Meet FLORA, The Duo Casting A Brooding, Dystopian Shadow Over Pop Music
Flora is the Stockholm-based project of Northern Electronics founder Varg (a.k.a. Jonas Rönnberg) and Swedish singer AnnaMelina. Existing until very recently as an exclusively live offering, the duo create melancholic vignettes that meld post-trap and future-facing electronics injected with flourishes of R&B swing.
Flora is the Stockholm-based project of Northern Electronics founder Varg (a.k.a. Jonas Rönnberg) and Swedish singer AnnaMelina. Existing until very recently as an exclusively live offering, the duo create melancholic vignettes that meld post-trap and future-facing electronics injected with flourishes of R&B swing. Their singular brand of dystopian pop has connected them with a legion of fans who resonate with their brooding universe.
Following the release of their debut single “Impatience”, we caught up with the duo in the undergrowth of a Stockholm park under grey skies and the threat of an approaching storm. They described how, despite their differences as artists, they finally discovered each other, as well as how their union has resulted in what is perhaps their most significant respective projects to date.
Can you tell me a bit about how you met? What are your backgrounds?
AM: Jonas contacted me first. I have a solo project called AnnaMelina, and I make R&B, poppy electronic productions. Jonas had listened to these a lot and then he contacted me to be on a record of his.
This was was for the Gore-Tex City compilation?
AM: Yes, it was a track called “Blue Line”. He sent me a lot of the tracks from the album, and I tried singing on a lot of them, but that was the one I really connected with and enjoyed singing on. After that we just kept on working together. I think it was quite revolutionary for both of us. Well, actually that’s an understatement. We just carried on doing more and more tracks on our own, and this became its own project. We realized the things we were doing together could only exist in their own world.
Jonas, collaboration is a big part of what you do, right?
JR: Yes…I don’t really know why I decided to collaborate with so many people on Gore-Tex City. I guess I was bored with everything, so I just collaborated with friends who basically made music that was not the same music I was making. Maybe some were from the fringes of what I do, but none of the artists were in the same scene. Melina was the only one who wasn’t my friend who was on the record. I didn’t know her and I had never met her, but I respected her music a lot so I asked her.
How did you actually connect?
JR: I had been a big fan of hers for many years, so I contacted her manager and then I got an email back saying “Yes, let’s do it.” I sent her a bunch of unfinished stuff.
AM: It was actually really perfect because I was extremely…”bored” sounds kind of obnoxious, but I was really looking for something new.
You met each other at quite a good moment. Did this inspire a new way of creating?
JR: This is much different from how all of my collaborations have been. I have been in many projects and in many bands, and it has always been different for me and taken on different formations. Like this month I’m this person, this month I’m that person, I’m going to be in this rock band for six months, blah blah blah. Now it feels like Varg is the side project, which is something I have to keep on doing. I have to keep the fans happy. Well, I don’t want to express myself exactly like that. What I mean is that with Flora, I am more concentrated.
AM: It’s a very weird collaboration. It’s like when something really clicks. When you’re a creative person and you find this kind of thing, you can’t really let go.
Do you think this project has more longevity?
JR: I used to have all of these projects and I spent so many months on them. This [project] was like rebooting your computer or resetting your iPhone. It really opened up new doors. Melina is a really great producer and we have a really good exchange in many ways, which has led me to move on from what I used to be and to become something new. It’s like getting to a new level of Pokemon! And that feels really great!
Do you have defined roles when you work together? Are all aspects of the project collaborative?
AM: No, it’s really like every track is made in a new way. Sometimes Jonas makes a beat and I will write lyrics to it, or I could make a drum pattern and then he finishes it.
JR: The exchange is good with Flora. I’ll record on a plane, or on weekend when I am out playing as Varg, and then I’ll come home and give it to her. And then I don’t see it for a couple of weeks, and then it comes back as another song made by her but with new sounds. Or she could make a beat and I could come along and just fix the hi-hats.
I don’t really write that many vocals. I used to write a lot of poetry and I had maybe one or two poems published in my music career, but that’s it. Now Melina is transmitting a lot of my life and what happened to me in her lyrics. It’s all a big exchange, except that Melina is the person writing most of the lyrics and doing the vocals. Production-wise, though, we split everything pretty much fifty-fifty.
Do you think in the future there could be a moment where there is more lyrical input from Jonas?
AM: I would love that!
JR: I was actually writing some poems the other day…I go through a lot of weird shit in my life and I write stuff down all the time, so I don’t know. We’ll see…
AM: [The writing] is actually something I want to have. I think it’s all about stepping out of comfort zones. I think that is what we are trying to do all of the time.
How do you step out of your comfort zones during live performances?
AM: I would say Flora really comes to life when we play live.
JR: I really think Flora is good live. I mean it has to be since we have played all over Europe and have had several offers to play around the globe without even having released any music. At this point, we only have one single out and one track on a compilation.
AM: It’s such a wonderful exchange between us and the audience every time we play. It’s really intense and it gets very personal. As an artist, you can really feel the electricity from the audience. A lot of people come up to us and say they experience a lot of emotions during out shows. This was a surprise for us. Like everything else we do, it wasn’t calculated—it just developed into us playing this really crazy live show.
Is there much improvization in the live show?
AM: During soundcheck, we basically decide what we are going to play at the show and how we are going to do it. What feeling we should have, how we are going to build the stage, how we are going to hang our flowers.
So the live show is very much based on the environment.
JR: Yes. For example, we played in Stockholm recently at the Moderna Museet. I really don’t like playing in Stockholm, especially not with Flora. When I play as Varg, a lot of the time I just shut down. I don’t care where I am, or what I am doing. But with Flora I have to be present, I have to be in the room. It’s an Emperors New Clothes kind of style, and I have to be there naked in front of people. I have a lot of personal issues with performing live, especially when it’s people seeing me that I know. Seeing faces that I recognize.
AM: That is so much more scarier.
JR: So at Moderna Museet, we decided to play a really heartbreaking show, which is actually pretty funny because we have been fucking with the idea of the classic hip-hop set up. When we play live, I’m there with two CDJs and headphones—like the classic hip-hop DJ—and then Melina has her microphone connected to Auto-Tune. It’s a very traditional rap set-up, but from the speakers comes just piano loops and Melina singing what are basically poems. It’s weird—if we want to, we can go from doing that to noisier, rowdier, bass-drum-filled show in a basement.
AM: And we can also do a show that consists of all of these things and still remain cohesive. I think that’s one of the reasons we are so inspired by this project. It really has no limits to where it can go music-wise, there are no boundaries. That’s why Jonas and I really feel comfortable and inspired by this project. We are very free right now.
Would you say that Flora is more about capturing a feeling rather than a particular sound?
AM: Well yes, I guess it’s hard to put it into words. It’s not just about being a music project, it’s more about everything inspiring us. I guess the music is what we put out and what we work with, but it’s also about the books we read or the paintings we do or conversations we have. Everything we experience becomes Flora.
JR: It’s almost like we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole since this project came along. To give an example, we had done the first collaboration on Gore-Tex City. Before that, I was making a track with my friend Pat, a rapper from Sweden who died during the recording of our track. I sent that beat to Melina, and that was really hard for me. It was packed with a lot of emotion. He died of cancer and it happened really fast, and seeing him change from this really lively, buff rapper to a small and bleak white-haired guy was very hard. Even hearing that beat was really rough, and in the end I gave that beat to Melina because I needed to move forward. She made that track, like, instantly, and it was just so good.
AM: lt was one of those things where sometimes you just write and it maybe takes like ten minutes, like writing in a diary. It just comes out of you and this was one of those cases. I think I had the flu or something and I wrote, went to cook or something, and then when I came back to listen to it I got very emotional. It was just so honest, and I’m not used to writing about stuff that I’m not comfortable writing about…
JR: It’s a touchy subject that you don’t normally want to go near.
AM: Yeah. But it felt so natural and powerful and right. Music-wise it was kind of obvious that this is the space where I should write about this. For me, when I think about it, this was when I wrote to Jonas and asked if he wanted to make an EP.
JR: That track was actually supposed to be on Crush, my latest album, and when Flora happened after that, we had a discussion about doing a Varg and AnnaMelina EP together. That snowballed very fast to become Flora.
AM: Yes, this is around the time I took Jonas to Gotland, the island I come from. We didn’t know each other that well then, but we really wanted to work together. We went there for a week or something, and it was really crazy. It was just like…we did so much and it was so easy and so beautiful. We just worked from the beginning of the day to the end of the day without even feeling like we worked. I think we both surprised ourselves with what we did. What I know he doesn’t know, and vice-versa.
JR: That actually ended up delaying the Crush album by more than a year. I mean I just couldn’t work on it. I didn’t understand what I was doing. It was like I was losing a grip on everything that I was doing and it was a year of confusion thinking “Should I even do the Varg project any more?” I couldn’t channel myself anymore, something that I had just started to do in Varg. It kind of didn’t make sense anymore. Now I’m slowly turning it back into a dance project. I can’t empty my emotional banks into two projects at once.
AM: We really think of ourselves as people, not as artists. We are both now more inside of Flora than we are inside of Varg or AnnaMelina.
JR: We consider Flora to be more like a label or something. It’s now like Varg is somehow an artist on that “label.” I mean, it sounds weird because I am Varg. Every time I record music I am doing it as Varg.
AM: Come on, you don’t need to think about it so much!
JR: Yes you’re right. Actually, I don’t give a fuck anymore! I just used to give a fuck. I guess we have had a lot of delays because of my own personal relationship with music. Honestly it has all been a bit overwhelming.
Do you think you were always somehow searching for a project like this even if it was subconscious?
AM: I feel like that yes.
JR: Me too.
AM: I feel that this is probably why we do it and why we do it this intensely. We really believe in it. We want it to get as big as we possibly can and we want to thrive in it.
How did you approach distilling this world you have created on to the Impatience 7-inch ?
AM: These were some of the first tracks we made. On “Valmo” I had made the bassline, and I showed Jonas and I told him I was thinking about making it into a new AnnaMelina track. And he just said, “No, we need it.” So we started developing an album around it and then we planned to make a single release…
JR: Also another thing about this is that I am not usually an eager person. I’m not impatient! Melina showed me this track on a Tuesday or something, and later that day she was going away with friends for holidays. At this point we didn’t know each other well at all. But I took the keys to her apartment to go back and spend time finishing the track.
AM: Oh yes, I’d forgotten this!
JR: So I spent two days and nights in her apartment, sleeping in her bed, on her computer, working on this track alone because I was so hooked on it. That is not normally me.
What are your plans for future releases?
JR: We can’t really talk about it. I mean we have a lot if music. Flora is going to exist and that is the promise we can make, and we are going to put stuff out, but we are not in a rush.
It’s interesting that you seem quite happy to exist as a live act and you don’t feel pressure to make yourselves known as recording artists.
AM: Yes, exactly.
JR: This tour that we have been doing to introduce our project, our sound and our vision has not made us rush to put things out.
AM: It’s also a transition. We both have other projects, but we have to do this work as well and then find our place with Flora. We want to do everything as properly as we can.
Published November 23, 2018. Words by Gareth Owen, photos by Elias Bergkvist.