Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun has had quite a busy 2008 year, releasing her third studio-album Changing of the seasons, followed by its naked twin Sketches.
After touring through Europe in the spring and north America this fall, she made another stop in Paris in November for a cosy show in a tiny jazz venue. That’s where I met her, as she stepped off the stage after the sound check.
I just heard you rehearsing a song in french ; a special bonus for the french audience tonight ?
Well, we played this song yesterday [16 november], we did a show for a film festival [cine nordica] at cinema Pantheon. Me, Rebekka, and a guy called Matti Bye, a silent movie pianist. He wrote that song. We thought it could be fine to play it tonight as well !
Do you actually speak some french ?
Nooo... [she laughs] we just tried to do a song. I speak spanish, so I can... kind of relate it.
You used to live in Barcelona for a while, singing in the streets ; did you have your own stuff back then ?
No, I hadn’t really started writing anything, so I played mostly Ben Harper, Ani DiFranco, Joni Mitchell, PJ Harvey... my favourites at the time. I tried to play them as well as I could.
Tonight you will be playing with Rebekka ; can you say a few words about her ?
Her name is Rebekka Karijord, she has released two albums in Norway. She’s Norwegian but she lives in Sweden too, like me. We share a home studio in Stockholm. She’s also an actress, she’s been in many films in Norway. Now she’s working on her third album. She calls herself Rebekka & the mysterybox.
You apparently need someone for the backing vocals ?
Not necessarily ; now on the US tour, it was just me.
Because there are backing vocals even on Sketches, the naked versions...
Yea, but it works without it too. They were written without it, but it’s great when you add them. And it’s a lot of fun to play with a backing vocalist. Sketches was actually recorded before Changing of the seasons. It’s the actual demos for the album, which I sent to my producer Valgeir Sigurðsson in Iceland. But before we recorded the album, we thought these demos were so good, that we were gonna have to release them one day. Because a lot of people ask for the acoustic versions, as I play them live. And I like them, I think it’s a very good collection.
I do most of the backing vocals. The foundations are made by Nina Kinert, and a girl called Rachel Davis. They do it together live, when we record the songs. And then I put up backing vocals on top of that, to make it bigger. And also Linnea, who plays cello, adds a bit too. Armour for instance, was recorded in Iceland, without Nina, so it’s just me and Linnea who sing. We actually called this track “Yma Sumac” because I sing very high, a bit like her !
Have you heard she has just passed away ?
Yea, I heard that yesterday... But she was quite old, wasn’t she ?... I listened to her a bit. I’m really interested in voices, I listen to a lot of stuff, you know... Nina Simone, among others... If the voice is not interesting, then I’m not interested !
Tonight you’re gonna play in a jazz venue...
I love jazz, I grew up with jazz. Listening to everyone. Miles Davis. Mingus. Coltrane... Herbie Hancock.
You played with a Swedish jazz duo called Koop
Yea ! I did one song with them [Koop island blues]. It was their song, but I wrote the lyrics, and they asked me to sing it.
Any further plans with them ?
Yea, maybe ! See what they do on the next album. I like them.
If you were to make a « Duets II », who would you like to play with ?
I don’t know... I just played with Keren Ann in New-York ; maybe I would ask her. Because we played together a few times. I played with her here at the O... Opera... no... how is it called ?...
...Olympia ! I did a support act for her in 2005. And we toured together in the UK.
A few weeks ago, another Norwegian singer performed here, in this venue : Kristin Asbjørnsen ; she made a whole album out of traditional north-american spirituals. I’m sure you would be excited to record something with a gospel choir !
Yea, I guess the backing vocals I’m doing now come closer and closer to a big choir. You never know what happens next, so we’ll see !
Tobias Fröberg did it, I think...
Yea ! He loves big choirs. We’ve just toured together, during four or five weeks. He’s a good friend of mine. Howe Gelb from Giant Sand did that too, he recorded a whole album. Very nice !
Can you tell me how you came up with a cover of Big in Japan ?
It was not my idea. It was for a TV show in Sweden [Stor i Japan, in which two Swedish people are sent to Japan to attempt to become famous there in less than 2 months]. A friend of mine worked on the project, he asked me to do it. I think we were 5 or 6 artists to do different versions.
And your cover of True colours has been chosen for a commercial
These days, you can’t say no to these things... It’s hard to get music out there, so.. And since it’s for a HD format, it doesn’t feel strange. It just gives me a lot of free commercial time on tv for my music [laughs]. It’s important to get some money, cus you don’t sell as much CDs anymore, and it’s so expensive to tour, and to do anything.
How do you work as a composer ? The lyrics come first or ... ?
It’s a bit like a puzzle : I have two or three sentences, then I add a little bit of guitar. It’s very seldom that I have a song with no words. Melody often comes from the words. So, I have a guitar riff, and then a part of a text, and I start improvising on the text. And then to get more melody, I write more lyrics. So it’s like feeding the melody. I don’t really have any songs that are just guitar with “la la la la la la...” Cus a lot of people do that, they write songs singing “la la la la la” and then they put words into it. But I do the other way round. I never make those “la la songs”. I always have words before I make the melody.
You always have something clever to say !
Always ! [laughs]
I guess you’ve often been asked that, but are your lyrics based on your own experience ? Those sad stories...
It’s always through me, somehow. Many of the songs that seem heavy and sad can be just like a real slice of a day, it can be like one bad experience that day, and I write a whole song about it because it kinds of bugs me. But it can also be a long period of time that I’m trying to make a whole song about. It sounds from my albums that I’ve had a horrible life [laughs] but I haven’t ! It’s just that I don’t write about the good times.
On your first album, in Humming one of your songs, you describe yourself as haunted and obsessed by a song ; whose song was it ?
It was a time when I was just learning the guitar, and getting to know other singer-songwriters, in Stockholm , and I kinda realised that when I thought about them, I started singing their songs. Because they were so connected to the music. You know for instance, if I’m thinking about Nina [Kinert], I always have one of her songs in mind. Or Tobias. Or Rebekka. We are close friends. So it’s a nice poetry about friendship.
The way you speed up the words on the treehouse song or the puzzle reminds me of Hello Saferide ; she says she makes songs with “too many words at the same time”
Oh, that’s nice ! I like her. Yea, on this album I’ve done that. I decided to change a little bit, you know, try to make new kind of songs, and one of the things I thought I could do was to put more words. Instead of singing loooong words, I thought I could put more words. And it would sound different. It becomes more rythmical.
Changing of the seasons, the title song, is rather slow on the other hand...
The guitar riff on that song is very much inspired by the guitar playing on one of Ani Difranco songs, actually. I first used it for another of my songs, “the fight song”, and then I picked out the intro and made “changing”.
Who is Gillian ?
Gillian Welch. From America. She’s a songwriter. I listen to her a lot.
Does she know you made a song named after her ?
I sent the album to her record company ; I don’t know if she got it. I don’t want to meet her or anything, it’s just the music that matters. Somehow it will probably get to her someday that I did it !
Do you still have time to manage your own record label ?
DetErMine records is like an artist collective. We are Ane Brun, The Tiny and Wendy McNeil, and we run our own labels underneath. Mine is called Balloon Rangers Recordings, which is not currently managing anyone but me. I don’t have time... I hardly have time for me, so... On the other hand, I can release anything I want, anytime !
Next release ?
A live DVD ! Last september, we recorded a big concert in Konserthuset [the concert house] in Stockholm, where the Nobel prize is given. There was 1400 people, we were 9 people on stage, with a big choir including Nina Kinert, Anna Ternheim, Lisa Ekdahl, Tobias Fröberg, Elin Sigvardsson... a singer-songwriter choir, in fact ! Lisa is a new friend of mine, I just got to know her this year, and Anna is a good friend, and a excellent “colleague”. That was such a great choir, Rebekka was in there too, that was a nice list of people. And First Aid Kit, do you know them ? Two girls signed up on The Knife’s label, two sisters, they are like 16 and 18. We played 27 songs, it’s gonna be a great video, I’m very excited to see this DVD released ! But it’s still in production for now.
interview & pictures - benoît derrier