Finding Freedom: An Interview with Ane Brun
Ane Brun stands ambiguously in the cover art of her new record, When I’m Free. Framed like a film scene, backed by colourful neon signs, it’s unclear whether it depicts a woman waiting, leaving or gazing on – it’s an image suspended in time with multiple possibilities. The music within showcases Brun’s progression from piano and guitar-based aesthetic to songs driven by beats, strings and rhythm, in which she explores love, self-awareness and the world around us. Andrew Darley caught up with Brun in Dublin to discuss how her new record aims to capture complex emotion, which is reflected in its artwork.
When I’m Free in some ways begins with an ending. ‘Hanging’ describes the final moments of a relationship. Is the song’s position an entry point for the journey, which the rest of the songs take?
It’s the first song on the record more so for its sound, not the lyrics. It felt like a really good start in how it builds and builds. I rarely think about lyrics when I put songs in an album tracklist – it’s mostly the musical dynamics I consider. I take lyrics really seriously but the music always comes first.
In the early stages of writing, were there songs that formed the heart of the album or seen where you wanted to take the rest of the record?
I think ‘Still Waters’ was made in a different way to anything I’ve done before. I made a mash-up of drums on Logic with a bass-line and some piano chords. It introduced a new way of writing for me.
The overall sound is more live and fuller with more instruments compared to your previous work, without losing the intimacy. Would you agree?
Actually my previous studio album It All Starts With One was recorded live but there were only four of us so it probably sounds as if there’s a lot less going on. This album is much more cut-and-paste with lots of layers than I’ve ever done before. I wanted more colours on this album.
After releasing the retrospective collection Songs in 2013, did you want to set yourself a new direction?
After that album I went on tour where I re-arranged all my songs so that was a big stepping-stone to the sound of this album. I wanted to move forward with more drums, more beat and more strings. Sometimes I have a vision of a song having specific expression or make people feel a certain way. This time, I wanted to write about different areas than before. I was much more daring. Before if I didn’t like something with production or the direction of a song, I felt like I couldn’t say it or explain why. Now I feel I’ve graduated to a place where I can do that. My goal was to make a bigger sounding album but keep all the intimacy that I’ve had till now.
The album has received a great reception so far from critics. Is the media something you pay attention to?
There are two aspects to it. The album is done so there’s nothing I can do with it. I am very, very happy with and I need to fully stand over a work and be proud of it. Secondly, reviews are so important to how a record is going to go – it affects sales, streaming, the tour and it essentially influences what I’m going to do in the next two years. They are very powerful in how they bring attention to a record – not for self-esteem, but career-wise.
In a recent interview, you said that you have been living with lupus for a number of years. Has music been an empowering force in coming to terms with the condition?
I think I would have made music anyway, but it’s my way of channelling those emotions. It’s made all that anxiety into something good. With all the break-ups as well! Even with all bad experiences, you can write a great song from it.
‘Black Notebook’ explores writing out your emotions and finding an old notebook written a year previously containing the same feelings. Was this making the point how we move in emotional circles?
It could be but it could also be about thinking you have moved on when actually you haven’t at all. You can convince yourself you’ve gotten much further with a relationship when you haven’t. Issues keep repeating themselves. My experience is that the problems that come up in the first week of a relationship are always the problems that make it end. It’s always that “This might be a problem” feeling which is the thing that kills the relationship. It’s hard to listen to that feeling because the heart is one thing and the head another. That song is a true story.
On ‘Better Than This’ you shift perspective; “We are better than this”, “We must be better than this”, “We gotta be better than this”. It’s like you are willing yourself to overcome something. What is this one about?
It’s a song about climate change – we know what’s happening and we have the tools but nothing is being done about it. I get frustrated with us as human beings; we feel we are so smart but sometimes we do the same things over and over. With climate, I don’t think we’ll understand until it’s really late when it’s a catastrophe. It’s like the refugee crisis now – it’s only when they are coming in hundreds that people pay attention. We don’t get it until it’s too late.
The album cover is very cinematic, almost like a film still. What visual reference points did you have in making it?
I’m not that kind of musician who sees images or has a specific way I want my album to look. I ask people whom I really respect to collaborate. I asked my photographer, Aida Chehrehgosha, to go wild and she came up with four scenes for the cover and singles. It’s her vision of the album. We picked that one for the album because it’s so ambiguous; you don’t really know what is going on. It’s in-between something which I feel the album’s lyrics are reflect that.
When touring, does it ever feel strange singing about these private feelings in a public space?
Most of my songs tell stories about seconds in my life and don’t really tell the whole story. They’re more about universal feelings. I don’t explicitly tell everyone the story so it’s still poetry. The function of music is a place you need for yourself. It can give you clarity and help make decisions. I went to see Berlin, the film on Lou Reed, when I was in a bad, destructive relationship. When it was over, I walked out of it knowing I had to break up with the person I was with. Music has the same effect.
‘Signing Off’ appropriately closes the record and its lyrics are a farewell or closing a chapter on the past. Regarding the album’s title, do you think this song closes the record with a sense of freedom?
I think ‘Signing Off’ is about the will to become free. It’s the journey towards something new by saying, “I’m coming, I’m coming!”. It’s the initiation of change. It’s a very hopeful song. I’m leaving the watchtower behind.
Ane Brun returns to Vicar Street on Mon, December 07, 2015.