In my mind, Sweden is one of those places that everyone loves. Its allure is all-encompassing, its wonder universally accepted — like Ryan Gosling’s good looks or Beyoncé being the queen of pop. So it was with some excitement that I ventured to Sweden on my first tour of Europe in summer 2008, a house show in Lidköping (population 25,000 — not to be confused with the city of Linköping) providing a suitable stop on an epic and ill-advised road trip from Germany to Russia. I didn’t quite know what I’d find, except for an IKEA on every street corner, ABBA playing constantly on the radio, and a lot of blonde hair.
In fairness, there was a lot of blonde hair. But there was also a pervading loveliness that I couldn’t quite define. The people were warm and friendly, the streets were clean, and everything just worked. However, our stay was short and the next day the band and I hopped on a ferry from Stockholm to Helsinki, where we puffed on cigars, sipped warm Heineken in mini cans, and thought how wonderful it was to be travelling around Europe playing music.
I didn’t return to Sweden for another four years until I received an email from Marcus, who sang in a band called I’m from Barcelona, inviting me to come and play a show in the band’s practice room in their hometown of Jönköping. I arrived a day before my show and hung out with the band as they played their own headline gig in Jönköping. It was one of the most uplifting sets I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Warm mini cans of lager were again a feature, this time snuck into the backstage in a suitcase. The next day, I played my miserable love songs to the sweetest, kindest audience of Swedes, then we partied into the early hours. They welcomed me into their world like we’d known each other for years.
That summer, I was scheduled to play a festival in Örebro. It was only a few weeks after I’d moved to Berlin and although I was booked to appear with a band, the move meant that I didn’t really have a band anymore. I sent a grovelling email to the organisers to apologise, saying that my mainstage evening slot would now be a solo affair — fully expecting it to be a damp squib, and the organisers to hate me forever and probably pull the plug mid-set. But, somehow, Frizon welcomed me with open arms. The few hundred people in the room (I still have no idea why they came to see me) were impossibly receptive, and I had one of the best shows of my life.
I spent the next day hanging out at the festival in a haze of good vibes. It was like being in another world, one where everyone is super friendly, you make friends wherever you go, and 80% of the day is spent engaging in fika. I realised I’d fallen head over heels in love with Sweden. I’ve been back to the festival every summer since, as well as touring Sweden a few times and flying out to visit friends every time I needed that Swedish fix. Every trip has felt too short and at the back of my mind, I’ve always had the niggling feeling that one day, if the stars aligned, I’d love to move there for good.
Six months ago, I had a phone call from a recruiter I knew. He asked if I was free to do some work in London and we chatted about what we were up to. I mentioned that I was just about to visit friends in Sweden. He mentioned that the company he worked for had just opened an office in Gothenburg. I asked if they were hiring. They were, and this evening I’m flying to Gothenburg to start a new life as an honorary, non-blonde Swede, working as a copywriter at AKQA.
It’s my fifth move in the past year and my third to another country. This morning, I’ve been listening to ABBA as I pack the last of my things. I’m planning to stay a while.