Susanna’s latest outing ‘Wild Dog’ has garnered a string of rave reviews in its first week on the home market - MIC Norway talks to the prolific composer and performer in this exclusive interview.
Late March sees the release of Susanna's “Wild Dog”, her new album on her “home label”, Rune Grammofon. Somehow, the prolific Susanna finds the time and energy to release a lot of music. As her label home page info points out:
”Wild Dog” is Susanna´s eight album, including three with Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, her ”Norwegian” album ”Jeg Vil Hjem Til Menneskene” and the recent ECM album with Giovanna Pessi. That is effectively one album a year of quality releases since her debut in 2004, indeed a very rare treat these days. Possibly best known for her unique and striking interpretations of iconic songs like ”Jolene”, ”Hallelujah” and ”Love Will Tear Us Apart”, she has also proved herself as an original songwriter with a strong signature. Bonnie ”Prince” Billy has performed and recorded her songs and Mojo named her song ”Believer” as ”one of the greatest break-up songs ever”.
The new album has musical cooperation with strong names and guests like Emmett Kelly from Bonnie ”Prince” Billy´s band and Jeremy Gara from Arcade Fire. Others include Shahzad Ismaily, Jo Berger Myhre and ever-present co-producer Helge Sten (Deathprod). Also appearing is recent nominee for the Nordic Council Music Prize, Ole Henrik Moe, who together with Kari Rønnekleiv form experimental duo Sheriffs of Nothingness.
We met up with Susanna to find out how at all she finds time for all her projects.
Well, I am not sure actually, it has just sort of happened that way! I guess that when you actually record things and when they get released are not necessarily connected. It has been kind of busy lately. One year ago I released the Hofmo album, as I call it (“Jeg vil hjem til Menneskene”), with the poetry of Gunvor Hofmo. And before that I recorded the Henry Purcell album for ECM, so that was actually recorded in 2010 and released just now.
So, do you have a master plan for all this, do you think in terms of 3-year plans or do you just take all the album offers you can get?
It is very much based on what kind of music I want to do myself. On one hand, it is planned from my side, but on the other side it has sort of just happened that way. I wrote the music for the new Wild Dog album before I wrote the Hofmo album. So I just let the songs kind of stay with me for a while, and release them now.
This constant need for change, how important is that for you? New musicians, new ways of recording, new genres? Do you plan everything or is it coincidental?
Somehow I think it is a combination of those two. In the beginning, when I mainly played with Morten (Qvenild, in the Magical Orchestra), I was very focused on just doing that and not doing any other musical stuff. I also worked in a bookstore, and I wanted to use all of my musical energy on a few projects and few people, and it somehow changed along the way. I ended up getting more musical energy, I guess, and along with that I got more ideas for the different things that I wanted to do and people I wanted to work with. The whole thing with Bonnie Prince Billy, for instance, had a lot to do with trying out new stuff and allowing myself to put my music into different situations or constellations, allowing myself to think that that could actually work and it could be good.
Do you find it a bit hard to find yourself in all this? Sometimes you are Susanna solo, and then you are Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, with Morten Qvenild, then solo with a band, and all the time with many different people that you play with. And the music, although everything centres on your voice, of course, the music also changes from band to band?
Yes, well, I think that other people are more confused than me actually. I don’t have any problem with fitting it in. I have a musical intention with all the musical projects and I know very well what all those different things are. I think the main core here is that it is my voice and often my music as well, or my way of doing other peoples songs, so it really doesn’t matter if there are different contexts for me.
In what ways does your new album differ from the other projects you have released lately?
There are other musicians playing on this album, and I kind of early in the process wanted to spend more time building the arrangements on this album, so I spent a lot of time figuring out how to present these songs. But in the end it all came down to the work we all did together. The musicians contribute in a big way, and I actually allowed them to do that. I often have kind of … strict ideas about how I want things to be.
You are a bit of a control freak?
I guess so, yeah. But it was a great pleasure and so much fun to have these great musicians, who I respect a lot, to bring their things into my universe. I think that has been a very good thing for my music.
Why did you want to work with all those different kinds of people on this album?
All the people that play on this album I know from different settings, and I really like what they do. Jeremy, in Arcade Fire, of course, and Emmett, who I played with together with Bonnie Prince Billy. We have been on 3 tours together now. From the start, they had been listening to a lot of my music, especially the album that was my first kind of solo album, with only my songs (“Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos”). So, when we went on our first tour, they said “We really like your songs and we know all your songs. So, you can choose, we can join you and play in your set or you can join us and play in our set”. So I came up with the idea to invite them for the album. I think the result is an album with a little bit different setting for my songs. That has been a great experience for me and I believe that people will enjoy getting to know these songs.
Do you think your music has changed a lot, since you released your first album, back in 2004?
I don’t think so, but maybe it has. I am not sure, because, you try to constantly evolve and kind of expand the field you are working in. I feel that I am constantly on the move, but I think also that my voice and love for melodies are still quite strong.
Would you agree that your first albums music was much more low-key, mellow and melancholic than what you are making now?
Yes, I guess so. That is true. But still, I think there has also been more dynamics live as opposed to the albums. So for people who have listened to what I have done and followed me all the way, I think it is quite easy to see that this is something that goes together somehow. To work with albums are quite different from working with live material, so I have always looked at recording and the live thing as quite different. I think both are necessary for my music, actually. The interaction with the musicians in a studio or in a live setting is both very important so I like them both very much.
This interview can also be heard in its original audio version in the upcoming ’99 Minutes 22’ webcast.
Susanna is also featured as the next performer in the ‘Live At The Office’ concert series which will be streamed live on www.nrk.no on April 10th and posted on this site shortly afterwards.
Susanna On Spotify
Susanna Wallumrød on Facebook