Interview: Anna Brønsted (Our Broken Garden)
First time I saw Our Broken Garden was last year at EuroSonic in Groningen in a very intimate venue. I admit that I was absolutely stunned by Anna Brønsted's melancholic voice. Later on I learned that she is a touring member of Efterklang, but most importantly that her music inspired the same reactions in ex-Cocteau Twins member Simon Raymonde, who currently runs Bella Union (home to greats such as Fleet Foxes, Explosions In The Sky, The Dears and Midlake) and who immediately signed them. Our Broken Garden have just finished a mini Belgian tour together with fellow Danes Under Byen. I caught up with Anna Brønsted before their Brussels-gig and managed to ask her a couple of questions.
How come you are extensively touring Belgium?
I noticed when I was touring with Efterklang that the Belgians are very attentive to this kind of music like Under Byen, Efterklang and Our Broken Garden, and then one day I got an offer from Belgian promoters Quiet Concerts to tour here, so that's why we're here now.
How has it been with Bella Union so far?
Wonderful! Bella Union is a label who is in the music buisness for the right reasons. Simon and the dudes are very idealistic about bringing out music which they really like, even though it might not be selling a lot. I think that's a brave point of view to have these days. They have a couple of big names like for example Fleet Foxes and Midlake who makes it possible for them to sign smaller acts as well. I am very happy with the guys at Bella Union, it feels safe and close to work with them.
How did the whole link emerge?
I added Simon as a friend on Myspace and he wrote me back saying: "Hi Anna, this sounds amazing, can I hear some more?" [Laughs] At first I couldn't believe he wrote me back, so when it slowly sank into my brain it made me very happy and proud.
Were you a fan of Cocteau Twins before?
Yeah, I love Cocteau Twins. I love the dreamy landscapes and Elizabeth's voice. But actually I got to know them quite late as I grew up on the countryside and the more alternative vibes of bands like the Cocteau Twins didn't reach the small village I lived in. I grew up listening to my dad's old jazz records.
What do you think are the actual merits of being on such a label?
I feel proud to be on a label that works with music out of love. And it feels good to be among other bands that you like and feel related to musically. Bella Union has integrity -- which I think is very important in the world of today.
What's the story on the beautiful video of "When your blackening shows"?
Phil Molloy, the director, came up with the whole idea for the video. It was filmed (by Nick Aiton) close to where we live in Denmark. I find this map in the video, and then I see that there are some lighting tents and I begin to search for them. The tents are all handmade by Phil. He did an amazing job!
But you go there and the tents are empty?
...Yeah, and then they begin to light up and one person then appears...
And you are holding hands! Is this a happy ending?
[Laughs] I don't know! I guess it is... Actually I like to think about my music in not very rational landscapes. I like visions combined with the music which are a bit surrealistic and trippy. A lot of the songs are related to some subconscious area of life, for example, dreams I have at night. I like this subconscious and abstract universe where things get a bit supernatural, and maybe unrealistic and irrational.
What's the story behind your bruise on the cover of the album?
It was a way to illustrate the title of the record, which is "When your blackening shows". That song is about showing each other the vulnerabilities and bruises which I think we all have inside is.
What other female singers do you like/are you influenced by?
I really love Kate Bush. I think she sings so beautifully and her music and the universe she makes is so special. Her expression is very feminine and strong at the same time. She is a brave woman. And also Elizabeth Fraser, her voice and expression is so pure and honest. As a child I've been listening to a lot of jazz music, because my dad is a jazz piano player. So I also heard a lot of Monica Zetterlund, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday.
The album is quite sorrowful. How about you? Does this reflect you as a person?
It definitely does. But I think we all contain many different personalities, moods and energies. We can all feel weak and strong, happy and sad you know, at different times. But it's true that "When your blackening shows" reflects especially that mellow side of life.
Is the process of writing music/lyrics and easy one?
It varies a lot. I usually have an idea of some lyrics before I start writing the music. Sometimes a song comes very easily, it almost feels like I didn't write it, and sometimes I really fight for one song for a long time.
How about the lyrics? Do you find it easy to express yourself in a foreign language?
I find it inspiring that English is not my mother tongue. And I don't think too much about whether it is one hundred percent correct the way I use the language. I like the thought that I might put words together in a new or not completely correct way.
What inspires you?
Many things. A movie, a book. The other day I went to an art exhibition by Thomas Kluge, so amazing and very inspiring. Human relations, different energies and moods also inspire me.
Do you play any instruments yourself?
I play the piano and sometimes I play the bass as well [as in the band The Sad Lovers which Anna has together with Under Byen bass player Sara Saxild]
You don't really use any digital gear on stage. Is this out of principle?
No, not really. It's just a matter of finding instruments that sounds good. And old gear often does.
Any signs of a new album?
I am working on new songs at the moment, and we're slowly working on new recordings -- We'll play some of the new songs tonight!
When is it going to be released?
Sometime next year I hope...
Is it going to sound similar and keep the vintage sound?
It will be quite different I think.
But you are working with the same people?
Yes, Søren Bigum and Moogie Johnson. I write the music and then we work out some drafts together. So far, it's hard to say when it is so new, but so far it seems it's going to be quite different from the first album.
What are your immediate plans after the tour?
I am going home to relax for a few days and then practice for my solo show in Bruges on 31st October at the Music in Mind Festival.
Words and pictures by Vasilis Panagiotopoulos