Jakob Hellman, born October 20, 1965 in Vuollerim, Norrbotten County, is a Swedish pop singer. Although his only album to date, ...Och stora havet, was released in 1989, he is still well known in his native country.
The son of two teachers, Jakob Hellman grew up in rural north Sweden, just south of the polar circle. In school, he was in the same class as Zemya Hamilton, later to be known as the lead singer of house music act Clubland.
In the lyrics of his first single, Hellman states that he was "born between the mirror and the grammophone" ("född mellan spegeln och grammofon"), attesting to his early pop star ambitions. At a young age, he played in a local band, Ampere, with his friends Anders Viklund, Ulf Johansson and Tommy Johansson. In a 2006 interview, the members recalled singing through a megaphone at the start, since they did not have a proper microphone. At the start, the only song they could play was Smoke on the Water. Later, Do You Wanna Dance? and The House of the Rising Sun were added to the repertoire.
The recording of ...och stora havet
Without previous experience of the music business, Jakob Hellman sent his demo to ten different record companies in December 1987. Magnus Nygren, at the time A&R at the Swedish division of EMI Music, took interest and arranged a meeting. Much to his own surprise, Hellman soon had a record contract in his hand. Recordings started in the EMI studio in the Stockholm suburb of Skärmarbrink in 1988. Hellman also spent some time touring, opening for the rock band Wilmer X.
Session musicians included Per Hägglund from Imperiet (keyboards), Eddie Sjöberg, ex-member of Reeperbahn (guitar), Werner Modiggård from Eldkvarn (drums), and Wilmer X member Mats Bengtsson (piano). Titiyo provided backing vocals for the song Avundsjuk på dej.
In a 2007 interview in a Jakob Hellman special on the Swedish public service music radio show Musikjournalen (aired January 15, 2007 on SR P3), producer Dan Sundquist told the story of a rather strenuous recording experience, due to Hellman's unwillingness to compromise with his convictions on how the music ought to sound.
The album's release
The first single, Tåg (Train) was released in 1988. The same year Jakob Hellman won a Grammis (the Swedish equivalent of a Grammy Award) as Best Newcomer. The album followed on February 13, 1989. Seven out of the nine songs featured on the demo were included on the album. The original release contained twelve tracks; a later reissue adds the single B-sides and a few other tracks for a total of 19. Although Hellman himself wanted to name the album De sista melodierna (The Last Melodies) it instead borrowed its title from one of the non-single songs, ...Och stora havet (...And the great sea).
Musically, most of the album's songs can be described as quite radio-friendly guitar-based music in the singer-songwriter vein, although Hellman's syncopated singing style set him apart from most of the competition. In interviews, Jakob Hellman cited Elvis Costello as his greatest influence, and although his music by no means could be called a carbon copy, similarities can easily be found. The lyrics, entirely in Swedish, range from rather simple love songs to more philosophical themes. They are characterized by inventive turns of phrase, often imitated by followers.
At the time of its release, Hellman's album got positive, although not jubilant, reviews, and the single Vara vänner (To Be Friends) became a major hit. The accompanying video is notable for its extremely minimalistic scenography.
At the 1989 Swedish Grammis Awards Jakob Hellman won the Best Male Rock artist award, but not the Best Album one (it was given to Jerry Williams). With the passing of time, however, the record has come to be regarded as one of the most influential Swedish pop records, and in 1997 it was voted the best Swedish record ever in Nöjesguiden, a monthly entertainment magazine.
A few covers of Hellman's songs have been recorded. In 1997, the band Jumper had a minor hit with the single Hon har ett sätt. The track was also remixed by house music act Antiloop. In 2006, singers Anna Stadling and Idde Schultz covered the B-side Vägar hem on an album named after the song.
As of 2007, ...och stora havet has sold a total of over 160 000 copies.
After the album
Hellman made no attempt at following up the album's major success. After appearing on an Evert Taube tribute album and featuring in a duet with folk-rock act Perssons Pack in 1991, he withdrew from the spotlight entirely. Reluctantly interviewed, he told journalists he had been studying different subjects at Lund University and had no plans for a new record. In 1995, he briefly joined Brainpool in the studio to provide backing vocals for the Painkiller album track We aim to please.
In the end of the 1990s Hellman started to occasionally appear on stage again. In recent years, Hellman has been playing several smaller venues and minor festivals, performing both old and unreleased tracks, fueling his fans' hopes for a return to recording. In 2005 Hellman did enter the studio for the first time in a decade, contributing two covers to an Olle Adolphson tribute album. The following year, he appeared on a duet with Nina Ramsby, Du min vän, on the Nina Ramsby & Martin Hederos album Jazzen. However, these episodes seem to be isolated events.
In a 2005 interview (in Bo.stad, a magazine for the tenants of the Lund student housing foundation AF Bostäder), Hellman, at the time living in a shared flat in Malmö, speculated on "maybe" releasing a new album some day, although not in the immediate future. "Not in the next six months, anyway. If I found the right musicians to work with, maybe in another genre, it would be fun. I want to do simple songs, which is what I’m good at." The same year, he recorded two songs, Lenas Visa and Mina Båtar, for the Olle Adolphson tribute album Dubbel trubbel.
In July 2006, his childhood band Ampere reformed to play at the Kulturkraft festival in Vuollerim. "It is fun to play in a band again. [...] Compared to being on my own, playing under my own name, it feels very relaxed," Hellman commented.
In the 2007 Musikjournalen Hellman special, Jakob Hellman spoke about feeling as if he were the album's "luxury wife", still partly living off its revenue. He said a new album felt "far away", and that he was focusing on writing one song at a time in order to be able to play live.
- ...Och stora havet (1989) (remastered version with extra tracks released in 1999)
- Tåg (1988)
- Vara vänner (1989)
- Hon har ett sätt (1989)
- Tältet on Den flygande holländaren, a tribute album to Cornelis Vreeswijk (1988)
- Fritiof och Carmencita and Tango i Nizza on Taube, a tribute album to Evert Taube (1990)
- Lenas Visa and Mina Båtar on Dubbel trubbel, a tribute album to Olle Adolphson) (2005)
- Tusen dagar härifrån, duet with Per Persson, on the Perssons Pack on the album Äkta hjärtan (1991)
- We Aim To Please, backing vocals, on the Brainpool album Painkiller (1995)
- Du min vän, duet with Nina Ramsby, on the Nina Ramsby & Martin Hederos album Jazzen (2006)
- Unofficial fan page (in Swedish)
- Biography from allmusic.com (English)
- 2005 interview in Bo.stad (in Swedish and English)
- Interview with Ampere in Norrländska Socialdemokraten, July 8, 2006 (in Swedish)
- Journalist Simon Andrén talks about the Musikjournalen Hellman special in Norrländska Socialdemokraten (in Swedish)