Karin Anna Helena Nilsson grew up in Borlänge, a Swedish town of about 40,000 people in the area where those little wooden horses come from that are painted red.
The young Karin was “terribly shy” and always felt out of place in the town whose highlights are dueling iron and paper mills. She turned to music instead of finding friends. Karin excelled playing the recorder, then the flute and eventually the oboe. The oboe was her specialty and she became good enough to be admitted to the Music Conservatory in nearby Falun.
When music school turned out not to be what she was looking for, Karin moved south to Malmö to study political science. That didn’t last long. She bounced between warehouse jobs and landed working horrendous hours for an express delivery company. Finally, enough was enough and she needed a drastic change.
“Catface” packed her bags for Brighton, UK, to study English for five months. “It was the best decision of my life. I liked England so much I ended up staying for 7 1/2 years!”
Karin recalls, “Looking back, it feels like my life didn’t really start until the move to England. I did all kinds of things over there… worked at a bank, worked in a café, did a degree in Media Studies and won an award for my dissertation, tested video games for a living, became a crazy party girl, took lots of photographs of people in night clubs, studied for a Master’s in Photography then dropped out, had two long-term relationships, very briefly sang in a band.”
She thought she’d stay in England forever, but recently decided to give Sweden another try. Still in reverse culture shock after half a year in Stockholm, Karin speaks English with the accent and hilarious slang that comes from the language’s home country. She uses the word “fancy” instead of “would you like,” she says “well” instead of “really” (as in “it’s well sunny today”), “jumper” instead of “sweater” and ends sentences with “innit?” She also winks a lot and refers to herself as “Catface.” Bloody brilliant, innit?
Naturally, when I met me mate for a chitchat about bits n’ bobs, she showed up wearing one of her trademark furry jumpers.
PHOTOS BY EMILY DAHL
How many hairy sweaters do you have?
Do you wish you had more?
I do. I wish I had the one Lana del Rey has in the advertising campaign that ran last autumn for H&M.
It’s a bit pink, I think, and fluffy.
You like dropping out of schools, don’t you?
Tell me about that.
[seven seconds] I’m struggling to think of a reason.
Do you choose the wrong schools, the wrong things to study?
Yeah, I think I chose the wrong things to study.
Well, I thought they seemed right at the time but then I realized they weren’t right. I’ve dropped out of quite a few things.
Is it hard for things to keep you interested?
I suppose, yeah. I don’t like doing stuff unless I’m really good at it. [six-second pause] I don’t know if I’m really warmed up for this interview.
Okay. Maybe you’ll like this one… [laughter] You’re a real crack up. I love how you call cookies “biscuits.”
[laughter] Thanks. What’s a crack up? I crack you up?
You crack me up. It’s pretty funny. [laughs]
I feel a bit nervous.
I don’t know. It feels like I’m being, like…
Is it too confrontational for you?
No, but you just look a bit evil. [laughter]
I don’t usually? I don’t usually look evil?
Should I try to look more “fun” like we’re usually having fun?
Yeah, just be more of your usual clowny self. [laughter]
Not staring into your soul?
Yeah, I feel like you’re trying to stare into my soul and it’s making me nervous.
All right. Why do Americans think British people are so funny?
You tell me.
I don’t know. I mean, do British people think Americans talk funny, even though Americans talk “right?”
Are you talking about the way they talk?
Well especially that.
Not just about being funny.
Well, yeah I think it sounds funny because it sounds a bit made up.
No, American accents.
American accents sound made up?
Because it’s something people just use on TV and in movies. [laughter] It’s not actually a real way of speaking. It’s not the proper way of speaking. [laughter]
That’s how I feel when I meet somebody with a British accent. It’s so funny. I’m like, “Cut it out, what are you doing? ’ello, ’ello?”
That’s why you’re making fun of me all the time?
I’m celebrating you all the time. [laughter]
Well, it sounds like you’re just taking the piss.
I’m just taking the piss.
Taking the mickey.
What do you think is funny? What makes you laugh?
Do you mean it? Wait, in a good way?
Mostly in a good way.
You make me laugh.
I really appreciate that.
You’re funny… both as in funny ha-ha [laughs] and funny peculiar. [short pause] I feel like we’re in a TV interview or something.
There’s nobody watching.
No, I know, but it feels a bit stiff. Or maybe that’s just me. And it’s your stern face.
You look really concentrated. I guess I’ve never seen you at work before. [laughter]
Do you know any jokes?
[laughs] Not that you wanna hear.
I wanna hear whatever jokes you have.
I can only think of that really bad one.
Let’s hear it.
No, it’s terrible.
Let’s hear it.
I told it to you before. [laughter]
Did I think it was funny?
I wanna hear it.
I’m basically like my mother trying to tell a joke.
Yeah? She’s not very funny?
No she always like skips totally to the punch line. She misses the point and she jumps straight to it and then she stops herself and reminds herself… [laughter]
“Oh wait, I told it wrong.”
Tell me about when you were studying to be a classical musician. How old were you?
I was 19 and I’d come straight from (high school) and I played the oboe lots and I was really good at it. Then I got into the Konservatoriet [Music Conservatory] which is quite prestigious.
And I was like, “Yeah, I wanna be a musician because I love playing the oboe and I love music in general.”
I studied music theory and stuff. I got in and then once I was there – when music wasn’t just an interest anymore, when you had to do it all day, every day – and people there were really ambitious. They would go like, [desperately] “Oh, I haven’t practiced. I’ve only practiced for like four hours today. I need to go and practice some more.” [laughter]
To me, that kind of killed the joy of it. I felt like life should be about more than just classical music because everyone there is a bit like… If you wanna be a classical musician you have to be a bit of a nerd and a bit crazy, and you can only really care about music and about being really good at your instrument. And I was just good at it anyway, but not “good.” [laughs] So that’s why dropped out.
Okay, I was gonna ask if you quit because there were no electronic drums or dark moody people with new wave haircuts singing in the band.
No, I hadn’t discovered new wave by then. But I found that, because I listened to hip-hop and other things, and I started listening to like death metal and stuff around that time… I thought the two musical worlds kind of collided a bit. I found it a bit incoherent. I couldn’t really make sense of myself; if I wanted to be the classical musician person or, I don’t know, a death metal girl. [laughter]
But then when you ended up singing in a band in England. That was not really classical music.
No, that wasn’t classical music.
What was that like?
Well, I basically discovered more sort of synthy and new-wavey eighties music when I was living in Brighton. Then I met some friends, Tom and Liam, who were DJ-ing and had their own club nights. We became best friends and I started DJ-ing with them. Liam made some music on his “groove box” [laughs] and he asked me if I wanted to sing with him and start a band. So we did… and we recorded two whole songs.
Yeah, we didn’t get very far because I wasn’t very good at writing lyrics.
Who are you, really?
[short pause] I don’t know. [laughter]
I don’t know!
Who do you think you are? I mean, who do you think you are?
That’s what I’m trying to find out all the time and that’s what gets me really down sometimes. I’m trying to figure out what I want to do.
Do you have to figure that out?
No, I guess it’s a work in progress, but sometimes it gets me a bit down when I feel like I’m not really particularly good at anything. [laughs] I wanna find something that I’m good at doing and that I really enjoy doing. Or maybe just something I’m really good at doing and I will enjoy doing it.
Do you have any super powers?
Super powers? [laughs] Not really… that I’m aware of.
Because I heard – I know you’re not British, but maybe you learned while you were there – because I heard that British people can fly. Is that true?
No, I can’t fly. Sadly.
When you travel do you take a lot of stuff or do you travel light?
I usually take quite a lot of stuff because I tend to pack in about five minutes.
You just grab everything?
I just grab everything, throw it into a bag and then I end up using less than half of it.
What’s your deal with semicolons?
[smiling affectionately] I just think they’re brilliant!
Tell me about semicolons.
Well I discovered them when I was at university. I guess most people don’t really know what they’re used for and people just use them for winky smileys. [laughter]
I was even told to remove some from my CV by someone who gave me their opinion… basically because I think she didn’t understand what they were doing there.
I discovered them in academic literature and stuff and once I discovered the purpose of them I fell in love with semicolons. I think I tend to over use them now because I know how to use them.
Do you feel like you are maybe an evangelist for semicolons? Do you tell people about them?
I haven’t yet but I think I might do. Yeah. Maybe that should be my mission. Maybe I should become a semicolon evangelist.
I know you’re really into language and spelling, and are you also into punctuation with the same fervor?
Of course! I love punctuation.
Does your dad ever cook and if so like what is his favorite thing…
[interrupting] Why are you asking me about my dad?
You live with your dad.
Do you have to put that in the interview?
You temporarily live with your dad because you just moved back from England.
Yes, I temporarily live with my dad. He never cooks when he’s down in Stockholm. When he’s in Stockholm all he has for dinner is crisp bread with avocado, but at home he cooks a lot.
Like when you were growing up?
Yeah, he used to cook quite a lot.
What do you like that he makes, does he have a speciality?
[five seconds] I’m trying to think. He likes to experiment in the kitchen these days. It’s not always that great. I always moan about the fish not being cooked properly.
He’s really quite good at cooking, but when I was little he would make pancakes. They would always be a bit burnt, in my opinion, but that’s just the way he likes them.
I always preferred my mum’s pancakes because they were a lot thicker and less… brown.
Do you ever have American pancakes? Are they too puffy for you?
No, I quite like American pancakes. I have them sometimes. I Instagrammed some when I had pancakes for breakfast. [laughter]
That’s what you’re supposed to use Instagram for, right?
Yeah, have you seen the picture?
I don’t remember it.
It’s on my Instagram. You can check it out. [laughs]
Finish this sentence, “When I wake up in the morning I…”
…feel like dying. [laughter]
[laughing] We have so much in common!
Either that or I feel like going back to sleep. Every time.
What’s the first thing you say
when you wake up? “Fuck”?
Probably. [short pause] If my dad’s in the flat I’ll say, [struggling to speak…] “Turn on the telly.” [laughter]
Do you watch “telly” in the morning?
Yeah, I watch the news in the morning to wake me up.
Yeah. Is it Godmorgon Sverige (”Good Morning Sweden”)?
Yeah, I usually watch it about… watch the news about three or four times before I leave for work.
Oh, right, because it repeats.
Why did you tell me you’re not ticklish when you obviously are?
Why do you think doofus? [laughter]
Why do I think you’re ticklish?
Why do you think I told you I wasn’t ticklish? So that you wouldn’t tickle me, obviously.
Well, it’s just gonna be like “Oh I can tickle her as much as I want. It won’t make any difference.”
Well why would you? Why would you tickle someone who’s not ticklish, it wouldn’t be any fun.
It’s kind of weird when people aren’t ticklish isn’t it? Like it doesn’t do anything to them.
Yeah, that is weird.
I wonder if there is a parallel between people who are ticklish and people who are… if it’s a hormonal thing or a genetic thing or a natural. Like if it’s people who are super confident are not ticklish. Like you, you’re really confident so that’s probably why you’re not ticklish.
Uhhh… yeah. [Laughter].
What’s the biggest source of stress in your life? Other than me trying to tickle you on a train?
Oh my God, everything’s stressing me out at the moment! [laughter]
Can you pick one that’s the biggest?
Finding a job that I won’t hate. Just finding a job. Finding something to do that I enjoy doing. I feel stressed out about the fact that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.
Yeah, it’s pretty impossible to find a job. That’s the worst.
Yeah, yeah. I feel stressed out about that. I wanna be good at something, I wish I had like a natural talent at something.
I think you do. I think you’re being too hard on yourself. I don’t think you’re letting yourself shine.
Yeah, I don’t really know how to.
Have you ever thought of being a comedy writer?
No, that never occurred to me.
Okay, or a writer.
Do you think I should be?
I think you’re really fucking funny.
I’m only funny when I’m with you, maybe we should write comedy together.
Maybe we should, maybe we should do an improv group. [laughter] “Hello, I am a character that does this for a living. Nice to meet you.”
What do you mean? We should do it, just the two of us, or that we should take classes?
No, we should not even take classes. We should just book a show and perform.
Yeah, I’ve thought of suggesting to you that you should do stand up comedy or something because you’re really funny.
Is that a fact?
Stand up comedy’s gotta be the hardest job in the world – the most unrewarding job – unless it works. But if you stand up there for 15 minutes and then it only works for 8 minutes, those other 7 minutes are like the longest minutes of your life… You could help me write material.
Maybe. I’ve never really tried writing anything except for academic stuff.
Well, just write academic stuff but then add some jokes into it.
[laughter] Maybe I should try that.
The world’s funniest academic papers.
The world’s funniest semiotic analysis.
When Emily was taking your pictures today…
[interrupting…] She didn’t take any pictures of my butt. No. [laughter]
Okay, I’m gonna have to talk to her about that. Because I specifically requested only pictures of your butt.
[laughter] Well, I don’t actually know. I only saw one picture that she took and that was of my face.
Did she, at any time, ask you to pick up things off the ground? [laughter]
Okay, then she probably didn’t any pictures of your butt.
She focused quite a lot on my face.
On your face? Huh. Interesting, That’s gonna make for an unusual magazine. [laughter] What’s your best side of your face, did you all talk about that? Do you have a good side?
No I don’t know, I don’t know if I…
You’re fairly symmetrical.
I don’t know if I have a good side.
Have you ever ridden a horse?
You know I have. Don’t you?
I don’t know.
Haven’t I told you?
I used to love horses when I was younger.
Yeah, I always wanted my parents to buy me a horse. I kept thinking, like I was always day dreaming about having a horse. I would read books about, like you know, books for young girls about girls that had horses.
Girls love horses.
Yeah, I loved horses so much. I wasn’t into boys until I turned 13. Before that my bedroom walls were covered in pictures of horses. I would always think that my parents would come into me one day and say “Karin, we’re buying you a horse.” I kept asking them to buy me a horse and I thought the day would come when they said that… But no.
Well, they’re quite expensive.
I thought that I deserved a horse. Yeah.
And they eat.
And my mum is scared of horses.
What is it that girls find so fascinating about horses? Why are they so much prettier than cows or goats?
Well you can’t ride goats or cows… [laughter] but they’re really sensitive animals and you need to show them a lot of respect and you need to show them who’s in charge.
I think it’s like being around horses is a really good way… it’s a really good thing for girls to do when they’re growing up because you have to show them who’s the boss and if you’re scared they will notice.
Right so it’s a way for girls to learn to be assertive?
Yeah, yeah. Assertive, that’s the word.
Would you rather be deaf or blind?
Deaf, I suppose.
Deaf-initely. [laughs] I can’t imagine not being able to see, that would be horrible. What if you went on a date with someone and they were really ugly.
You’d be able to feel it. You’d be able to feel everybody’s faces.
Eww. That’s creepy. What if they’re all, like, “beardy” and have weird glasses?
I have a beard and very normal glasses… Well, Karin, that’s it.
Really? [laughs] That’s the silliest interview I’ve ever read in your magazine.
You don’t have to read it, you lived it. Did you think I should ask you about something else?
Anything else you wanna talk about?
No, I thought you would be tougher on me. [laughter]
I thought you’d buckle easier. [laughter] I was handling you with velvet gloves.