Veronica Maggio’s true colors
Not that many people realize that the woman with blue hair walking across Medborgarplatsen in Södermalm, Stockholm, is Veronica Maggio, one of Sweden’s biggest pop stars.
Born: 1981 in Uppsala
Lives: Södermalm, Stockholm
Family: Son Bosse, 5 years old
Profession: Artist, singer, songwriter
Right now: Working on the upcoming album Den första är alltid gratis, due for release on May 6
Her hair is normally blonde. But Maggio has recently dyed it for the “Den första är alltid gratis” (The first is always free) video. It’s the first single from her new album. Despite several washes, the color refuses to come out.
Many of Maggio’s lyrics on the new album are about color. And black in particular. She says there are always some themes that are repeated on each album. “I’ve no idea why,” Maggio says. “On the last album there was rain in a lot of the songs. This time, it is black and colors. I get hooked on something. In the past, I tried to work against it but now I think it’s great that something I’ve been thinking about a lot should appear in the lyrics.”
Her work under scrutiny
She describes the lyrics on the new album, also called Den första är alltid gratis, as being more honest and therefore darker than she has dared to do before.
Her connection to the words she sings came under scrutiny when she made her debut a decade ago. Many people liked this new jazzy pop singer who sang in Swedish with a feeling of personal expression. Then it turned out that she had not actually written the lyrics herself.
“It was somehow wrong that it wasn’t the person who wrote it singing it,” Maggio says. “I found it really tough that so many people got hung up on this. It was like I had to apologize all the time. I’d been writing music for many years, just not the songs on that album, and it was hard to convince anyone of that afterwards.”
She also learned a lot about which kind of songs to include on her albums after the tour for her debut album. “The first album had a lot of ballads and after that tour I realized that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to hold an audience with just ten ballads,” Maggio says.
“It comes down to the songs that feel fun to play.
I actually think that’s the biggest reason why I often choose to write with others who have stood on a lot of stages. They share my vision. They see a crowd in front of them.”
On the new album, she collaborates with more songwriters and producers than ever before.
“The best thing I’ve ever done”
In the video for the song “Den första är alltid gratis,” Maggio has a complicated relationship with a studded black leather jacket. The jacket seems to make the blue-haired singer do stupid things, resulting in her waking up in handcuffs in a car or alone and anxious in a hotel room. The video reflects a key subject that often comes up in her lyrics – the conflict between carefree adolescence and adulthood. In her new song “Gjord av sten” (Made of stone), one of the central lines is “I don’t know how to do it, how to change.”
“I think it’s something that is in me, an anxiety,” she says. “I’m balancing between worlds and don’t want to go over the edge; I daren’t choose a side. It’s pathetic really, but I can’t do much about it, because that’s who I am. It has very little to do with how I want to be seen, but unfortunately it’s where I am.
“I really have no fear of the adult world, more a fear of losing something. Perhaps a sensitivity that you have in your younger years. I imagine that I would lose all that if I was nice and safe with a Volvo, a house, and Dancing with the Stars.”
In 2010, at the age of 29, Maggio had a baby. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” she says. And it helped her songwriting too. “I learned to be creative to order. I gained a completely different kind of control and could write even if it wasn’t half past two in the morning.”
She knew she would spend her life making music
Maggio writes lyrics that are both personal and universal. “On my second album I stopped after every sentence and thought ‘Wait, can anyone understand this?’ Then I would change it, and maybe write ‘she’ instead of ‘me’. It worked, but not to my advantage, because I remember being criticized for being too universal. I felt afterwards that I had censored myself for the wrong reasons, out of fear. Now my writing is freer and more personal. It’s like taking little steps each time.”
Her second album, Och vinnaren är (And the winner is), included the song “17 år” (17 years old), which went on to be a radio hit. In it Maggio sang about growing up in Uppsala and not being the one that was left out. But in her new song “Femton” (Fifteen), she adopts a new perspective. In this song, she is younger but perhaps also wiser than she is today.
“Sometimes it feels as if people generally evolve backwards on some levels,” she says. “When you are fifteen you have a strong sense of right and wrong. But it fades with age. You learn to see the shades clearer. But it is also easy as you get older to be colored by things that are not really important and to become cynical.”
Maggio knew that she wanted to spend her life making music long before she was fifteen. Her music education began with “boring” violin lessons and piano scales when she was little. But she always loved singing. “I remember when my dad made up a little studio for me at his house with a synthesizer and a microphone,” Maggio says. “So I could record myself on tape. To this day, I still don’t know how he rigged that up.”
Thinking of starting a band
Maggio’s upcoming summer tour includes a stop at the Stockholm Olympic Stadium. The gig will be Maggio’s largest solo concert, not counting festivals. “There aren’t many women who’ve played there, so it’s quite amazing,” Maggio says.
“I did actually sing at the stadium once. It was on Sweden’s National Day. I sang “Dumpa mig” (Dump me) and forgot most of the words. So it would be nice to go back there again and put things right. The sickest thing ever was when I guested at Håkan Hellström’s Ullevi concert in 2014. It really hit home that there were almost 70,000 people in the stadium.”
She has plenty of fans herself of course. And has enjoyed huge success in recent years with the Swedish Grammis Awards, successful tours and chart appearances. In 2011, she was the most-played artist on the Swedish radio station P3 and on Spotify. It’s no wonder, therefore, that many people have backed her to embark on an English-language career outside the Nordic region.
“I think it’s fun to write in English, but my kind of thing probably works best in Swedish,” she says. “Although I have been thinking for some time about starting a band. Sometimes it can get a bit lonely doing all this on your own. I don’t have the time right now, but I’m not averse to the idea.”
It is the release of her new album that is keeping her busy now. Maggio describes the period leading up to an album release as an emotional barometer that swings wildly from day-to-day. “One day I think everything sounds weird and I wonder if anyone will even understand it,” she says. “But right now it feels pretty good. The night before the release is the worst. So think of me on the night before May 6, when I’ll be lying in bed, sweating.”
As to the future, Maggio would like to try something a little different. I hope and believe that I will still enjoy making music,” she says. “But it would be fun to try some other kind of writing, to have the opportunity to write something a bit longer. And it would be cool to try some kind of acting. I’ve never dared admit to myself that it’s fun to do. I acted in the theater when I was younger, before music took over my life.”
On the table between us is her cell phone, with a picture on the case of her son in his Nirvana T-shirt. The five-year-old is a fierce critic of his mom’s music. “Sometimes he likes it a lot, and sometimes he says ‘Mom, you get three points out of a hundred for that,’” Maggio says. “What I find funny is that he listens to the lyrics so much. All the time! He is going around singing the “Free” song at the moment and making up his own versions of what’s free.”
Veronica’s dream destinations
My dream destinations are often linked to films I’ve seen. So I’ve wanted to go to Tokyo ever since I saw Lost in Translation.
One of the best things I’ve ever done was go on safari in Tanzania. It was magical. Since then, I’ve always wanted to go on more trips centered around animals and nature such as the Galapagos Islands.
I’m a bit of a romantic when it comes to America. Having driven along Highway One from LA to San Francisco, I really want to do a longer road trip. The scenery along the coast was among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I love to travel by car over long distances without knowing where I’ll stop. My next trip across America has to follow the same route as Thelma and Louise did in the movie of the same name.
Chile in general, and Santiago in particular, is also a dream destination. I’d like to go on a long drive there. I love extremes and I hear that there they have everything from snow-capped mountain peaks to vineyards, vibrant big cities to slow-paced rural life, and a beautiful coastline.
Text: Anders Dahlbom
Published: January 12, 2017