A very different type of rock star
In the generally stultifying world of rock music, we all appreciate someone or something a little bit different - and Ida Maria certainly fits the bill, writes TONY CLAYTON-LEA
FOR SOMEONE WHO is such a whirling, dangerous dervish on stage (cracked ribs, forehead gashes, streaming blood), Norwegian singer Ida Maria Sivertsen cuts quite the introverted, solitary and introspective figure.
Aside from bruising on her arms and a pint of Guinness on the table in front of her (the time is 3pm) you wouldn't guess that Ida is a brand new rock star pin-up no-nonsense woman. Her two primary heroes in music are Iggy Pop and Bob Dylan. Now there's a woman of two halves and a prism of influences for you.
Ida Maria is big news right now; you might have read in various magazines and weekend supplements that she's Bjork fronting The Stokes, Janis Joplin fronting The Jam, Adele fronting Buzzcocks, Kate Nash fronting Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The hybrid, associative potential of her material indicates music that is instantly recognisable yet with a curious twist. It's the twist that makes Ida Maria different, the reason why her debut album Fortress Round My Heart has been described as something akin to a fizzing, yelping ball of Nordic excitement.
Except that today, the fizzing, yelping ball of Nordic excitement looks in need of a bowl of soup and a quiet night in. The success of the album, and in particular the radio favourite I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked, however, means that she is being introduced to those countries that have kind of taken her to their collective heart. In the generally stultifying, similar world of rock music, we all appreciate someone or something a little bit different - and Ida Maria certainly fits the bill in this regard."I have always been different," she says.
Small-town living close to the Arctic Circle, night-time for six months of the year - where, she reckons, as soon as autumn arrives everyone curls up and goes into a seasonal depression without really noticing it - can do certain things to a mind and a body. It explains, she calmly states, "the whole Scandinavian
melancholy thing; if there's a dark edge to my music I think it comes from that."
A generally introverted childhood and early teenage years ("I was into nature and wildlife, and didn't feel the need to speak to people or do a lot of social things") radically altered as soon as mid-teen years hurtled along. "Suddenly it just all changed and I needed to be in the rush of social activity, the pulse of the city and all of that." What caused the switch to flip?
"It was through discovering rock'n'roll. I lived in a tiny town called Nesna, and everyone was busy with their tiny worlds, playing volleyball and listening to Britney Spears, whatever was being played on the radio, or what we could buy in the town's solitary gas station - which was the only place we could buy music, and even then, it was just Top 20 stuff.
"But then this Finnish family from Helsinki moved there, and I started working as a babysitter for them. Every time I went back home, I was able to borrow some of their albums. The father had the biggest collection of records I've ever seen, and so through him I got into listening to rock music. The first batch of albums I borrowed? I remember it well, it was like a religious epiphany. They included Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Television, Talking Heads, Flaming Lips, Kate Bush and Bob Dylan."
WITH VISIONS IN HER head provided, notably, by the lyrics of Dylan and Bush, and provocation in her system generated by the music of Hendrix, Joplin, Iggy Pop and Television (among others), Ida at the age of 15 was a hormonal ball of fury, intent on going to South Africa without so much as a nod to her parents. Diverted from her journey southwards via parental strategic logic, Ida left home for Bergen on Norway's southwest coast to study music in a college run by the country's Missionary Communion (according to Ida a strict, fundamentalist authority).
From here, she upped sticks to Uppsala, Sweden, at which university she developed a more theoretical, overall appreciation of music. "I grew up faster than I would normally have done, and it wasn't because I had a bad youth or time while I was away. I learned a lot about myself, and I learned so much about my parents, the result of which has made them probably my best friends.
"Once I was away from the family home, I didn't have to work in opposition to them anymore; I was on my own and I could frame that within a working/studying structure. They could advise me, for sure, but they couldn't make decisions for me, which is maybe why I'm here today. Besides, at the colleges in Bergen and Uppsala, I couldn't escape from playing music or performing; I played music all day, and lived a generally crazy life. It was wonderful."
Is she a person of extremes? Of all that we read and know of her, much has been made of the fact that when she was a child she was diagnosed with synaesthesia, a condition where the senses are confused to the point that the "sufferer" can see sounds and hear colours. Ida views songwriting as the assembling of patterns and shapes, and colour-codes her songs in varying shades of the rainbow. The stage, she points out with typical Nordic uncomplicated directness, is her canvas.
"I think I have a very shy, introverted side and a very impulsive side that I can't really control. I get tricked by things around me, and then I go off in one direction for maybe half-an-hour or maybe half a week. Then I wake up and think, 'oh, do I have to clean up or should I just run?'"
And what about her much commented upon onstage antics? How often can that kind of malarkey go on for? "It depends on the crowd. It's The Who syndrome - how many guitars do you have to smash up? And can you do it very night? It doesn't work, and it ends up that people come to the show not to listen to your songs, but to see you go mental. I have reacted to all of that sense of expectation by playing the last 15 gigs standing still, straight up. And those gigs are brilliant. We're musicians, not monkeys.
"I don't think that people buy tickets to our shows to see me crack my head open, or anything like that. It isn't about that. Yes, they hear that I can react in certain ways on stage, but when they see me they start to realise it isn't just about the performance, it's about approaching music in an honest and natural way, not formulaic."
Ida cherishes her honesty and is proud of being outspoken, something that she regards as being very much "a Northern Norwegian thing". She is also very proud of being a songwriter. "It's not that it's so difficult," she admits, "but it's my favourite way of communicating with the world. You can make people on the street sing songs such as I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked. Which is funny, yes?"
• Fortress Round My Heartis out through Sony/BMG. Ida Maria plays Whelan's, Dublin, on Nov 4