At Paléo Festival I interviewed an eclectic person and artist: Eric Linder, alias Polar, who gave me an insight on music business and taught me to never stop following a dream. A huge thanks to him for these precious lessons and thank you to the Paléo team for making this interview possible. You can read the review of his concert at Paléo here and take the chance to see Polar on Friday September 19 at Le Bourg for the Label Suisse festival, it’s completely free!
The Liberation: Why did you chose to go back to English in your new album?
- Polar: Basically I started singing in English. My music culture is more English (or American) but I speak French that’s why at one point I decided I wanted to work on an album in French, but this became two albums for maybe the wrong reasons. When I signed with my record company I couldn’t go back to English. For me it was a frustration to be forced, as an artist, to do another album in French, not that I didn’t want to do another French album, but I hated the fact that it had to be in a way that wasn’t my way. I had to pretty much clarify my situation with my artist contract and it took some time and then I started working on new songs and I really wanted to do it in an independent way. My French albums are signed to EMI, a major label, whereas my English albums are all signed to indie labels. I didn’t really like the major label experience and I wanted to go back to indie and I really wanted to produce the album myself, that’s what I did for Empress. For me the French project was more like a side project, it became something like a main project in the mind and understanding of people but to me it was always supposed to be an album and we’d see if more. But you know music business shit and I was trapped in it (laughs) it’s not that I didn’t like my French albums but I didn’t like the forced situation. So I’m really back in control.
The Liberation: Cool! Back to an indie label! How did your Irish origins influence your music?
- Polar: It’s not really the Irish music. When I was a kid I always went on holiday in Ireland and I still do. The music culture in Ireland is huge, music is everywhere, I guess this had a huge influence on me, which is very different here. When my granny was alive she would know all about the new bands in Ireland or England just by listening to the radio, having no problems going from Sinatra to Blur. She just knew about all those bands and everyone knows, music is real, it’s really popular, pop. So this had a huge influence on me but also the fact that in my family people sing, some sing traditional music, the others sing or play music; they don’t do it amazingly well but they do it in a very pure way. I remember my uncle singing and playing covers, and writing some songs. He wasn’t really an amazing singer but he put so much emotion into it, that this had an influence on me, you don’t need to be the best at singing you need to put your heart into it. When I was a kid I listened to him and I thought: “He sings in a strange way, but wow! This big Irish guy is singing this beautiful love song”. This really had an influence on me, do you understand? And you wouldn’t see this here in Switzerland, not many people sing but in Ireland, in my family, everybody sings. If we had a family gathering everyone would sing, it doesn’t matter if good or bad. We would just meet up in the family house and start singing. One would spontaneously start singing and automatically everybody would stop talking as a sign of respect. Even if the guy is struggling with his voice to be in tune, music becomes important just to feel good. The power of music!
The Liberation: In your songs what comes first: texts or melodies?
- Polar: It depends when but for the new album I would say… I mean usually I write my songs on the acoustic guitar and voice. I had my little notebook, but nowadays I use my iPhone as a notebook. So I would start writing lyrics here and there and gathering them together and have this huge database of words. At one point when I start having some melodies I kinda bring together both and quite easily and quite clearly I know which words would go with which melody, it’s quite spontaneous. But on the album Empress we worked a lot on the music before working on the lyrics, which was unusual for me. We were working on a ballroom in the Swiss Alps, I like this place because it’s really quiet and remote and it’s an old ballroom. One Summer for two months we did just composition and improvisation and research, not thinking whether it was for an album or not. We did a huge amount of music and it was just fantastic with the band. And then, the following year, I mean from that Summer to the next, I took all the music I really liked and started working on lyrics for it. The next Summer we met up in the same place and we recorded voice and music and made little corrections, that’s how the album came up.
The Liberation: Is there a special message you want to convey through your music?
- Polar: I think the only message that really reflects what I’ve been through in the last three or four years is don’t bow to… Keep the line straight you know, cuz I nearly lost it… I’m so happy to be playing again, I’m so happy to be on stage again, I’m so happy to be with my band and play, at one moment I kinda lost you know. The business had a bad influence on me, I thought it was very different to keep control so I would say just never lose control over your music, never let anyone put hands into your music. When you sign to a big label be able to keep that control is very difficult and I failed, I mean, it was an experience, but not a fantastic one. But you know I don’t feel bad talking about it. Everyone in Switzerland in my area knew that I signed to this big label and everyone imagined it’s gonna be like this and that. People saw me in an area where I would do great pop music and stuff but it’s not me.
The Liberation: There were too many expactations.
- Polar: Yeah, for things that I’m not. It´s not me. Ok, I write good melodies maybe, people like it. I mean in the record company people liked it, but they had idea of what to do with it which I didn’t share, a big problem. For me the dream is not to be this famous artist, for me the dream is to be a multi project artist being able to write songs, perform, sing in English do music for movies, write music for pre dance, … I’m the director of a festival called Antigel in Geneva, maybe you know it.
The Liberation: Yeah I know it!
- Polar: It’s my festival. I’m just a creative guy. I love photography. That’s the way I am. I hate to be put in a box, and the record label really wants to put you in a box. They refused to release the music I did for the National Ballet of Korea, it’s contemporary dance ballet not classic where they do iconic music. I was really happy with the result. I’ve been working with them for four years now, two shows a year. You know that in Seoul the capacity of the theatre is 3000 and they play for two months, so count the number of people attending… There were some really good feedbacks on the music and people wanted to buy it but my record label refused to press and refused to allow me to press the soundtrack.
The Liberation: No way!
- Polar: Because I had an exclusive contract with them they didn’t allow me to do it, and to sign it. So this is so stupid you know, this is where the music business fails in really working with the reality of what is being an artist today. With the music business falling down you need to be creative in many other ways. So for me this is the goal right now, to keep this independence, being able to do multi projects, which I always did. When I signed this was a problem. You know at one point Couleur 3 proposed me to go to Bamako in Mali to do a project there 3 or 4 years ago. And my record company refused to let me go there, thinking that at that point it was more important to do a few shows I don’t know where in France. You know, I could have gone to Mali, record music there, maybe do an amazing creative experience that kind of shit you know. A lot of artists don’t speak about it but it’s a lot like this.
The Liberation: So now that you’re signed to an indie label you can manage your time as you wish?
- Polar: I’m my own producer but then I work with indie labels to release my music. I work in Switzerland with Two Gentlemen, they work with Sophie Hunger and The Young Gods.
The Liberation: Yes, I’ve heard of it.
- Polar: It’s a really good label, the best indie label in Switzerland. And I have total freedom, they don’t tell me not to put some songs in the record or things like “No you have to have your face on the album cover”. For them it’s all ok, they really respect the decisions of the guy who did the songs, which is basic.
The Liberation: What are your plans for the future?
- Polar: Near future is the release of the album on the 22nd of August. As I said it’s a very important process, it’s been so much work, and doubts and happiness and a fight to get to the result of the finished album. To me this is the real open door to lots of new projects. So I would really love not to wait too long to release another album after this one. Not wait always 3 years but go faster, that’d be nice. Right now in September there will be the release of the album and I will do music for a dance performance in Théâtre de Vidy in Lausanne. I’m doing this, then music for a movie produced by ARTE, Canal+ and BBC TV America, so a real soundtrack. I’ll start the tour with Polar playing in Switzerland at the end of August at Jval Festival, a small festival, an absolutely fantastic festival!
The Liberation: I think I’ve already heard of it!
- Polar: Go to it! It’s fantastic, excellent context. That’s on the 29th of August then I play Label Suisse in Lausanne on the 19th of September and then Luzern and then it goes on till the end of the year.
The Liberation: So pretty much a lot of touring.
- Polar: Yes, touring and also the dance performance will tour and I’ll have to go back to Korea at some point but don’t know yet when. So really multi directions.
The Liberation: Since I saw your concert yesterday (July 23, 2014) I wanted to know how did you feel playing at Paléo.
- Polar: Really happy to be back on stage. Honestly I’m so happy. I really wondered if I would go back on stage at one point, it’s a hard job to be an artist. And the period is very dynamic but also very hard in the music business. So considering all this, when I walked on stage last night I said “Yes, it’s good to be back playing!”. But you know it wasn’t an easy concert, you know Stromae kind of took all the attention yesterday, I think it was pretty hard for everyone last night.
The Liberation: I think so yeah.
- Polar: You know most of the people bought tickets for Stromae… It was a little difficult to keep the people with me, but you know that’s the reality of festivals. I’ve seen most of the bands that I love struggling at festivals to keep an audience in front of them. It was very nice, you know for a first big concert we did a good job, there was no major problem. You know I was excited, I was hoping for a little more people but that’s part of the job.
The Liberation: Last question, in which way do you think your new albums differs from the others?
- Polar: From the two lasts the language, clearly. And I don’t really write the same songs in French and English. I hear a lot that people like more either the French or the English albums but not both. It’s funny, when I toured in France I didn’t play the same clubs than the ones I played when I toured with my English albums. I think the English brings right now a more electric energy to my music it’s less folk-pop and it’s becoming more rock-pop. Most of the songs have electric guitar everywhere, which is new for me to have so much electric guitar. That seems crazy but in my sound I was more like on the acoustic guitar. I think the energy on the album is really new, whereas the older albums were more quiet, I was singing more whispery and now I’m singing more with my full voice that would be one difference. I think the sound of the album is very panoramic. We were very influenced by the nature of where we recorded as I said we were in a valley and the nature was really amazing huge mountains, extremely powerful. I’m totally in love with mountains and their power and the wildness so the title Empress came from there. Because we were playing all day watching this amazing view with this power of this nature, it had to be a woman nature so strong. And actually some of our equipment use Empress (Empress Effects). It became a kind of working title and it stayed Empress. I really liked this imperial inspiration. I can really here that on the first track on the song “Empress” because it’s also a song, where there is this very echo sounding music. And that’s pretty new, it wasn’t in my music before.
The Liberation: I’m done, thank you.
- Polar: Thank you so much for your interest!