Dutch radio interview

Broadcasted on Dutch Radio 6 in the program Spotlight - April 6. 2008


radio 6 ideogram


Transcript of the (recorded) interview Marc Wielaert did for his program Spotlight, in which his guests talk about themselves on the basis of music that is meaningfull to them. Wielaert earlier did a short interview with Silje in November 2007 when she recieved the Dutch Edison Jazz Award in Eindhoven for her album Darkness Out Of Blue.
This transcript almost gives a literally reproduction of the words spoken in the program, but it is edited by me to get a better readable text, altough the meaning of it always is preserved. My remarks, between brackets, are preceded by my initials (HdW). The spoken words from Marc Wielaert are in blue, Silje's words are in white. In the program several songs could be heard, all of them are mentioned here. The duration of this interview, including the songs, was appr. 88 minutes.


[music: Silje Nergaard, "Paper Boats", from the album Darkness Out Of Blue, 2007]


I met Silje in November last year when she was awarded with an Edison Award, and this week she is in the Netherlands for a concert with the Metropole Orchestra in Paradiso. Silje, singing with the Metropole Orchestra, a dream come true?

Yes. To be surrounded by such beauty, it's not everyday life for me, and I think a really good orchestra is the ultimate beauty in music. It's such a beautiful sound, and to be standing in the middle of an orchestra and hearing your own songs being played by these instruments, it's a special occasion.

But also this first song from your album Darkness Out Of Blue I can hear the strings arranged by Vince Mendoza, so it's not totally new for you I guess?

No, it is very important to find the right people to work with, and when it comes to Vince it is very right for my music to work with him. Because in some way he adds a world that is already there, but that he in some way finds. And this is rare because a lot of arrangers they would add a lot of stuff on top when you give them a song, but Vince would bury deeper and find things that in some way I already wrote but I didn't show it, so he would make it all clearer, more deep in a way

He gets the essence out of your music?

That's the easy way to say it. Another way to say it, that he would dress up my song in a Jean Paul Gaultier dress

Do you in any way collaborate on these arrangements or is it just you give him a song and ask him to do it and he comes back to you and shows what he has done with it?

Well, this is his world so I trust him completely. I would normally participate in everything when it comes to my songs since I'm the composer and since I'm so into the cords and how to voice it, so I really do care about these things, but for Vince I do not have to worry. The best thing for me is to give him the songs and he will hear himself. He hears what I'm doing he wouldn't do something that takes away from the heart of my music.

How did you get into contact with Vince Mendoza and the Metropole Orchestra?

We wrote to him in the first place. I've had great arrangers on my albums but I know that one of the most important arrangers for them it was Vince Mendoza. I said to my producer why don't we just go straight to the top this time. Actually I wrote to him and I told him that I went skiing in the daytime, because when people go to work I am home and I can do what I want, one day I went skiing and I was listening to my iPod, I was listening to one of the songs that he wrote for the Joni Mitchell album [HdW: the album Travelogue] called Chinese Caf - I think I must have been in a very fragile mood - and I burst out in tears in that first verse because this voicing was so sad. I just wrote to him and told him about my little skiing trip and I got an answer.

So in the middle of the snow in the huge mountains of Norway you started to cry because of his music?

Yes, but everybody was at work, so I was all-alone.

We are going to listen to a lot of music you brought with you. Not especially your music. Spotlight is about the music that made you in a way. The table is full of cd's. I can see Ricky Lee Jones, Steely Dan, Pat Metheny, Joni Mitchell of course. You said let's start with All Jarreau, why All Jarreau?

He came into my life very early, I think I was about thirteen and I didn't listen to the same stuff as my friends. In some way he became one of the most important musicians in my past. I was attracted to his world of playfulness, it was all very melodic, it was free in terms of genre. I didn't know the word genre till some journalist talked about it a few years later. In some way he was my mentor. I was singing with him, I could scat sing in harmony all his albums, he was in a way my babysitter when I was alone.

You choose from his CD the song Letter Perfect

Yes, it's hard to choose, because I have a love for albums and when I listen to music I would listen to the whole album as a voyage. For me this green album is a whole world [HdW the album has a green cover, see below], an atmosphere and somehow these songs melt together for me. But Letter Perfect it is great, something about it's yearn, it's so longing. I like that, the heart of this song.

The album is called We Got By and this is All Jarreau with Letter Perfect.

[music: Al Jarreau, "Letter Perfect", from the album We Got By, 1975]


You just said it is like a baby to me this album.

Yes, it was a very influential album; I think it took it to my heart in every way. At one point I even thought I was going to merry him. I was only fourteen, so it was a bit tricky. But I was able to meet him a few years ago we did a duet together. We invited him to our house and it was a very special thing for me to have in my house after all these years. He came to Oslo, we recorded a song and he came to us and my husband [HdW: Heine Totland] cooked baccalau for him. I remember also we woke up my little daughter [HdW: Karla] who was two years old at that time. She is into good music, real good music. He was singing Take Five for her.

But she already could understand like who this guy was and what he was about?

Well, she is a musical little girl. I just play her all this good music and she is interested. She is into the good stuff like Stevie Wonder and these days it is Michael Jackson. I just give her the good stuff and she sings this music. 

Here on the table we have a collectors item, it is your first album Tell Me Where You're Going and this is your first single. You told it many times in interviews but still I would like to hear the story again about Pat Metheny. You simply gave him your song and asked him to play with you. What a nerve!

I just do it, because I hear it. I got this vision because of the music, it tells me that. You hear him play. He was one of the other very important influences from very early on. And when I composed the song I heard immediately that this jingelingeling playing was the Pat Metheny sound. But I was very young at the time and it took some years to make it happen. It normally takes some years to make these things happen. But I gave him the demo in New York when I was there and I went up to him - I remember it was a cassette at that time, sounds very old right? - and I said hello my name is Silje and I wrote this song and I would like you to play. I was so nave at that time. I thought the whole world was waiting for me. And he said, well you know, I am very busy but OK I listen to the song. And than a few days later I would go up to another gig that he was playing and he said he had listened to the song and he said that he loved it. At that time I didn't have anything organised, no record company, nothing. I just had this song and some other songs. After a few years we did this recording in Brazil, he was living there.

What where you doing in New York?

I had a boyfriend. I always had a boyfriend somewhere. I fell in love with people all around the world.

Let us listen to, is that your first single version?

I had two versions. I had a single version and I had this acoustic version with Pat Metheny and Armando Marcel who is a percussion player from Brazil. We recorded this in Rio. 

[music: Silje Nergaard, "Tell Me Where You're Going", from the single Tell Me Where You're Going, 1990]


Not a bad thing to have Pat Metheny on you debut album I think?

No, I was very lucky.

Was it important for your career, to have him on your first album or did it not really matter?

Difficult to say how important it was, but of course it was a buzz around it, the paper would write about it. He was a highly respected musician. I guess in some way it was a very good start, to have a story to tell.

We didn't discuss about what brought you to the music. Was it your home; was it the piano in your home?

It starts with something you carry inside of you. I think I have a lot of music in me, from my birth. I was lucky to have a house full of music. My father always played the guitar, jazz songs, and my mother played jazz records and we were a singing family.

Did they play together as well?

She was singing yes. And we where surrounded by good music, like Ella Fitzgerald, Joo Gilberto and all that stuff. It was a very natural thing to grow into for me.

But than still you can grow up in a musical family without playing yourself or starting composing yourself?

Yes, I know, and that is way I say I think it has to do with something you are born with as well. Because I have two daughters and one of my daughters is very into music [HdW: Karla]. I can see she belongs to music, in someway she disappears into the music. And the other girl [HdW: Erle], she is not like that. They have grown up in the same house. 

It is more like the music chooses you. 

I think so. I was lucky to get the piano, so I could develop, I could start composing. Because first of all: I am a composer. 

Do you remember the piano?

Yes, it was a brown piano, a German Schimmel.

And where was it?

In my house in Hamar. It was standing in the living room. I could see the garden and I would sit there and dream away.

Do you know Google Maps, because I made a print of Hamar, so maybe you can tell me where you played the piano?

Well, this is my school, in the centre of Hamar. I first lived at Krtorp and then below Hedmarkstoppen.

So you lived near the country on the outskirts of town?

Yes, there was the forest around my house where we were playing Indians and cowboys. Growing up in Norway is a very quit situation. 

But I can imagine that if you grow up near the harbour of Hamar it is a different story.

But the harbour is sort of very peaceful to, not many big boats there. 

And when you were not behind this big brown Schimmel piano, walking outside in the forest, were you also thinking about music, did you have music with you all the time?

I remember when I was walking around and always singing. I was singing one sentence again and again. I was very early into the expression of music. 

How old were you?

Eleven, twelve. I was in some way into how do I express this sentence. I remember still when I walked. Because we were always walking. I tell my daughter now that is ten years old, when I was ten nobody would drive me anywhere. My father wouldn't pick me up, it could be 20 degrees below in winter, but we would have to walk everywhere. So we where walking a lot and I was always singing, one sentence, again and again. Because I wanted to express it the right way. 

Which sentence?

I could be any song, just repeat one sentence to find out how to express the words. To rehears the way to express a song. It could be anything. We had great music like the Chicago Eagles, Barbra Streisand, and the Bee Gees.

The quality pop music of those days.

Yes, great, great pop music. So I could sing If You Leave Me Now, You'll Take Away The Biggest Part Of Me, and I could sing that for half an hour. Again and again.

Didn't you drive people crazy?

Well, I don't know if the heard it, I was walking by myself.

It wasn't when your father was taking you to school when you where singing this way.

They didn't look after us this way. We were more on our own. It wasn't that dangerous 

The northern part of Hamar is a save place to be?

At least they thought so; I don't think we considered anything dangerous at that time. We would walk through the forest alone. 

Would you let your daughters walk in the forest alone now?

No, not now. But I am sorry that it is like that. Because it was nice, we were not suspicious of anything, we felt very save. 

The next music is Steely Dan. When did Steely Dan came into your life?

Also very early. I think for composing they where the key band. For writing a learned a lot from Steely Dan. 

Can you tell what you learned?

I am not a good analyser. I could listen to how they put the chord and how he was singing a note in the chord. I think that is the closest I get to, analysing a song. It was a minor chord and he would sing a note in there that was not in the chord, which was very fascinating. It was so clear, and still complex, the way they wrote songs. 

This album was released in 1976; you were ten years old than. Did you immediately get to know this music?

That was a bit to early. I was into Abba and stuff like that. I think I found it later this one.

[music: Steely Dan, "The Caves Of Altamira", from the album The Royal Scam, 1976]


We are going to talk about composing, 'componeren' in Dutch.

'Komponere' in Norwegian.

Our languages are very similar.

Yes, in one way, in one way not. 

I could read some Norwegian, reading about you.

True, but there is something you have that we don't have, this sound "..ggg..".

People from abroad hate that sound.
Talking about composing. You just said I am more a composer, than anything else.

I think that is right to say. The world of composing is my biggest passion. And I am a singer, because I am a composer, or I am a messenger of my songs and my world of music. But I am not gifted with a great voice. People didn't say you have a great voice you have to sing. It is more like I have a voice that I have and I developed my voice as much as I can and I still try to do that. But I am mainly a messenger of my songs I think.

How do you work on your songs?

I sit down by the piano and I play. I record and I just try to play without thinking. Than I will listen back and if I find a phrase that I react to, something that is unique or personal or something special, than I have something for a song. And than I would start the work of composing. But I always need something to begin with that is unique, to make it go somewhere. 

So you sit down by the piano and record on cassette, or minidisk or whatever, and you completely open up to the music. 

Yes, and I can be very bored actually, I can feel it is a waste of my time. I don't think it is always very interesting what I do. I try not being too harsh on myself. I try to be open. If I listen back to this, I can hear it with another ear. For this album I'm making now I have been composing like this and I was actually very inspired as well, I was recording a lot of phrases and it is mainly work to find this little pieces of good music. And than I would write a song.

Listening back to your own recordings, you will try to find the good music in the improvisation. 

It can be only one phrase, one sentence that has a unique direction, that inspires me. And very often this one phrase has a sentence, that means something or doesn't mean anything.

You mean a sentence in words?

Yes, because when I compose I sing mainly rubbish English. For example When Judy Falls. When I composed it I was singing "When Judy Falls". The whole lyric is based on this sentence that came out of nowhere, but it comes together with the music. Somehow it comes from somewhere inside of me that has a message or a story. And my lyricist would try to hear where it is going. I thought Judy was falling to the ground. And he also heard she was falling to the ground, but she was also falling for someone. It is a very interesting way of finding songs. 

You give the music to your lyricist when the music is ready. After you find this small sentence, this musical motive, maybe a few words how do you go on than?

I than finish the song and play it with the piano and I send it to him.

But I was wondering how do you finish the song?

That is hard work, than can be months of work 

Because it is always very hard - when you have a very nice motive, maybe a melody - you have to find a next one that completely fits. Which is usually the hardest part I think.

That is what I call composing ...

Do you do it on paper, do you watch how the music grows of a melody.

No, I just sit to play and record it. It is inside me. I can do other things and it is working. When I don't work on it, it is growing, it is developing. A good song for me needs time.

In a way it is writing itself?

Not itself, but when I don't find the solution I would have to leave it. I will be working on it unconsciously; it is with me when I do other things. And when I come back I have in one way developed something and I can hear the answers to my questions that I had maybe the day before.

Than you have to write them down as soon as possible?

No I just record it. Everything is just pieces of recording.

You never write anything down?

When I go to my band, and if they are lucky, I give them a piece of paper with chords.

Really, that's all?

Yes. Lately I just send them the song. They don't get the chords, because they learn it better if they have to figure it out (laughing). Sometimes I give them some ugly chord sheets.

Are there many songs you work on at the same time?


Must be confusing 

In a way my head is chaotic already. So it is a very chaotic situation to compose. I have to force myself to make a lot of choices. It is a mess on my computer. I have to find the phrases and not loose them, try to put them in the right place. For a while it is a big chaotic situation. But when it is done it is done. 

And this few words you have for those small melodies are those essential to remember the song?

Yes, they can be.

It is like the Beatles did. If they couldn't remember a song it wasn't a good song.

It is probably because we are not educated in a school. We do not now how to right it down. For me it would be very slow to write it all down on a piece of paper. And it may change again tomorrow 

So, why write it down

A song always develops.

Now working with the strings of the Metropole Orchestra, working with Vince Mendoza, does it gives you a lot of ideas?

Yes, this is an interesting subject, because I have written a whole album over the last year with my mind on this project. It was so inspiring, the thought of working with Vince Mendoza and the Metropole Orchestra. To know they would contribute to my song. It was already a starting point that inspired me a lot. I never have been so effective in my life. I even kicked my husband out of the house. We had the grand piano in the middle of the house. He said on a morning, yes Silje I will leave. I could hear things in my head, and I would leave more space to my music than I did before, because I knew Mr. Mendoza would add things to the songs, that would give it a new flavor. 

How many songs are you working on now, in your head, at this moment, do you know?

At this moment I have got three songs, four songs in my head that we've been working on with Vince Mendoza. He has been writing and we've been writing to each other about these four songs.

We are talking about composing and you said when this is the subject I would like to listen to a song of Rufus Wainwright.

Yes. He woke me up in a way. I felt it bit dead, maybe that is the wrong word but I felt no passion for writing. It comes and goes, it has always been my pace, I think it is over and I will never write again. This was one of my periods, about two years ago or three. When I heard his album, I was very inspired by his writing and singing. It is first of all high level of songs and it is a mixture of his worlds that amazes me. His classical input with pop ideas, arranged in his own Wainwright world, I think it is very very inspiring, although it is very different to my music, but that doesn't matter.

[music: Rufus Wainwright, "Natasha", from the album Want One, 2003]


Rufus Wainwright, an inspiration to you.

Inspired by people that find their own world, the define it, they make it happen. 

About composing. I think one of your big examples, you already mentioned here because you burst out into tears in the snow when skiing listening to Joni Mitchell's music. You brought Hejira. It is a great album, also from 1976 the same year Steely Dan's album came out. What does Joni Mitchell mean to you?

She meant a lot to me and she still does. Every day I keep her in mind, I'm not the only one I know, but she has got something that nobody else has. She has created a world for herself and for us that is completely original. And it is such a high quality of her, everything she does, like her melodies, lyrics, her drawings, paintings. It is all very complete.

It is an amazing personality. Her voice sounds of course a lot different than the recordings you heard with the orchestra with Vince Mendoza, it is a very young Joni Mitchell. This is Cyoti.

[music: Joni Mitchell, "Coyote", from the album Hejira, 1976]


One of the many masterpieces of Joni Mitchell, with on the bass - you will have recognised him - Jaco Pastorius
We are talking about composing for al long time now and of course Joni Mitchell is a great example of a female composer, the mother of all singer-songwriters. I was wondering, because she always writes all her lyrics, and on your first album you have written all your lyrics as well, a lot of them.

Some of them, and others together with Richard Niles.

When did you decide to focus on the melody?

I've always focused more on the melody that the writing.

Is it difficult for you to write the poetry to your songs?

I wish I could do that.

You can, because you've done it

I can in a certain way but I am mainly a composer and I wanted to be on a high level. I cannot express it really the way I want, so I found someone to co-operate with that became my words in the end. Although we are different, he is a man, he lives in another place, but still he becomes the glove of my hand if you understand. We've got a very deep level of communicating about the songs.

His name is Mike McGurk; from all the recent albums he has written al the words to your songs. And I understand you will send him a audiocassette with your melody, maybe some words like When Judy Falls, and than he will get to work with it. How long does he take to find the words?

He lives with the song for a while. And than he would write back to me. Sometimes it is right from the beginning and sometimes it would be more work. Because I have a lot of opinions. Since I wish I were the one who wrote it, it can be tricky for him to work on the songs. 

You must be a pain to work with sometimes?

Yes. Maybe to demanding sometimes, but he is rewarded when the song is recorded. It is a very exciting way of writing. For many songs I give him a frame for his story. For example, a new song that I wrote called Laura. I sing Laura, I don't know way I sing Laura but this comes out with the music and in the end of the verse I sing 'we thought we knew you so well Laura' and the next verse I would sing 'he thought he knew you so well Laura' and in the end I sing 'you thought you knew yourself so well Laura' and this is all in the frame of the music. He hears the music and he hears this and than in a way he can sense what I am trying to sing.

So you give him not only the music but also a theme to write about.

Yes, in this case I gave him many pictures on the situation. 

We started this show with Paper Boats, which is remarkable because it just describes how someone makes a small boat out of paper that can float and at some point you have to let them go because they will find there own way. In a way it is about children. 

It can be about children, but it can also be about something that means a lot to you. Things that mean a lot to you are very fragile and a paper boat is very fragile. If it falls over it will disappear in the water. But for me it is about children, my children. For other people it can be something else. Something you worry about or you want it to go well.

Something precious to you. But I'm wondering where is a text like that originated. Is it your idea to make something about paper boats or is it just the music and did he think about the boat or the meaning of the song, the preciousness. 

In this case I don't really remember. Because sometimes I wouldn't give him anything or I just give him a title. I think, yeah, we decided a title Paper Boats and than there was nothing more. Just a fragile title and than he would write the story. 

How does that fit what you had in mind for the music. Does it completely fit, or is it surprising to you as well.

It was surprising to me. It was a pleasant surprise. Sometime he surprises me too much. He would go to far. We push thinks in our own directions, maybe it is not his direction, but in some direction that he wants to go and I won't. We are two stubborn people; it is like an old marriage. We have to struggle to meet sometimes, but sometimes we meet immediately. I think it is a very normal thing to do when you co-operate. 

I tried to find some information about this Mike McGurk. Nowadays in this era of Google it is if you cannot find someone it is like he doesn't exist. 

Can you find something about him?

It took a lot of effort to find something about him, which was really about him and not about you.

Well, he is on a little island in Norway, a little place.

He is born in 1945 in Kent. At least he exists, because I have thought he was like an alias for you and was wondering does this guy really exists.

Yes, but he his hiding inside a lot of beard and living on an island in the west coast of Norway.

How do you know him?

Through my husband. He is in a way married into the family; on such a small island most people somehow are related. I was looking for someone who could write a lyric. How we started to write was I send him a new song. But I did a mistake; I did send him a cassette with a song that had lyrics already. It was a song I had written called Move along Ruby, which is on my first album. What he got was a rehearsal of this song. He was so polite; so he just wrote new words over this song and he was wondering why, but he wrote new words and the new words were Be Still My Heart. So when I got Be Still My Heart I looked at it and said I don't understand how these words fit to this song. In the end we found out and than I found these lyrics so beautiful so I spend three months writing the music. And that is the beginning of the relationship. So I wrote the music after the lyrics.

That's a first and maybe the last time 

I did that also with Lullaby To Erle

That's actually the other way around to your normal procedure of working together.


Wonderful story about Be Still My Heart, I didn't know that, it is one of my favourites. 
But back to the music you like. The next one is James Taylor, a very logical choice after Joni Mitchell. Tell me about your love for James Taylor.

I think I wanted to marry him too at one point . All girls at that time wanted to do that. He was there together with Joni and Ricky Lee Jones. These are legendary singer-songwriters and I still play them almost every day, I always come back to them. And JT, I remember my sister {HdW: Trude] bought this album. I think she mainly bought it because he was really handsome on the cover, a beautiful black and white photograph of a really handsome guy. But we learned to love this album. When I think about all the heartaches and everything, it has to do someway with this album J.T., for James Taylor.

[music: JamesTaylor, "If I Keep My Heart Out Of Sight", from the album JT 1977]


What is surprising me is, apart from the music from Rufus Wainwright, for this edition of Spotlight you choose a lot of music from the 70's. 

I'm a 70's girl I think. I just realize this is the music I still love. I check out new stuff and I am very happy when I find something like Rufus Wainwright. But I still go back to those days; it is something about the concept of albums. They don't have the same idea about an album nowadays. I realize this because I have a daughter who listens to music through YouTube and MySpace. She doesn't get into a world of a whole voyage with songs. She gets into one song by one artist and than another song by another artist. The concentration is a bit shorter. I still like the idea of making you going to a world for a while, like 45 minutes. You are going somewhere.

Is that how you compose your albums as well?

Yes. I'm really a freak about lists, the order of songs. Either in a concert or in an album. I can work on a list also for three months, because I think the order of the songs is also a composition. And you make people go with you, than that is very important. Sometimes I hear a good album, with good songs, but I think the order is wrong. 

When composing an album I can imagine some songs don't fit in, how does that work? 

Sometimes we through them away for the album and they show up later if it is a good song. If it doesn't fit and it will destroy the flow of the album, we will take away that song, maybe we love it, but we have to take it away. 

Let us listen to another song this time from Elton John it is a song form the 70's as well, Come Down In Time.

Actually I don't like this album very much, but this song is such a pearl. I don't know what it is. It hits me so hard. It has all the beauty and all the sadness, everything in one little song 

[music: Elton John, "Come Down In Time", from the album Tumbleweed Connection, 1970]


Suddenly in this last song I hear the strings and the woodwinds, I hear the orchestra. Maybe this was always your dream to work with the orchestra?

Yes, we are back to the orchestra. The way they play here it is so completely emotional in his world. For me there is nothing that touches so deep than a great arrangement of an orchestra. This is probably why I was very inspired by the idea of making an album with this orchestra, and of course a great arranger like Vince Mendoza.

When can we expect your new album?

I only know we record it this summer and if it is released before or after Christmas I'm not sure about, I guess it will be after Christmas.

And your songs are ready?

They are ready, all of them.

And you already picked the right order?

No, it is to early, but I think I have the first song. 

What is it about?

The song is called Based On A Thousand True Stories. It is about something we all struggle with, it is about relationships that don't work. We may think that only we have this problem, but many people do. So it isn't based on another true story, but on thousand.

And again lyrics by Mike McGurk, and a bit by you maybe?

Yes, I guess I really was a part of this song. Mike McGurk almost divorced me after writing this song, because it was such a struggle, just like a relationship can be. 

You are with him for a long time as well, but you are still together. What would you do without him?

That's a good question. I think when one door closes another will open, but it is a tricky one.

Thank you very much for being my guest for such a long time

I was a pleasure to play all these great music for you and the listeners.

We will end with one of the greatest, Stevie Wonder.

Absolutely. I also live with him every day. If I see him in television, I don't know what it is, but he touches something, immediately he goes into my deepest point in my body. I burst out crying just by seeing him. He releases everything, it is joy, it is pain, and his world is so complete for me. Although you can say it is very different to me, it doesn't matter. He is the male Joni Mitchell for me, although he is a different type. His world is so amazing. 

Silje Nergaard, thank you very much.

[music: Stevie Wonder, "Superwoman", from the album Music Of My Mind, 1972]


Transcript by Herman de Wit, Maarssen (the Netherlands), September 2008.