Q&A: Maggie Björklund

Maggie Björklund: Coming HomeMaggie Björklund: Coming Home (Bloodshot, 3/22/11)

Maggie Björklund: “The Anchor Song”

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Coming Home, the debut solo album from Danish songwriter/guitarist Maggie Björklund, is a warm and inviting record of richly textured compositions highlighting her masterful pedal-steel guitar. Recorded in and evocative of the Southwest United States’ particularly melancholic brand of folk, the album also features turns by Calexico, Mark Lanegan, Rachel Flotard, and Jon Auer, and already is one of ALARM’s favorite albums of the week.

As Björklund prepared to fly back to Europe after spending some time in the US, we caught up about the new album and the benefits of opening up musically.

What have you been up to while in the States?

Oh, I’ve done a lot of things on this trip. We made two fantastic videos. We recorded my songs played live with most of the guys from the album (Mark Lanegan, Jon Auer, and Rachel Flotard). That was really great and fun to do. We just got back from SXSW; I played a bunch of shows, including my official showcase. It went really well.

Was that your first time at SXSW?

Well, this was the first time with my own music. I’ve played there before. I know the turmoil of the 6th Street nightlife. But I had good responses at SXSW; people really stop and listen. It was very positive.

How did you become involved in music originally?

Well, I have always played music, since I was really little. It’s not something that I chose in that way; it’s just been a part of my life always. But as for becoming professional in music, I formed my band The Darleens in Denmark (after being a session guitarist in Hollywood). We were signed to Sony Music almost immediately, and that was my entrance.

When did you start playing the pedal-steel guitar? Why?

That was only 8 or 9 years ago, I think. I completely fell in love with it as soon as I started. It’s been with me every day since. The story with the pedal steel is that I had bought it several years earlier, because I love instruments and I always want to try and see what everything is like to play. So I bought the pedal steel from a friend and tried to play, but I just could not get anything good out of that instrument. I put it in a cupboard for a couple years; I was really annoyed with both the instrument and myself. But then a few years later I took it out again, and for some reason I had matured musically or whatever and I got some good sounds out of it. I was so thrilled.

How did you arrive at the southwestern folk sound you have now? Was this always your style?

Yes, more or less. My music has always leaned towards that genre. It’s hard to tell why you fall in love with certain music. It speaks to me in a way. I grew up in the countryside, where there wasn’t any music, really. My parents listened to classical music, so I’ve listened to a lot of classical in my life, but I’m very broad in what I like — jazz and rock — as long as it’s good!

Your first solo album, Coming Home, is being released in the USA and Europe this month. What was the songwriting/recording process like?

Some of the songs I had been working on before recording, but only as little ideas or half songs. When I knew the album was going to happen, I sat down and wrote for months because I really wanted to be picky about which songs were on the album and what they sounded like. We went to Tuscon, Arizona and recorded and had a fantastic week down there. I did some overdubs in Copenhagen and Seattle, and we recorded Mark Lanegan down in LA. [We visited] a lot of different places, but it was a great process and very inspiring.

How did making this album compare to your previous work with The Darleens or any of the other records you’ve been on?

I have matured a lot both as a composer and musician from what I have done earlier. I feel that what I have done on this album is much more true to me. For music to be interesting, it has to have something at stake for the person who makes it, and I feel this has that. I opened up musically on this album.

What was it like having artists contribute to your album, rather than the other way around?

I’m amazed at how easy the process was because I’m not used to working that closely with other artists. It was fantastic. Rachel Flotard wrote her lyrics, as did Jon Auer. I gave them the music and the title of songs, and I feel that they totally nailed the mood of the songs and in a way enhanced the feelings I had about the songs through those lyrics. I was really happy about that. Playing music like this, when you ask people to join you and collaborate with you, it’s all about opening up and saying “yes” to their ideas, and I was very happy to do so. It was a wonderful project to do, like being in heaven.

Lastly, what is one instrument that you don’t yet play but want to learn?

(Laughs) There are two instruments. I’ve threatened to play the Theramin; it’s so intriguing. That’s on the dashboard for me. Also, there’s an Irish harp, like the old-fashioned kind. That could be a challenge. I’m working hard on playing my viola at the moment. I played that when I was younger. It’s been really fun to get back into it; it’s almost as hard as the pedal steel.

[Have you pre-ordered yet? Don’t forget to visit the Kickstarter page for Chromatic: The Crossroads of Color and Music, our next book that profiles independent musicians and artists who explore color in unorthodox ways.]

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