Sweden's Natalie Migdal launches Migdal Sessions: reinterpreting pop with classical strings
A string of beauty
Announcing the launch of Migdal Sessions: a marriage of pop and classical music from Swedish singer and violinist Natalie Migdal. It’s a thing of beauty – and a refreshing diversion from the more traditional pop we have come to expect from the Swedes. Is there nothing that Natalie Migdal can’t do?
When you are a pop singer, songwriter, classically trained violinist, creator of a music collective and a record label owner, there’s not a lot of room for much else. Unless you are Sweden’s Natalie Migdal, of course: then you find another project, just to keep you ticking over. “I am kind of busy at the moment,” Migdal laughs. “But I think it is going to be a really exciting year.”
The new project is Migdal Sessions, an initiative that sees the string collective Migdal Strings take songs from some of Sweden’s most exciting pop artists and create new arrangements featuring only strings and vocals. The project launches today with a new version of fellow Swede Anna Arco’s 2017 single ‘Dagger to the Heart’.
The project was born, Migdal says, from a need to take ownership of the creative process, something that can often be lost when living as a freelance musician. “I have run Migdal Strings with my brother for a few years now and we are often called up to record a session, but someone else is always initiating it,” she explains. “We thought it would be wonderful to be able to create something that comes from us.” Migdal also saw the opportunity to record pop music in a completely new way. “The idea with Migdal Sessions is that it’s only strings and voice,” she says. “Normally strings are the last step in the recording – you record the guitar, the bass, the vocals and then at the very end the strings. We wanted to reverse the order to make the strings the fundamental heart of the recording.”
When it came to the first song of the project, Migdal approached friend Anna Arco, who she first met when they were both studying at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. “Natalie asked me if it would be okay to do a string arrangement of ‘Dagger to the Heart’,” Arco remembers. “I said, ‘Um, yes please!’ One of the most talented and beautiful string musicians in Sweden wants to do an arrangement on your song? That’s the best compliment you can get.” Migdal says they chose to work on Arco’s song not only because of its beauty, but because it presented a challenge. “It’s a beautiful song, but there’s nothing acoustic about the production of the song except for Anna’s voice,” Migdal says. “We wanted to bring an entire acoustic sound to the song, so it felt like a really exciting challenge.” The end result is nothing short of stunning; the beauty of the original version is maintained but its reinvention adds both a new feel and new layers to the track and brings out the nuances all over again. With lyrics detailing the breakdown of a relationship, the string arrangement also adds a different kind of emotional punch – the pain is still raw, but this time it is wrapped in warmth.
It is a song that was almost never written. Arriving at a singing class she was teaching to discover none of her students had turned up, Arco spent the time writing a song – and completed ‘Dagger to the Heart’ in fifteen minutes. “I was having a break from my boyfriend and I think I knew it was over,” she says. “Every time the thought struck me that the relationship was about to end, it felt like someone pointed this dagger to my heart. It’s also about that vicious circle that sometimes happens when you’re sad, and other sad things come up to the surface.”
When Migdal and her collective decided to adapt the song, they spent roughly two months on the process. “It was me, my brother and a friend of ours who is a string arranger,” Migdal says. “We listened to the song and took some things from the original, but we also put in some things that weren’t originally there.” Arco was not involved in preparing the new arrangement – “the idea is we take the song and do an interpretation, it’s not supposed to be a long collaboration,” Migdal says – but she was certainly happy with the result. “I sat on the bus listening to it and cried!” Arco says. (“That’s a good sign,” Migdal laughs.)
The live video released today was filmed at the Royal College of Music, with plans to release the song on streaming services later in the year. “We’ve talked about making another version which is very similar, but maybe putting more strings and making it broader and releasing it on Spotify later on,” Migdal explains. “The plan is to release the live session videos first.” The video is beautiful in its simplicity and was filmed in just a few hours on a wintry Sunday evening. “It was fun and I was just so happy,” Arco says, and while she enjoyed the experience she notes singing with a string collective can be difficult, especially live. “The challenge of singing with a string quartet is the timing,” she explains. “I think it’s harder than it is with bass, drums and piano because you don’t have a beat – that’s a challenge.”
Migdal is already in the midst of preparing future Migdal Sessions, but for now she isn’t revealing any names. “It’s going to be really amazing,” she promises. “We have, in our view, some of Sweden’s most wonderful artists lined up.” All the sessions will be released on Migdal’s own record label, Raccoon Recordings, which she established to not only release her own work but also the work of other women in a stand against sexism in the music industry, telling Women In Pop last year, “If you are a female vocalist, it can be hard to be seen as a musician.” The label will release its first album outside of Migdal’s own work this October. “We’ve signed a Swedish-Norwegian artist who we are very excited about,” she says, but is keeping a lid on the singer’s identity. “I think the album is going to be absolutely beautiful” is all the inside scoop she will give.
Arco is also preparing to release an album – her debut album, which she has just started recording. “The theme is just my naked true feelings,” she reveals. “Songwriting is a way of being better. I’m working with my feelings and it makes me feel less alone.” And her stint with Migdal Sessions has given her music a new flavour. “I started recording the basics – drums, bass and piano – but I think I’m going to arrange some songs for string quartets now!” she says.
With three of her own singles released last year – including one of 2017’s musical highlights, the stripped-back and heartbreaking ‘I’ve Run Out of Words’ – the final question is what is next for Natalie Migdal, solo artist? She says she has new material ready to go, but just needs to find the time to record it. “I have a lot of material that I’ve written, I just haven’t had the time to go into the studio,” she says. “It’s in the making!”
Natalie Migdal is truly one of the most talented and fascinating females on the Swedish music scene and with her incredible drive and vision, the Migdal Sessions can only grow from here. “It really is a project for all of my passions,” Migdal says. “We have a really big vision with this, so it’s going to be exciting.” We can’t wait to see what comes next.