Having already made an impressive five albums, including two on your own and released on your own label, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got your work process under control. Jennie Abrahamson found that out the hard way in the run up to the recording of her latest album, The Sound Of Your Beating Heart. Always on the go and unwilling to write on the road, things got a bit hectic for the Swedish singer when she got back home last summer after finishing her latest tour. Talking over coffee and a vegetable pie in a café on Stockholm’s hipster-filled southern island, Jennie reveals just how fine she’d cut it: “We had studio time and I hadn’t written anything. I had to really focus to get all that new material done in a short amount of time, so I went into isolation.”
Luckily for Jennie, she didn’t really need to start from scratch. While travelling she’s developed the habit of collecting bits and pieces of ideas in the margins of her tour literature, or on anything she can use for recording. (A practice she demonstrates by handing over the mobile on which the four-track demo of lead single ‘Hard To Come By’ is stored.) “It can be done,” she says calmly of the intense writing process, “you just have to give up your entire social life” – and she isn’t kidding. After about a month of total seclusion, Jennie emerged with the songs that would eventually form the vibrant new record, which she co-produced again with Johannes Berglund.
Speaking of the often perceived Asian influence on The Sound Of Your Beating Heart, Jennie admits she likes Chinese classical music and Bollywood productions but tries not to listen to the music of others while making her own (“You start comparing yourself with others and that makes you anxious,” she confides). Instead of looking for inspiration in faraway countries, Jennie finds it a little closer to home. “A lot of my friends went through some life-changing stuff last year, so I tried to channel their experiences and write about things that happened to them,” she says. “But it’s not super obvious. It’s not like I’d start a song by saying, ‘This is about my friend Malin’.”
Although frequent themes in her lyrics, relationships and love aren’t the only subjects Jennie writes about. She lists both the tiny village in northern Sweden and the religious community in which she grew up as more or less intentional influences, but while gladly talking about what kind of influence the snowblown landscape might have on her music she only reluctantly speaks of the free church she was once a member of. ”All people long for a sense of community and understanding of why they are here,” she says. “I just don’t like the introversion of it, how secluded many of these congregations become.”
“I’m pretty critical towards considerable parts of the religious community. Their outlook on people and how they treat them. I got a lot of good things from it, but also a lot of crap which I carry around. I still find myself stuck with certain ideas of how things should be. Even though my intellect doesn’t agree, they’re there. You are so very perceptive as a child and I had an enormous imagination – too good of an imagination to deal with religious stuff then. I would think things like, ‘If I do this forbidden thing, what will happen to me?’.”
Having served her apprenticeship singing in trip-hop band Heed and as multi-instrumentalist in alt-country outfit Yukon AK, Jennie stepped out on her own with 2007′s self-released Lights. It was a competent debut that soon won her the attention of the music press just as there was a gigantic upsurge of Scandinavian solo artists – including her great friend and honorary Swede, Ane Brun.
Asked how she tries to stand out in such a crowd, Jennie doesn’t seem too bothered by the problem. ”I’m not sure you can,” she shrugs. “I think you get lost in there with all the others. The only thing you can do is work hard and do your best. But it’s a great thing to be part of. Back in the ’90s there wasn’t such a communal atmosphere in the music industry; you took care of your own stuff. Now that neither record companies nor musicians really have any money you help each other out, and you’re glad when somebody else succeeds because that means it might happen to you too.”
Neither too commercial sounding nor looking, Jennie was originally pigeonholed as a Kate Bush successor by the Swedish music press. Not overly concerned with the opinions of critics, Jennie attributes the comparison to laziness and to her high-pitched voice, rather than any mutual artistic ambitions. ”Ane Brun and I talked about this earlier, how women often get compared to other women, especially in Sweden. When I was in a band everyone compared me to Nina Persson, because The Cardigans were big at the time. When I released my first solo album I sounded like Robyn, last record I was Lykke Li.”
“As for Kate Bush, I look up to her as an artist and predecessor, I grew up listening to her music. You can’t overestimate her importance, but I don’t think our music sounds alike. I do three-minute pop songs with verse–bridge–chorus, verse–bridge–chorus, whereas she’s super arty and doesn’t have many songs that can be played on the radio the way they were written. It’s an incredibly worn out reference, not only for me but for all women with a high-pitched voice, but I understand that most people mean it as a compliment, and it’s a great one, so I just smile and keep quiet.
Asked how she feels about her music so often being described as “nice” and “pleasant”, Jennie sighs. “Those aren’t kind words, are they? I think people get provoked by my girlish voice. I would love to sing like PJ Harvey, but I can’t, so I use the strengths my voice has. I don’t think my music is ‘nice’; I think it’s a bit quirky, a bit weird. There is nothing more pointless than music that doesn’t make you feel anything, that is so bland you don’t even know you’ve heard it.
“‘Nice’ music is the kind that doesn’t want anything, and I know my music does. It wants to get under your skin and speak to you, offer solace or exhilaration.”
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The Sound Of Your Beating Heart was released in Scandinavia in April, and will filter through the rest of Europe later in the year.