First of all, tell me a little about your childhood. You didn't have the standard Swedish upbringing…
I was born in Portland, Oregon on the west coast of the United States. My mother is Swedish, my dad is American… and I have a big sister, I always have to add that so I don't forget a part of the family! Portland is a very hippy-ish city, raw food and stuff like that. I guess I had a different childhood to a lot of people in Sweden. My dad's a bit of a hippy and I was raised in that way.
My dad is an acupuncturist which tells its own story. My mom was a massage therapist to begin with and now she's an … ontological kinesiologist. It's something you do with your hands! It's all a bit flummigt (airy-fairy), as we'd say in Swedish.
How did your career in music get going?
In the US I was visiting my sister's godmother in Austin, Texas. She's a musician and has a small studio. I've always liked singing, she wanted me to sing for her so I did. She thought I was good, and I recorded something in her studio – which in hindsight sucked, but it got me going – and I thought 'oh, maybe I could do this!'.
So when I got back to Sweden my dad set me up with his friend, and his friend knew a vocal coach. I contacted the coach, worked with her for about 10 months, and completely on a whim she introduced me to Jörgen Elofsson, a big songwriter in Sweden. I recorded a demo for him because she couldn't do it, and he liked me, and here I am today.
Did you study music at school? Sweden has opportunities for musical education that a lot of countries would envy…
During grundskola (primary school) I picked the music branch, then in high school, I had to pick between theatre and music. As I've always been a little lazy in school I picked theatre. Really it's because in that school there was a musical I really wanted to be in. And I got to be in the musical.
Jörgen Elofsson has an incredible number of international hits to his name (Kelly Clarkson’s 'stronger' is one example). It must have been quite the experience to start working with him?
It was super overwhelming when it first happened. I was like 'what?'. I've always wanted and hoped it would happen for me, but it definitely happened when I least expected it. It was amazing – he's an amazing songwriter and my mentor, he taught me how to write songs and has really believed in me. Without him I wouldn't have come this far in such a short time. So, it's just weird to think about.
Do you think collaborating with someone else in the writing process helps make your songs better?
What really works with me and Jörgen is I'm fluent in English. I have the grammar down, different sayings, he has the experience and is incredibly poetic. That fits together really well. It has been amazing learning to write music. I don't know if I could do it as well on my own yet – I’d like to think I would.
How many people are involved in the writing process?
So far it's mostly me and Jörgen, though I've written a bit with a person I call his disciple (laughs), a guy who works with him, helps him with beats, who he's teaching stuff like he is with me. We then show it to Jörgen, then Jörgen helps us elaborate.
Working with others must make it easier to be objective and improve a song?
It's hard to be critical of your own writing. You think everything you come up with is beautiful – 'damn I'm deep' – but you have to have someone who can tell you when things suck. Jörgen is obviously extremely good at hooks, creating a part of a song that’ll really get stuck in your head. I write more… speaky, casual stuff. He's more the pop part. I think it's really good to have a mixture of two things, because together it becomes amazing when the styles combine.
Your music is pop, but it also has a darker side. That's something that's typical of Sweden's music: why do you think that is? Is it something in the water?
I think Swedish music has a need for that, you're right. I know why I like it, it's just what makes me feel something. If I'm sad, or even when I want to take it easy, I like melancholic music, bitter-sweet songs are my drug. It's just so beautiful.
How does your international background feed your music?
I have both sides obviously. The American way, American pop music can be quite cheesy. I don't mean that in a critical way – it's a more catchy, cheesy vibe, and I have that in me. I can come up with the cheesiest line and think 'that’s amazing'. There's still beauty in that. I've obviously been pulled into the Swedish way a lot too, but I still have the American dream there, the cheesy side!
Rhys Clarstedt Frank. Photo: Warner Music Sweden AB
Who are some of your musical influences?
A band called Daughter, they're amazing. I like to think of my songs as being in their style. That's some good stuff! That's how I’d like to be perceived, though I'm a lot more poppy right now. I love Adele. It's hard to compare yourself to other people though. My stuff is basically bittersweet, a little darker, pop.
What about your lyrics, where do those come from? Personal experience, or more of a creative story?
It's a mixture. Mostly personal experience. Like Swallow Your Pride, a lot of people interpret that as the singer – me – having cheated on someone, but I've never done that. I interpret it in a different way.
But I think I turn different things I've experienced then look at them in a different way. So the way someone else interprets it may not be the way I have written it.
I write about my own experiences, but some other people can think it's a completely different experience, which I think is nice.
What's your schedule like these days? Is an album in the works?
We have a bunch of songs and we're trying to figure out which one should come out next, we change our mind all the time. But I definitely think there'll be an EP this fall.
Physical or digital?
Physical too, I hope. Vinyl would be cool! But I don't have a record player just now. There's gonna be more music, in any case, it's just a case of choosing which tracks make it.
What about touring? Where can we see you?
This summer I'm going to be travelling with a band. That'll be fun. Different locations in Sweden. My next date is in Örebro.
You sing in English, but I was curious to hear what you think about some of the huge Swedish acts who avoid it? I'm thinking of people like Håkan Hellström or Veronica Maggio, who are massive here, but choose not to sing in English when they’d probably be really big internationally if they did?
I think people just have their own way of expressing their feelings in certain languages. Some people are open to doing it in other languages, but those people probably feel they're expressing themselves in the best way.
There's something really nice about people like Håkan Hellström and Veronica Maggio just doing it in their own language anyway, I think that's why they're so huge in Sweden. People feel like they're their artist.
Looking to the future, what’s your long-term ambition? The dream, if you like?
My biggest dream is to be on The Ellen DeGeneres Show (laughs). So I think you understand the steps I'll have to get there, and obviously I won't stop there. I want to be a regular guest on Ellen.
In all seriousness though, do you have moving back to the US in your sights?
Right now I'm in Sweden but I’d definitely want to move back to the States at some point as I still have relatives there, friends. So for me it's not a huge thing to move to the states – I'm a US citizen so it's not hard. But I’d probably stick to New York or the West Coast. The progressive places.
If you had to recommend some Swedish music to our international readers, what would you recommend?
I love Miriam Bryant. I just started listening to Léon, she has a pretty big song “Tired of talking”. I just started listening to her on the train and thought 'damn, she's good'. And Sabina Ddumba. There are so many good ones.
Final question: Portland is known for being a pretty cool city, but if you had to pick a Swedish city for someone from abroad to come and visit, which one is the coolest?
Malmö has been super cool when I've been there. I've only been to Gothenburg with my mom, so that wasn't really the full cool experience. I'd say Stockholm, or Malmö.