Crying Day Care Choir on burning art, NFTS and AI music

The press releases of bands always hone in on a detail that makes their new album highly unique, interesting and even groundbreaking. As you can imagine, these claims are often highly exaggerated. But one album that can proudly poke its head out of the crowd is Give Me Something by Sweden’s Crying Day Care Choir.

Because this album really is stacked with more USPs than your average record: it’s inspired by the controversial British artist Damien Hirst’s project The Currency, in which he created physical paintings and digital NFTs of his art, and the buyers could vote on whether or not the physical paintings should be burned. 

The band obtained permission from Hirst to use his artwork, and the title of each art piece was used for AI-generated lyrics for the album. Headliner goes down the Artificial Intelligence rabbit hole with Sara, Jack and Bill who form the three-piece act.

If you find it overly cheesy when bands describe themselves as a family, don’t cringe just yet, because Crying Day Care Choir are being quite literal when they call themselves that: Jack and Sara Elz are husband and wife, and Jack’s brother Bill Nystedt completes the trio. They’ve been releasing music since 2011, and their debut album Leave the Kingdom came in 2014.

Their delicious brand of indie folk, not dissimilar to fellow Nordic act Of Monsters and Men, has steadily built them a following in Sweden and growing outwards to Europe and beyond. 

Continuing to release music throughout the 2010s and with plenty of touring thrown in, the latter half of the decade saw them putting pen to paper with Warner Music. And while their streaming numbers benefitted from this enormously, they recently parted ways with the major label and set up their own.

Imagine if we gave our fans a vote on whether to delete the digital files of songs, and just keep the vinyl editions of the album.

Headliner has the pleasure of speaking to the full Choir, as Jack and Sara Elz and Bill Nystedt are all together in their home city of Malmö in their studio space.

“Me and Bill grew up together as brothers,” Jack Elz says. “We always hung out until high school where we started to hang out more separately. And then three years later, we found out we’d both been making music on our own, and so in adulthood, we joined forces. And then I met Sara.”

Something that has enormously shaped the band and all three of these musicians has been their experience of being signed to Warner Music, among the three most major record labels in the world, and then recently deciding to return to independence and starting ELZ Productions, their own label.

“We were signed with Warner for about six years,” Nystedt says. “But we continued to record and produce everything ourselves. But now we’ve gone full circle and are taking on more of the responsibility ourselves and the freedom that comes with that.”

“We learned a lot by seeing how many people were involved in a project,” Jack Elz adds. “Obviously the budget was huge in comparison to when we were with Warner. But I remember how so many people would all be sewing it together for the production — there’d be a PR person, a YouTube person, a TikTok person. 

"All these experts in very narrow fields. You realise the kind of machinery that goes into releasing an album today. It’s a lot of hard work, but with our experience through the years, we’ve realised we might be able to do it ourselves.”

what if we were to give these burned paintings new life in the form of songs? It felt so crazy that it just might work!

After recently becoming increasingly interested in contemporary art, Jack Elz was led to Damien Hirt’s project The Currency, which raised interesting questions about the value of physical and digital art by selling both the former as paintings and the latter as NFTs, with the buyers ultimately choosing whether the physical paintings or the digital ones would be burned and destroyed. Ultimately the NFTs won, and people could go to galleries to witness the paintings being set on fire.

Each artwork had its own AI-generated title, generated by Damien Hirst using his favourite music as prompts. It was this that gave Elz his creative epiphany for their album.

“I felt that we had to get in on this,” he says. “So we bought one of these NFTs. And I then realised we could write music just using these titles. And what if we were to give these burned paintings new life in the form of songs? It felt so crazy that it just might work! We emailed Damien Hirst’s team and they replied quite quickly saying they loved our music and they’d love for us to do this.”

Sara Elz adds that her thinking for the project “was about how the art was actually destroyed, that someone created with their hands and put time and effort into, and then chose to destroy it. It really gets you questioning what art is, where does music come from, and then that gets you thinking about how you value it.”

And the creative juices are flowing even within this interview, as Nystedt suggests:

“Imagine if we gave our fans a vote on whether to delete all the digital files of the songs, and just keep the vinyl editions of the album, and vice versa?”

While his wife and brother were receptive and warm to the general concept of the Give Me Something album, they were initially sceptical, and even a little concerned about Elz’s idea to use artificial intelligence in creating the album. He proposed that similar to how Hirst generated the titles of all 10,000 of his NFTs, they feed the track titles into AI to assist with their lyrics and creative process.

“I was a little scared at first,” Nystedt says. 

“I’m not afraid of AI taking over the world or anything like that, but more of the fact there are musicians selling all their rights to people like Epidemic Sounds who then feed the musical information in to create AI music. I don’t want us to become obsolete! But then I got thinking about using AI as a tool for us as a band to work with, instead of fearing it.”

“Some of the AI stuff makes me want to go and live under a rock,” Sara Elz said. “I still want to believe that our human emotions have value, and not have AI mimicking that aspect of music. But for this project, it was learning to live with it, and it became a very good methodology for writing songs and a way to get out of my own head. Sometimes you can get creatively stuck, and this really helped with that.”

there are musicians selling all their rights to people who then feed the musical information in to create AI music.

Jack Elz adds: “David Bowie used to cut out interesting sentences from newspapers, place them together on the floor and mash them together — so this was basically the same method, only with computers.”

Typical of David Bowie to come up with his own version of AI years ahead of the technology. And Jack Elz reveals that there is lots more to come from this project, Give Me Something Vol.1 and its four tracks will be followed by two more volumes.

“Volume Two will be more R&B, a lot smoother! We want to try and take different directions, because it’s an experimental album.”

Nystedt is the main studio head and engineer in Crying Day Care Choir, and it doesn’t take much to get him talking about their Malmö studio and all the goodness it holds. “We have an old Soundcraft mixing table where we do most of the mixing,” he says. “Otherwise we don’t have that much outboard stuff because it feels limiting in a way. I’ve always been very in love with the FabFilter plugins, Waves and Soundtoys.

“And we have the RME Fireface UFX soundcard, which has been great. We have the ability to record 16 channels and back when we did more folky stuff we would record a lot more drums and bass, but nowadays we just record everything separately and then build it together. 

"So the Fireface has really helped us move into this style of recording and producing — we’ve found this very nice way of me building and producing the beats at the computer while Jack and Sara are writing the lyrics at the same time, and then we arrange it and try different stuff.”

You can also add Nystedt’s name to the list of producers who use Waves plugins. “We use the Kramer Master Tape plugin a lot for slapback stuff when we don’t have a tape machine to do that. I also love the CLA compressors, the Greg Wells PianoCentric, I find that really, really nice for working on piano. Some of the Abbey Road stuff is really great too.”

2023 is looking absolutely stacked for Crying Day Care Choir, with all kinds of touring and lots of music releases.

“We had another EP already recorded to get out (Feel Something, which dropped this year) as well as the next two volumes of Give Me Something. So a lot of shows, and a lot of music to be released!”

Hopefully, Crying Day Care Choir is evidence that musicians and artificial intelligence can work together in sweet harmony. Go and listen to Give Me Something Vol.1, where the proof is in the pudding.