Thomas Teller: A Swedish Musician Who Loves Libraries

~Posted by library staff.

Image: Thomas Teller
Image: Thomas Teller

Swedish singer-songwriter Thomas Teller Jönsson loves libraries. His song “Library” is set in his hometown library in Malmö, Sweden, and this August he composed the song “Tomorrow” in the Central Library music room here at The Seattle Public Library. He later performed this song and others at the Swedish Cultural Center in Seattle as part of a collaboration with the Bushwick Book Club. In a podcast (click to download 18.6 MB MP3) he created for us, he discusses his relationship with libraries and performs these two songs. We also asked Thomas a few questions via email.

Q: When did you write the earlier song set in your Swedish library, and where is that branch?
2005 If I remember it correctly. But it was first released 2011 at the Wintersongs EP, a record I put out under the name of Early Me. The Library in that song is in Malmö, in the south of Sweden. A multicultural city of 300,000 folks, and the main public Library is a beautiful place, an old castle-ish building merged with modern Danish glass architecture.

Q: When did you first start becoming a musician and songwriter?
In 2005 I attended art school in Copenhagen (Denmark’s capital, only 30 minutes on a train over a bridge from Sweden). Every Wednesday there was a café night at the school (in Denmark that means beer not coffee) and an open stage. I had written songs since I was 14 (in 1996) but now I found a new way of writing. I remember I was listening a lot to early Regina Spektor and Jens Lekman at the time, and I was inspired to mix humor with poetry and write about everyday things.

Q: Can you tell me more about your love of libraries and reading?
It´s such a special environment–the libraries. They are open to everyone, and they are filled with people’s views of the world. Perspectives on spiritualism, politics, poetry or lawn maintenance. Newspaper rooms for the lonely, poor or the curious. I have always liked the feeling that it´s open but private at the same time. I remember the library in the small town I grew up in, we went there with kindergarten to listen to the stories about the “tooth trolls” Karius & Baktus (Caries & Bacteria). I guess someone wanted us to brush our teeth. I also recall being 12 and going to up to the second floor, the adult floor, and trying to find books with illustrations of naked bodies and sex. Oh the shame. I sometimes go to the library just to take a nice long indoor walk. Thinking about music, pretending to look for a book.

Q: Can you tell me about how you and Kristian Carlsson formed The Bushwick Book Club of Sweden? And how this sister-city collaboration event came to be?
In 2011 my friend Kristian´s small press published a book by musician and artist Julie Lamendola. For the release she came to Sweden, from Bushwick Book Club in Brooklyn and she said: “Hey you guys should start a Bushwick Book Club Malmö-branch! My friend Susan Hwang runs this performance concept in NY that invites artists to read a book and write new songs!”

We felt as if the future had hit us in the face, and the next year we premiered with 200 people in the audience, and great artists who had read a fairly unknown book by a Malmö writer. Cutely, we chose the book only to find out it [had been] sold out [for] a couple of years. But because of our event the huge publisher house who owns it made a new edition. In 2014 we went over to New York to co-host 2 events with Susan Hwang, and now in 2015 we just spent a month collaborating with the Bushwick Seattle chapter.

We chose a Swedish collection of short stories for our joint event, Blue Swedish for Nowrus (Dracopis press), and it was very interesting to hear the Seattle songwriters’ impressions and songs inspired thereof. The Swedish silence was a phrase that kept popping up during our event at The Swedish Club in Seattle.

Image: Lyrics for “Tomorrow” composed at The Seattle Public Library
Image: Lyrics for “Tomorrow” composed at The Seattle Public Library

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