Peter Quinn delves into Linda Fredriksson's award winning debut album 'Juniper'

Peter Quinn delves into Linda Fredriksson's award winning debut album 'Juniper'
Peter Quinn joins us to discuss Linda Fredriksson's debut album 'Juniper' ahead of their Music Network Tour this June.
The recording process

A strikingly personal work that blends elements of jazz, folk, electronica and more, what makes Finnish saxophonist and composer Linda Fredriksson's debut album Juniper so captivating is the intensely intimate approach to the recording process coupled with a unique compositional voice.

Recorded in a variety of settings – two professional studios, three homes, two summer cottages and four working spaces, the album has an inviting, lived-in feel. This approach wasn’t necessarily premeditated but rather a natural byproduct of their creative process. As Fredriksson explains, "A really big part of the process was that I was totally unaware of what I was doing most of the time, in a really positive way. Why am I recording to my iPhone and my guitar here at the cottage? This is wrong."

Fredriksson began with bare-bones demos which captured embryonic ideas. They then brought these skeletal recordings to the band with the intention of fleshing them out, but something felt askew in the transition to a proper studio.

"Okay, something is lost now. Now this sounds like too much of a generic, well-played jazz album – something really personal and important is actually lost," Fredriksson recalls. With the guidance of co-producer Minna Koivisto, Fredriksson embarked on an extensive post-production process of reintegrating the original demo elements to preserve that raw quality.

The post production

Fredriksson's compositions on Juniper are meticulously layered and texturally rich. The opening track ‘Neon Light [and the sky was trans]’ beautifully exemplifies this. Beginning with a drone reminiscent of Arvo Pärt provided by an old, battered keyboard which was missing a few keys, gifted from a friend when Fredrikkson was 10 years old, the texture slowly builds with layers of modular synths and a home recording of rain falling outside their Helsinki workspace. Across the album, this patient accretion of elements imbues deceptively simple foundations with striking depth.

"The basic song was built really fast in just a few minutes, but then a lot of the layering and the post-production came bit by bit," Fredriksson explains. "Then it was a really slow process in finding the perfect time: okay, now I need something new, or now it gets too full or too perfect and something needs to be broken – going over it again and again but based on my own intuition. I work with the song until I feel that now it's ready, now it's good enough. It feels for a really long time like it's not ready. I'm really slow in making new music.”

Several tracks on Juniper have profound resonances for Fredriksson. The tender musical eulogy ‘Nana – Tepalle’ was written as their grandmother was passing away.

“At the time when I was finishing the album, that was the last song – it was ready, but it was still lacking the outro and the final production. We knew that she would die in just a few days or weeks. She had been such an important person for me, really like a parent. I originally had the idea with the intro that it would be like scattering, as if somebody is losing their memory, a feeling of letting go. Everything just came together that my own grandmother was dying and starting to forget everything around her. Suddenly I realised, okay, this is for her.”

The use of a similarly battered acoustic guitar imbues both ‘Pinetree song’ and the folk-like ‘Lempilauluni’ (‘My Loved Song’) with a unique warmth and intimacy. Fredriksson jokes, “It actually has a rattling, broken string, so that's why I'm laughing because it really is like this. It's an instrument that I got from another neighbour. It was hit by a car, so it has big holes. I've made so many songs with it – it has this warm sound. That guitar track is the original I recorded with my laptop’s built-in microphone in my apartment. I also tried recording it with a fancy acoustic guitar afterwards, but it didn't have the right feeling.” Such distinctive textural elements root the album's exploratory spirit in a grounded, human reality.

The reference to a rattling string recalls Joni Mitchell’s account of recording ‘The Wolf that lives in Lindsey’, one of the tracks from Mingus, on a rented Martin D-18 acoustic guitar which “buzzed like a rattlesnake”.

Does Finland have especially generous neighbours who happily give away musical instruments, I wonder. “If you could see the instruments, you maybe wouldn’t use the word generous,” Fredriksson laughs.

Another sonic memento is seamlessly introduced at the close of ‘Lempilauluni’ – the delightful murmur of friends baking a surprise birthday cake for Fredriksson’s partner. “We recorded the birthday cake sounds for totally another reason but then I remembered afterwards, oh my God, that's exactly the right mood that we need to add to this.”

Linda Fredriksson - 'Neon Light [and the sky was trans]'
The playing

While Fredriksson's sax playing is highly expressive, there is also a judicious use of restraint and silence that allows the other instrumental voices to shine. "I feel it's so enjoyable to just listen and then play when the time is right. When I only focus on the music, I find it's super easy: I listen to the music and it tells me what needs to be done and when to be silent."

This reserved approach counteracts the ego and bluster that Fredriksson encountered in music school environments, which they describe as "a bit of a struggle...often so tough and macho and toxic." Juniper's emphasis on careful listening and understated eloquence is a welcome rebuke to such posturing.

The fusion of introspective lyricism and patient construction manifests powerfully on Juniper's title track. Overlaying ensemble interplay of incredibly rich, interlocking rhythmic patterns, Fredriksson's stacked up sax lines soar in breathtaking, chorale-like harmonisations.

If Fredriksson's background is firmly rooted in jazz, they resist pigeonholing their music into any single genre. "I don't even know if this music is jazz. It's related to it in some way with the improvisation and with my background in studying the jazz tradition. Mostly, for me, it's just music."

The band

This open-minded perspective extends to Fredriksson’s collaborators as well. Assembling the band, they sought out musicians equipped to traverse Juniper's stylistic breadth. The three musicians accompanying them on this tour – keyboardist Tuomo Prättälä, bassist Mikael Saastamoinen and drummer Olavi Louhivuori – were chosen for their "super wide range" and ability to straddle genres.

As Fredriksson puts it, " I've thought about it for a long time: who would be the right people to play this music that are also people I feel safe and comfortable with. I really needed them to be jazz players. They understand the singer-songwriter side and the pop side, and jazz and improvisation." This eclecticism mirrors the myriad of influences which underpin Juniper, from Feist and Sufjan Stevens to Alice Coltrane and the Finnish composer and piano player, Iro Haarla.

The album

In a recent ‘nostalgic period’, Fredriksson has been revisiting albums from high school days, including classics such as John Coltrane's Crescent and Keith Jarrett's My Song.

"It's like being back there, it's amazing," Fredriksson reflects on this act of returning to familiar musical touchstones. "It's such a weird and beautiful combination of hearing something you know so well with totally new ears."

This sense of rediscovery and emotional time travel is perhaps the very essence of Juniper – an album that invites listeners to step into Fredriksson's singular world where the boundaries between music, memory, and everyday life dissolve.

Find out more about Linda Fredriksson and their debut album ‘Juniper’ here -