P&C interview: Ed Carlsen / by Sergio Díaz De Rojas

By Amanda Nordqvist

Based in Copenhagen and drawing inspiration from the Scandinavian scene, Italian composer Ed Carlsen recently released his debut album The Journey Tapes. Incorporating a wide range of sound designs and emotion, his music takes you right into the Danish forest and allows you a pleasant journey through life’s different aspects – the ups and downs, letting go, rising anew. Though supported by a number of talented musicians, Ed’s vision never loses focus, and throughout the album his talent is unwaveringly lucid. A heavily emotional album, The Journey Tapes will surely prove to be a phenomenal debut, and hopefully only the first of many. 

Ed - you were introduced to music at an early age, but when did you start creating your own music? What made you want to pursue it as a career?

At the age of seven my dad started teaching me how to play the guitar and piano and I remember that I often used to come up with short childhood songs. After that, I never found the inspiration to create anything.

Until the spring of 2015, when, inspired by artists such as Steven Wilson, Efterklang, Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds, I realised that my creativity was probably just hiding somewhere and I needed to find a way to channel it into notes and beats; at the same time, I started revisiting the piano and discovering sound design, which revealed themselves as two very powerful tools to translate my ideas into music.

This is why I launched a crowdfunding campaign and managed to afford the whole production; but I had never thought of it as a career, until Moderna Records and I met. Signing a contract with them made me realise that there were other people out there, besides my family, who believed in my music.

Could you describe your creating process for me?

I dedicate a lot of time to pre-production and brainstorming; all of my Pro Tools projects are prepared days ahead of the session and I like to have it clear in my mind what needs to be done.

I normally start out by sitting by the piano and as soon as a melody that I like comes up, I record it to create a demo track. I usually do this with MIDI, so that I can achieve full flexibility and tweak the tracks as I like during the different stages of the recording.

Then comes the part that I enjoy the most: arranging the strings score. In The Journey Tapes I composed for both quartet and quintet and it was a lot of fun. After that, I get everything else (guitar, synth, drum beats, etc.) recorded and the editing process begins. The album was entirely mixed by me, but for the mastering I decided to deliver it to the capable hands and ears of Francesco Donadello (Dustin O’Halloran, AWVFTS, Michael Price and more).

I like carrying out a recording session knowing that I have a lot of time to do things properly. However, when I was recording The Journey Tapes, I had limited studio times and therefore I could only record whenever there was an available slot. Now, I have set up my home studio in Copenhagen and this will be extremely beneficial, as I will be able to sit and record whenever inspiration comes to me or whenever I feel like it.

What was the reason behind your long break from playing the piano – and what inspired you to start composing again last year?

It was simply due to the fact that I was given a guitar at the age of seven and I fell in love with it immediately. I started learning all of the Beatles’ and Eagles’ songs and that, together with football, was pretty much my whole life. Then I took a classical guitar course for six years and I’m afraid to say that this was a bit detrimental in terms of creativity. Spending hours reading a score with fixed finger positions and dynamics made me good at performing, but terrible at improvising. Additionally, the guitar training happened in a period of my life where I experienced the strongest emotions, from sadness to anxiety, and I think I still associate the guitar with this. Re-discovering the piano had a completely different impact on me; when I play it, I relax and enjoy and I can play for hours. Plus, I have decided not to study other artists but instead I am acquiring the piano technique by composing my own songs.

What or who is your biggest inspiration when composing?

The seven tracks of The Journey Tapes (including the bonus track ‘Hundrede Træer’, which was initially released for Piano Day 2016) have in common the fact that they were all composed in the same place and while I was feeling good and calm. The songs came up on a beautiful, old, detuned piano (which now shines in my new studio), under the inspiration of the landscapes of Ravnholm Skov’s forest, in Denmark.

The artist that has inspired my music the most is by far Ólafur Arnalds and his Living Room Songs. I think he is an extremely clever producer and his music is pure beauty. He has also inspired my recording habits and I like thinking that my song ‘Rain’ is my small, personal tribute to him. But more in general, the Scandinavian culture has influenced my process, both through music and visuals. Lately, I have become eager to listen to Nordic artists and gather their typical melodies and structures, which are quite different from the ‘Mediterranean’ style. Nordic art is what gives me real (as in ‘of this earth’) emotions, within fascinating mellow surroundings and fairy-tale settings.

What can you tell me about The Journey Tapes?

Even if it is a completely different genre, the idea was triggered by Steven Wilson’s album Hand.Cannot.Erase. The story behind it and the beauty of the arrangements made me reconsider my potential.

The concept of The Journey Tapes is simply life, where the tracks mark the transition from childhood to maturity, passing through sombre days of uncertainty. I have left the music in charge of the narrative, whereas the lyrics (sung by Julie Krog Jensen) in ‘Cage’ tell part of the story with words. The concept moves from ‘Close’ to ‘Far’, from being sort of ‘Cage’-d to breaking ‘Loose’, but all of this can only be achieved by learning something from the ‘Grey’ days of ‘Rain’.

The message is that, no matter how hard life can be sometimes, you just have to go for it and learn from the toughest experiences. I can’t deny that it has been hard (‘Grey’) for me to break free from the comfortable family nest. I was raised in the countryside and I was suddenly thrown into a chaotic context, such as London, and this is when I learned the most. Or, as Steven Wilson would say, ‘when you’re on your own, that’s when you’re free’.

How does it feel to have released your debut album? Did the experience differ from your expectations?

It is very different because I was not even remotely considering that a label would contact me and sign me up. I thought I would have to release the album myself and I was happy with that. I have always tried to keep down-to-earth about this and my goal was to get a finished, physical product out there. But, as soon as I read the comments on my tracks and I could see how many people were appreciating them, I felt very happy and grateful. So yes, this definitely went beyond my expectations.

Lastly, do you have any advice for young artists out there?

I’m probably not the right person to give any advice to young artists, as I am a young artist myself and I’m greedy for external advice. But if I had to choose one, I would tell them not to underestimate the power of the way they work. You may want to establish a workflow and surround yourself with co-workers you can trust. This, together with finding an optimal state of relaxation, has by far made a difference in my personal experience.

Since The Journey Tapes is nothing but a repertoire of experiences, I would also recommend anyone never to stop learning and to be proactive, finding an interest in many different things, and never setting any limits. They say that the sky is the limit, but we all like breaking the rules, don’t we?

 We certainly do! The Journey Tapes is available on Bandcamp, Spotify and iTunes.