by Michael McCarthy
After being the edgiest contestant on the one season of The Voice in Sweden and making it pretty far into the competition, Nicole Sabouné released her debut album, Must Exist, in 2014. It was an especially dark album, but a very successful one, thanks largely to the inspired singles “Win This Life” and “Unseen Footage From A Forthcoming Funeral.” Now she’s gearing up to release her sophomore album, Miman, which will be released worldwide, and for the first time outside of Scandinavia, with a newly recorded bonus track (a cover version of Madonna’s “Frozen”) on January, 6th, 2017 via Century Media Records. The label is describing the album as post punk but to my ears it’s post goth. Nicole tells us that it’s inspred by those genres, but she tends to think of it as something else. Find out what and learn about the inspiration for Miman and much more in the following interview.
MM: I know you’re from Sweden, but what city or town were you born in?
NS: I was born in a really small town in Sweden called Sölvesborg then I moved to a village called Lund. So, I would say I’m from Lund.
MM: So, where are your parents from? Is your last name a French name?
NS: My Dad’s from Lebanon. He was born there, but he was raised in France.
MM: How old were you when people first started saying they were really impressed with your singing, that you could be a singer?
NS: Oh, I think I always knew that. I always knew that I wanted to do that. So, I never listened to anybody. But I think I’ve been singing since I was a little child. Maybe pre-school.
MM: Did you do any high school musicals or anything like that when you were in school?
NS: Oh yes. I did like every opportunity I got to sing. We did not have musicals. Actually, we didn’t. But we had shows.
MM: Like talent shows?
NS: Not actually talent shows, but you could sign up if you wanted to sing or dance or anything. But it was never a competition.
MM: I understand you were on The Voice in Sweden. How many weeks into the competition did you make it?
NS: I was to the last two in my team. I went to the semi-finals or what you call it.
MM: What are some of the songs that you did on there?
NS: I did “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush. Then I did “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Sinéad O’Connor. [Laughs] I think I forgot. I don’t know.
MM: How many years ago was it?
NS: It was actually the winter in 2012.
MM: I understand the show didn’t last there. It was only on for a year in Sweden?
MM: It’s huge in the United States. They’re on season seven or eight already.
NS: Oh shit. It was not my kind of thing to do.
MM: You seem to be a much darker artist than they have on there?
NS: [Laughs] You think?
MM: Were you very nervous, being on a televised program like that?
NS: I think when you’re in that kind of thing you don’t fully realize what you’re up to. I never thought like millions of people would see this on their TVs and stuff. It didn’t feel real. I got nervous because of the singing and everything but I never got nervous that it was televised.
MM: Who was your coach on The Voice?
NS: It was a guy called Ola Salo.
MM: Is he in a band or a solo artist?
NS: He was in a band that was quite big in the early 2001, 2002. They were big around there, I think. Called The Ark.
MM: What genre do you consider your music to be? I know Century Media Records is describing it as post punk but to my ears it sounds like post goth or something? What would you say it is?
NS: I actually never think about music as genre and stuff. I think that’s pretty boring, actually. But maybe I’m usually liking wave or dark wave. It is absolutely inspired by goth and post punk so I think it’s a mix.
MM: How did you come to be signed to Century Media Records?
NS: I had a live show in Gothenburg, Sweden in a really old theatre. It was a nice show, actually. And Jens from Century Media was there and he really enjoyed it. He came backstage afterwards to talk about music and stuff. We really liked each other and I think it started from there.
MM: Is he Jens of the main people who run Century Media?
NS: I do not think [so]. Maybe. It’s a really amazing company though.
MM: I’m a bit surprised that you’re on Century Media Records though because they usually sign metal, like death metal and black metal.
NS: Yeah, all the journalists keep saying that. [Laughs]
MM: Did they tell you you had to make your music darker or anything when they signed you?
NS: No. They did not. They signed me because they liked it and I already got my album and they signed me because of the album. No. I wouldn’t listen to that because I only would want to do the music I want to do.
MM: I understand you wrote Must Exist with someone named Niklas Stenemo.
MM: Did you work with him for the new album, Miman?
NS: No, not that much, actually. He’s the guitarist in my band. He did not write the songs with me for Miman. So, he was like a part of them.
MM: Do you like writing songs by yourself then?
NS: It depends. Some songs are hard to write by myself, I think, but it’s better to write myself. It depends on the song.
MM: Do you play any instruments?
NS: Yes, I play the piano. And then some guitar but mostly the piano.
MM: How do you usually go about the writing process? What do you usually start with?
NS: I actually start with my voice. It always comes from there, I think. It’s a melody or a word. Sometimes I just sit down and program stuff and then I put some word on it or try to sing to it or anything. But it usually starts with me recording some kind of sound, yeah.
MM: What program or programs do you use when you’re writing?
MM: Do you produce your songs for the albums?
NS: Yes, I produced Miman.
MM: Did you work with a drummer on the final recording or did you just do the beats from Logic?
NS: No, no. I have a drummer. It’s just the demos that are programmed. Then I record all the instruments with my band.
MM: What’s the drummer’s name?
NS: It’s Joakim.
MM: I was wondering if the newspaper or magazine pages in the background on the “Unseen Footage From A Forthcoming Funeral” video were about anything in particular or just random?
NS: No, I think they were just random. It was the director that wanted to do that strange and I let him. He was very nice. Also, it was so many years ago I don’t remember what it said. But I remember we sat down and like read stuff from it. I think it was just crap.
MM: Is there a translation of Miman? I Googled it and Google Translate said it’s a Japanese word that means “less than.”
NS: Miman is inspired by a Swedish book called Aniara and Miman is an artificial machine so it’s actually a character from that book.
MM: The video for “Bleeding Faster” is dedicated to Virginia Woolf. Is she one of your favorite writers?
NS: Yes, she is.
MM: Is the song about her as well or just the video?
NS: It’s just the video that is dedicated to her. All the songs from Miman are inspired by this book Aniara. It’s a concept album about that. It’s really inspires me and I think when I was finished with it that I wanted to portray Virginia Woolf’s suicide to that song.
MM: So, you tend to be more influenced by writers than other musicians?
NS: I think it depends. I get really easily inspired. So, I think whatever I like grabs me.
MM: Who are some artists we would know in the U.S. who you’ve been influenced by?
NS: I think PJ Havey’s one of my big inspirations. And I would say Nick Cave is one of the biggest as well. I’m quite inspired by David Bowie’s Low period. There’s so many. Leondard Cohen as well.
MM: It was sad that he died recently.
NS: Yeah. This year sucks. Many musicians all over the world.
MM: Yeah. Too many of them dying this year for sure. Whose death were you the most affected by?
NS: I think David Bowie. He was my hero for so long. He was like my childhood and everything. So, I was really upset when I heard that he died. And it was so unexpected.
MM: Will there be any songs on the new album that are kind of in the pop vein like “Win This Life”?
NS: Um, I don’t know, actually. [Laughs]
MM: Can you tell us what a few of the songs on the new album are called? We haven’t been able to listen to it yet, so we don’t know the titles over here.
NS: We have “Under Stars.” We have “Rip This World.” What else? “The Body,” too. [Her line went mute during part of this answer. The other song titles are: “Right Track,” “Bleeding Faster,” “Lifetime,” “We Are Losers” and “Withdraw.”] I’ve taken things out of the book. Situations and characters. I wrote about them and they’re only inspired by this book.
MM: Did you have to ask for permission to use the book in your lyrics?
NS: I usually don’t use words from the book and stuff like that. I’m only inspired by it. And I don’t think Miman is like copyrighted like that here in Sweden.
MM: Do you ever experience writer’s block?
NS: Yes, of course. I think I have a period of that right now, actually. I feel kind of empty and stuff. It comes and goes. And once I’ve started to write it usually goes really fast and I know what I want and I have my vision. But it comes and goes, absolutely.
MM: Have you done much performing live yet?
NS: Yes, I’ve been out for like two years. Around Sweden.
MM: Do you have any plans to perform live in the United States?
NS: Yeah, I hope so. I really do. I think we’re working on that.
MM: Yeah, it would be cool if Century Media could bring you over here and you could tour with some of their artists or something.
NS: Yeah, that would be amazing. If I’m allowed to come into the country. Yeah, it would be.
MM: You’re not sure if you’re allowed?
NS: [Laughs] I think I am. But the boys [in my band] will be harder, I think.
MM: How did you come up with the idea to cover Madonna’s “Frozen”?
NS: Oh, that was one of my favorite songs when I was a little kid. I always thought that was a really great pop song. It only started as a live thing, actually. I said to my band that I wanted to try it on. Can you do that cover? And they said they really liked the idea so we did the arrangement for it and they really liked it so we started to play it live and it was really appreciated by the audience and stuff and then we just recorded it live in one day and we thought it was nice to release.
MM: So, the version of it on the album is live?
NS: Actually, the drums is one take. We don’t play it as we play it on stage. We recorded one instrument at a time as we were recording, but the drums was one take.
MM: Do you have any extra songs that you wrote that didn’t make the new album?
NS: Yes, I do, actually. And I don’t know what to do with them.
MM: Maybe you could release a single and use some of them for B-sides?
NS: Yeah. Maybe. Yeah.
MM: Do you generally prefer writing songs in the studio or do you prefer performing live?
NS: I think I prefer both. I really love the process in the studio of creating a song and making it what it is. But then it becomes more magical on stage and when you rehearse it with your band. It comes alive in a kind of way after, I think. It’s almost like two different songs.
MM: What formats are the new album going to be available in in the U.S.? Are they doing vinyl by any chance?
NS: Yes, I think they’re doing vinyl. I’m not super sure but I think so.
MM: Has it been released on vinyl in Sweden?
NS: Yes, only on vinyl and digital.
MM: No CDs?
NS: No CDs. We don’t buy CDs that often in Sweden like you do.
MM: Did you buy CDs when you were growing up or are you from the generation that just grew up downloading everything?
NS: [Laughs] I think both. I was getting CDs when I was real young, but then when I was ten or eleven everybody started to have mp3s and downloading stuff. We didn’t have a computer when I was at that age. I was never that good with computers and stuff. So, actually, I don’t think I really was into that downloading. But I had a CD player in my room. But then Spotify came and streaming things became a thing when I was in high school.
MM: How old are you now if you don’t mind me asking?
NS: I’m twenty five.
MM: Are you making any money from Spotify yet? I’m hearing from artists and they’re getting like two and three dollar checks and they’re very insulted.
NS: Oh yeah. They don’t pay a lot. I mean, I have management and stuff, but I don’t have anything to do with them directly. But, no, they don’t like paying the money from Spotify, no.
MM: What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?
NS: My own money? I think it was – that’s a hard question – I think it was a Nirvana album. Yeah, I think it was Nirvana. I was really into Nirvana when I was five or six.
MM: Which album did you get first from them?
NS: I think it was Bleach, actually.
MM: What is your biggest pet peeve? Something that people do that really annoys you?
NS: Oh, I get mad a lot actually. I think when it’s supposed to be quiet and people talk really loud. I think that’s really annoying.
MM: It is.
NS: When people are loud and they don’t think that they are loud.
MM: Do you have any pets?
NS: Yes, I have a cat.
MM: What’s its’ name?
MM: What kind of cat is it? Or what color is it?
NS: It’s black and it has this white mustache as well. And he has white paws so it looks like he has socks on.
MM: Here’s a question kind of from The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror. If someone came along and offered you two million dollars cash – U.S. dollars – but if you took it you’d have to stop pursuing a music career, would you be tempted to take it?
NS: No. Never.
MM: Name three artists from your parents’ record collection who you actually like?
NS: Pink Floyd. Jean-Michel Jarre. And The Cure.
MM: The second one is that French guy, the new age guy?
NS: Yeah. He did all these crazy concerts. He was a synth pioneer.
MM: Did you ever see him in concert?
NS: Yes, I did. A few months ago for the first time.
MM: How was the show? Was it good?
NS: Yes, it was quite good. He’s become a little more commercial these days but I really like his old stuff.
MM: Yeah, I think he’s released a couple electronica albums with all these famous people singing the songs.
NS: Yeah, but I mostly like him for his old instrumental stuff.
MM: Do you have a favorite album by him?
NS: I think Oxygene is the best one.
MM: OK, this is a humorous one. Can you name all five of The Spice Girls without looking it up?
NS: Ah, I think so. It’s Mel B, Mel C, Geri, Emma and Victoria. [Laughs] That was an easy one.
MM: Did you ever listen to them?
NS: Oh yeah. I was like four or five when they were big and I had like all the Barbie dolls, these collected types you could get. And my Dad traveled a lot so he got all these cards and I have all these collectible cards.
MM: I probably shouldn’t mention this, but I have a Geri doll.
NS: Oh, cool. I wish I had mine still. I don’t know where it is. We moved so many times. And I might have threw them away at some point.
MM: Mine is still in the box. I never opened it.
NS: Noooooo. Don’t ever open it.
MM: Yeah, so it’s probably worth money but I wouldn’t sell it.
NS: No, don’t.
MM: So, what is your favorite holiday?
NS: I’m actually not that into holidays. I think Christmas is like cozy and it gets really dark here, but I’m not that into holiday traditions and that kind of life. But I think like Christmas is the craziest holiday.
MM: How many times a day do you text on your phone? Do you do it all day?
NS: I’m in school as well. So I don’t text that much.
MM: What are you studying in school?
NS: I’m studying math and physics.
MM: Are you just doing that to get a degree or do you plan to stop doing music and focus on that?
NS: No, I am doing this because I want to know some other things as well. I want to have something in case it’s [ever] time to do something else. I’ve been doing music all my life and I just wanted to see how everything turns out if I do something all my life. And I’ve always been a fan of math and physics and stuff and I wanted to try it out.
MM: Do you think you’ll ever get a job doing something from physics?
NS: I have no idea. I actually have no idea. It’s fun for now. But I’m not like trying to put out that I want to trade a career or something like that. It’s just fun to do it.
MM: Name five of your favorite books, movies, albums or TV shows?
NS: Oh, we have Friends.
MM: You like Friends?
NS: Yeah, it’s my number one. Favorite movie, I think, Eyes Wide Shut. Favorite album, I actually am still in love with Nick Cave’s last album. I think it’s a gorgeous piece, actually. And what other TV shows do I like? I like The Fall a lot.
MM: The Fall?
NS: I think it’s American, actually.
MM: No, I know what you’re talking about now, it’s British. On Netflix with Gillian Anderson?
NS: Yes, that one.
MM: Have you watched the third season yet?
NS: Yes, we did actually. We finished it just a month ago.
MM: What do you think about the ending?
NS: I think it was quite good because I like endings where it feels like it won’t continue. So, it was quite good. I knew that it was going to be that way.
MM: Yeah. I think three seasons of chasing that one guy was long enough.
NS: Yes. It was good.
MM: Final question. Name three things on your bucket list that you haven’t done yet. Things you want to do before you die.
NS: I want to tour a lot. All over the world To see all the places in the world. I want to visit all the continents. I want to go to Iceland. And I want to buy a house.
Special thanks to Nicole for taking the time to do this interview and to Ebony at Century Media for making it happen!