Producer Pietu Arvola, who records under the nom de guerre Albert Swarm, has been something of an enigma since he dropped his Held EP last summer. With few interviews and a cryptic bio on his record label’s website, the focus has remained almost entirely on his music. Using ghostly vocal samples and ambient background textures, Albert Swarm’s tracks are murky explorations of techno and pop as mysterious as their creator.
Now, with the imminent release of his second EP, Wake (out Sept. 4 on Brooklyn label Ceremony), Albert Swarm has begun to show his cards. A peripatetic Finn currently based in Helsinki, Arvola has traveled much over the past few years while working on his music.
When we caught up with Arvola, he was nothing like the shadowy presence hinted at by his press photos. Interview joked with him about Finnish clichés, what it’s like growing up in the Arctic Circle (“We’ve got bears. They’re kind of okay, I guess”) and eating reindeer (“The best meat there is”). We also touched on the future of his project, and the unlikely historical origins of his stage name. Yet as forthright as Arvola was, the project’s sound still remains hard to pin down. Upon asking to define his music, Arvola simply said, “Let’s just go with the word ‘dark.'”
HOMETOWN: Rovaniemi, Finland
CURRENT LOCATION: Helsinki, Finland
FIRST MUSICAL INSTRUMENT: I basically started when I was 15. I got my first bass back them. I had never actually heard bass before, because I had owned this really crappy CD player that didn’t play any low frequencies. When I first started out, I was checking out the notes of some Metallica tracks or whatever, and it just felt like it was the most boring instrument in the world. I come from a small town, so I ended up playing in all these small garage rock bands—just bass. [When] I moved to the Netherlands four years ago, I had to transport a minimum amount of stuff with me, so I had to abandon all these electric bass and guitars and so on, and just move on to something new. [That’s when] I ended up moving onto laptops.
FINNISH WINTER: I have to wear long johns—is that what you call them? I almost have to wear them right now. Two weeks ago, I could wear shorts, but now Finland is getting back into its usual mood. It’s so dark [laughs]—I just feel kind of weird talking all the time about something being dark! Like my music or the weather—anyway. When I came back from New York, it was the first time in half a year that I had been to the forest in the middle of the night with my friends. We were at this cabin and we went for a long hike. You couldn’t hear anything there because there weren’t animals or wind. It’s something you can’t really experience nowadays.
“DARK” MUSIC: I really try to make happier songs, but I realize I need to add a deeper element, and then I realize, oh shit, It’s dark again! I really would like to write poppy songs that would have a catchy chorus, but there’s always this weird noisy background thing going on—like in David Lynch movies or something like that.
THE NOMADIC LIFESTYLE: I’m from near Lapland. I used to live in the northernmost city in Finland. It’s basically this super cliché city—this touristy city, where Europeans think that Santa Claus comes from. There are reindeer and northern lights… It’s this crazy Christmas cliché. Then, I moved to the southern part of Finland—well, I used to live in the Netherlands as well. And then I went to New York after that. I think Helsinki is maybe the fifth city I’ve lived in during the last three or four years. I’ve been a bit of a vagrant, basically.
FINNISH PRESENTS: When I was a kid, my dad gave me a reindeer.
REMIXES: I try to find a new way to work on [each remix]. I really hate the idea of doing remixes just to try and get PR out of it. Like, you can tell when artists are working on new remixes once a week so they can pay their rent, and all the remixes end up sounding the same. It can be kind of good—if you’re listening to a trademark sound, that can be OK. It’s really hard to decide how much to alter the original song. If you go to the point when you can’t tell what the original song used to be, the whole remixing idea loses its meaning.
POP MUSIC: Lately I’ve been really crazy about the Frank Ocean and new Jessie Ware records. Those two are really, really good.
THE WAKE EP: I’ve been trying to drop the ambient thing a bit. I felt Held was a bit too silent, in a way. I want to have a more aggressive approach; maybe even to get people to dance at my gigs. It’s probably not going to happen on Wake. [laughs]
ALBERT’S SWARM: I was waiting for a subway to Brooklyn and went to this secondhand bookstore. I found this one book about the West Coast locust crises in the 1800s for one dollar and bought it. There was this long section about Albert’s Swarm there, and I just quickly read chapters here and there while on my way home and passed [off] the book afterwards somewhere since it was really horribly written and dull. But, I wrote the name down on a notebook and stumbled across it again a few months later. I was working on this beehive-sounding ambient demo, which I later scrapped, but the name sounded like a perfect fit for the track.
LOCAL SCENES: I’ve never been a part of a local scene or anything. I have a lot of musician friends, but we haven’t shared many similarities between music. It’s kind of sad, really. It would be nice to have a collective, or a community.
THE DANGERS OF SKYPE: I was kind of half asleep taking a nap or something, and I was supposed to talk to my mom on Skype. And I just heard that Skype was calling. And there was this weird Uzbek guy not wearing a shirt! I was like Mom?! No! And this was before Chatroulette—I wasn’t used to weird naked guys on my screen.
FOR MORE FROM ALBERT SWARM, VISIT HIS SOUNDCLOUD.