Kriz was born in the broader community of Hudiksvall, but her family lived in a small fishing village of only 200 households. She had a middle-class upbringing, with her mother at home caring for the family until she was seven. At that point, her mother became a “mail lady” at the post office. Her father worked in the sawmill. She was able to walk to her elementary school in her village, but from seventh grade onwards, Kriz took a bus to and from school. Kriz spent the summers of her childhood at her family’s lake house. Her father built a boat, and Kriz was seven when she first went out in it.
“I’m getting emotional now because he has Alzheimer’s, and his life is degenerating. He built that boat. It had a little engine on it, and he showed me how to start, stop and steer, and how to change the throttle. He started it for me and said, “off you go” and “off I went.” (audio below)
Her father was a keen archer and founder of their village’s archery club. The love of this sport rubbed off on Kriz, and for two years, Kriz held a Swedish national record.
Kriz’s dad also loved listening to country music. During family drives, he always played a mixed tape of Swedish traditional music, old-time rock n roll, and country music. He wanted Kriz to play an instrument, and he chose the accordion – which she didn’t care for. When she was 12, a new music teacher moved to the village, and seeing her dislike of the accordion, suggested Kriz try playing the guitar. Kriz started writing country music when she was 13 years old and figures that she has written over 300 songs to date [see her song binders below].
“ I’ve been told that I have a Swedish accent when I speak but not when I sing.” (audio below)
Over the years, Kriz had several different jobs in Sweden: working in the sound department at a TV station and then on a farm. Before moving to the US, Kriz worked at a ski resort in the winter [see the photo below] and spent the rest of the year driving tractors and harvesting at both a sawmill and a peat moss field. Although she has yet to work as a truck driver – one job Kriz has always dreamed about doing.
“I guess it was a romanticized thing for me – the freedom of being on the roads listening to music.”
Growing up, she knew very little about the US, and never had any plans of visiting. All she knew was that it had a strong military, and it was massive.
“Exactly how big it is you don’t understand until you come here. If you travel from the northernmost point to the southernmost point in Sweden, it will take 10 to 12 hours – the same amount of time it takes to travel one state in the US.”
Kriz became an avid user of the website Myspace, regularly posting her music there. A man from Chattanooga, Tennessee, started frequently commenting on her music. In response, Kriz saw the potential for musical collaboration and sent him a recording of her singing along to one of his songs.
“I threw it out there: ‘Maybe we can do something together sometime?’ The conversation continued, and slowly but surely, we fell in love.” (audio below)
The phone bill was getting so expensive that it would be cheaper to buy airfare and meet in person than continue the long-distance relationship. This Tennessean proposed to her over the phone, but she said she wanted to meet him in person first. In 2008 she came to the US, he proposed, and Kriz said ‘yes.’
Moving to the US was intimidating for Kriz, even though she could already speak English well.
“I was afraid I would do something wrong and stand out.”
The ubiquitous billboards lining the road were one of the first things that struck her about America, along with the incredible number of cars. The highway where she grew up had only two lanes, in comparison to the eight lanes in each direction she now experienced. Kriz could not believe people used drive-thru banks!
“In Sweden you park your car and run errands on foot. Over here you drive-thru everything!”
It was a strange experience being unable to work legally when she first arrived on a K-1 fiancée visa. She used all this free time to learn about American culture by watching the Andy Griffith show. Kriz also started a diary of where and what she ate. The first entry on her list was McDonald’s, where she had a Mcgriddle, something she had never seen in Sweden.
Kriz’s first job in the US was in a medical office answering phones, and next, she worked in a call center.
Kriz and her husband moved from Chattanooga to Nashville because he needed back surgery. After he had recovered, Kriz began working at a chocolate store in a mall where she makes candy, candy apples, and stocks the chocolates. Kriz enjoys the job, and her boss says she would be lost without Kriz.
The first word that comes to mind when Kriz thinks of Nashville is ‘vibrant”.
“You can feel the music in the air. If you are creative, you can feel inspiration just flowing around. It’s definitely touristy, but it has everything – big city life to country life.”
Kriz regularly visits Percy Priest Lake, only ten miles outside of downtown Nashville. After growing up by the water, it’s where she feels most at home in Tennessee.
Kriz misses all the holidays in Sweden, which always seem to be longer and more often there. In Sweden, you don’t put out cookies for Santa at Christmas but instead, leave a bowl of rice pudding. One important holiday in Sweden is Midsommar (Midsummer). It is so dark for most of the year, so they celebrate light! Traditionally young girls pick seven different types of flowers and use these to dream about who they are going to marry. Today most people don’t believe in this custom, but in the past, people did. Superstition amongst the older generation in Sweden was quite common. Kriz’s grandmother was always blaming trolls for any misfortune.
“My grandmother seriously believed in trolls and little supernatural beings living out in the woods or under the cabin. If something was missing, she blamed ‘the little ones.’”
She also misses the Fika culture – the time you socialize over a cup of coffee or a cup of tea (soda or kool-aid for the children) and snack. ‘Having a Fika’ with a friend is part of everyday life in Sweden. Her family always kept cinnamon rolls in the freezer in case someone came over. In nearby Atlanta, there is a large Swedish community and an IKEA store. While Kriz used to enjoy the Swedish meatballs, becoming a vegetarian has made her miss Swedish food less.
It is hard having her parents still living in Sweden, especially with her father’s Alzheimer’s. Kriz is the only person in her family living in the United States.
“They respect my choice, but they miss me, and I miss them.”
What makes it even harder lately is that her husband’s health hasn’t been good, so they no longer sing together. In the immediate future, Kriz will be releasing a small collection of poetry, while still hoping to write that “first million-dollar song.”
*Update: Kriz’s father passed away this year. “God and circumstance would have it that I was there visiting, and he passed away peacefully. Even though I couldn’t stay to attend the funeral, the last verse of my dad’s favorite poem was read to him by his casket for me.” If you would like to listen to more of Kriz’s music, you can visit her Facebook Page.
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© Photos and text by Colin Boyd Shafer | Edited by Kate Kamo McHugh. Quotes are edited for clarity and brevity.