Children Of The Sün’s Ida Wahl On Laying Down ‘Roots’, Playing Bass, And Classic Rock

Sweden’s Woodstock-era influenced six-member band Children of the Sün have recently released their second full-length album, Roots, via The Sign Records, and it shows some powerful developments building on their 2019 release, Flowers. The relationship between the two album titles is very telling and accurately reflects a drilling down into richer territory. This album handles more complex emotional themes and also illustrates a broadening for the band in terms of musical reach. If Flowers was steeped in the folkier earlier part of the late 60s and early 70s, Roots sprawls outwards into the full scope of the jam-band culture it created and the emotional expression it allowed.

I spoke to bassist Ida Wahl about the band’s return to plenty of live playing and her reaction to the returning to a more populated world, but I also got a bassist’s own view of the development of this album, as well as her perspective as a female musician taking on the current climate of the music world and music fandom.

Hannah Means-Shannon: I see that you all have a number of live shows coming up soon.

Ida Wahl: We do, and it’s really exciting to be back on tour now. We had a lot of planned gigs cancelled due to the pandemic, but there are a lot of people who have been harmed more than us. We can just take a breath and look forwards rather than backwards. I am someone who would like to become a doctor, so looking at the pandemic is interesting, because I think there will be more in the future, but we will just have to adapt to it.

HMS: That’s an interesting perspective, coming from the medical side of things. Do you think that the adaptations we are coming up with right now will help in the future?

IW: Yes, definitely. There’s lot of research going on. But personally, I don’t think viruses are going to be the problem. I think that bacteria is going to be the problem, like anti-biotic resistant bacteria. That is the big issue we are facing, and don’t have vaccines for that. But we have to be careful and travel less, I think. We are not made to socialize with so many people. We need to be more sustainable. But we’ve built a culture, like for us musicians, that relies on concerts and events. I think we are facing a new era now and that online gigs will become more developed or VR events. I want to do live gigs, though, and I think scientists will work some of this out.

HMS: We’ve started having concert restrictions lift on the East Coast of the USA, with less regulations in place for attending, but it’s still a transition, mentally, for me to be at big events.

IW: It’s so weird that we have become adapted to living in an isolated way, so whenever I’m in the store or someplace with a lot of people, I get social anxiety almost. I get so stressed. I live in a small city but I went to Gothenberg, a big city, to visit Wilma [Ås]. I walked through a big square and I got so stressed because there were buses, and trains, and people, and I wasn’t used to it.

HMS: It often feels like a lot of information to process. It’s been such a strange time, and yet you all managed to make this very full album. It shows a lot of intricate work. Did this process start before the pandemic?

IW: Yes, because Jacob [Hellenrud] writes music all the time. He’s like a machine. So when our gigs got cancelled, we said, “Let’s do something productive instead.” So we hung out and wrote music. He writes a kind of framework and we cooperate and work out the full song. It’s a really fun process.

HMS: When I listen to this album, and then listen to your previous album Flowers from 2019, Flowers is a little bit gentler and more on the Folk side of things.

IW: We are all young adults, and we grow, and so does our music. Our previous album was a little bit more innocent and so was our image and our stage performance. But we still have a lot of feelings, and music is a way of expressing them. I think it’s also important for public figures to show that they have feelings, to show that’s normal, and learn to address them.

Actually, when I listen to music, I don’t listen to lyrics a lot. I can’t hear words very much. My brain ignores the lyrics and I tend to feel the feelings in the music. So my way of expressing feelings is with music rather than with words. Jacob or Josefina [Berglund Ekholm] use words. I work with my feelings in music, and that’s a win-win because there might be someone out there who can relate to my feelings. I think that’s really important because mental health is a big issue.

HMS: It’s particularly cool to observe this in the context of Roots, because the music speaks so much and goes so many interesting places. It seems like it was even more of an opportunity to express emotions this time.

IW: I think, when we were younger, we were less familiar with our feelings, but now we have gotten to know them. Josefina is the one who writes the lyrics and she’s really good at putting mental issues into words and using metaphors. You’ll see the ocean and the woods in the songs, and we all grew up close to the forest. So it comes really naturally to us to have metaphors to nature. But it also might be a good way of camouflaging them, as well, because it’s considered shameful in our culture to talk about our feelings and show vulnerability. But we need to work on that.

HMS: I can see how the images become a safer way to talk about things.

IW: It also isn’t very concrete, which allows people to relate in ways we might not have expected.

HMS: How did you come to appreciate the music of the late 60s and early 70s time period and how did that bring your rather large band together?

IW: When I was in my early teens, I actually listened to a lot of Rap music, but when I was a kid, my parents always listened to older Rock. It was in the back of my mind, and as I matured, I began to realize that the music that my parents listened to wasn’t embarrassing. It began with Queen, Pink Floyd, and Guns ‘n Roses. I had a huge Guns ‘n Roses phase. When I started listening to that music, my interest in playing the bass really expanded. I had a lot of role models. It’s a shame that all of them were guys because there weren’t a lot of spotlighted female bass players back then. I loved the aura that bass players have.

I went to a small music school, and the students who were graduating had concerts. Me and Josefina were in the same class and we discovered each other. We wanted to started a band and we both liked the old music. I’m not sure why were drawn to it. Josefina had a Soul-sounding voice. Josefina’s sister was dating Jacob. We had some other previous members, but we all met at school and saw each other at gigs. Me and Josefina were afraid to ask Jacob to be in our band! We were only 16 and he was 18 and this cool guy. But he said, “Why not?” In the music world in a small county, there are lots of connections, and that’s how we met Johan [Lööf].

HMS: The music of this period really allows for larger bands and they were really into creating more of a jam-band situation for improvisation as well. It would be sad if that’s something we were to lose in music. But it’s such a full sound and has a different emotional impact when a lot of people work together.

IW: I also don’t like to be on stage, and I like there to be a lot of other people on stage to look at! That’s part of why I chose bass, because I get to be in the background. I would be backstage if I could! [Laughs]

HMS: You remind me to mention how great Eva Gardner, the Rock bassist, is. She’s very outspoken encouraging other female bassists and in her solo work.

IW: That’s really cool. I like Ida Neilson a lot, Prince’s bass player. Often when women are musicians, they are only socially acceptable if they are hot or show off their bodies. But female musicians like Ida Neilson are 100% cool and she kills at bass playing. She’s a big inspiration for me in terms of stage language, though less in music since I am not as into Funk. I really like Geezer Butler as a musical inspiration. He writes really beautiful lines and also kills on stage.

If you look at female musicians like Ariana Grande and Britney Spears, they are all being forced to look like young girls. The infantilization is something I really hate. Why can’t we be females? A lot of times when we do concerts, men don’t come up to me afterwards and say that I play well, they say, “You’re so hot.” Or they tell Jacob to tell me that I’m hot. It’s really frustrating. I’m not there to be looked at and not listened to. No one says, “You’re so hot” to Jacob. They compliment his solos. It’s a struggle to be a female musician in this culture.

HMS: For sure. You can’t just have a conversation about music. Appearance has to be the first thing, and it blocks real communication.

IW: I think I’m not the one who is harmed the most, since many female musicians take on a lot more damage. I was thinking about Billie Eilish, and her clothing and body language. She is so fucking cool, and she has always been cool.

HMS: She presents a very powerful image, rather than an image that can be used by others in whatever way they want.

IW: Exactly. She’s not afraid to take up space or be loud.

HMS: Something I often wonder about larger bands is how does communication work so that everyone can contribute to the music? Is that something that happens more in the studio when you’re ready to record, or do you usually do that beforehand?

IW: We have a basic framework when we go into the studio, but anything can happen in the studio, and we are all perfectionists. Jacob adds seven or eight layers of guitar. It’s really fun to hear the songs grow in the studio. It’s not written in stone when we enter the studio, and we come up with new things, but I don’t think it’s ever happened that we have rewritten whole sections of songs in the studio.

We tend to just add things. We want to be really stimulated by the music and we want the songs to be interesting. I listen to a lot of music that’s very detailed and I want our music to be detailed too. It can be a little stressful recording live, because if you do something wrong, everyone is affected, though some mistakes can be corrected.

HMS: There is a benefit, I think, to the audience hearing a live sound, though I honestly think a band has to be better to record live than in other ways.

IW: I always get really nervous when we’re getting close to recording sessions, because it’s like studying for a test.

HMS: Are you rehearsing together before going in?

IW: No, but I rehearse privately, and I get very perfectionistic. I drive myself crazy. When we rehearsed for concerts, I tended to hold back, but when we were heading towards the recording session, I thought, “This is too boring. I want to do more stuff.” So I added a lot of fills and basslines, and the band was amazed. They said, “What have you done? You should do this more often!” It’s so hard to write my own basslines but I put the pessimism aside and look for opportunities instead. I love writing basslines and Johan is very energetic on drums. It’s also fun to try to match Jacob’s melodies.

HMS: It sounds like this album created a way for you to step forward and move into a more confident position.

IW: Yes, I’m more confident when I’m alone or rehearsing, but I still get nervous going on stage. Then, I think, you have to step into that character and be the person you want to be.

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