Last year I gave this blog’s coveted best album award to an album by Danish performer Marie Fisker. As I explain in the original review, I discovered the album by accident and was completely blown away by the music. It was just one of those rare albums that did many things that I want music to do and it did them with a simplicity and elegance that kinda took my breath away. I was also aware that some of the reasons I liked it so much were somewhat idiosyncratic, so I knew it was not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But what album is?
After that review appeared, I contacted Marie and eventually we found time to do an interview. For those who enjoyed the album at the time, I hope the chat below offers a bit more insight into her background and how the album came about.
For those who still haven’t had a listen, I hope what follows encourages you to give the music a listen. It is an album that is well and truly worth the risk. And if you are reading this in the Crikey Weekender, you could do worse things than log onto iTunes and download it now!
Tim: As I think I’ve mentioned, I stumbled across your album by accident, and I suspect most of my readers will be unfamiliar with your work. I wonder if you can give us some idea of your background, where you were born, how you got into music, if music is all you do (that is, are you a professional full-time musician)?
Marie: I come from Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, Scandinavia. At my school, music was a priority and I quickly found out that was my way to shine…. To be honest, I wasn’t very good at reading or writing. So I just kept on playing music and ended up attending the music conservatory and got to know a lot of great musicians. I wrote songs and made a small recording studio with Jakob Høyer (The Raveonettes). While he was touring a lot I started recording and spend some time trying to find my own voice. Much of the stuff on my record was made that way, and then Jakob got involved producing as well as playing a great deal of the instruments on my debut album. I worked as a chef from time to time to earn a living while slowly performing more and more.
Tim: Following on from that, can you talk about your musical influences, the sort of stuff you listen to or that inspires you?
Marie: I guess I always liked music that is somehow intense -whether upbeat or slow. I like the music to have a bleeding heart -whether sweet and tender or noisy and rough. It seems I have a tendency to dwell on dusty country music, ecstatic rock ‘n roll & punk and psychedelic. 1950’s pop tunes and folk singers who makes you cry.
Tim: Well, that goes a long way to explaining why I like your album so much! Be interested to know what instruments do you play? Have you had formal lessons – you mentioned the conservatory? Have you ever had any training for that wonderful voice of yours?
Marie: I play guitar and several of the instruments on the album. I used to play some piano, but I rarely do nowadays. I had some training as a singer and what that taught me the most was not to try too hard! I tried to lean on Gillian Welch, being so at ease…that helped a lot. Anyway, there is nothing like experience and just learning by listening to the great masters form all your favorite records right?
Tim: Can you tell us about the music scene in Denmark, which I’m sure most people reading will be unfamiliar with. Is there a thriving live scene? Can you make a living as musician there? What sorts of venues play live music? What is the general arts scene like there and is there much cross-fertilisation between forms?
Marie: Denmark is a VERY small country (5 million people). We’ve actually got a lot of venues and live music happening. As you can imagine there is a small audience, so if you don’t necessarily do mainstream, you need to seek a wider audience abroad. The jazz scene attracted a lot of the great legends in the 60s and 70s, and Copenhagen still has a great scene for jazz music and a well known festival every summer. I also think we’ve got a lot of new indie bands. It’s so easy to record even when you don’t have a big budget, and musicians want to write, record and produce the music themselves. We get a good cut of what our music makes on air play and NCB, so if you write music it’s at least easier than in many other countries to make a living here. I think the general art scene is interesting here and treasured for the most part by the public. The film-making also had an interesting break through in 2000-’10 with Lars Von Trier’s success in making a more challenging approach in that media.
Tim: How did you get to the point that you were ready to record an album? Ghosts of Love sounds to me like such an integrated collection that I’m guessing that you wrote them with an album in mind. Is that right? Was it something you were aiming to do, or was it more a case that you just happened to have some songs and decided to release them?
Marie: I worked a long time on my debut album. Writing songs is one thing, but how to present it and searching for the sound and finding out who I am as an artist took time. I know a lot of really fantastic musicians but it was a concious decision for me to wait until I got the sense of where I wanted to go. I therefore worked alone before I invited musicians to join me in the studio. I’m really happy with the outcome and I learnt a lot. I guess I was determined to wait until all the songs unfolded like they did. As I mentioned, Jakob Høyer helped me produce it and we ended up on the same wavelength inspiring each other in a great way.
Tim: That empathy really comes across; it’s real hand in glove stuff. I wanted to ask you this next question because it’s something I’ve asked a few musicians: Critics love putting musicians into categories and I know most musicians avoid that sort of labelling. But I wonder how you would describe your music to someone who hadn’t heard it?
Marie: It’s basically a blend of rock, blues and folk/country music. With maybe a twist of an imaginary mysterious haze around it, a bit like a David Lynch movie with a slidely bitter-sweet flavor and Rock ‘n Roll.
Tim: Glad to hear you use the David Lynch reference as I’ve used it myself when telling people about your album. A slightly technical question. Can you tell us about how the album was recorded, the technical set-up? I believe you used a home studio, but could you also talk about the instrumentation. I love the sound you get, particularly the guitar sound, and was curious what elements were involved in achieving that.
Marie: We started up with one microphone and an M-box , to having a great little studio with great pre-amps, ribbon mics, vintage guitars and outboardgear. But most of all, we learned by doing and listening! Jakob is a very gifted musician and has recorded most of the guitars and took over all the technical stuff in recording the album. He is a greatly skilled jazz drummer, but the guitars is a new thing for him, so we had to learn along the way. Rune Kjeldsen who is the guitarist in my band is just amazing, as well as the bass player Anders Christensen (Paul Motian, The Raveonettes). We also had Nikolaj Nørlund doing the mixing – and I think he did a great job.
Tim: Can you tell us about the other musicians you worked with on the album? The playing is so beautifully controlled and understated: you seem to know each other well.
Marie: Jakob and me has been a couple for 10 years now, so we know each other very well! As he came to be more and more involved in the process of making the album, we also rented a small cottage for a while in the country side and took all our gear with us. That was a lovely way of isolating ourselves and experimenting with directions on the sound. He has his own career as a drummer and tours a lot. Luckily we get along making music very well.
Tim: There is a stunning Gillian Welch/David Rawlings cover on the album. How did you come to choose that?
Marie: As I mentioned I’m very fond of both David Rawlings and Gillian Welch. I fell in love with country music some years ago and some friends of mine introduced me to to their records. I was amazed, and sitting by the piano one day I made this version which developed into a drone of guitars in a kind of Jesus and Marry chain vibe to it. Steen Jørgensen, who sings with me is one of my favorite singers of all time. I love his raw, sensual and cool integrity! He sings in a band called Sort Sol, which is an amazing band. A Punk Rock legendary band in Dk like The Birthday Party and Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds are in Australia I guess!
Tim: Yeah, he has a certain Nick Cave quality, though he manages better to stay in tune. My last question is about what is next. Do you have plans for another album? What does the immediate and mid-term future hold? And, most importantly of all, is there any chance of a visit to Australia?
Marie: Jakob and me have started composing and recording in our studio. I feel very confident in the process at the moment. I find the approach a bit different as we now explore in the studio while making most of the songs together. We love to dig into the sound right away, being inspired from where we ended up with the last record. Let’s see what happens. I hope to release a new album spring 2011. I’m touring some in Germany too. I wrote a song with Anders Trentemøller for his album Into The Great Wide Younder released in May. It’s been a thrill to collaborate with him and I’m very excited about the song we wrote called ‘Sycamore Feeling’. I’ve got other collaborations going on as well this year. But most of all I hope to bring my music abroad and find ways to release my records. I would love to come to Australia and tour with my band!!! I know you’ve got a great scene in Melbourne and lot’s of exiting bands there. But I guess it’s a little bit to expensive for my budget …at least for now.
Tim: Thanks for talking with me, Marie. Would love to see you and the band here sometime. In the meantime, good luck with the new album.