Scan Magazine | Cover Feature | Laleh
Laleh ‘You can’t define me’ From a political refugee fleeing Iran to a celebrated songwriter and music producer in Hollywood – Laleh Pourkarim has a great deal to be proud of. Scan Magazine caught up with the Iranian-Swedish singer on the eve of her sixth album release to talk about working in a male-dominated industry and being in control. By Linnea Dunne | Photos: Lost Army/ Warner Music
Her mother was a literary scholar and mathematician and her father a poet, author and journalist whose political involvement forced the family to flee their home country for Azerbaijan and later on Minsk in the former Soviet Union. “It gives you a sort of carelessness but at the same time a respect for life – having to continuously learn to coexist with reality and move around and learn new things. I spoke a number of languages before I was eight; changeability has played a major role in my life,” she says. Pourkarim, better known simply as Laleh, came to Sweden and Gothenburg via East Berlin aged nine. Years later, in 2000, she became known to Swedish audiences when she starred in the lauded film Jalla! Jalla!, but it was not until another five years on that she truly won over their hearts. Her self-titled debut album went to number one in the charts and won three Grammis Awards (the Swedish equivalent of the Grammy Awards) and two P3 Guld accolades. She has been heralded as one of the country’s true musical gems ever since.
Totally in control But while her raw talent and integrity were irresistible to most, some critics seemed to struggle with her refusal to be put in a box. The debut album, written and produced by Laleh herself, set the tone for what was to come: a brave mix of English, Swedish and Persian lyrics with potent pop sensibility alongside rockier influences, indie and folk. “You can’t define me – I don’t think you 26 | Issue 94 93 | November October 2016 2016
can define anyone, if I’m honest. We’re 360-degree beings, and our reality is constantly changing,” she reflects. “You might think by my sixth album I should know who I am, but I’m not interested in knowing who I am; I want to make songs that I enjoy in the moment.” She smiles: “It’s cool, just relax and enjoy what I’ve created. I know what I’m doing; I’m totally in control.” Often described as a control freak, Laleh does not just write and produce all her material herself, but she also plays the majority of the instruments on all the recordings. Some outlets have lauded her as a genius – but the praise can take on a patronising hue. “We’re raised to be achievers but when we do well we’re criticised – you can’t win,” she says. “But I think I’ve known from early on that I’m doing something that’s sometimes hard to digest. If your goal in life is to be understood you can end up quite unhappy, but I’ve never put the bar there – I’ve always taken it song by song.” The new album, her sixth, is named after this idea of each song as a gem of its own. Kristaller, meaning ‘crystals’, is a collection of, as she puts it, “glimpses of something”. If pop stars sing mostly about love, Laleh is a clear exception from the rule. She has written extensively about death and her 2012 song Some Die Young became an unofficial tribute to those who lost their lives or loved ones during the 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway, after she performed it during the one-year anniversary memorial.