said, “The first time I heard her music I was almost paralyzed, moved by the obvious apprehension of the world we are living in.” No doubt that Steve has listened to thousands of songs and not been moved to a similar state of mind. What about your music do you think induced that feeling? How has your relationship developed with Steve since then?
I can only speak for myself, but I get touched when I hear music that has its own soul and I guess that’s just what Steve heard. It’s not about what piano sound or how loud the drums are.
To be able to start my career with people around me who understood who I am was probably the best way possible. I’ve never felt restrained or restricted by him and that’s what I appreciated the most. We live in a world where everyone has a say about everything and it can get quite tiring.
I would say that our relationship is built on trust and mutual respect. We are both quite busy, but I admire Steve and his persistence of not giving up his artistic intentions. Both when it comes to other people’s work and his own. That’s my goal in life, to hold onto my creative integrity.
In the past, you’ve said that you can spend up to 14 hours per day developing analogue photography. How did you get into developing photos? What about this process makes it your “aesthetic icon”?
When I lived in Berlin I stumbled over a shop with analogue cameras. I was curious, and I tried a few rolls and got hooked. It was something about the grain and the way of photographing that fascinated me. Growing up with crappy digital cameras that you can take thousands of pictures makes you take pictures in a different way than with analogue cameras.
When you take that extra time to first roll up the film, check the aperture, then the shutter speed, then the focus and then finally you can take your picture. And I believe this also does something with how you compose your picture.
Developing your own pictures in the darkroom is pretty much going through the same process once more, except this time you actually can see a picture developing. The level of delightedness is just extreme.
You actively choose not to play the piano while writing because you are “too theoretically schooled.” I imagine most musicians would consider theory an asset to songwriting. How does this decision affect your creative process?
My approach to songwriting is that you don’t need knowledge to write songs, you need compassion. I like to write songs on banjo because it makes me listen and feel more. I write songs to express my feelings, not to show off my skills. When the song is written and done I really like to transfer the song to piano as well and make almost like piano covers of my own songs. I think that the reason why I like to do it this way is because I love to work intuitively with music in general. I hate when I get stuck in my thoughts.
What is the best purchase you’ve made under $100 and why?
My absolute best purchase under $100 I have made is a $40 contact microphone in Berlin. It’s from a small music shop in Neukölln with mostly guitars and amplifiers. These contact microphones are the best ones I have ever tried. It works on everything and everywhere. I even tried placing it on my throat and it sounded really cool. I have a pair of other contact microphones for around $350 each and they still can’t beat these other microphones.
If you could put anything on a billboard in time square (caption, photo, lyrics, video, etc.), but it can’t be self-promo, what would you choose and why?
I’d choose a message that I would like for people of this generation, it’s:
I have people close to me that struggle with mental health issues and it’s just so painful to see people you care about being hurt. We have so much pressure on ourselves all the time and we push ourselves so hard, always too hard. Social media makes us not so very social. And it’s in the comparison with others we forget to appreciate ourselves.