I’m From Barcelona

Photography by Matt Hass

Emanuel Lundgren’s Wall of Sunshine

Emanuel Lundgren had no intention of starting a 29 member group when he began recording his upbeat pop tunes in 2005. The band came together as the result of a series of unlikely events. “A few years ago, I’d accumulated five weeks of vacation time,” Lundgren recalls from his home in Jönköping, Sweden. “I was going to travel all over the country, meet up with old friends and record my songs. When I got sick, I had to stay close to home, so I used local friends and musicians.”

The fruit of Lundgren’s labors was a homemade EP called Don’t Give Up on Your Dreams, Buddy! A one time only live show with the 29 musicians who appeared on the record was planned. It was a rousing success. “We didn’t want to be cool or rock and roll gods,” Lundgren says. “We invited the audience to sing and dance and join us on stage.”

That gig led to more dates and a contract with EMI Sweden. I’m from Barcelona became unlikely stars, with critics around the world praising the band’s effervescent sound and free-for-all performance style. Their first album, Let Me Introduce My Friends, a collection of bright, cheerful tunes, was nominated for a Swedish Grammy. They toured the world to enthusiastic response.

“I thought the band would last five weeks,” Lundgren says. “In the last five years, it became my whole life. When we made our second album, Who Killed Harry Houdini? it was more melancholy. I wanted to let people know we can do different kinds of music. They always say the second album is hell to do. It’s a cliché, but true.”

After indulging their dark side, Lundgren and Barcelona have returned to their giddy optimism with Forever Today, another upbeat outing full of buoyant vocals, breezy melodies, joyous horn charts and good humor. “The new album has gotten some odd reviews,” Lundgren confesses. “It seems being optimistic can offend a lot of people.”

Lundgren produces the albums himself, usually layering up the sounds of his 29 bandmates with a careful attention to detail. On Forever Today, they tried something different. “Everyone thinks we’ve done all the albums sitting in a circle and recording, but this is actually the first time we’ve made an album live in the studio. It was very inspirational. We found a big recording space and lived there and made dinner together and worked together for five days. It was important to look each other in the eye while we played. As a result, there are some songs on the record without keyboards because Rikard (Ljung, one of the band’s keyboard players) made dinner for all of us every evening. He was a hero in that way.

“An incredible energy happens when you play live instead of recording instruments one by one. We felt like a band. This time, we had also played the songs at shows before we made the album. Audiences are honest and they let you know if something works or not.

“I have people in the band in mind when I’m writing, so there are 29 muses I have to satisfy. When I play a demo for anyone, it’s always embarrassing. I have to watch them listening and hope they love it. Sometimes they do.”

Forever Today was inspired by Lundgren’s love of the American rock of the ‘50s and early ‘60s, but when the tunes were being filtered through the band, something entirely new emerged. “Fats Domino and Little Richard put incredible energy into their songs. They could do a whole album using only three chords and still sound fresh. I failed in my attempt to copy them, but in the end, you have to find your own sound. They inspired me, but what came out when we played was all our own.”

The arrangements the band created are surprisingly spacious, considering the number of clarinets, saxophones, flutes, trumpets, banjos, accordions, kazoos, guitars, drums and keyboards are in the mix. Not to mention the eight vocalists. The result is a full, all encompassing sound that brings to mind Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, but with a lighter, airier feel. A wall of sunshine, perhaps? “The last album was dense, with a lot of the sounds blending together,” Lundgren says. “This time, I wanted it to be more open, so you can hear every instrument and voice. Spector got his sound using four of everything, but he didn’t have to take everyone on tour with him.”

– J. Poet