From Glittercard to Passage, Torun Eriksen has honed her craft and identity to become one of the most instantly recognizable voices in Norwegian music today. Her music is always immediate, personal and yet subtle and universal. With Visits, Torun opens a different door into her musical world, presenting us with a selection of 10 songs by various artists, each with its own personal resonance for her, and given a unique interpretation, sometimes defamiliarizing well-known songs, and at others, making the unfamiliar seem as though it has been present all along.
Of Visits, Torun says, "There are far too many wonderful songs written to pick only one favourite - too many, even, to pick ten. And quite a few of them, I would never try to sing myself. I love them as a listener and will continue live with them that way.
"That is why, when I decided to make this album, I had to go beyond the idea of just presenting some favourites. The ten tracks are carefully chosen tunes. Each of them, from the moment they came into my life, left their mark on me one way or another, as a person, singer and songwriter. Some of them left their mark there and then, others not until years after. Collecting these songs has therefore been a journey in time and space, which has allowed me to visit the wonderful musical world of artists I deeply admire. I have observed and dived into their stories, and now I hope to convey to you, in an honest and personal way, what I found."
Beat Angels begins, appropriately enough, with a simple beat, leading into the Sal Bernardi classic, here given a treatment that relocates the song's center in a more feminine, contemplative space. "I bought 'Traffic From Paradise' by Rickie Lee Jones not so long after it came out and I have listened to it so many times, admiring and enjoying it," says Torun. "But, for some reason I had to turn 36 to really discover this song. Maybe I was not ready before. It has this honest and unpretentious way of expressing darkness and chaos. Singing it gives me hope and courage to illuminate my own dark corners. Its a powerful song."
Wichita Lineman is a song of both epic scope and reputation, made famous by Glen Campbell, but part of the Jimmy Webb songbook, an utterly distinct canon that in recent times has regained credence and relevance (although in reality Webb's songs have always remained relevant outside of trends and critical posturing). Torun's interpretation does not engage in parlour tricks for reinvention, instead giving the song a reverent delivery with subtle accents rather than radical overhaul. "One night, after a long recording session for the album 'Passage', we grabbed a beer, turned on this song, leaned back and wondered how anyone could write such a tune. I remember David and I decided we had to make our own version in the future "
Downtown Train is a song that has had several incarnations over the years, the most successful being a somewhat anodyne MOR interpretation by Rod Stewart. Coming from the section of Tom Waits's corpus that is often compared with Bruce Springsteen, the song has risen above such comparative criticism to shine in its own right as a classic song of yearning. Torun's version here gives the familiar melody a twist, adding a kind of soulful reggae sheen to the nighttime of the lyrics. "Around 97/98 we held a Tom Waits tribute concert in my hometown Skien. It was a great experience to perform this material with some of the best musicians in town. I was doing backing vocals, except for a solo feature on 'Blue Valentine'. The project was one long dive into an overwhelming catalogue of songs. Ever since I have wanted to do 'Downtown Train', which captures melancholy and longing so beautifully, it cannot be explained."
Fix You is perhaps the song that many would least expect to see in this collection, coming as it does from a stadium-filling rock band like Coldplay. "I was out driving alone one afternoon when this song came on the radio. I had heard it before, obviously, as it was a world hit with heavy airplay. But this time it spoke directly to me. Totally unprepared of its strong message, I was left in tears behind the wheel (and was lucky not to cause any danger in traffic that day)." In Torun's version, the song is made immediate, with less focus on the exaggerated melodic runs of the original, and a greater emphasis upon the lyrical content. The result is a much starker picture than the sing-along the song has become for many less attentive listeners.
Sign O'The Times stands as one of the most recognizable songs to appear in the 1980s (perhaps only surpassed by Prince's own 'Kiss'). The decision to do an interpretation for this album has a history that emphasises its position as a keystone for Torun's development as a musician: "My music teacher presented this tune to me when I was 17. He was (and still is) a great pianist and arranger, and had this idea for a stripped down, cluster-like, jazzy trio version with piano, sax and vocals. Great fun, a big challenge, and maybe one of the most important moments in my life. This was my first real experience with rearranging a tune, and a glimpse of the endless potential for variation and nuances that exists in a good composition." Retaining the sparseness of the original, the effect is very different: where Prince had an indubitable funkiness, this interpretation dials the funk back and replaces the gap with a degree of glitched menace and darkness perfectly suited to the subject matter.
You Can Close Your Eyes is a James Taylor classic, overshadowed by his better-known songs like 'Carolina on My Mind' or 'Sweet Baby James'. The simple piano and vocal interpretation here foregrounds the song itself, allowing the lyrical simplicity and beautiful interplay between chords and melody to work a magical spell rarely found in music today. Of the song and its interpretation, Torun says: "My first encounter with this song was when a couple of friends performed it acoustically in another dear friends private wedding ceremony. It took place outdoor on a lovely island southeast in Norway, and was an unforgettable moment. After I heard the original I was sold. I sang it a few times live with piano. On the album we tried to make it as simple and to the core as possible, to let the words and melody speak for itself."
Feels Like Home takes the Randy Newman song a long a beautiful path of understated simplicity that allows the listener to focus on the song itself, Torun's beautiful voice acting as a channel for the words, rather than a vehicle for vocal display. The result is a highly memorable, evocative performance. "I fell in love with the song a long time ago, but when I bought Harps And Angels and heard Randy Newman sing it himself, the tune reached a whole new level of meaning to me. Some songs I just dont get tired of singing. This is one of them."
Spanish Joint lifts the tempo, while the mood feels much more underground, deep, and just a little dirty, complete with grungy fuzz guitar line, quacking synth, and grooving bass. "We used to do this song a lot during the time when we first entered the club scene in Oslo with various cover bands playing soul, funk and R&B. Needless to say, we were all crazy about DAngelo and tried our best to play the song exactly like the original. It was such a great time and we learned a lot. Now, 13 years and some solo albums later, Im still crazy about DAngelo and the song. But this time I approached it from a different angle with the wish to add some Scandinavian and personal touches to it. "
Wish You Were Here is a Pink Floyd song that has grown in stature over the years since its original release, so much so that providing yet another version is a brave step for any artist of any calibre. However, the treatment here gives the song an entirely different atmosphere, beginning with a sense of threat, slowly evolving into a somewhat plaintive, meditative mode that allows the sentiments of the chorus to shine forth. "I was 15 when I learned to play the guitar, and the minute we left Tom Dooley for some more advanced material, this was one of the songs I managed to play more or less properly, (along side Bob Dylans The Times They Are A Changing and Mr Tambourine Man). Years had passed without listening to it, when I happened to put it on while picking songs for the album. It was a whole new experience, and I realized this was a story I was connected to and wanted to retell."
American Tune is one of Paul Simon's greatest songs, based on a melody by J.S. Bach, and dealing with themes that resonate far beyond its American setting. Torun's treatment here, once again, is kept to the task of presenting a great song in the best possible setting. "I must have been around 19 when I first heard this song at an older friends house (whose LP and CD collection already then reached far beyond countable, and whom I owe credits for having introduced me to at least half of the music I have heard in life.) Growing up with hymns and psalms, this composition took my breath away with its familiar theme from the hymn O Sacred Head, Now Wounded, and yet it was both a folk song and a pop song at the same time. Awe is the best word to describe how I feel about this song."
Visits is a collection of songs that for many will have meanings in their own lives. For listeners for whom the songs are unfamiliar, this collection will surely see them become meaningful in their lives too. The treatment of each song is a mixture of appropriate respect, innovation, and sublime restraint. Nothing is excessive, nothing is underplayed: this marvellous balance makes Torun Eriksen one of the most outstanding vocal performers today.