EMANUEL LUNDGREN had enough of singing sad songs. It was time to get happy and spread the good vibes. He called some friends and asked them to pop along to sing on some new songs he had written. Emanuel had no idea the phenomenon I’m From Barcelona was to become.
I’m From Barcelona are based in the city of Jönköping (pronounced Yon’shoping ) in southern Sweden, which is also home to ABBA’s Agnetha Fältskog and was formerly home to The Cardigans’ Nina Persson.
Emanuel has always loved music and since his very early teens he had been in various Swedish indie bands, largely writing, as he says himself, “melancholy stuff”. By 2005 he had enough of being downcast. It was time to do something different - and indeed to re-examine the role and purpose of music in life. He called some friends to come over to his place and, just for fun, record some of his new songs.
“I wanted to describe life better,” Emanuel tells me during our Thursday afternoon conversation. “I was doing sad songs at the time and the first I’m From Barcelona album is very upbeat and optimistic.
“I didn’t start the band to have hits and tour the world, but because 100 years ago songs were in your family. At home people would sing songs and I wanted to find that again and see why it is we have music and singing in the first place.”
When it came to choosing a name, Emanuel delved into his childhood for inspiration and recalled Basil Fawlty’s famous dismissal of poor Manuel: “Oh don’t mind him, he’s from Barcelona.”
“My name is Emanuel and that isn’t a very common name in Sweden,” he says, “so I always liked Manuel in Fawlty Towers because his name was the same as mine. We never thought we’d eventually play Barcelona. It was a bit embarrassing to go there with the band. In Spain Fawlty Towers is dubbed into Spanish and there Manuel is from Mexico so it was complicated to explain that as people were curious about the name.”
Childhood memories were also the inspiration for one of the best songs on the band’s joyous debut Let Me Introduce My Friends: ‘Collection Of Stamps’.
“I was at my parents’ house and I was going through a lot of my old stuff,” recalls Emanuel. “My parents were saying ‘You have to throw them away as we don’t want them anymore’. I was struck by nostalgia going through them.
“One of the things I found was a stamp collection. I also liked playing with an old typewriter and I had written down a list of my collection of stamps and what country they came from. I wasn’t interested in their rarity or value of the stamps. It was good to see a 12-year-old’s way of travelling and that was the inspiration for the song.”
Let Me Introduce My Friends was released in 2006 and turned an informal gathering of friends singing joyous, sing-along, feel good, party time indie-pop, into something of a global phenomenon.
“It’s turned out a bit differently,” says Emanuel. “We never intended us to be on the radio but we have had a lot of fun travelling around together so I’m not sad.”
The band’s shows are full of good time cheer, balloons, a celebratory atmosphere, and more confetti than the 1978 World Cup final! Emanuel promises “even more” of that at their upcoming show in the Róisín Dubh on Saturday, but says there will be “some new emotions” as well.
This is because the band’s new album Who Killed Harry Houdini? is noticeably different from it’s predecessor. Whereas the debut’s sleeve featured a 1970s style children’s programme cartoon-style painting of the band, Who Killed Harry Houdini? - released in October - features a Gothic cover of a headless man at a table with candles, a skull, and numerous bizarre items. It could not be in starker contrast.
“This time I want to combine those worlds - the euphoric and the melancholic on the same album,” Emanuel says. “It’s how life is. It’s a mix between emotions. If you’re an emotional person - and I am - you have strong feelings which can be euphoric or melancholy, depending on how you wake up in the morning. It was natural to have them both.
“Touring with only one album was hard but now we can choose from a lot of songs and make the set list fit the venue in a better way and that’s uplifting for us. It can make the party more important if you have been sad before as you will hear happy songs.”
Why did Emanuel name the album after the famous escape artist?
“I have been reading a lot of biographies in the last two years trying to get a perspective on crazy people’s lives. Your own problems don’t feel so big anymore,” he says. “Before reading the book I knew a lot of clichéd things about Houdini, like his escaping from handcuffs, but he went through a lot. I believed he died underwater in an escape attempt accident but if you want to find out the answer you’ll have to Google it. I’m not going to spoil the mystery.”
One of the biographies Emanuel read was The Secret Life of Harry Houdini, which he bought at London’s Heathrow Airport. It may have been to take his mind of his fear of flying.
“It’s ironic that I’m flying a lot as I have to as a touring musician,” he says. “I’m just glad to be alive when the plane hits the ground. I’m not sure where it comes from. It’s more dangerous to ride a car! My mum is afraid of flying so maybe it comes from her.”
I’m From Barcelona are loved and enjoyed by people in their 20s and 30s and also by children. Emanuel says he would love to do an all-ages show in Galway at some stage.
“That’s a great idea,” he says. “When we play festivals I met parents with their three year olds and the children have made paintings for us. If anyone has any ideas they should email us.”
I’m From Barcelona play the Róisín Dubh this Saturday at 8pm. Tickets are available from the Róisín Dubh and Zhivago.