Helsinki Card
Helsinki Card

Musician Astrid Swan

31.7.2017 Text: Helsinki This Week Photos: Mikko Rasila
My Helsinki: Astrid Swan

Astrid Swan is a Finnish musician and singer-songwriter. Her debut album was released in 2005. Astrid is also a breast cancer survivor and her latest album From the Bed and Beyond deals with themes such as birth, grief, death and hope.

Astrid, you’re musician. How did you become a musician in the first place?

It seems that I became a musician as a child. I just had this natural approach to music and instruments. I felt both capable and like I could understand the language much before I actually had technical knowhow or any proof of this. I went on to playing and taking lessons with piano and clarinet as a child. Still, a large part of my training has been just doing it: just picking up a guitar at the age of 13 and learning some chords, singing, singing and singing… Listening to singers and copying to the point where I could go somewhere with my own songs.

By the age of 17 I was in the USA as an exchange student thinking I might be ‘discovered’ from an open mic night or through selling my demo for 5 dollars to my high school peers… So far I have recorded and published 6 albums in Finland and many other countries. I have just kept making the music, learning, changing, touring, engineering and so on. It’s a passion.

Where do you get the inspiration to your music?

This is a question that is always so hard to answer, because really, I just need to live and experience my everyday life and songs come to me as a way of dealing with what’s happening around me and in my life. It’s a need and a pleasure (and a pain sometimes) to be writing and making music in this existence.

My last album is mostly about falling ill with breast cancer at the age of 32 in 2014. Making those songs was a way to deal with what happened to me, people near me and to share as well as create something beautiful and possibly supporting for others. I have had amazing feedback for From the Bed and Beyond, so I am humbled and inspired.

How do you seen the Finnish music scene at the moment?

The Finnish music scene is a varied and rich web of so many makers and doers. Nowadays it isn’t just the classical composers and players that travel the world, but we have so many talents in different genres doing their jobs on international and national level. It is lovely to see, as the situation was still somewhat more stagnant in the late 1990s when I was starting out wishing to establish an international career.

When I booked myself to play at SXSW in Austin Texas in 2001 when I was 19-years-old, people didn’t know what to think of my ambition and daring! Now it’s just normal to want to share with everyone who wants to listen. There’s also a kind of movement towards supporting fellow music makers more instead of hiding and being jealous and thinking that someone else’s success must be away from mine. That’s nice. I feel like part of a community of noise now.

Astrid Swan

You’re also a mom. What are your favourite family spots in Helsinki?

Honestly, home is my biggest favorite spot these days! We just love to spend lazy days here and I am glad that in this city we are surrounded by great playgrounds, parks, the ocean and nice culture things to do when ever we feel like venturing out. Our family likes to stop by to have some sushi and then go on city adventures that often combine parks, cafe and fleamarket and record store finds.

When you have foreign quests visiting Helsinki, where do you take them to see the city?

I try to show them both the everyday city I live in and the marvelous spots that define Helsinki city living even if I don’t frequent them all the time. Maybe this time I’d take them to Munkkiniemi (near my home) and have a coffee and a cake at Cafe Tarina. Then we’d head to the seafront and maybe go swimming from Munkkiniemi beach. Another day we’d visit Malmi and eat at MO Café and Bazaar.
These would be a good look at some suburbs and the different cultures that exist here. Maybe my guests would see that questions of class, affluence and poverty are not totally non-existent in this city even though Finland is famous for equality and social care for all.

From the amazing monuments and tourist places I would show the Old Market Hall downtown and then we’d take a ferry ride to Suomenlinna or Korkeasaari depending on the ages of my guests. Also, I have always wanted to take those tiny dinner cruises where you get to see the seafront of Helsinki while eating fish and potatoes and drinking wine. I might just do that this year anyway! I have heard that Lonna island is nice, so maybe we’d go there to hear some music too!
For shopping I’d take my guests to 2orplusbyYat at Fredrikinkatu and Nudge where you can buy ethical fashion such as Sanna Hopiavuori and organic cosmetics.

Astrid Swan

August is full of happenings in Helsinki: Helsinki Festival, Flow, Art Goes Kapakka.. Are you going to join as a customer?

19.8. Youssou N’Dour is playing at Kulttuuritalo. I definitely have to see him! I was a huge fan already as a six-year-old.
At Helsinki Festival I would like to see Calypso Rose and Lucinda Williams. Rose is a super interesting 77-year-old feminist musician from Trinidadtobango whereas Lucinda Williams’ lazy country intonation touched me as a teenager when I was looking for my voice in the present and the history of American music.

What are your summer plans?

I was playing a special concert with Stina Koistinen on July 28th, 2017 at Meidän Festivaali. We deal with living with cancer, sing and talk about it and unveiled our new song written specifically for this concert. On 13.8. 2017 I play at Flow Festival with my band. It is a special show with videos from an amazing Finnish photographic artist Tekla Vály, a lovely designer Yat, who has created a dress installation for the show and Jere Mönkkönen’s lights, Emmi Kujanpää’s added vocals and stage set-up with my script and songs! 9.9. I play at Savoy Theatre doing the whole visual and musical performance once again.

More Astrid’s autumn shows can be found here:

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