Schön Schein, the artist name of Copenhagen-based musician Julie Dybvad, was brought to my attention through following Jesper Mortensen’s band Death Machine who Julie supported recently. That first track I heard, ‘Beneath Lemon Trees’, is a sublime track, slightly otherworldly, and full of Björk-like wonder. But that was a year ago and, having listened to the new EP, it seems a world away from this perfect set of five songs which are a crisp as an apple taken from the fridge, and as a calming as birdsong on a hot summer’s day.
Dybvad says that Joni Mitchell is an influence, and you can hear this in the skilful guitar playing and use of alternate tunings of a track like ‘Just Walk In’, but 50s and 60’s jazz is also part of Julie’s inspiration: “I have always listened intensely to these two genres. I’ve grown up listening to folk and rock from the 1960s (Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Crosby, Stills Nash & Young) and jazz from the ’50s and ’60s (Mills Brothers, Monica Zetterlund). I learned to play by tuning my guitar in all the alternative ways Joni Mitchell did”.
The EP opens with ‘Sinister Voice’, which contains a core of acoustic and slide guitar and processes along with some bass drum-booms and a hauntingly appealing chorus. ‘Just Walk in’ and ‘On My Way’ may share a Laurel Canyon zip code with Joni Mitchell, but the perfection of Dybvad’s voice reminded me more of another outstanding singer, KD Lang. I was utterly captivated by the song ‘Undertaker’. The understated power of the vocals is remarkable. She has ability to move from smoky low notes, where you can hear the breath in the throat, to softly powerful high notes, and then there are those moments when there are languid slides up and down between notes that made my heart follow. The harmonies are so close you cannot separate them and there is also a jazz-dive quality to the song. You can imagine a version of this song being played at 3am in a basement club, with the muted trumpet accompanied with a full glass of bourbon. This fits with final track ‘Liquid Green’, which is a heady lullaby, full of elongated vocals and such gentle guitar and piano that it could float you off to most restful sleep you have had in a long time.
This is a set of exceptional songs. Born out of folk and woven with jazz it creates a hybrid that does neither genre a disservice as the tracks are cohesive and sparkle like champagne. But at the core of these songs is Julie Dybvad’s amazing voice which resonates with me strongly on an emotional level. I have had this EP on repeat for a while now I still hear new elements on every listen and, although it may be some time before I can experience this incredible voice live, I will settle for putting my headphones in and letting the world dissolve away for 20 glorious minutes.
Julie Dybvad (JD) was kind enough to answer some questions about the EP and her musical career for Joyzine (JZ):
JZ: This is your first solo project. What was the inspiration for going solo rather than forming another band?
JD: Before this solo project I had a folk band called Judy Has A Lion in which I was the band leader, songwriter, front singer and guitarist. The rest of the band consisted of all kinds of different, very skilled musicians from Copenhagen mostly. I remember playing a concert at The Copenhagen Jazz Festival where we were 9 people on stage. It was a lot of fun, but after some time – and also an 18-month break from the music scene because of a concussion – I felt the urge to start over and I formed Schön Schein as a solo project. I wanted to get to the core of my songwriting, focus on my vocal and my guitar playing. It has been equally satisfying and terrifying to start over – being alone with all the decisions and performing solo on stage. But it also feels right, and I love to immerse myself in the folk/singer-songwriter/jazzy vibe that has come out of Schön Schein!
JZ: Instead of rebelling against the music our parents listened to, it seems more common nowadays that we artists say that they their parent’s record collection is an inspiration. What are you earliest memories of the music that was played when you were growing up?
JD: My dad really had a lot to do with me getting to know and love music – especially folk, rock, singer-songwriter music from the 60s and 70s. I remember so many afternoons spent with him – even when I was a little kid – just sitting and listening to his old records and him telling me all kinds of exciting stories about the different musicians (he still does this – and I love it!). My earliest memories of the records that were played in my childhood home are: The Beatles: “Revolver”, Neil Young: “Unplugged”, Joni Mitchell: “Blue” and “Court and Sparks”, and Van Morrison: “Avalon Sunset”. And also, some of the records of the sweet jazz group The Mills Brothers. Whenever I listen to these records, I feel right at home and just entirely happy and brought back to my roots – both personally and in my songwriting.
JZ: There is a distinct difference in the sound of ‘Beneath Lemon Trees’ and the tracks on this EP. Were these 5 tracks written close together and did you set out to give them a similar feel?
JD: That’s true – and there’s a very logical explanation to that. Before I created Schön Schein and went solo I worked together with an old friend – a guitarist and composer called Simon Brinck. We worked on some of my ideas and made a few studio recordings. One of them I really liked the sound of – and that was ‘Beneath Lemon Trees’. Simon produced and mastered this track and also played guitar with me on the track. When our roads parted I teamed up with producer Rune Borup at his studio in Copenhagen with 5 songs to record to make an EP. He played a big part in the mixing and producing of the EP and had a really good understanding of how I wanted everything to sound. I felt like every tune really ‘landed’ where I had dreamed of. I would record with him again in a heartbeat! He also participated on the track “Just Walk In” singing choir and playing synth and playing organ and piano on “Liquid Green”.
JZ: I first heard you through one of my favourite bands: Death Machine who you supported recently. How do you know them?
JD: First of all – I’ve been singing live choir in Death Machine for 4 years now – touring with them in Denmark, Germany, Austria and Switzerland and I love playing music and spending time with all of them. I think I’ve known Sven Busck (the drummer) for about 11 years now. He was a drummer in my former band Judy Has A Lion where he played a big part in the final sound and recording and mixing of the songs, and I loved working and performing with him – still do. Morten Ørberg (the bass player) is a dear friend of mine. He’s married to one of my closest friends and we live a few blocks from each other in Copenhagen. Morten and I have been playing music together for many years now as well – also about 11 years. I was a choir girl in his old band Beats In The Wood and we also play together for fun in a duo that plays cover songs from the 60s. It’s like a music collective with good people where we play all kinds of music together in different bands!. Sven and Morten are also participating on my EP – on the tracks “Sinister Voice” and “On My Way”.
JZ: Finally, I like to ask interviewees what music they are currently listening to. Is there anything you would recommend to Joyzine readers?
JD: Currently I’m listening a lot to an old singer-songwriter I just discovered called Ted Lucas, an old album by Joni Mitchell called For The Roses and also, I can’t stop listening to the new record by Fleet Foxes – Shore and the EP from Dirty Projectors called Windows Open. It’s very inspiring, relaxing and thrilling at the same time! I can recommend them!
Review by Paul F Cook