“I’ve never been so nervous. It felt like my heart was leaping out of my chest,” says Ane Brun, recalling those five terrifying minutes when she performed Björk’s ‘Jóga’ on live TV at the Polar Music Prize in August 2010, with the Icelander gazing impassively on. “She was that close!” she exclaims, pointing just across the table. “I couldn’t look at her until I was done.”
In the two years since I last sat with Ane for our issue seven cover story, she has travelled the world at least twice over and performed alongside some of the most legendary names in music. In October 2009, at the inaugural concert for No More Lullabies – an environmental awareness campaign Ane created after being shocked into action by some alarming research – she got to join Benny Andersson in a rare performance of an ABBA classic, ‘S.O.S.’ being the natural choice. Joined by “the elite of Swedish artists” (including Robyn, Those Dancing Days and Loney, Dear), the concert lasted roughly seven hours, and has since been the springboard for a more sustainable effort. “It’s like a network of artists now,” says Ane. “It’s very close to my heart.”
In 2010, Peter Gabriel handpicked Ane to support him on tour, which extended well into the first half of this year and, night after night, found her stepping into the mighty shoes of Kate Bush as his duet partner for ‘Don’t Give Up’ (a studio version finally surfaced on last year’s New Blood). Was that Björk-level scary or just regular scary? She laughs. “I don’t know. I was more excited than nervous because it was so clear that Peter wanted me to do my own thing. It was more terrifying to cover Björk because it was in her honour and she was in the same room.”
For Ane’s brother, a big Peter Gabriel fan, the call up must have been a dream come wildly, unbelievably true, while her father has taken to calling Peter ‘the angel’. “’Have you talked to the angel?’ he asks me,” laughs Ane. Then, as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one year, Ane got a call from Ani DiFranco’s management inviting her to play a few shows in the US with the Righteous Babe herself. Many years ago, when Ane was still busking on the streets of Barcelona, Ani DiFranco was an enormous influence on her guitar playing, so the offer came as a welcome bolt from the blue. “I felt I was ready now, as an artist, to play with her,” says Ane. “It felt right. And she was so cool. So nice and generous, both on stage and off.”
Ane’s flurry of good fortune inevitably meant that the album she intended to make in 2010 got pushed further and further back. Having already decided to work with her good friend Tobias Fröberg as producer on the record, it was simply a matter of waiting until they both had the time to devote themselves to the project. After several meetings (i.e. drinking coffee and listening to music together) the deal was sealed. “It’s interesting to go into the studio with a producer who’s your friend. So much of music is only in the air before it becomes real; I knew that in his head there was a lot of music and I just had to trust that it sounded good, that what was in there was what I wanted it to be.”
The finished product, It All Starts With One, is a sumptuous, enriching listen from start to end, giving Ane’s already powerfully emotional songwriting a profound, poetic edge within a range of intuitive, often surprising arrangements. Feeling like she no longer had anything to prove gave Ane the scope to take a completely open approach in the studio. Unlike with 2008’s Changing Of The Seasons she decided not to work up any detailed demos of the songs, determined to preserve the magic that comes with the first recordings for the actual album. In the writing stages, she made a conscious effort to absorb as much unrelated art as possible. As she explains, “I know that if I go to see something that’s totally different from what I do, something happens in my head. It’s like it opens a window.”
Finding herself drawn to classical music, inspiration struck during a particularly captivating Stravinsky recital. Rushing home, Ane bought the sheet music and started to play around with a long, slow bassline from one of the pieces and eventually, after a few hours of experimentation, she’d come up with the variation that forms the basis of the song ‘One’. “It’s kind of stealing, I guess, but very very very far away,” she laughs. “There was just this spark that I wouldn’t get listening to Feist, for example, because I would focus too much on what she’s doing. With Stravinsky it’s like there’s no pressure, because I would never do the same thing. It’s really just an excuse to sit still and meditate to something, to kickstart your brain.”
For Changing Of The Seasons, Ane invested time in exploring different cadences and vocal ranges, soaring Yma Sumac-high on the stunning ‘Armour’ and singing the taut, stringent verses of ‘The Puzzle’. For the new album, she was directly inspired by the months of singing backup for Peter Gabriel, in particular the live vocal improvisations she would perform nightly with Youssou N’Dour on tour. “In front of thousands of people! It was really scary but so much fun, singing back and forth, and towards the end of the American tour I started singing with an indigenous sound, like I was singing from my core. It felt very brave and inspiring for my own songs, like ‘Do You Remember?’; being more intuitive and trying things from different angles.”
Arriving home feeling hungry to sing and to incorporate poetry into her lyrics, and willing to let her voice and words do the talking, Ane’s songwriting was liberated from having to spend laborious hours trying to figure out interesting chord progressions and melodies on the guitar. She also felt very strongly about inviting her friends and musicians she respected as artists to “come and leave their big footprints” on the songs. Long-time friend and collaborator Ellekari Larsson of The Tiny lent her primal, guttural moan to ‘Undertow’; First Aid Kit applied their soulful sisterly voices to give a splash of vocal colour to the massively percussive ‘Do You Remember?’; and José González visited the studio to sing and play on the dreamy ‘Worship’. “I’ve known him for years,” says Ane. “We released our first albums at the same time. I was actually an extra in his first video!”
As the second single, ‘Worship’ is one of the four lucky songs from It All Starts With One to be a part of the high-concept short film ‘ONE’ being made to accompany the album. Director Magnus Renfors, who has worked with both Ane and José from the start of their careers, has crafted a dramatic, compelling story of a fallen man – played by acclaimed theatre actor Ivar Wiklander – described as “a poetic tapestry… integrating and complementing Ane’s delicately composed branches between hope, rage and grief.” The aesthetic of the first part, unveiled back in June 2011 as the video for ‘Do You Remember?’, has a war hospital vibe, all grubby whites and browns, torn rags and bare lightbulbs, and it’s something that Ane has carried over to the staging of the latest live show.
Undoubtedly her biggest tour production yet, the crew includes her good friends and regular backing singers Jennie Abrahamson on keys, drums, flute, you-name-it, and Linnea Olsson on cello, together with another keyboardist and a pair of drummers. “It’s so much fun, and I’m dancing a lot more this time. I used to dance a lot when I was younger, so this is a much more fun tour for me,” says Ane. “I’ll probably do some solo shows too, though, so it’s going to be interesting to rework the songs for that. It’s been very creatively stimulating to look at the songs in different ways.”
Indeed, so much of It All Starts With One is open to interpretation. I suggest to her that much of the album seems to be about growing old with someone and exploring how relationships change over time, about balancing the feeling of union and the need to be your own individual person. “That balance is hard,” she nods. “I think the album is about trying to find how to have those close relationships without being sucked in and shutting down. I think that when I write about these different aspects of a relationship, it’s sometimes like cutting into just a little piece of something, a snapshot, and then researching into that piece, digging into it. I try to understand the feelings involved by trying to write poetry. Sometimes a song becomes something totally different to what it actually was about, but real emotion is always at the heart of it.”
Nearly ten years on from recording her debut album Spending Time With Morgan, Ane Brun finally feels like she’s getting to the core of her craft. If she ever listens back to her previous records, she says, there are things she’d like to change. “But then, that’s life! Like, I wish I could have dumped that guy in a different way,” she laughs. “But really, I feel my first two albums, and, I think, the third one too, have been very much an education for me, a learning process. With this album, I feel like I’ve graduated, like I’m more confident. This feels more real than ever.”
It All Starts With One is out now on Balloon Ranger Recordings. A deluxe edition gets a UK release on April 23, preceded by the single release of the José González duet ‘Worship’ on April 2. Ane plays Dublin’s Vicar Street on April 27 and London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire on April 28 – her biggest headline date in the UK so far.