New Orleans’ one-woman-band
wunderkind seems nothing less than a genuine sonic sensation.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
To describe Theresa Andersson
as unique is kind of like saying there’s sand in the Sahara. Or for that
matter, confirming there’s snow in the artic. A veritable one-woman ensemble,
she defies the very notion of what a solo singer/songwriter is assumed to be,
that is, an artist with a trunk full of songs and most likely merely a voice
and guitar or keyboard to put them across. As anyone who’s seen her live can
attest, Andersson’s instrumental arsenal consists not only of those traditional
tools, but rather a complex system of loops, pedals, mixers and sequencers that
turn her winsome songs into sounds that are atmospheric intensive – an approach
that’s essentially austere, precious and homegrown, and yet also unerringly
intriguing and inventive. Like Kate Bush, Tori Amos and Laurie Anderson, her
music originates with melody, but quickly evolves with an unlikely exuberance
both quirky and compelling.
Born in Gotland Sweden in
1972, Andersson relocated to New Orleans in 1990, and in short order integrated
herself into the city’s much lauded music scene. However it wasn’t until the
release of 2008’s Hummingbird, Go! that her solo work began catching the ears of the critics. Eerie, haunting and
yet possessed of an extraordinary exuberance, the album was recorded solo in
Andersson’s kitchen under the auspices of producer Tobias Froberg. A remarkable
record in both concept and conceit, it paved the way for a live DVD as well a
series of YouTube videos that have since netted well over a million views.
All that activity provides a
perfect set-up for Andersson’s latest opus, Street
Parade, a record which follows the same MO as its predecessor. With Froberg
once again at the helm, Andersson and her producer reconvened in her kitchen,
allowing Andersson to once again take on the majority of the instrumentation.
The result is her most stunning effort to date, one which seems likely to
elevate awareness to a markedly higher plateau and offer potential for some
emerging artist of the year recognition.
BLURT recently had the
opportunity to speak to Andersson as she prepared for the release of the new
album. For an artist whose approach seems so unusually complex she came off
remarkably grounded and down-to-earth.
BLURT: For starters, can you give me an idea of your
ANDERSSON: I grew up listening
to ‘80s music from Tina Turner, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran and such… whatever
was playing on the radio at the time. My parents had a couple of cool Aretha
Franklin and Ella Fitzgerald records that I just about wore out. Around the time I moved to New Orleans I
also listened a lot to Joni Mitchell… I used to sing “My Old Man” and “Blue”
as I scrubbed marble staircases to make money for my first US ticket.
What made you decide to pursue the idea of being a
one-woman band – was it for practical purposes or artistic reasons – or a
combination of both?
It began as a practical
solution but ended up being the coolest discovery! I had a tour booked in
Sweden, but couldn’t afford to bring a band, and so I got the first RC-50 loop
pedal. As I kept developing new ideas, I often ran into limitations in the
pedal which led to really interesting solutions.
Your stage shows look fascinating – was it intimidating
or even difficult to place yourself in the spotlight sans any supporting
Sure, it was intimidating at
first because I had such an overwhelming amount of detail to keep track
of. In time I’ve learned to trust the
symbiotic relationship between me and the pedals!
What inspires your songs?
On Street Parade,” I was hugely inspired by the actual street parade,
the space after a parade passes before the next comes. This was very much a
metaphor for my own life at the time. Having come off a three year tour for Hummingbird Go! I was entering into a
big life changer, becoming a mother.
Since I started looping, my writing has
changed and I use the pedals to create more panoramic soundscapes. This is how
the songs on Street Parade began. I
would sketch out harmonies and melodies with my voice and later work them into
Was there one thing in particular that
was especially exciting about this record?
It was very exciting to have
Swedish pop man Peter Moren sing on “What Comes Next”!
When you’re writing and recording your material, do you
envision how you will interpret them solo on stage, even right from the start?
Unfortunately not, ha, ha! It
would save me a lot of headache if I did. I should probably try that approach
for the next record!
What brought you to New Orleans originally? Was it
difficult to integrate yourself into that well-established scene?
I first came to New Orleans as
a teenager. I moved here with a bandmate/boyfriend. We used to play for tips in
a Laundromat/bar in the French Quarter. New Orleans is very friendly and bands
invite you to sit in. I still sit in every chance I get. My favorite is playing
with Johnny Vidacovich (Professor Longhair), George Porter (the Meters) and
Ivan Neville (Neville Brothers).
Can you explain the technique you use with the loops, the
sequencer and the turntable? How did you come up with this system and figure
out how to make it work? Do you use that set-up in the studio as well?
My set-up consists of a
guitar, a violin, drums, loop mic and a record player. All these are fed
through two mixers, one for the drums and one for the instruments. I use the
record player to sample sounds and beats, like the Smokey Johnson drumbeat on
“Birds Fly Away.” [See video, below, from
her DVD; the BLURT editor saw her on this tour and reportedly was amazed, by
the way. – A/V Ed.]
the mixers I go into a bunch of effect pedals and finally into the loop pedals.
I have two RC-50’s that I use for looping. Each has three phrases that I can
record multiple tracks on. Unfortunately, the two loop pedals cannot be
synchronized, which means that it is extremely difficult to keep things lined
up if you run both pedals at the same time.
I started with just one pedal,
but soon expanded to two so that I would have more options. I use the pedals a
lot while writing, but not so much in the studio. In the studio I like playing
parts all the way through.
Do you envision your arrangements while you’re writing
the songs, and do you consider the arrangements essential to the composition?
It’s more of a feeling of what
I want the song to be. Most times, the arrangements for the record end up
differently than the live approach to the song. In both cases, it’s about how
it fits in to the whole of the record/live set.
At times, your work seems to find a common bond with Kate
Bush and Laurie Anderson… What so you think of that comparison?
I’m honored to be compared to
such artistic icons!
When did you get the sense that this technique of yours
would work with audiences and that the audiences were in fact embracing what
you were doing?
The first tour I did in
Scandinavia with the small set up was enough to give me a blooded tooth as we
Swedes like to say…
Were you surprised by the kudos accorded Hummingbird, Go?
I knew I had changed my
approach to songwriting and performing quite a bit, and so I was thinking more
along the lines that people might not like it… You can never predict or take
anything for granted in this line of work, and when something goes well, it is
very exciting and rewarding.
NEW ORLEANS, LA
NEW ORLEANS, LA
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
NEW ORLEANS, LA
Tipitina’s (French Quarter)
The Mission Theater
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Swedish American Hall
LOS ANGELES, CA
The Bell House