Reader, like many of you, we first heard the sweet, sweet voice of Ms. Victoria Bergsman as she sang opposite Mr. Peter Morén of Peter Bjorn + John on the runaway hit of 2006, “Young Folks”. Well before that, though, Bergsman was the front woman of the indie pop group, the Concretes, whose “Say Something New” you’ll likely also recognize.
The first time we really sat up and took notice of Victoria’s work though was when she started venturing out on her own under the moniker Taken by Trees. Open Field, her 2007 debut album, featured solid pop music and ethereal motifs that framed her vocals well but did little to distinguish her from others in similar fields. But with her follow-up, 2009’s East of Eden, she moved into entirely new territory, physically and musically, taking on the culture and native sounds of Pakistan to produce a beautiful, unique record, start-to-finish. You can read our write-up of that album here and also take a look at the National Geographic documentary on her trip to Pakistan.
Now, just a little over three years later, Taken by Trees is revisiting the idea of a culturally/geographically defined concept album with Other Worlds, an album inspired by Bergsman’s time in Hawaii.
Bergsman was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions about the new work, what inspires her writing, the connection between visual and musical arts, how bad-ass Frank Ocean is, and what a Brooklyn-themed concept album might sound like. Check it out—
Kindness of Ravens: It seems to us, from an outsider’s perspective, that both your beautiful sophomore album, East of Eden, and your upcoming release are much more concept or themed projects whereas your first album, Open Field, seemed much more like an extension of your musical existence in the Concretes. Would you say that’s accurate?
Victoria Bergsman: Sort of—my first solo album was very hard for me to make. I wasn’t well at the moment and I still was feeling very troubled from the break up with The Concretes. So that album is very painful for me to listen to. You can almost hear my hesitation. The other two albums are more where I want to be when it comes to creating and producing music.
KoR: That makes a lot of sense, listening to the respective albums. Did the directions for these second and third albums come about organically, then, or were you at all deliberately trying to avoid female-driven pop comparisons?
VB: I just think it took me some time to really get back into enjoying writing and playing music again. And when I found it again I felt more inspired and driven to explore alternative ways of how to make an album. I was in need of some sort of playfulness and optimism.
KoR: Can you tell us about the trip that inspired Other Worlds? Did you go to Hawaii in the first place hoping to find musical inspiration and new album material?
VB: Hawaii was a place that made me very curious. I had set my mind on wanting to go there one cold December morning in NY, where I was living at the time. Who wouldn’t wanna experience ‘Paradise On Earth’? So I bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles and ended up living there. Then a few months later I bought my ticket to Oahu, Hawaii. I had half of the songs written and in Hawaii I recorded nature sounds and filmed and took photos. (Photographer) Amanda Marsalis, a very dear friend of mine, was constantly by my side documenting everything. I felt so focused and inspired in Hawaii—I had never been before but I just knew it would be the perfect setting for my album, as I was aiming for sort of a feel good/love album.
KoR: What strikes you as special about Hawaii?
VB: The nature in Hawaii is what I found most striking and enchanting. It is so beautifully dramatic.
KoR: It is really beautiful there. Do you usually consider the link between visual and aural art to be so strong? Or is it all the same, in a sense?
VB: For me, an album is a whole piece of art, so the visual side is very important—almost as important as the music.
KoR: Well-said. What we’ve heard of the album is really beautiful. It retains some common threads we’ve heard in the past—your recognizable vocal melodies and soft, repetitive, almost droning rhythms—and seems to bring in some new elements without hitting you over the head with the overall idea. Can you talk about what sort of musical elements you wanted to absorb from the culture and how you went about doing that in the songs without making things seem too forced?
VB: It is a full-time job finding the right balance. It is never easy but I feel I found a good balance in not overdoing anything on this album.
KoR: What was it like not only traveling through Pakistan for your prior album, East of Eden, but also immersing yourself so much in a culture that I can only assume is very much unlike your own?
VB: All my travels come from me being very curious and wanting to explore and experience new things and cultures. When it came to Pakistan, I was very much into Sufi music at that moment and the whole idea of going into a trance. Hawaii was more a atmospheric idea—I wanted that to be a big part of my album.
KoR: Since we’re in the world of branding and love story-telling—where did the name Taken by Trees come from? It seems so beautiful and emotive.
VB: The name Taken By Trees came to me while I was thinking about how much I love nature and how important nature is to me. The phrase sounded alright and I stuck with it.
KoR: How do you write your music? You seem publicly presented almost as a solo artist, but I gather that it’s much more collaborative than that.
VB: Most of my songs I write while just singing them, then I either use a keyboard or guitar to structure them. Then I send those demos off to whoever I am working with at the moment. This time, it was Henning Furst. He creates a basic track that he sends my way and I record vocals on top. And back and forth with overdubs and mixing.
KoR: So a kind of remote collaborative effort. I know it can be tough to call for some artists, like picking a favorite child, but what’s your favorite Taken by Trees song?
VB: Right now my favorite is “Pacific Blue”, but it changes daily.
KoR: I didn’t recognize any from the track list, but are there any covers on Other Worlds? “My Boys” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” were such great reinterpretations I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d like to hear more along those lines, especially with a Hawaiian slant.
VB: Nope, no covers on this album.
KoR: Do you think you’ll continue along this road geographically/culturally inspired music, or is that too far into the future to see clearly?
VB: It has been fun and exciting so far, who knows what the future will bring!
KoR: Alright, lightning round—favorite restaurant in Hawaii?
VB: We had most our meals in our garden at the house we rented, which I loved.
KoR: Ah, very nice. Band/music you’ve been listening to a lot lately?
VB: There are a few songs on the new Frank Ocean album I really love.
KoR: Never would have guessed that. We’re calling karaoke when you get to NYC. Coffee or tea?
KoR: Correct. Who drinks tea? Favorite non-musical hobby or pastime?
VB: Gardening and cooking.
KoR: Totem animal?
KoR: Nice. Favorite place?
VB: Laying in bed in our rented house in Hawaii on Haleiwa Beach, listening to the waves while falling asleep.
KoR: Yeah, that sounds pretty nice. Thing or place or person you miss most back in Sweden when you’re traveling?
VB: My family, the water, pickled herring, chocolate, cleanliness, and overall order.
KoR: We are a pretty dirty, chaotic people. Best piece of travel advice for the rest of us?
VB: Take it slow, drink plenty of water, and decide a couple things you want do or achieve while traveling and not a whole list. Try to connect with locals.
KoR: Got it. More importantly—preferred super-power?
VB: Flying and invisibility.
KoR: That’s two powers…but we’ll give ’em to you. You can pick them up here. Finally, if you did a Brooklyn-themed album, what would it sound like?
VB: Stressful and dark, ha!
Other Worlds hits store shelves tomorrow, but you can give this week’s Song, “Dreams”, a listen now and then stream the entire album via YouTube. Order the CD + vinyl via Secretly Canadian and the 1s + 0s via the iTunes. New Yorkers, Bergsman + co. will be opening for the esteemed Jens Lekman at Terminal 5 a week from today, Monday, October 8. Tickets available here.
Top photo by Maggie Davis; video directed by the above-mentioned Amanda Marsalis.
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