Sometimes love’s a b***ch, but heartbreak isn’t always a zero-sum game; a lover’s loss is, paradoxically, often art’s gain. Such is the case with “21 Days,” the debut album from Vacation Forever, the solo project of Zacharias Zachrisson, (aka Lykke Li’s little brother).
“It’s a song about isolation,” says the musician of the title single from his sick bed in Stockholm, where he is recovering from COVID-19. Despite being robbed of his sense of smell and taste, Zachrisson was in a good place, feeling in sync with the current state of affairs. This hasn’t always been the case: “I used to be a troubled kid,” says the 31-year-old musician, who relates that he had been bedeviled by “demons,” including a long-undiagnosed ADHD. “I didn’t understand what the problem was,” explains Zachrisson. “Then I really took care of it, now I have tools to deal with it, but back then, playing live was horrible.”
And playing music seemed inevitable; performing runs in the Zachrisson family—both parents played in punk bands; pop star Lykke Li needs no introduction. But for a long time skateboarding was Zachrisson’s primary passion. He came to music via skate videos and in 2011 co-founded the indie psychedelic rock band Tussilago. Four years later, after suffering a mid-performance panic attack brought on my severe stage fright, the Swede quit music for good, or so he thought.
By 2018 Zachrisson was back at it, performing as Vacation Forever, a name that comes with a dramatic back story. After leaving Tussilago and the industry, he traveled to India where he took a strong psychedelic and had an intense trip in which he says he died and was reborn. “When I woke up, I [was] like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if I’m dead or not. What if I’m dead and I’m stuck on this paradise beach? This is like a horrible vacation forever.” Thus Zachrisson found a name, and a theme, for his new, small-scale, solo project, one that’s all his own. “I’m not like a major pop artist. When [Lykke Li] was 22 she did a world tour, and I’m 31 and doing bedroom pop, but that’s my choice. I’m proud of my sister,” he states.
“21 Days” is the artist’s first album, takes its moniker from a tamer source, the self-help adage that, with discipline and dedication, a bad habit can be broken in 21 days. “I was in a destructive relationship when I wrote the song,” explains Zachrisson who explains he turned to self-help books and the Internet to find a new way forward. The single was written the day after he discovered this habit-breaking method, and just before the onset of the pandemic. It soon became clear that the song, and the album, with its themes of heartbreak, loneliness, and a successful struggle through the dark into the light, were very topical.
Zachrisson describes the sound of “21 Days,” produced by Patrick Berger, as “impulsive”; though he rightly points out that the songs, which range from upbeat and punkish to lightly melancholic don’t fit into a single genre. Uniting the whole is the sing-song sweetness of Zachrisson’s voice and the intimacy of his sound and subject matter. His lyrics often highlight the emotional resonance of everyday things, like a worn-in T-shirt or a lover’s favorite soda.
There’s a teenage bedroom feeling to “21 Days” which was in fact recorded in Zachrisson’s apartment, on cassette. “I hope that people are going to like that raw quality, I really want that to shine through,” he says. ‘“I don’t have the patience to fix stuff or tune stuff. I just want it to be honest and organic and not so well-polished…. I think a lot of music is going in that direction…like, who wants to see something super well-produced?”
Zachrisson’s DIY approach was carried through to the video, which was made in 24 hours using archival iPhone photos, Super8 and VHS footage, and kitchen PhotoBooth recordings that were gathered and Dropboxed to Gustav Stegfors to edit. The resulting video is deliberately nostalgic: “I wanted the feeling to be like the past, because the past was when you were around people, you traveled around, your life was like full of opportunities. And then now you’re just stuck in this fucking situation in your living room. So I just wanted that mood to come through in the video, and I think it does.”
The hands-on authenticity that analog allows is a good fit for Zachrisson’s unfiltered, personal, and emotional music. “I feel way too much,” he says. Yet, having shed some of his demons, Zachrisson is evolving, musically and sartorially, having traded his signature skater boy look into something more rock’n’roll. “Lately, I’ve been representing the music better with clothes,” says the musician who favors wide pants worn high, vintage tees, and a snug leather jacket— “kind of like Mick Jagger on vacation.”