Her live performance equals her studio recordings - with an important difference: no CD could capture the emotional bandwidth Susi Hyldgaard and her band spread out in front of the listener. Her strong songwriting allows for musical experiments into the realms of free jazz or electronics - without ever sounding forced. Lyrics that should be listened to, music that tells stories.
Katja Duregger talked to Susi Hyldgaard after her concert at Stadtgarten, Köln during the PopKomm 2002.
Katja: I once heard you regard yourself more as a piano-player, not as a singer. So, how did you start to sing?
Susi Hyldgaard: I guess it was because words became important as time passed. I did instrumental music in the beginning and it lacked of words, something was wrong. So I started to write lyrics, but it didn't sound right. Then I made somebody else sing it and it still didn't work. Back then, I still didn't regard myself as a singer.
After a while I made a demo on the computer, with my own voice and I sent it to a record company. The record company said: "Hey it's good, we want to buy this!". And I thought: "Ooooh, what am I gonna do now?" - It was like: "Fine, O.K! So now I am a singer."
From that moment on it was just uphill. But it was tough in the beginning. In the end it started with the songs right from the start and so I finally just gave them some words.
Katja: What was the tough part of it?
Susi: The tough part is, when you play the piano, you are covered by the piano. I played piano since I was five and it's a big security for me. It feels like a sofa, like I am at home. And suddenly I was without the box in front of me, because in the beginning I was standing alone up there, singing.
Then I found out that the voice is very "weak". You know, when you have a cold you think: "Oh god, what's wrong with it?" And you don't feel good, but you have to sing anyway, even thought you are sick, all this troubles. Suddenly you are very vulnerable, compared to the piano, where I can just sit down and relax.
Katja: Do you regard yourself, your music, as part of a tradition? Influenced by singer-songwriters that you listen to, like Joni Mitchell or Rickie Lee Jones?
Susi: What I've been listening to is not very much. Actually, I don't listen that much to music. I never really did. I played it. What I remember is my Carole King-Record, "Tapestry" or the Rickie Lee Jones Album "Jockeys in love", also a lot of Bill Evans, but that's about it, I guess. I don't listen so much to music because usually I can only hear a piece once and then it's in my head.
So I cannot really say that this music is influencing me. It touches me and I want to touch with what I do in that way. But I never really checked anything of this music out.
Katja: In this respect it's interesting that your CD seems to be full of all kinds of different styles of music. As if you took all the things you once heard and putted them into something new, almost any kind of sound or style that exists. Is it because of this fact?
Susi: Yes, it's because of this fact. It's been like that since I was very small. I always played so much music. Sometimes I do master classes to earn money, which means I play the piano for singers that have to learn singing. Usually they bring all kinds of music that I have to be able to play. For example musicals from London or Pop-songs. And I have to find the chords on the piano while listening to the CDs.
In this way I touch so many songs. And when I come home it's in my head and in my hands and I play a good line on the piano that I heard that morning. It's all there and I put it in the computer and there comes something out. It has always been in this way. So I play the worst free jazz you can imagine and I play a lot of Bach.
Katja: So it's been always that way since you've started?
Susi: Always, yes. I remember when everybody else was crazy about rock groups, I only knew about Debussy. And later on people asked me: "Do you know the Beatles?" And, of course I knew them, but just some songs.
I never did put my mind on these things very much. So I never had something like a tradition in that sense. It was always something else.
Katja: What comes first when you write - the lyrics or the music?
Susi: This is a problem, because I'm very, very slow with the lyrics! So annoyingly slow, it's really, really a "pain in the ass". It became very important. I didn't know about it so much until I started to sing. Suddenly you feel that you stop in the middle of a song because the word is not right, but you know how it has to "feel".
I always used music as a way of expressing my feelings since I was very small, so this is very clear to me. I know what message I'm sending. And if the word doesn't cling with the feeling, it just "gives me the creeps". - If you are on stage and you have a word that doesn't sound right, you just screw up. - It's like "if it don't come, you're stuck on it".
So in that way the words are very important. I get really annoyed when I'm not good at it. I really work very hard to make the words sound right. I mean, I come from the "other side", but I realized how important words are, if you want to tell a story.
Katja: Your lyrics are very personal, very intimate. Is this what you have in your head, is it what happened to you, or are these stories coming from somewhere else?
Susi: They just come along. The music usually tells what's going on. It's not necessarily me, or my life. It's things I see, things I pick up. But the meaning of the song is in the music first.
Katja: Can you imagine to come back to the instrumental music, just playing your songs on the piano?
Susi: No, I don't think so. - Although I like playing with other people. There I can just play and not sing. I like my role as a backing musician, just doing chords. But now it's not happening anymore. Suddenly you are a solo-artist and people don't ask you anymore. - But I do it in this master-classes.
Katja: You say not everything is personal in your lyrics, but what about the song "Mummy"?
Susi: This is a very personal song, and the child singing with me on another song on the record is my daughter. See, for quite a while I was a single mom and in the song "Mummy" I describe a very casual feeling that a lot of single moms have, this "wanting to go out and be free".
You know you will never be free, never, never, never and you love your child so much, but sometimes you feel like: "Please go away, leave me alone for a while."
Katja: But being a single mom and doing this career as a musician is really a tough way?
Susi: I'm not single anymore! But I did it. And when it's in this way you just have to say goodbye to some other things. You don't sleep so much, that's true, but if you want it enough you find ways, and it's ok.
Katja: Wanting enough to be a musician?
Susi: Yes. - You know, I like my work very much and because of that I don't think she had to suffer more than everybody else. I get along well without so much sleep, so I work throughout the night and that's ok.
Katja: What's coming next?
Susi: In the next period there will be some concerts in Europe to promote the album and then I have to finish the music-score for a movie. I enjoy that very much. It's a possibility to go out of the "diva dress", you know. - I'm a piano player! I need this other work too and I'm very glad about it.
Susi Hyldgaard im Internet: www.susihyldgaard.dk
Enja-Records im Internet: www.jazzrecords.com/enja
Mehr bei Jazzdimensions:
Susi Hyldgaard "Home Sweet Home" - Review (erschienen: 19.8.2002)