Rather than choosing a career in the Scandinavian Tourist Board, Stina Nordenstam has become the latest Swedish singer to make a big noise in Britain. Actually, a small noise. Her albums - the jazzy Memories of a Color and the new, poppier And She Closed Her Eyes - consist of tinkling, ethereal accompaniments to her whimpering-toddler vocals. The big noise has come from the critics, who have hailed this Bambi-eyed 25-year-old as her country's most enthralling export since Ingmar Bergman. Her lyrics deal with isolation and alienation, which may explain in part why she should sing in a language other than her native tongue.
'I have never sung in Swedish,' she says, in a shy, considered voice on the phone from Stockholm. 'You choose formats for the things you do and English just seemed the most natural for what I wanted to express.' Surely it's not natural to communicate in a foreign language? 'Maybe, but then you could say it is also not natural to play music or write songs instead of just speaking.' Touche, as they say in English.
For her fey, delicate arrangements she has been compared to the Cocteau Twins; as an emotionally charged songstress she has been compared to Tori Amos and Bjork; and for the sheer heart-breaking loneliness of her writing, Morrissey has been the obvious name to bandy. None of these analogies impresses her. 'I like Morrissey, but I am almost a bit - not ashamed exactly, but I don't think we have that much in common. The big difference is that he is extremely ironic all the time. That's the number one thing he's doing. It is an English characteristic. Swedish people have a more direct contact with dark things.' Dark? What about Abba? What about Ace of Base? 'Even Ace of Base in some strange way make statements about dark things. And facing these things can be happy too. You cannot be too happy if you hide from the dark side.'
The darkness of her own songs is not in doubt. One lyric is about a bomb going off in a harbour; another begins: 'Chris was five when her mother died.' The subjects of 'Murder in Mairyland Park' and 'I'll Be Cryin' For You' are fairly obvious. The music may occasionally verge on the upbeat, but these are not CDs to get a party going. For post-party gloomy introspection, however, they are perfect. 'The songs are very personal,' she says. 'I give a lot of myself in them. It has helped me more than other people have, more than therapy.'
Nordenstam claims that she has never trusted other people, despite a spell in the Swedish counterpart of the Young Communist League. She had psychotherapy after her parents broke up. 'It is useful when you are in a crisis, but not all of the time,' she says. 'My father has been to his analyst every day of his life.' It was her father who introduced her to jazz as she learnt the piano and violin at school. 'Music was natural to me, but it was not all that important. It was more important to read and write.'
None the less, she formed her first band, the Flippermen, while she was still in her teens. In Sweden she had more press coverage then than she has had ever since. 'The other members of the Flippermen were experienced musicians, already in other bands. The journalists were surprised to see a young girl writing songs and being in charge.'
Nordenstam is still in charge. She has firmly resisted requests to raise her profile by touring, and has played live only five times since she released Memories of a Color in 1991. 'I am not an actress,' she says. 'I cannot repeat emotions a lot of times in a routine.'
She avoids the pop-star lifestyle and spends her time privately with her fiance in their island home just outside Stockholm. 'The view people have is very set. You release your record every second year, you play live, you go on television and do interviews. That's what the record company wants, because it makes them a lot of money, but I decided I wouldn't go along with that. Why should someone who writes songs be someone who has to perform and be public all the time?'
She has no plans to do any concerts in the future, and she will not even commit herself to producing more music. 'The first record I made wasn't perfect, so I made another one as a reaction to it. But if I have something more to say I may choose another format. It may be a book, it may be a film . . . it may be children.'
The albums 'And She Closed Her Eyes' and 'Memories of a Color', and the EP 'Little Star' are available on EastWest Records.
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