Susanna Wallumrød’s best songs, chosen by her | Interview

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Susanna Wallumrød’s best songs, chosen by her | Interview

BEST FIT: This song is based on a poem by Baudelaire and is the title track from the follow-up recording of Baudelaire and the piano. Can you tell me how altitude the project came to life?

SUSANNA: Yes. I talked earlier about how I came up with the idea for Baudelaire and Orchestra album quite early in the Baudelaire project but altitude the album was different. It really came out of a concert I did at the Henie Onstad Arts Center [in Bærum, close to Oslo] where I invited in various art directions such as scenography and costumes and video.

As this was more of an exhibition space than a normal concert venue, I thought very consciously about how I wanted to use the room. It’s not a square room, there’s a lot of angles, so I took that as a sort of invitation to do things differently and I spent a long time figuring that out. I wanted the production to feel like an island and the audience to be on islands too. I wanted it to feel like we were floating around and that we were somehow equal.

Performance was based on Baudelaire and the piano, but I brought in other musicians. One of them was Stina Stern, with whom I began to work on Garden of Earthly Delights album we did as Susanna & the Brotherhood of Our Lady. She had done some tape manipulation for it, but we both really wanted to go deeper into that world without really knowing what it would lead to. What started out as just piano, vocals and tape turned into this really interesting and inspiring thing when we realized that it was actually an opportunity to combine everything and be more playful with it.

The other person I invited to the project was Delphine Dora. I had discovered her music online in the early days of the pandemic, actually through Julia Holter, who had somehow tipped off all her followers about this great French artist. I checked her out and, oh, I was totally in love with her sound world, so I contacted her and asked her to recite some poems in French and we used them in the performance. After that I also invited her to compose some pieces for altitude album and it was a really new way for me to work. Commissioning other people to make music for my album was so interesting for me and I really like what Delphine and Stina did.

Why is the song “Elevation” particularly important to you?

After recording the Baudelaire and the piano album, I just kept writing music to his poetry and “Exaltation” was one poem that really struck me. It is not quite lighter than his other poems, but it has a kind of uplifted spirit that I particularly like.

When I first started working with these Baudelaire poems, I was really fascinated by all the darkness in the poems. I’ve always been drawn to dark, gritty things, so it was a great pleasure to really delve into the depths and horror of his writing. But after doing that, I started to discover the other things it says. The song “Elevation” seems to me like some kind of anthem. It’s such a magical experience to sing Baudelaire’s songs and that goes for all of them really, but Elevation is the one that gives me completely different images and I really love it.

When it came to working on the orchestral version of “Elevation” for your new album, how did you approach it?

Well, most of the repertoire on the album was arranged for orchestra by a guy named Jarle Storløkken, who is the person I communicated with the most about this project. I mean, we’ve been working on this for a really long time, so we’ve had a lot of dialogue about what we want to achieve with the arrangements, the colors, the moods and everything. But with “Elevation” and a few other songs originally from altitude album, Jan Martin Smørdal did the arrangements.

I’ve worked with him before The forest one, which as you say was ten years ago. He’s done a lot of things since then, I’ve done a lot of things since then, but I know from the process that we’ve been, that he respects my music and understands it too. So even though we communicated about the arrangements early on and of course he keeps me up to date with what he’s working on, I wanted him to bring his own world to this song with the orchestra and I think he was able to do that very much good. He was really able to transform the song to use a much bigger palette and it was really such a magical experience for me to sing that song with over 50 musicians.

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