Trude Eidtang – When Mary

Interview by Alessandra Cognetta

In this interview we get to know a bit more about Trude Eidtang and her newest project When Mary. Their first album, “7SUMMERS7WINTERS” has been released a couple of months ago and it is a well-crafted, passionate work with lots of interesting elements and some of the most original vocals you’re going to listen to this year. Trude gave us some really detailed insight on the album and on herself as a musician and as a person. We also get to know a few pros and cons of Norwegian culture and history and discuss songwriting, yoga and folk instruments. But enough with the blabbering, scroll down and read (and listen, too)!
 
Hello and welcome to Femme Metal, Trude! How are you and how’s it going for When Mary?

Hi! I am just fine, enjoying a few quiet days after some really hectic months of working towards the release of “7summers7winters”. I am really pleased about how the album has been received both domestically and abroad. I did not expect this much attention actually, but really happy about it of course!

“7SUMMERS7WINTERS “ is a rich work, I will not take the responsibility to restrain it to a genre or label it in any way because I think it would be a huge understatement any way I put it. So I was wondering if you would be so kind to lead us through the songs and give us a little guide to delve deeper into the songs and understand their full potential…

The album is quite diverse, it being a result of 4 years of trial and error in search of the “When Mary-sound”. I have also had the pleasure of working with a lot of different people and in two different studios – in addition to doing my own recordings. So actually I am quite surprised that the end result has become as holistic as it is.

The first song “Waiting on the World” was initially made as an a cappella sound installation for an art exhibition. I work regularly with visual and conceptual artists and draw a lot of inspiration from that. We firstly considered including it on the album just the way I recorded it for the exhibition, but rehearsing for a live concert we decided to include some synth chords as well. Then Christian got the idea for the wonderful guitar, sort of commenting on the vocals, and we decided to record this “full version” for the album. I actually wrote the song shortly after returning from Italy last Easter having experienced the grand central station in Milan.

“Everlasting Colours” was the first song I ever wrote, when I joined a pop band at 23. Back then it was actually a standard guitar based ballade, and the lyrics were also quite different from the version on the album. When I started working with Christian 4 years ago, we needed something rather finished serving as a base for experimenting towards finding our own “sound”, and so we started with this song. It is actually the only “real” love song on the album, and is about a break up from way back when.

“Soulless Soulmates” is quite dark, and maybe the most “prog like” song on the album with the instrumental coda and being the longest track on the album. We had a tough time mixing it because it has so many different elements fighting for attention. But in the end we were quite happy with the result. We worked on the song for over a year and so it is kind of a record holder!

The cover version of “Annie`s Song” was recorded really spontaneously in Rhys Marsh‘s studio when I was visiting to record “Falling Tears” which he wrote for the album. I had thought about recording it for a long time. Wanting to change it into something quite different from the happy original waltz John Denver wrote for his wife. Rhys suggested changing basically all the chords from major to minor, which I think was a really great idea! In our version Annie herself is singing, and I imagine that she is dead – hence the addition to the title on the album (from the other side). We have also made a video for the song where Annie is portrayed as a ghost trying to “get through” to her beloved. I got the ghost idea when I found a small zither in Rhys’s studio and started playing the initial theme of the song. It sounded really ghostlike on the not so well tuned instrument, and we just went from there!

Before I mentioned “Falling Tears” is written by Rhys Marsh. I asked if he wanted to write something for me after singing a few duets with him on his second album “Dulcima” (2009). I really like the song, and I think my vocals sound quite intense here. They were challenging to do, but Rhys really pushed me! It is also the song containing the largest number of instruments, among others an electronic piano from the early 1970s, a mellotron and pedal steel. All played by Rhys himself.

“Are You Really Sleeping?” is sort of a personal favourite of mine. It has a lot of “stuff” tangled up in the kind of cryptic lyrics, and a sort of a retro symphonic sound to it that I like. It was also the song where I first got to try the vocal looping technique that I am now very enthusiastic about. I do a lot of looping when we play live sets. The song also has a clear thematic inspiration; the Tori Amos cover of the really dark Eminem song “Bonnie & Clyde” from her album “Strange Little Girls”.

I knew early on that the album was to be called “7summers7winters”, but I had no song to go along with it! The term is actually borrowed from a Norwegian fairy tale where one of the characters literately carries 7 summers and 7 winters within him, letting them out when he choses as sort of a super power! And therefore the title had more to do with me getting a chance to express myself through When Mary and the release of this album, than a particular song. But when I finally wrote it, I found inspiration in something completely different – the brutal executions of assumed witches in northern Norway during the 17th century.

You were the vocalist for the art rock band White Willow before creating When Mary. First of all, for us heathens (well, me, mostly…), what is “art rock”?

Art rock is an eclectic and diverse subgenre of rock music that originated in the UK in the 1960s. Art rock was a form of music which wanted to “extend the limits of rock & roll“, and opted for a more experimental and conceptual outlook on music, according to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. But I always find characterizing music difficult, and the definitions can sometimes be more misleading than helpful. White Willow has been described as both art- prog- and folk rock and I guess all the labels have some truth to them. When Mary on the other hand is neither, I think, anyway. I think it’s more pop than rock based. And I am for the most part inspired by 80`s and 90`s artists and music like trip hop and electronica. Therefore it is really a great surprise that the “art/prog community” has received the album in such a wonderful way!

And then, on to a more serious question, what led you to the choice of creating When Mary? What did you want to achieve musically and convey to the listener that was different from your previous activity?

After years as a singer and interpreter of other people’s material, I felt the need to find my own expression; to write, play and produce music myself. But not necessarily by myself. I wanted to create sort of a «playground» for myself and fellow musicians and other type of artists. A mutual friend introduced Christian Paulsen and me about 4 years ago, and that was sort of the starting point for the project. Christian is a multi instrumentalist, sound technician and producer, but more importantly we “clicked” musically, although we have very different preferences. I needed someone to work with that had more technical skills than myself at that time and who could also bring something of their own to the music as well. With Christian I got both. I hope “7summers7winter” is only the beginning of When Mary since I have a lot of ideas for different musical concepts. Among other things I am currently working on an idea having to do with the “When Mary” name itself. Mary is a name to represent all the women serenaded and sung about in classic rock songs. I chose the name Mary because I love Bruce Springsteen, and his song “The River” is the first song I can remember listening to as a child. I am curious as to what can happen “When Mary” gets to tell her side of the story, or Layla or Carol or Angie.. I would really like to make a concept album consisting of all their stories!

“7SUMMERS7WINTERS” was created in close collaboration with Christian Paulsen from Ninth Circle. First of all, with these amazing results, I hope that the collaboration will keep going! What were the elements and influences that the two of you respectively brought to the album?

I do too! We work really well together despite very different musical preferences. Christian among other things being the guitarist of doom/thrash metal band Ninth Circle and fronting his own Very(!) dark electro project called Hell: Sector. I, on the other hand, am a BIG Tori Amos fan, I love the music of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, a lot of 80`s electronica bands and also classic rock of the 70`s and early 80`s. So it has been quite a clash! But in When Mary there are no limits. We just play around with different sounds and instruments and intuitively decide on what feels “right” in the end. I often find that the initial idea or melody really quickly consolidate itself. So the process of finishing a song has more to do with helping the song “find itself” than what our individual preferences are. It is often easier to identify the musical inspiration after the song is finished.

Speaking of collaborations in the album, you have a lot of notable guests! The first I’d like to discuss with you is Rhys Marsh, with whom you’ve worked on other projects as well. We have reviewed here just a few months ago “The Blue Hour”, where you contributed with your vocals. What is your approach as a singer and an artist to such different productions and music “styles”?

Yes, it has been a great experience working with Rhys on this album. I got to know Rhys through my connection to White Willow, which Rhys also has contributed to. I have learnt a lot from watching him work. We have quite a different approach to music. He is really into the 70`s both stylistically and when it comes to choosing instrumentation and modes of production, whilst I have a more “happy go lucky” approach, not sure where I will end up or how I want a song to sound like in the end.

Being a freelance vocalist for many years I have gotten used to doing a lot of different styles of music. I find working on different productions challenging and fun. I think the most important thing is to capture the essence of the music that you are to interpret and go from there. You need to have a good balance between wanting to add something personal to the interpretation at the same time as being attentive to the wishes and instructions that the composer gives you.

A much more trivial question, but since we’ve mostly talked about music… well, let’s take a brief pause. What are your interests/activities beside music?

I have a degree in sociology and have been working as a social science teacher for many years. But last year I took a break to pursue a career as a full time yoga teacher. It`s going well, and I am hoping to continue teaching yoga full time since yoga is a great passion of mine. I used to be a dancer, and yoga has been the only activity that has challenged me in the same way. I never tire from it! In addition to yoga and – music of course – I love hiking, and I work as a mountain guide during the summer months.

Another peculiar guest is Silje Hegg, “flutist and three times Norwegian Champion of seljefløyte”, or willow flute, a Scandinavian folk instrument. What can you tell us about the decision to include its distinctive sounds in the album?

I actually met Silje through yoga. We both attended the same teacher training a few years ago. And when I learned that she was a skilled folk musician I told her I would love for her to be a part of the album. But at that stage I had no songs ready that were right for her. But once “7summers7winter” was written, I just knew I had to contact her. Kind of randomly, I think, she decided on the sea flute – which turned out to be just the right choice for the theme of the song. The sea flute was brought to Norway from Germany in the 17th century and soon came to replace the traditional “Hardanger fiddle” as it got labeled as “a work of the devil”. All the people burned at the stake in northern Norway were accused of making a pact with the Devil to obtain their abilities.

This takes us right to the next question, about the title track. “7SUMMERS7WINTERS” is a hymn related to a gruesome event that took place in Norway in the 17th century. Why did you implement a theme that seemingly strays from the rest of the songs?

How that song came into being is actually quite a story, and almost a bit of a mystery to me! As I said earlier, I had already named the album “7summers7winters”, but was not sure if there were to be a song by that title or not. But about a year ago I started humming a melody that just stuck in my head. I had no lyrics for it, and I could not figure out how to phrase it because the melody lines were not easy to write lyrics for. Then I went to Trondheim a few months ago to work with Rhys. We worked on something else, but right before I was leaving we decided to record my “humming”. I felt it was very rough and unfinished, so I did not think more about it once I got home. But after a few weeks Rhys sent me a demo of him playing a lot of different drums on it. I thought it sounded really cool, but still I did not know how to take it further. But then I went to northern Norway this summer, to the town of Vardø. It is placed as far northeast as you can go in Norway and was once a thriving city, gathering fishermen and traders from all over Europe and Russia.

Here I visited a great memorial site called “Steilneset”, raised in memory of gruesome events taking place during all of the 17th century. In Vardø a total of 91 people, both Norwegian and Sami were burned at the stake accused of sorcery. I got to read extracts of the original trial documents displayed at the site and visited the anchient keep where the poor people were tortured to force them to confess. I decided then that I wanted to tell the stories of some of the victims, what they were accused of and what kind of “powers” they were said to have. Once I decided, everything happened very fast. All just seemed to fall into place, and I went straight to the studio once I came back home. Very little has changed from the first recordings to what ended up on the album. I sometimes felt like we were getting a little help! So yes, the song differs quite a bit from the rest in the sense of being inspired by a specific historic event. The themes of it though, death, wrong doings and feelings of powerlessness are also commented on in others songs on the album.

And what was the impact of this event in Norwegian culture?

The memorial site that made such an impression on me, with its eternal fire burning and the individual descriptions of all the people executed there, is actually rather resent. Maybe that says something about wanting to forget about the gruesomeness. A number of those killed in the witch processes were of Sami origin, and the way the Sami were treated way up into the last century is also a dark chapter in the Norwegian history.

Since we mentioned Norwegian culture, I’d like to ask, what is the attitude of Norway towards music as a field of education, a form of art and a (unfortunately) business?

To be a musician in Norway is really touch. Only a few people can get by on making music alone – regardless of musical genre. Most musicians depend on other kind of employment. But the musical education possibilities are rather good and accessible, I would say. Unfortunately it is really hard to get any recognition or publicity, especially for indie artists. The commercial musical market in Norway is really small with room for only a few.

Because we have folk instruments here in Italy too, but I can’t recall any folk championship, or the willing use of native folk elements in “modern” music (except a few, non-mainstream cases), and that surely says something about the attention a country gives to its roots (I’m not trying to find out who’s better, it’s just pure curiosity about cultural differences).

I think the folk instruments are valued greatly in Norway – especially in the rural areas, and it has been sort of a trend the last few years to include traditional instruments and rearrange or sample traditional songs into pop, rock and metal music. But I do not think this is an all-Norwegian phenomenon. I think musicians in general are always searching for new influences, and that everything is more accessible and accepted now because of all the online possibilities.

You’ve been described as “the musical love child of Tori Amos and Kate Bush” (I can’t say I disagree). How do you live up to such high expectations, Trude?

Thank you! Well, of course it is extremely flattering to get that kind of recognition. But my experience is that different people take different things away from listening to my music and associate my voice with various singers depending on their own preferences. So I do not pay that much attention to it. After all I am just doing my own thing, and I cannot expect everybody to like it. But I much prefer for people to love it or hate it than to be indifferent to the music.

What can you tell us about your influences and vocal formation? What brought you to music in the first place?

I have been singing for as long as I can remember, and has been told I was pretty forward as a child, calling people up to sing to them and things like that.. I auditioned for a girl’s choir at the age of nine. The choir was Norwegian champions for several years in a row back then and the pressure was great on the young ones. I left the choir at the age of 13 convinced I could not sing at all!

But then I auditioned for a musical the following year and got the part. That was sort of a turning point for me and I started to believe in my voice again. After that I have done a lot musical theatre and freelancing as a vocalist for different bands and orchestras. So even though my experience with the girls choir was not all good, the classical education that I received while being a part of it has helped me greatly in developing my voice further.

How’s the international feedback for “7SUMMERS7WINTERS” been so far?

We have gotten some really great reviews, absolutely thrilled about that! And over all more international attention than what I expected, especially from the Netherlands and Poland, where we are negotiating publishing a vinyl addition. But there have also been great response from Japan, England and the US. And I just finished recording an interview with a Canadian radio station called Euphonious that will present When Mary as one of their “Indie spotlight” artists. Really cool!

Have you planned anything for the near future in terms of touring or writing?

Yes, we will be opening a brand new festival right outside Oslo on the 31st of May. After that we are hoping to put together a small tour to promote the album here in Norway. We would like to play abroad as well since the response has been really great, but we have nothing planned as of now. I am also writing new music. I have a lot of written and recorded ideas to go through that has been dwelling on my computer too long since I have been really busy promoting “7summers7winters”.

We’ve sadly reached the end of our interview! Thank you so much for giving us the opportunity to have you on the ‘zine and I wish you and When Mary all the best for what’s to come. If you have anything you want to say to fans and readers, this is the place!

Thank you for having me on the “zine”. A great chance for When Mary to reach new audiences. We will keep our website whenmary.no up to date with tour info and news. We would really love to play outside Norway, so if somebody has suggestions for us on venues that might be right for When Mary, please let us know!

 

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