- Tue, 2011-11-15 11:48
A multi-platinum selling, number-one artist in her native Scandinavia, it seems unjust that Ane Brun’s beautiful, orchestral indie-folk remains a well-guarded secret outside of continental Europe. Her recently released fifth album, It All Starts With One, is Brun’s finest and most striking work to date. Ambitious and dramatic, it may well finally see her establish her reputation further afield.
I Like Music sat down with Ane for a chat about her new approach to writing on It All Starts With One, lyrical inspiration, life as an independent artist and touring with Peter Gabriel.
"I Like Music because…it fills my life in all situations.” Ane Brun
ILM: Hi Ane, how’s everything going?
Ane: It’s going really, really well! I’ve just finished three weeks touring in Europe, which was really fun! I think the most fun tour that I’ve had. It was positive in so many ways. This album is really fun to play live, I’ve started dancing on stage a little bit more! And the tour was with such a great group of musicians, who were hand-picked.
ILM: How would you describe the album for people who are yet to hear it as a whole?
Ane: Well, it sounds very big, and three dimensional, but it’s not actually a lot of instruments. All the songs are built on the foundation of two drummers, a keyboardist and me; sometimes I play guitar and sometimes I don’t. Then we added some strings and some vocals. Though it's quite sparse when it comes to instrumentation, the production has enabled it to sound massive, warm and quite analogue. My voice is the locomotive of the whole thing: it’s at the front. But in a way that feels natural. It feels like a little ball flying in between all of these instruments. The album has ten songs, ten very strong, different emotions. It’s quite intense emotionally. That’s one of the reasons that it’s only ten songs. It’s good to let people rest! It has a passionate love song, a devastating dark song, a soft contemplative song… I love it! I’ve never listened to my own music before and I do now.
ILM: Really? What's changed?
Ane: I think I’m at a point in my career where I’ve let go of control quite a lot and let other people in, so the album is very much a co-work between me and the musicians. It feels very much like an organism between us instead of me holding back a lot. That’s why I can listen to it as something apart from me.
ILM: Because it doesn’t feel self-indulgent or as if you're revelling in your own creation…
Ane: Exactly. When I was writing the album I had this extreme flow, like it was coming down to me from somewhere. I think everyone who writes something knows the feeling. It just kind of happens. And it continued in the studio with the musicians. Sometimes it felt like they were connected to the same star. They looked at each other afterwards like “oo, what was that?” When I listen to it afterwards I can’t really remember how it happened.
ILM: What approach did your producer and friend Tobias take in order to achieve that full sound?
Ane: Tobias created the sounds before we started recording. He fixed everything before we started playing. So I had this amazing vocal sound in my ears, I had the echo of the drums… It made it really magical because we knew what we were doing. We had the map. I’ve never done that before.
ILM: What inspired that different approach?
Ane: Tobias. He had quite a big mission before we started. He went into his studio and said “we’re going to make the best record ever made.” Big thoughts! He always makes me feel like the best singer in the world when we’re in the studio! Tobias becomes like a musician almost. His part is a very important part of the album.
ILM: When we last spoke you said you were always searching for a core, for something that makes everything fall into place. What is at the core of It All Starts With One?
Ane: I guess the core is always abstract. Throughout my whole career I’m getting closer and closer to a core, but I’m not really sure what it is. It’s something intuitive that I’m looking for. It’s more emotional than musical. A gut feeling I guess. My music has been quite sparse through the years, I’m very sensitive to keeping focused on the right thing so I can actually communicate what I want to communicate. At the same time I want to be interesting. On this album I wrote the songs in a different way. The lyrics and the melodies were the most important thing, while before I let the guitar lead me to the vocals. This time I tried to let the melodies and the words be the leader. I think you can hear that on the album. The voice is the core. It’s very focused.
ILM: Where did the title of the album come from?
Ane: It came from the album track One. It All Starts With One says so much about so many things. First of all, that song is about trying to believe that one person can change things, even if it’s just on your own street. You can change things if you want to. But for me it also became a bit of a celebration of my career. It’s nine years since I recorded my first album, and I’ve been independent ever since. Looking back I can see what I’ve accomplished by believing in my gut feelings and releasing all these weird albums and live albums with strings, and stuff that I wouldn’t be able to do if I was on a label. My creative energy has never been hindered.
ILM: The track Worship is a beautiful duet with José González, focused around one line in particular, “you never worship your life." Though the track itself is quite delicate, that line is quite a hard hitting accusation. Where did it come from?
Ane: It’s based on something in me. I always worship my life. I’m very constructive and I demand a lot from life. I never really settle. If I’m in a relationship or a situation in life that isn’t good enough I can’t linger in it; I have to break free. So the song is a message to people that I’ve seen around me who stay in bad things. Whether it’s love or work… I try to tell them that it’s possible to move out of this: there are people around you who will be there for you. It’s about being precious about your life and the time you have. You almost owe it to yourself to take your life seriously. We’re so lucky in this part of the world that we have the chance to choose. We should cherish that opportunity. We can choose our life and our path more than a lot of people can, but we don’t see it in perspective. Somehow in that privileged situation you have a responsibility to make the best of it…maybe.
ILM: How do you think you’ve changed or grown as an artist in recent years?
Ane: I’ve worked really hard on myself in the last two or three years. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching! When you’re 20, then 25, 28, 32, you always think “oh now I’m grown up, now I’m grown up, now I’m grown up…” But I feel I’m grown up now! I look back and I was not grown up three years ago, and I think maybe now I am. There’s a lot of stuff that I’ve been confronting myself with and letting go of, which means that I can take in more good stuff I guess.
ILM: The album is self-released through your own label Balloon Ranger Recordings. What made you first choose the path of an independent artist?
Ane: I felt that the alternative was creatively slow. I sent out three-track samples of my first album to record companies back in 2003. Back then people in Sweden didn’t really believe in releasing stuff as an independent. I didn’t get the feedback that I wanted. People said it was nice, but there was no spark. I didn’t have any big ambitions, I just wanted to make music. I wanted to play at biggish shows and to do that in 2003 you had to have an album. So I planned to slowly build something.
ILM: Despite that, things moved quickly after that first release...!
Ane: Yes, when I released the first album, distributed through V2 Records, I suddenly got a phone call saying that eleven countries in Europe wanted to release it! It just went from a little playground thing to a serious record company thing. I panicked! It was too big. Mikael [Gustavsson] became my manager and started taking care of my label [DetErMine], but I'd been working super hard for one and a half years, I was young and I had no idea where my limits were. I was partying, I fell in love, I was recording, touring…I was doing everything. Three months after that record came out I fell apart and ended up in hospital. I was sick for a long time. It took me six months to get back.
ILM: Did you write any music during that time?
Ane: I wrote one song. It was afterwards that I started to write the second album. I was in hospital for two or three months. It was really bad. Total burnout. It exacerbated a chronic disease that I have. It’s fine now – it’s been fine for years – but at the time it was pretty serious. It was a very typical first awakening to the fact that I wasn’t a superwoman. Twenty seven years old and I didn’t know that there was a limit! That has been extremely important to my career and my music, because it was a huge emotional challenge. I’ve been trying to work myself through all the emotions that came with such a big shock ever since. The second album was a big digestion of what happened. So that’s one of the things that’s been good for me since being independent: I can choose my tempo. Nobody can tell me what to do with this or that six months. I can always puzzle things together as I want to and be sustainable. That’s been very, very important. But the most important thing is that I have total creative control all the time. I never have to stop, I never have to wait. I hear about artists who wait for a year for their albums to come out. They get so depressed because they can’t do what they’re supposed to do. I feel it’s healthier for me to be able to decide for myself.
ILM: And as a result, you’re able to put recording your fifth album on hold so that you can tour with Peter Gabriel!
Ane: Yes! Haha!
ILM: What was that like?
Ane: Great! In every way. It’s been so much fun. Personally and musically.
ILM: What’s he like to work with?
Ane: He’s a very generous man. He started every show by introducing me before I went on. He actually went on and said “you’re going to hear this first…” which was amazing, because then people actually shut up and listened! Then I was doing backing vocals during his show. It was a very interesting challenge for my voice. There was a lot of stuff I hadn’t done before, and I had to fit in with an orchestra, where I’m usually the lead singer. You have to try and erase a little bit of your character to try and fit in. It’s a different way of singing. I have a very particular sound to my voice, and sometimes I had to change it to try and blend in more. I found new techniques that way. We also had this fun, experimental stuff at the end where we were doing improvisation. Every night was like throwing yourself off a cliff! And also, playing in front of so many people every night – at least 5,000 – was a good experience. It toughens you up. And also just playing these fantastic places with amazing stages, like the Hollywood Bowl. And it was a beautiful group of people as well!
ILM: Do you have a favourite Peter Gabriel track?
Ane: For me it is his So album. That’s the one I listened to first. I think I’ve listened to that since I was ten, and it always comes back to me. Mercy Street, Red Rain… But on the tour I discovered so many good songs. Blood Of Eden, for instance, is such a beautiful song, and Darkness has fantastic lyrics. All his lyrics are amazing. I hadn’t really listened to them before we started singing together.
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Ane: The new Feist album. That was produced by Valgeir [Sigurðsson], who I’ve worked with before. What else… Arcade Fire. I have always like them, but now I am a fan because I saw them live this summer for the first time. Now I’m hooked!
ILM: What are your future plans? How far ahead do you look?
Ane: I think one year is the maximum! This job is really unpredictable. I’m kind of just prepared to work on the album in the next year. I’m going to try and release it in America. I want to come over here more, do more gigs and build more support. That’s it! And trying to keep my personal life going at the same time!
ILM: What about making new music?
Ane: I think that the next step is to figure out solo versions of this album. The songs were all written solo, but it’s just a matter of finding a way to perform them so that they’re interesting. I tend to write new material project by project. I empty myself, then it takes a little while before I need to write again....