Sunniva Bondesson of Baskery

by Dan MacIntosh

A balance of cats, dogs, and Neil Young shows up in the songs of Baskery, a sister act from Sweden.

Baskery is what happens when you filter American roots music through three Swedish sisters. They draw upon rowdy rockabilly inspirations to create one unique sisterly blend.

Sunniva Bondesson plays guitar, Stella is on upright bass, and Greta handles banjo and percussion (often at the same time). All three sisters sing. Sunniva spoke with us about some of their most important songs.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): You've covered a Neil Young song ["Old Man"]. would you say Neil Young was one of your primary songwriting influences?

Sunniva Bondesson: I would say, definitely, he's been an inspiration to us because he combines rock and roll with great musical writing, like in riffs. His songs feature great musicianship and the lyrics are just poetic. I think it's very unique for an artist to do that.

He's more than your average songwriter. He's a genius in my world, and he could have just been a writer only, and I would connect to him because he found his way of keeping it short in songs. If you are a writer and creative, it's very hard to stick to the format of just writing choruses and verses, but he does that in a very satisfying way.

Songfacts: You do a song that uses an English word for doggy door. What is that about?

Sunniva: The official title is "Shut the Catflap," and, you know, it sounds like something else. Catflap is the British term for doggy door.

Songfacts: Where do you pick up British terms?

Sunniva: We live in Europe. We're sisters raised in Sweden, and we grew up with the Queen's English. Living in the UK, as my sister does, she uses vocabulary like that and we pick it up. And there is a name for the specific door for cats in Sweden, which is a cat door, basically. We heard that word, and it was just perfect for the song.

We wanted to say, "Shut the fuck up." It rhymes perfectly with the catflap. We wrote it when we lived in a little area in Nashville, which is not the best area. It was the southwest area, and not the best neighborhood. We had a lot of stray cats around, and we were inspired by them because they're adventurous creatures. So, we used that to describe the feeling of how we found it so hard to crack the music industry. But there's always a way in, and the way in could be the smallest hole, such as the cat door.

Songfacts: Tell me about some of your other songs.

Sunniva: I'm the kind of writer that likes to write in different formats. I like longer formats, too, like storytelling. When I'm writing for Baskery, I try to be efficient and short and have messages that people can hear once and pick up. It's also very pop, to write like that. It's not my favorite way of writing, but it's a challenge. So, "Throw a Bone" is a song about a dog, being the dog in a relationship.

Songfacts: You have the cats, now the dogs.

Sunniva: Exactly. It balances, like Zen. It's about being the dog in a relationship. Sitting there waiting, and you know you want to be the cat and be the sassy one, but you do all the hard work. It's a lot of waiting.

I'm very proud of those lyrics because it's very straightforward, but it has layers underneath and I know people have interpreted much more than I intentionally meant. That's powerful.

Songfacts: But does that make you feel good, that they think it's deeper than maybe you imagined?

Sunniva: Oh yeah, definitely, because that's the power of writing. I think that you have an emotion, and when you start writing you try to make sense for yourself. But in the end, you need to translate for your audience and your own mind is not the same as the audience, so you find a way where you can connect.

And with that song, I felt like I used very few words and said a lot. It starts with, "Cat on my tongue with things to say." It's a lot of sacrifice in the lyrics that keeps it short and sweet, but it still has a powerful message. Songfacts: Did it come from a real experience where you felt like the dog in a relationship?

Sunniva: Yeah, for sure. I've lived every kind of relationship there is, and I know where I don't want to be.

Songfacts: Let's switch gears to a happier song. What's a happier song you've written?

Sunniva: I wrote a song that sounds happy, but it's about sad people. It's called "Tendencies." It's about abusers of alcohol.

I think in every family, there's an abuse history. We're Swedish and having Finnish roots, so we do drink a lot in our family. I wanted to write a song that is beautiful and not just sad to these people who made this choice to drink instead of be with their families. That's how it can go, and I think that it's a very solitary thing.

I wrote this song feeling like it was more like a hymn, and I'm very proud of that song because every time I play it, there's no way I can hide my emotions. It's always there, but it's with a smile. It's a sad song, but the lyrics are happy.

Songfacts: You have a song about a reverend. What's that about?

Sunniva: Oh, "The Reverend." It's a friend of ours. He's a guitar player, but he passed away in a motorcycle accident.

Songfacts: Was that his nickname?

Sunniva: Yeah, it was. I don't think he was religious in any way. There's a story, but I don't want to tell the story of why his nickname was The Reverend. He was an amazing guitar player, and he passed away in a motorcycle accident. The first words that came to mind were, "He is the reverend on a bike, he's just going into the light."

Those words came like water. It's different. It's more like poetry. When you write about somebody that's passed on, you want to keep it more sacred in a sense. But I pictured him with his moves. With everything I know about him from the stage I put into the song. It's very hard writing about those that have died.

Songfacts: Right. You have so much respect for that person, you want to do them justice. So, there is an extra added pressure.

Sunniva: It is. But also, I knew that I didn't have to write the song, I wanted to write the song. It needed to be written.

Songfacts: Did you feel like a weight was lifted after you completed the song?

Sunniva: Yeah, definitely. We all go through life, and we lose people all the time and it doesn't always give you the urge to write. Sometimes you just want to close up and say, "You know, I don't have anything to add. This is just pure sorrow and mourning."

I just got this picture of him sailing away in the sky on his motorbike and the words came to me in this particular way. That was inspired a little bit by Neil Young, making it kind of a rock adventure. You see him in the music also. It's not only the words.

Songfacts: And Young does write a lot about death.

Sunniva: It's a powerful subject.

Songfacts: When it comes to musical style, is there any particular category you're comfortable with? I hear some country, but I hear a lot of rock, a lot of pop. If people ask what kind of music you play, what do you say?

Sunniva: Basically, we feel we are our own genre because we don't have a traditional setup, since we have Greta playing drums and banjo and guitar at the same time. She's like a little machinery going on. Most bands have a real drummer, and that's a lot of the groove. We're three people in the band, and we feel like we're three equal parts. There are many bands that are trios, but we call ourselves a healthy alternative to a lot of music.

Songfacts: You've talked about how you don't like what's on the radio.

Sunniva: Yes. It feels very generic. The industry now has this software where they try out the music to analyze everything, and I think that it's really, really sad because you can't analyze emotions.

As an artist, we are not the ones that are supposed to adapt ourselves. We are supposed to always go the way we need to go and to the more extreme. If somebody tells you to try to fit in, then you should go astray. That's what I've always believed.

I've picked up on rhythm. I love rhythm in lyrics, in music. And I love honesty, but still with a pinch of fantasy. Songwriting is very exciting for us because we feel we're so rooted in music and have lived with music since we were kids. We sang classical, and our dad used to play blues. My mom followed pop. We love everything from Abba to Led Zeppelin to jazz.

January 9, 2018. Their website is
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