1987

Disguised by his mysterious stage name and a dark hooded sweater, 1987 stunned us all with his magnificent debut single Ocean last year. We met with the man behind the hood; producer, songwriter, and Montauk member Victor Holmberg.

With its poetic, melancholic lyrics, set against a sophisticated blend of sleek pop and lo-fi r’n’b, Ocean was without doubt one of the most beautiful debut songs of 2013. While keeping himself disguised by his mysterious stage name and a dark hooded sweater, the debut single was followed by a string of marvellous remixes of songs by Postiljonen, Marlene, and Wild at Heart, and more, all marked by the dark, ethereal soundscapes we now know to be 1987. We met with Victor Holmberg to talk about storytelling, secrets, and his search for the perfect sound.

– This project began back in maybe 2008, Victor says. I was writing a lot of poems back then, so I had some texts in Swedish that I wanted to do something with, but I never managed to bring the music and lyrics together. It was also hard to make them work, since they were so personal. The songs were all about me, my thoughts, and my life, and that was scary in a way. This music means so much to me, so it’s been important to make something that really matters. I tried to make some songs in Swedish, but I just couldn’t make it really work. Until I made Ocean.

What was it that made that song work?
– I think it was because I found a style, a genre that suited me. It’s some kind of pop, with a slight touch of r’n’b. With a slight touch of all sorts of music, really. I like Ocean, it means so much to me. It’s so strong. I think that was what convinced me to release it. It meant so much to me that I didn’t care about what others would think of it.

That whole journey is what has
made me into what I am today

So how did it feel when it was out there?
– I was in London by then, but I could see what happened on blogs and Facebook and such. It was incredible. I honestly didn’t think people would like it, rather the opposite. I thought people would find it ridiculous. So the positive response came as a happy surprise. I realised then and there how important the audience is, how important it is that there are people listening to your music, liking what they hear. They are really the reason you’re making music. The response also gave me some kind of confidence to keep writing, so I’ve been writing a lot more since the release.

Ocean has gained a great deal of attention internationally. How does it feel knowing that there are so many people listening to it without understanding the lyrics?
– That’s weird. I’ve got a lot of emails from people wondering what the lyrics mean, and I’ve seen people writing on Yahoo Answers trying to get hold of a translation. So people do want to know what it says, even though some people have also compared it to Sigur Rós, meaning that you don’t need to understand the lyrics, but only listen to the beats, the melodies, and the voice. It’s also impossible to translate.

What is it that you want to say with your songs?
– I want to tell stories. That’s what’s driving this project, that I want put my thoughts into words. Whether it’s interesting or not, I don’t know, but it’s a story I want to tell.

1987. Photography by Aron Pelcman.
1987. Photography by Aron Pelcman.

You’re part of the duo Montauk together with Johan ‘HNNY’ Cederberg, and you also work as a producer and songwriter for artists such as Sportsman, FAYE, and Marlene. Were you looking for a solo project?
– No, not really. I’m sure it could have taken some other form as well, even if it probably would have turned out differently. This might also be the best way for this project to live, that I make everything myself. I really like working with others, though, since you can hide yourself behind the projects. You can just do what you want with them and then walk away. I like that. To be a little secretive.

You’ve been quite secretive with this project as well.
– I don’t think it’s been a fully active choice, but more of an unconscious one. I didn’t want people to connect the song directly to a person, I wanted them to listen to it and take it in without knowing exactly who was behind it. I thought the music could be faceless for a while, though I’m not planning to wear a mask forever, Victor smiles.

How did you find your sound?
– I’ve made a whole lot of songs that I’ve discarded. I think it’s been one long search process. That’s what it means to be a musician, though, you’re constantly developing, looking for new ways to write and build songs. Then it suddenly says click, and you find something that you like, something that feels like you. For me, that took quite some time, like five years. I don’t think I would’ve been able to release anything five years ago, though. Not even one year ago. Now was the right time.

– I’ve been through all kinds of genres to arrive here. But that whole journey is what has made me into what I am today.

There are many people who want you to be the saviour of Swedish r’n’b.
– Well, I don’t know if I’m that much r’n’b, but sure, I could be that, he laughs. I don’t mind. I think some of my new songs are a bit r’n’b, but not really Ocean.

Even if it’s a happy song,
I want to drag it into the dirt

Are you aiming at an album?
– At the moment I just want to make and release a whole lot of songs, and then I’ll see what happens with them. I guess it will be an album or a mixtape. I have a lot of songs in my head, so now it’s mostly a matter of getting them out.

What about your remixes? What’s driving you there?
– It’s just so much fun. These remixes I’ve made now, I’ve only done them because I like playing with the productions of others, making them into something new.

What is it that you’re looking for in a song that you want to remix?
– I want to bring out something dark. Even if it’s a happy song, I want to drag it into the dirt a little. That’s what gets me going.

Do you have any other music projects on your bucket list?
– I have a lot of things I would like to do. I would love to make the soundtrack for a feature film, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Johan and I have made some music for plays before, and we recently finished another instrumental album. It’s quite strange, kind of like a film score. I like working with instrumental music, trying to build a story and find something dramatic.

How do you and Johan work together?
– Johan and I have made music since we were like twelve. We know each other so well. I can hear his voice in my head when I’m working on something, and imagine what he would say. We are very different from each other, like night and day, but when we work together it always turns into something else, something good.

Follow 1987 on Soundcloud here

Photography by Aron Pelcman.