Triangle is the boldest of all her work, whether in collaboration with others, under her own name or the banner of The Magical Orchestra. Bold in both approach and execution, it highlights one of Norway’s most interesting voices. Religious, spiritual and occult themes are explored throughout the album’s 22 tracks and seventy-something minutes. Songs like ‘Born Again’, ‘Holy Sacred’, ‘Before the Altar’ and ‘For My Sins’ give more than a hint of the direction she takes. In the layers of sound are great moments of darkness and light, as well as passages which imbue feelings of being lost, found, scared and comforted. If you want a label, then Triangle has arguably ended up as a concept album.
It was several years in the making, as you might expect of a record of this scale and depth. The starting point came a few years ago on a flight across the United States. “I like to call it a revelation because it felt that way,” she says. What came to light then were large parts of the title track, which has now become an ebbing and flowing five minutes of soaring multi-tracked vocals, rich strings and piano.
“It very much started with the elements; the water, the fire and the Earth. It started there, but also with the whole ‘Triangle’ song, it was leaning in the more spiritual and occult direction,” she says. There is a fascination with these themes and her own experiences of growing up in a religious environment—before “taking a stand” and escaping it—are a source of perspective. Occult elements are also found in LA artist Marjorie Cameron’s shadowy paintings of the East Angel and West Angel, which adorn the album’s outer sleeve. A follower of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema religion and an actor in a number of Kenneth Anger-directed films, her artwork is a fitting piece of Triangle.
A product of both Los Angeles and Oslo, the Californian city was where Triangle’s foundations were laid and where surroundings aided the creative process. LA left its mark in some way. “It’s always hard to pin-point exactly what it is in certain places that influence the writing but it’s very important to be in a place where you feel things,” she says. “I started to record over there in a wooden hut in Echo Park with possums, skunks and squirrels and a lot of nature out there. It was absolutely inspiring to be there.”
Collaborating with other artists – from folk legend Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy to members of the Norwegian contemporary music scene like Jenny Hval— has been a regular occurrence. But this time the process was more solitary than ever before. “I didn’t even have an engineer for a lot of the recordings, I just worked on it on my own. There are a lot of decisions to take and a lot of technical things to find out; like when your computer crashes and you’re afraid you’ve lost all the last things that you did,” Susanna says. The path she made for Triangle is entirely her own, but others walked that ground with her. Emmett Kelly, Alison Chesley/Helen Money and Jessica Sligter, who sings on the minimalistic and morose ‘Death Hanging’, are just a few of them.
Of course, working alone and self-producing the record had challenges and frustrations. “I thought at some point that I would never be able to finish it,” Susanna says. Being open to whatever could occur in the process meant that songs developed through writing, even during the recording. The effects-heavy and multitudinous manner in how vocals and instruments were recorded gave her a sense of boldness in what she was doing. “When you do that, you can’t go back. There is no returning,” she says. At the end of it all, though, is an overwhelming completeness and familiarity in her work. “It feels like I know every bit and piece of this album and I know exactly why it turned out that way. That’s a very good feeling actually.”
Triangle is released on Susanna’s own SusannaSonata label on April 22. She plays London’s Cafe OTO on 19 April with support from Splashgirl. Photo: Anne Valeur