Emiliana Torrini - Nowhere to hide

Icelandic mum, Italian dad, Brighton base. Chris Mugan meets enigmatic singer Emiliana Torrini
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The Independent Culture

Emiliana Torrini is nothing if not game. The Icelandic singer/songwriter, now based in Brighton, is keen to praise her home for much of the past decade. "Kemp Town is hard work, but it's brilliant. It keeps you alive and makes you happy. There are so many, er, not nutcases, but alternative people around."

A star in her native land at 16 as a covers artist, this daughter of an Italian father and Icelandic mother came to wider attention after she fled fame on the small island to record her solo debut here, 1999's Love in the Time of Science. This was a pop record in the vein of Everything But The Girl, over-egged slightly by the production of Tears For Fears's Roland Orzabal.

On the back of this success, those in charge of the Lord of the Rings soundtrack chose her, in the wake of Björk's unavailability, to croon "Gollum's Song" over the closing credits to The Two Towers. She also won an Ivor Novello Award for co-writing "Slow", one of Kylie's more credible No1 hits. She achieved this with another UK producer, Dan Carney, with whom Torrini worked on her follow up album, the achingly intimate and stripped back Fisherman's Woman.

Now she has returned with her third solo record, this time a more artful confection of subtly constructed backing and rich imagery. Me and Armini's title track is a bittersweet evocation of dangerous obsession. Torrini admits she herself has had her own problems with stalkers, mainly from a distance. After she had moved to England, her mother got in touch to say an Italian cousin had arrived.

"I'd had a couple of letters from him, which were really scary, and I just threw them away and didn't think about them again; but when mum called it just clicked. He was in a guest-house next door, saying he wanted to move in and marry me. The police escorted him to the airport."

Having said that, Torrini has no idea what inspired her own stalking song. "We needed an extra track for the record and Dan mentioned this ska number we had jammed to and I don't remember writing it at all." They decided that Torrini must have been possessed by a spirit hunting a former lover after her death, for she's never heard of an Armini.

This creative strategy helps explain the extreme mood-swings evident on the album, for its title track is matched by the simmering violence of "Gun", which Torrini sees as going back to the tortured poems she wrote as a teenager. Around them, though, are such wide-eyed evocations of love as "Jungle Drum". Many months and thousands of miles divide these songs, though the album was recorded quickly in short bursts that took place in Oxford, south London and Iceland.

Torrini reckons Me and Armini took two and a half weeks to write. "A lot happened in those months between. When we wrote 'Gun' I was in a dark mood and sick of reading the papers. Then there was a period of falling in love with someone."

Not that Torrini is one to dwell on the hidden depths that shape her writing. "Everything you go through becomes part of you, you're like a magnet. But if I have to pull it all apart and explain who I am, it gets difficult." This lack of introspection may come from the Italian side of her family. "It was the culture clash from hell. Icelandic fathers shake their sons' hands, while my dad was a very fun, streetwise person. In Iceland, you don't drink, except at weekends and then you get trollied. In Italy, you have wine with your food, and really loud conversations. I often felt really ashamed, thought he was an alcoholic."

Torrini is not keen to dwell on the past. "For [Fisherman's Woman], I had to express something that I couldn't stop, and it was a healing period during the hardest time of my life. I haven't listened to it since. This one shows all the change in my life – breaking up, falling in love, wondering where I belong. I was reluctant to let it go, because I was still developing." Thankfully, she was persuaded otherwise.

'Me and Armini' is out now on Rough Trade