After the success of her affecting, autobiographical self-titled debut album, Sandra Sumie Nagano turned the microscope on the innermost feelings of other people with her follow-up, Lost In Light, released via Bella Union in November.
The Gothenburg singer-songwriter, whose father was born in Japan and sister Yukimi fronts Little Dragon, found inspiration in a tranche of letters from the First and Second World Wars, and that wealth of emotion is a rich seam running through an enchanting record that is subtly cinematic, borrowing stylistically from Scandinavian and Japanese folk music.
“I read letters from migrants from Sweden who were going to the States and leaving everything,” Nagano tells Long Live Vinyl. “They wrote in their letters about how they loved somebody and would miss them. There was so much power in those letters, because they didn’t live in this fast time in which we live. They couldn’t text each other, they put a lot of heart into those letters and it was amazing to me to fall back on that time and see how people expressed their love for each other, knowing they maybe wouldn’t see each other again.
“Now everything moves really fast. It’s tragic, but very beautiful, in a way, to see how people express themselves not having anything other than a pen and paper. I got really inspired by reading those letters and how poetic people are.”
Lost In Light was recorded in the studio of producer Filip Leyman, known for his more expansive work with fellow Swedish artist Anna Von Hausswolff. Nagano explains that such a collision of styles made for a greater whole.
“It was great to work with Filip. He’s a very bombastic producer. Coming from where I came from, that’s quite different – I wanted to try something different, even if this album is very subtle. It was also interesting for Filip to work with me, as he had to tone down things and find small ways to have his expression. He’s a great guy and I hope we can work together again.”
Nagano, who fell in love with vinyl as a teenager and dreamed of working in her local record shop in Gothenburg, found her way to Bella Union through an exchange of messages on MySpace. “I was born in 1974 and would go after school to this record shop, which doesn’t exist anymore, really close to where I lived,” she recalls. “They had headphones so you could listen to albums, and that would be the favourite part of my day. I’d save money to buy albums, and I still have them. At that point, when I was 12 or 13, I was really into Prince and Madonna, and then somebody put a record on and it was Billie Holiday… It was a great place to float away, I always had a dream about working in that store. I love record stores, I always have.
“I was really a pop girl, growing up in the 80s. As a kid, I was very much into musicals. I loved Julie Andrews and The Sound Of Music and that’s what I wanted to become. Then I got into jazz as a teenager – Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker… I could always listen to those records and find something new, some new nuance in their singing.
“Bella Union have been everything. When I found the label and the artists they had, a new horizon came up for me – music I hadn’t heard in Gothenburg. I always had a dream to release an album that I could be proud of, and the support I’ve had from Bella Union has been amazing.”