Lina Tullgren talks new album, Free Cell, and their music process.
Lina Tullgren

Lina Tullgren is a thoughtful artist. In their own words, examining the duality of darkness and light plays a major role.

On their sophomore effort, Free Cell, out today on Captured Tracks, provides listeners with a portrait of Lina alone, discovering a new method of writing and a new way of thinking about composition.

Before Lina sets out on their U.S. and European tour this fall season, they kindly took time out of their busy schedule to answer our questions: 

Culture COLLiDE: You cite composers Maurice Ravel and Hildegard von Bingen among your favorites. What is it about these long-gone masters of their craft that most attracts you to them? 

Lina Tullgren: I was raised with a classical music background and for many of my formative years, it was the only music I was exposed to. As resistant as I might have been at the time, I think listening to that music instilled in me a very specific harmonic understanding, an appreciation for big music, for tension and beauty and the way they can work synonymously. I was especially drawn to Hildegard because of her holistic approach; she was a nun who also did visual art, composed music, studied science and philosophy, and was a conduit to the spirit world- a true testament to looking at a creative vision from all angles. The last time I listened to her music, I was driving through west Texas and didn’t see another car for hours. Ravel’s melodies are simply beautiful and, at times, so tense and wild. 

CC: With such a diverse lexicon of genres existing as of this writing….what do you think those historical composers would think if they heard popular music today? 

LT: I would hope they would be able to see the melodic impact they’ve made on modern pop music. Also, can you imagine showing Bach a computer with Finale or Sibelius on it? 


CC: Upon listening to your body of work, I’m struck by how both small and enormous your music can feel … and sometimes both simultaneously. There’s a very powerful quality to that.  Is this intentional?  

LT: Thank you. This is a complicated question/answer because I do feel like so much of my craft is very decisive, though certain things often feel out of my control – like there’s a bigger force driving them. A comparison I can make is that I don’t often set out to write music about darkness and light, but I always end up examining that duality in some way. I’m drawn to dualities yet I love balance. I can be extreme and still deeply sensitive. These are all things that contribute to making music that aligns with your analysis above. 


CC: I could not help but feel an overwhelming sense of unease while watching “Golden Babyland.”  Which, for many, is a large part of what making art is all about. How did that video materialize creatively?

LT: I sent the song to my friend Haley Dahl, composer/bandleader of the band Sloppy Jane, and she understood the song’s claustrophobia and portrayal of loneliness. This was her interpretation. Mika Lungulov-Klotz who shot and co-directed the video took that interpretation to another place with her long, slow shots that make you squirm a little bit. 

*** Haley Dahl on the “Golden Babyland” video *** 

The video depicts a father who has lost a daughter. In a state of grief and delusion, he tries to recreate a world in which she is alive. He spies on and kidnaps an unsuspecting little boy, and dresses him in his daughter’s clothes. He clings to this placeholder, never really looking at him, trying to maintain suspended disbelief that he is still living in a moment before everything went wrong. It ends with them both glued to the TV, tears streaming down their faces, as police lights begin to blink over the room.”

My interpretation of Lina’s song both from listening and from the conversations we’ve had is that it is about these same feelings; of grief and of loneliness, of wanting to run backwards into a moment that is gone forever. Pairing the song with such a jarring narrative and seemingly un-relatable character was a decision that was made to emphasize the universal quality of the emotions brought up in Lina’s work. This example is of course disturbing and extreme– but I do believe that it speaks to a type of ugly alone-ness that everyone feels, and that always threatens to fester and become a horrible being of its own. Once the story was conceptualized, I began working closely with co-director Mika Lungulov-Klotz, who is a real master of making things hurt, and she with her experience and technical understanding brought these ideas to fruition in their most potent form.”


CC: Can you shed a bit of light on your songwriting process?

LT: A lot of it is very unconscious. I try to write a little bit each day, always collecting small ideas for later. Then I sit down with the guitar or keyboard and see what emerges. Sometimes it’s loose and falls out of me, sometimes I have to extract it. I try not to push. 

CC: How has the move to New York City from Maine impacted your work? 

LT: I grew up in Maine but I left right after I graduated high school. I spent some years in Boston which I don’t recommend you ever do and then I moved back to Maine for a few months while I was touring a lot but I wouldn’t say I lived there. I just crashed at my parents’ place in between traveling; once there was a lull in touring and I had enough money I moved to New York. You can make work anywhere but I guess it was easier at the time to make a lot of it in Maine when I didn’t have to work a job or pay rent. Now I have a semblance of a social life and work a job and pay rent but I’m writing less songs. A lot of poems lately though. 


CC: How did the song selection for Free Cell work out? 

LT: These were songs I had been accruing since after tracking Won, so that’s somewhere between November 2016 through October 2018. 


CC: How does this new album differ from your debut album Won?

LT: I made Won at a time when everything I was making was with my best friend Ty Ueda. We recorded and mixed this, Ty played most of the instruments on it, conceptualized the artwork, videos- all of it together, in a vacuum. Free Cell I produced on my own and brought in a lot of collaborators to play and record it. My understanding of what I wanted to do with song form shifted as I was writing the record and it’s more of a portrait of community and connectivity as opposed to Won, a portrait of friendship with Ty. A through line weaves through both records. 

CC: If you could be born in any musical era what would it be?  And why? 

LT: The romantic side of me sees the 70s as an obvious choice especially with early drum machine / computer music being so fascinating. A contrasting side of me looks to the future, when humanity has been wiped out by robots. What will the robot music sound like? 


CC: Looking forward beyond the upcoming tours and album, what are you most exciting about in the future?

LT: Philip Guston retrospective, National Gallery 2020. 


Listen to the album in full HERE.


photo by: Laura Bartczak