The Amazing: Songwriting and Self-Doubt

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Christoffer Gunrup is so self-deprecating toward his own music, it’s hard to tell if he even appreciates it. “Maybe I don’t hate hate it, but I kind of hate it,” says the soft-spoken Swede, frontman-songwriter for ever-shifting psych-rock outfit The Amazing. “It drives me somehow. It’s a double feeling because sometimes when I record stuff, and I’ve done some lyrics and some singing, I can enjoy it. I can consider it the best song in the world for a brief moment of time. But then I go back to hating it pretty much.”

It’s hard to comprehend those mixed emotions, especially since The Amazing reach a new level of cosmic craftsmanship on their third LP, Picture You—expanding into more progressive, ethereal territory. Gunrup sees that same artistic growth, but his appraisal is—fittingly—smaller in scale. “I am at a point where I realize that we, as a band, can actually release decent music at least,” he says. “But we kind of enjoy hating ourselves.”

His insecurities aren’t some form of “aw shucks” modesty—they seem to stem from a place of genuine self-doubt. On the band’s early releases, it was easier to trace the musical influences: the autumnal open-tuned fingerpicking and mumbled warble of Nick Drake, the effects pedal atmospheres of British shoegaze, the expansive rock thrust of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. It’s as if Gunrup still feels unworthy of those comparisons—afraid he hasn’t conjured his own unique magic just yet.

So that negativity serves a practical purpose: It keeps the band moving forward, always pushing toward an invisible peak. For Picture You, Gunrup worked with his normal group of collaborators—guitarist Reine Fiske (also of Dungen), keyboardist-guitarist Fredrik Swahn, bassist Alexis Benson and drummer Moussa Fadera—at a “pretty expensive recording studio in Stockholm,” where they banged out the album’s 10 lush and winding tracks in a three-day sprint. As usual, the arrangements were never written down—instead, they dwelled in Gunrup’s brain, until he played them to his bandmates in the studio. Then they were rehearsed and recorded live, typically in one take, with minimal overdubs.

“We always do that,” he says. “As soon as the others learn the songs, we press record on the tape recorder and just go. For me, it’s the only way to do it. After three takes, it’s not fun anymore, and everybody wants to enjoy the thing. All the melodies are already there, so they usually turn out the way I imagine them in my head. It’s usually pretty clear to me what I want, though the others may be a bit confused because they don’t know what the end result will be.”

Gunrup approaches songwriting from a purely emotional—rather than intellectual—place. It’s easy to be swept away in the creamy guitar riffs and jazzy drum grooves and breathy vocal harmonies. And his gentle voice is unfiltered yearning: Instead of writing down lyrics in advance, he improvises roughly “60 to 70 percent” in the studio during recording sessions, shaping his malleable moans into consonants and vowels based on an intangible feeling. “Do you know the way to the place / Where everything has purpose?” he croons on glistening opener “Broken.” “It could be a dinosaur lie / I couldn’t really tell.” (Two tracks, “Safe Island” and “Winter Dress,” aren’t even included on the album’s promotional lyrics sheet—Gunrup hasn’t retroactively deciphered them yet.)

“I try to have a certain direction so I’m just not saying whatever,” he says. “I need to be in some moment or mood, and I stand there with my paper and just [say], ‘One more time, one more time.’”

But that shapelessness is part of Picture You’s distinct charm—if the songs aren’t necessarily about any one thing, they can be about whatever we want. A perfect example is the loping daydream “Circles,” in which Gunrup abruptly drops a reference to a popular Eddie Murphy action-comedy (“Watch Beverly Hills Cop 2 / You´re cold and lonely”) amid abstract lines about heartbreak and isolation.

“It’s hard to describe what the song would be about,” he says. “It’s just emotions coming out when I’m recording. One drunken night, we had recorded the song, and the drummer, Moussa, knew the melody, so in his mind, he wanted it to be like Beverly Hills Cop 2. He demanded that I put it in. It’s not a joke—it just fits pretty good because the next line is ‘I know that you miss Victor Maitland too,’ and he’s the villain from Beverly Hills Cop 1.”

“I don’t see myself as the kind of person who has anything to say that would be important in any respect,” he continues. “But it’s also a challenge to do that. It could be stupid. Maybe I would benefit more from writing like a writer, but I can’t do it. My singing or my so-called ‘lyrics’? Still hate it! But I hate it in a good way.”

But Gunrup is a formidable writer, even if he can’t see it that way. His songs belong to no particular genre, evoke no specific era—they’re hummable and tightly constructed, even at their proggiest (the epic guitar climax of the title-track); layered and lush, even at their most linear (the jangly “Tell Them You Can’t Leave”). And there’s more on the near horizon—the band’s next album is already almost finished. “I just need to do some howling on it and maybe a few overdubs, and it’ll be done,” he says. “We work pretty fast.”

“I’m not confident at all,” the frontman says, sighing. “I need to release a few more albums, I guess.” But that restless ambition is paying off blissfully in real time.

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