The up-and-coming Danish star is surprised by the machinery of the music biz – but is keeping his feet firmly planted at Smukfest 2018.
Steffan Jørgensen – otherwise known as Gwænno – exudes likability. He’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind hanging out with, just enjoying music. And talking about it.
“My dad had a couple of thousand CDs. Everything from Norah Jones to Napalm Death,” he says. “Music played a huge role in my life from an early age. I picked up a drumstick and started playing the drums when I was ten, changed to guitar and pick at fourteen and discovered a whole new universe of compressors and plug-ins in my twenties.
“It’s always been my passion. It’s a place where I can disappear for hours on end; listening to new underground music, to different techniques, even just enjoying 16 bars on a cool rap track.”
Starting to believe
Steffan is one of the lucky few who gets to combine the thing that stirs his heart with the thing that could end up filling his bank account.
“But it’s still work,” he says. “It requires effort. We’ve had success with Gwænno so far, since we started in 2016. I and my band members, Jesper Mols and Lennart Bahnsen, have won a few prizes and been nominated a couple of times, too. Prizes and nominations are great belief-boosters. They make you believe even stronger in your project and makes it a little easier to pull through creative blocks and rejections. Being acknowledged makes you believe. I’m not making a living off it yet, but I’m getting there.”
He’s not wrong. Within twelve months of forming, Gwænno had already won its first prize: Horsens All Stars Publikums pris. The following year included a nomination for the Danish grant ‘Spinnup-legatet,’ and 2018 has shown no signs of letting up, with Quasar Rock, a regional talent competition, a particular highlight. After battling their way through semi-finals at regional music venues in the spring, Gwænno took home the victory at Jelling Festivalen.
“We had to play a 15-minute set in the final and were praised for our live performance. Quasar Rock was fantastic for our band; it means more exposure; it’s an admission ticket to Live Camp; and it makes booking gigs easier. We played a good concert and I really felt like we deserved it.”
The judges agreed: “Gwænno and his band moved around stylishly in the borderland between pop and electronic, the festive and melancholic”.
With that win, Gwænno (origin: a portmanteau of Steffan Jørgensen and Gwen Stefani) secured its spot at Live Camp, a talent-development competition at Denmark’s second largest festival – Smukfest – where the prize is opening the main stage on the first day.
“In Live Camp we’re up against more established bands who are already signed; bands who have their music on the radio,” Steffan says. “It’s a bigger showcase for us. There will be many bookers, scouting for bands who light a fire under the crowd.”
“But we aren’t getting distracted from what matters. We’re approaching Live Camp as any other gig and giving the crowd an amazing experience. It’s another opportunity to make new fans, to give a piece of ourselves… to break through.”
He pauses, then grins: “Still… it’d be insane if we won and would have to open Bøgescenen on Wednesday.”
Dealing with The Man
But with increasing success comes increasing complexity. “There are so many people involved in the music business. Many more than I thought and it surprised me quite a bit,” Steffan says. He reels off a list of important supporting jobs: managers, bookers, and talent scouts, marketing people, PR people… “It’s a bit intimidating that so many people can have a stake in your music – and there are many different opinions about what it should be like suddenly,” he adds.
But while he feels it’s important to have a management team to help further your career, he says it’s still important to be able to manage your own bookings and representation for as long as possible: “It keeps it authentic and… well… ‘you’. But eventually, hopefully, your inbox will be overflowing and you’ll have to consider getting management to help you with the day-to-day stuff.
In fact, he reckons that the day-to-day stuff is the toughest part of all this. “One of the more tedious tasks a musician faces is definitely coordinating logistics. It’s overwhelming sometimes. Before a live show you have to plan and prepare together with your own band, and then you have the sound crew, runners and the music venue. There are a lot of schedules that need to align and that’s not always an easy task. But, you got to put in the work before you can play. And the concert is play-time for me.”
“I don’t have a grand plan laid out for Gwænno,” Steffan says. “I want to continue developing and improving my skills in the studio. I’ve learned so much since we won Quasar Rock and I want to continue on that curve. It’s all about refining my techniques with the goal of producing even better-sounding music.
“There are definitely sessions that end up being nothing more than escapism and enjoyment, but they are also a source of endless inspiration to me. I love geeking-out with different types of music, new slate plug-ins, compressors, or fine-combing YouTube for tutorials.
“After the Danish festival season, I’m going in the studio to create new music. It’s not my plan to release an EP or album. We live in the streaming-era, and people don’t binge albums like in the old days. I would rather release well-produced singles at the right time.”
So, what would make him look in the mirror and say: “We made it!”?
“That’s a tough one. Well… I have made it when music is my livelihood,” Steffan says. “And it doesn’t even matter what role I play: a calendar filled with gigs, producing music for others in a cool studio. Oh, and being recognised for my work to a degree where other musicians within my genre would buy me a beer at festivals. That’s the dream.”
‘Skol’ to that.
In 2016, Steffan Jørgensen established the urban-pop band Gwænno with Jesper Mols and Lennart Bahnsen. Together the group has won Horsens ‘All Stars Publikums Pris’ in 2016; was nominated for ‘Spinnup-legatet’ in 2017; and won Quasar Rock in 2018. The band’s next challenge is Live Camp at Smukfest 2018, where they’ll perform live on Monday 6 August at 8 pm. But you can catch them at Dynaudio Unheard on Sunday 5 August between 7pm and 8pm.
In the meantime, you can enjoy their live performance of 'Alle Andre' below.