El Perro del Mar is the mantle of Sarah Assbring, a Swedish singer-songwriter. Assrbing, who comes from Gothenburg, began writing songs when she was a girl. She went through a long period in which she was unable to write any new songs, before rediscovering her muse on holiday in Spain, and subsequently creating El Perro del Mar.

El Perro del Mar’s songs look back to the late 50’s and early 60’s and the Brill Building era for inspiration, and are then given a modern gauze. Once described as being like a “lo-fi Phil Spector production”, they are usually minimal in tone, with the ethereal-voiced Assbring accompanying herself on vocal harmonies and with soft strums and washes of acoustic guitar. She then fleshes them out with rolls of timpani and percussion, chinks of chimes and handclaps.

Her lyrics hint with often self-deprecating humour at a quiet sense of desperation, telling of one-way love affairs, Saturday nights spent alone, comfort eating and couldn’t-care-less boyfriends. They are equally stark, mostly running to just three or four lines, with Assbring singing their short choruses over and over like a mantra.

Since 2004, El Perro del Mar has released a succession of EPs and singles in her homeland to increasing acclaim. An album, ‘Look It’s El Perro del Mar’, which compiled together the first of these EPs and singles, was released on the Swedish label Hybris in 2005. Her debut UK album, simply titled ‘El Perro del Mar’, came out on the Go ! Team and Field Music’s British label, Memphis Industries in April of this year, and features mostly the same tracks as ‘Look, It’s El Perro del Mar’.

El Perro del Mar has been gaining increasing attention across Europe in recent months. Pennyblackmusic spoke to Sarah Assbring about her twin personality.

PB : Is it true that you suffered from writers' block for some years before forming El Perro Del Mar ? What gave you the impetus to start writing again and to form El Perro Del Mar ?

SA|: My problem wasn't really writer's block. I was really sick and depressed and music was the last thing on my mind at that time. I actually had to lay off music in every sense to just come to terms with myself, my past and my future. At that time I really didn't know whether I'd take up music again. I was just trying to get my life together. I learned a lot about myself and what I really wanted from life and so I guess I developed a new relationship to music and music writing. I like to think of that period as a complete deconstruction of myself and all I know and the start of El Perro Del Mar as putting the pieces together again.

PB : From what does El Perro Del Mar take its name ?

SA : During the period of my depression I went on a desperate holiday to Spain and I suddenly just found myself on a beach packed with pink Germans and Englishmen. All of a sudden this tiny stray dog walked up to me and just stood there looking at me. In that instant I experienced the whole absurdity of it all and the state I was in. That moment was kind of like a turning point and the expression El Perro del Mar-The dog from the sea-was coined there and then.

PB : You have said that "El Perro Del Mar simply is the easiest and most direct way for me to say and do the things I cannot do in real life." Many musicians who work under a nom de plume make a strong distinction between their musical persona and what they do elsewhere in their lives. Do you see El Perro del Mar and Sarah Assbring as being two separate personalities ?

SA: Yes, I find it easier to be as honest and direct with myself under a nom de plume than when being just Sarah. But it's not that El Perro Del Mar is like a whole different persona, rather just a highlighted and amplified and complex image of me.

PB : El Perro Del Mar's songs look back to the Brill Building era, and songwriters like Goffin and King. What is the appeal to you of that songwriting period ?

SA : I admire the perfect blend of heart and mind which is what the Brill Building era stands for to me. I'm also very much into the whole sound and production ideals of that era. It's the whole combination of genius songwriters, musicians, producers and sound engineers. True craftmanship!

PB : You're musically and lyrically very sparse, yet what you do is both evocative and very powerful. The lyrics are blues-like in feel in that they often consist of a few lines that are repeated over and over. Is sparseness something that you always aim for when you are writing ?

S:A It is actually. When writing I'm looking for the perfect simple phrase to say what it is I want to say in a song. That to me is what is the most thrilling and challenging in songwriting - being sparse yet as true to me and the sentiment as possible.

PB : You have said that you did not want to record a traditional album, instead preferring to record a series of EPs, yet you have now released two albums, 'Look, It's El Perro Del Mar' on your Swedish label Hybris , and 'El Perro Del Mar' which features some different songs on your British label Memphis Industries. Are they both compilations of the EP tracks ?

SA : I have only really released one album. The European album is a only a reworked version of 'Look! It's El Perro Del Mar!'. It is a compilation of all the EPs, CDRs and singles that I have released since the start in 2004. I liked the idea of working session-like - working with one song at a time rather than with 10 or 12 songs all at the same time - and then I wanted to release them like that as well, 2 or 3 songs every third or forth month. I really liked that idea. But then I came to a point where I felt I'd really like to collect them and release them as a whole. The album is not written to hold together but I think it does.

PB : You have been quite well known in Sweden since 2004, yet your success in Europe has been more recent. How did you become involved with Memphis Industries ?

SA : I work together with a manager and his contribution to the album coming out in Europe is really huge. Memphis Industries felt like a really good place for me and it's turned out to be so as well.

PB : You have been playing a lot of gigs across Europe in recent months, and taken in shows supporting both Jose Gonzalez and Calexico. When you're on stage do you just perform by yourself or do you have a band with you ?

SA : Up until recently my performances on stage have been very different, varying from only me with a guitar, me and another guitarist or even three other musicians. At the moment I'm playing with two other guitarists and a guy on Hammond. It's beautiful and I love them so much for playing with me but I don't think of them as the El Perro Del Mar band. It's me playing my music together with some great musicians.

PB : Much of 'El Perro Del Mar' conveys a melancholic hurt and loss, with only 'It's All Good', the penultimate track, sounding more optimistic. Could you see El Perro Del Mar ever recording a happy record ?

SA : I'm not really interested in expressing only one specific feeling. Happiness doesn't go without sadness and vice versa. Music to me is something that has to lead somewhere. Firstly it has to lead itself from A to B and then further, but mostly it has to lead me, the composer, someplace different, somewhere new. Whether that'd be somewhere happy or sad I can't tell. It's the magic of it!

PB : What comes next for El Perro Del Mar ?

SA: I hope for the album to be released in the U.S and Asia and so on. In the meantime I'll be starting recording sessions as soon as I can. This summer I'll be playing some various festivals and places around Europe and UK. For specific dates check out my website http://www.elperrodelmar.com

PB : Thank you.

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