Portraits & Tales is a country rock and pop band from the north of Sweden. During 2022, their was displayed on Spotify in 92 countries and streamed 94 200 times by almost 5000 listeners. After releasing their third single, ‘Suddenly’, the band gained numerous followers on social media. All of this was followed by their fourth single “What if I Was” which received a massive response from their followers. About the project, and their latest single, we’ve had the pleasure to chat with the band itself.

Hi, thank you for chatting with us! Hi! For the start, can you briefly introduce your project and when or where it was founded?

Hi and thank you guys for having us on CVLTARTES! Well, we are Portraits & Tales and we are based in the north of Sweden, in the city of Luleå. The band consist of Malin Araya Frosfalk, Jyrki Unhola, Alvaro Araya Leon and Robin Lundberg. The band was formed in 2018, under the name River Flows. At this time, we were more of a cover band. In 2021, we released our first original song called Only You. It was then we also decided to change our name to Portraits & Tales.

When creating a musical project, the name is usually more essential than everything else. Was the name Portraits & Tales already on your mind, or did you have to sift through many possibilities before settling on the best one?! Does it have any hidden meaning?

The name Portraits & Tales came to us naturally. The songs we write are very meaningful and always portray stories of the members’ lives. For us, it´s very important that our listeners can picture themselves in the songs. That´s why we need to create a landscape of emotions, and feelings while we make our music. With that said, Portraits & Tales is exactly what our music offers.

Was music always a big part of your life? Can you recall your first musical experience?

Music has been a big part of our lives. I know for example that Jyrki has played in numerous different types of bands since his early years. One of the first bands he played in was a punk rock band. Robin’s interest in learning to play the electric guitar made him save all his savings until he could afford to buy his first guitar with his own money. Since the first time he took the guitar in his arms, an inseparable relationship between Robin and his six-string friend would see the day of light.

Malin is our pop diva. In the early 90´s, she was all about the boyband plague that hunted this planet, hahaha! But thanks to that, she developed a very smooth and gentle sound that we can hear in the songs. But most importantly, Malin’s technique for finding vocal harmonies is out of this world and I can imagine that the Backstreet Boys has something to do with this.

When it comes to me, well, it all started very early. At the age of 5, I learned my first chords on my cousin’s acoustic guitar. My father was a sailor and when he came home from his trips, he always brought new albums with him. It was everything from Abba to Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Beatles and many more. But among the amount of albums he had in his collection, one got my attention. It was the single with Simon and Garfunkel, ”Bridge Over Troubled Water”. I remember it like yesterday. I was 6 years old and didn´t pay attention to the strict orders from dad which was, ”Do not play with the LP player”. Well, I did and today, I´m very glad that I did that.

When I heard Paul Simons’s first lyric line ”When you´re weary”, I was like hypnotized and from that moment on, I knew I wanted to learn to sing. But it wasn´t only my urge for singing that revealed itself, but also my urge for wanting to write songs just as good as theirs. So with that said, you can say that my first musical experience made a huge impact on me.

For newcomers to your music, if you had to pick one track that shows people who you are as an artist, which one would it be?

Well, that would be without hesitation, ”What if I was”. Not just because it´s a great song, but also because we put all our emotions into it. This song represents us, not only as the band ”Portraits & Tales”, but also reveals the people behind the band in a very honest and fragile way without any artistic character. Nothing less or more than that.

When listeners make their way through your band, what do you want them to feel?

Well, it´s exactly what we have been into earlier during this conversation. We want our listeners to imagine themselves in our songs. We want to close our eyes and picture ourselves being part of this construction of feelings, emotions, and harmonies. We want them to feel what every song means to us.

How about ‘What if I was’? What do you want people to feel primarily when listening to your latest single? How would the track be best served?

”What if I was” is a dedication to the biggest and most true love we have which is our children. If you have children and want to get the most out of this song, then we recommend you hug your children while you´re listening, and ” What If I Was” will become the same declaration of love to your child as this beautiful song is for us.

What were some of the motivations for writing ‘What if I was’, how did you develop the single and what were some of the responses?

Some of the motivations for the song were, unfortunately, the display of suffering among thousands of children we see every day on the news. This makes me sad and as a father and a parent, it makes me want to hug and kiss my children even more. But not only that. The urge to express my love for them has grown stronger the older I get, but also because of how the situation around the world looks today. I think that we really should take every moment we have to tell our kids how much we love them and appreciate them before it´s too late.

Take me through your sound design process. Is this a quick process, or something you might obsess over and re-visit?

The sound process depends on many factors. For us, is all about creating a sound escape that´s compatible with the lyrics and the structure of the song. For example, with ”What if I Was” it was easy to set up which kind of instrumentation the song required. I remember the first time I presented the song to the rest of the band, everybody reacted the same ”We need a violin on this song”.

I think that if you write from your heart and try to tell an honest story and display honest feelings with your work, the song itself tells you what needs to be accepted and appreciated in the best way. For that reason, we also like to create an honest sound. Many of our listeners have told us that every time they hear a Portraits & Tales song, it’s like being on a live concert, and that´s exactly what we want. The sound has to be honest and pure, without any gimmicks.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise, or reading play?

Actually no. It always starts with a melody that comes to my head. If I like it, I pick up the phone and try to mimic it with my voice and record it with the phone. Later when I have time, I sit with my guitar and pick up the melody, set the pace, put some structure to it, and then I start writing the lyrics. Then, when that´s done, I record the song on my cellphone and send it to our home studio at Jyrkie place where he starts laying some baselines to the idea and digital drums to start building the main structure of the song. Once the main structure is done, the rest floats in like water into the song.

Thinking about your evolution, what are some developments in you – whether it’s in your music, your performance, your energy, or the way you work – that you’ve seen change since your release?

Well, we can say that we have developed in every possible area an artist can develop in. For example, the production of the songs where very simple. None of us is a professional sound engineer, so it has been a learning journey for all of us. But we are surrounded by good friends and very talented and experienced musicians. One of them is Patrik Heikinpieti more known as Patso and the drummer of the Swedish rock band, Mando Diao. Patrik has been very helpful and has given us advice on how to mix and how to set up the microphones while we record. So thank you Patso for that!:) But it´s not only about the sound. It´s also about how you present yourself on stage.

We record ourselves every time we perform. This helps us to see what we need to improve as a live act. We can say that in the beginning, we were quite a boring act to watch. Thanks to the recordings, we realized very quickly that we need to move more and put more energy into the live shows which has given very positive results. But we are not done. As a group and artists, we are constantly, trying to improve ourselves in every possible way we can for us and most important, for our fans.

What other creative outputs do you engage in that we may not suspect?

Well, some of us have some other creative outputs for sure. For example, Malin is very good at photography. She really has an eye when it comes to taking pictures and she´s also very good at editing them. Jyrki has a passion for electronics. There´s nothing Jyrki can´t fix! Robin is good with computers and programming and me, well, I´m really good at vacuum cleaning!!

What do you hope to do with your music in the future? I mean, do you have any crazy schemes or goals?

There´s always a dream that someday, we can live from our music, but we stand with our feet very firm on the ground. We work hard and we do everything we can to reach out with our music and gain a bigger fan base. Our main goal right now is to keep writing new music and provide our audience with the high standard as we have done so far. So we would like to say this to our fans: Please, keep supporting us and sharing our music. You guys are the reason why we keep doing this and why we try to improve every new song we release. Keep believing in us as you have done so far. There´s a lot to come from Portraits & Tales this year.

With love from Sweden:
Alvaro, Malin, Jyrki and Robin
/Portraits & Tales.

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Still can't tell exactly my origins because of my suspiciously ‘Chinese eyes’.