Quick Questions: Susanna

We look forward to Susanna‘s return to Turner Sims almost two decades later! Ahead of her performance on Saturday 4 March, we catch up with the Norwegian artist over some Quick Questions.

LJ: Having created 17 albums so far, you are no stranger to the music scene! Baudelaire & Piano however, is your first solo-album. How has your experience writing and performing this album compared to your older releases?

SUSANNA: The composing for Baudelaire & Piano was very much based on my fascination of the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, the French modernist poet, and his once forbidden Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil) from 1857. I was given a new English translation of the collection, which I just immediately fell for. There is so much music and such vivid imagery in this poetry, that I started to hear melodies and wanted to sing the words. So the music and songs for this album came to life by the piano. As the words are quite rich I wanted to keep the music scaled down to the very bone structure of the songs. This is often how I create my music though, with the piano, but this time I got the idea for presenting the songs as they are made. Hence the very much solo-album, piano and vocals performed and recorded in studio, no overdubs.

Quite early on in the process I decided that I wanted to take the music on a journey, across different versions and settings. I invited people to make scenography, video, lights, and Stina Stjern to make music for tapes, to expand the Baudelaire-universe. We made a concert-performance in the fall of 2020. Since then I have continued to make music to Baudelaire-poems, and continued taking this music in to new settings. I really like the duo-concert though, with the basis in my voice, the skeleton piano and the rich poetry of Baudelaire.

LJ: What have been the stand-out moments of your career so far, and where do you see your career progressing in the next few years?

SUSANNA: Oh, there has been several I think. The project I did together with Jenny Hval, Meshes of Voice, supporting and collaborating with American artist Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy over several years, playing with contemporary music ensemble neoN, and doing Purcell and Joy Division side by side together with baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi. Just recently I had my orchestra debut, playing the Baudelaire-songs arranged for the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and me. Mind blowing experience. I hope to continue my eclectic musical journey in the time to come.

LJ: Interpreting works from the likes of AC/DC and Dolly Parton, you are able to comfortably make a piece of work your own. How do you achieve this whilst ensuring you don’t lose the distinctive value of the original songs?

SUSANNA: It takes time to get to know a song, or how a song sits with me, my voice and way of expression. So there is absolutely time and energy invested in getting inside each song, or how I experience it. I am very fond of that line of work, and it is essential to me as a musician and singer.

LJ: Baudelaire’s poetry has been known to be influenced by his family background of growing up in France surrounded by financial constraint, alienation and complex emotions. How do you reflect this is in your interpretations of his work, in particular through your Nordic roots?

SUSANNA: Baudelaire’s poems speak so beautifully about the horrors in life, and that really attracts me. His vivid imagery about the existential pain alongside the raw beauty is unique. Even though this was written in a different time, a different place, there is so much universal human experience at the core, that I feel can be valid to us all. It’s gritty and dark, but there is also the essence of a human seeking for higher understanding through whatever the surroundings are. It’s spiritual and realistic at the same time, which works well with my Nordic roots for sure.

LJ: Tonight, you are joined by tape-wizard Stina Stjern. What can our audiences expect from this collaboration, and what are the main themes you will be portraying in your performance?

SUSANNA: Yes, I asked Stina to make music for cassette tapes to pair up with my Baudelaire-songs. The idea sprung from the texture and sounds of the tapes, which I think plays very well with the words of Baudelaire, but also the sound of my voice and the piano. It was supposed to be a dialogue between my songs and the tapes, but it has evolved into a deeper intertwined conversation between those elements.

I also really love the mechanical sound of the tape recorder, and she uses a lot of rewinding and pitch-bending in her work. We give a window into Baudelaire’s world, through our lenses, trying to keep both the gritty feel and the beauty. It is a dreamlike universe, a bit scary at times, but also with a lot of room for deeper experiences and meditation.

Book your ticket to see Susanna on Saturday 4 March here

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