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Yvan Cohen for TIME.
Swedish-born Jonas Anderson, Thailand's hottest country music star, performing live in Nakhon Ratchasima in northeastern Thailand.

WEB-ONLY EXCLUSIVE
'Never Did I Imagine I Would Be Doing Something Like This'
Web-Only interview with Jonas Anderson, the Swedish-born, Thai singing sensation
By ROBERT HORN

ALSO
Swede Sound of Success
The hottest singer in the tradition-steeped world of Thai country music comes from the land of ABBA

Jonas Anderson is blond, blue-eyed and very Swedish. He is also Thailand's hottest country music star, with his debut album, Pom Chu Jonas (My Name is Jonas), selling more than 200,000 copies since its June 15 release. "Never did I imagine I would be doing something like this," says the 27-year-old luk thung (country music) singer. He spoke with TIME reporter Robert Horn before taking the stage for a concert in the northeastern town of Nakhon Ratchasima.

TIME: When you were nine, you came with your parents to live in Thailand. When they returned to Sweden ten years ago, Why did you stay?
Anderson: I fell in love with Thailand. I fell in love with the way of life, the culture, the exotic food... And the people are so warm.

TIME: What music did you listen to growing up?
Anderson: I was a big fan of ABBA, and of Bird Thongchai McIntyre (a Thai pop singer).

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'TIME: What made you decide to try and learn to sing luk thung?
Anderson: I was exposed to luk thung while living in Thailand. I started singing it five years ago. I was at a community event in Khon Kaen and the organizer invited me to sing. I was pretty nervous. It's a difficult style, but I decided to give it a shot. I was totally amazed by the overwhelmingly positive response I got. So I tried to learn more songs to add to my repertoire. I have a total of about 20 now, including the 10 on the album. I always wanted to learn more about music, but never did I imagine I would be doing something like this.

TIME: Pop music is very big in Thailand. Is luk thung popular with Thai youngsters? Are you concerned that the music might die out if young people aren't interested in it?
Anderson: It's a continuing struggle, especially with young people in Bangkok who are exposed to so much Western-style pop music. But luk thung has been having a bit of a revival, especially since the economic downturn, when there has been more emphasis on things like eating Thai food and taking more pride in things Thai, such as Isan (northeastern) and Thai music. I'm hoping in some small way to contribute to this revival. Luk thung music is the most popular music in Thailand, but you might not get that impression in Bangkok. The fans cut across every sector of society and age group, from the littlest tots to old country ladies.

TIME: For those who have never heard the music, how would you describe what luk thung is?
Anderson: It's something like a cross between American country music and the blues. There's a lot of heartbreak in the songs. On the musical side, it's more difficult to describe. It's rendered with a lot of emotion, expressed through vocal techniques, such as severe vibrato, inflecting your voice. There are some scats, but the scales are totally different. The Thai singers express themselves that way naturally, but I have to copy note by note. The music deals with the Thai way of life. It's sad, but very relatable. Then there's mor lam (traditional northeastern Thai style music), which is more difficult. It's almost an Isan form of rap, where the lyrics are more spoken than sung. They're sung over one chord and they don't have any repetition.

TIME: How did you land a record deal?
Anderson: The people from Luk Thung Wethee Thai (the record company) had heard about me through word of mouth. Then we just happened to meet. I had had offers before, but I didn't accept any. I like the concept Luk Thung Wethee Thai offered me, which was something more like a cultural exchange.

TIME: How have Thai luk thung singers responded to a foreigner?
Anderson: The Thai singers have been very supportive and welcoming. They've even offered advice. There is a real sense of brotherhood, a willingness to help each other. Being a foreigner definitely helps. I think what the Thai people appreciate is that a foreigner appreciates their culture and music and is making an effort to learn. It's not competitive at all. The interaction has been really friendly, and that's been quite encouraging for me.

TIME: Can you sing as well as they do?
Anderson: I have a lot to learn before coming anywhere close to Thai luk thung singers. Especially as far as voice control is concerned. What they can do is amazing. I'm still pretty nervous out there. I'm not confident yet.

TIME: What are your plans for the future?
Anderson: I'll just keep touring and keep learning.

TIME: Do you think you will spend the rest of your life in Thailand?
Anderson: It's hard to say. I do love it here, but I do miss Sweden a lot, too. Most importantly, I just hope that in some small way I can show support for Thailand and pay back the Thai people for all the hospitality they've shown me.


NAME: Jonas Anderson

AGE: 27

HOBBIES: Recording music at home, writing songs, amateur photography

LIKES: Languages, music, good movies

DISLIKES: Pressure, intensity, noise

INSPIRATIONS: Reaching out and helping others, the Thai people and their culture

MOTTO: "Every life is precious," and "There is no limit to what you can do if you have determination, faith and initiative, and you don't give up"

FAVORITE FOOD: Thai curries, Swedish roast beef, Italian food

FAVORITE COLOR: Aquamarine

FAVORITE SONG: Yah Jai Kon Jon, My Heart Will Go On, Endless Love, Now and Forever

IDOLS: The King and Queen of Thailand, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi

ALSO
Swede Sound of Success
The hottest singer in the tradition-steeped world of Thai country music comes from the land of ABBA

Features Home | TIME Asia home

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