With her haunting, singular voice and magnificent arrangements, Xenia Kriisin makes hymns for the twentieth century. We caught up with the young songstress before tonight’s show in Stockholm.
I remember that we had a piano at home; it wasn’t tuned, but it was fantastic, Xenia recalls. I thought it was so cool that music could be so simple; you just press a key and there’s a tone. That had a strong effect on me. I distinctly remember when I realised how chords worked, how you could create sounds and through that play songs. It was exciting, almost like learning how to swim or ride a bicycle.
– I also remember recording my own cassette tapes. I made a great deal of mixtapes, and I could sit by the radio for hours trying to catch my favourite tunes. I was so dedicated.
What did you listen to as a child?
– I think I was something of a dipso, going from Spice Girls to Ella Fitzgerald, Xenia says. I also listened a lot to Aretha Franklin, James Taylor, and Steely Dan. So yeah, it was a mixture.
You sing with your body
and your soul, with everything
you’ve been through
Do you remember writing your first song?
– Yes, I remember that clearly. I was about sixteen and sat in the kitchen with my guitar when I suddenly realised that you could create a song just out of a few chords. The song wasn’t particularly good, but it was still a momentous evening. The song was called Come fly with me.
How did you find your voice?
– It’s been a journey. You could put it like this; to me, a voice is the strongest and most powerful instrument there is. I’ve always felt that I need to be honest to be able to sing. You sing with your body and your soul, with everything you’ve been through. I’ve described the search for my voice as being a teenager; all the thoughts and doubts, all the strange and exciting things that happens to your body – that’s how it’s been with my voice. As I grew up, gaining knowledge and experience, so did my voice. It needed time, examination, and then more time. The sound came with that process too.
Earlier this autumn, Xenia Kriisin made her debut with the album Hymn, a magnificent and hypnotic exploration of religion. Together with drummer and producer Johan Hjalmarsson, Xenia presents a string of bold, beautiful hymns, her soulful, singular vocals set against stripped-down, striking arrangements.
– As Hymn is my first album it can be described as a wrap-up of my life, Xenia says. All ten tracks have been re-played, revised, elaborated, and thought through.
– The album first and foremost inspired by life, how fragile and strong life can be, and how incredibly abstract. The music derived from my thoughts on life, death, and, obviously, religion. I’m not religious, but I’ve always been fascinated by religion in general and Christianity in particular, simply because it’s the prevailing religion of our society and my childhood. I’ve been thinking a lot about faith and the sense of security it can bring. I’m also fascinated about the literary and artistic expressions religion has engendered. This is what forms the basis of Hymn; my interpretations of faith, history, and arts.
– The name comes from the album’s final track. It was a hassle bringing together the fantastic choir that sings on it, but it finished my work in an incredibly beautiful way. It’s definitely the song I’m most proud of.
Tell me about your collaboration with Johan Hjalmarsson.– Johan Hjalmarsson is so talented it’s hard not to want to work with him. He’s my best friend and we’ve grown together with the music and the arts. We’re like an organism when we work together. He’s a person that you can trust one hundred percent, who’s always honest and always understanding. We’ve been playing together in various constellations for years, so when I started this project it came natural that he would be part of it.
I find your music reminiscent of contemporaries such as Anna von Hausswolff och Mariam the Believer. Is that something you can relate to?
– It’s not something I’ve been thinking about while writing, but I can understand the comparison. What we mainly have in common is our honesty and our pride. To me, Anna and Mariam has two of today’s strongest and most honest voices, breaking barriers in this cold world. They are both good friends of mine, and I’m happy to be compared to them.
What are your thoughts on the future?
– I have a lot of thoughts on the future. At the moment my focus is on playing live. It is not until I play live that I become one with the music, when I can meet the audience and create sounds. That’s my future, to create sounds.
Xenia Kriisin will perform at Obaren in Stockholm, tonight,
Photos by Anna Hansen.