Interview: Anna Ternheim

Interview with Anna Ternheim

Anna Ternheim


Swedish singer-songwriter Anna Ternheim talks us through her formative musical experiences, and the influence Nashville had on her latest album, The Night Visitor.

Questions and answers

Hi Anna, how are things going?

Today is a good day: I just got back from hiking in the mountains.

Lovely! So can you fill us in about your musical background please? Why did you choose to sing in English rather than Swedish?

I grew up with music around me, going through my father’s record collection. He always had a big passion for music and brought me to concerts at a very young age. No one in my family works with music though, so it was never an obvious choice for me.

I started playing the guitar when I was 10, in the communal music school, and the passion just grew. It felt very natural from the start: I wrote my first song after learning my first three chords. When I was 17, I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, for a year, which was when I formed my first band and also started writing in English.

If you weren’t making music for a living, what would you be doing instead?

Building things, I think. I like using my hands. Or maybe directing theatre or film.

Your first two albums won a lot of awards; how did that change things for you?

Well, until my first record I had gone to school, never thinking I could make a living with music. Everything happened really fast. I could work with music full-time once my first record was released and I have done so ever since.

Can you tell us the story behind The Night Visitor please? Had you always wanted to record an album in Nashville?

Going to Nashville was never in my mind. I knew I wanted to work in the US and make a guitar-based record, but that was pretty much it.

I started playing guitar with Matt Sweeney and things fell into place really quickly. He came up with the idea of going to Nashville to record with his friend and engineer, Dave Ferguson, whom he had met during the Johnny Cash sessions with Rick Rubin. I thought it sounded exciting, so I went.

The recording took about 10 days, and most of it was mixed by Dave during that time as well.

You worked with some real musical legends out there. How was it working with artists like Cowboy Jack Clement and Kenny Malone?

It was amazing. The recording felt so easy and they made me very calm. Great musicians have that skill: they bring out the best of the song and don’t overcomplicate things.

Will Oldham sings on the album too; how did that collaboration come about? Were you a fan previously?

Yes, I’m a fan. We met by coincidence through Matt, but we also have another common friend, Swedish singer-songwriter Nicolai Dunger; Will produced a record with him a while back that I really like. Anyway, Will spends quite a lot of time in Nashville and I’m really happy he wanted to sing on The Night Visitor.

How do you feel you’ve progressed artistically since Leaving On A Mayday?

Every record has a challenge, and bringing in new elements to my songs keeps the work exciting. Leaving On A Mayday was built around drums and string arrangements, so I didn’t play much guitar, I just wrote songs a cappella and on piano.

With The Night Visitor, I wanted to play more guitar than I’ve done in the past. I wanted to make an acoustic record, basically. So this album is based around finger-picked guitar and vocals, all recorded live with very few overdubs.

Were there any specific musical reference points for this record?

Matt Sweeney introduced me to Cowboy Jack Clement and his work, which was one of the reasons we ended up in Nashville working with some of the same musicians. Before and during recording [The Night Visitor], I listened a lot to Judee Sill, The Byrds and Gordon Lightfoot. Dave introduced me to Gordon Lightfoot, and I love the lightness and ease of his songs. Matt also gave me a beautiful Mickey Newbury compilation that I’ve listened to a lot.

Where did you find lyrical inspiration this time round?

I write what comes to me, what inspires me, what I see and feel. I’ve done that ever since I was a kid, so it’s always been an ongoing process for me.

Is there a song on the album you’re most proud of?

Bow Your Head’, definitely. I love how that song has many different moods and how it grows. It’s a state of mind.

So what’s next for you in 2012?

Hopefully, I’ll tour in the United States. And I can feel the itch to write coming back, so I’ll make time for that this fall. I’m working on an EP at the moment with the band I’ve played with this summer. It’s a side project and we have four shows coming up later in the fall.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far, and what would you like to achieve ultimately?

It’s hard to say. I’m very happy and proud of my last record, but there have been so many highlights. Just being able to work with music gives me a lot of joy. That is my goal: make my living by playing and writing music... So I guess I hope to keep on doing what I do. Just doing more of it.

Finally, what’s been your favourite album of the past 12 months?

That’s a hard call... Either The Lion’s Roar by First Aid Kit or Ane Brun’s It All Starts With One.