EMMA LARSSON is a rather rare Scandinavian in terms of her international career, in that she chose to leave her native Sweden and head east, across ‘the neck’ of the Baltic to take up a job as a teacher of pop and jazz vocal techniques in Oulu. With a second album entitled Let it Go coming out in late March, Larsson’s career as a singer is ready to launch into new territories – particularly in New York City, the home of both cutting edge jazz and her current pianist Benitez Gonzales.
SixDegrees caught up with the diminutive Ms Larsson to discuss with her the dual roles of songstress and educator.
When you came to this country in 2003 you had just graduated from college. You had little idea of what to expect from the move I assume?
I had just finished my studies in Pitea School of Music, which is part of the Lulea University of Technology, quite near Tornio. The post I was offered was at the Music Conservatory in Oulu, where there was a fairly young jazz/pop department. So it was still developing. It was really a huge change to go from being a fulltime student to working on the new curriculum, but it was a lot of fun to be involved in it too.
Was it hard adjusting to life across the Baltic?
Well, it was my first job after graduating, so there were a lot of things to deal with. I was very lonely up there too, and the never-ending winter and darkness made it quite tough after a while. One thing was, I wrote the lyrics to Busy Being Blue in Oulu! After 2 years I decided to move to Helsinki. I really wanted to be able to focus more on my own music as well. I also started my master studies at the Sibelius Academy.
You actually had your first record out within 18 months of moving here, didn’t you?
I formed the Emma Larsson Quartet the same fall I came to Helsinki (with Seppo Kantonen on piano, Ville Huolman on bass and Tomi Salesvuo on drums) and we recorded my first album that winter.
The new album sounds much more personal and more upbeat. Was it easier to create?
I wanted it to be less melancholy than the previous one. Because life is really about letting go of the negative stuff so we can move on and focus on the nice things. I can’t say it was easier to create, but I know so much more now than a few years ago. The players also contribute with their personal sound so the new band sounds different.
With Sweden so close, you have been able to maintain your contacts with home. Was your music education there much different to the system here?
Well I suppose no system is ever perfect, but I would say that Finnish music education seems to be more structured somehow. The Swedish education was a little too laid back maybe, but at the same time there was more room for developing your own stuff and not just passing courses. Something in between would probably be the best.
Does the new album reflect much of your recent surroundings?
Actually most of the tunes have not been written specifically with Finland in mind! The latest songs have been written all over the place – some from New York, one from when I was travelling in Africa a few years back, and yes, some from Finland too. But you know I don’t think you can hear any local influences in my music – I listen to music from all around the world – I always have!
The music business is a well-known world-wide rat race. How do foreigners manage in it here?
Let it Go is in stores now.
I don’t really know what to answer without offending anyone...