Welcome to Koop Island: Hanging Backstage with Magnus Zingmark and Oscar Simonsson

Swedish Jazz Duo Koop Return With Koop Islands, a sentimental and sultry followup to Waltz For Koop

Koop Island

Koop Island

By J.C. Tripp

It’s a Friday night at Manhattan’s ultra-plush, Asian-themed Hiro Ballroom where Sweden’s electronic-jazz duo Koop have returned to peform after four years of laying low, presumably in some Caribbean hideout as the title of their new CD suggests. Anticipation runs high for their return to the stage with Koop Islands , the follow-up to the jazzy romantics of Waltz For Koop . Koop’s breezy sound had seduced hipsters and jazz lovers alike with sweet, effortless vibes laced with electronics. With “Koop Islands” the duo have re-invented themselves with a style called “swingtronica”, with influences of the classic Big Band sound of the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties. It’s an appropriate sound for the ballroom’s swanky “Blue Velvet” setting and the room slowly fills to capacity with the low level-hum of a crowd of jazzy and hipster types and heavy beats mixed by another nu jazz musician, Mocean Worker. Considering the time passed and the fact that the music scene Koop emerged from has lost much of its shelf life, it’ s reassuring to see so many turn out for the group. With the room at near-capacity, the lights dim and the group takes center stage with Koop’s two core members, Magnus Zingmark and Oscar Simonsson, taking their positions: Zingmark at the computer/turntables and Simonsson on accordian and vibes. They are accompanied by a full band which includes some of Sweden’s finest jazz musicians and the jazz vocalist Hilde Louise Asbjornsen who spares no time in seducing the crowd. As the sound of seagulls floats over the crowd, Simonsson plays the opening of the lovelorn “Island Blues” as Asbjornsen sings its heart-wrenching lyrics: “hello, my love it’s getting cold on this island. I’m so sad on my own. The truth is we were much too young. Now I’m looking for you or anyone like you.” As Asbjornsen weaves her spell on the crowd, accompanied by the band’s swinging jazztronic vibes, it’s clear that the night will belong to Koop.

Welcome to Koop Islands. A place where music and life swing to a slightly different drum. “Where Waltz For Koop” was steeped in a modern take on 60s jazz and swedish songstressess Koop Islands has – despite its name – very little to do with romanticising the Stockholm archipelago. Rather, it goes much, much further south west, all the way down the Caribbean for inspiration. That´s where you´ll find Koop Islands on their imaginary world map. Zingmark and Simonsson realised that sometimes the only way forwards is to go back. So back they went to the swing of the 1930s, the exoticism of forgotten orchestras and entertainers performing on late 40s yacht cruises to Jamaica. When listening to Koops music it’s somehow easy to believe that it’s played by a small orchestra, but in fact the music is based on samples. Thousands of small clips from records puzzled together into new songs. All the drums, strings, horn sections and choires are actually sampled.

The characteristic Koop vibes are now joined by marimbas, Gene Krupa-esque jungle drums and an ever present Cape Verdean Blues with just a hint of Mento.

This journey in time and music is what forms the foundation Koop Islands was built on. On their travels towards Koop Islands they were joined by their inner circle of friends, some of whom you might remember from “Waltz For Koop”. The amazing Yukimi Nagano with her free flowing vocals and her male counterpart – the criminally underrated Mikael Sundin. Ex-Galliano main man Rob Gallagher tells a heartbreaking tale that weaves together tennis ace Björn Borg with the sad story of the passing of a mother. On the american release of the album is a new track, Strange Love , Hilde Louise Asbjornsen. And, last but no way least, on the album´s title track the norweigan singer-songwriter Ane Brun heads out on her virgin tour of the Islands.

Even though Magnus and Oscar’s hearts and souls are filled with exotic and eclecticly swinging sounds the whole album was produced and recorded in their own tiny studio on Stockholm’s Södermalm.

MundoVibe interviewed the most gracious and friendly Magnus Zingmark and Oscar Simonsson before their New York City show.

MundoVibe: It’s interesting that anyone who knows where you re from would see the title Islands and any one who knows you and your music would think it s about the Swedish archipelago. But then it gets into the marimbas and you re drifting away. I wonder if that idea of the island is a metaphor for dreaming or escaping.

Oscar Simonsson: Absolutely, escaping and dreaming and also creating your own little world.

Magnus Zingmark: That s what we want to promote because you always get what kind of music are you? and we hear everything from nu jazz to whatever. And we think that we re making Koop music which is a unique sound.

Oscar Simonsson: We actually invented our own stupid word, swingtronica . It started as a joke in the studio because we always used to joke about all of these silly names of genres. It s just renaming music and trying to make it hip. So, it started as a joke but then we realized it s better to name it ourselves.

Magnus Zingmark: When we called it swingtronica for the first time in Sweden when we did interviews for the release one year ago journalists started using it, they really love the term swingtronica .

MV: People want to lock onto things and say this is what I listen to . The great thing about jazz has always been that it s so many things and I would consider you guys jazz artists above all.

Oscar Simonsson: To us, jazz is a rhythm. That s how we define it.

Magnus Zingmark: It s an easy way to define it. All other kinds of music are labeled after their rhythms rhumba or tango. It s a rhythm and it s not so much about how improvised it is. It could be a jazz tune without a solo. But I don t think there can be a jazz tune without a swing rhythm.

MV: So, let’s talk about Islands . What inspired it?

Magnus Zingmark: When the Waltz for Koop album got released, we started touring and we did this for two years and we did a lot of remixes for artists. We got kind of fed up with the sound we had. So, we realized we wanted to do something new. We didn t want to do the same album again. So, we thought what new elements can we bring in? . And we had been talking about using marimba for sometime. So, we started there, trying the marimba and seeing what it leads to. So, we had a few angles that we used and we listened to a lot of music and thought maybe we should try to incorporate some 30s jazz, some swing.

Oscar Simonsson: Yeah, but that came in when we started making samples because that s how we start. And build a library of samples and that was like three years ago when we started. And the swing stuff sounded really fresh. And then when we wrote the songs we started to add those swing elements.

Magnus Zingmark: But the trick was we managed to find some samples from recordings from the 60s and 70s playing swing songs, so the quality of the samples were really good. And it blended naturally.

MV: All of the tunes come together with the two of you? You have a lot of people involved with this recording with vocals.

Oscar Simonsson: The tunes are almost ready with samples. And then we usually on some songs we bring in a bass player. And then there s always the vocals and a solo instrument that s live. The song s are all written.

Magnus Zingmark: The lyrics are there and then we invite someone to sing. And occasionally they might co-write lyrics.

Oscar Simonsson: So, we write the first verse and it s really hard to make the second verse.

Magnus Zingmark: But that s the tough one to write, and the second one is not that hard.

MV: And when did it become Islands?

Oscar Simonsson: Our previous albums was Sounds of Koop , which was released ten years ago. And then Waltz for Koop . So, we wanted to keep the word Koop. And that s why it s very funny to discuss the alternatives when you re in the studio working. But it s actually close to Cook Islands . I think maybe we saw the word Cook Islands somewhere.

Magnus Zingmark: It sounds nice and it meant something as well.

Oscar Simonsson: Once we came up with that we wrote the first song, Koop Island Blues. And then we included it s getting cold on this island .

MV: There s a strong feeling of loss on that song and sadness.

Magnus Zingmark: Yeah. It s when you ve grown up and you re in a relationship and you re bored and remember how easy it was when you were 17 and you were in love and there were no complications. You didn t really have to deal with life.

MV: Are you very much in control of everything? You did everything in your own studio.

Magnus Zingmark: Yeah, we are trying different techniques. We are control freaks and want to control everything but sometimes it s good to try to loosen up a bit and see what happens. But in the end it s us sitting there with all of the recorded files, then we do as we please. It s the same thing with the solos. We record maybe four or five takes and then we cut it.

Oscar Simonsson: The thing is that Koop is something that happens between us. You know, we spend hours talking and spend a lot of time together in the studio, not only making music but talking and exchanging ideas.

Magnus Zingmark: It s a mix between our personalities, just us.

MV: We haven t touched upon your sort of alter egos as perfomers because you re going to be made up tonight and your going to be entering a performance space.

Magnus Zingmark: Well, I guess we started wearing makeup this time around because it s fun for us. And no-one has thrown eggs yet, so it seems to be working. It s just a fun thing and especially in the jazz world, which is very conservative and macho. It just comments to that, I guess.

MV: You have performed at North Sea Jazz Festival and Montreaux. I m curious how people react. Do they embrace you or do they say this is different.

Oscar Simonsson: It s different if you play in front of people who knows about Koop, about what Koop is. But if you just see Koop on stage you see a lot of musicians.

Magnus Zingmark: But, then again, in the Hague everybody s stoned so it doesn t really matter (laughter).

MV: Getting back to Islands and the influence of swing. What other influences are on it?

Magnus Zingmark: There some songs that have a rhythm and especially also the marimba gives the Caribbean feel. And that s the Caribbean angle on the album and the music. Koop Islands is also songs that are very much from the 60s like A Different You . And the last song, Whenever There s You could be a French jazz number from the 80s. And we like it, we have a lot of different ingredients.

Oscar Simonsson: We want people that don t know how it s made and about Koop, when you hear Koop for the first time you should be very confused. What time is it from? How is it made? Is it live or is it electronic? We like that confusion.

MV: Really, and nobody s thrown chairs at you?

Magnus Zingmark: Also, back in Sweden, the last album has been very successful. It s made it to the charts. And it s fun to, because the history of jazz is so filled with good song writing, not only instrumental it s good to be able to maybe lead with teenagers that may be into pop to say, we like this, this is good .

MV: Of course, then there are the purists.

Magnus Zingmark: Yeah, of course but that s the flip side. But it s nice to get comments that people are discovering jazz because of us. Even if it s just Stan Getz playing bossa, they re buying something.

Oscar Simonsson: If we have any mission at all, it s really satisfying when we get pretty much a jazz tune on MTV with a video. That means you ve passed it on to a new generation.

MV: Well, going back to the nu jazz category, that did introduce a lot of people to jazz or to embracing music that bridges categories.

Magnus Zingmark: When we were growing up there were a lot of people who when acid jazz came along as a concept or a label became very hip people and then discovered soul jazz and then Jazz from the 60s and 50s. So, that s the way it goes.

Oscar Simonsson: And otherwise jazz will die.

MV: Absolutely, it can t be put into a museum to be preserved. Right now in New York I m disappointed with what most people are listening to. To me it s shit. Music like yours should be the popular music of today.

Magnus Zingmark: Well, we will see what happens. We d like to think this too. We were really happy to just release the album.

MV: You do have some tracks on Koop Islands that could really break out.

Oscar Simonsson: Yeah, Come to Me has been on TV with Grey s Anatomy and it will be heavily exposed on HBO.

MV: So, you re optimistic about the tour and the record.

Magnus Zingmark: If we re going to focus on anything it s going to be the U.S. and try to make something happen here. If nothing s happening, OK we ll do another album. The last time around in the U.S. it was small but we had some kind of foundation, I think we sold something like 50,000 albums. Worldwide it was 175,000. But it s also tough because it s a different market now. It s more about getting music in TV or playing live now.

MV: To get in a car ad or something.

Magnus Zingmark: Yeah, yeah.

Oscar Simonsson: Ten years ago you could say you despise that, but now there s no option. Because people don t go into record stores and listen to music. And people are listening differently to music as well, they buying one song and two songs.

Magnus Zingmark: And for us also, because we don t want to compromise, so when we play live we have like eight people. And it s not cheap so we don t make any money.

Hilde Louise Asbjornsen performing with Koop on their US tour

Hilde Louise Asbjornsen performing with Koop on their US tour

Welcome to Koop Islands. A place where music and life swing to a slightly different drum. “Where Waltz For Koop” was steeped in a modern take on 60s jazz and swedish songstressess Koop Islands has despite its name – very little to do with romanticising the Stockholm archipelago. Rather, it goes much, much further south west, all the way down the Caribbean for inspiration. That´s where you´ll find Koop Islands on their imaginary world map. Zingmark and Simonsson realised that sometimes the only way forwards is to go back. So back they went to the swing of the 1930s, the exoticism of forgotten orchestras and entertainers performing on late 40s yacht cruises to Jamaica. When listening to Koops music it s somehow easy to believe that it s played by a small orchestra, but in fact the music is based on samples. Thousands of small clips from records puzzled together into new songs. All the drums, strings, horn sections and choires are actually sampled.

The characteristic Koop vibes are now joined by marimbas, Gene Krupa-esque jungle drums and an ever present Cape Verdean Blues with just a hint of Mento.

This journey in time and music is what forms the foundation Koop Islands was built on. On their travels towards Koop Islands they were joined by their inner circle of friends, some of whom you might remember from “Waltz For Koop”. The amazing Yukimi Nagano with her free flowing vocals and her male counterpart – the criminally underrated Mikael Sundin. Ex-Galliano main man Rob Gallagher tells a heartbreaking tale that weaves together tennis ace Björn Borg with the sad story of the passing of a mother. On the american release of the album is a new track, Strange Love , Hilde Louise Asbjornsen. And, last but no way least, on the album´s title track the norweigan singer-songwriter Ane Brun heads out on her virgin tour of the Islands.

Even though Magnus and Oscars hearts and souls are filled with exotic and eclecticly swinging sounds the whole album was produced and recorded in their own tiny studio on Stockholms Södermalm.

MundoVibe interviewed the most gracious and friendly Magnus Zingmark and Oscar Simonsson before their New York City show.

MV: So, let s talk about Islands . What inspired it?

Magnus Zingmark: When the Waltz for Koop album got released, we started touring and we did this for two years and we did a lot of remixes for artists. We got kind of fed up with the sound we had. So, we realized we wanted to do something new. We didn t want to do the same album again. So, we thought what new elements can we bring in? . And we had been talking about using marimba for sometime. So, we started there, trying the marimba and seeing what it leads to. So, we had a few angles that we used and we listened to a lot of music and thought maybe we should try to incorporate some 30s jazz, some swing.

Oscar Simonsson: Yeah, but that came in when we started making samples because that s how we start. And build a library of samples and that was like three years ago when we started. And the swing stuff sounded really fresh. And then when we wrote the songs we started to add those swing elements.

Magnus Zingmark: But the trick was we managed to find some samples from recordings from the 60s and 70s playing swing songs, so the quality of the samples were really good. And it blended naturally.

MundoVibe: It s interesting that anyone who knows where you re from would see the title Islands and any one who knows you and your music would think it s about the Swedish archipelago. But then it gets into the marimbas and you re drifting away. I wonder if that idea of the island is a metaphor for dreaming or escaping.

Oscar Simonsson: Absolutely, escaping and dreaming and also creating your own little world.

Magnus Zingmark: That s what we want to promote because you always get what kind of music are you? and we hear everything from nu jazz to whatever. And we think that we re making Koop music which is a unique sound.

Oscar Simonsson: We actually invented our own stupid word, swingtronica . It started as a joke in the studio because we always used to joke about all of these silly names of genres. It s just renaming music and trying to make it hip. So, it started as a joke but then we realized it s better to name it ourselves.

Magnus Zingmark: When we called it swingtronica for the first time in Sweden when we did interviews for the release one year ago journalists started using it, they really love the term swingtronica .

MV: People want to lock onto things and say this is what I listen to . The great thing about jazz has always been that it s so many things and I would consider you guys jazz artists above all.

Oscar Simonsson: To us, jazz is a rhythm. That s how we define it.

Magnus Zingmark: It s an easy way to define it. All other kinds of music are labeled after their rhythms rhumba or tango. It s a rhythm and it s not so much about how improvised it is. It could be a jazz tune without a solo. But I don t think there can be a jazz tune without a swing rhythm.

MV: All of the tunes come together with the two of you? You have a lot of people involved with this recording with vocals.

Oscar Simonsson: The tunes are almost ready with samples. And then we usually on some songs we bring in a bass player. And then there s always the vocals and a solo instrument that s live. The song s are all written.

Magnus Zingmark: The lyrics are there and then we invite someone to sing. And occasionally they might co-write lyrics.

Oscar Simonsson: So, we write the first verse and it s really hard to make the second verse.

Magnus Zingmark: But that s the tough one to write, and the second one is not that hard.

MV: And when did it become Islands?

Oscar Simonsson: Our previous albums was Sounds of Koop , which was released ten years ago. And then Waltz for Koop . So, we wanted to keep the word Koop. And that s why it s very funny to discuss the alternatives when you re in the studio working. But it s actually close to Cook Islands . I think maybe we saw the word Cook Islands somewhere.

Magnus Zingmark: It sounds nice and it meant something as well.

Oscar Simonsson: Once we came up with that we wrote the first song, Koop Island Blues. And then we included it s getting cold on this island .

MV: There s a strong feeling of loss on that song and sadness.

Magnus Zingmark: Yeah. It s when you ve grown up and you re in a relationship and you re bored and remember how easy it was when you were 17 and you were in love and there were no complications. You didn t really have to deal with life.

MV: Are you very much in control of everything? You did everything in your own studio.

Magnus Zingmark: Yeah, we are trying different techniques. We are control freaks and want to control everything but sometimes it s good to try to loosen up a bit and see what happens. But in the end it s us sitting there with all of the recorded files, then we do as we please. It s the same thing with the solos. We record maybe four or five takes and then we cut it.

Oscar Simonsson: The thing is that Koop is something that happens between us. You know, we spend hours talking and spend a lot of time together in the studio, not only making music but talking and exchanging ideas.

Magnus Zingmark: It s a mix between our personalities, just us.

MV: We haven t touched upon your sort of alter egos as perfomers because you re going to be made up tonight and your going to be entering a performance space.

Magnus Zingmark: Well, I guess we started wearing makeup this time around because it s fun for us. And no-one has thrown eggs yet, so it seems to be working. It s just a fun thing and especially in the jazz world, which is very conservative and macho. It just comments to that, I guess.

MV: You have performed at North Sea Jazz Festival and Montreaux. I m curious how people react. Do they embrace you or do they say this is different.

Oscar Simonsson: It s different if you play in front of people who knows about Koop, about what Koop is. But if you just see Koop on stage you see a lot of musicians.

Magnus Zingmark: But, then again, in the Hague everybody s stoned so it doesn t really matter (laughter).

MV: Getting back to Islands and the influence of swing. What other influences are on it?

Magnus Zingmark: There some songs that have a rhythm and especially also the marimba gives the Caribbean feel. And that s the Caribbean angle on the album and the music. Koop Islands is also songs that are very much from the 60s like A Different You . And the last song, Whenever There s You could be a French jazz number from the 80s. And we like it, we have a lot of different ingredients.

Oscar Simonsson: We want people that don t know how it s made and about Koop, when you hear Koop for the first time you should be very confused. What time is it from? How is it made? Is it live or is it electronic? We like that confusion.

MV: Really, and nobody s thrown chairs at you?

Magnus Zingmark: Also, back in Sweden, the last album has been very successful. It s made it to the charts. And it s fun to, because the history of jazz is so filled with good song writing, not only instrumental it s good to be able to maybe lead with teenagers that may be into pop to say, we like this, this is good .

MV: Of course, then there are the purists.

Magnus Zingmark: Yeah, of course but that s the flip side. But it s nice to get comments that people are discovering jazz because of us. Even if it s just Stan Getz playing bossa, they re buying something.

Oscar Simonsson: If we have any mission at all, it s really satisfying when we get pretty much a jazz tune on MTV with a video. That means you ve passed it on to a new generation.

MV: Well, going back to the nu jazz category, that did introduce a lot of people to jazz or to embracing music that bridges categories.

Magnus Zingmark: When we were growing up there were a lot of people who when acid jazz came along as a concept or a label became very hip people and then discovered soul jazz and then Jazz from the 60s and 50s. So, that s the way it goes.

Oscar Simonsson: And otherwise jazz will die.

MV: Absolutely, it can t be put into a museum to be preserved. Right now in New York I m disappointed with what most people are listening to. To me it s shit. Music like yours should be the popular music of today.

Magnus Zingmark: Well, we will see what happens. We d like to think this too. We were really happy to just release the album.

MV: You do have some tracks on Koop Islands that could really break out.

Oscar Simonsson: Yeah, Come to Me has been on TV with Grey s Anatomy and it will be heavily exposed on HBO.

MV: So, you re optimistic about the tour and the record.

Magnus Zingmark: If we re going to focus on anything it s going to be the U.S. and try to make something happen here. If nothing s happening, OK we ll do another album. The last time around in the U.S. it was small but we had some kind of foundation, I think we sold something like 50,000 albums. Worldwide it was 175,000. But it s also tough because it s a different market now. It s more about getting music in TV or playing live now.

MV: To get in a car ad or something.

Magnus Zingmark: Yeah, yeah.

Oscar Simonsson: Ten years ago you could say you despise that, but now there’s no option. Because people don’t go into record stores and listen to music. And people are listening differently to music as well, they buying one song and two songs.

Magnus Zingmark: And for us also, because we don’t want to compromise, so when we play live we have like eight people. And it s not cheap so we don t make any money.

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