The 405's love for Seinabo Sey was cemented when watching her showcase gig back in January at Eurosonic Noorderslaag. She captivated a full house of punters and journalists with charm and aplomb and - this will, no doubt, be said often but - for an artist whose debut album is called Pretend, she is as unassuming a performer as can be.

Together with fellow-Swede, Magnus Lidehäll, Sey has worked hard for the past couple of years crafting the record's soulful, pop sound, which elegantly chaperones her personal, experience-based lyrics. There's love, there's heartbreak, there are crushed hopes but there are also encouraging recipes for building them back up again. And so, even the more subdued, ballad-y moments on Pretend, bring you exhilaration.

In this track-by-track listening guide, we coax Sey into revealing some of the inspiration and ideas behind the 12 (well, actually, 14 if you splash out on the Deluxe) tracks that make up Pretend.

"Some answers are better left unspoken"


Sey: This was the second song that Magnus and I did together but the one that kind of got everybody interested. And I think it was probably also the first song that had a structure, a kind of pop structure - it helped me learn about all those little things that bring a song together. For the end of that song we actually had a couple of versions and it didn't end up sounding like it sounds now until the end of the process. It took about a year and a half, it sort of grew with us in everyday life.

"Things are going just as they should, knock on wood"


Sey: Magnus and I went to Gotland, which is an island just outside of Stockholm, to stay in this huge hotel that a friend of mine owns but there were no people there. We were just wandering around, trying to make music and, of course, out of about a week there we spent something like 5 days doing nothing. [laughs]. I had this loop I'd recorded on my phone, just this little thing that I sang [she simulates the song's vocal hook] and I wanted to use it like an instrument in the song. And that's how the song started out. The beat was a hard one to sing over and those vocals are quite hard to mimic, too, if I'm not in the right mode so I started to sort of scream them out [laughs]. With the lyrics, I was trying to imagine what I would do if I found out that there was no tomorrow.

The 405: Why did you decide to name the album after this particular track - is it your favourite from the record?

Sey: Mmm... no, it's probably not but it's definitely... Top 5 [laughs]. Honestly, I have a hard time putting labels on things because it makes me have to explain to people what everything is about and it makes me anxious. But I figure that pretending is what we do too much of, whether it's good or bad. A lot of the time I tend to pretend to have the answers, you know? But, really, I'm just trying to teach myself. And also, I just like that word [laughs].

"I'll mark your every word, I'll wear the smile you gave me"


The 405: Thinking about the line "I'd try to make it more poetic" - do you actively try to write songs with a so-called poetic consciousness or do lyrics come to you organically?

Sey: All the good parts in the foundations of a song come pretty clearly, early on, but oftentimes it might just be the verse or just the chorus. I then have to elaborate on it or find the right stream of consciousness to build on that first idea. To finish things off can sometimes be the tedious part [she laughs]. What I do know is that it is the part of my job that I am most proud of, when I get it right.

"This time I will be louder than my words"


Sey: Our original idea for the song was this kind of cotton-picking slave song that should work with almost nothing else, like a chant. I wrote it after I fell out with a good friend of mine - I guess she had some issues going on in her life and she was projecting a lot of her insecurities on me. People do that, if you let them. It was sad but I had to make a stand-point and walk away from that friendship, for myself. So the song is quite pissed off but also very, very sad because I don't like being that person. Even if it's for my own good.

The 405: We really enjoyed the recent live performance you did on the 55 bus in Gothenburg.

Sey: Thank you! We went out on that bus six times and with three of the sessions people had no idea that I was going to sing.

The 405: It must've been challenging singing whilst in constant motion...

Sey: It was! But I just thought to myself: what would Beyoncé do? She'd probably be able to also do some cartwheels or something. But it was hard! I mean, I get shy on big stages but even on something like this I got very shy. I was a little bit uncomfortable but it was a good experience.

"I'd rather fail on my own term and call it a lesson learned"


Sey: I recorded 'Easy' years ago, before I had met Magnus. I was really hung-over one morning, sitting on my friend's sofa and just sang it over a piano line. It's had a couple of previous versions and, actually, there is another version of it which I think we will release as well. I wrote that song about being - as usual - in love with somebody that wasn't in love with me. I don't think I even told him. I was thinking about how things are, basically, what you make them. Some things are obviously controlled by the universe and blah blah blah but, then again, if you feel a feeling and you want to try, it could potentially all be easy. If you try. That is my hope.

"Somebody should've showed me, how was I supposed to see?"


Sey: 'Younger', 'Hard Time' and 'Words' were written together around the same time and for this particular one I started thinking about my family members and how we kind of inherit our loneliness. It's about embracing the dark moments too. If you allow yourself to feel sad or whatever emotion you're feeling the whole way through, then it normally helps. I guess the song is about not feeling ashamed of being depressed and embracing whatever darkness you might have.

"Flowers in my garden die faster than they grow"


The 405: The idea behind 'Words' indirectly links to this song, which is all about someone who is feeling sorry for themselves...

Sey: Yes and the song started out with that idea, which I recorded on my phone, you know - the line "I know you're feeling sorry for yourself now". The rest of the chorus didn't really work initially but then I just had to accept that it did make sense. It was one of the last songs that I finished for the album, even though I had had the chorus for about two years.

"Who do you think you are? Who do you wanna be?"


Sey: This song is about doubting that you can change whatever is happening in your life. Sometimes you can't see things being able to change because you are in it, you are in that moment. The song came out of a certain conversation I had with one of my best friends. And something that I learned from my parents is that the thing that can make the difference between following your dreams and not following your dreams is really to believe that you're even capable of doing it. To my friend, questioning her abilities made sense but to me it doesn't. I know that if I don't put work to it then that might jeopardize things, but I believe that if you work hard then you can change your situation. I've always been confident about my ability to convey emotion and I believe that, as long as I can get people to listen to me sing, I'll be alright. It's all I have.

"Thinking about tomorrow instead of drowning in the past"


Sey: I really like performing this one live, at the moment. Vocally, it is a bit harder to sing. It's a bit R'n'B-techniquey with how I have to perform it and it can be a challenge. It was a difficult one to nail down when we were working on it and I sometimes still don't think it's tight enough [laughs]. We didn't think that it was ever going to be a song but when we were really done with everything and sent it all to be mastered we needed one more song and we had the parts for this one and ended up using it.

"If you tell me what to do, I'll move mountains"


Sey: I didn't really understand it until later but it's probably one of my most personal songs because all of the lyrics apply to my love for music, my love for family and a fear of being left behind. I really enjoy singing it - it's very honest -and I like stepping out to the front and looking people in the eye.

"I'm just a brick in your ruin of love"


Sey: I remember being in the studio and wanting to do something that sounded a bit Nancy Sinatra. My friend, Vincent Pontare, came up with the chorus. He co-wrote a couple of other things on the album. He had that line, 'ruin of love', and every time I work with him we imagine it to be like a movie, a landscape, and I try to make these movie-like images in my mind. It was the same with 'Pistols At Dawn'. And the song itself is more of a story, there isn't a certain personal situation that I can go directly to and say it inspired this song. But then again, sometimes when a lyric is vague you can understand it in any way you like.

"Grains of sand will never be strong enough to make me leave"


Sey: My dad passed away but there is nothing on this earth that can keep his memory from me or the spirit of who he was. And the idea behind the lyrics is that even grains of sand pressed against the earth cannot keep away that memory.

The 405: The arrangement is as beautiful as the lyrics. We particularly like it when the choir comes in.

Sey: Well, the choir is actually just one man.

The 405: Seriously?

Sey: Yes. Salem Al Fakir, who played the strings on 'Younger', also created the whole choir sound himself for this song. He's a genius. I've been a big fan of his for a long time and then I met him and we started working together. He does a lot of work with Magnus now as well.

"Dancing in darkness to the sound of a drum"


The 405: C'mon, Seinabo, this is a BIG song. Why is not on the main album?

Sey: I'm pretty fond of it but I just feel that it is the furthest away from the rest of the album. And, to be honest, I feel that it is a bit too songwriter-y, if you understand what I mean by that. But, yeah, it got away. It's cool. I do sing it live because I love singing the verses.

"Will you tell me when I'm near?"


Sey: The very first song we worked on, Magnus and I. I had listened to Kate Bush and I wanted to see if I could do something where I could sound like her [laughs], over this really weird beat. The other reference point for it was Mark Ronson and D'Angelo's 'Glass Mountain Trust'. I wanted to try something in that kind of corner.

Pretend is out now on Universal Music