“I don’t believe it is a war, I think feminism should unite us and in that way lead us forward.” We met with Swedish musician Jennie Abrahamson to talk about her new album Gemini Gemini, Pussy Riot, and gender in the music business.
It’s early morning in Stockholm and still crisp in the air. Despite a cold gust of wind that follows Jennie Abrahamson into the café, the room is filled with warmth and energy when she begins to speak. Few musicians who have been working as long and touring as often as she has maintain such a charm, but with the release of her fourth solo record Gemini Gemini, it’s clear she still has plenty to say.
– I wrote the album in spring, recorded it in summer and then finished it when I came back from supporting Peter Gabriel on tour in November. It might sound fairly quick, but it’s not for me really. And I wrote a lot of the stuff on mallets, like vibraphone or marimba. When I write at the piano I know exactly what I’m doing, which can be quite boring, but with the mallets you can fiddle around and experiment, I know the notes but I get a different kind of impulse. I tend to do that when I write, I use an instrument that I’m not familiar with because it makes it more fun for me.
The challenge is to bring
out the best in ourselves
One of the main themes on Gemini Gemini is the duality of man. If using unusual instruments is a way of finding new sounds, then perhaps the same thing is happening lyrically?
– That’s partly because I started studying psychology and partly because I’ve always felt, not that I act differently in different situations, but that there’s an inside me and an outside me. We all have tendencies towards very opposite behaviour; mankind can do very good and very very bad things. It’s easy to view other people or people in other countries in a negative way in terms of war and so on, ‘how could that happen? How can they let that happen there?’ but I think we all have it inside of us – which is a challenge. The challenge is to bring out the best in ourselves.
Is this new a subject matter?
– Not in here (points to head) but on record. Since I’ve started studying psychology a lot of new and very interesting thoughts have been stuck in my head.
A case in point is new single The War, a standout track from Gemini Gemini and an anthemic, drum driven battle song which discusses the feminist movement.
– Before I started writing in the spring, that last class I took was in gender studies so I was filled with literature about the making of gender and feminism. And I’ve always called myself a feminist. But, again I was flooded with ideas. I read a theory by some ultra feminist who called the fight between the sexes “The War”. I don’t want to go to that extreme because I don’t believe it is a war, I think feminism should unite us and in that way lead us forward. But I thought it was an interesting analogy. And it’s about my awakening, as I say I’ve always called myself a feminist but still I learned so much in that class, reading and writing about it. In fact my last paper for that class was about gender in the music business which is an interesting topic, both for artists and promoters. How do we choose to present ourselves and why are there no women in the top seats?
Whilst music has long been a platform for political discussion, issues of feminism and equality have had something of a resurrection recently, helped in a large part by Pussy Riot, who Jennie worked with last year.
– Me, Love Antell and Linnea Olsson participated in Impossible Music Sessions, which is a concept that comes from the US. The idea is to play the music of people who can’t play their own, because they’re in jail or because of politics or because they’re not allowed to in their country. So you’re kind of giving them your voice.
That’s a good idea.
– It’s a great idea. So that was the first time it was being held in Stockholm, and it was initiated by SKAP, I don’t know if you know them? It stands for Svenska Kompositörer av Populärmusik (Swedish composers of popular music). They do a lot of political work as well, we played music by Pussy Riot and Arya Aramnejad who is an Iranian singer songwriter. We had Jekaterina Samuzewitsch on link so she could talk to the audience. She was under house arrest at the time. She was very inspiring; I was crying the entire interview because she was very strong and eloquent. Then we did it again at Way Out West festival and then Arya was there on link too.
I think feminism should unite us
and in that way lead us forward
Is The War is something that you wanted to sing about because it’s in your head at the moment, or is it something that needs to be sung right now?
– Both. Partly it’s for me, and party I think we need to discuss this, and partly it’s a celebration song for the people that do discuss it and do it in a way that people can understand. I regret that there’s an environment now where the focus is on the wrong stuff. There are a lot of parts of feminism that maybe interesting to some people, on TV shows or whatever, but they’re not the core issues. There’s a focus on the extremes which makes people think that feminism is more weird than it really is. I think it’s worrying that more women don’t call themselves feminists.
– The main issues for me are that we should have equal rights and equal opportunities. And some people do it very well, like Lina Thomsgård who started up Rättviseförmedlingen. She’s a promo agent who’s been working with a lot of record labels and as a promoter for Robyn, and about four years ago she started Rättviseförmedlingen because she thought there was an imbalance in representation in the media in general, regarding women and other misrepresented groups. Whenever she asked “why aren’t you using more women?” people would say “because we can’t find any”. And her view was that they just weren’t looking hard enough. So she set up this social media initiative and now they have about 50000 people on Facebook, which means that now there is always an alternative when designers or musicians or political experts are needed.
The passion that comes through when Jennie Abrahamson speaks seems to be reflected in all that she does, not content to write, perform and produce her album she will now fit a few Scandinavian live dates in between touring Australia with Ane Brun in March and a then rejoining Peter Gabriel as a support act in the summer. When she talks about the many sides of her personality, this might just be what she means.
Listen to Jennie Abrahamson’s Gemini Gemini album here.
Photography by Paulina Persson.