Andrew Darley talks to Susanne Sundfør about collaborating with M83 on the soundtrack for Oblivion, her work with Röyksopp, and the UK release of her back catalogue.
After six years of making music, the Norweigan-native Susanne Sundfør is on the cusp of breaking through internationally. This April saw the release of her back catalogue in the United Kingdom for the first time, including her most recent album The Silicone Veil. She has featured on M83’s title soundtrack for the sci-fi epic Oblivion and on Röyksopp’s stunning single ‘Running To The Sea’ last year. With a voice that blends youthful passion and mature wisdom, her music interweaves classical elements, electronics and pop to make a distinctive style high on drama and emotion. At a time when it feels she is about the gain the broad recognition she deserves, Susanne took time out from making her new album and touring to talk about the journey she has taken since her debut back in 2007.
Your entire back catalogue has just been released for the first time in the United Kingdom. Given the success you’ve had in your homeland, does it feel like you are starting over again in a new country?
It doesn’t really feel like a beginning, more like introducing my music to a new audience. I’ve already done the beginning. I think it would be too much to think about if everytime I played my music to a new person it was like starting from scratch. That said, I really enjoy doing shows in Britain, because I love the audience. They’re attentive and appreciative, even though I might not deserve it.
How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard your work before?
It’s dramatic, heavily arranged, a mixture of pop and electronics.
Can you tell me about how you got into music and when you realized you wanted to pursue it as a career?
I started making songs when I was 17, because all the guys in my music high school who made their own music got a lot of attention. I wanted attention too, and I wanted to be able to live off of my own music, so I guess that’s why I started. It was a necessity in order to survive as a performing musician. Through the years my compositions have become more important to me than my abilities as a performing musician. I started out wanting to be on stage and sing, and I ended up caring more about my next composition.
Were there any musicians in particular who inspired you to create your own?
I listened to a lot to folk music in high school. I mainly got all my inspirations from my dad’s records, and would sit at home and listen to them all the time. I loved Fleetwood Mac and Carly Simon, and wanted to make that kind of music. Things changed a lot after my first record, and I became more focused on the album format rather than focusing on one song at a time. That’s when I got into electronic music as well.
You recently collaborated with M83 for the Oblivion soundtrack. How did that come about and what was it like working with Anthony Gonzalez?
I did support for M83 last summer, so that’s how he got to know my music. He asked me in January if I wanted to sing on the end credit song for Oblivion, and of course I said yes! Working with Anthony was so inspiring and fun. He’s unbelievably talented, and I’m a huge fan of his music.
Is there anyone else you would like to work with in the future?
Yes, I really want to work with Big Black Delta. I love his sound and he would be a perfect fit for my new sound.
The M83 and Röyksopp collaborations and your last two records, The Brothel and The Silicone Veil, have strongly embraced electronic music. Is this genre something you want to further explore in your songwriting?
Yes. I might grow tired of it after this next record, but there’s something about electronic music that I think will always fascinate me. There is almost no limitation to what sounds you can create with electronic instruments or gear. It makes it easier to go crazy in the studio and be creative.
The Silicone Veil explores the close interconnectedness of states people experience such as life and death, love and loss. Also, The Brothel evokes a certain set of imagery and themes too. When you start a new body of work, do you have a particular concept you want to express or do the themes emerge over time?
I usually have a theme or keyword that I start out with. On these two albums it was the silicone veil and a brothel. It helps make everything connected, which again gives the product another dimension. Like chapters in a book.
The music videos for your singles are quite cinematic, both in style and story. How do you approach the visual side of your work?
I don’t, I let other people do it! [Laughs] I’ve been very lucky with the two videos for the last album, because I got to work with talented directors. Both Mats Udd and Luke Gilford did an amazing job.
Do you have a favourite music video or one you are particularly proud of?
I would say The Silicone Veil video is something I’m very proud of. I didn’t write any of it, I just flew to LA and played a small part in it, which is exactly what I wanted.
Luke dedicated himself completely to the video, which you can tell. There’s so much emotion, mystique, and stories there. And the pictures are so beautiful.
In 2011, you were commissioned by the Oslo Jazz Orchestra to compose a 44 minute set of instrumental music. Was that experience challenging for you as an artist?
No, it was just a lot of hard work. I was quite inspired at that time, because I didn’t really have anything in life except music, so all I could do to keep my head above the surface was to write, so it was perfect timing to make a commission, I guess!
You have toured your music extensively and built up a reputable stage set-up to translate the music to an audience. Is touring something you enjoy?
Sometimes. Touring is a mystery to me, because I always try and find a method where I can be happy after each show regardless of how it went, and be able to go to bed early and all in all manage to get through it without getting physically and mentally exhausted. Touring is emotional, basically. You go up on stage almost every night, and you always want it to be perfect, you want the audience to love it, and you want everybody in the band and crew to be happy. That rarely happens. But when it does it’s heaven on earth.
Who or what has been the biggest support to you as an artist?
My parents, my friends. Some musicians, and some people in the business who have believed in me. I owe them a lot. Believing in yourself as an artist can be hard. At least for me. Somebody told me recently that you know who your friends and supporters are when you’re not on top of your game. It’s very true.
If you could hope for one thing in 2013 for your career, what would it be?
Finish my record, do more shows.
Can you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Yes, that was ‘Walls’ from my first record. I had been working on it for a week or so, and I played it to my dad. He said I should repeat the chorus, and then it was done.
Reflecting back on your work since your 2007 debut album, do you feel you have made a transition in the way you create or approach composing music?
Yes, I’m better now. Better at my job. I would say 80% of what I do is something that needs to be taught and experienced. The rest is creativity, and I can never control that.
Susanne’s current album The Silicone Veil is out now through Sonnet Sound. Her first three albums were released in the UK in April; Take One (2008), The Brothel (2010) and A Night At The Salle Playel (2011). She is performing at The Great Escape in the UK on May 17th. For more information, click here to visit her website.