Jon Magnusson is a songwriter and musician from Stockholm, and the first Swedish artist I’ve featured on this blog. He’s been writing and producing his own songs for over twelve years, but more recently has been putting a greater emphasis into playing, singing, recording and producing music. His sound could best be described as folk with touches of rock, pop and occasional punk influences and, as he muses, “an occasional jazzy beat thrown in to keep listeners on their toes.” His primary instrument is the guitar, both acoustic and electric, but he’s also adept at programming drums, strings and keyboards.
Another big interest of Jon’s is languages and literature. Speaking and reading Swedish, English and even Spanish, he’s found inspiration in different cultures and has recorded songs in all three languages. In addition, as a professional social worker he also appreciates how interpersonal relations can affect humans in a positive direction and he brings that to his music as well. And finally, though he’s not quite as passionate about politics as when he was younger, his sensibilities still lie left of center, and he’s always striving for a more equal society, which is reflected in some of his lyrics, and something that definitely has appeal for me.
In March, he released his latest effort, a five-track EP titled Always a Rebel. The first track “Rely on Me” is an upbeat message of unconditional support to a friend or loved one. The fine layered guitars, sparkling synths and peppy drums make for a really warm and pleasing song.
“I’m Not the Only One” is a pretty, bittersweet song that’s rather sad but hopeful. About the lyrics, Jon explains “I wrote this song the summer 2011. I had just finished my social worker degree. I was feeling a bit tired living in Stockholm and wasn’t really sure what to do with my life. On top of that I had a period with quite a lot of anxiety so life was actually kind of rough. Luckily I had some great people around me, family and friends and most of all my to-become wife and the line “I can not sleep tonight, but I’m not the only one” was more or less literally written a night when I couldn’t sleep but at least I had someone with me to keep me company.”
Musically, the track features glittery synths that create a cheerful, sunny soundscape, conveying a strong sense of optimism. The guitars and percussion are just right, and Jon’s vocals (which can be a little flat at times) sound really good on this track. It’s a beautifully arranged song, and my favorite on the EP.
The third track “Set Me On Fire” is an interesting song that touches on three subjects – mental illness, existentialism and the need to keep on creating. Jon explains “The song is totally built around the first line ‘Put something in my bloodstream to take away the pain, attenuate my anxiety, make me go astray.’ I actually came up with this one day thinking back a few years when I was dealing with a lot of anxiety… I got a lot of help thanks to a fantastic doctor and to some anti-anxiety medication, and so that line is somewhat of a tribute to those pills that made such a difference for me. I also remember how much I got helped thanks to other people being open, breaking the stigma around mental health issues.”
“The second verse goes into a bit of a mined ground, challenging the concept of a god and an inherent meaning to life. ‘Don’t preach about eternity, while life is fairly well. Don’t lie to us I know that there’s no heaven there’s no hell. If Jesus is your savior, cross me off your list. In the end I might get burned, but I gladly take that risk.‘ Personally I define my self as somewhat of an existentialist. I don’t think there is any basic meaning to life that you are able to find through soul searching or religion. Life itself is rather pointless; you’re born and then you live, and then you die. What’s important is to create meaning to your life yourself, and most of all together with others.” Being non-religious myself, I totally identify with Jon here.
The third verse – “And keep that fire burning, don’t tuck me in to sleep. Whisper softly in my ear, that I’m the one you’ll keep. I might get overheated, I might put on a show.
But what’s the point in holding back, I never liked it slow.” – speaks to Jon’s feelings that he can’t be still, and always needs to find outlets for his creativity, no matter how exhausting it can sometimes be.
Musically, the track has a languid, pleasing melody that slowly builds to a crescendo. Jon and his sound engineer Ruben utilized chiming guitars, synths and crisp drums to create the beautiful sound, as well as a distorted glockenspiel that adds to the song’s charming quality.
The title track “Always a Rebel” is a lovely folk song that’s featured in two different versions. Both sound fairly similar to my ears, with a pleasing mix of acoustic and rhythm guitars and gentle synths, along with a sublime organ riff. The first version has a slightly more polished feel, whereas the second has a more relaxed folksy vibe, but both sound great in any case.
The lyrics speak to someone who enjoys the freedom and independence that comes from being an unconventional, rebellious sort, but at the same time missing out on some of the meaningful things in life: “You see yourself as disengaged, so casual and smart. And pity for the working man stuck in his car. No bills to pay, no gallows swaying over you now. But deep inside you’re longing for a life where you will never be a part. But a rebel, always a rebel you are.”
Always a Rebel is a very nice little EP that actually grew on me the more I listened to it and delved deeply into the compelling lyrics, many of which strongly resonated with me.