Exclusive Song Premiere and Interview: White Sea x Susanne Sundfør

Published June 5, 2013

ABOVE: SUSANNE SUNDFØR

Until recently, Morgan Kibby (who writes music under the name White Sea) and Olso-based singer/songwriter Susanne Sundfør had never had a proper heart-to-heart. Both artists share an affinity for melancholy anthems, Prince, and lyrically wearing their hearts on their sleeves, and both have collaborated with M83. Commitments to their solo work, however, have kept the two ladies apart.

Already a hit in her native Norway, Sundfør recently released her third effort The Silicone Veil stateside. Back in Los Angeles, Kibby is busy putting the final touches on her solo debut. The two ladies joined up with Interview via Skype for a conversation about the benefits about collaborating as a solo artist, the upside of sadness, and the virtues of cheese. We’re also pleased to debut a track from The Silicone Veil, “Can You Feel the Thunder.”

SUSANNE SUNDFØR: How are you, Morgan?

MORGAN KIBBY: I’m okay; I’ve been a bit frantic, and crazed. I’m finishing my record. It’s a lot right now.

SUNDFØR: I can’t wait to hear it. I’ve heard some of your stuff. You had a song on the Girls soundtrack. It was really good.

KIBBY: Thank you! It’s very different from the EP I put out a while ago. I’m interested to see what people think of it. It’s my first real release. It’s a little nerve-wracking. I don’t really know who is going to listen to the music.

SUNDFØR: Right. I guess that’s always how it is with your debut. But I didn’t know that you had released an EP. I’d love to hear it. What does it sound like?

KIBBY: Well, it’s a little all over the map. It’s a little scattered. There’s a lot of Prince influence. Lots of disco references for the guitars. Still all layered with big, thick, ’70s and ’80s synths. It’s a nice little combination of things. I’m self-producing. What are you up to these days? I didn’t get to see you in person when you did the Oblivion song for TV, but I watched it online. It was amazing. As always.

SUNDFØR: Thank you! It was fun. It was crazy, the whole thing. We didn’t know if I would make it because I didn’t get the visa. I got it the day before my flight was booked. I’m really happy I made it. It was really fun to work with Anthony [Gonzalez of M83]. He’s extremely talented. He has a very clear vision in the studio.

KIBBY: I think there’s something incredibly powerful about being an artist and having such a clear confidence and vision in what you’re doing. I take a lot of inspiration from watching him work and working with him.

SUNDFØR: It is inspiring to work with him. We did some vocals for a French movie. His brother’s movie. I saw some music with vocals you did in a scene and it worked very well. The craziest scene in the movie. [laughs]

KIBBY: We were screwing around in the studio one day and it didn’t get used for anything. Apparently it did get used for something.

SUNDFØR: It’s not released, and I think they’re working on finding someone who can release it now. It’s very artsy. Quite different than Oblivion, for sure. You have a very strong presence onstage with M83. I was just blown away when I saw you guys live. When I’m on stage and I play the piano, I just want to ask the front of the house to turn down my piano because I play so many wrong notes. [laughs] I get so excited, and then I’m like, “Oh shit, I have to play the keys.” If I’m nervous, I get sweaty hands.

KIBBY: Oh my God, me too. My hands cramp up when I get really nervous. I actually have a couple of questions for you. Your music, and I don’t mean to nutshell it, but there’s such a sense of sadness. It’s interesting that you say you like Prince. I find Prince so fiery and open. Do you feel like you’d ever explore new moods like that?

SUNDFØR: Yeah. I have already. I have one new song that’s so positive that I don’t know if I can release it. [laughs] This is too positive for me! It’s not going to work. But the two last albums that I made, I made in a period of time where I was pretty depressed. I was going through a lot of shit. The music was colored by that. I wanted it to be sad. I wanted it to be dramatic. Pretty much to explain how I was feeling. I’m not that sad anymore. Just slightly sad now.

KIBBY: A little sadness is always good. It tempers things.

SUNDFØR: I think now I’m more interested in being cinematic. I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately. Film noir. I want to make a mystical record. We’ll see what comes out of it. I haven’t really written that many songs yet. Hopefully I’ll be done by a year.

KIBBY: Obviously, your voice is insane. But I’m actually really fascinated by your production style, as well.

SUNDFØR: On The Brothel, I worked with this jazz musician and composer Lars Horntveth. He has totally different references than me. I think he shaped a lot of the sound. On Silicone Veil, we produced the album together. When I started working with Lars, I became fascinated with not only writing the songs but also arranging them. I think a lot of it had to do with confidence; I didn’t know if I would be able to do that. On Silicone Veil, I wanted to try and arrange things myself. I still wanted input from someone else. I work best if I can do a lot beforehand, before I go into the studio. I do a lot with people who put their style on mine—it’s what I prefer. How is it for you when you produce all by yourself? Do you feel like you need input from other people? Or are you happy with what you do yourself?

KIBBY: This record has been really interesting. I wrote the first three demos on the road. I’ve spent the last two years focusing on doing remixes more than anything. I definitely had developed my own production style. I ended up signing with my label, and I don’t know what happened—I felt like if I didn’t have someone guiding me production-wise, it wasn’t going to sound professional enough. [laughs] Ultimately, I don’t know if it’s because I’m such an A-type personality, or I had such a clear vision of what the record needed to sound like, I ended up not finding the perfect collaborator for what I was trying to do. I was lucky enough that my manager and what have you were very encouraging, telling me that I could do this by myself. It’s terrifying. I’m not going to lie! [laughs] I can’t blame anyone for my success or failure. It’s all on my shoulders.

SUNDFØR: That’s why I work with other people, basically.

KIBBY: [laughs] Just to blame others? It’s scary. I have a big cheesy bone in my body. I really have a taste for drama. I can’t help it. Sometimes I have to remind myself to rein it back. I’m constantly asking, when I play things for my manager, “Please put your cheese meter on high and let me know if this going to make people hate me!”

SUNDFØR: We need cheesy. Cheesy is just references to the kind of music that hipsters wouldn’t necessarily listen to, but that’s how you make things move forward. You try to mix things into your own thing. 

KIBBY: That was ultimately the creative conversation I had to have for myself. I can’t deny who I am. I can’t pretend to make any other kind of music than what comes out naturally. So I might as well own it and go with it and see what happens. That’s why I was comfortable producing the record. It’s what I do. I hadn’t written songs at the piano for years. I had moved away from doing that. I had gotten very stuck, feeling like I was writing the same song over and over again. That’s when I decided to start programming drums, and I learned protocols and Ableton and all that stuff. It’s almost like my songwriting is now meshed with the production style; there’s such a symbiotic relationship between the two. I can’t imagine writing a song at the piano anymore.

SUNDFØR: I’ve been actually going through the same process, where I started making songs by the piano, and then writing the lyrics afterward. But I never started in the studio with a beat or a bass line or whatever. When I started getting interested in production, some of the songs I made most of the arrangements first, and then I put on the vocals or wrote the lyrics. It’s an interesting and encouraging way of writing music, to challenge yourself like that. Otherwise you start getting bored.

KIBBY: For me, it started getting very stale. I felt like I was revisiting the same chords and sounds and melodies. I didn’t have anything interesting to say.

SUNDFØR: Stale? Sometimes I’m bad at English. I’m looking it up.

KIBBY: Stale. It’s like when crackers get old. [laughs] So basically my old songs are like old crackers. Oh goodness gracious. I will say this though. I did collaborate with Greg Kurstin for two songs. He’s an amazing producer and jazz musician. We took it in a very Cocteau Twins direction. I’m not a guitar player, which frustrates me. I feel like my music would develop in a different way if I played the guitar. He’s a fantastic guitar player. He pulled out his guitar and he dialed in these amazing affects. In two hours, we had fixed the production, and this song became a whole new beast. It was really the first time I had handed something over to someone and said, “I’m just going to sit back and let you do your thing for an hour, and then we’ll talk about it.” As a writer, as a producer, it’s such an intimate experience making music with people. It’s like dating.

SUNDFØR: You get to know people on a totally different level than just being friends. I become very close with everyone I work with. The band, or crew, or producers, or whoever. It’s a sensitive and personal thing to share your music. Also with touring, you get to know the people around you. Sometimes it can be a good thing, sometimes it can be really fucking annoying. [laughs]

KIBBY: I wanted to ask you, what does the title of your album, The Silicone Veil, refer to?

SUNDFØR: I don’t really know. [laughs] When I made lyrics, I wanted to describe the feeling of wanting to go to another level or wanting to transform something. It can be death, or it can be wanting to get out of your skin. It’s so hard to find words for this, but I see a lot of our existence in this world as veils in a way. I think it’s very interesting when people who have had near-death experiences or who have actually been clinically dead, how they describe it as being on the other side. Many of them say that they’re having an inner dialogue with themselves, where they’re like, “Should I cross over, or should I go back?” If you can think that clearly when you’re actually dead, what is really the difference between being in that state and being alive the way that we see being alive? I think it’s interesting to think of it as what really separates us from the other side or whatever, is just a veil. It’s not a huge difference. We can’t really understand our existence. People can be so rigid when it comes to thinking in different ways about life and death. You can’t really express your opinion if it’s not in a scientific way. I find it diminishing.

A lot of society today, with technology and everything, a lot of it is synthetic. I just wanted to put that in there somehow. I don’t know if the title actually works. I don’t know if I’m very happy with it. I should have called the album something simpler. It’s very enigmatic, and maybe a bit too much. Especially since I can’t really explain it myself.

KIBBY: Everything you just said makes complete sense to me. I always tend to want to go back and revise things. Do you feel like you have a strong tendency to want to look back on your previous work and fix things or do things differently? Or do you sit back and let them exist the way that they are and stay content with that?

SUNDFØR: When I work on new music, I listen to it a lot. To process them or to get new ideas and understand them properly. But when I’ve released an album, I don’t really listen to the music anymore. But when I do, I always become very embarrassed. “I can’t believe I wrote that!” or “Oh God, this album sounds like a bad attempt at making avant-garde dubstep.”

KIBBY: [laughs] That’s my next album!

SUNDFØR: So I try to avoid it because I always get annoyed. It’s just tiny details that you didn’t pay attention to, and then you hear it afterwards and get annoyed. I think it’s better to just move on.

THE SILICONE VEIL IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON SUSANNE SUNDFØR, VISIT HER FACBOOK PAGE. MORGAN KIBBY WILL RELEASE HER DEBUT SOLO ALBUM LATER THIS YEAR. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON WHITE SEA, VISIT HER FACEBOOK PAGE.