Who is The Big Picture?
The Big Picture is my (Mikael) solo project. When it started back in 2004 or so I was playing with other bands back in Stockholm, and The Big Picture was more of a side project. Those bands later stopped playing together, and The Big Picture became my main thing.
At first it was very much a solo-thing, but now a days, even though I still write all the songs myself, I’m more open to letting other people in to the songwriting and producing process.
The Big Picture bio says this is a long term project of Mikael. Are you now based permanently in China? Is the current line up one that will endure for a while?
I am now accompanied by John Marrett and Luke Hansford when I play in China. They are great, and I’m having a good time playing with them, so this line-up of The Big Picture will probably last as long as we all stay in China. But how long that will be, we don’t really know at the moment.
You’ve just done a China tour, visiting Dalian, playing Mao Live, where else?
In 2009, before I’d started playing with Luke and Vincent, some of my Swedish musician friends came over to China and we played a couple of shows together in Beijing, Shanghai and Kunshan (didn’t go to Dalian). 5 shows in total. The tour wasn’t a great success as such, but we had a blast traveling around together.
You released one album in 2008 that features input from plenty of burgeoning personalities on the Swedish indie scene. and are working on your next. How does that scene compare to Beijing’s? What are your thoughts on the Beijing scene?
The great thing about playing music in Beijing is that there are many places to practice and play shows. In Stockholm it is not that easy to get a show. There aren’t that many places to play, and the places are a lot more selective about who they let on stage. This has it’s good and bad sides. In Beijing anyone can get a show, but that also means you’ll see a lot of… not so great bands. Another difference I’ve noticed is that the Chinese bands tend to focus more on the live show than the recording, while the situation in Sweden might be the opposite – focus is on the recorded music. Personally I’m not that impressed by the Chinese music scene. There are bands who are really good at playing their instruments, there are bands that look really cool, and there are bands with pretty cool sounds, but I feel like China is lacking good songwriters. Also I think there’s an empty gap between the really hard rocking punky stuff and the slick stuff. I miss creative fun indie pop bands. My favourite Chinese artist is probably folk singer Zhang Quan. And P.K.14 are cool.
What if any changes in artistic direction will there be on the new album? Where are you recording it?
The last album was actually a collection of songs from my old demos, which meant that the sound on the different songs weren’t very homogenous. This time all songs were recorded during one period of time and with the intent to end up on a full-length album. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted it to sound like, sound and production wise, and in the end I think we got pretty close to the initial ideal. The album was recorded in Stockholm with the help of my producer friend Johan Svensson Callin, who also played drums on the songs. He’s also been mixing it over there for me. Actually I just received the finished songs the other week, and I’m very happy with the result.
Who are your major influences? Who has styled your songs most?
It’s hard to name a particular influence right now. If you would have asked me when I first started The Big Picture I would probably have said Elliott Smith. Nowadays I consume a lot more music but don’t get as obsessed with one particular thing like I used to when I was younger. Lately I’ve been listening a lot to Sun Kil Moon, Sufjan Stevens and Broken Social Scene.
Where do you find inspiration for writing music and lyrics?
All the songs for the new album were written in Beijing. Some of them touch on the subject of living abroad and living away from people and things that you miss but at the same time really liking it were you are. But a lot of the songs are also on the same topics I’d write about anywhere else in the world. Basically, I write about what I experience. I’ve tried to write about other people’s stories, but it never turns out good for some reason. Music wise, I believe everything I hear kind of nestles its way into my brain in some way and might have an influence on what I write in some way. But more specifically – Good live shows, and listening to songs that make you go “how do they do that?” always gets me inspired. And rock- pop history documentaries.