It is no secret that Sweden is the third-largest music exporter in the world after the US and UK, raking in $800 million in revenue in 2007.
Bands like ABBA and Ace of Base have come and gone, paving the way for fans across the world to become acquainted with the catchy sounds of bands such as Peter, Bjorn (without the umlaut) and John, The Hives and The Soundtrack of Our Lives.
Electro, pop, punk, garage, folk, hip-hop, rap, heavy metal – Swedish musicians are at the forefront of the international music scene, in addition to local weaknesses for more distinctly Swedish genres such as dansband and raggare.
However, there is one genre that has not caught on quite yet, both with Swedish artists and listeners: country music. Southern Skyline, a Swedish country western band, is hoping to change that and are making good progress so far.
“Never before have I heard a Swedish band who manages to deliver the raw, naked and deserted feeling this kind of music demands, a craft few can master,” raved Kjell Wärneval, program director of the Scandinavian Country Music Festival.
The Stockholm-based band is surprisingly fresh, their sound, sunny, soulful and contemporary.
However, singer-guitarist Henric Hammarbäck, guitarist Jonas Öhlund, bassist Alexander Skylvik, keyboardist Björn Kanrell and drummer Johan Salomonsson continue to draw strong influences from honky-tonk legends such as Hank Williams, Gram Parsons and Willie Nelson.
All the same, their goal is not to replicate the classic country-western style, but to develop something unique, inspired by their own heartbreaks, dancehall dramas and whiskey-soaked nights.
“We’re trying to come up with a completely new sound,” explained Hammarbäck. “Country music will always be our thing. But our goal is to come up with a new, modern, popular sound. Not just for the country people, but for a global audience.”
International fame follows real talent. The band, which formed three years ago, has toured across the US, Canada and Europe and developed a loyal following among many loving and dedicated fans.
Perhaps said best by Karen Nash, an American alt-country singer, Southern Skyline is “the best old-school country I’ve heard for a long time.”
Hammarbäck told the Calgary Sun, where country is king and the last stop on their first-ever five-city western Canadian tour, earlier this month that he would eventually like to relocate to North America, where most of his musical idols come from. However, like many independent musicians, he’s stuck with a day job.
“We just need a hit song and then we’ll move, but we’re not there yet,” he told Sun.
The band have an upcoming album release early next year, with two MP3s from the record available for download online. They have also made a number of Sweden media appearances.
Southern Skyline will perform at Piteå Dansar och Ler next Thursday, followed by a concert on August 4th at Lomtjärnsparken in Älvsbyn in northern Sweden and the Hålogaland International Country Festival in Harstad in northern Norway on August 6th.
The Scandinavian Country Music Festival takes place from August 12th to 14th in Furuviksparken in Gävle on the east coast north of Stockholm and Uppsala with bands from the US and Sweden.