Norwegian songstress Susanna Wallumrod, but usually just known as Susanna, is a lovely enigma of indie pop. Her somewhat avant-garde aesthetic borrows from the worlds of the baroque, jazz, and even a few ‘90s electronic genres… but she’s also famously covered the likes of AC/DC, KISS, and Rush (in addition to the arguably more “credible”-in-the-eyes-of-music-snobs Joy Division, Leonard Cohen, and Dolly Parton.) Her musical moniker would seem to change almost annually. Last year she released her collaboration with Ensemble neoN, The Forester, which I proclaimed to be my favorite collaboration of the year and characterized as, “whimsically woodsy and very soundtrack-to-a-postmodern-fable-y.” The mysteries surrounding Susanna’s polarities paint the portrait of a genius whose inspirations, influences, and craft would seem incomprehensible to the average person… She’s also the kind of artist that you expect you’ll never be able to experience in the flesh, much less talk to… I know I did… However, she is going to be playing a small handful of US dates later this month and opening night is right here in Philthy, with a March 25th performance at the International House. In addition, she actually agreed to chat with me about what brings her to the states… among other things… And while there is a certain romance to remaining a mystery, the things she had to tell me in no way diminish the profundity of her work…
Izzy: What is it that led to/inspired your upcoming US dates? I must admit that I’m very pleasantly surprised to hear of this run of dates, and especially about having a Philly show.
Susanna: It was the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville that invited us this time around. I am very excited about both that festival, and to get the chance to visit Philadelphia for the first time. Heard only good things about the city, and hope there will be an audience for my music there.
Izzy: Is there anything you’re especially excited for on your upcoming trip?
Susanna: As mentioned, the Big Ears Fest I think will be a great hangout, and I am looking forward to playing the festival. They have a wonderful program this year, including John Cale, Steve Reich, Television, Low, and Julia Holter.
Izzy: What should we expect of you on these upcoming dates? I understand that you’ll be playing a wide range of songs from your back catalogue, as well as from your latest efforts.
Susanna: Yes, I like to include both new and old songs in the set. I guess my music is known for being sparse, low-key, and tender- but with the Wild Dog material a new intensity is added and a wider range of dynamics, which I like a lot. New songs and arrangements tend to have an impact on older material as well. I enjoy the constant process and development of the live set.
Izzy: You’ve become known for covering a very eclectic array of artists. Is there something, specifically, that draws you to a song and makes you want to reinterpret it yourself?
Susanna: There are a lot of different things that attract me to a song. It can be the melody, lyrics, the beat- the feel… most important is probably the idea that it is possible or interesting to bring the song into my universe, transform it, and present it from my mouth and angle. The broad selection of songs I have covered reflects that I enjoy a lot of different music.
Izzy: For that matter, what do you currently consider to be your biggest influences and inspirations?
Susanna: I think music as an art form is my main inspiration, have been listening a lot to artists like Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Björk, Nick Drake, Roy Harper, Mazzy Star, and Nina Simone, among many others, of course. I really like the fluid, organic sounding music from the ‘70s, the rough edges in old folk music from different continents – and enjoy expressions with nerve and some kind of resistance. Music is supposed to challenge us somehow.
Izzy: Your last release, The Forester, recently received some huge recognition, winning Norway’s equivalent to a Grammy. How was that? Was it something you hoped for, expected, cared about?
Susanna: The Norwegian Grammy that we won for The Forester in the Open Category, was a great recognition of the music and the release. It was the first one I have received in the 10 years I have released albums, so it felt about time. Still these awards usually follow more of a mainstream logic, so it was a surprise. Even if the music and projects I do are low key or maybe a little bit secret, the quality of my work is of a high standard, and I am dependant of people knowing about my music to some extend.
Izzy: What are your plans for the rest of 2014? Is there anything you’re especially excited about?
Susanna: There are several things this year that I look forward to. First of all the, upcoming US Tour – and maybe returning in June again. I am currently planning a few concerts with Ensemble neoN in Norway, which is a special and expensive project, but so rewarding. And the music I wrote in collaboration with Jenny Hval for a festival in 2009 will be released later this year, again on my label SusannaSonata. Love for the rest of the world to get to hear those songs too.