Interview: Amalie Bruun
December 3rd, 2011
For someone from Denmark, rated as having the happiest population on earth, the music of singer-songwriter Amalie Bruun is filled with moody and melancholic sounds from low-fi guitars and tambourines reminiscent of alternative rock bands of the 80s and 90s. Born and raised outside Copenhagen, Amalie was brought up in a musical household which prompted her at the age of 20 to busk on the streets of Paris, London and Amsterdam before getting into songwriting for other musicians in Stockholm. One of these songs she recorded herself; ‘If You Give it Up’ ultimately became the theme song of Denmark’s version of the television series ‘Paradise Hotel.’
Her move to New York in 2009 after winning the NY Songwriting Circle’s International Award in 2008 has not only altered her musical style but has introduced her to some of the city’s most influential artists, allowing her to embark on a diverse slate of creative projects. These include her latest EP Flesh & Ghost, shooting a Chanel commercial with renowned filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and working with acclaimed music producer Mark Saunders (The Cure, David Byrne). The Block had the chance to talk with the rising artist about these things as well as her love of Scandinavia, Nirvana and the challenges of being a young musician.
The Block: Where do you come from and how did you first fall in love with playing music?
Amalie Bruun: I grew up north of Copenhagen right by the sea and the forest in a musical circus: my father is a songwriter and guitar player so it all started very early for me. I started writing songs when I was a kid and I played with my dad.
TB: You started at a young age busking on the streets of various cities around Europe; have you incorporated those experiences into your songs at all?
AB: Not so much the songwriting, but I did that because I was too afraid to go on stage. I had never played a show when I was 20. I could barely play for my own family, so I thought I’d go play on the streets because they’re so ungrateful, they just don’t care. It did help me to not be so shy, and it still affects me in a positive way.
TB: Does being from Denmark and Scandinavia inform your music? Do you feel like a Danish musician?
AB: Not particularly, I am very Scandinavian and I love Scandinavian composers. I grew up playing the violin so I love classical music. As for now, I’m inspired by the whole world, so what is Danish music really?
TB: You left there for New York a few years ago, how did that come about? AB: I lived in Stockholm right before and I was actually going to move there permanently for some years and work with musicians there and then I kind of saw into the future and asked myself where was it I wanted to be, and that was New York. So why stay in Stockholm? Why not move? So, I just booked a ticket and ended up there. I think a lot of New York people do that right? You just jump on a plane, sleep on people’s couches for three months and then all of a sudden something happens that makes you stay, and then you’re stuck, in a good way. TB: Did that move to New York and your time there change your style and sound at all?
AB: Very much, but the essence of what I play is the same as when I was a young child. I played with a band called MINKS in New York, they’re still playing but I decided to focus on my own stuff. They’re sort of more new wave-y, and all those genres that are big in Brooklyn right now, so that inspired me a lot. Life here can be tough and lonely at times, which is a cliche but the good thing about writing music and playing songs is that you can use that for something good.
TB: You’re working with music producer Mark Saunders for your next EP. Could you tell us more about what the mood and the sound of that will be?
AB: It’s going to be very whimsical and light and kind of eerie as well. He and I both love bands such as The Sundays and Mazzy Star, that vibe of the 90s. There is also a Rolling Stones cover on there as well, so some kind of 60s vibe as well. A little surf-y guitar; I have a new guitar and a tambourine so that will also be on there.
TB: Being a young musician or artist can be quite trying. Have you faced many challenges? What were some of your biggest ones?
AB: Yes, you have to pay rent right? But I have a very nice Irish landlord who is old and does not care if the rent is late, just as long as it’s there. My deposit for this apartment in the East Village was ten dollars, he was just like (puts on an Irish accent): “Just pay me ten dollars, its fine!” (laughs). But, New York can be incredibly judgmental, so sometimes I just want to move to the forest and play music because then I’d be happy. There’s a lot of stuff you have to deal with, all the time, but I think it’s hard for everyone.
TB: Do you have any dream musical collaborations?
AB: Keith Richards. That would be fun, that would be really great.
TB: That would be a very epic collaboration.
AB: Yes, that’s also how I felt about working with Martin Scorsese, you know I had never done any movies or anything before and here he is telling me how to act, it was amazing.
TB: Let’s talk about working with Martin Scorsese. How was it to meet him? Is he as intimidating as he could be?
AB: There is absolutely nothing intimidating about him, he’s so kind, so sweet, just rocking the eyebrows. I was in his office; he doesn’t even have a computer, it’s filled with books and there’s a little phone with a little old circular dial. He was going to brief me about the commercial and I thought we were going to talk about the role but all he wanted to talk about was music. He saw the ring I had on and he was like, ‘Oh that’s the one Keith (Richards) has!’ He also talked about shooting ‘Shine a Light’ [2008 Rolling Stones documentary directed by Scorsese] and how they zoomed up on the ring.
He also asked for a copy of the EP, and I told him he can check out my older stuff online and he just laughed and told me to look around his office to see if he had a computer.
TB: There seem to be a lot of young Scandinavian musicians making it big these days [Oh Land, Robyn, The Raveonettes, Lykke Li]; does their success encourage you at all?
AB: Well, I think it’s great that there is a lot of focus on them right now and yeah, it’s inspiring. I haven’t thought about that before, really. I mean, I was here in New York before a lot people I know that are here now but I was never thinking that being from Denmark would make it more difficult. I mean, look at Bjork, she did it before.
TB: What is next for you? Where can we see you in the near future?AB: The EP I’m working on with Mark Saunders is the next thing, alongside a music video with an amazing photographer named Kava Gorna.
TB: Any plans to come back to Europe soon?
AB: I hope so, I miss Scandinavia so much, it’s aching in my heart.
Interview Alexander LeRoseTweet