Bonander is the moniker of Ellinor Sterner Bonander, a Swedish songstress with a voice that sounds like the lovechild of Kate Bush and Björk. Bonander’s sound is a heady mix of orchestral swells and sci-fi electronic overtones, combining to create a uniquely accessible and boundary-pushing sound. Her recent single ‘Quit Everything and Become a Princess’ has garnered attention from publications like Vogue and High Snobiety for its message of openness and acceptance: it was written as an anthem for all female and non-binary people who feel constrained by gender norms. We sat down together to chat princesses, multilingualism and being an all-rounder.
What message would you like ‘Quit Everything and Become a Princess’ to have?
That it’s OK to be whoever you choose to be despite the gender you were given at birth. I want it to be a temporary ticket of freedom from the norms that sometimes steer us to roads we don’t want to follow, but feel obliged to.
Why ‘princess’, a word which has specifically come under fire in recent years for putting pressure on young children to conform to gendered stereotypes?
Ooh good question and I’m so happy that someone asked this one! Because my intention is that whoever you might be, you are a princess, without the expected norms of the word. I also wanted to empower the word, because it’s often used in a very condescending way. ‘Princess’ for me is just a parable for powerful, no matter how little or much you like the colour pink. I want to reclaim this word, make it a feminist one!
How did you get into music?
Both my parents work in the music business, so I guess it started quite early on. I consider myself very lucky to have access to music education at such a young age. It took a while to find my passion for writing, producing and singing though; I’ve worked my way around!
What experience of prejudice have you had, being a woman in the music industry?
Well, the most common one is that people have a hard time accepting that I produce, write and arrange my music, I’m not “just” a vocalist, which is of course enough as well. People assume some male genius is behind it all. I’ve also had a hard time at different music educations as the only woman in many ensembles. You often need to be quite badass to get your voice out there and that’s such a shame, and shouldn’t be necessary!
Conversely, what positive experiences have you had as a result of your gender in such a male-dominated industry?
Loads of stuff, but more discrete things. I think that if you are raised as a woman, the chance is due to our norms, that we learn to have a kind of social radar on, to take in how everybody’s feeling in a group, and really talk about each other’s emotions a lot. I think it’s an amazing quality we all need to value more, because it results in thoughtfulness and more empathy. It has helped me to be a better group leader in the bands I’ve played in.
Your sound is distinctly orchestral yet electronic; how do you find your equilibrium between the two?
I think the common thing between the two is the drama. I like dramatic music and use the instruments I think sound good for the song. I love to mix it up, to create tension between acoustic and electronic sounds. So maybe the tension is the equilibrium?
The B-side to ‘Quit Everything…’ is ‘Bruset’, a song sung in your native Swedish. Is there a freedom that comes with being multilingual?
A definite freedom yes. I often write in the language the song comes out in. It’s more often English, I think it’s harder to write in your native language because it’s more direct and honest.
You arranged and wrote all of ‘Bruset’ yourself, quite a feat given that it’s so densely layered and intricate. How important do you think it is to be an all-rounder in today’s industry?
Thank you. My spontaneous answer is very important, but come to think of it, I think it depends on the person, timing and so forth. But the music industry is tough and you often need to stand out. Either by being extremely good at one specific thing, or a multi-tasker: whatever suits you the best.
Questions by Jemima Skala
Images: Mysticsons PR