Amanda Bergman is a sensitive person. I can tell as soon as I meet her in the offices of her record label, INGRID. I’m sitting on their big art deco sofa, drinking a coffee, head down, concentrating on my computer when she says, “Hi, I’m Amanda.” I look up and see a nice face with curly brown ringlets tucked under a hat, a big wool scarf and kind brown eyes. I stand up, we shake hands briefly. I’m also quite sensitive so I notice immediately the cautious way we introduce ourselves to each other, taking everything in slowly and calmly as not to excite.
She leads me up the stairs to a corner room with big windows and we sit across from each other ready to make conversation. It’s a rainy day, the kind not atypical in Stockholm, but still something feels different. Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to her debut album, Docks. The album recently landed in my inbox, and the record is impressive with a story to tell and songs that lead you to a very emotional place full of heartache. It’s nostalgic in the way that you wish you had it on your record player during your first-ever breakup. Her voice is haunting and vague, strong yet fragile. Is she angry, sad, bitter, at peace? Maybe it’s all those things and quite possibly the reason her voice can resonate so easily in the listener’s soul.
We meet at a crossroads, a find-yourself type of moment right now for Amanda. She has been in the indie spotlight for a couple of years with the public fascinated by her prep-chic style, supergroup Amason, which consist of a curated selection of Sweden’s most acclaimed musicians, as well as her much-publicized marriage to and subsequent divorce from fellow Swede Kristian Matsson, better known as The Tallest Man on Earth.
Her record label INGRID, on whose imprint Docks will be released this month, is also an elite collective owned by a slew of well-known names such as Lykke Li, Peter Bjorn & John, members of the band Miike Snow and Joakim Åhlund of Teddybears. There isn’t a festival you can go to in these Nordic regions without being inundated by the sounds and style these guys have created, and Bergman’s style will soon be part of that ubiquitous soundscape.
If the album is a message from Amanda to everyone in the blogosphere and music world alike, it’s one that will make us root for her even more. Her voice is not afraid, she uses it well, at times almost like a scream that settles in the most velvety, smooth enriching notes.
The melodies on the album are played by an orchestra of trained musicians who seem to really enjoy playing the songs. Docks is an album that has a lot of influences – country, rock ’n’ roll, folk, even a bit 80s, but mostly it’s the story of one musician setting her soul ablaze.
How do you feel now that you have finished your debut solo album?
It’s a relief for sure. I’ve been working so long, so I’m just happy that I finally made it. It’s a bit surreal to me even that it’s actually done, but I’m just very happy about it. I definitely view this album as a debut album, it’s a way to get out there and have a platform to build from.
What was the difference between this and the debut with Amason?
It’s different definitely. I learned a lot from putting out the Amason album because that was my first one ever so I’m really grateful that that one came first. It wasn’t life or death it was just very simple. We were just five people who were making music.
Of course I have different pressure on myself as a solo artist. If people are going to like it or hate it then I will have to deal with that response alone. I mean, I wasn’t alone making the album, there were many people involved and who contributed, but still it’s under my name.
What was it like working on a debut album as a working musician who has had success?
It was good. I don’t look at myself as a professional musician every day. I do that sometimes, but mostly it’s all very surreal what I am doing. It definitely helps to have a sense of, ‘this is my work, this is what I do,’ in order to be confident and stable. Releasing the album is definitely one of those things. It helps me to keep on working and to find some encouragement to keep on doing the same things. It’s helpful to try to get that cycle going, where I’m releasing albums and writing and doing more and more.
This album sounds very haunting, It really forces the listener to sit with it and really listen to the music and take it all in.
When I think of the first song on the album, Falcons, I can see what you mean. It’s definitely a haunting song, it can almost be unbearable, it’s so sad. If I were to listen to it I would definitely listen to it properly. Of course anyone can get whatever they feel out of it, maybe it says more about the way I listen to music. To me it’s very much about the lyrics, that’s what’s most important to me, so it’s natural for me to want people to listen to it in that way.
Is there an overall theme for the album? Do you think fans and media will try to draw any conclusions from the record?
Well I guess it’s pretty obvious it’s a breakup album, so it’s partly that. But also to me it definitely has to do with love, and love that ends. It’s about how to behave as a person and how to manage to be in relationships with other people no matter if it’s a friendship or romance or any relationship. Life is relationships but still we have such a hard time being in them. It’s such a paradox.
It’s really hard being in relationships. In your album I can hear that, it’s like the inner parts of my body’s emotions and insecurities that I normally don’t listen to, really pour out.
I think so too. I recognize myself in what you are saying. I am also that kind of person – I’m so intense with my feelings. It’s super exhausting, you feel like all the time you are a failure.
Yeah I feel like, ‘can I even manage to be in this world?’ If someone even looks at me funny I’m like WHAT IS THE PROBLEM. I’m so sensitive.
So am I. I’m super-sensitive. This record has definitely been a part of realizing that. I didn’t realise I was super sensitive until a year ago. Before that I thought I wasn’t sensitive at all. Just realising how super-sensitive I am it’s like getting a sickness, you have to rearrange your whole life, and I realised I can’t put myself in all these situations that I am in and expect myself to handle them the same way that other people do, because I take in everything.
I know the feeling.
It’s OK to be sensitive when you are feeling well, but when something happens in your life it’s going to be so intense and that might make you do things that create more drama.
For me it’s about finding a way to steer another way, finding a way of dealing with it instead of being a victim to my reflexes or what my gut is telling me to do. So much about it is I don’t want to get hurt. No one wants to get hurt, but I know I will get hurt if I keep on doing this. That’s also what the record is about. In Falcon there is a line: ‘By the second that we float, we must sail on…’ That to me is saying that as soon as you get a grip of a situation, life has to move on. But where is my energy? I’m totally done, I just want to lay down.
Yeah this album sounds like when you are in that hole, how you get back up?
There is definitely a reason for that. I mean 20 per cent of the population are super-sensitive people and we need those people, so we are so needed but at the same time we live in a society where we are taught that any kind of fragility is not a good thing.
Is it ever awkward to do these interviews and live life so publicly or do you enjoy being in the spotlight?
Yeah it’s hard. Especially as a sensitive person. I ask myself why I am doing this all the time. For me it’s not simple. Sometimes I feel like I am complaining all the time, but some people love their work, even though it’s hard for them. For me it’s not a natural thing to be in the spotlight.
At the same time, I’m trying to get past that instance of protecting myself by getting out on stage and doing interviews. It’s a bit against my nature, I guess it takes a lot of energy. I thought a lot about why would I do this if I can’t appreciate it, like, I think I have to do it. There is also a pressure I put on myself to be so damn thankful. I need to find a way to be ok with myself and it hurts sometimes but I’m looking for that balance.
How do you think it will be when you are out and promoting this album. Are you nervous about going out and playing live? Any songs that you will cry to?
I’m pretty good at collecting myself because I’ve been practicing all my life. l don’t cry, don’t react, I just get myself together. So I can go out on stage even though I don’t feel well and not show it to the audience. My friends and family, they get that part of me. I’m focusing on the music. That’s what I think about when you asked this question. How am I going to play these songs? That’s my main focus, and hopefully there will be people there watching. I’m not worried about playing live, no, I’m looking forward to it.
Is it enough to just release the music and have people take it in?
Of course but at the same time it’s a part of the job to try to tell people that I am releasing an album and tell them to listen to it. I also want to learn things and stand up for myself musically because I haven’t really done that before. Of course I’m a bit nervous. A part of being super-sensitive is that I always try to get away from responsibility and to realise that I myself am a power. I always want other people to do things for me because I’m so scared myself. I’ve been thinking that for many years, that maybe I’m scared or I don’t have ambition but now I think, maybe I can make it by myself and not have to rely on men or whatever. There is a difference between cooperating and being carried by someone and I realise that I might be carried by people sometimes. I want to know what it will be like to carry myself.
I loved seeing you, Seinabo Sey and Maja Francis performing Last Days Of Dancing together. It’s amazing. Any plans to collaborate more in the future?
I just have a lot of fun with those girls. I don’t think of it in any other way. I just love those girls they are so sweet.
I can see many country artists and listeners loving your music. Do you have country influences?
I would love that! I love country music. It’s the best. It’s very close to my heart. As soon as I hear country songs it just sits with me. I like the simplicity about it. I like many different types of music and I’m not limited in any way, but I do have a certain fondness for simple music, it’s like a tool in the same way you eat when you use your knife and fork. Music that is built like that is very fundamental and simple. I call it meat-and-potato music. Maybe it’s because I grew up on the countryside, because the mentality of the countryside is like that, that I enjoy that type of music.
What were your other inspirations growing up?
I loved being with horses. Except for school, my life was always around horses. That meant being outside a lot, always going around the stable and mopping the stables. I loved that type of work and I was always singing and whistling and having melodies in my head. As soon as I started to work with my body there were melodies coming out of me. That still happens to me, I think I was inspired by the whole pace and pulse of that type of nature and the seasons, things like that.
Did anyone ever tell you that you could sing?
I sang in choirs and I went to an elementary school where they had a music-type of school, we did shows and did a lot of music. No one ever told me I was a good singer or anything per se. It wasn’t until I was 19 or 20 when I started putting up songs on Myspace that I started actually hearing about my voice.
What do you think 2016 will hold for you?
Actually I have no idea. I’m very open. It’s been two years that’s been very hectic and I’m totally exhausted from it. I’m going to try to take it easy even though releasing an album and taking it easy don’t really go together, but I will try. I think it’s a good thing for me to know when I reach my limits and try to really balance. I really want to try to get people to listen to my music and I hope they will like it. It has a price for me now though, I can’t go all over the place and do everything. I think it’s a good thing to know my limits because it takes the pressure away from releasing an album because first and foremost I need to be OK.
words Koko Ntuen
photos Patrik Johäll