It does not happen often, but it happens, that all of a sudden you hear music that makes you stop in your tracks, that makes you forget what it was you were going to do, forget where you were supposed to go, in short: you forget it all. It is not even conscious, your head is empty and the only thing of importance is this: to LISTEN.
Anna Bergendahl’s album ”Something To Believe In” has exactly that effect. You feel at home, it is singer/songwriter music of a grand tradition, artists like Tracy Chapman, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones and Lucinda Williams come to mind, yet it sounds new and fresh. Like having your favorite food but it tastes like you are eating it for the first time.
– It all started with me going to New York to work with Nathan Larson, member of A Camp and the husband of Nina Persson who sings in both A Camp and The Cardigans. We ended up with a song that’s on the album, says Anna.
That was the beginning of a dream comes true for the then 20 year old Swedish artist – to work in the USA with an American producer and songwriter. She found the best there is: Larry Klein. Or, rather, they found each other. It was like an epiphany.
– He could play a line on the guitar and it almost made my cry. I started to sing above it and one hour later we would have a complete song. Then you know that you’re at home as an artist. When you don’t need to analyze: Is this a catchy chorus? Will this be played on the radio? Maybe we should have trumpets on it, that’s fashionable right now… You know, when you just don’t care about such considerations and go with the gut feeling.
One has just to listen to the title track ”Something To Believe In” to understand what Anna talks about. Beware, if you are not touched by it you are probably dead…
Larry Klein rose to fame and prominence by producing several albums for the most influential female artist of the last 50 years: Joni Mitchell. Since then he has produced and/or played bass for artists such as Peter Gabriel, Robbie Robertson and Herbie Hancock (on his Grammy winning album ”River – The Joni Letters”). But above all he has made a name for himself as the producer of female singer/songwriters of the highest artistic and commercial order: Tracy Chapman, Melody Gardot, Madeleine Peyroux… From this anyone can understand that he does not take on an artist who is unknown – except in Sweden – because he needs a job to pay the rent. Larry Klein does not need to seek jobs, the big time jobs come to him.
There is only one reasonable conclusion, when he heard Anna he heard what he is used to hearing, a world class artist.
– I went over to Larry in L.A. the first time in the spring of 2011. At that point it wasn’t at all decided whether we were going to work together. The idea was just to meet and get a feel for each other, to see if there was some chemistry between us.
With Larry Klein as captain on the ship other things naturally follow, he can pick up the phone and get a world class crew. Such as Patrick Warren on keyboards (Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Fiona Apple) and Doug Pettibone on guitar (Lucinda Williams, Marianne Faithfull, John Mayer).
– Doug Pettibone is touring around the world with John Mayer of whom I’m a great fan! It’s unbelievable! But even though Doug and the others I worked with on this record are such fantastic musicians, they are humble, kind people. We must’ve spent ten hours a day together in Henson Recording Studio in L.A., says Anna.
She has come a long way considering how young she is, it is true, but if you look at it in another way it is quite logical. Anna has for many years been immersed in music. She is not the only child in her family. She has older siblings. She has a mother. But the burning interest in music was always a thing between Anna and her dad. He had a huge record collection characterized by exquisite taste. More than anything else he had classic soul and R&B: Al Green, Percy Sledge, Van Morrison…
– It’s always been my dad and I. Our hobby. My whole family used to go out to our summer house, but then it was the two of us who locked ourselves in the music room, as we called it. We sat there together till late at night and forgot about everything else. It was a relief for her dad: Finally someone who understands me!
– Yeah, absolutely, that’s how he felt, says Anna with a laughter.
She was just 5 years old when she fell in love with music, 5 years old when she knew what she wanted to do with her life. It was then she heard Tracy Chapman’s eponymous debut. The album, released in 1988, was an astonishing success. Tracy, at that time 24 years old, turned the world upside down with just her voice and an acoustic guitar, strong melodies, lyrics characterized by a pathos for justice, and insightfulness in human relationships.
– I heard songs like ”Talkin’ ‘Bout A Revolution” and ”Fast Car” and it was so obvious to me, that one day I’d be doing this. One day I’d be the new Tracy Chapman. I didn’t have a doubt in my mind, says Anna.
Tracy’s debut album has sold 30 million copies worldwide. The bass player on the record: Larry Klein.
– It’s just so amazing! And it’s quite funny, as a small child I imagined: In the future I’ll be working with these musicians. Of course, it was the dream of naive girl. I later understood not to take anything for granted, that nothing comes for free. But the initial dream was so pure and obvious. I saw myself as a singer and a songwriter already as a child.
Anybody can dream and many are satisfied with that, dreaming. But Anna pushed ahead and acted on the dream. She was just 10 years old when she began writing songs. She appeared on Swedish national TV when she was 12, performing Wild Cherry’s monster hit from 1976,”Play That Funky Music”. When she was 16 she auditioned for the show ”Idol” – the Swedish version of ”American Idol” – and made the members of the jury almost speak in tongues after she performed Bonnie Raitts song ”Have A Heart”.
– I’m completely blown away. I haven’t felt such chills down my spine since I sat down at a grand piano in Las Vegas and played with Celine Dion. It’s absurd! Look at the hairs on my arms. They stand straight up, said Anders Bagge, and the other members of the jury followed with more superlatives.
It was a really important moment for Anna.
– I gave all I had in that performance and I think it really got through to people. The clip got many million views on Youtube. I already had a belief in myself as a singer, but before this I had no idea that I could touch people on a deeper level.
Now she knew. And it made her singing even better.
– I discovered a much more important reason to sing than just for my own pleasure. I understood that by singing I could help people and give them solace.
However, great singing will only get you so far. You also need character, the right attitude. That Anna Bergendahl has in abundance.
– I’m prepared to give all I have, to dream big, to be motivated. You’ve got to in order to make it, she says.
In 2010 she won the Swedish song competition ”Melodifestivalen” (”The Melody Festival”), easily the most seen program every year in her native country. All of Sweden gathers in front of their television sets when the 32 contestants each perform a song never heard before. There is simply no bigger breakthrough possible in Sweden. And yet, Anna had her goals set higher.
– It wasn’t my natural forum, but I really did enjoy every minute of it. It was a journey and a great learning experience. I still get chills all over my body when I think about all the people who supported me and voted for the song. I’m forever grateful for that. However, I think music is so much more than fifteen minutes of fame, and I’m so happy to get to do it this way, my way, which is to sing and write from the heart.
Yes, singing and writing from the heart is exactly what she does on her new album: ”Something To Believe In”. You have to be deaf in order not to love it.
– I’ve never been more proud of anything in my life, so anything more than simply holding the finished record in my hands, is just a huge bonus. If people like it, I’ll jump up and down in excitement, but the most important thing is that we actually did it. There is not a word, not a tune on this record that isn’t one hundred percent me, says Anna Bergendahl.
In the Summer of 2013 Anna got the chance to support Bonnie Raitt at her concert in Stockholm. This was yet another milestone for Anna who did an amazing performance in front of an overwhelmed audience. Anna was really proud to also receive praise from one of her big idols!
After ostensibly finishing the album, the album was released in Sweden in 2012. Things conspired to cause a delay in the US release, and with the delay, both Anna and Klein came to feel that the album was not finished. Klein came to feel that some of the tracks needed additional finishing work, and Anna was certain that the delay had given her the time to know how to sing the songs from a more confident and mature place (2 years is a very long time in the life of a 21 year-old). The additional work on the tracks and vocals, as well as the remixing, started in Jan. 2014, with the new US release now slated for 2015.
”I really look forward to working with the fantastic team at Manhattan, it feels as if I and my album has found a great home there”, says Anna.