Canadian makes sweet music for Swedish ears

Sitting in a Stockholm café in the depths of the Swedish winter, Richard Reagh is happy to talk about his music, from the tentative beginnings of a new song to the endless revisions.

His ambition is clear and his focus impressive. With no budget to speak of, he has recorded one of the more interesting albums to come out of Sweden in recent times.

But had he done things the right way round he would probably be talking politics on Canadian public radio right now.

Instead he is working at the check-counter of a Stockholm supermarket and making music at home in his spare time. Just like any teenager. Except he’s 38.

And, besides, he got journalism out of his system a long time ago.

“I worked with current affairs on CBC from the age of 12. I went in there in sixth grade with my school and asked this really cool producer if I could work there.

“I couldn’t believe it when he just told me to put my wishes down on paper and he’d see what he could do,” Reagh told The Local.

The producer came up trumps and the new cub reporter was to spend plenty of time at the station in the years to follow.

“I got some work there and stayed until I was 22. I had a job for life if I wanted it. But there wasn’t enough time to make music, so I left,” said Reagh.

And so a promising career was cast aside to make time for his musical aspirations.

“I must have some form of dyslexia because I’ve really done things backwards,” said Reagh.

He gradually crossed the continent from Halifax in Nova Scotia to Vancouver on the west coast and began settling down to writing songs and selling guitars.

He might still be there now had not a trip to the Grand Canyon led to a chance encounter with a Swedish woman. The pair soon began sending each other postcards and before he knew it he was bringing up a child in Värmdö on the outskirts of Stockholm.

Despite a subsequent break-up, Reagh was determined to stay close to his daughter in Europe’s great white north. He currently lives in a small house just across the yard from his child and her mother.

It is an arrangement that suits him just fine. He gets to see his daughter on a regular basis and can work in his home studio in his spare time. There he recently spent fourteen months putting together a new collection of songs.

The resultant album, ‘Is this the blues I’m singing?’, was released at the end of last year to a warm reception by the Swedish press.

Songs like ‘Color of the birds’, ‘Boo Backe’ and ‘Winter Light’, early versions of which were available on his MySpace page, brought him to the attention of the Swedish electronica cognoscenti.

And Reagh is grateful for their support. They helped him push his songs onto national radio, and many of the country’s top names in the genre have remixed his work. But it is not where he wants to stay.

“Songs are where it’s at. I’ve done all this on a low budget, but I’d really like to hear my songs produced in a big studio. I would be willing to dance with the devil for the sake of the songs.”

Who might that be?

“I don’t know. Max Martin maybe,” said Reagh.

While he is clearly joking about the identity of the dark one, he is serious about his songs.

And as if to cement the move away from “blip-blop electronica”, he now intends touring with just an old-fashioned piano and guitar.

With this new, pared-down approach, there is more than a slight possibility that some old Neil Young comparisons will come rushing back to the surface. But while there is an undeniable similarity to their voices, Reagh prefers to put a different slant on the likeness.

“I think what we most have in common is our inability to hold a band together,” he said.

The first time I saw Richard Reagh play he was backed by two of his co-workers dressed as toffs and playing the maracas. But those times are long gone and he now prefers to go it alone.

Back behind the till at the city centre supermarket, he is dreaming up songs that land on the right side of a Duke Ellington maxim.

“There are only two kinds of music: good music and bad music,” said the jazz composer.

Reagh’s is good, but he is hell bent on making it better.

Richard Reagh will be performing on March 3 @ Mega, Sergelstorg

at 13:00 and 15:00. Entrance free.

Listen to Richard Reagh at MySpace.