Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Interview: Nicolai Dunger, wide-eyed wonder of Sweden

Published March 29, 2006

From the article: Swedish singer/songwriter Nicolai Dunger is uncontrollable, unpredictable, and constantly contrary. But he’s no conformist to the rock-star profile, either: no couch-throwing or self-indulgent whining for Nicolai (although he does have a bit of the partier in him yet). He has other habits that make him a loose cannon.

For example, we could not get him to stop playing entrancingly beautiful songs on our studio’s piano. Thinly built and wide-eyed, Dunger arrived with a 12-string guitar with a taped pick guard, but could not keep his hands off of the big black beauty. Every time there was a lull in the conversation, Nicolai would move quietly but quickly to the keys. He would settle himself down on the leather bench, regarding the array of ivory before him lovingly for a few moments before giving in to what was clearly an insurmountable temptation for him.

“Where did you get this?” he asked breathlessly after the first improvised number. There was silence in the room: we, the objective journalists in the room and therefore the closest thing to wild beasts nearby, were too thoroughly charmed to answer intelligibly.

(Photo credit: Alexandra Mulcahy; Dunger plays the piano in the WERS Live Mix studio)

Nicolai Dunger was kind of my boo for half an hour. He was European, he wore a suit, he was charming in his little-boy-lost mannerisms and quiet proficiency. We went out for coffee to finish the interview, where his manager chatted with the photographer, and I was able to talk to Dunger for a little while unobserved. Later, I was to find out from a couple of Swedish tourists that this was one of the most envy-inspiring things they had ever heard. They wanted to know who the hell I was in the world to get to talk with Nicolai Dunger. I didn't even know who he "was." I still don't, really.

In the article, I am guilty of cliche when I discuss his reading the New York Times, his ability to "sip a strong espresso like it was water." Groan. I know. But at the time it all seemed different to me, when Dunger did it. In his life he had done everything differently. He was not a press-savvy musician, full of half-digested political statements and self-aggrandizing blurb-form bio facts about himself. He did not want me to "make him look good." On tour and far away from home, he just wanted to get a cup of coffee and read a paper, and he was going to do that interview or no interview.

In his quiet way, he gets everything he wants: a session with our piano, a minute without his manager, a second chance at a record contract. He was so mild-mannered that I still don't know if he wanted anything from me. I don't know if he wanted me to like him, or if he even cared what I thought or wrote. I tried to explain it in this piece:

Things have always seemed to come easily to Nicolai Dunger, although his track record over the years seems to suggest what I have learned over coffee: that his quizzical behavior often confuses people as often as it inspires them.

I am still confused, and I am still a little inspired when I think about Dunger. But mostly confused.

6 Comments:

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