It is a common conception, most times true, that to master a musical instrument one must start early. We’ve all heard of over-zealous parents coupling promising children with selected instruments before they can walk, let alone physically battle the oftentimes bulky contrivances. And anyone able to play with distinction will habitually have been at it for a long time.
Another prejudice, most certainly false, is that girls aren’t really cut out for the guitar, physically and emotionally.
However, both these “facts” were adamantly refuted when Ane Brun was “voted best new guitarist” by Martin –a distinguished guitar maker- in 2004.
This vote was certainly out of the ordinary, and as such it serves as a fine first introduction to the Norwegian artist Ane Brun.
Unlike your typical guitarist, Ane was the ripe age of twenty-one when she first picked up the instrument. But now, as recording and performing artist, she not only uses her the guitar to compose and accompany her celebrated songs, but also actually fills the role of guitarist, with the detail, precision and instrumental emphasis this entails. This is what Martin wanted to honour.
An exiting and unpredictable artist to experience live, Ane is far from the gently strumming female artists to whose ranks she might first be assumed to belong.
She has all the rough precision that makes the guitar speak its own language, from abusive slide-grinding to the beautiful sonority of steady-flow string-picking.
Picking up the guitar at 21 she started writing her own songs at 24. These songs were very much products of constantly tinkering with the guitar, exploring the instrument and becoming intimate with the process of writing songs as two interconditional things. Her songs thus sound surprising and innovative, because they are in a way more “discovered” than contrived. Her own experience of this is expressed in the title of her 2003 debut album. “Spending time with Morgan” simply refers to being alone with her guitar, (of the brand Morgan).
It seems that exactly this background, this “discovery” of own talent, and this somewhat secluded coming of age as songwriter has secured her an expression that continues to bare the traits of creative innovation, as if her “time spent with Morgan” has become a lasting source and sustains her distance from ever “manufacturing” songs.
And this authenticity is beyond doubt an important reason for her success. Another decisive factor is definitely her voice, which more than anything it is Ane Brun’s insignia; a voice of utmost distinction and personality. Never lost in the noise of the thousands others that flock the ether in uniform schools, it pops out and reaches the listening part of anyone with hearing. And what gives her voice its unique character and appeal is the simultaneous complexity of nuances, meaning that her voice does not carry just one sentiment, but seems to contain opposing aspects and thus a very distinct soul that makes the listener hark.
Her confessed influences are amongst others such great female songwriters as Joni Mitchell and Ani di Franco. She is also very definitely influenced by the genres of blues and country in their crude, original manifestations. And this is an aspect that makes her music different and interesting, the oscillation between gentle, beautiful songs and more primitive and unruly expressions. Both her playing and her voice have this range, and it makes her songs, and her records, unpredictable and leagues more exciting than music that is just sad and sweet, with no bite or sting.
This critic also finds affinity, at times close, with Michelle Shocked, an American songwriter with a deep honesty and spirit of truth to her work.
Ane Brun’s singing, her playing and her songs, have earned her such grand investments as “the queen of Scandinavian song writing”. And judging by her rapid success, as well as increasing involvement with international artists and projects, this claim is perhaps not too far-fetched, even considering the hyperbole of such a “coronation”. Interestingly, this proclamation stems not from Norway, but from the musically self-indulging Swedes, who regard Ane their own because, even though she is Norwegian, it is on the Swedish scene she appeared and in the Swedish musical environment she has come to her success.
“It was only when I moved to Sweden that I found encouragement and opportunities for my stripped kind of expression. The response and feedback was very different from what I had experienced in Bergen, my previous location, a city immersed in electronica at that time”, says Ane, now based in Stockholm. In retrospect she might muse over the providence that the Bergen scene was oblivious to her efforts. Because it would with near certainty have been tenfold more difficult to make a name for herself in Sweden based in Norway than the other way around. However, the insurmountable obstacles that typically bar Norwegian music from the Swedish market can, as this story proves, be avoided altogether by taking the whole enterprise across the border, and become Swedish for a while. And most importantly, success in Sweden means a position in the international music business that facilitates the kinds of projects and joint ventures that artists really want to undertake. A pointed example is Ane’s latest release –her second in 2005! - the album “Duets”, which is made up exclusively of duets she has done with Swedish, Norwegian and international artists over the past year. The duets were not done with a record like this in mind, but as a consequence of continuous interaction with artists she wanted to work with.
One example is the duet with Norwegian band Madrugada. “Lift me” is currently on heavy rotation on Norwegian radio and the two parties have done several joint performances.
Another example is the duet with Canadian Ron Sexsmith taken from her second album, this year’s first, and her breakthrough: “A temporary dive”
“Ron had been a personal favourite for some time and someone I had dreamed of working with”, says Brun, “so when I got the opportunity through our record company, I asked him, he agreed and we did a soulful version of “Song No 6”.
That song performed very well on the charts, as did the record itself, affirming Ane Brun as songwriter and performer out of the ordinary.
The ten months that have elapsed since its release has been a constant ascent for Brun, both in terms of the ever wider scope of her artistic output and in terms of international exposure. She was nominated for MTV’s European music awards, and for the Swedish annual “Rockbjørnen award”. In Norway she is in the competition for “best Norwegian pop song ever”, and has been nominated for two “Alarm awards”.
2005 has also been her breakthrough on the European live scene, and this long year of extensive touring is currently being fittingly finalised by warming up for A-ha on their UK-tour.
The future looks unequivocally bright for Ane Brun. For many reasons, most of them mentioned, but others too: Europe is already aware, America is beginning to look like a genuine possibility and everything she undertakes Ane controls herself. Even the future perhaps. She co-owns and manages the label that releases her records, and she produces her music herself along with a close associate. The time spent with Morgan was time well spent it seems.sd
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