EXCLUSIVE: Classicalite Q&A with Agnes Obel on 'Aventine' & 'Philharmonics' (Play It Again Sam), David Lynch Remix & Twin Peaks Remake, Maya Deren & November Show @ (Le) Poisson Rouge
Danish singer/songwriter Agnes Obel is yet another of the fantastic trend of indie-classical crossovers. Her 2010 debut, Philharmonics, garnered her platinum status in Belgium and France, received a Gold Award in Holland and went quintuple platinum in Denmark. Agnes cleaned up at the Danish Music Awards in 2011, taking home five awards for that album.
Her follow up release, Aventine, was written and recorded at home in Berlin by Agnes, herself. To wit, her deluxe edition features a remix of "Fuel To Fire" by cult classic director, producer, musician and clothing designer...David Lynch.
Sonically, Obel is unlike many singer-songwriters in the sense that she has a nearly complete backing band of strings and a piano producing a celestial escape. Classicalite recently caught up with Obel over the phone before her debut Minneapolis show to gain inisght on her technique, David Lynch and her diaphanous music videos.
Classicalite: Your Aventine deluxe U.S. edition features a David Lynch remix of “Fuel To Fire.” How did this collaboration come into fruition?
Agnes Obel: We are on the same label, Play It Again Sam, or PIAS. I sent him the album in 2013 and last summer he sent me a remix. Lynch’s remix brings a new feel to the song. It is the opposite of what I am trying to do. I am trying to integrate the piano. He separates it, finds a pause in the music. It’s not really a remix, it’s more of a rework. The vocals are the same but the track is mixed differently.
Clite: Is this a teaser to the upcoming Twin Peaks revival? Will your work be featured in the show?
AO: Not that I know of, though it would be great. I didn't even know about the show at first. And now that it’s 20 years later--I am very curious about what is going to happen. I am from the generation of kids that were traumatized by those sorts of movies and shows. I remember it was on the Danish television stations when I was little.
Clite: You produced both Aventine and your first album, Philharmonics. How was the production process for you? Are these bedroom recordings?
AO: I have been producing music and recording for a long time. It seemed natural to do it myself because I did all of the parts already-- I wrote the song and sang it too. I very quickly ended up doing everything at once. It seemed very natural to write then mix then complete. When you have your own studio you can do everything in the same place. It’s a little bit like artists who create electronic music. They’re not bedroom recordings, though. I do not know why people call it that.
Clite: Since you began playing the piano at age six, did you have a very eccentric childhood or more of a strictly classical training?
AO: I don’t remember because I was young. My mom played the classical piano and we had a lot of extra instruments around. We had a lot of different pianos coming in and out of the house because my father bought and sold them. My childhood felt natural to me because I thought it was very normal to have these experiences.
My parents were not super traditional. I was spoiled in the sense that I was free and exposed to a lot of music and free to play what you wanted and was never inhibited. There was never the feeling that music should be what's considered right or wrong. My dad was a jazz man who played the guitar and bass. He would play the Beatles and Paul Simon at the house.
Clite: So, would you say those are your influences: jazz and classic rock?
AO: I am influenced by all kinds of music from all kinds of genres. I like the idea that my own music is not genre specific. I like a lot of old time music. I feel it is important to listen to. It’s like food. There are all of these amazing types of food from all over the place to experience. That’s how music is. I like music that includes all types of instruments rather than something that is very bare and sparse.
Clite: And your music directly reflects that sentiment as you use a harp, cello, violin, guitar, piano and vocals. Are you recording these all at the same time?
AO: I build up the songs with samples and layer things. I have the same cello recording layered several ties on one track. I really like the flow of the cello so I create a close almost whispered sound. To me it can sound like a violin, intimate and not intense in a big string way. It creates more of an old folk music sound, quiet and intimate. I record it like a voice of it’s own and I record the vocals as a solo instrument.
Clite: Any word on a third album?
AO: I’ve been touring pretty intensely this year and last so I haven’t been able to do much. But for a third album I am interested in working with old keyboards, like the celeste, harpsichord and spinett. Writing on them creates different songs with different energy. I will use the voice differently too. I am staying mid range to trigger the imagination in another way. Similar in a sense to The Strangler’s “Golden Brown” single.
Clite: Sonically, you are keeping in step with your visual trajectory of ethereal soundscapes?
AO: Yes. The "Riverside" video was shot and produced by my boyfriend Alex Brüel Flagstad. He always says he wants to keep the music as the main component of the video. It’s basically his ideas and his visions and sometimes I’m not even sure what the music is about. The videos are intended to direct the viewers imagination, thats why he keeps it abstract. The video for “Dorian” was inspired by American filmmaker Maya Deren. They (the videos) take in her avant garde style.
Clite: We are looking forward to seeing you this weekend at (Le) Poisson Rouge (tickets here). What is your favorite thing to do when you come to New York?
AO: It sounds cheesy but I love going to MoMa. Seeing all of the people and the energy--I get a high. I love it so much. I like to go to Brooklyn, too. Everything looks so beautiful and there is always so much going on in New York.