There are so many factors to consider when trying to describe Swedish singer- songwriter/cellist Linnea Olsson’s remarkable talent. Her flawless voice can match the tones of a nightingale one moment and then it can sputter randomly, breathlessly around the simmering tones of her cello.

Sometimes the themes are deceptively simply, as in ‘Dinosaur,’ when she declares: “I’m Still Alive”, but then during ‘Ocean’ she insists that the instrument make its own way through the underbrush. Her cello takes on the miraculous sound of a heaving whale and excitable seagulls. The bass tones writhe and vibrate revealing a tragically beautiful melody. ‘Mindreader’ brings to light another sonic animal, this one flush with frenzy and, of course, the title song, ‘Ah!’ anticipates her audience’s reaction.

Given these flashes of genius, it’s easy to understand why Olsson named her entire debut album, ‘Ah!’ There is definitely a sense of wonderment to these eleven songs, all separate entities, yet all inextricably woven together by what Linnea admits is a one-woman band. That superb voice can clearly manage pop, funk and balladry; still it’s astonishing how much expression and mileage she can muster out of her stately, wooden accomplice.

Olsson has toured with Peter Gabriel, Ane Brun, Frida Hyvonen and Nina Kinert. and has recently graced Rebekka Karijord’s ‘We Become Ourselves’ with her demonstrative arrangements. With Pennyblackmusic, she discusses her debut album and her vivid imagination.

PB: I first heard you play your cello on ‘You Make Me Real,’ a track on Rebekka Karijord’s album, ‘We Become Ourselves’. How did your contribution come about?

LO: I first got to know Rebekka when we toured with Ane Brun as a part of her band. We have stayed in touch since and I have toured with her a few times. When she started to record her album, she called me up and asked if I wanted to play on a few tracks and of course I did. We are part of a group of people that basically is like a little music family lifting each other and playing with each other. It is nice.

PB: You’re coming out with your debut ‘Ah!’ early in 2013. That theme song has an interesting choice of lyric - “Empty hearts are so last season…” That is definitely a fresh twist on heartbreak. The song is both playful and forceful and has a delightful rhythm, but I’m not clear if it’s about being happy a relationship is over or regretting it. Flip a coin?

LO: Well, thank you! ‘Ah!’ is actually not about a relationship or heartbreak - but it can totally be translated into that too. When I sing the song or listen to it, it is about being restless and dissatisfied about your situation in life and wanting to do something about it. Not your love situation but more the chase of it all, the longing for something inexplicable.

PB: How long have you studied the cello? Do you play other instruments?

LO: I have played the cello for...wait...22 years! Wow! I mean it is practically my whole life now that I think about it. I’ve also played the electrical bass since I was 15.

PB: What made you decide to use the cello to accompany yourself, when it is so often used as a solo or ensemble instrument?

LO: First of all: I love the cello. Second of all, it is the instrument I know how to play. It is as basic as that. I wouldn’t want to throw away years and years of practicing just because I suddenly wanted to become a solo artist for, let’s say the guitar. I do want to learn how to play guitar though! In the style of Frank Zappa. And third of all: It is a very versatile and great instrument to accompany you. You have the bass, you have the high notes, you can hit it, pluck it, bow it. It has got lots of different sounds.

PB: It’s interesting that you use the cello in so many unique ways throughout the album, sometimes conventionally as in ‘Never Again’ and other times you pluck it in a contemporary fashion, so that it juxtaposes your vocal line. What informs the way you orchestrate?

LO: I can’t really explain why I want a particular song to sound the way it does. It is all about feeling really. What kind of feeling I want to give by playing this or that way. I guess I like to get as much as possible out of the instrument. I like to experiment with how it can sound. I try and sound different with my voice, too.

I like variation. I get bored otherwise. I do love monotone songs. But it has to be monotone in the right way, you know? I like the little changes.

PB: Was there anyone in your family that encouraged you to be a musician?

LO: We are all musicians in my family so it runs in the blood I guess. There was never anyone who told me to get a "proper" job. I have an older brother who plays the drums. Our parents encouraged us both to get a musical education, which we did.

PB: What are the mechanics of singing and playing the cello at the same time? It seems like it would be much more difficult than playing guitar and singing.

LO: The difficult thing is that you have to stay in tune "at both ends" so to speak. If I don’t play on loose strings on the cello I have no actual firm point that tells me where I am tune-wise and I have to trust my ears. It is difficult as hell sometimes actually. But it never gets boring. The challenge is one of my driving fuels.

PB: On the song, ‘Guilt,’ you whistle the solo. I think people often associate whistling with a happy-go-lucky feel, yet this is a very meditative, bittersweet song.

LO: I just felt I wanted to whistle. A whistle can be really sad.

PB: You are credited as being the executive producer. Not every artist would take on this role for a debut. Was it challenging?

LO: When I started to write songs and record for ‘Ah!’ I did it on my own in my home. It was important for me to do it privately. I wanted it to sound just the way I wanted, without anyone interfering. So it was not anything I thought about really, it was just the natural way to make the record.

The only person I felt like inviting to help me was my then boyfriend Fredrik Gicken Johansson, and he did a great job mixing and playing with sounds. He also plays the only other instrument on the album on the song ‘Ah!’ the darbuka. It’s a drum. He knows what I like, and he understands when I say weird things about how I want things to sound. It is a homemade album.

PB: What are your plans for supporting the album and, if touring, who will be in the lineup?

LO: I want to play as much as possible. It is the best thing I know. So the plans are a lot of touring the first months of the next year. I have already played quite some gigs and it is just me and the cello. I’m a one-woman band!

I have a loop station that I try to use as effectively as possible. I work a lot with delays and stuff. I love any effects or gadgets that makes your sound bigger. That is fun! This is the way I play right now. In the future I will definitely play with other musicians if I get the chance. I hope I do!

PB: What classical and popular artists have most influenced you? How would you describe your particular kind of music?

LO: Debussy, Ravel, Bach, Mozart, Paul Simon, Björk, Tori Amos, Joni Mitchell, Dusty Springfield, Michael Jackson, Nick Cave, ABBA, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead. And more. Cellists I like to listen to are Rostropovich and Jaqueline du Pré. I get inspired by a lot of different music.

PB: How would you describe the current music scene in Scandinavia?

LO: It is exciting. It feels like it is more about having a good time and making something you believe in than trying to find out what the tastemakers might like next week.

PB: You have explored many feelings on ‘Ah!’ What kind of album project might inspire you next time?

LO: I am in a writing process right now. I am finding out what sound landscape I want to be in. Lyrics will come later in the process I believe. Space inspires me right now. Not sound wise but just the thought of it. The universe, it is so huge. What is going on out there. Are we alone? Sounds like it is going to be a cliché album… I don’t know really.

Inspiration is a weird thing for me. I think I am a person that needs to build up a lot inside and then just let it burst out.

PB: Thank you.

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