Warming up with Augustine

- in In English, Intervju, Kultur & Nöje

The breakout Swedish indie-pop star talks musical influences, touring, and his “warm” music.

Fredrik Gustafsson – better known by his stage name Augustine – joins our videocall interview from the living room of his childhood home. It’s a week before Christmas, and he’s returned from Stockholm to his hometown suburb of Gothenburg for the holidays.

The musician himself is much like his music: unpretentious, chilled-out, gentle. He takes his time to think over the questions I ask him, occasionally tousling his signature curtained hair. When he answers he does so earnestly and with a self-awareness that’s free from ego.

“Hmm, good question,” he says, before retreating into thought; or: “I need to think about that.”

The breakout indie-pop star has much to reflect on. Two months after the release of his first full-length album, Weeks Above the Earth, he’s at the forefront of the Swedish music scene.

“Weeks Above The Earth is one of the best albums of the year in its genre,” said the Nordic music magazine Gaffa. “No other Swedish artist can compete with Augustine’s modern take on 70’s soul and funk, playful soundscapes, and fragile love stories.”

And the amateur critics – YouTube commenters – have weighed in as well: scroll down from his latest set of music videos and you will find hundreds of expressions of love, lamentations that he is not more widely known, entreaties to play concerts in foreign countries, and stories about how his music has helped the love-lorn or ill or just plain bummed-out.

I want my music to feel warm.

It is understandable why his music resonates with people: it is so plainly honest. He frequently touches on various kinds of love – lost, found, remembered, yearned for – sometimes naïvely but never whinily or melodramatically. His music videos are filmed in Mediterranean locales and are hyper-stylized with warm filters, soft focuses, and frequent use of 4:3 aspect ratios, which give the overall feeling of watching a VHS tape. But even that mawkish nostalgia feels genuine, because it is tapping into a real aching that afflicts him and others of his generation – to be somewhere else, sometime else.

He seems to thrive on occupying this intimate place in the hearts of his fans. His artist Facebook page updates read like he is writing to friends: “What a joy to come and play and meet you,” he says, in an update about an upcoming live show; in another: “I want to sing and dance with you!!!!”

And he becomes noticeably happy when I tell him that my girlfriend and I put on his music when we want to relax after a long day:

“It’s so nice to hear that,” he says, “I want my music to feel warm.”

But how did he get to this place where his music is reaching millions of listeners – and when did Fredrik become Augustine?

Back in his childhood home, Fredrik was quick to point out the influence of his childhood on the musician he has become. He says he grew up in “a musical house,” listening to the artists his father listened to and watching his brothers hold band practice in the family’s garage – practices Augustine was not invited to because he was too young:

“I always wanted to be in a band, maybe because I watched [my brothers] and envied them.”

He says that listening to the indie-pop wave of the 2010’s made him want to “make music like that,” mentioning Tame Impala and Phoenix by name and crediting Foster the People with inspiring him to sing in falsetto.

When I ask him what he listens to today, he pulls up his Spotify Wrapped playlist from 2021 and reads off: Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, a collection of lyric-less Swedish dance songs.

There have been several occasions where I’ve been surprised at the reception of a song…. And when we last played a show, when people knew the lyrics, it was very strange – in a good way.

He took the moniker Augustine in late 2018, as an homage to a song of the same name by the English musician Blood Orange. Fredrik’s roommate and friend from music school, Rassmus Björnsson, had interned at a studio in Stockholm; Fredrik and Rassmus recorded a few song demos to show to the studio, and submitted them under the name Augustine. The studio was impressed, and one of these demos, Luzon, would become Augustine’s first song release. After that, things moved quickly: 

Luzon got some good reception, and from there we released the EP, then the album.”

On the strength of these releases, Augustine won “Pop Artist of the Year” at the Swedish Independent Music Awards, and was named “The Artist of the Future” (“framtidens artist”) by the radio station P3.

“There have been several occasions where I’ve been surprised at the reception of a song…. And when we last played a show, when people knew the lyrics, it was very strange – in a good way.”

His first show was at Stockholm’s bougie Lydmar Hotel, in “broad daylight” and on a small stage, which made him feel “very, very scared”:

“I couldn’t hide. There were no cool lights or anything. I was just, like – there…. I remember thinking before the show that either I’m going to enjoy this, or this is going to be the first and last time I ever do this.”

It seems he enjoyed it. Augustine is now scheduled for a series of domestic and international concerts, originally planned for February before being COVID-delayed until April. The tour will see Augustine playing the Swedish trifecta of Malmö, Stockholm, and Gothenburg, as well as international shows in Copenhagen, Oslo, Berlin, Paris, and London.

“You want the sound to be like a world, in the live shows. You want it to be one kind of feeling… [For this coming tour, the mood] should be like a fever dream. I want to create intros and transitions between songs, and change the dynamics. It’s fun to pick apart the songs so they don’t sound exactly like the studio versions – fun, and scary.”

He says he will primarily be playing songs from the new album, though the young musician’s still-small oeuvre doesn’t give him much choice.

“I think there are only one or two [of my songs] that won’t make the live set,” he says. Luckily, he continues, there aren’t any songs he’s tired of playing yet.