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Our Hearts Still Beat For You: An Interview with Anna Ternheim

Kirstie Shanley

Swedish singer-songwriter Anna Ternheim takes a moment to chat with about her musical output and the current Swedish music scene.

Anna Ternheim

Halfway to Fivepoints

Label: Decca
US Release Date: 2008-04-22
Anna Ternheim

Leaving on a Mayday

Label: Verve Forecast
US Release Date: 2009-08-11

Sweden’s darling Anna Ternheim has been creating music since 2004 and has released four studio albums filled with songs that seem deeply personal and walk the line between folk and pop music. She possesses an adeptness for song compositions that don’t leave the listener wanting for even a moment. Though she chooses to back them up with the guitar rather than the piano, her lyrics sometimes recall the soft femininity of fellow Swede Frida Hyvönen.

It seemed effortless to have a conversation with Ternheim about everything from the music community right now in Sweden, to the sensational vampiric novel and film Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In). As one might expect, she comes off both as a strong and intelligent woman. She ran into a bit of trouble on the way to our interview and her October 10th show at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago, as the van she was sharing with Emil Svanängen of Loney Dear broke down, forcing her to take a special flight just to make the event. But she made it clear she wasn’t going to let the stress get to her or effect her live performance. What follows is a condensed version of our chat about her music, her live shows, and life as a Swedish musician.

You were very productive in 2008 with two full length album releases: Halfway to Fivepoints and Leaving on a Mayday. Are you currently working on any new material for an upcoming album?

2009 has been filled with non stop touring. I plan to put out a live recording featuring a DVD of some acoustic songs, though it may not end up being released here. It’s hard to write while on the road. I like to gather impressions during the touring to use after it’s finished. I’m looking forward to that after the tour ends.

Is there any music that you’ve been enjoying/listening to recently that is helping to make the tour easier?

I really love listening to the Swedish instrumental band Tape. I’ve been listening to Loney Dear as well as Depeche Mode. I recently saw Depeche Mode with Peter Bjorn and John opening up for them in NYC, actually, and I really enjoyed that.

It seems as if there have been so many great bands coming from Sweden in these recent years. Doubtless the internet, with sites like MySpace, help make it easier for music fans outside of Sweden to discover music from there. What is the music community like within your country right now?

Everyone has internet in Sweden and in one way it’s small and it’s easy to run into people (musicians) and meet after shows and festivals but in another way it can be lonely as if you are on your own island. Bands play more shows in cities like Stockholm and Gothenburg, though it’s easiest to meet others and get to play shows in Stockholm.

Who are some of your favorite musicians and bands that you have been able to tour with (both in Sweden and elsewhere).

I toured here with Okkervil River and that was nice. I really enjoyed being on tour with Joseph Arthur last year while he was playing acoustic sets. It’s strange, though, how it’s still very separate between bands on tour and you may not be able to see them for very long. I’m planning to tour with El Perro Del Mar and come back to North America in February and I’m looking forward to that.

How are music crowds or audiences that see you play different between Sweden and the U.S.

Well, I play for so much longer in Sweden and there are more return people that have seen me for multiple times already. This is only my third American tour so there are less return people. Often, people want to know why I write in English instead of Swedish, which has something to do with my musical influences as a teenager. Words get stronger in English and I feel in English-speaking countries the audiences might be sucking in every word.

Do you get criticized by music fans in Sweden for singing in English?

I’m not really criticized for it but people often just want to know why. Though, music is not just about the actual words but about the expression and presence of the songs. Things can be said in very few words and you can still capture the essence of what you’re feeling.

Do you feel it might be easier to be a “struggling musician” in Sweden than in the United States due to socialized medicine as well as possibly government support for the arts?

There’s more protection when you’re unemployed in Sweden in terms of the health care which has helped people create many beautiful things. Getting grants for pop musicians is very hard, though. There are grants available for the arts but it’s easier to get grants for things like classical music and theater as well as (non-music) art. There may be more grants available in Norway as well.

Is there a time you feel most inspired to write music and lyrics?

I would say early mornings or later at night. The worst time for me is definitely in the afternoons between 3 and 7pm.

Your lyrics often have a very personal sort of feeling to them. Do you feel they are more based on autobiographical experiences or are they fictional stories that you’ve created?

Everything is true. In order to explain exactly how stories come about, I have to start with myself or I can’t write. I can’t fake emotions, though I don’t have to make my personal life a story for everything. I write about things that affect me. Learning the gaps make it even more real than going on about the details. You have to find your own way.

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