Nicolai Dunger
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Nicolai Dunger


Band Rock Folk


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The best kept secret in music


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Still working on that hot first release.


Feeling a bit camera shy


We don't know for sure, but it seems likely that Nicolai Dunger's elementary-school report card may have said, "Plays well with others."

He's certainly accomplished that as an adult. After being discovered while singing on a balcony in his home town of Piteå in northern Sweden, Dunger gave up a promising career as a Swedish national soccer player and decided to pursue his passion for music. He has since recorded or toured with artists as varied as Soundtrack of Our Lives, Will Oldham, Calexico, Sufjan Stevens, and ‘Here’s My Song…’ co-producers Mercury Rev.

The collaboration with Mercury Rev is rare in the way it mutually enhances both parties: Dunger's aching melodies and soulful vocals mesh with Rev's dreamy yet driving sound seamlessly, and with an ease that reflects the fun the musicians had playing together. The end result recalls the joyful, pastoral soul of vintage Van Morrison and the melancholy crooning of both Tim and Jeff Buckley.

"It was a good mixture," Nicolai says of the collaboration, which began in earnest when the two artists toured together (they first made contact when Rev's Jonathan Donahue phoned Nicolai to express admiration for his "First Born Track" EP). "I think we brought out the best in each other. They're almost like the Band or Stax musicians, with that dukka-dukka drum beat. It also allowed me to put down my guitar and concentrate more on being a singer." (Nicolai's guitarist Thomas Tjärnkvist also contributed extensively to the album, most strikingly on "White Wild Horses.")

The musicians acted much more as collaborators on the album than a backing band, as Nicolai illustrates. "'Hunger' used to be a slow shuffle in its original arrangement, but we turned it into more of a rocker," he says. "What I like most is the Motown feel to the beat on the chorus. And I hadn't originally intended to record ['White Wild Horses'] for this album -- by mistake, my manager sent an MP3 of this track to Mercury Rev, and they insisted on keeping it on."

The album was rehearsed and recorded over several sessions in Rev's home base of upstate New York, and a later session in Stockholm. "This was the first time I had taken so much time in planning the recording and fine-tuning the songs," Nicolai says. "[Mercury Rev] knew the songs from when we toured together -- I always play a lot of new songs live -- but we made sure that each session, we had one or two new songs, just to keep things fresh. 'Year of the Love and Hurt Cycle' was one of those, and so was 'Someone New.' They were really good at simplifying my songs and putting them into more of a rock arena than I had ever done before. We wanted this record to be a little more direct than the others. It's probably my broadest album to date."

Considering how joyful and energetic many of the songs are, it may come as a surprise to learn that they were born in considerable sadness. "My girlfriend and I broke up, and all the songs are to her," he says. "That's why it has that long, complicated, title. I couldn't be with her, and there wasn't any other way to keep in touch, really. And my mother passed away at the same time. It's not a sad-sounding record, but it is for me when I hear it, of course, because my mother listened to it all the time before she passed away, so it all just reminds me of that. But when we recorded it we had a lot of fun -- we went to the bar in Kingston [New York], we had a lot of parties, so we had a good time."

As for other collaborations he'd like to undertake, Nicolai says, "The only guy I really want to work with is Vincent Gallo -- the scores for his movies are amazing. He's crazy, of course, but I like that -- talk to anybody who knew Miles Davis!"

Nicolai is delighted that "Here's My Song..." is coming out on Zoë/Rounder, and he's looking forward to touring the U.S. in the spring.