There’s No Reason Susanne Sundfør Should Still Be Norway’s Best-Kept Secret
There was a time when the comment section on this website was brimming with Susanne Sundfør’s name. Big Thief profile? OK, great, but where’s Susanne Sundfør? So you’ve got a file on Gwen Stefani? Sure, nice, but SUSANNE. SUNDFØR. A news article on Future and cough syrup? #JusticeForSusanne.
For years, those who have been tuned into the Norwegian musician’s architecturally intricate compositions and crystalline voice—yes, only cliché can describe it—have been dumbfounded by the lack of discourse and fanfare it’s inspired outside of Norway, where she’s been appropriately rewarded with four #1 albums. Elsewhere, In the UK and the US, to speak of Sundfør’s name among a crowd of others was to proffer a kind of sacred offering. (If you’ve yet to listen to Ten Love Songs, do that. It might be one of the best music recommendations you’ve ever received).
Or, perhaps it’s appropriate that blómi, Sundfør’s sixth studio album and her first in as many years, should be your entrypoint. Out this Friday, blómi feels the way a yoga session feels: A gentle, openhearted exploration into the human heart, it should loosen you, regenerate you, fill you with an infinity of “yes”es.
blómi is as much a tribute to antiquity as it is the bliss of new life. The album is largely dedicated to Sundfør’s daughter, who she gave birth to in 2020, as well as to her grandfather, the Norwegian linguist Kjell Aartun, (in)famous for his theory that Norway’s Norse Runes came not from Vikings but semitic fertility cults. While her grandfather’s speculative runology was heavily contested during his lifetime, on blómi, she translates excerpts of his work into song, turning them into something beyond question and criticism. Now, a new audience is finally listening.
Thinking back to your previous albums, Ten Love Songs, Music For People In Trouble — both the titles and the songs themselves state very plainly what the listener is in for, and that it’s up to them to develop their own deeper meaning. Whereas with this album you’re presenting runes and esoteric language that demands a more immediate kind of decoding. Why is that?
SUSANNE SUNDFØR: I think it’s age. I’m less apologetic. This album is also a lot rawer than the previous ones. It’s a bit more sort of, yeah, unpolished. There are also ways in which it’s a bit more refined, I brought in more elements to try and create more unity between the songs, and maybe they make it a bit more obscure or difficult to penetrate because there’s more than just one meaning or message.
How much did your grandfather’s theories — that the Norse Runes stretched back much farther than had been commonly assumed — threaten the national myth of Norway?
SUNDFØR: It was controversial, and he was sort of labeled as a pseudo scientist. His theories have sort of been forgotten. And also, the nature of the content was was also controversial — you know, it was erotic. That was also sort of frowned upon.
I just want to emphasize that this is not my attempt to convince anyone that my grandfather was right, or that his theories are true. I wanted to include his work on the album because I wanted to celebrate him and his academic work and him as my grandfather as well, because he meant a lot to me. When I was a child, I thought it would be brilliant to translate his work into a song, because it’s like a revival you can’t criticize.
On this album, I’m trying to celebrate my family’s eccentric characters. I grew up in a small town in Norway, and I’ve always been eccentric and different. I think many people who are different in Norway sort of feel feel a bit isolated. My town Haugesund was a bit like the Dursleys in Harry Potter.
Have you considered how your own children and future grandchildren might relate to your work?
SUNDFØR: I don’t know yet. I mean, this album is also dedicated to my my daughter since she’ll grow up with eccentric parents as well. My husband is also an artist. I want that to be celebrated and I want that to be a positive thing in this home and I want her to feel safe in being different.
How did having a child alter your relationship with the natural world?
SUNDFØR: It was quite a shock. To have your body completely transformed in order to create a human being, and then to have her be dependent on your boobs, basically, for survival. It’s just very raw and dangerous and then incredibly beautiful at the same time. It’s this strange dichotomy. I read somewhere that chimpanzees and bonobos mimic their mothers or the elder apes who breastfeed them so it’s all learned that way in their culture. That’s just not how it is for humans anymore. Birth forces you to become more connected to your body, and that is a part of nature, I guess.
Have you always been attuned to nature’s connection with music?
SUNDFØR: I feel like music is nature, there’s no distinction. We are a part of nature, even our cities are our nature. I forget that all the time because for some reason, we’re always trying to distance ourselves from nature as much as possible.
Do you feel you carry a certain melody inside you, sort of like a bird?
SUNDFØR: No. [laughs] No, I think of music more like pictures than as audio. The images in my head correlate with whatever sound comes out. I often think of music in architectural terms. So, when I want to write something I’m thinking something like, there should be like a waterfall in here, or this sort of thing needs to feel like the wind in the trees. Sometimes melodies do show up but usually they’re quite lame.
I’m also affected by the fact that this is my job. I think there was much more musicality within me or I had more contact with it when I was a teenager and I was just starting to make music. It’s actually quite sad. I don’t really listen to music anymore. It’s something that I want to revive. This isn’t how it should be.
I’ve spoken to many professional musicians who feel similarly and some have said they’ve gone to open mic nights to help revive their love of music.
SUNDFØR: Yeah, that makes sense. That curiosity sort of wanes, because you understand too much. When I watch comedy I can be in awe because I have no idea how they do it. I have no idea about the craft behind it. I don’t know the tricks, you know. And I talked to comedians, and they’re like, oh, yeah, he’s doing this or he’s doing that. And I’m like, just laughing.
Do you feel any less concerned about your audience outside of Norway? I noticed you weren’t performing any shows in the UK or US for your upcoming tour.
SUNDFØR: I want to, I just don’t know if there’s time this year. But I’m thinking maybe next year, we just haven’t really planned anything yet. Touring for me is quite intense. I have to be a bit careful now because I get so easily worn out. Art, for me, is something that has saved my life. I grew up with books. That’s where I found voices like mine. It’s, it’s just so important to me and I feel like I owe it to the music that when I go on stage, it’s for real. So I don’t want to be a character. I just want it to be raw, and that takes its toll. I’ve been fatigued so many times before, but this time around, I’m a mom. I have to be there for my for my daughter
What made you want to end the album on the word “yes”? I was wondering whether it was inspired by Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of Ulysses, have you read it?
SUNDFØR: I never could. I tried but I gave up. But that comparison gave me goosebumps, it’s a lovely coincidence. For me, “yes” is about having an open heart to the world, and I think that’s the bravest thing you can do. It’s so tempting to just close it but then we’re not human anymore. I think it’s essential for us to to be open to each other like animals are. Nature is an everlasting flow of energy. And so, in order for this flow to to happen you have to be open to both the good things and the bad things, sort of let it stream through you and to me — all of that has been a central part of my healing process.
blómi is out 4/28 on Bella Union.