For this next instalment of Digging Deeper we had the privilege of speaking to John from Piano Piano Records, a Stockholm based label founded in 2019 and one that has been causing quite a stir with their incredible run of Sven Wunder releases. Sven and the label first came to the attention of Mr Bongo last year when his debut album 'Doğu Çiçekleri’ first surfaced. It was shrouded in mystery, undeniable in its quality, and consequently quickly became a collector’s item. The demand was feverish with the discogs sharks greedily circling, but then Piano Piano Records accompanied the release of Sven’s next album, ‘Wabi Sabi’, with a much needed repress of the debut too (titled as 'Eastern Flowers'). We haven't had a record sell as fast as either of those two albums for a long time - completely sold out within the blink of an eye. Next up was our Mr Bongo / Piano Piano collaborative 7”s featuring tracks from both of Sven's albums, followed by Sven's 'Tōryanse / Sakura’ 7”. That 7" was released in early October and is already sold out on our site - such is the demand for all things Sven Wunder! If you haven’t heard his music yet, then hearing it for the first time is as refreshing as an ice-cold Limoncello after an Italian meal. One of those artists that feel instantly familiar like an old friend and simultaneously fresh and new.
Not only did John give us his time for a few questions on all things Piano Piano Records, he also compiled a fabulous mix exclusively for our Mr Bongo Record Club Series. It is the perfect accompaniment to reading this interview and then diving head first into the world of Piano Piano Records and Sven Wunder. Over to you John...
Please tell us about your musical background?
I was introduced to hip hop in my early teenage years, in the mid 90s, as many of us were. By growing up in the north of Sweden I had limited access to new music and new releases, especially the years before everyone started to have access to the internet. Taping songs on the radio or taping music videos on VHS from the TV was my first way to capture and being able to listen to the music. Once a friend gave me VHS tape with an episode of Yo! MTV Raps that he taped at his cousins place (not that many had MTV at that time) since he accidentally erased one of my tapes with music videos. On that episode of Yo! MTV Raps they showed "Bring The Pain" with Method Man, "Keep It Real” with Jamal, Cypress Hill’s ”Illusions” and a lot more that completely changed my way of listening to music. I started to buy records, which later on led to making music myself (beats) and DJing (in my room) and buying records to sample. Fast forward 25 years, I’ve stopped sampling and making music myself. I don’t listen that much to hip hop these days, but kept that interest of records and searching for music since then. In many ways a lot has changed, but in other ways not that much. Discovering hip hop had a big impact on my musical background. Both me and Sven grew up with hip hop and our releases have references to that world, but not only in the drums. Sven had the intro of ‘Tical' by Method Man in mind when he made the synth sound for ”Hanami” on Wabi Sabi for example.
How did you come to set up your Piano Piano record label and who are the team behind it?
Piano Piano Records are me and Sven, it’s only two of us. He makes the music and I do the visual part, but in a close dialog together during the entire process. We setup the label to create a platform for this: his music and some of my visual ideas. Simply as a way of working together and to make music and releases in the way we like to discover and listen to music ourself. It started in 2018, this very warm summer, when Sven told me that he made an album (in two weeks) that he wanted to release (Doğu Çiçekleri). I already had the idea of the label name in mind so we started the process and released the album 2019 in 300 copies and sold most of them at Record Mania in Stockholm. That’s how we came to set up the label.
Where does the label name come from?
The label name comes from my wife. She is Italian and always tells me to 'take it piano piano’, which translates to ’take it easy’, ’slow it down’ or ’don’t mess it up'. Then it's also piano (the instrument), but just said twice. I had that name in mind for a record label for a while and when Sven came to me with 'Doğu Çiçekleri' it was a perfect match.
What is the musical direction for the label?
First of all music that we like. Me and Sven have been close friends for many years and we have a lot of things in common, especially the music we like. Making releases and working with him is such a great pleasure. It’s so easy and we work very well together and don’t have to compromise or step on each others toes. The first direction is to make music that we like, the second is to find a lot of joy in the making of the releases and the third is to take it piano piano.
How did you get interested in Library music? If someone is interested in starting to dig and collect Library Records, which labels are a good place to start?
My interest in library music, and especially Italian library music, is a mix of growing up with hip hop and my wife. We live in Stockholm, but spend most of our holidays in Italy. By being together my weakness for the Italian sound, especially from that golden age, has been growing on me (and my interest for Italy in general), but also my interest in library music. I have always been painting, drawing and working with graphics and my background is art history. Library music is a fascinating world for many of us, both for the music, but also the visual aspects. I must admit that I’m equally fascinated by both. A good place to start for the visual part of library music is Jonny Trunk’s book "The Music Library" (first published in 2005 and then as an extended edition in 2016). For the music, there’s a lot of labels doing a great job making a lot of this music available again, like Jonny Trunk’s label, The Roundtable, Finders Keepers and our friends at Sonor Music Edition. Just dip your toes in their catalogues.
We noticed there is a lot of Italian tracks on the mix, what draws you to this Italian library sound?
As I mentioned above, my personal life brought me closer to Italian culture, not only the Italian library sound. There’s a lot that I like about mediterranean culture and the life there. These records capture a lot of that in the way they sound and look, but also how they smell and feel. On that rainy day in Stockholm when I made the mix, I especially noticed that the smell of my copy of "Il Continente Mediterraneo” by Alex Serra has captured this with a particular smell of humidity and paper. I was listening to that album a lot when I visited Sicily some years ago so hearing and feeling that record brings back images from the warmth and the sea. I tried to capture this feeling through the entire mix.
If you had to choose just one library LP, which one would you rate as a pure masterpiece?
I try not to be too attached to physical objects, even if it’s a tough balance. I’m not a huge collector. I try to be very picky and focus on music that really gives me great pleasure. I really enjoy ”A Trip Around The World” by Alessandro Alessandroni on Stella from 1973. I would be very sad to let that one go. In my book it’s a pure masterpiece. Listening to that one gives me hope in comfort in the same way some Schubert pieces touches me or music by Erik Satie.
Are there any under-rated musicians / producers that we should be listening to?
Not that under-rated, but for those who haven’t heard: George Fields – an excellent hip hop producer from Dorset and founder of Under The Sun Records. A friend introduced me to him and his music and sent me his recent album 'Tomorrow’s Su'n that I’ve been enjoying a lot lately. He is releasing a new album in December called ”The World of a Tiny Insect” that I can’t wait to listen too. George put great attention to details and does a fantastic job with nice references to the world of library music as well. I can’t recommend his releases enough!
Whats happening in the future with Piano Piano, what can we look forward to next?
I had a meeting with Sven in his studio a couple days ago and we had a listen to the third album that sounds really exciting so far. It’s almost done, but we have a quite extensive part left with string recordings with an orchestra that will take place in November. It will be a lot of work finishing and mixing the album that is due to release in 2021. We also would like to release more 7 inch singles on the label since it’s a more efficient process compared to writing and releasing an entire album. Making the Tōryanse / Sakura 7 inch was a great experience, from idea to finished product within a couple of weeks instead of months with the long, more heavy process of making an album.
1. Alessandro Alessandroni – La Molitura (Silver)
2. Alex Serra – Il Sogno Di Mike (Iller)
3. Basil Kirchin – A Time For Loving (Music De Wolfe)
4. Cliff Adams – Excerpt from ’Man Ruler of the Elements’ (The Rank Organisation)
5. Rino De Filippi – Ariosa Apertura (Sermi)
6. Giuliano Sorgini – Immagini Sospese (Goldfinger)
7. Baroque Jazz Trio – Delhi Daily (Saravah)
8. Gino Marinacci – Ricordando Bach (Idea)
9. Maripal Chrissy – Blue Afro (Radio Records)
10. The Fine Machine – Crazy Eel (CAM)
11. La Grande Bleue – Sanza (Not On Label)
12. Milan Pilar – Bedaja (Sound-Star-Ton)
13. John Sangster – The Birds (Cherry Pie)
14. Alex Serra – Dune Sul Mare (Iller)
15. Catamo – Terre Del Sud (Videovoice)
16. Gisteri – Quiete (Edimerc)
17. Alessandro Alessandroni – Acque Azzurre (Sermi)
Big thanks to Piano Paino for the incredible mix and to John for taking the time to speak to us for this feature. Make sure you check their Instagram profile and website.