Photo credit: aljosavidetic.com
Swedish-Slovenian singer EMILIA MÅRTENSSON won a Parliamentary Jazz Award in 2016. Alison Bentley caught up with after her gig at the 2017 INNtoene Jazz Festival in Austria. She talks to Alison Bentley about dividing her time between London and Slovenia; working with the Kairos 4tet, and her new projects.
London Jazz News: Are you mostly based in Slovenia now?
Emilia Mårtensson: I’m doing six months in London, and six months in Slovenia pretty much, so this is my half where I’m in Slovenia. In the summer by the sea – I’ll be there till October.
LJN: You’ve done a project on Slovenian folk songs?
EM: Yes, that was the last album that came out – it’s not this band that I just played with. It’s called the Elda Trio [Two Rivers Records – album launch review] and it’s me and a Slovenian accordion-player [Janez Dovč] and [percussionist] Adrian Adewale.
LJN: What’s Slovenian music like?
EM: They love the accordion over there. Their MTV is a bunch of people playing the accordion. That’s traditional Slovenian folk music. It does have a lot of Balkan influences of course. It depends on the style, but the folk music is very happy and dancey.
LJN: Did you start off singing that – did your [Slovenian] grandmother teach you songs?
EM: She did teach me some songs but I grew up in Sweden, so I’m not really heavily influenced by Slovenian music. I’m more influenced by the lifestyle of Slovenia – the food and way of living because we were brought up with that in Sweden. Musically I’m more influenced by Swedish folk music. So that’s the newest project.
But now I want to bring out a new album which is going to feature this new band, which is why I want to play more with them.
LJN: They’re Italian but live in London?
EM: Yes, we all met in London. I started to play with [guitarist] Luca Boscagin, and he and [trumpeter] Fulvio Sigurta have been playing together for a really long time. We started to do a trio, and Adriano Adewale is someone that I want to have involved in everything that I do. So I thought it would be good to add him to the mix. It’s actually just the second time we’ve played together as a quartet.
LJN: It sounded very organic.
EM: That’s good- it was!
LJN: There were a lot of interesting arrangements – do you do those?
EM: There’s a mixture of stuff. I quite like it when it’s open, so that it’s new every time we play it. But there is some arranging. We come up with that together when we’re rehearsing – we come up with different lines. It’s nice to be able to play stuff like that with a trumpet and singing.
LJN: Like when you sing in harmony with the trumpet?
EM: Yes, that’s really fun to do. So it’s a fun line up, it works really well with all the electronics. It opens up new things.
LJN: Are you influenced by any Swedish musicians?
EM: It’s not so much specific musicians. It’s more all the traditional songs that I grew up listening to. As a singer I was involved in all the singing. When we finished school, we had this thing called Lucia, which involves lots of big choirs as well. For Christmas we have these beautiful Swedish folk songs too. So I’ve always been singing them from a very young age. I think that influenced me more than a specific person. We also sang some Cornelis Vreeswijk songs – he is definitely an influence.
LJN: Any particular jazz singers?
EM: I’m really interested in Sidsel Endresen, a Norwegian singer. I really like her – I like all her work, and I love how versatile she is. She can do a whole gig doing just vocal sounds and then she can do a gig which is very song-based. And that is really inspiring for me. As a teenager I was listening a lot to all the old school jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Nina Simone, all of the big heroes. I sort of missed out on all the pop during that time because I got really heavily into jazz. And then when I decided to go to Trinity [Laban Conservatoire] at that point I started listening to Paul Simon, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell. They have also been a massive influence. I think I’m mixing all of those things- more pop music I suppose, from that time, and then jazz and folk.
LJN: Rickie Lee Jones?
EM: Yes! I love her album Pop Pop – she does Dat Dere on that. I love her. Actually we’ve done an arrangement of another Rickie Lee Jones tune, but we didn’t play it in the end.
LJN: Your voice can sound really strong as well as breathy. You have a beautiful clear tone. Have you trained to sing?
EM: Thank you. I did train for a really long time. I’ve always trained my voice and still do. I started having singing lessons properly when I was eight. And before that I was singing in choirs from the age of five, which a really good start for your ears.
LJN: After Trinity you started working with the Kairos 4tet.
EM: Yes, that’s how it worked. I graduated – me and Adam [Waldmann] were in the same year. I wrote some lyrics for him and then the whole Kairos thing started and that went really well. He won the Mobo award and he’s done four albums with that band. That was the beginning of my career outside Trinity.
LJN: You were part of a project with Serious?
EM: Yeah – Take 5 is this thing where every year they pick eight musicians to go to Kent in the countryside. It’s called Take 5 because of the tune, but also because you take five days out of your life to really focus on your career, aside from writing and everything. You meet promoters and journalists and the whole spectrum of the infrastructure of jazz. That was amazing – full on, but really great.
LJN: What other musical plans do you have?
EM: I’m going to do a new album – it’s going to be a part of a sequence. Ana [Babel Label 2014] was a tribute to my grandmother, and now I’m going to do one called Loredana – my mum’s name. I’m asking people four questions about their mother, their relationship with their mother. [See Emilia’s website for details] I’m going to use the answers as inspiration to write nine songs.