An interview with ‘Piano’ engineer Linn Fijal

Linn Fijal
Linn Fijal, Studio Manager at Riksmixningsverket and the engineer on Benny Andersson’s ‘Piano’ album

If you have picked up a copy of the Piano album by Benny Andersson, then you will see that the credits for engineering the recording lay with Linn Fijal, as well as a co-credit for recording and mixing alongside Benny.

Linn works at Benny’s Riksmixningsverket (RMV) Studio in Stockholm and icethesite caught up with her recently to find out more about her work.

How and when did you first start working at RMV Studios?

It was actually through a chance meeting with Benny’s son Ludvig at a mastering studio that I got in touch with the studio regarding a position. This was back in 2010. I applied, was interviewed and got the gig.

My early days were spent buying and constructing stuff, getting the mixing desk working, assisting more experienced engineers. These days, seven years later, I’m doing a whole lot more, far more responsible, managerial type work and scheduling duties as well as being a recording engineer, mixing engineer and sometimes producer as well.

One thing I don’t touch though is the budgets and invoicing, that’s definitely not my thing!

Are you having fun?

I love it here. I think it’s really nice. And now I have a lot more help, because if you have more than ten people in on a session, like an orchestra, that would mean a lot of running around unless you have some assistance.

Have you ever recorded just piano before?

Not a complete full length record, just the odd ballad here and there. I don’t do that much classical music and if I do it’s mostly about setting up strings.

RMV produces a lot of different kinds of music, from classical piano, through folk to rock, do you have to swap your mentality for each genre?

I can’t lose my rock head, that is always there but I have studied classical music too, so that is in my background. Ultimately though, a good song is a good song, a good melody is a good melody, and a good sound is a good sound, regardless of genre.

That in some ways is why Benny’s Piano album has been so enjoyable. I think if an engineer steeped in classical music had been at the desk, it would have been a different sounding record. Piano is very much a straight-up pop type recording technically. We didn’t try and replicate the sound of a concert hall, which is a more typical way to do this type of album.

Benny likes the sound to be quite wide and I like an open sound and we have produced something that is very true and real, whereas a lot of classical music can tend to sound a bit muddy and blurred to my ears.

We tried out lots of mics in order to hit on a sound that was right. Benny is ultimately in charge of the recording and he made the final call, which was to use really accurate microphones, the CM 402s by Jörgen Thuresson, and record in the brightest way possible. We didn’t want to muddy the sound in any way or have to modify the sound later by messing too much with EQ and compression.

The tuning is also really important for the sound and sustain of the piano, Jussi Karjalainen did a really good job making it sound clear, not all through ‘perfect tuning’, which makes it all sound more real.

The only tweaks we made affected the digital reverb and as a result it’s a really honest sound recording. You can actually hear on this recording what’s going on within the piano.

I’m getting lots of good feedback from the classical community about the recording, so that makes me happy.

Scenes from inside Benny Andersson's Rixmixningsverket (RMV) studio
Scenes from inside Benny Andersson’s Riksmixningsverket (RMV) studio

What was the first you heard of with regards to Benny wanting to do a new solo album?

I had picked up some corridor chatter really, that perhaps Benny wanted to do something for himself. The first task I was involved in was trying out some pianos, so we visited the Royal College of Music here and listened to and recorded maybe six or seven different grand pianos. We also tried out Benny’s Yamaha in his office and the Steinway here before he settled on the Fazioli.

Once the decision was made about which instrument was the one, there wasn’t really a lot of planning for the recording, at least not on my behalf. He would call me up and say “I want to record…when can we do it?” and then it was a matter of fitting in the recordings between projects we were already committed to.

Setting up to record was a pretty simple affair, just Benny, me and a piano required.

There are 21 tracks on the album, did you get the impression that Benny had practised them all and knew which ones would make the cut before recording started?

I don’t think he practised that many. Very rarely he would say “I have actually practised this.” Mostly he would say, “I haven’t played this for 20 years!”

The selection was made on variety, the ones he liked most and also on how long the tracks were. I don’t think he knew when he started the project how long the record would be, that was decided later.

You have worked with Benny for some time now, on a variety of different musical styles, what’s that like?

Benny is a mastermind! He is in control of everything and has always been like that. He knows what he wants and there’s no compromising. He will say: “I want it this way,” and then I will do my best to make sure he gets what he wants. That’s nice for me because he is never shy of taking the important decisions.

RMV studio is a state of the art setup and I don’t imagine there are many compromises in terms of the gear you have to work with?

You’re right! And I’ve been lucky and thoroughly spoiled in this set up. That also means that the only thing that can create a bad recording here is me, it’s not like I can ever blame the gear or the budget. It’s a lot of pressure but I’m not complaining…it means that when I get a great sounding recording that I am really proud of, like the Piano album or Benny’s choir album Kärlekens tid, that I treated all this great gear right.

What’s next up for you?

I have a really exciting hardcore project mixing ‘Riot Girls’. They take band members playing rock and hardcore style music from the 1980s punk groups through to bands from today and assemble a group. They were here for a weekend recently and wrote and recorded music like it was nothing. All in a weekend, twelve songs were written and recorded. They were long days of course, twelve hour shifts and I was here with two assistants and two runners and it was so much work but also so much fun.

Then I have a jazz album to mix and a pop album too. A lot of mixing coming up.

Thanks for talking with icethesite Linn, it has been a real pleasure catching up with you.

Thank you for giving my work notice.

There’s more…

Benny Andersson says that the fans helped bring his ‘Piano’ CD about

In an interview just before ‘Piano’ was released, Benny says that he knew there was an audience for a stripped back piano only version of his music, thanks to feedback that he had read on icethesite. Enjoy!

The video appears on icethesite’s Facebook page and if you’re not following already, do give us a look!

Göran Arnberg talks about his work on Benny Andersson’s ‘Piano’ album

Göran Arnberg - Benny's long time collaborator transcribed 'Piano'
Göran Arnberg – Benny’s long time collaborator transcribed ‘Piano’

How and when did the idea of producing a sheet music book to accompany the album come about?

Benny called me in the beginning of April 2017 and asked if I could transcribe some piano music for him. I did not know then that it would be a real piano book of the entire album.

What made it extra interesting was that he wanted everything written as he played it, with no chord symbols to make it “easier” to read. In this case he wanted an exact reproduction of what his hands were doing. Real ‘Beethoven-scores’, so to say, playable even if you have never heard the piece before.

How did you receive the tracks from Benny?

He sent them to me by mail and ftp.

Can you describe the transcription process, i.e. your method?

Firstly, I put the piece in my sequencer for easy access and for the possibility to loop sections. And then I started listening and test playing. Over and over repeatedly. When I began to understand what Benny was doing, I input the notes in my scoring software, hopefully as correctly and readable as possible.

Did the project differ from anything you have done before? If so, how?

I have never transcribed classical solo piano with this level of accuracy before. As it is a rather time-consuming process you don’t get the opportunity to do it very often.

How long did the transcriptions take to complete?

All in all, with editing, proofreading and layout, around three months. I got great help from Naomi Cook at Music Sales as it is very hard – close to impossible – to proofread your own work. Luckily there weren’t that many errors in the material, but there is an old saying that when you open a new book, fresh from the printers, the first thing your eyes are drawn to are any errors, so…touch wood!

Which track(s) proved most challenging and why?

I would say some of the Chess pieces (Ice: we see what you did there Göran!), like Mountain Duet and You and I primarily because they are rather complex musical pieces to begin with.

Did you enjoy the process? You told us at the studio that it was an almost “psychedelic” experience at points?

Haha, I was referring to the fact that the work process sharpened my ears to a level I did not think was possible. For example, I had to very carefully remember not to put my mobile phone near my work space, because if it rang, I would jump three metres in the air (and almost have a heart attack!). Seriously – a very scary experience!

And what I mean by “psychedelic” is that when I closed my eyes I could mentally zoom in on the different frequencies and envision a gigantic keyboard on which I could clearly see what Benny’s fingers were doing there at any given moment.

This may sound like total mumbo jumbo, but it is very hard to explain it any other way.

Towards the end of the work period I sometimes could be uncertain if plain, ordinary major triads were not actually major seventh chords (until I realised that my ears had become so sharp that I started to hear overtones as chord notes). Luckily this has gone away now!

All in all, I must say that I enjoyed the work very much and that I learned an enormous amount from it. Also, it has been a great opportunity to really immerse in these beautiful melodies.

In addition, it gave me an even greater respect for Benny as a piano player – his pieces are quite a challenge for any pianist in both the technical and musical sense but also very rewarding. Well worth a try!

Göran, thanks so much for this interview, and as we say in English, it’s in the bag!

The sheet music to ‘Piano’ is available now from musicsales.com

There’s more…

  • UK link to the ‘Piano’ album songbook – available now: MusicSales.com

Benny Andersson’s ‘Piano’ album tracklist

Benny Andersson's new solo album 'Piano' is released on 29 September
Benny Andersson’s new solo album ‘Piano’ is released on 29 September

The tracklist to Benny Andersson’s new album Piano released on 29 September on Deutsche Grammophon/Universal is now revealed on icethesite in its entirety.

To accompany the release of the album, which will be available on CD, vinyl and digital download formats, a book of sheet music will also be released.

Benny Andersson – Piano

1. I Let The Music Speak
2. You And I
3. Aldrig
4. Thank You For The Music
5. Stockholm By Night
6. Chess
7. The Day Before You Came
8. Someone Else’s Story
9. Midnattsdans
10. Målarskolan
11. I Wonder (Departure)
12. Embassy Lament
13. Anthem
14. My Love, My Life
15. Mountain Duet
16. Flickornas rum
17. Efter regnet
18. Tröstevisa
19. En skrift i snön
20. Happy New Year
21. I gott bevar

Benny Andersson and Orsa Spelmän celebrate 30 year collaboration

On Sunday 18 June 2017, Benny Andersson and Orsa Spelmän marked the 30th anniversary of their musical partnership with an appearance as guest artists on the long-running Swedish television programme Moraeus med mera.

Benny Andersson with Orsa Spelmän duringthe recording of TV show 'Moraeus med mera'
Benny Andersson with Orsa Spelmän during the recording of the TV show ‘Moraeus med mera’

As in previous years, the filming took place in front of a live audience, under a big top tent on a lakeside campsite in Orsa.

Benny Andersson and Orsa Spelmän rehearsing
Benny Andersson and Orsa Spelmän rehearsing.

With Benny joining them on accordion throughout, Orsa Spelmän  played three tracks; Monas vals, Underbart (which reached the semi-finals of Melodifestivalen in 2010)  and the traditional piece Rättvikarnas Gånglåt, on which they were joined by a 50 strong group of local folk musicians.

Afterwards, Benny explained to icethesite why he had chosen that particular tune:

“When I was just 19 or 20 years old and had my first flat in Stockholm, I used to play Rättvikarnas Gånglåt on a small plastic gramophone first thing every morning, day in-day out,” he said. “It’s wonderfully uplifting music…but not very rock’n’roll!”

Moraeus med mera is hosted by Orsa Spelmän founding member, Kalle Moraeus and Benny can still recall the occasion when he and Kalle first met in 1986:

Benny Andersson
Benny Andersson on Orsa Spelmän: “It was as if they had given my music life.”

“We were celebrating photographer Anders Hanser’s 40th birthday here in Dalarna,” he said. “Anders and Kalle were old friends and Kalle had brought his fiddle along to the party.

“We played a few tunes together and I asked him if he had any pals that would like to be on my next record.”

When the pair met up again the following year, they were joined by Kalle’s brothers, Per-Erik (Perra) and Olle Moraeus along with Nils-Erik (Nicke) Göthe and Leif Göras.

“When they took out their fiddles and played the first few bars of some tunes I had sent them, it was such an incredible feeling. A magical moment I shall never forget,” Benny said. “It was as if they had given my music life.”

After involvement in Benny’s Klinga mina klockor and November 1989 solo albums, Orsa Spelmän went from strength to strength, recording several albums of their own and performing at many prestigious events around Sweden.

And of course, perhaps most significantly, it was the Benny Andersson/Orsa Spelmän union which in 2001 formed the basis of a new Swedish dance band, Benny Anderssons Orkester.

In 2010 the group joined Benny on the specially commissioned Benny Andersson/Kristina Lugn song Vilar glad. I din famn, during the royal wedding of Crown Princess Victoria.

The inauguration of the magnificent Piteå organ in 2012 and the Trondheim Orgelfest last October saw ‘Benny and his fiddlers’, as they are now often affectionately referred, join forces for very occasional concerts.

Benny told us that he has so many happy memories from working with Orsa Spelmän over the past 30 years, however, there is one occasion that truly stands out for him:

“Bringing them to the UK to play old Swedish folk tunes in front of 50,000 people at the Thank You For The Music concert in Hyde Park was a once in a lifetime event,” he said. “It was such an overwhelming experience and I am so happy that we were able to do that.”

Sunday’s recording of Moraeus med mera, which also featured Lisa Miskovsky, girl duo Good Harvest and hip-hop star Linda Pira, is scheduled to be broadcast on SVT in the autumn.

The recording will be shown on SVT in the Autumn
There’s more…

Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus onboard for Mamma Mia! sequel

News recently surfaced of a sequel to the movie smash Mamma Mia!. And yes, ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus have given the project their seal of approval and will also serve as executive producers.

The sequel Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again will be set once more on the Greek island of Kalokairi, and reunites the producers from the original film, Judy Craymer (who created and produced the stage show) and Gary Goetzman.

Ol Parker

New this time around is Ol Parker, who has written the new movie and will also direct.

Ol is best known for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) and Now Is Good (2012).

The new Universal Pictures movie will feature ABBA songs that weren’t included in the first film and also reprises some of the most popular.

Mamma Mia! The Movie, which was released in 2008, was a huge worldwide hit, making $609.8M in global box office sales. Until this year’s Beauty And The Beast, Mamma Mia! was the biggest grossing live-action musical ever.

The original cast, including Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper are all expected to return for the second outing of the musical.

The news of the new movie has divided ABBA fans, much like the original stage show and movie did. One thing that no-one can deny is how phenomenally successful those two showcases of ABBA’s music went on to become.

Look out for much more news about the new film which is set to hit the silver screen in July 2018, ten years after the original was released.

‘ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions’ Sneak Peak!

‘Writing The Tunes’ is an essay from the eagerly awaited, revised and expanded book  ‘ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions’ by ABBA historian and acclaimed author Carl Magnus Palm. It is a fascinating account of the roles and responsibilities that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus take on during the songwriting process. Here is an exclusive sneak peak…

Carl Magnus Palm
Carl Magnus Palm – Photo: bjornfotograf.se

The start of a songwriting period was always the hardest for the team: getting over the initial threshold. “After we release an album we don’t write for two or three months,” Björn explained at one point, “so when we start again it’s really hard and nothing helps but hard work.” The discipline of working day after day, hour after hour, Monday through Friday during office hours, was crucial for these particular writers; it was their method for getting the creative juices flowing. Björn was very firm about it in a 1982 interview. “There is nothing bohemian about [writing songs]. It’s a job that requires good character and discipline, like every other profession. That thing about writing when inspiration hits you, and usually in the middle of the night: both Benny and I quickly realised that it’s just a myth.” Like most songwriters, then, Andersson and Ulvaeus had concluded that if they would just wait for “inspiration”, they would never get any work done: the magic feeling of being possessed by something of an almost spiritual nature would emerge only through the work itself. “Inspiration comes at the exact moment when you hear that you’re on to something that’s good,” as Benny once phrased it.

So what would happen during these songwriting sessions? It was quite a simple set-up: Benny would be at the piano, or whatever keyboard instrument was handy, with Björn sitting beside him, armed with an acoustic or electric guitar. Then they’d start playing chords, humming ideas for melodies, throwing riffs and fragments of songs at each other, grabbing hold of the other person’s idea and take it to the next level. “All of a sudden,” Benny explained in a 1974 interview, “one of us will sing something that turns you on and then you play that thing, trying to develop it.”

The melody lines they’d be working on didn’t necessarily originate during the songwriting session: they would bring ideas to the room where they both were sitting, but those ideas would more often than not have emerged when they were alone. Rarely, however, would those melodies pop up while they were out walking or shopping, or were simply busy doing nothing; it was when actively playing music that the ideas would come. “You don’t write a good song in an hour,” explained Benny many years later. “You need to have two months [of] trying out ideas, before writing the good song in that hour. … If you don’t sit there and if you don’t work on it really hard, trying to achieve something and trying to make something good, it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen sitting in the car, thinking, ‘Oh I have this good idea’, nothing like that. I have to sit at a piano or a keyboard and play through the rubbish, and get rid of that, and sometimes things will pop out and I can say, ‘This is good.’”

As many have witnessed and he himself admits, Benny always found it hard to resist playing a piano wherever there was one available and it was through sitting at the keyboards hour after hour, just playing away, that all the music he’d ever heard in his life, combined with his own tastes, temperament, inclinations and feelings, would suddenly result in brand new melody lines travelling from his brain and out to his fingers. “I actually think that this is what ‘composing’ is really about, that the music has to exist before you play it,” he says today. “It’s not about sitting there improvising, as it were, it’s about sitting at the piano and wait for this thing that already exists to arrive. You want to watch your hands play something that you haven’t heard before, but which really is structured, in some way. And that takes time – usually you have to wait a very long time.”

Coming up with melody lines that felt right, that were worth developing, was a completely intuitive process. “I don’t know what it is that makes you choose like you do,” Benny says. “If I’m playing for four hours straight, trying to arrive at something that might be used for something, which I believe that I’ve invented, then I can’t really say why this melody line or these four bars in particular are what I decide to keep instead of all the other ideas that have come up. I just don’t know. The only thing I can say is that it feels right.”

What Björn and Benny would be doing once they got together, was to piece all those ideas together into a coherent song. “We don’t really adhere to any principle when we write songs; we just play around,” said Björn in a 1977 interview. “We both look for something and we both know when we find it and that’s an incredible feeling, the best kick you can get.” Rarely would they try to write a specific kind of tune: whatever came up during the writing, that they liked, they would go with. “Of course,” Benny admitted at the time, “if we’ve written eight songs for an album and we need two more, and all those eight songs are ballads, you don’t aim for writing two more ballads. But they may turn out to be anyway.”

If they were lucky, the process of coming up with a cohesive tune could in itself be relatively quick. The normal course of events, however, was that it took a lot of time, since their quest for the strongest possible melody ensured that at least 90 percent of their ideas for melody lines and song fragments would be discarded. “Sometimes it takes you a week and there is no song at all – or two weeks,” Benny explained in a 1980 interview, “and sometimes it takes four hours and there is almost a complete song there”.

They would be ruthless against themselves: just a catchy chorus wasn’t enough, they wanted the entire song to be solid, in all its parts, from start to finish, “never leaving a song until we feel it’s the best thing we’ve done,” as they once put it. But there wasn’t a fixed pattern as to the order in which the song would be put together: for example, they didn’t necessarily start with the chorus and then build the rest of the song around it. Says Benny, “You start at one end, with whatever you’ve come up with – four bars, or eight, or just a phrase you like – and then you use that as the starting point. And that could be any part of the song.”

Although Benny has always been, in Björn’s vernacular, “the musical motor” in the Andersson/Ulvaeus partnership, supplying most of the ideas for their songs, this does not mean that Björn never contributed anything. By the time his and Benny’s collaboration truly kicked off, towards the end of the 1960s, Björn had already proved himself as a tunesmith, having had a dozen of his songs recorded, several of which were strong, catchy tunes. Clearly, such an ambitious songwriter wouldn’t just sit and wait for Benny to come up with ideas. It is true, however, that as the nature of their collaboration evolved, Björn would take on the role of “editor” of the ideas that flowed from his colleague, essentially being Benny’s sparring partner. Parallel with this development, his interest in lyric-writing grew, and today’s Andersson/Ulvaeus songs are strictly music by the former, lyrics by the latter.

While Benny remembers several melody lines for ABBA songs coming to him, today Björn can’t remember any specific parts of tunes that he himself contributed. “Benny provided most of the music even in the early days,” he admits, “but it’s awfully difficult to say exactly where things start and end during the songwriting process.” And, as Benny points out, the Andersson/Ulvaeus partnership has never been about that type of issue. “It’s an interesting question, to pinpoint who does what in a song. It might be that one of us brings along a song that is complete: both of us feel that it’s complete, so that’s what it is. But let’s say that the song is complete, and then one of us says, ‘Wait a minute, what if we do it like this at that point in the song?’ and then we both agree, ‘Yeah, that’s really great!’ Who has written the song then? Is it the work of one person or of two persons? In other words, if we agree on a thing together, then both of us have been equally involved. In that respect there’s a tremendous difference between being alone and being together.”

ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions cover
ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions

The book ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions by Carl Magnus Palm is a must for every ABBA fan. Pre-order your copy at abbathecompleterecordingsessions.com.