I met Daniel Bellqvist and Frederik Zäll from Eskobar in a café at Mariatorget, Stockholm, a few days ago to talk about the upcoming tour as guest artist during Roxette’s XXX Anniversary tour in Europe, the band in general, creativity, upcoming projects and more. To find out more about the band and follow them on tour check their Facebook page. I have also prepared a playlist on Spotify (check at the end of the interview) with some of their hits so you can start learning the lyrics. First stop will be Madrid.
Judith (J): Thank you very much for taking some time for this interview. I know you are quite busy. So how are you?
Daniel (D): Lots of preparations before the tour, finishing up some things. We did a small tour in Denmark in March, we were just three of us, Frederik – who plays about 1000 intruments – , a drummer and me. We liked the setting so much, we decided to record an album in that setting to sell during the tour. So we recorded it some days ago, now we are finishing it. And we are trying to find something to travel in during the tour where we can all fit in.
J: That sounds like a lot of planning. Let’s start from the beginning in order to present the band to the Roxette fans. When did you start as Eskobar?
D: We released our first album in 2000, but we had played together many years before, six maybe?
Frederik (F): Yes, at least 6 years. I had a strange grunge band back then, and I needed a bass player for one show, I knew Daniel could play the bass, so I asked him to play in my band. And in return Daniel asked me to play guitar in his band, so we started helping each other, and one day we just decided to work in a band together. We have been brothers in arms since then.
D: Yeah! We went to the same music class in school, that’s how we knew each other in first place.
J: How did you choose your band name? Some Spanish fans have been wondering if it is related to the Spanish singer Manolo Escobar.
D: When we got our first record deal with V2 records we didn’t have a name for the band. We were so focused on music that we didn’t care that much about the name. Our first record deal doesn’t even mention the name of the band but just the names of the three of us who formed the band back then, Frederik, Robert and me. So we asked around for suggestions for the name, and the manager of another American band suggested Eskobar, we liked it and we said ok.
F: I think it was a few days before the first single was about to be printed, so the record company told us we really have to put a band name on it, and we were like “but it’s just about the music!” but well, in the end we found a name that we love.
J: So no connection to Manolo Escobar…
D: No, not directly at least.
F: We don’t know where the American guy got it from, I think it’s a typical surname.
D: We know Manolo Escobar, and he has this one song “Porompompero” that was translated into Swedish and sung by the Dutch-Swedish singer Cornelis Vreeswijk, it’s an amazing song and we had listened to it a lot, but we didn’t know it wasn’t his original song. So when we found out that it was Manolo Escobar’s song, we thought it was funny, like there is a connection between our name and the song that we like so much.
F: Indeed, I remember we used to sing this song on the tour bus even, so it’s a fun connection.
J: How did you start making music?
F: I started playing classical piano when I was five or so, I think I read music sheets before I could read, so I was really early in that, then I learnt to play saxophone, guitar, everything felt easy to learn and it was fun. I also didn’t think of starting a band back then, I just wanted to play. It was when we started high school that I thought, hey, we could actually start a band!.
D: Sort of the same for me, my grandfather was a folk musician, he always had lots of instruments around, he could play everything, like him (pointing at Frederik). The first instrument I started to play was drums, then bass, guitar.
J: And singing?
D: Vocals didn’t come till later. When we had this grunge band, Frederik and I wanted to play more pop music but our singer didn’t want to do that, so we tried to find another singer, put up ads around the city and all, but we didn’t get any response. So Frederik said I should sing.
F: I kinda forced him!
D: Yeah, haha! I had done backing vocals before, so well, I gave it a try. When I started it sounded quite terrible but with practice it became better and better.
J: I saw on the CD booklets that you write the songs were composed by “Eskobar”, so not your single names, how do you compose?
D: I usually come up with a basic idea for chords, a few words, melody, I meet up with Frederik and we just add this and that, more intruments, try things out until it’s done.
J: Did you always write in English?
D: Yes, we’ve done everything in English so far, it wasn’t really a decision, it just came naturally. But about two years ago we decided to translate one of our songs into Swedish, it was a lot of fun, so in the Danish tour we played the Swedish version. But that’s all.
F: I think it also has to do with the fact that we listened to lots of music in English. From Michael Jackson to Metallica, Iron Maiden, everything I listened to was in English. And our dream was never to be successful in Sweden writing in Swedish, you know, we wanted to be rock stars in the world! So we didn’t really think of writing in Swedish.
D: Yeah, it was just natural to go for English.
J: I understand that, for me English is the music language. I listen to lots of Swedish too, and I think it’s a nice language for music, but I don’t really listen to music in German or Spanish music, for instance…
F: yeah, that’s exactly it. I think it’s very hard to make it sound good in your native language, at least in my head, some people do it very well, but not that many.
D: I don’t listen to much music in Swedish myself either.
D: haha, he’s originally from the Netherlands actually.
J: But at least you performed with one Swedish singer, Eva Dahlgren, that I know of. Do you remember that?
F: Sure, I remember *everything* haha! We played a couple of hundred meters from here at Söder Teater, at Kägelbanan, it was one of the shows we did to promote our first album, so we were very new and unknown, and suddenly Eva Dahlgren and her wife Efva Attling showed up in our dressing room both wearing an Eskobar t-shirt, so we were like “wow! What happened here! Are we like famous or something?” And then I started to meet up with Efva regularly and she always came up with names of artists we should do a duet with. When this show on TV came up, we wanted to present our song “Someone New”, which on the CD we sing with Heather Nova. The TV said that if we could sing it with Eva Dahlgren, then we would get to do the show. So then we asked her and she said yes. It was great!
D: Yeah, she’s great.
F: They are both fantastic so it’s great to have them on our side and supporting us.
J: You released your last album in 2008 and then you decided to take a break. Why did you decide to come back now?
F: We actually never stopped playing music at all, we’ve been playing maybe the same amount as before, just that we didn’t go on tour or release any album. Also our drummer Robert quit because he wanted to go on with his IT company, which was going well. So we had to re-think the situation, how to go on, it took us a couple of years to decide. But we have been writing songs and recording them at Daniel’s place and a couple of years ago we started recording our upcoming album with a producer that we know. It took us almost 2 years to create the album because of lots of things, I’ve got kids and we have other things going on. But it didn’t feel like a break for us at all.
J: You mentioned you were finishing another album to sell during the tour?
D: Yes, there are two albums on the way. One is the one we would like to sell during the tour, it’s live versions of our greatest hits in a stripped down setting, like we played in Denmark in March. And the other one is the “real” album which is already finished, waiting to be released. We released the first single back in November, “Untrap Yourself”, and the next single, “Starlight”, will be out soon. A video to it will be finished anytime soon. We performed “Starlight” on Swedish television recently. But the biggest thing going on at the moment is the tour.
J: I saw you’ve been doing lots of other things as well the past years, photography, fashion blogs, cooking books…
F: Yeah, I am releasing my eight and nineth cooking book this year and also my first and second novel this year too. And my first beer. And … I am tired…. Haha! But it’s a lot of fun, it’s all this creativity, it’s what motivates me every day.
J: How did you get into cooking?
F: It was actually therapy from the massive amount of touring we did years ago. We only ate crap food so I longed for healthy and tasty good food, so I started to cook home, and people suggested maybe I should publish a book with my recipes, and I got a deal with one of the major publishing labels here in Sweden, so well, now we are finishing book 8 and 9. It’s really fun, it’s the same as with music, I create when I have the time and inspiration. Creativity. (You can follow Frederik’s blog here).
J: And Daniel, you are into fashion and photography?
D: Yes, my other grandfather was a tailor and my father was in the clothing business during his whole working life, so I’ve always been very interested in fashion, I joined my dad in fashion shows and all.
F: You were also creating outfits…
D: Oh yeah, that’s true. My wife is also very interested in fashion, we saw this cool blazer that she wanted to have but it was not available anymore, so I thought I would try to recreate it. I looked for some videos on Youtube on how to sew and started learning on my own. The blazer was my first piece, then I did some more for a year or so. Then I started to collect pictures about great outfits and my wife suggested I should start the blog. Then I blogged for Elle for almost a year. And then I started to take photos in studios. I am not doing it in any real professional way yet, some of my pictures can be found on print-on-demand magazines but I am in the beginning of my career. I love to combine things I like, fashion and photography.
J: How did you start with photography?
D: I started many years ago with taking pictures of more static things like cities, landscapes, it’s easier than portraits or people. It’s a great way to start and learn about light and the settings in your camera, but pictures with people are a step forward. I did my first fashion photo sessions September last year I think, my wife and I bought some studio equipment and we transformed her office into a photo studio and I practice with her as a model. I love to play with light, you never really master it, never ending learning! Love it!
J: So whatever you do, it’s all very creative, be it music or your other projects…
D: Yes, I am kind of a child because I can only do what I like, I cannot imagine myself having a 9 to 5 job. I did work at some stores before starting the band, but especially now after all we have with Eskobar, being my own boss and all, I cannot imagine going back to it. It would be good and smarter though, I could use the money!
J: Well I think if you work hard on what you really want to do, it works out in the end.
F:Right, I believe so too. That’s why I do what i do, lots of things but it’s things I like, music, cooking, books, beer… I love it.
D: I agree. Let’s see where it takes me, for now it’s the way it is, doing what I like, and walking the dog!
J: What’s your dog’s name?
D: Dahlia. We call her our daughter. She’s a pharaoh hound, cinnamon colored and she’s a very big part of my life.
J: I understand that, I have two cat…
F: and I have two kids, also a big part of my life, haha!
J: So you’ve been working together for such a long time, what do you think has changed in the way you work together since you started?
F: Interesting, I never really thought about it. I think from the first day we played together, when Daniel played bass in my band, it was kind of love at first sight, I was like “wow, you are really also insane!”
F: The other guys didn’t understand, they had to dump their girlfriends to come and rehears, and we were like leaving everything aside just to play music. So I think we started off very well, and it’s been like that since then, we are very good friends, we respect each other and love to work together. If one of us is not really in a creative mood, then we don’t work that day because we need to respect that inspiration being a big part of creating. I think routine and hard-work is important, but if you don’t feel inspired, one has to respect that and do something else that day.
D: This is something we learnt, actually. Before we used to kind of force ourselves to work for hours like “we are not going home until it’s finished”. But we realized that it didn’t work and nothing came out of it. So nowadays if we work 30 minutes and we realise it’s not going anywhere, we stop. There is no use in forcing us through 8 hours when we know nothing good is going to come out of it. So we learnt a lot about efficiency.
F: Other things that have changed is more about technology. We started before the internet era and before computers became a great tool for music, we started recording our things on tape! Now it’s an extreme difference in many ways, one can record a song or melody, and send it to the other immediately, then you can add instruments to it and send it back.
D: And the fun thing about it that when we have been interacting like this for a while and then we meet and play music together we are like “wow! This is really fun! So this is what playing music is like” haha! So we keep re-discovering music and playing together, somehow.
J: Talking about technology, I remember back in early 2000 you had a great website, with forum and all information one fan could wish for and compared to many other artists you were more than one step ahead.
D: Well that was Robert, our drummer. He was very into IT and internet, so he was in charge of that.
J: And he also answered questions from fans very quickly and interacted with everybody in the forum.
F: He was really progressive about that, and it was great to have such a close relationship with the fans, and it wasn’t very normal back then, now it’s easier and almost a must with Facebook and other social media, but about 15 years ago it wasn’t. I think we were also the first Swedish band on iTunes because he was really into all these innovations.
D: And we were like what? You can now sell music on internet? Haha!
F: So it was thanks to Robert.
J: You mentioned Facebook, I saw that you are very active there and that you don’t have a website anymore. How come?
F: Yes, now we have our Facebook page, since Robert is not in the band anymore, haha! He actually made a website for us after he quit, but we all realised that we only post on Facebook, which is very simple, so we decided to skip the website.
D: I wish Facebook was around when we had our biggest hits. Would have been great to share all those experiences that happened to us, the tours and all to a greater number of followers. We joined FB quite late I must say. It’s a great way to promote the band and interact with the fans.
F: And it’s easy. We currently don’t have time to maintain a website and it makes no point if it would be half empty.
D: So Facebook it is!
J: For what I read many fans have heard about you and I read some positive response to the news that you’ll support Roxette during the European tour, including myself, I’ve been listening to your music since early 2000. So it was very good news. How do you feel about it?
D: Well, thank you. We are so excited about this. We have been away from the stage since 2009, we gave a private concert in Valencia, Spain, for instance. So now we’ve done this small tour in Denmark and preparing the new album, which will be out in autumn. So it’s amazing that we now got this chance. We have toured Europe before so this is a kind of come back for us on big stages.
F: We were actually looking into going on tour in Europe, but in small clubs, just so that people know that we are back with a new album soon, and back on stage. And this suddenly showed up, we were like wow! A bit bigger than what we thought, but it’s perfect!
J: And how did it happen?
D: I really don’t know, we work with a Danish record company for our upcoming album, they were in contact with Live Nation about a tour and they just called us and told us.
F: They actually couldn’t talk to the Swedish LN representative because he was about to board on a plane to Australia with Roxette. I don’t know what the record company talked about with him, but when he came back to Sweden he just called back and proposed that we join Roxette’s tour in Europe.
D: It’s just fantastic. We were looking into a tour playing for about 200 people every night, and now this shows up. We are very excited and very much looking forward to it.
J: You have toured before and played in front of thousands of people before, so it will be a kinda easy for you.
D: yes, we have. We played in Paris during the Olympic Games in front of 150.000 people. Or we supported Sting on tour here in Sweden, festivals, so we have played in front of many people before, but never in front of so many people so many dates in a row. And it was a long time ago, so it’s also a new thing for us.
J: Will you also do such a small setting concert like in Denmark?
D: Yes, it’s going to be the three of us on stage, for various reasons haha! We are going to travel in a camper and no more people will fit in it. Our new drummer travelling with us is an old childhood friend of us, so it’s going to be like a family trip. We had a lot of fun during the tour in March, this is going to be a longer version of that tour.
F: We love to play music and I think it sounds great when we just focus on music, sound, the performance. To have this setting live is new for us, we were like wow! So it’s very special for us, new and exciting.
D: It will be very interesting. Roxette has a show full of energy and lots of things happening on stage, they have like a million hits, so I think it’s cool for us to do something smaller that people can hopefully enjoy before the show and then have the big show with Roxette.
J: It’s surely going to be great! And you start off with very loud fans, in Spain.
F: Love Spain! I am actually going to be in Barcelona some days before and I fly back two days before to Stockholm just to get on the car and drive back to Madrid. To be with the guys from day 1.
J: According to the schedule, you will also play in Paris. You seem to have a big fan base there, how come?
F: Yes, it’s one of the most successful countries for us. “Someone New” was a hit there, “You Got Me” was a hit in many places in Europe and we made a duet with a French singer called Emma Daumas, and it was a massive hit. We did some great tours there in huge places. We are looking forward to playing in Paris again.
J: Will you travel to all the countries with the camper?
D: Yes, that’s the only way to do it. As a special guest you don’t really get lots of money, so we have to do it as smart as we can. Of course, it’s a great chance for us, so it’s great.
F: It’s going to be fun. And it’s not the first time. We’ve been on the road for many years and we are used to driving around and all this.
J: Will you have time for tourism?
F: When we do our own tours and more involved in the planning we try to be efficient with less days off, every day costs since you have to pay all the salaries. But in this case, we saw in the schedule that there are a few days off every week and we won’t have time to go back home, so I think we will enjoy and take time to visit some places.
D: Yeah, depending on the distances we have to drive, but we will surely have time for some sightseeing.
F: And I am going to bring the BBQ and we will have BBQ parties, it’s summer! This will be our summer holidays, I will pretend that the other two band members are my family haha! We will see.
J: And time to go back to Sweden in between?
F: We are actually going back home for a weekend, and we thought we would get some time off, but no! We will do a show at Fotografiska in Stockholm, do you know the place?
J: Oh yes, love it, been there a couple of times, they have great exhibitions there and a great view over Stockholm.
F: So we are going to play for like 200 people end of May, the 23rd I think. It may feel a bit strange to have this small show in the middle of the “big” tour.
D: Haha yes, we will be so spoiled with the huge crowds, so… 200?
J: What do you expect from this tour?
F: I think it’s a way of getting back on the horse and having a great time. I think it will also be a great base for the new album coming out in autumn. It will also put us on the map again, a great opportunity to sort of re-lounge the band.
D: We will surely have some new listeners, so we hope some Roxette fans like our music and some will become Eskobar fans as well. When we came back from the short tour in March we were like “wow that was so much fun, we want to play live again!” And then this came up, so we are very excited.
F: I think I never Roxette and the band, so we are looking forward to that too.
D: It’s going to be fun! We are so much looking forward to the tour. See you around!