Hey Elbow – a trio of experimentation

Hey Elbow’s music has caught the attention of both Swedish and international music blogs and listeners. Radar met up with a third of the trio to talk about the debut album, the sound of escalators and the band’s quite original instrument choices (like chimes, kalimba, harmonium and flugelhorn).


Hey Elbow is usually described as a Malmö trio even though 33 % of the band now resides in Stockholm. But having Julia Ringdahl in the capital hasn’t stopped the trio from releasing their debut album, which is out today.

The three members see each other as a trinity, always placing themselves on stage in a way that makes no one the front person. Radar talked to Julia, who sings and plays guitar (in addition to effect pedal and all the other eccentric instruments Hey Elbow use), about how this tight group survive being apart – and how they took the step from playing in friends’ apartments to being booked at the Roskilde Festival.

How did you guys meet?
– Ellen and I went to the same school and started making music together. After we finished our studies we moved to Malmö and started over with our music. During that time we got to know Liam through mutual friends. We tried playing together once all three and we’ve been playing together ever since.

How long did it take before the three of you became Hey Elbow?
– It happened right away, we started writing music together from the start.


What was your first real gig?
– We played at Debaser in Malmö and that was the first show where people who didn’t know us saw us play. Before that we’d only played a gig in an apartment and at some gallery and only in front of friends.

Do you feel that it all happened fast for you guys?
– Yeah, but I think it was because we fought really hard for it, and rehearsed a lot.

So it was always more then just a few friends playing together? You had goals set from the beginning?
– Yes.

And now, two years later, you’ve gotten attention from big music blogs abroad and you’re playing at the Roskilde Festival. How do you view that progress?
– If you count all the time we’ve put into Hey Elbow it feels like it’s been going progressively but at the same time none of us are used to it. We’ve been making music for so long and it’s never been going at this pace before.

Sometimes when we’re supposed to rehearse a song Liam starts playing something else and two hours later we end up with two completely new songs

Hey Elbow is a “Malmö trio” but you live in Stockholm. How does that work?
– Haha, well we were a Malmö trio before I moved here so we had time to really get started before I moved. We’ve frequently had gigs since then which has been really good for us since we take time to rehearse during those occasions. And I go back to Malmö during the summers.

Is it hard being apart?
– The hard thing is wanting to write music and play together when you can’t. But it’s working quite well. We talk to each other every day.


The titles of all the songs on your debut album Every Other are names. How come?
– It started with one song that got a human name as a title, and we liked that idea; that every song is unique, like little children with names of their own. So we just kept on giving them names and called the album Every Other to tie it all together.

You’ve explained that the track Blanca is about prejudices and categorization. Is that a theme on the album as well?
– No, we usually make songs without stories and themes. Of course we write about something when we write the lyrics, but for us when we start playing, the focus is on the music and the words and vocals become instruments rather than lyrics.

I read that you’re also interested in different sounds, like hisses and noises, which you use in your songs.
– Yes, we improvise together and then we go from there and form the songs.

Do you ever like walk on the street and hear some leaves in the wind and get inspired?
– Yeah, maybe not inspiration for a song but I definitely hear sounds that I like when I’m just walking around.

Do you record them?
– I actually have a zoom recorder that I use!

Really? What was the last sound you recorded?
– Today I recorded the sound of an escalator and the sound of trains. But that was for a school project, I study sound production.


Are the songs on the record mostly improvisations or do you reshape the initial creation a lot?
– Some of them we worked on a lot and some songs were basically created after Liam counted off and then we just began playing and it became a song.

How would you describe the process of making a new song?
– Sometimes when we’re supposed to rehearse a song Liam starts playing something else and two hours later we end up with two completely new songs.

You’re known for using a lot of weird instruments. How come? Are you guys really good at chimes, kalimba, harmonium and so on, or do you just play around with them?
– I think it’s because we have a big interest in music and instruments and we’ve had easy access to them. Our base is synth bass, guitar, vocals, drums and flugelhorn. And then we add other sounds when we think they’re needed, and that might be a kalimba lying close by.

Photography by: Isabella Ståhl. View all photos on top.