Ethereal singer-songwriter Agnes Obel has the powerful ability of creating beautifully hypnotic folk that’s guaranteed to give you goosebumps. Obel released her sophomore album Aventine in September of last year, and will be stopping by in Toronto to play The Great Hall on February 21st. Before coming through town, A Music Blog, Yea? asked Agnes Obel about songwriting influences, quintessential songs, her love for film, and bittersweet lyrics. Here is what she had to say:
AMBY: Hello Agnes, congrats on the release of your beautiful album Aventine! What was the experience like recording it?
Agnes Obel: Hello! Thank you. I had a very good time recording and making this album. I really enjoy working on one thing only. There’s a great focus and concentration when you are doing that and everything you experience seem related to the project. The hardest part is knowing when to stop and to move on to something else.
AMBY: What were your biggest influences songwriting-wise on this new album?
Agnes Obel: I think string techniques that (to me at least) are unusual, and trying to work them into the music like a voice or a pulse or a counterpoint. A lot of time has gone by with finding ways to record these kinds of sounds and beats, either from striking the cello or hitting the sides and the back of the piano. Another aim has been to capture and sustain certain moods, state of minds or personal experiences in songs by evoking them rather than stating them. Thinking of them like invocations of these experiences.
AMBY: What inspired the record’s first single The Curse?
Agnes Obel: Col legno, the technique where you strike the strings on the cello or the violin with the backside of the bow, making a percussive sound. The Curse was also inspired by a book I was reading at the time about how the human mind is wired to give meaning to things that might just have been chance, creating a narrative fallacy of our lives. I think the consequence of this can be both positive and negative, a curse or/and a blessing, making us create beautiful things, and see symbolic meaning in otherwise random things, but also making us blind and potentially destructive and conceited.
AMBY: Which three songs would you say are the quintessential Agnes Obel?
Agnes Obel: Not sure. I guess every song is – each song has its own time and space, linked to the place and state of mind I was in at the time of writing it. But obviously, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll know when I’m older and wiser.
AMBY: The record holds a lot of compelling and bittersweet lyrics. Which Agnes Obel lyric is your favourite?
Agnes Obel: Right now I like “Run Cried the Crawling”. The music and the words were written simultaneously. I am fascinated by how words and language change when you sing out loud. It gets physical in a different way than with spoken words. I think this is why I always start with the sound when I am writing; I have to feel it to know if it works. The semantic meaning and the sound of the words get connected differently when words are sung. It’s the immediate experience of the music and the words being physical, something that resounds and reverberates.
AMBY: As far as recording and releases go, what’s next?
Agnes Obel: I am working on some instrumental material on old keyboards, hoping I can get together enough material to make an instrumental album with this at some point, and then I am writing songs again. Planning to take time off to record them in June this year. Not expecting anything to be finished soon though because I am the slowest and terrible at deciding when something is done, but hopefully I’ll have something by the end of the year.
AMBY: What are some of your favourite things to do outside of music?
Agnes Obel: Sometimes I read and I am pretty much surrounded by people who work with and love film, so I guess film is a part of my life too without working with it directly myself. it is quite interesting how film and music can influence each other, when a piece of music changes a scene or character or mood, or the other way around, when a film changes a piece of music making, or at least how we perceive it. Also, quite disturbing when you think about it, because it is clear how much context has to say when we experience sound and images.
AMBY: Who have you been listening to lately?
Agnes Obel: Ennio Morricone and Amon Düll II.
AMBY: What was the best release of 2013?
Agnes Obel: I really liked the album “Nepenthe” by Juliana Barwick.
AMBY: And lastly, what’s something about Agnes Obel that nobody knows yet?
Agnes Obel: I think that some things are best kept secret.
Thank you Agnes Obel, for giving us your answers!
Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout