SKOTT IN LONDON, MARCH 2017. PHOTOS: JASON HETHERINGTON/SERLIN ASSOCIATES. STYLING: RACHEL BAKEWELL. HAIR: GOW TANAKA. MAKEUP: CLARE READ FOR CAREN USING CHANEL COCO GLOSS. STYLING ASSISTANT: SOPHIE KIRK.
Pauline Skott has come a long way from the forests of rural Dalarna, Sweden where she once played her fiddle, but her hometown remains at the core of her music. Performing only under her last name, Skott released her delicate debut song “Porcelain” in June of 2016, and has since put out four tracks, all of which feature pop production and expressive lyrics. Raised in a community that values musicians and storytelling, Skott began writing at a young age, and was trained as a songwriter at Musikmakarna. Her connection to her roots isn’t only sonic: although she now lives in Stockholm, Skott paints herself with her history, most frequently drawing her family crest on her hand. “My body is like an empty canvas,” she explains. “I’m crazy about tattoo art, but I don’t think I could really commit. I want it to be like jewelry.”
Today Skott releases an acoustic version of “Glitter & Gloss,” which was her first single of 2017. “Things have been moving quite fast,” she says when we speak by phone. “I’m not very many steps ahead, so I’m going to improvise a bit with that, but there are a lot of songs being written,” she continues. “I try to not let it affect the song too much and see what it is when it’s done.”
HALEY WEISS: I’d like to hear about when you first moved to Stockholm and started pursuing music full-time.
SKOTT: I actually applied for music education [at Musikmakarna]; it’s very far up north in kind of nowhere, but it’s a good school. You don’t have any classes, so you don’t have any homework, because the school just picks out a few students, one class, and then they spend all the money flying in publishers and A&Rs from the record companies and labels to talk about the real industry in the real world of music making and production. The school is only for songwriters and producers and instead of homework, we got leads straight from the label.
I came from having no connections at all, didn’t know any people in the industry, straight from the small place where I grew up, to this school. You’re there for two years, and the second year you get your internship. You get to go to Stockholm and work with someone and learn the real industry, but I was already signed by Sony, so I started to work at Sony as a songwriter very fast after school. It was actually that school that opened so many doors for me.
WEISS: When you moved to Stockholm, did you find a big music community there? Is it tight-knit?
SKOTT: Yes. It’s big, but at the same time, it’s small and very intimate because you know most people. The music industry of Stockholm, the writers and the producers and the artists, it’s quite a tight crowd. I like that about Stockholm. I bet it’s different if you go to bigger cities.
WEISS: You mentioned that you’re from a small town. It seems like you already have this origin story being built about you, that you’re from this village of folk musicians. Can you tell me a bit about it? I know you’ve said it’s not a commune, so what was it like growing up there?
SKOTT: It’s not like being in a commune. I think there are a lot of old traditions. Some people still speak the old language of the village that no one else in Sweden understands, so we have our own language, but it’s starting to be more rare. I understand it, but I don’t talk it much. We still wear the folk costumes that we wore hundreds of years ago as well, and my family is a very old family, so I like to paint an “H” symbol sometimes in the artwork and that’s the family crest. In this village, back in the day, you used your crest to mark your tools and your carriages and stuff that belonged to the farm, and we still have the crest.
WEISS: Was there a big music tradition in that community? Was that part of your life?
SKOTT: Yeah. I would say 50 percent of the population is violin players or fiddlers, and I am too. Me and my sisters grew up fiddling and we have all these folk tunes that we teach each other and that pass down through generations. There’s actually a thing called spelmansstamma and that’s when you go out in the forest or a meadow and you’re all wearing folk costumes, and you all bring your instruments and your violins, and you jam for a day. [laughs] It’s still very popular. We do it a lot.
WEISS: How do you think that storytelling tradition of folk music has informed the kind of music you make now?
SKOTT: I think I’ve always had a playful relationship with music, and the people that started playing the violin could always play with the best players of the village. It’s the playfulness, and also a little bit of the melodies, because on the violin, you don’t play the chords—the melodies had to be really strong, because otherwise it doesn’t sound like much. The melody has to carry by itself. I think that affected me a lot in my writing.
WEISS: At what point, living in that community and writing songs from a young age, did you think that you wanted to pursue music professionally and go to that school?
SKOTT: I didn’t even know about that school. I knew about it way later. That’s a good question. I thought I would probably have a more normal answer, [laughs] that my parents made me or something. But music always pulled me. So, somehow I ended up there.
WEISS: What is it that your family does?
SKOTT: My dad is actually a mathematician and physicist. He was rebellious because it’s a very traditional farming family I’m from, so when he made that decision, the village were like, “Wow, that’s almost like you…” I don’t know how to explain it. It was not good. They were shocked.
WEISS: They were upset?
SKOTT: [laughs] Yes, you could say that. But I was very inspired by him, so I thought I would become a scientist of some kind when I was younger. I really wanted to become an archeologist, but I feel like writing songs is almost like digging up treasures. You try to find the melodies and put bits and pieces together and polish them. I feel that it’s almost the same.
WEISS: Did your parents see you becoming a musician in the same way that the village had seen your father becoming a scientist, as a rebellion? Or were they supportive?
SKOTT: They are really supportive. Also, music is such a natural thing within the village. My family, they have always been very supportive and I’m very thankful for that.
WEISS: Beyond the musicians that you listened to growing up within that community, who were the first that you heard?
SKOTT: We did have radio, so it wasn’t like I’d never heard anything, but it was just that we didn’t listen to that. When I became older, first I was blown away when a friend introduced me to video games and computer games. When I was 14, I downloaded a tracker program so I could make my own video game music, like blip music. I liked to pretend that I was writing for computer games, so the boss music and music for if you’re on a ship, or all kinds of video game worlds. At that time, I was listening to a lot of video game music, too. And then, when I was maybe 16, I discovered Muse. That was when I really started to listen to more pop or rock. I think Muse was the first band that I actually listened to the whole album and then got really inspired by.
WEISS: “Porcelain” is the first track you released and it deals a lot with fragility. It’s quite a vulnerable song. What made you choose that particular track as your introduction to the music world?
SKOTT: I thought that it was very honest, and I feel very honest when I sing that song. It’s nice to debut quite naked, like, “This is me,” and then I can do whatever after that. I haven’t really thought about it, but I think that might be the reason.
WEISS: I listened to an interview where you talked about starting to play your music live and how it’s a liberating experience for you. Tell me about moving your music from the studio to performance.
SKOTT: That’s a big step, because I was so comfortable in my cave. You can do re-takes and you can sit and just create and you don’t have to really think about it. It’s very safe. Then to go from that to being on stage, which I haven’t been that much before; I did some jazz at a bar and stuff like that, I had done some stage stuff, but nothing with my own music. It was really terrifying and really amazing, and I’m happy that I discovered that I’m actually a person that really enjoys it and loves it, because not everybody does. That was the fear I had: “How am I going to react when I’m on stage?” Because I didn’t really know how I would react or if it would be natural for me. Even though I’m still very scared and nervous before every show, I truly enjoy it while I’m doing it. It’s really cool to get the connection to the audience.
WEISS: Have you had the experience of your audience singing your song back to you while you’re performing?
SKOTT: Yes. I can’t describe it. It’s so, so amazing, because that’s the moment when you actually understand that your music has affected someone, and someone likes the music that you created. You can see the numbers, that people are listening, but you don’t understand it until you see people, watch people sing along to your songs, or if you see someone make a cover of your song, that’s also mind-blowing.
FOR MORE ON SKOTT AND HER UPCOMING TOUR DATES, VISIT HER FACEBOOK.