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Rebekka Bakken - "Songwriting is like alchemy"

With her new album "Morning Hours", the Norwegian blonde beauty emerges like a princess from the forest and presents songs destined to take the hearts of her listeners by storm. Despite that big ambition, it is the small things in life Rebekka Bakken weaves her stories from, portraing persons whose view and perspective she assumes: "Powder Room Collapse" was a propsosal of a friend as the title of the collection.

Rebekka Bakken

A song with this name is included—although it didn't make it as the title of the album. Nevertheless it can be regarded as representative for that kind of special female perspective that Rebekka Bakken portraits in many of her songs. Without being unambitious, "Morning Hours" definitely also doesn't lean towards being experimental. But it has appeal. In short: "Morning Hours" reaches out and touches.

Carina Prange talked to Rebekka Bakken for Jazzdimensions

Carina: Let's start with a slightly "juicy" question—about playing with erotic. You've often been pictured scarcely dressed, lying down in a very feminine pose… You are a very good-looking woman according to Western European norm. What role does erotic play in your image as an artist?

Rebekka: Wow, that's a question I never got! And it is something, that I don't relate to, because I don't play with anything. In my artistry, what is important to me is the music. And the only thing I have is myself, so I don't play with any kind of specific expressions.

And, you know, if I have been described as "erotic", it's other peoples' interpretation of what they see or what they think they see. So that's a question that is much rather related to those people who have described me as that than a question relating to me.

Rebekka Bakken

Carina: Does that also mean that women who are mainly judged for their looks and therefore also have to rely on it-like you or for example Carla Bruni, she is also a very beautiful woman - also have a rather critical eye on how they appear in public?

Rebekka: I think, that looks is totally overestimated. Of course some people think you need to be good looking in order to make music. And then, however, other people say, if you are good looking that's difficult for making music even. They are so chaotic, those ideas, that one can have about what one needs to be - or what one shouldn't be - in order to be successful! So all that things, I let that go very, very young. There are no rules about what is it, that makes you successful.

It's not about anything external. I mean for me and also for what I see, you know, it's really what do we have to complete it with. And then everything else becomes arbitrary. So what I am focussing on is on the music. And I am also a woman. When I go out in the evening, I put up some make up. I play with those things but those things don't play with me!

Rebekka Bakken

Carina: The new album was produced by Craig Street who has also worked with Lizz Wright before. How did this collaboration come about and how did you know that he was the right man for the job?

Rebekka: Well, this is a perfect example of how well a record label and an artist can work together, because it was my A&R; in Germany, who proposed him. For a long long time I had been looking for producers to work with. And I couldn't really find somebody, where I said: "Yes, this will fit!" To work with a producer, I need to really feel that I wanna give up all control. I have to really trust the person.

So when the label suggested Craig, I went home and listened to a lot of music that he did. And one thing I realized was, that there is no typical Craig-Street-Sound. What struck me, when I listened to his productions, was that there was a nerve to it, there was a sensitivity to everything he did. And so I sent him my music and he responded and said: "Yeah, let's work together!"

We talked a little bit on the phone and get to know each other. We talked about the music we like, about how to approach the music. And also completely different things-we talked about cooking and other things. Just to get to know each other and our mutual approach to creativity. And it was very evident from early on, that we want to work together. I was very quick at realizing that—Yeah!—this is the guy I want to work with.

That he is a guy, who has a similar take on music than I have. And the approach was a very symbiotic process. We did not have any kind of disagreement at any point. And our producing was very close to my way of producing, too. So it was a very, very comfortable and natural process.

Rebekka Bakken Unit - "Treats For The Nightwalker"

Carina: I asked Marc Ribot about his diverse collaborations—with avantgardists like Tom Waits or Laurie Anderson on one hand, with jazz musicians like James Carter or songwriters like Sarah-Jane Morris on the other. I wanted to know if this many-sidedness was a general necessity for an artist.
Marc answered: "I have my own projects, my own composing, my own bands. But beyond that I am a freelance musician and if someone calls and I like their music, then I work with them. And that's how papa pays the bills."
To freelance like that, does that also push creativity? Is it easier for an instrumentalist than for a singer to blend in other people's projects?

Rebekka: Yes, if I were an instrumentalist maybe it would be easier to blend in… I don't know. However the voice is an instrument like any other instrument. It's just connected to the body. I haven't done so much other collaborations and things like that, or being freelance. I think, that's explicable because I have been working so much on my touring and albums and there wasn't much time for it. But it's something that I'd really enjoy doing.

I like to jump into other people's musical worlds and contribute with what I can. And to kind of attune to other peoples' languages and ways of expressing music. A good musician or singer or whatever you wanna call it, is somebody, who is completely free from ideas of genre, of types. You can know a lot, but at the moment you are going into a musical situation, you can just leave all of that behind and that you approach the situation the way it has to be.

With the musicians I work with now, that's so much related to the music. It was a wonderful experience. They were all very strong people, but genre was of none importance, when we started to make music. Everybody was able to leave behind everything they knew and to create what the song asked for. And that's how I like to work.

Carina: There's numerous styles that can be attributed to your new album. Where would you presently locate yourself in the stylistical landscape-or is it something like a "styleless style" that you're at home with?

Rebekka: Style is something that is completely meaningless to me. When I put on a record at home, I don't think what style do I want to hear. Should I put on jazz, rock, pop, classic? I think: what music do I wanna hear? And then I pick something not because of the genre, I pick something that I "need" right now, that I'd like to hear. And so I think, using my brain to find a style and work on it is a waste of my braincells. (laughs)

It demands too much thinking. But when I have to name a style or genre, I like to say, I am a "singer-songwriter", I always did. Singer-songwriter, because everything fits in that. And, yes, I write songs. I mean, as simple as that.

Carina: You've visited and lived in many different countries in the mean time-does that make you an adaptive cosmopolitan or does there always remain a longing for home?

Rebekka: I never had a relationship to longing. Because I realized very early on, that whenever I longed for something else, it was because I was not really present where I was at at the time. If I feel longing, I know, that something is missing right now. Or I am not present right now—so I always try to be present in where I am.

When I went back to Scandinavia, I did not go to Norway, but I went to Sweden. And it's because I always loved Sweden. I never expected to go back to Scandinavia, because it's so damn cold here! (laughs) But it's nice. I don't know if it is because I was longing for it unconsciously. I don't think so. But it is that I always loved Sweden. And now that I have the ability to move, I can be anywhere. It really doesn't matter, because I am always travelling anyway—to concerts and to recordings. So I am very grateful for Sweden. I have to go where I like to go.

Carina: In what way did it influence the sound that new CD was recorded in the USA?

Rebekka: Well, we looked at many different options regarding studios. We looked at options in France, in Germany… Physically the fact that it was recorded in America doesn't really matter. When I am in a studio, I like to be in a nutshell in a residential studio. Because I don't want anything from outside disturb me. It's like you are in this house and that is your life for a week. So during the recording process I never feel an influence from the outside. But anyway, when I seriously started in music, I always had a love for southern state rock and American artists. I felt very close to songwriters. So I think you can definitely hear that.

Rebekka Bakken

Carina: Did you over the years as well develop a new quality or nuances of expression with your voice?

Rebekka: I hope so… Because I am a singer. I hope that there is some development and new discoveries in my musical world. Sure, I hope so. But at the same time, when I was much younger, I was rather interested in what my voice could "do". Now I am much more interested in how I can let my voice be an instrument and what I wanna "express". So that makes me much less concerned with what it does - like the sound of it - but with the feel of it. The feel of singing. That's more interesting to me now.

Carina: Please tell me something about "Powder Room Collapse", a rather energetic, pounding song on your new CD "Morning Hours". How did that come about?

Rebekka: There actually is some story. It was a friend of mine, who had the ides… I always thought about how I should call my next record. And in this case, a friend of mine said: "As I know your habits in the bath, you are a little hysterical about that… you always look like in a war zone in the bathroom!"—He continued: "Why don't you call it Powder Room Collapse?" And I thought: "Oh, that's a cool title".

The problem however was, that I had no song called "Powder Room Collapse". And this was on the night before I left for New York to start recording. So I thought, I'll write a song called "Powder Room Collapse"… That title was so potent, it gave me a lot of situations. So I started writing on my piano before I left for New York. And did the rest on the airplane!

When I got to the studio, I never expected, that we would actually record it. But I played it to the guys—and yes, we did record it. And that's why it is on the record—because a friend suggested to call the album "Powder Room Collapse". In the end I didn't think it would work as a title for the whole record. It became just another song. But that song stayed, I really like it. (laughs)

Carina: Last not least I'd like to know something about "No Easy Way", a song which seems to appeal to a great number of people. Is there a trick about writing such high-quality mass-compatible songs?

Rebekka: Oh, thank you! (laughs) First of all, songwriting is like alchemy. There are common ingredients, but what makes its magic, you don't know. Secondly, what I want to do when I am writing music is to really identify with the roles, that I am painting. I see the contour of a person, I really go into that and I try to connect to that as deeply as I can. I become that person—emotionally—to write the lyrics…

It's like unexplored areas in your emotional life, that you are really free to go into. So I feel very comfortable with my feelings, when I can really explore a lot; I like to be introspective. That makes it so much easier to attune to those things, and feel this. Dive into it. And look at it. Look at it… but not with the personal eyes. You can really feel emotions without feeling personal about it. Without taking them too damn personal. Then you can really go deep down into them.

Rebekka Bakken

Carina: Religion, belief and spirituality-what role do they play in your musical life?

Rebekka: Oh, I find it difficult to talk about these things, because people connect them with so many associations. And I am not talking about associations, but what they represent. You know, I am living life. I am expressing myself and that to me is spirit. It's just spirit-there is nothing else. Talking about these things is like talking about the air we are breathing. It's what we live in. I am not religious or anything like that…

Carina: Do you have something like a philosophy for life?

Rebekka: Nothing matters much. And most things don't matter at all. And that leaves me a lot of space for enjoyment!

Carina Prange

CD: Rebekka Bakken - "Morning Hours" (Emarcy / Universal)

Rebekka Bakken im Internet: www.rebekka-bakken.de

Universal Jazz im Internet: www.jazzecho.de

Fotos: Pressefotos

Mehr bei Jazzdimensions:
Rebekka Bakken - "Living is letting go" - Interview (erschienen: 31.3.2004)
Julia Hülsmann / Rebekka Bakken - "Scattering Poems" (erschienen: 17.2.2003)
Bakken / Muthspiel - "Beloved" (erschienen: 6.1.2003)

© jazzdimensions 2010
erschienen: 16.2.2010
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