A while back, I presented to you the song Surfacing by Swedish composer and piano player Richard Hellgren, so now its time to go under the hood and get to know him a bit better!
Where are you from, and where do you live?
I am from sweden and I live on a relatively small island in the baltic sea called Gotland.
How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I have been playing piano for very long. For more than thirty years. I also play the violin.
Tell us about how you started playing music.
My mother played the piano and we had an acoustic piano where I grew up. I remember that I as a child was very fascinated by the piano and all the sounds you get out of it. Later my parents sent me to piano lessons. At about the age of 13 i got really hooked on playing the piano and started to practice a lot. I was at that time very much into playing and trying to master pieces of the classical repertoire. in my late teens my goal was to become a concert pianist. At that time I also studied piano at a pre conservatory level in England. However I was practicing too much and in the wrong way ( I later found out). My wrists were strained and I had to stop playing. I sort of gave up on that career. Instead I focused on a different career and became an Architect. I always wanted to do something creative and I thought that could be a good alternative.
How long have you been making piano music?
I have always thought that making music is something magical that I always wanted to do. But I think it is the last three years that I really started to make music. I think it has been parallel with me finding my way back to the piano. Reevaluating my relation to the piano. Not trying to be a pianist with technical virtuosity. But finding my own authentic voice and expressing it on the piano.
Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
For very long I have had a feeling that i had something to express in music. But earlier I seldom got very much external validation. People didn’t seem to understand my music. I think that led my to doubt myself and my music making. A turning point for me was when i started to do some meditation tracks for a mediation app called Insight timer. I got so much good feedback from people and started to actually believe that there are actually people I can reach with my music and that my music actually can have meaning for other people. That in turn gave me more confidence and I started to do more music. Eventually I found the modern classical community and found a genre that suited me and my style very well.
What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
I think Luke Howard and Ólafur Arnalds are two of my main infuences. I also like Johann Johannson. There is something with that music coming from Iceland. Also living on an island perhaps there is something in the music I can relate to.
Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano?
When I am in a creative mood my head is so filled with my own new music that I rarely have place for much else music. But with that said I had a period when I listened a lot to Luke Howards album Open heart stories. It resonated very much with me.
What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
I think we are stuffing everything in our modern culture. I think of an old interior in the nineteenth century where there where things everywhere. There is a term: horror vacui (horror of empty space) for that interior mind set. I think it is similar in our modern world. We seem to try be perpetually entertained, with social media internet. And there is rarely time for silence and stillness. I think there is a need for music that is not always engaging the mind. A music that perhaps is experienced as a bit boring for someone seeking to be stimulated by novelty and excitement. But a music that for someone else can be a vehicle for stillness and emotional healing.
How do you record your music?
For me I was searching quite a lot for the perfect instrument and studio to record in. I had an idea of recording on an expensive grand piano and I evaluated different studio options. A friend of mine that is also an accomplished music producer one day showed me his studio. I asked him for advice and it turned out that he himself preferred cheaper upright pianos because he thought they had more character. That made me rethink what an ideal recording instrument should be. I actually had an upright piano in my house. An old Malmsjö from 1911. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was the perfect instrument for me. It is funny sometimes that solutions sometimes can be right in front of your eyes but you just don’t see them.
Whats your take on sampled instruments?
My first recordings were made on a sampled instrument. Those recordings are definitely cleaner. But I prefer listening to a real instrument. But with that said I am still moved by great music whether sampled och acoustic.
The last question is asked by my 5 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from?
I think everyone has a creative seed inside of them. Tendering it with soil, water, space and sunlight will make it grow to a tree. For some people the fruit of that tree will be songs to share to the world.
Thank you for this Richard!