It was a full circle moment for Mormor, performing in Berlin’s Privatclub. It’s also where we spoke to the artist about how he got started, how he keeps going and why music is the only thing.
In Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire”, a group of invisible immortal angels hovers over Berlin, listening to people’s thoughts and witnessing human emotion. It’s a raw portrait of the turmoils and pains of mortality, so beautiful that even angels envy it. To say that the film inspired MorMor’s “Heaven’s only wishful” would be an understatement – the artist’s own – the EP ruminates on life with such sensibility, almost as if one of Wenders’ angels had imparted some secret wisdom.
With MorMor, whose real name is Seth Nyquist, there are mysterious depths to his music that we can only fathom. It’s music that is abstract, challenging and beautiful all at the same time.
Performing at Berlin’s Privatclub, it’s his first time in the city that inspired his EP. In the dim, grungy space, MorMor’s music unfolds, layered, enigmatic and heavenly. It feels like a full circle moment, perhaps because it’s Berlin, perhaps because it’s angelic, but heaven doesn’t seem so wishful anymore.
SARAH OSEI What’s behind the name?
MORMOR MorMor? It’s what Swedish people call grandma. I was in a foster home initially and then got adopted by a Swedish family. As a kid I didn’t associate the difference between my grandmother – who we called Mormor – and the name. I just always thought that name was so cool and I loved the aesthetic, the way it was spelled. She was someone who was very dear to me, there was some connection that I had with her that was very deep. It just felt like we were connected in a different way, especially since it wasn’t through blood. She kind of shaped a lot of how I see the world, so I feel that I had to incorporate her into this.
SO When did you decide or realise that you wanted to do music?
M Well, music has always been in my life. My aunt was telling me a few months ago when she visited me in Toronto, that on her first trip to visit me as an infant she already noticed I was inclined to music. Like whenever I’d hear music, or she would sing, or someone would play the piano, I would be very attentive. I remember a lot of situations as an early child where people would comment on how focused I was when it came to sounds. Maybe I used that as a coping mechanism. Now that I look back, I can understand that there’s a therapeutic element to music for me. For that reason music was always a very personal thing, but people can be very forceful. As a child people recognised that I was interested in music and would push me to pursue it. I had a lot of inner battles and battles with people about music, at one point I stopped doing it entirely, so I used to draw and write a lot by myself, because that was something no one could see. Then when I was in my late teens, I hit this ceiling, where I couldn’t do other things any longer, music was the only thing that brought me joy and felt natural. I really didn’t like singing other people’s songs, so I knew I had to make my own.
“Music was the only thing that brought me joy and felt natural”
SO When I hear your music, a lot of the time it reminds me of The Smiths. Who would you say were your musical influences growing up?
M Ah man… I guess my earliest memories were Michael Jackson and the Jackson five – and at that time not knowing that Michael Jackson and little Mike were even the same person, haha. The Beatles were huge, I really liked ‘Strawberry Fields’, the song. Then I had a cousin who got kicked out the house and had to live with us – she was bad! Man, she was really bad, she stabbed me with a stick one time.
SO What? Haha!
M Yeah, haha. Well she was listening to Wu-Tang, just a lot of good music she introduced me to. My mum would listen to a lot of classical, and when I played trumpet I listened to Miles and stuff like that… Yeah, just all over. With music it’s always been this delicate thing, I had to explore music on my own, I would really sit with certain styles and songs for a long time and then move on. I still listen to the things now that I would probably listen to as a kid.
SO You talk about music, with it being so precious and not wanting to be pressured into doing it. How did you make the transition from it being such a guarded thing in your life to sharing your music and performing?
M Performing is… not necessarily getting easier, but it’s something that I’m okay with doing now. I think when the music is your own and you’re doing it your way, it’s a lot easier. I also feel that I’ve been lucky that the people who have reached out so far and those who come to the shows are really genuinely interested and it’s this reciprocation, energy is passed back and forth. It’s still completely on my terms so I don’t feel like I’m lying to anyone.
SO What I also really like, in each song there are like so many different sounds and genres which are being merged. Does this come natural to you or is it a pressure you put on yourself to be versatile and go beyond one set genre?
M It’s funny, I saw this one interview with Joni Mitchell and she talks about this. She describes it as a gift and a curse to try to be original. I think you can attempt to do that, but with some people it’s not an aesthetic or a marketing tool, it’s actually who they are. For me, I don’t necessarily try to be original, I think all of these things just come to be naturally, because even though things are getting sold, I’m not just trying to sell something. It’s art and I think by virtue of living you can incorporate everything into your work. I’m constantly pulling from what’s around me – from the street, from whatever I find interesting – and not really caring if someone thinks it’s cool or not.
“Art is an expression of self, so making it is really learning about yourself, it’s like therapy.”
SO Do you release all the music you make, or are there some songs that you’ve held back on, perhaps because they were too personal?
M Hm… I think I’m getting to the point where I’m really breaking my own barriers. Art is an expression of self, so making it is really learning about yourself, it’s like therapy. So most of the stuff I end up releasing at this point, but I think if anything, the stuff from when I was really young and imbalanced would be something I wouldn’t release.
SO How do you think growing up in Toronto has affected your sound?
M It definitely has, subconsciously. But I would say “Heaven’s only wishful” was definitely inspired by the film ‘Wings of Desire’ – like this is my first time in Berlin, but experiencing the city in that film, it really set the tone and resonated with me. I feel like a lot of major cities have similarities and I just find that I can imagine things – places like London, New York… a lot of those places I’d never been to before I put out music, so I just had to imagine and capture the feeling.
SO Did you ever imagine that you’d be in this position now?
M I thought if I gave it my all, I could get somewhere. I reached this point where I had to accept that this is what I want to do, it’s something that’s most natural.
SO I just watched your music video for ‘Outside’ and I recognise a lot of incredibly impactful symbolism in it. What were the key visual references or ideas behind the video?
M I’d seen some of [Duncan Loudon], the director’s work before and really liked it. Funny enough he’d been following me and I didn’t even know. When I went to go look for him, I saw that he had already messaged me, so we struck up a conversation and I told him I wanted to work with him on the next video. I started sending him images and working on the vision before the song was actually written. So when I finally wrote the song and sent it off, we only really had like two weeks to put it together. Literally the day before we were supposed to shoot it, the board of the school we were shooting at pulled out so we had to find a new location. I flew to London for just a day, it was a really crazy weekend. But the main feeling that I was trying to bring across was alienation and dealing with themes of depression, just trying to display the ways these feelings manifest in people in different times in their life, how childhood trauma can affect people for the entirety of their lives. Those are the main points of inspiration, but I think a lot of the stuff I do I want it to be open enough that people can interpret it their own way.
SO What do you want people to take away from your music?
M Just that it’s honest and genuine. I want everyone to have their own interpretation, I want there to be something to imagine, I don’t necessarily have just one message or feeling to convey or display to people. I accept whatever people take it as.
SO This year you’re doing your European and North American tours. How different is being in a studio making music from being on stage live with an audience?
M I’ve noticed it’s kind of the same feeling when I’m creating and performing. The big difference is that a lot of the time I’m alone, so there’s always this kind of shock of seeing all these people, haha. And I quite enjoy that part, because it’s time to connect with people, it’s nice.
SO What’s the best feedback you’ve gotten on your music?
M The kid in me really appreciates people I grew up with liking and knowing the music. Yeah, I think those have probably been some of the most enjoyable compliments. And just people in general really enjoying it and connecting with it is really cool to see.
SO What are your goals? What are you looking forward to achieving?
M That’s a good question… I think just to be able to create. Maybe eventually collaborate more, but over all just being able to do what I’m doing, like travel and make stuff is cool… Yeah, maybe just expand a little, slowly but surely. But it’s just really nice to be accepted as an artist, especially in today’s time where things are so crazy.
MorMor is currently on his ‘Pass the Hours Tour’. For European and North American tour dates click here.
Interview SARAH OSEI