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Interview with Danish singer and songwriter Agnes Obel

By Apartment613 on March 3, 2017

By Anna Jonas

For Agnes Obel, becoming a musician wasn’t really a choice. It just sort of happened. “I’ve always been interested in music and I’ve sort of played and been involved in music my whole life, so it’s very hard for me to identify a point were I sort of chose [a career in music],” she says.

“I always did piano melodies on my own and I never took these melodies into the band practice for some reason. It was like I was saving them for something.”

Before recording and working only on her own material, the Danish artist worked on different projects such as music in films and theatre, as well as other collaborative work like playing in bands.

“I always did piano melodies on my own and I never took these melodies into the band practice for some reason. It was like I was saving them for something,” says Obel, whose boyfriend eventually convinced her to start recording them. “Now I really work alone with my own little mind monster every album, so that’s quite different.”

In the 12 years since then, Obel has released three albums: Philharmonics in 2010, Aventine in 2013 and most recently, Citizen of Glass in 2016.

“It’s been great. I really enjoy recording on my own,” says Obel. “I have to say, creating, it’s really nice when you can go with the flow of the moment and your ideas and you don’t have to think about what another person thinks and you can just go with that idea.”

Hauntingly beautiful, her melodies are simple yet complex and the sound simultaneously melancholy and bright. “I love disappearing into the music and feeling like even though I’m doing it alone, I’m together with everybody playing and everybody listening and sort of creating that moment together,” she explains.

Obel has quite the variety of influencers, with her music drawing inspiration not only from classical composers such as Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Erik Satie, but also writers like Edgar Allen Poe and photographers such as Sibylle Bergemann, Tina Modotti, Robert Mapplethorpe and Alfred Hitchcock.

For Obel, the most difficult aspect of writing her own music is being your own gauge. “When you’re doing it alone… it’s hard to know when to stop, if it’s good enough,” she explains. “It’s tough to know when to when it’s too much. That’s what I’ve done many times is go back and just use the demo version because all the other stuff I’ve done is just unnecessary… but it’s really difficult because sometimes the songs do need a lot of extra work. It’s something where you just have to sort of trust yourself but on the other hand you have to be very critical to develop and come up with new things. It’s a balance.”

“I love disappearing into the music and feeling like even though I’m doing it alone, I’m together with everybody playing and everybody listening and sort of creating that moment together.”

What makes Citizen of Glass different from Obel’s two previous albums is that instead of compiling songs and then finding a theme, she started with a concept and then worked around it. Having never worked this way before, she reveals that her greatest struggle in creating the album was “finding the right sound”, deciding on instruments, vocal style and other creative elements that would effectively communicate the idea.

The title was inspired by the German term “gläserner burger” or glass citizen, a legal expression describing when a person has lost all of their privacy, meaning that they have no secrets and one can see all of them as though they are made of glass. To Obel, this implied a certain fragility which lent itself well to her music.

Obel is no stranger to the limelight, having cleaned up at the 2011 Danish music awards, winning hefty titles for her album Philharmonics including Best Album, Best Pop Release, Best Debut Artist, Best Female Artist and Best Songwriter. Despite this, Obel cites her proudest career moments as having David Lynch use her track and being able to create albums exactly how she wants to. How’s that for down to Earth?

Though Obel has been to Ottawa before and played in Wakefield, this is her first real show in the city. She’s most excited about the possibility of snow. “I love snow! If there’s snow when I’m there I’m totally going to go cross-country skiing,” laughs Obel.


Agnes Obel is performing Friday March 3 at 8 pm at the Bronson Centre Theatre (211 Bronson Ave). Tickets are available online from www.spectrasonic.com, as well as in person at Vertigo Records and both Compact Music locations. Check the Facebook event page for more information.

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