Ida Maria, Girl From the Pub Up North

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Published April 14, 2009

About a year ago, a friend sent me a link to the Myspace page of Ida Mariaâ??the next young, female, Norwegian singer-songwriter, she saidâ??along with an urgent note advising that I listen to the track “I like you so much better when you’re naked” immediately, at high volume, preferably on repeat. Under such circumstances I do as I’m told, so shortly thereafter I was listening to the track in questionâ??and then as many other tracks as I could get my hands onâ??loudly, and on repeat. This went on for several weeks straight. Several of my friends had similar experiences.

The responsible party, 24-year-old Ida Maria (full name: Ida Maria Børli Sivertsen), finally drops her debut full-length today in the US (via Mercury) and the album, Fortress Round My Heart, reveals a rock star in the making. Ida Maria has the kind of voice that makes you think of Janis Joplin – powerful, raw, and a little bit wild – and she takes more cues from classic American rock than from her Scandinavian peers. Onstage, she’s bold and frenetic: When I saw her perform in New York a few months ago, she thrashed around the stage in a miniscule gold dress, which she proceeded to drench with water when she dumped it over her head.  A fair number of Ida’s songs are about being unapologetically drunk, promiscuous, and/or lonely. Oh, and she has synaesthesia, the rare neurological condition that allows her to see music as color. In other words, Ida Maria is one of those fearless, brazen, exciting female American singers that America has been hurting for in recent years. So what if she’s actually Norwegian?

LUCY MADISON: Hey, how’s it going?

IDA MARIA: Hi, I’m good. I’m in Norway, in my hometown.

LM: I read somewhere that you moved to Sweden. Not true?

IM: Yeah, fuck Sweden. I’m done with that. Everything’s so square, and everybody’s so polite.

LM: Wow, I always thought Swedes were supposed to be fun. Maybe I don’t know enough Norwegians.

IM:  [LAUGHS]

LM: Let’s talk about Fortress Round My Heart.  What was the inspiration for it?

IM: It’s a photograph of my youth, in a way. They’re very personal songs. I was 21, 22, something like that, when I wrote it. When I start writing a song, I’m trying to be really honest. I mostly write about experiences that I’ve had. I try to get the feeling across.

LM:  When did you first start writing your own music?

IM: I’ve always been making stuff. I had a very free upbringing, and very encouraging parents. I just found that it was a really cool thing, to write songs. And then, I think it was probably about when I was about 19 years old, people started telling me I should try to do this, get the music out. I was living in Bergen, on the southwest coast of Norway, which is a very musical city with lots of bands. So I hung out with different groups, playing with different musicians and recording a little bit here, a little bit there.     LM: What music did you listen to growing up? 

IM: I’ve listened to American music my whole life. I’ve always been a big fan of 70s rock: Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin. I listened to a lot of jazz, and my dad listened to a lot of jazz and funk and soul and stuff. Bette Davis and Miles Davis and Coltrane and you know.

LM: You have such a strong voice. Were you into women singers like Janis Joplin?

IM: I was really a big fan of hers from when I was young, but I couldn’t really sing like her. But then I wrote all my songs in the wrong key, so when I started touring, I had to scream to reach the notes. Also, being a girl with an all-male band, you just have to sing a bit louder when you’re rehearsing, because you can’t really hear yourself. My natural voice isn’t really that noisy. [LAUGHS]

LM: What’s it like touring with all these guys?

IM: It’s cool but sometimes I kind of feel I’m turning into a guy myself, you know? As soon as I meet a girl, I’m like, “How is it really to be a girl? Tell me, what do you do?!”  Cause I’m the only one who puts on makeup from time to time, and I don’t really know how to do it.

LM: What was it like to tour in the US?

IM: I’ve only done a couple of shows in the States, but it really, it was such a good experience. Everything is very professional, and everybody really does their job very well. In the UK for instance, everything is a bit older and a bit more worn-out, and the people are a bit more tired. You know. I think Americans are a bit looserâ??a bit more out to have a fun time. 

LM:  That’s interesting to hear; as an American I would have thought it would have been the opposite.

IM: No, that’s not my experience, really.

LM: Do you feel the strain of constant touring and performing?

IM: Sometimes it can be hard. We’ve definitely been touring too much, so I’m trying to balance it a bit now. It’s the best thing in the world to be onstage, but not when you can barely stand up. I’m exhausted, but it helps to come up here, up north, and just relax and breathe some fresh air and go to the local pub and walk up the mountains.  When the summertime comes I’m gonna be up on every single mountain. [LAUGHS] You can get a T-shirt that you’ve been on all the seven mountains in this area. You get a T-shirt that says you’re a seven-mountain climber. That’s my goal for the summer.

Fortress Round My Heart is out today on Mercury.