Interview with Agneta Falck
When did you decide to start singing
I have always sung and my first childhood memories are strongly connected to music. I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical family but music was present from early age. There were vinyls, cassette tapes and radio shows and also in the corner of the living room stood a guitar that was a fascinating thing that made some fun noise.
For many years I used a skipping rope as a microphone and a bucket turned upside down was my stage. Some years later when I got a real microphone as a gift from my grandparents I was over the moon even though there wasn’t anything to connect it to.
The acoustic in the garage would have to make do and there I did my first recordings on a cassette recorder. The hymns from the morning assembly at school were great hits. I also sang in the children’s choir of the local parish.
In primary school we had a young music teacher that I highly admired. She played the guitar and sang really well. In addition to the more traditional material she also brought to the class English pop and rock songs that weren’t necessarily a part of the official school curriculum. The music classes were a weekly highlight to me. I was a rather shy schoolgirl but during these classes I claimed my space, full speed and didn’t care so much about what anybody else thought of me. It was my time. It is only now years later that I have realised what an impact these music lessons possibly have had on me. Later, in secondary school, I was given my first solo to perform in front of the whole school as part of the Christmas program. That was a great honour and a big moment for me.
But if we fast forward some years it was only after a few years of travelling that I decided to wholeheartedly pursue my singing. After high-school I was rather tired of school and I had a longing to see the big world and something else than the streets of Karis, my hometown. A few years on travelling foot went by, but the music was always there somehow. It was also during my travels and the people I met who gave me the encouragement “not to waste my talent”. The decision to begin my music studies was made somewhere in Western Australia and a few pacific Islands later I found myself at Lappfjärds folkhögskola and after that I continued even further up north, to Musikhuset in Jakobstad.
I may not have walked down a well trodden path when it comes to my music and singing, and there have been quite a few sidetracks. I guess it is because I am interested in so many things and have had some trouble deciding which way to walk down. But at the same time my music and my singing has been the red thread that has simultaneously ran aside all of this.
What is your style of music?
I prefer not to tie myself up to any certain style. I also think I have the ability to some extent adapt my voice to different styles. However, my voice quality is perhaps best suitable for genres such as blues, soul, rock, country/bluegrass and americana. I guess these are the styles that probably are closest to my heart.
My year at Lärkkulla folkakademi was also significant for the broadening of my spectrum of different styles in music. Most of the students came there after high school. I had just come out of elementary school so I was a few years younger than most of the other students. But I learned a whole lot from these older and a bit more experienced students and got a better knowledge of new artists and musical styles, like for example soul, jazz and world music.
Later when I studied in Jakobstad the focus was very much on soul. Partly because it is a style that spoke to me from very early on and partly because it was a style that was very popular amongst us singers that were studying at the time at Musikhuset. It is quite a demanding style but it is a good style to practice for example improvisation.
Later after I moved back down to southern Finland I got into country and bluegrass by chance when I joined a band called Winestones. And for many years this was what I mainly did music-wise and perhaps what people associated me with. However, I can still recall my surprise when somebody for the first time called me a country singer. After all, this was more or less unexplored territory for me to begin with. In time, this was a style I learned to love and appreciate, especially the older country and bluegrass music. Over all it is easier for me to adapt to older music. I can be quite sentimental and I love nostalgia and it shows in many levels of my life, not only in the music. So, there is a certain longing and idealisation of past times going on, even times I haven’t necessarily experienced myself and it is also reflected in the music styles that I am drawn to. But these days I jump freely between different styles and that also goes for the music that I write.
How do you look at the development of your voice and sound, and how would you describe it?
I don’t think I will ever feel like my voice is complete and I will continue playing around with different forms of sounds and expressions. So, my voice has developed from early age and the way I see it, it keeps on developing.
My sound is a result of listening to other singers. I also think I have the ability to adapt my sound to different styles. My sound will vary depending on if I sing a modern pop tune versus an older country song.
In addition to the given female vocalists that I look up to I also take a lot of impression from male singers and I also enjoy working with the low register.
During my first singing lessons I had some insight in the significance of working with the body, such as controlling your breath and adding support. But my first real aha-moments came many years later, in Jakobstad when I was taught Complete Vocal Technique. It opened a whole new world for me and I made big progress in a relatively short time. My first singing lessons were foremostly based on classical singing. And it has its own framework of rules that can sometimes be hard to apply when singing rock where the voice can and even should break from time to time. With CVT I was able to get lessons in singing but perhaps more on my own terms and I felt that I was able to experiment with my own voice and sound more freely.
How was the singer/artist Agent Falck born?
Although I had been singing and performing for many years it was only a few years ago, in the autumn of 2016 to be precise, that I can say that the singer Agneta Falck, or artist if you like, was born. I held a concert under my own name at Tryckeriteatern in Karis. It feels like something happened then. It was a breaking point. The concert even paved way for many new projects and ever since one thing has led to another and many things have fallen into place.
The following summer I had a gig at Puistoblues in Järvenpää and it was noticed in an article by Blues Finland:” The highway to the stars is open: Agneta Falck”. That was pretty surreal. It was very nice to get that sort of recognition. When I was younger I dreamed about stardom and when my study counsellor asked me what I want to do with my life I said I want to become famous. In retrospect I can see that these sort of blurts where talk of an attention seeking teenager as this is pretty much as far as you can get from who I am today. The thing that motivates me to sing and make music is the feeling of contentment and wellbeing that it brings. Nothing is comparable, other than perhaps being in nature that has the same effect on me. But of course it is great that what I do is noticed, recognised and appreciated. But they are not the factors that push me forward. But sure it gives me a sense of satisfaction and adds to my wellbeing if I can make somebody else feels good with my singing and music.
You also write your own songs…?
I have always written songs. From an early age I came up with lyrics and melodies that I would perform to some of the kids in the neighbourhood. It was a different kind of flow back them. That kind of flow only children have before they have been indoctrinated in the rules and norms of adulthood. So later on, I became more self-critical and was struck with some kind of writer’s block. Also, sometimes I just think that most stuff has already been done. But I have been working extremely hard to try to free myself from these mental blocks. Some wise guy has said: To live a creative life we must lose out fear of being wrong”. This is very true and that insight has helped me a great deal.
I have a lot of unprocessed material, unfinished songs, ideas that I have started that are crying for my attention in my drawer. At the moment I am in a state of a very good flow and trying to make the most out of it. Later, when the time is right, I would like to record these songs and publish them under my own name. But this is something that I don’t want to rush. I am a person who doesn’t like to do things in a hurry. I have been a part of a few projects where I felt that things were done in too much of a haste, and unfortunately at the cost of the end result.
I also enjoy singing and performing other people’s songs. I can sometimes sense a certain belittling attitude towards covers. I don’t share these ideas although I can to some extent understand the argument that you will be perceived as more genuine or authentic if you write and perform your own material. The key is of course to try to do something different with the material. I love playing around with a song and making new arrangements. I might get carried away and completely change the style of the song or the time signature. How about making a 90’s techno song into a 6/8 ballad? The outcome can be very interesting I tell you.
How do you write your songs?
The lyrics are very important to me. They have their own aesthetics. But of course, it is the complete picture that is essential, the synergy of the text, rhythm and melody. Sometimes I begin with a theme, sometimes a line and sometimes just a word. At other times I star with the music, it might be a chord progression or sometimes a melody. There is no ready, basic recipe. It comes down to a lot of playing around with ideas. I try to record the process where ideas can run freely because amongst a lot of nonsense you can suddenly discover something valuable that is worth to work further on. At that stage I am very grateful if that something has been caught on tape. I don’t know how many times I have been mourning ideas that have come to me only to be swallowed up by the universe because I can’t trust my memory.
My writing isn’t solely autobiographical, but very often there will be some kind of touchpoint to my own life. I have travelled some and I guess I have gathered some material from encounters with people and places.
I also need to create the right circumstances for my song writing. I am rarely able to work with my songs in my own home. There are just too many distractions. There is an old church from the beginning of the last century where I have my workspace. There I am able to focus entirely on my music. I am easily distracted by external factors, therefore it is literally a blessing to have a temple to go to.
Is there a vocalist that you look up to?
I prefer not to list my musical influences as there as so many and somebody will always accidentally be left out. Also, I might have favourites for each genre. It would feel rather strange to compare Johnny Cash and Aretha Franklin and to place them on the same list.
That being said however, the black American singers do win my heart here by a mile. There is just so much feeling there. Centuries of oppression and fighting for your place in society both as black and as a woman. All of this resonates in their voices. It goes without saying that singers such as Aretha Franklin and Etta James are highly ranked, but for me the biggest of them all is Mahalia Jackson. I just can’t get enough of her. The expression, the groove, the feeling and the phenomenal phrasing.
I also have a lot of male influences and to list them would be overwhelming. And then there are the songwriters that are a class of their own; Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell.
My music listening is periodical. I might get really deeply into a certain artist or band during a certain time. A while back I had a b g Bonnie Raitt phase. At the moment Susan Tedeschi or Tedeschi Trucks Band is rolling pretty frequently.
So what happens next…?
At the moment I have a very strong drive when it comes to music and I try to make the most out of it. I am working a lot on some of my own material. I have some gigs booked for the summer, Baltic Jazz etc. This will be my second appearance there and I am very much looking forward to it.
Also, I have an exciting upcoming project that goes under the name Risto Tammilehto med vänner (Risto Tammilehto with friends). In many ways it differs some from what I have been doing so far. Even the language is new despite that Swedish is my mother tongue. Up until now I have sung and written in English first hand. When I was younger I sang and wrote lyrics in Swedish. So, singing and writing in Swedish feels nice and fresh and I am excited about that.
At the moment I would like to invest more time in my music. I also want to work on my abilities as a singer, songwriter and musician. To succeed at this I will have to reserve enough time for music and work out a better routine that correlates with my day to day living.
I decided quite early on that I will not pursue getting my income from music. I noticed that I would quickly lose some of the enjoyment if the stress of making a living from music would take over. So far, I have been happy about this decision. I haven’t put all eggs in one basket you could say.
In the future I would perhaps like to combine culture with social work. I would be interested in working with integration through culture amongst refugees. Music is a wonderful tool for learning a foreign language. Also, I am very interested in mental health issues and how music and culture could be used in rehabilitation and in precautional work. Music heals. I have lived in my own little musical bubble for way too long. Music has given me so much joy and fulfilment. I feel like it’s time to pay some forward.