Jon Strand Looks Like A Total Rock Star

Allt för Sverige contestant Jon Strand jumping with a top hat representing Swedish styleThis outfit is amazing! Where did you wear it? Jon Strand

Zoobilation. I might wear this again for Rev. I love that event.

Where did you find that fabulous hat?

I hate to admit this, but I found it on Amazon. I’d love to say I spent $500 on it at a boutique shop in Manhattan. But then again, not all fashion needs to be expensive.

Your style is so colorful!

Music and fashion go hand in hand. When you look at a band, there should be a certain aesthetic.

You’re not only a musician in your band COASTL, you’re a music producer here, too. What sparked your passion for music?

Growing up, I loved listening to music, singing in church, singing all the time. I saw an ad of a guy with a guitar and all these girls around him and thought, That’s how you do it! Then I started doing music for real. I built a recording studio just outside Fountain Square. I was influenced by a mentor who said, “The best investment you can make is to invest in the people around you.”

The girl I was in love with when I was 16 died in a car wreck. Since I couldn’t process everything, I wrote a song. I’ve always admired the [Rainer Maria] Rilke saying, “Art is often born of necessity.” There’s always a need. I’ll never be able to stop. Indianapolis Colts DJ GNO looked at me one day and said, “You’re a lifer.” The music industry is so hard that a rational person would quit because it’s so saturated, but I’m not complaining. It’s in my body, it’s in my blood. 

How would you describe the Indy music scene?

I would say it’s a burgeoning scene. People in Indiana will be surprised to find there’s a lot of good music in their backyard.

Every month, I’m connecting with new artists in town. It’s like, “Oh shit, there are these pockets of talent all over.” The electronic scene is developing. We have a lot of great singer-songwriters. But if I’m being honest, the scene isn’t quite developed yet. Ruoff [Music Center] is one of the top venues for ticket sales in the country, so we know people love going to shows—but not for local bands. I’ve been told I should leave if I want to do the music I’m doing. But I love Indy, and we need acts to hang around. I’m excited to see how it changes over the next 20 years.

Which musicians influence your fashion style?

Måneskin, Interpol, Billie Eilish, Harry Styles, and Tyler, the Creator. 

Let’s switch topics to your recent adventure in Sweden with its reality TV show, Allt för Sverige (The Great Swedish Adventure). What was that like?

I had no idea how big it was in Sweden. It’s been this crazy whirlwind. I’m trending on Swedish searches!

It’s a show that takes 10 Americans of Swedish descent, and they trace their family roots all over Sweden. There’s a lot of self-discovery involved, and they really focus on telling every person’s story. That’s what makes it beautiful. It’s wholesome. No drama, no fights, no arguments. It’s such a breath of fresh air in reality TV. They try to show the best of people. You compete each week to win—there’s no money, to ensure people are there with good intentions—and the winner gets a big family reunion. The show staff search and bring in all the winner’s Swedish relatives. Even if you don’t win, they give you contacts for your relatives. It’s incredible and priceless.

Why did you apply for the show?

For that question of, “Who am I?” My soccer team in high school called me Sven. When I lived in New York, people came up speaking Swedish to me. That’s why it meant so much to go, see the land and customs. 

What kind of tasks did you face?

Competitions were intense, truly crazy. I don’t ever want to be under that stress again. To be fair, they avoided physical challenges, so it’s usually a mental mind game. One of the challenges: In 10 minutes, we had to memorize the years 30 Swedish songs were written. Another challenge: You go down into this dungeon in a Swedish castle and have to count the plastic spiders, skulls, and rats you find. Then you come back up and have to multiply the number of skulls by the number of spiders by the number of rats to get the combination of a lock to set yourself free. With six or seven cameras staring at you when you’re trying to multiply 7 times 9 times 7. You can’t appreciate that level of stress—duress, rather, is the right word.

In the very first episode, when you stepped off the boat, the first thing you did was kneel down and touch the stones beneath your feet, then take your shoes off and stick your feet in the soil nearby. What was going through your mind? 

On the boat ride over, I took time to be quiet and imagine how it felt for my ancestors to leave their homeland. Sweden’s a country that I’ve loved since I was child because of my grandparents, who are both 100 percent Swedish. When you can fantasize about a place as a kid and then finally get to go, like Disney World, it’s magical. Maybe I wasn’t thinking, but I was feeling. There’s something in the blood that recognizes a part of you is home. Like it’s written in your DNA. To find out that you’ve got self-taught musicians in your ancestry … I found out one of my great-great-grandfathers paid his way over to America playing violin on the boat.

In the show, you mention that you’ve never really felt connected to a home, having traveled a lot as a kid because your father worked for televangelist Billy Graham. What did this journey mean for you?

It was very fulfilling in the sense of identity. My grandfather died, then my mom died of cancer. She was the foundation of our family, and when she died, I went in a tailspin for a while. I just hit the ground. I spent years wondering if I’d ever be OK. But now, I’m reading the stories of my ancestors eight generations back, stories of perseverance and loss and love, and how that love gets passed down through generations. It echoes, and it continues. Because of their decisions, my three beautiful kids in Indiana won’t have to feel that pain. I came back home and my wife said, “This is the most at peace I’ve seen you.”

Anything that surprised you?

Not having a cellphone for the five weeks of filming. We didn’t even get it back on our free weekends when we were navigating Stockholm.

Oh, and the cultural differences were crazy. I was blown away by how Swedish society seeks balance. The Swedish word for balance is a word that means “not too much, not too little.” Mandatory five weeks’ vacation. Their work-life balance is the best I’ve ever seen. No wonder they’re the sixth-happiest country in the world. Sweden’s the third-largest music-producing nation in the world. Such a tiny country, about the size of Chicago, 10 million people, but the third-largest. They’ve also destigmatized so many things over there. Most Swedes will swim naked in a lake in public. One night, a few of us went skinny dipping. After, a producer told us, “Oh, now you are truly Swedish!”

Knowing what you do now, what would you tell 10-year-old Jon Strand, the kid who was searching for home?

Hang in there, little buddy. Just cause you’re figuring out who you are doesn’t mean you can’t walk in confidence.