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Thomas Denver Jonsson


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Thomas Denver Jonsson.

Solid Eyes & Muddy Water

A Talk with Thomas Denver Jonsson

by dennis cook

San Francisco


there is time for them all

the light was shining and the band was playing low

Some music reaches us like a long distance call, coming in muffled but clear enough to get into us. Swedish singer-songwriter Thomas Denver Jonsson comes across the wires just like that, an acquaintance half remembered from your travels, someone you had one of those conversations with that stay with you for a lifetime. Even meeting him for the first time there’s enormous warmth, a good kind of familiarity, a handshake in song that makes you feel instantly less alone. Drawing from the deep wells of Will Oldham, Neil Young and ‘60s Bob Dylan, Jonsson crafts quiet dirt road hymns for victims & murderers, crushed ladybugs & pale angels.

From the first time I heard Jonsson’s fractured, beautiful voice on late night radio on through his first EP, the wonderful folksy Topeka Twins mini-album (done with fellow Swede Bjorn Kleinhenz, himself a new voice to keep an ear out for) and onto to his first full length, Hope To Her, there’s something indefinable that draws me in again & again. Much of his catalog feels like an oblique variation on the mood struck by Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand”, places where hope and fear coexist without tension. Within the comfortable folds are shadows and that shading, that private mystery inspires our own investigation.

Talking about his debut, Jonsson says, “I guess the reason whyHope To Her became the record it did was because I had some strange feelings that I had to deal with. Some years ago I was prescribed medication for depression, but I couldn't really handle them the way I should have. I had some complications and some of them are still following me.”

He continues, “Dark and strange feelings can really make you afraid. I guess the worst part of it is that it's coming from inside you and you can't control it. I came to realize one day that some of those feelings wouldn't let me go so I had to accept them. I have to stop being afraid if I want to move on with my life. I'm working on that, I have faith in what I'm doing and I'm doing better and better.”

Don’t know if the aftermath will ever count in the end

Don't sure if the breathing is a consequence or the start

Don't know if everybody feels this way

But do whatever you want to do with me

His band, the September Sunrise, consistently grab your ear with a style that’s anything but intrusive. They add a powerful presence to his songs but do so without drawing attention away from the tunes, a presence felt like the breeze or sunlight on your skin.

“I wanted a warm sound with a lot of soul and dynamics,” comments Jonsson. “It’s hard to explain any better really than I wanted the September Sunrise to sound more or less the way they do. I think they're great and they have been an essential part of my success this last year.”

“The forming of September Sunrise was one thing leading to another,” he explains. “First my signing to Kite Recordings was planned to result in an acoustic 4-track EP where Carl Edlom was going to back me up with some guitar playing. Then, Fredrik Wilde came along with some slide guitar upon that. And once we added those instruments we all got the feeling that the music was lacking something, it needed a full band. Fredrik plays with Henric Strömberg and Tomas Lindberg in another band, a lovely rock act called The Higher Elevations, and after some persuasion I had my bass player and my drummer and The September Sunrise was formed. The pieces were put together and the record that first was meant to be a low-key acoustic EP became my debut album featuring this band.”

Thomas has seen the evolution of his music by working with these gifted musicians, the nuance that comes from collaboration. “Sometime when I write I have the band in mind but most of the time I'll write songs just for me acoustic and then I present it for the band and they can add their brilliance to the existing song,” states Jonsson. “I guess I want to write songs that are so good they can almost stand for themselves. If a song is working great with just guitar and a voice, it's often a good sign they will become really great with a carefully measured arrangement.”

No pain, no fear, no hunger

takes place in that peaceful valley

where the angels above, are sending their love

their snow white wings counts us in

Another influence on his work was the Topeka Twins sessions, a project that might reform when either of the songsters have more time.

“My thought about The Topeka record was to do a really nice low-key record with influences from old American folk music and religious country. Later I came to notice how important the work with the Topeka record was for the making of Hope To Her. I doubt that tracks like Black & Blue and Road Runner would have been written without the influence of Topeka. It's like it brought me the last touch of country charm that was needed,” states Jonsson.

And the flowers built a shelter

and the stick in my heart

growin' bigger by the day

And it's oh, so quiet in here

'cept some furious sounds from the haze

For a young artist, it’s natural to wear one’s influences on their sleeve. Jonsson is no exception in this respect but manages to still come out with a sound that’s his own.

“I guess Will Oldham is the artist that is most important to the music I do. He's such a great artist and songwriter. For the album, I guess Will Oldham together with Gram Parsons and Beach Boys are the leading and most important influences. Those are artists are completely devoted to their vision. Will, Gram and the Beach Boys also have a tremendous feeling for melodies and how to perform them. The melodies are so important. A great melody makes the song's whole spirit go straight into the listener's heart.”

He also cites Townes Van Zandt and Rosie Thomas as influences. Jonsson toured around Sweden with Thomas and alt-folk icon Damien Jurado at the end of last year. As people are exposed to his music one can only imagine that the list of admirers and acoustic compatriots will grow especially once Jonsson makes his way onto U.S. stages. Work has already begun on his next album. He tells us, “I'm writing a lot of songs right now to my next album that has the working title ‘Dreams at the film club’. I think the next album will be a little rougher, ifHope To Her had a lot of country charm in it, I think Dreams at the film club will hold more of a city feeling. I hear more piano and female vocals. It'll be great.”



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well, I guess you could easiest describe it as a mix of

Neil Young, Will Oldham, The Band and Gram Parsons.

Well maybe not as good as any of them but it is surely

one of my favourite albums lately. I know there's an mp3

somewhere.... (checking)

... Ah, there it is http://www.kiterecordings.com/music/denver.mp3

check 4 yourself the song's name is Then I kissed her softly

from the album Hope to her

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