When attending a festival where you do not recognize the names in the lineup, keeping an open mind can be difficult. Artists like Norwegian Susanna and the Magical Orchestra, with her slow soft pop melodies and interesting instrumentation make it easy, not to mention her elegant cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene."
The Daily Beacon's Arts & Culture Editor Claire Dodson sat down with Susanna Wallumrød to discuss her country music influences, the differences in Norway's music business, and the experimentation and boundary-pushing work that made her a perfect fit for Big Ears.
Claire Dodson: So how would you describe the sound you try to go for?
Susanna Wallumrød: Well, it's very much based around my voice and my style of singing, my melodies and phrasing and sort of the texture in what I'm doing. I like very much to play in these smaller constellations, like in duos or trios. I like to use these other instruments as building stones, but it's quite sparse. I like to try to get out the core of the music that the songs try to tell.
CD: Do you have musicians you look up to or or model yourself after?
SW: I've been listening to a lot of different types of music. A lot of singers, of course. I have enjoyed Nina Simone. Her soul music and also her solo things where she just has piano and vocals. I've been listening to a lot of jazz singers but also singer-songwriters like Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen...
CD: Dolly Parton?
SW: Dolly Parton for sure. That's actually one of the first songs I remember from childhood, "Jolene."
CD: Does that seem significant coming here and performing that song?
SW: Yes, it's quite special.
CD: When did you first know you wanted to make music and make it a career?
SW: I've been singing all my life basically, so I've always been doing music in different forms. I started my first band when I was 15 and went to music school and music university, studied music. I always wanted to do it, but you never know how things go. I'm glad I still get to do this 10 years after my first album, because it goes up and down and income goes up and down. It's a very unstable way of living, but I enjoy it very much.
CD: Do you think it's harder in Norway than it would be in the U.S.?
SW: No, I think it's way harder here in the U.S., because we have very good governmental funding for culture and the arts. Actually, compared to that we're not that many people in Norway, there's a lot of music going on. And all that music is really good. It's a high standard of quality. But I guess it couldn't have happened in that scale if it hadn't been for the funding.
CD: How do you see yourself fitting into the kind of boundary-pushing, experimental vibe of Big Ears?
SW: I find myself very much at home with the other lineup at the festival. It all kind of makes sense to me, so I'm very glad that Big Ears sees it that way too, because to me it means that they have been listening closely to the things that I do. I totally understand the beauty side of what I do. But I try to create some resistance in my music, so it's not exactly mainstream. I am with my slow, sparse way of doing my music; I am pushing the boundaries.
CD: How do you adjust your show from a Tennessee Theatre-sized venue to a Square Room-sized venue?
SW: Well it's always different to play a big room and a small room, but it also depends on the length of the show. It affects how you put together your set. For a one-hour concert, you're able to dig in more to the long stretches of not moving so quickly from song to song, to be able to stay within a mood or a feeling.
CD: What are you most hoping to walk away with from this festival?
SW: I already feel that it's such a great experience just to be here, to meet the people in this town, to meet music lovers and musicians and see other concerts. It's already worth a lot to me, and of course I really hope to meet an audience who enjoys my music and who maybe would like to follow me a bit, want to come listen again and want to check out the things that I do.
CD: Is there anything else you want to add about your music or who you are?
SW: Maybe that I have been doing a lot of different constellations. Last year I worked with an ensemble, but I've also done a more electronic setup with synthesizers and effects on my voice. I do different types of things; it's not like it's a very constant thing. And I like it that way, I like the flexibility of following my musical needs.