By Harriet Kaplan
Susanna is an emotional and intense Norwegian singer/songwriter who is currently promoting her new and 11th album, Triangle, which as been described as “soul music for lost souls.” The lyrics are deeply felt and spiritually probing. “Triangle is filled with magical omens, apocalyptic fires, black holes and floodwaters that constantly threaten oblivion. Yet among the dark undercurrents, electronic rumbling and white noise is a luminous melodic glow that rises above the introspection.” Susanna recently spoke to BoC discuss Triangle and various other musical projects with renown and critically-acclaimed musicians, her personal growth as artist, the politics and worldview that inform her songs, the music scene in Oslo, Norway and working with Jenny Hval.
Triangle is your 11th album and first solo record 2012. Have you been releasing just singles or working other on projects? What have you been doing in the last four years?
Susanna: Oh, I have released two other albums – collaborations with contemporary music ensemble neoN ’The Forester’ in 2013, and with Jenny Hval ‘Meshes of Voice’ in 2014. Besides that I have released one EP ‘Songs Revisited’ in 2015, and I also released (on my label SusannaSonata) two other musical projects Minibus Pimps (the avant garde electronic duo with John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin and Helge Sten of Supersilent) + Espen Reinertsen, a wonderful saxophone player and his first solo album ‘Forgaflingspop’. So yeah… I have been busy.
What do think makes Triangle different musically and lyrically from your past work?
S: There are several things that makes ‘Triangle’ different from my previous albums, it’s longer and more extensive as a project. The writing period for this album stretches from 2010 to when I was recording the album last year -I didn’t want to limit myself to a certain amount of songs or minutes. This affected both the total of it all, but also the material itself. I guess I have worked with pushing both my own boundaries and the conventions that dominates in the popular culture and music- what makes an album an album, what makes a song a song etc. I have been digging deeper into themes and structures that I have been exploring earlier, which has resulted in different types of songs this time.
Do you think you’ve grown and changed a lot as a person, artist and musician since 2012 or in general?
S: I definitely learn things all the time, and depending on that too, I am trying out things which I haven’t been doing before. That makes it more interesting for me, and hopefully also for the ones listening to my music and following me as an artist. The changes happens, but is maybe easier to discover over longer periods of time- I am not walking around feeling that I am changing or growing from month to month.
Can you tell me how your spirituality has influenced Triangle and had your worldview/politics shaped it?
S: I grew up in a religious family and environment, so I have always thought of us humans as spiritual creatures, that we have a spirit and a soul etc. For this album I have been searching for the things we don’t see, only feel and sense, what does people believe in, states of surrender and devotion. I find that people devote to so many different things today, it can be in politics, or lifestyle, love or of course in religion. It both scares and attracts me. At least when it’s blinding.
Is this something new or at the center/core of your being?
S: It’s not new to me, more like a work in progress- and the arts is a wonderful place to search and contemplate various states of mind and heart.
What have you learned releasing albums as far as arranging and producing over the years?
S: There is tons of things to learn all the time- I have been producing since my first album and find great pleasure in the work, where the arranging is very essential. I have always placed my voice in the centre of attention, mostly because that is my way of expressing myself, and I find it interesting to stretch and bend parameters within the singing but also in the surroundings that my voice is existing in.
Do think the music industry has changed a lot since you have become an artist and has that had an effect on you marketing yourself?
S: Yes. Every year and every release has been a new challenge to me, in regards of reaching my audience- in the beginning I wasn’t that aware of the mechanisms in the industry, only as they were changing I realized what I had at first, and the always changing obstacles that has occurred since, especially from 2007/2008. Marketing has a much bigger role in my work now, than it had from the start.
What advice would you give new singers or bands based on your experiences?
S: Find out what your goals are, and try to learn as much as possible about how to reach those goals, short term or long term. The most important thing is and will always be to work hard and dedicated, and to try and carve out your own way. There isn’t just one way or a right way to do things.
What was your most interesting experience touring and or performing in front of an audience?
S: Oh, I had a wonderful time touring several times with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, in different constellations, I got to see so many good concerts every night and/or be a part of them on different levels.
Are you influenced or a fan of Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro or Liz Fraser?
S: I have listened a lot to Joni Mitchell, at least some of her albums I know quite well, and they have been very important to me. I, of course, know of the others, and have listened to them but I don’t see myself as influenced by them. I find that many reviewers and also listeners connect me with them though- so maybe there is some secret links between us after all.
How did you become singer and when you want to know we’re going to follow that path?
S: Since my childhood I have been singing, and music has always been a big part of my life, with choirs, piano lessons, singing lessons and so on. I started my first band as a teenager and went to music high school etc. I didn’t want any other things that much I think, so I pursued the singing.
What the music scene like now in Norway?
S: It’s flourishing! Lots of good musicians and artist, making and playing music- the concert scene in Oslo has almost exploded in terms of numbers of concerts etc. It’s a good situation for the audience, they have a lot to choose from. And of course very inspiring to be a part of.
How did you get to collaborate with Jenny Hval? What was that experience like?
S: We had talked a few times about music, and how to do recording, mixing, things like that- while Jenny was making her Medea: album (as Rockettothesky). And when I got the chance to write new music for a festival in Oslo, I wanted to do it together with someone else. Jenny was on the top of my list, I liked what she was doing and thought it could be an interesting match, and luckily she said yes. The experience was very good, lots of work and a result to be proud of.
Watch ‘Sacred Revolution’ here: