Agnes Obel, Vesterbro. Sept 2013

(Interview also out in The Copenhagen Post)

Danish pianist and singer Agnes Obel stormed to European popularity a good 3 or so years ago with her debut album, Philharmonics, a coup de maître that garnered gold in The Netherlands and went platinum in Belgium, France and Denmark. With such accentuated success to live up to, Obel is back in 2013 with her follow-up album, Aventine; a more nuanced and experimental work that draws on the dark emotional influences of Roy Orbison, amongst other inspirations. I caught up with her in Vesterbro, ahead of the start of her European tour and this is what she had to say about her music and the new album.

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Amk: “Welcome back to Copenhagen Agnes.” “For those who don’t know what you’re music is all about, what’s the philosophy behind your music ?” “What goes into making a song for you ?”

Obel: “Hmm, Well I can explain something about the process or the method.” “When I started working on my own music I didn’t have the chance to record in a big music studio so I had to record everything myself.” “I figured out that recording and writing songs at the same time works really well for me.” “A different moods shines through the song and the performance of it also changes.” “ I feel that this way of working also allows me to get closer to the nerve of the song.”

Amk: “You grew up surrounded by musical instruments as a child. How did the piano become your instrument of choice ? ”

Obel: “That’s a good question.” “I don’t know how I was stupid enough not to learn to play all the other instruments” (laughs). “We had a vibraphone and a double bass; why didn’t I learn to play them as well as I play the piano ?” “There was something about the beauty and resonance of the piano that spoke to my imagination I guess.” “My brother was into drums and guitars and I was always very much into the piano.”

Amk: “Your second album, Aventine, is just about to drop.” “You must be pretty excited about it.” “What is different on this album compared to Philharmonics ?”

Obel : “Aventine was made over a more concentrated period (one and a half years). Philharmonics was also recorded over a concentrated period though some of the songs are from earlier in my life. With Aventine, i’m trying to look into new states of mind that i’ve experienced and been curious about.” “The Cello is a major driving force in some of the songs on the album and i’ve experimented with it, using it in new ways and so on.”

Amk: “You’ve got a few shows coming up to promote the album.” “Is there any show that stands out amongst the bunch for you ?”

Obel : “I’m looking forward to Paradiso in Amsterdam- I’ve played there before on one of the first bigger shows I did on the previous album.” “It’s a beautiful venue.” “I’m also really looking forward to playing at Le Trianon in Paris.”

Amk: “What about inspirations ?” “Who or what do you get inspired by ?”

Obel: “I’m inspired by lots of things all the time and these things change, all the time.” “For the new album, i’m particularly inspired by Roy Orbison and the re-invention his songs have gained through David Lynch movies where one sees this dark under-current developing in them.” “I love the conversation between film and music.”

Amk: “You moved to Berlin a few years ago.” “What is it like living there ?”

Obel: “OhI really like Berlin !” “I grew up in Gentofte and moved to Frederiksberg when I was 12.” “When I went to Berlin for the first time I It felt like a big city and a village all at the same time.” “I didn’t really understand the place to begin with so I was very curious and I came home and told everyone that I’d be moving there.” “It was a leap into the darkness to see if it would work out, which it did and i’m very happy living there now.”

Amk: “What is it like to play in Denmark and Scandinavia in general ?”

Obel: “I’ve heard from other artists that people are a little bit more reserved in Northern Europe, which comes across at concerts, where the audience may be quieter.” “So this means less hecklers (laughs) but maybe it also means that people may not be as open about how they felt.” “I’m not so sure this is especially true of Denmark and I haven’t played that much in the North of Europe as most of my performances have been further south but it’s what i’ve heard.” “As far as Denmark goes, it is always really difficult to play for your family and friends.” “One becomes really self conscious, which is a challenge for me especially in Copenhagen where I know some of the venues really well.”

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