Sweden's inimitable CEO talks divine inspiration and loving yourself unconditionally
My favorite FADER feature you've probably never read is Pete Macia's 2008 Tough Alliance cover story, showcasing gorgeous pictures of soccer in Gothenburg, some insight into TTA's punky standoffishness and a brilliant scene of Air France drunkenly fucking up a gig. Over the past few years, fans of those happy-sad bands have seen the scene dwindle (though it was surely exaggerated by fantasy in the first place)—TTA and Air France have both since disbanded, as have Studio and the influential label Service. But at least one stalwart, Eric Berglund, has remained as captivating as ever, both with the creatively thriving label Sincerely Yours and his solo project, CEO. His excellent sophomore album, WONDERLAND, comes out February 4th in the States, providing a fine excuse to trade emails with one of the more out-there forces in international pop. Our interview touches on: whorehouses inside of oysters, flying through the forest and why Berglund is happy to no longer be a "fucking drama queen."
Stream: CEO, "WONDERLAND"
In that old FADER story, you're quoted as saying: "The Tough Alliance is about doing what you can to escape that spectacle and find real life, about creating a context where you’re totally free and comfortable, even if it takes a lifetime.” Do you feel closer to real life now? Hell yeah.
Are you happier now than you were a few years ago? I am. Cause I'm not as much of a fucking drama queen. Less anxiety and more fun and calm. Cause I'm not as attached in general—to my identity, to other people, to my work. To my ideas about how things should be, what my life should be like. Must be like. It is complicated breaking loose from this cause being attached to things used to be a big part of my unconscious master plan, of my persona. For me, not being attached and accepting things seemed super scary, lame and a sign of not knowing what you're doing, being closer to not existing. I mean, I still do this but less enough to be find life a lot sweeter. I am able to observe my little self a lot more and laugh at it, thinking it's funny and cute. It's just a kid, you just gotta look after it for it to evolve. With unconditional love. Of course, a lot of the time I lose this third eye and get caught up in things, being the kid full-on, but I notice quickly enough these days to not lose myself for long. Unless on the rare occasions after crossing paths with toxics. All those little punks! Must they be so fun!? After a while, I fly through the forests again though, feeling honored to inhabit such a beautiful body.
Actually, speaking of old quotes—you told Pitchfork in 2010, "the world used to be like a scary chaos, a whorehouse, a war zone or just a competition to me. now it is my oyster." So, judging by the song on your new album—I'm so lost inside a whorehouse—I wonder if you don't feel the world is yours anymore? I do. More than ever. But around that time, I just had some deep revelations and got swept away a bit. I mean, when you experience things like that and get to see life in a whole new light it's pretty hard to see how you could ever feel lost in a whorehouse again. Let alone that it would be acceptable to feel that way. I was completely in awe, and I honestly couldn't really see much except for an oyster. I admit—I was a enlightenment noob. I fell in love with my own illumination and got comfortable instead of pushing ahead. It's quite natural, though, and was something that can't last for too long if you're not super delusional. Now it's more like, okay, I'm still spending some time in a whorehouse and that's aight. Cause the whorehouse is inside my oyster. And whatever is inside the oyster is, however easy or hard for your identity to accept, meant to be inside the oyster. And meant to be a part of me, of you, of everyone. Awwh, it's so cool.
Could you work with someone else again the way you did with Tough Alliance, or do you think it's solo from here on out? It seems comfortable to be able to depend a bit on someone, but I feel alone with the full picture I feel and need to express, so I think I'm stuck with moi. For now at least. The dynamic of TTA was unique, of course, since it was based on growing up together and very much sharing a world, almost being one, which is quite easy when you are younger. Your world is sharp and kinda black and white, and you can decide together who you are. I never questioned myself speaking for the two of us, so when I started doing that I knew things couldn't stay the same. It would have been so hard to continue evolving. It was super scary but extremely exciting. Still is. I mean, it's really fucking hard a lot of the time, but I need this personal realm to be able to express myself deeply enough. I mean, I'm in the middle of the coolest family in this world, Sincerely Yours, so you shouldn't feel sorry for me. I get some help, which I feel very grateful for, but that is complicated enough. I need more help, though. Preferably from a rich and business-smart angel with a lot of social skills, rosy cheeks and flowing hair.
Why all the makeup and body paint in your recent photos? That was just how I saw myself when I closed my eyes in inspiration. If I was to answer why I saw what I saw, it would have to be a very extensive and complex answer and one which I'd rather not think about. If it's one thing I learned in life, then it's that the mind can ruin a lot. It's so hard to control that lunatic, so with my art I don't wanna take any chances and risk it fucking it up too much. One of the great things about being an artist is that you don't have to analyze why you feel like doing something or motivate or justify it like a politician or journalist, for example. You are allowed to just follow the divine things that appear from within without letting the intellect interfere. If you find it divine, you know there is no reason to ask why. If you don't, though, you may find your intellect asking why. Why?
One of my favorite songs on the new album is "Ultrakaos"—truly strange, almost Kyary Pamyu Pamyu-like. What is going on here? What inspires you to sound this way? Life, I guess? Like what I've gone through, what I've seen. A trillion things. Bumblebees, death, Squadda B, high school girls, Jungfrukällan, etc. You know? When I felt like, damn, I think I have to make another record it was cause I "saw" something in my head. It looked somewhat like what I've done. Just infinitely awesomer, you know, but what's a whore to do?
How do you keep integrity in the music industry? It's very simple and it's also very hard—I follow my heart and don't do things that I feel may hurt me or my art.