I fell for Nordic music long before setting foot in Scandinavia. Visits to Norway helped me keep up with new artists for a while, but my most recent find wasn't mine at all. Friends happened to hear an album while hanging out at Oslo's Sound of Mu and, thinking of me, tracked down a copy before heading back to the States. I was flattered and impressed. In my second Two Minute Interview for Where and Back, I asked Jessica Sligter, the young singer and songwriter who performs under the pseudonym Jæ, about the journeys music has taken her on.
- As someone who spends her time in Oslo, Amsterdam, and (occasionally) New York, how has travel influenced your music? There is a magic to things that are new to you. I'm addicted to that magic. The past four years I've been dividing my time between Oslo and Amsterdam, and then I've been a month here, a month there in Reykjavik or the US. Otherwise there was of course also touring in Western Europe and Scandinavia. When you travel you are on a constant high that influences what you do and how you do it. All my life I have been fascinated with the different worlds that people live in. The little cells that can differ so very much from each other. Each have their own character, their rules, their patterns. I like to move around in that landscape, and learn about people, learn about the diversity and the possibilities that life holds. So when I travel, I am in a constant state of receptiveness. On the other hand, that state can exhaust you, and you start to miss what you know well and feels safe: your house, your city, a language you understand without effort, your friends. Sometimes you get lonely and vulnerable.
- Have you experienced something marvelous, funny, or tragic in your travels? Oh, many things! For me it's mostly the people and their characters. And local foods. I continue to be amazed by the wonders of food.
- What are some of the most memorable places you've performed, and why? Badgerhaus in Raleigh, North Carolina. The house of a drone-musician—I forget his name—that looked like Halloween; there were huge spiders and skeletons everywhere, an audience of underground music nerds and computer programmer nerds. A trip I made with The Story of Modern Farming in Florida, where my friend Ross Brand took us under his wing. We played weird experimental improv to 50 ecstatic youngsters in a Tibetan diner in Tallahassee. We drove around a strange area and stayed at the beach house of Ross's step dad, a right-wing rich guy who liked guns. The whole area just fascinated me, it was very strange and ominous. I took a lot of inspiration from it writing for the Sacred Harp (a band I'm in, we're releasing an album in February). Many more, actually, but that's what came to mind right now.
- As a fan, what's your favorite concert-going memory? That's a difficult one. The last years I couldn't really afford to go to concerts. The ones that I did see, I really enjoyed, but the ones that stick out in my mind right now are a noise+video+art performance by Brian McKenna and a concert by Serena Maneesh, the Norwegian shoegazing band, that blew me away with their amazing sound and light show; the whole package just excited me massively. You know, my memory is not that good. So I am very sure that I'm forgetting stuff here.
- Who or what about the current music scene in Scandinavia excites you? In Norway there is a large scene for free improvisation, and amongst musicians a very contemporary mindset that goes beyond genre. I notice it more when I am spending time in other countries again, that it is really something special. It made me feel like I could breathe again, like I was unbound, free. This is a piece of Norway that I cherish and carry with me always.
- Many groups compose songs on the road—during sound checks, in the van, etc. Did anything on Balls and Kittens come to life that way? In fact, the EP I self-released in 2009 was very much influenced by how I made it. I wrote and recorded in bedrooms, practice spaces, and coffeehouses in Amsterdam, Oslo, and Reykjavik. There are sounds on it of a music student fastening a bicycle-chain outside the Conservatory (currently I live right across the street), Tram number 12, the daughter of one of the members of Kaffi Hljomalind, a co-op coffeehouse in Reykjavik, and more. Now, thinking over the songs on that EP, I remember the intense feeling of those experiences, each with their own kind of beauty. The record, Balls and Kittens, Draught and Strangling Rain, also bears traces of travel. I guess it's inevitable. I've been touring and traveling quite a bit the last years. "Jim's Place" and "Adam's Place" were written in New York, when I was staying with each of them. And the latter tells about cultural confusion. "Shots Being Fired" is about when I came home from that trip, tired, and fell from one unpleasant situation into the next: "I came home from a burning fire, but here there's also shots being fired," and the loneliness of being away from your family and friends. "I Still Owe the Morning" tells about Amsterdam in the summer and a vacation I went on with my aunt, in Normandy.
- Have you discovered anything remarkable on your various trips in Europe? Europe is so dense. The cultural differences relative to distance are much bigger than say, in the USA.