28 January 2008

Interview with Anne Marie Almedal

First in a series of interviews from people we want to learn more about. We'll give away two iTunes downloads of her new CD The Siren and the Sage after randomly drawing those who leave comments or link to this interview. email met at csquard@gmail.com to be sure you've gotten your entry in.

if you’re still there when it’s all over
I’m scared I’ll have to say
that a part of you has gone
since yesterday
and as we sit here alone
looking for a reason to go on
it’s so clear that all we have now
are our thoughts of yesterday

“Since Yesterday” The Siren and the Sage

The lyrics of Norwegian songstress Anne Marie Almedal reflect love and love lost, yet they hardly reflect where she is. After being part of the Velvet Belly for ten years (and winning a Norwegian Grammy in the process), she’s happily married, a mother, and catching a glimpse of a global audience for her life’s calling after being featured as a New Release on iTunes. Her voice is unique, her words simple yet poignant.

CC: Let’s begin at the beginning. You are from Kristiansand, a large town on the Southern coast of Norway. Describe Kristiansand and Norway.

Anne Marie: Yes, I come from Norway, the picture postcard place of endless Scandinavian pine forests, fjords, northern lights, midnight sun - and yet with an underbelly of high suicide rates, loneliness and an intense "social democracy" that unwittingly numbs a vast amount of it´s people. I live in the Southern coast, the so-called "bible belt.” The coastline is rugged with the crashing waves of the North Sea, and we are 300 or so kilometers south of the capital Oslo - in the love-hate, but proud city of Kristiansand.

CC: You studied Theology in your University years. How has faith been a part of your life and your music?

Anne Marie: Faith has always played a major part of my life. My grandfather was a priest, a major figure in the family, so religion naturally figured in my upbringing. The perennial questions of faith are fascinating and necessary for me, you, and everyone we know--whether they like to admit it or not! Music can feel uplifting in the same way as religious faith. It takes you to the wide open spaces of beauty where you can lose yourself and feel truly happy, a place with no fear.

CC: You studied at the Music Conservatoire of Rotterdam. How did your time their impact your music?

Anne Marie: I studied voice in the "light music" department, which means I touched everything from cabaret to jazz to pop. This knowledge and serious study of voice had a big impact on me. It opened up my musical horizons and perhaps added a vital edge to my own songwriting and performance. As artists, we should never stop searching for new ideas and approaches - and as well as teaching others. Even now in the Music Conserveratory in Kristiansand, I am equally glad to attend other voice seminars - as an ever-keen pupil - like recently at the amazing "Institute for living voice" series I attended, with a seminar given by an amazing American, vocalist/composer Meredith Monk.

CC: Are there any common traits in Norwegian music?

Anne Marie: In these globalized times, the borders just get smaller and the ideals (and idols) get closer. Norwegian music does maybe have a certain addictive melancholy and melody that is perhaps quite unique. You just have to lose yourself to Jan Gabarek´s soundscapes, Kings of Convenience, A-ha – you name it! The quality has always been there, but in recent times the rest of the world has finally begun to listen…

CC: Do you see yourself as a singer or a songwriter?

Anne Marie: Singer, Songwriter, Siren, Sage

CC: What is it like to be an artist and a mother? How do these different aspects coexist for you?

Anne Marie: In these -me me MySpace “I don´t want kids” - times, sometimes you wonder whether female artists are really scared of having children and finding a balance with their career ambitions. It really shouldn’t be an issue. Of course having children means less freedoms; at the same time, it brings discipline, purpose, and focus. Studio time and touring is much more of a logistic jigsaw puzzle these days – especially with my husband (Nicholas Sillitoe), who is both in the studio and performing live with me.
All in all, my two children have been a huge inspiration for me…and it feels very harmonic.

CC: Your first release, The Siren and the Sage, is a beautiful recording.

Anne Marie: For this album, the primary concerns were warmth, beauty, and organic delivery. We did much of the recording in a vast disused factory space, where the long natural reverbs defined much of the character of the album. A sound to lose yourself in. The “Siren” is indeed a voice of beauty, driving the listener away from the path…dangerous in the sense that it can overwhelm you. The “Sage” is perhaps the wisdom of femininty…very much based on my own experiences as a vocalist and being a seasoned explorer in the labyrinth of the music industry. But, perhaps the message is just simple. There is so much love and freedom in this album. Like floating in water, looking at the sky, the clouds and dreams that come and go...

CC: What do you draw your inspiration from?

Anne Marie: Quiet suburban roads, lonely lampposts, the deep red sunsets over pine trees in my garden. This is what I see from the window when I sit down by a piano and write songs. Magic moments of solitude and joy.

CC: And the words?

Anne Marie: Love and Loss, somewhere between the alpha omega rush of falling in love and out of love. My words are personal, yet with emotional layers I clearly want others to relate to. Issues of faith, dreams, melancholy, yes! – but at the same time full of hope. On my new album songs like “Trouble” tackle the delights and trappings of unfaithfulness. “Monterosso” is simply my own heavenly experience of hearing the distant sound of nuns singing in Italy while I was in a half-awake state, how moments, sensations, places can just take you away. I hope listeners can take their own experiences, feel somewhat mirrored by the lyrics and delivery; after all, the words to the songs are like the script to the film--essential!

CC: Your voice has so much warmth and heart, yet you’ve been an artist really your whole life and have a technically trained education. Where does the intimacy of these songs come from?

Anne Marie: Again, it´s maybe the result of growing up in a small coastal town, with innocent suburban dreams and ambitions. Close to nature, close to God, being in tune with the voice within. When people refer to my songs and “sound” they often tune in to a sense of loneliness and at the same time a feeling of togetherness. Maybe this is emphasized by the quietude of my own writing process, my surroundings and also the openness of the production.

CC: Your album is available at iTunes, which has to be pretty exciting.

Anne Marie: iTunes, digital Downloads – yes tomorrow is indeed now!
Being a front page featured new release just recently on iTunes in the US and having at least for now the chance to be discovered in the digital (and legal) Apple music supermarket is wonderful news! It can really take a long time before Warner will ever release the “physical” cd in the US – so for now iTunes, Amazon etc. is where it´s at!

To reach music lovers and new listeners via their laptops, iPods and with airplay on cutting edge stations like California’s KCRW – this is all a really good step forward. Feedback from the US has been really positive so far, so I hope all this can eventually lead to some live performances in the States! I love to perform in in an acoustic setting, stripped from all the studio trickery. We are five people on stage; no drums, no bass,but a lot of heavenly sounds and timeless folksy grooves! And truth is, I love to travel and perform… so as long as Warner Music delivers what is promised, we´ll be there. Quiet and very proud! Meantime, I’ll be close to home. There are festivals and live gigs to plan and play, songs to sing, day to day promotion, management, and of course the joy of family life. I’m actually starting some new recording sessions tomorrow. Inspired and full of light and love!

Anne Marie can be found on MySpace, and head to iTunes to download The Siren and the Sage.

(photos: Julie Pike, courtesy of Warner Music, all rights reserved)


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