Each year a crop of new artists emerges to make their mark on the synthpop scene. For many, it takes years of crafting their sound, releasing a slew of singles, perhaps an EP or two, and ultimately their full-length debut, until they finally make magic.
That’s not the case for the band I’m naming best new synthpop artist of 2021. Cold Connection seemingly popped out of nowhere in mid-2021 with a full-length album that’s polished and assured, offering historic touchpoints yet grounding their music firmly in the now. Every single cut on their debut album, Seconds of Solitude, is a gem.
Like their name implies, Cold Connection produce cold, mechanical beats with emotionally resonant vocals and melodies that forge instant connections with their listeners. The band has had one helluva year, switching record labels, debuting their album not once but twice, finding the unexpected opportunity to make videos for their songs, and drawing thousands of fans.
The Swedish duo was kind enough to answer a few questions about their background, their songwriting process, and where they’re headed.
Let’s start by introducing yourselves. Can you tell us your names and backgrounds, and how did you decide to start Cold Connection?
Daniel Billqvist: Cold Connection consists today of me, Daniel Billqvist, and my good friend Pontus Olsson.
The band was originally formed in 2011 by Pontus, his cousin Jonas Lindelöf, and me as a hobby project where we create music over some beers and just having fun. Pontus and Jonas both had a band before called Dual Density and wanted to start making music again, so they reached out to me since they knew I liked to sing.
I’ve been involved in various show and dance acts but never in a band, so it sure was a challenge!
Pontus Olsson: I’ve been fiddling around with synthesizers since I was 10 years old as I took my savings and bought a Yamaha CS-5, which Martin Gore played on the Speak and Spell tour in 1981. The first songs I did was when I got a Commodore 64 with FastTracker II. During my university years, I started to make music with my cousin Jonas Lindelöf and formed the band Vision Factory. We made some kind of mix between eurotechno, trance, and synthpop. Some tracks with vocals but mostly instrumental music.
After Vision Factory we found a very talented vocalist called Tess Fries, and Dual Density was formed. Dual Density was mainly built around Jonas’s songs and Tess’s creative input in the form of texts and vocals. My songs didn’t really fit into the sound we were creating, so I put them on hold for future projects, and some of them were used on Seconds of Solitude.
After Dual Density, Jonas wanted to make progressive trance, which he is very good at. So Daniel and I decided to continue as Cold Connection without Jonas, but we are trying to get him back on track creating good synthpop again. The door is of course always open for him to join the band again when he wants.
Was there a particular moment when you realized you had something special?
Daniel: Ever since the release of our debut album it has slowly made us realize that we are onto something. The response has been quite overwhelming! And when we released the music video for our single “Burning Love,” it had over 10,000 views after only a few days, which is unbelievable for a small newcomer like us. It is very humbling.
Pontus: We make music for ourselves, and if other people find it listenable it’s a bonus that of course motivates us to make more good music. I’m always flattered when somebody likes what we’re doing.
Sweden is such an incredible hub for synthpop music—many of my favorite bands are from Sweden. Do you belong to a strong artist community where you live, and why do you think there’s so much great electronic music coming from Sweden?
Daniel: We live nearby Helsingborg in Sweden, which has turned out to be a mecca of some sort since a lot of great bands are partially sprung from here. Elegant Machinery and Covenant just to mention some.
Pontus: I think that the reason is that when we grew up in the ’80s you had two options, you were either a synthpopper or a heavy metal dude. There were no other options… you either listened to Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk or you listened to Iron Maiden and Mötley Crüe. These two youth cultures were very strong in Sweden in the ’80s and created many good synth- and heavy metal bands.
What’s your songwriting process, does the music come first or the vocals?
Daniel: Pontus makes the music and then sends me an instrumental demo that is not necessarily finished, and then I listen to it sometimes a hundred times and sometimes only a few times. It depends on the song and what it is trying to tell me. When I have a feeling for what it is supposed to be about, I try to create, in my worst Swenglish jibberish, a singing loop on which I later write the vocals to.
When I feel somewhat satisfied, we record it at Pontus’s home studio. The process for each song is usually over at least 20 different takes and several days, except for the song “Trocadero.” We did all the singing in one take to much surprise for the both of us haha!
Pontus: The most important thing for me is to create some kind of atmosphere and melody in each song that Daniel can get a feeling for. Sometimes it’s pure bouncy synthpop, and sometimes it’s more dark and moody. The structure is always very simple and the focus is more on good melody lines and cool synth sounds. When we have recorded it we often leave it for some time, and some weeks later we listen to it with fresh ears and maybe make some changes to it.
Your music evokes the greats like Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys, but it also feels very modern and polished. Was there a particular sound or era you were going for?
Daniel: Oh, wow! Thank you!
It is no surprise we love that ’80s sound when Depeche, Erasure, Duran Duran, Rational Youth, and all our other heroes were at the top of their game (and still are), and we get big inspiration from that era and sound but with our own unique sound and DNA. The analog sound from Kraftwerk, the melancholy from Depeche, the blip-blops from Erasure (Vince Clarke), the hypnotic and minimal sound from Rational, and sweeps from Jean-Michel Jarre.
We want to pick up that sound and bring it to the 2020s, you know? But without sounding like some tribute band. We really want it to sound Cold Connection, and I believe we have.
Pontus: I grew up with all the great synth bands of the ’80s, and I don’t think that I could make any other kind of music. The synth music is in my DNA, and everything I do will inevitably sound a bit like the abovementioned masters. When you say that we sound like Depeche Mode or Rational Youth, I feel extremely flattered and honored. Cold Connection is a mixture of those sounds.
There are individuals on this album who seem lost and alone: a woman lying in the rain, a silent stranger. Is this an album about loneliness?
Daniel: Seconds Of Solitude has nine very individual songs where each has its own story to tell. There are songs about the last minutes and seconds alive before passing and vampires(!). But overall it’s much about how the world is today and how we treat it, with abuse of power, pollution, war but also the twisted body fixation on young people and not feeling they are good enough. And of course, also about unconditional love.
Pontus: Daniel writes great lyrics with meaning, and I’m very impressed by that. I probably evoke some of those feelings with my music because it’s often quite fateful and moody. When I write the music I always give the piece a name, and I’m a bit proud that Daniel often uses that name for inspiration to the texts and vocals.
You released “Burning Love” as a single. Why did you choose that song?
Daniel: Although we have several strong songs and it wasn’t an obvious choice, it became the first in order because we wanted an uptempo song and something that could appeal to a wider audience. And it is one of my personal favorites. (But hard sometimes to sing live haha.)
Pontus: Well, it’s a catchy song, isn’t it?
I also want to ask you about “Trocadero,” which is such a mesmerizing song. Is that about the Trocadero in Paris? Is there a story behind that song?
Daniel: You know what, the story behind it was not given from the start. When Pontus sent me the demo it already had the working name Trocadero, and it sounded really cool.
But since I didn’t want to sing about a soda (it is a soda drink in Sweden and maybe in the US as well?), I started to read about the battle between French and Spanish forces at the city Càdiz in Andalusia, Spain, where Spanish rebels took refuge behind the fortress Trocadero. To my understanding, it was quite a gruesome battle. “Trocadero” is very special to us, we really love it!
Pontus: Thank you, Chris! I’m really glad that you like this song since this is probably the song I’m most proud of. The music was written after a trip to Paris where my family and I visited the monument of Trocadero, and the name and story behind it just haunted me when I came home. I did the music in a couple of hours, and Daniel nailed the vocals in one take. That was a pivotal moment that I will always remember. It is also the song that my wife and two daughters like the most, so it feels a bit special to me.
The songs on Seconds of Solitude range from 100 to 120 BPM. I’m curious about what a Cold Connection ballad might sound like. Have you considered that, or do you want to stay in that upbeat range?
Daniel: That is a really good question, Chris! I’ve actually never thought about that. We just create songs we like and if it turns out a ballad and a good enough one, so be it I guess.
Pontus: Sooner or later there will be a ballad…that’s a promise. I will just check if my Cubase accepts that slow BPM rates…haha.
How are you feeling about the reaction to your first album?
Daniel: I think I speak on both of our behalves when I say that the response is absolutely fantastic and out of this world for two amateurs like us!
We have put a lot of work into it but never dared to dream of this reception. I am extremely grateful!
And a big shout out to our label Town And Towers Group and manager Stig Wintendorff!
Pontus: We are very happy and flattered about the good reception of the album. There are still people out there who have good taste in music…hahaha.
What’s next for Cold Connection?
Daniel: We are currently working on new stuff with plans to release some this year and some next year, but that is all I will say for now.
And of course, to continue playing live and meet our fans again. They are really the best!