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OUT NOW: ANE BRUN
The sound of freedom
Ane Brun is just about to release her first album for four years. We met up with her to talk about the new, more extrovert and dynamic work. “Ane Brun, but with more beats,” she says.
When I walk through the large French doors into Ane Brun’s kitchen on Södermalm it’s a typical rainy, end-of-the-summer Stockholm day. Her quiet, very sweet friend Camilla has greeted me at the door and led me to Ane, who is sitting by a window, blonde head perched on her palms and staring out. It’s a scene that perfectly captures the Swedish-adopted Norwegian pop and folk darling. Camilla and I look at each other and smile. Another five seconds or so go by before Camilla says in a small excited voice: “Ane, this is Koko!” She comes to, a bit startled and her eyes widen with a generous smile before I sit down at the table across from her.
The rain continues to fall outside of the glass windows while tea and small talk are made. In person, Ane is as down to earth as a distant relative, kind and charismatic, her conversation regularly punctuated with giggles and smiles. I feel very much at home in this cozy space with colourful knick-knacks and mugs all over the place. The weather outside is a perfect backdrop for her tales about her melancholy infused music, which I have been listening to all morning. This is painful and embarrassingly obvious when she comes around from behind the table to help me connect to the WIFI and sees windows of windows of her work open on my desktop.
There is the video for her hit song Do You Remember, made together with frequent collaborator Magnus Renfors, which has amassed over five million views on Youtube and also features Swedish darlings First Aid Kit “aye-oing” in the chorus. Then there’s her cover of Arcades Fire’s Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) that can reduce even the most burly of men to a whimpering wrecks in the fetal position. It sounds even more enchanting with her singing acoustic than with a 12-piece big band accompaniment, amongst other tabs containing songs and songs of her back catalogue.
She has built quite an extensive library over the last ten years or so. “Ane’s music is like a great ocean housed under the roof of a great old theater, where pictures are hung from the threads of the music shooting out, so it really does the job itself,” Renfors has said of her music.
Since her 2003 debut Spending Time With Morgan, Brun has been captivating the heartstrings of Europe. This is where she premiered her oceanic vocals that swallow and crash against even the most buried of emotions. Her music gives us permission to cry, to rejoice or to be quietly angry. It weaves in and out of your senses, reverberating against them. Since then she has gone on to record eight albums, one live DVD, played stadiums of 20,000 people, racked up multiple hits and Norwegian Grammys, and toured with Peter Gabriel. Not bad for a girl who started singing and playing guitar as a hobby.
The world has curiously watched her grow from a novice with a good voice to master musician who commands the attention of an amazed audience before she hits her first note. With When I’m Free (out September 4), Brun celebrates her first studio album in over four years. If it sounds different to what you are used to, that’s because it is – a collection of bright, hard-hitting and jubilant songs.
There are more beats and melodies this time around, and Brun’s vocals float over them like a bird that wants nothing more than to soar. Co-produced with Tobias Fröberg the album pays homage to the energy of her adolescence, days spent listening to DJ Shadow, DJ Crush and a lot of trip-hop and electronica as well as the jazz roots of her childhood, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington and the like. The result is a raw yet refined sound that her fans and music lovers alike are sure to enjoy.
When did you realize you wanted to stay in Stockholm?
I had been here for four, almost five years and I remember thinking that if I stay here now it will be for a long time, and if I don’t want that then I should go now. Five years is a long time, and as I was getting older I was thinking now my grown-up life is getting decided, so I should decide. Then I just stayed. I have traveled so much and have been to so many cities and countries now and there is nowhere else I would want to live but Stockholm.
Do you think Stockholm has influenced your music?
I think very unconsciously. I know so many musicians and artists here and also I listen to so much new music all the time. I think we inspire each other even if we don’t know. I think as artists we follow the trends of music, which I don’t think I have done much, but I think it just incorporates itself naturally. I would probably sound different if I lived somewhere else of course.
What brought you back to your influences of your teenage years for this album?
Maybe it’s the natural cycle of how people listen to music – you always go back to 20 years ago at some point. I’m starting to go back to that time in my life mentally and reconnecting with my younger self, so it just happened naturally. I’d just been listening to music that I loved back then and which I still liked, and I made a playlist for my co-producer. We talked about what I liked about it, why it was so good and what kind of elements I would want to pick up and put into my sound. I wanted to bring some beats and rhythm into my music because I felt like moving a little bit on stage and having a different atmosphere, not just standing still. For me the most natural reference was that kind of music. It feels very organic and not very mechanical, even though it’s electronic. So we started analyzing, we discussed the sound of the double bass on one track or the sound of beats on another, like trying to make Ane Brun but with more beats.
You surprised many with your dancing in the video for your song *Directions*. Was dancing an easy task for you?
It’s something that I wanted to do! When I was thinking of ideas for the first video, I thought, the only thing I know is that I wanted to dance. It was a challenge for me but I needed to bring back the dance in my life. I was a gymnast when I was younger and I did ballet as well, so dance was my life until my 20’s. When I started playing guitar it was like I forgot about it. Then when I wasn’t playing guitar on stage it was like, “what am I going to do with my hands?”
I thought, ‘What’s the problem? I know how to dance.’ Then I decided to do the video and I had the choreographer teach me a routine. I practiced it during my tour and I realized it wasn’t that hard, just the physical part being able to do the moves.
What were you mainly listening to when you were a kid?
I had very broad taste. My mom was a jazz musician and my dad was a jazz aficionado. We had all the classic albums and we grew up in a city that had a jazz festival each year, all the big jazz stars came. My mom was really active in that scene so I would go with her every year. I listened to Prince and Madonna and all that stuff but at the same time I listed to Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald. The first concert I actually remember enjoying was a Herbie Hancock show. I was seven. I was exposed to free jazz and different kinds of world music from an early age. I was a gymnast and I was always looking for instrumentals for my shows, so my taste was very broad from an early age – of course I loved pop music but the interest in music was there from an early age.
How supportive was your family when you were just starting out? You have a lot of artists in your family, so were they surprised?
I started playing pretty late, I was 21 when I started playing and my first gig was at 24. I don’t think they thought I was going to be doing this, since I was doing so many things at the same time and studying. My dad was very worried about money and stuff but then when my first check came in he stopped asking questions. (laughs)
Did you make music to appeal to masses or as a personal journey? And were you surprised by how receptive people were to your music?
I started because I wanted to do something creative again since I stopped dancing, I wanted to do something for me. The first two years I was in my room alone learning guitar, it was a new found love for me. When I started playing songs I played them for my friends. I didn’t feel nervous and I never really felt the ambition to be a musician – that came later when I played more songs and played more gigs. It just kind of naturally grew into something I wanted to do, it was very gradual, not something that I pre-determined and fought for, it just sort of happened. When my first album came out I was just like, ‘Oh OK, I guess this is what I am doing!’
How do you think Nordic life has influenced your music?
We have a certain safety net here, like someone will take care of us if something happens. It makes us different since we have the luxury of being picky, we have the luxury of not compromising. I think you have to compromise more now because it’s hard to survive as a musician. Musicians in the United States tour so much it’s crazy. You don’t say no to things because you have to pay your bills, but if something happens to me I can always fall back in social security. So it’s safer. The welfare system here is a big factor.
And I’m very influenced by the climate. I don’t love heat. I love the autumn when things cool down. I don’t mind winter.
A lot of your videos have a very cinematic vision, much like the songs. Do you visualize the music and the videos while you are making them?
I’m not very visual in that sense. I always give the song to someone who I know and I like his or her stuff. The only things I knew about the last video was that I wanted to dance. The other videos have been collaborations where I go to the director and present something, I don’t really give them anything except if I want to be in it or not (laughs). I’ve worked with Magnus Renfors many times here in Stockholm, who always comes with crazy ideas that he always makes happen.
This album sounds like it’s inspired by love and strength, with songs like You Lit My Fire, All We Want Is Love, Hanging and Miss You More, any subtle messages you are trying to tell a special someone?
(Laughs) I think all my albums have those relationship songs. All the songs aren’t from the last year, it’s material I’ve created through many years. I don’t know. Hanging is like a kind of analysis of the moment before you break up with someone, when you are there but you just don’t want to do it, but you know you have to. When you think, ‘Can we just close the door and pretend this is not happening?’
Many of my songs are perspectives of moments and just trying to understand them in that way. I also have a few political songs, songs about signing off in still waters. Songs about leaving fear behind, finding a new way to deal with life and challenges. This album has a little bit more light. My last album was really sad, so depressing but I think it kind of reflects my last couple of years, which have been good years. Black Notebook is a philosophical song about change and how it can take time, a lot of my songs are like that actually. It can take time.
What’s it like being a well-known artist in Sweden? Do you get fans that approach you?
I don’t notice it that much but the people who do come up to me are very nice. But I’m normally in my own headspace. I normally think people are going to ask me what time it is or something, so if they say anything different I’m like, ‘Oh! Thank you!’ I always forget about the idea of celebrity here since it’s my hometown so its not part of my conscious mind. And I’m the kind of artist where people don’t normally know my face more than they know my voice.
What has changed the most about you through the years when creating music?
I think I’m much more playful now. I’m having much more fun. I’ve always been very serious and thought it was much more substantial but now it’s much more fun.
People used to say ‘It’s going to be so fun to play!’ and I used to think, ‘This is serious! This is important!‘ Now I’m like, ‘Yes it will be fun!’ I’m playing around more with everything.
It’s the same with recording. I’m much more brave and I find it easier to lose control and let things go because I’m much more self-assured. I think it’s because I know I can make it come back to the center if I want to. I was much more protective in the beginning with my sound. The only things I knew were that I liked guitar and I liked my voice and I didn’t really know if I liked anything else so I kept it there. I started broadening my circle and now I feel there is no circle – I just do things and then fix it later.
You have a pretty big range, people have described you as a folk artist, a pop artist, a world music-influenced artist – what box would you put yourself in?
I think it depends on what song you hear. I don’t care anymore. If people think I am a world artist, or pop or dance or folk, then they would have heard certain things. I think it’s hard to put me in a box now.
How was it working with Peter Gabriel?
It was wonderful. I played the biggest gigs I ever did. The experience of being part of a big production was really interesting and it made me believe that things can happen. Also everything is the same just like bigger. The difference is that when you play for 20,000 people you almost don’t get nervous. I’ve never been the side man supporting another artist, so I learned a lot from that and singing his music was interesting for my voice, I learned a lot about my voice. It was just a great experience in every way.
What is one genre you would like to explore
I’ve done so much now (laughs). I wonder if I would ever dare to rap? I don’t know if I would, but maybe one day. Hard rock? I don’t know. Maybe hip-hop would be a big challenge.
Have you ever had pressure from the industry to be more sexy or poppy?
Well I’ve always had my own label so I never had anyone tell me that but I’ve been in situations where they have told me to smile or something like that. Indirectly I can feel the pressure but today I’m 39 and I’ve been through years of working so I’m less worried about everything. People ask, ‘wanna do this?’ and I’m like, ‘yeah, why not?’ I don’t think I’m so afraid anymore to make mistakes. I read an interview with Emmylou Harris and someone asked her, ‘you have sung on so many albums and done so many back up vocals, how do you decide what projects you work on?’ and She said, ‘ I just say yes to mostly everything!‘. I though that was a great idea. Why not go with the flow if something feels wrong you just know. I just try to be more playful but genuine in my music.
What is the biggest benefit to having your own label?
I recorded a few songs when I first started out and sent them out and the response I got was really lame. I didn’t get any energy back. At the time I was really into Ani di Franco, and I still am. I mean, I learned all her songs. I knew about her and her alternative way of doing things and that really inspired me. She’s always done things her way and said no to big labels. My ambitions were so low I just wanted an album with a barcode on it so I could put it in a real store and play real gigs. Then I finished the album and got a distribution deal and it was released all over Europe. I had no idea that was going to happen. Then I was going on press tours and it took off from there. When I talk with my manager, we have so much fun, we don’t have to ask anyone about anything. Our meetings are always very short. Should we do this? Yes or no? Freedom of time is so important to me. I’ve been able to be in my creative flow naturally for ten years. You have other artists who are waiting on albums, labels sitting on your album, denying your album… there are so much logistics on big labels. If you want to release something you have a certain amount of time you can do it but I can work all the time I don’t have to ask. I can do what I feel and I have so much fun working.
This is your first album in four years, what took so long?
In 2012 I got sick. I didn’t work for eight months then I toured with a collection of songs, a ten year anniversary songs and rare recordings, then I did a solo tour and since I had been sick I was so exhausted and I just wanted to let things flow for a while and then I just felt ready, so I put it out!
Tell us something about you that not a lot of people know.
I’m a very social person, I’m like a dog – I love my flock. I love having people around. When we go on tour and there are ten people in the tour bus I’m in my element. I just love it.
What’s the best thing about being a musician?
The fact that I can make music and actually be creative, but also the people. I get to work with so many people and have such close relationships with people with music being an icebreaker. You can’t really make music together without being very open, that’s one of the most beautiful parts about being a musician. It’s a very social network. My experience has been very generous and warm. To survive I think you have to be nice these days. It’s really hard otherwise. Things are difficult if you have to collaborate and support each other, you can’t be a backstabber because it will come back to you.
What Swedish artists have you enjoyed working with?
I loved working with First Aid Kit on Do You Remember, I’ve just did a song with John Eriksson of Peter, Bjorn and John, I loved working with Jose Gonzalez, I’ve loved working with Linnea Olsson, there are so many good ones! I love the singer of Amason, she is amazing. I would love to do something with her.”
When I’m Free is out on September 4. Ane Brun plays Cirkus October 20.