Sea Lion

There’s a beguiling tension on Sea Lion’s debut album that reveals itself on lead single "Room", a haunted spectre of a piano ballad. “It’s about when you have issues with yourself within a relationship,” says Linn Osterberg, who started performing as Sea Lion in 2011. “And you don’t know how much of that is good to share. You have to decide whether to keep it all to yourself or be open and put your shit onto someone that is not responsible for it. It’s sort of about the art of needing somebody versus not needing anybody at all, what’s best, and how to balance it.”

The hushed, lunar atmosphere of Desolate Stars is so intimate that listening to Osterberg’s songs feels almost voyeuristic—you’re witnessing the 26-year-old Gothenburg native figure herself out in real time. “I’ve been writing and making music to find out who the hell I was,” she says. “I sort of felt very ghost-like. Music—and recording things, in general—makes me feel like I exist a little bit more.”

Osterberg shares that willingness to confront her anxieties and bring herself to life through song with her “absolute super-mega female influences” Cat Power and Mazzy Star. Their influence is palpable, and against grave, reverberating electric guitar, her unusual singing voice also calls to mind the watercolour folk pastorals of Drag City’s Jessica Pratt.

Unsurprisingly, Osterberg writes and records in total solitude—as with last year’s Big Moon EP, Desolate Stars was made in her bedroom, which feels remarkable given its piercing clarity and consummate atmosphere.

Last year, validation of sorts came in the offer to sign with Wales’ Turnstile Records, home to the likes of Perfume Genius, Gruff Rhys, Cate Le Bon, Joanna Gruesome and Christopher Owens, and release two acclaimed EPs. She’s spoken before about how the music industry is like a fizzy drink production line, but Turnstile’s “genuine” approach convinced her that they were different. It proved a turning point for her, too. “I had played some gigs before I got signed, but back then it was more of a folk duo and completely different,” says Osterberg. “I had never really been on a proper tour before or got my shit together and started thinking seriously that I could actually make records.”

But you get the sense that Osterberg would have kept pushing herself regardless of what came along. Beneath her captivating, lonely music and hesitant exterior, her drive is powerful. “I’ve always just kept going, even if I felt I couldn’t play, couldn’t sing, couldn’t record, was too nervous to perform, knew nobody. I always kept going and trying ‘cos this has been my only dream for myself.”

She’s keen to progress musically, too. Already thinking about her next move, she states that that her next work is likely to be “something really rocky and distorted, because I’m so sick of people always thinking I should play in churches.“

*Sea Lion is an EPA/ NW1 co-published client.