Singer-songwriter Deborah Henriksson puts her career into perspective with the release of a 2020 double CD anthology called So Far. Deborah’s main collaborator on So Far, Mats Nyman (synths, guitars and percussion), is a gifted multi-instrumentalist and co-composer and the net result is a meticulously crafted album merging Mat’s music with Deborah’s multi-layered English language lyrics and vocals, evoking a magical, mystical New Age pop sound that seems to float in space. American-born and based in Sweden for the past 40 years, Deborah Henriksson’s lyrics and vocals create the optimum backdrop for an exquisite Euro-flavored New Age pop experience that takes the Euro-Celtic pop vocal music to new heights. The double CD version of So Far is well-packaged and serves as the optimum introduction to Deborah’s easy and breezy pop vocal approach and, as such, encompasses tracks from Deborah’s three recent studio albums, The Heart's Cry (2012), Traces (2014) and Near and Far (2017), as well as two singles from 2018 and 2019 - all released on her DHP Records label (note; the album Near and Far was also released in the U.S. by Bongo Boy Records) Although originally released on different record labels, Deborah has also released a Christmas holiday music album, called Simply Christmas in 2009, as well as her debut album, consisting of classical songs and folk songs called Simple Gifts in 2007. With a voice that is heaven-sent, Deborah brings together prior musical influences such as Enya, Judy Collins, Buffy Sainte-Marie and even opera singer Leontyne Price. For those interested, the double CD version of So Far also features a selection of Deborah’s cover songs from Clannad, Loreena McKennitt and Eleanor McEvoy, while the digital download version of So Far omits the cover songs and only includes the original music composed by Deborah and Mats Nyman from her recent studio albums. With 26 tracks spread over two CDs, there’s plenty of music on hand to pick and choose while immersing the listener in Deborah’s sonic magic. For those unfamiliar with the music of Deborah Henriksson, the lead off track on So Far “Wide Open” perfectly sets the sonic stage and is clearly one of the best songs here, while her pop classic “Breakers’ Roar” is presented in both the original album version as well as an alternate version. The video clips Deborah has on you tube, filmed in Cape Cod, Cornwall England and other exotic filming locations, mostly of the ocean, are fascinating to view with their breathtaking scenery. Thanks to the expert musicianship of Mats Nyman and the impeccable vocals and lyrics of Deborah Henriksson, the CD sound of So Far proves to be a most inviting listening experience. Deborah Henriksson.com / facebook.com / youtube.com/DeborahHenriksson
mwe3.com presents an interview with
mwe3: How have things been for you in Sweden this past year? I still can’t believe all the craziness surrounding this pandemic and its ensuing vaccines. It seems like a crazy dream but of course the artists and everyone working with the arts have suffered in unimaginable ways. What has been the reactions in Sweden to the challenges of the past year and how has this impacted your life while making you stronger?
Deborah Henriksson: At the beginning of the pandemic, last March, Sweden did not go into an official lock-down, leaving people’s behavior up to appealing to their sense of the individual’s responsibility for the good of the whole. There were, and are, lots of restrictions and it came down to the same thing: people were to isolate, to work at home, remote learning for high schools and universities, although grade schools stayed open, a ban on travel even within Sweden, and then the Swedish constitution had to be changed to be able to enforce lawful restrictions at stores, restaurants, entertainment: it is still not allowed to gather more than 8 people, and at funerals at most 20 are allowed, masks on public transportation, restaurants highly restricted. People over 65 were under the strictest level of isolation, which meant me! People here are pretty tired of the whole thing, and frustrated that the vaccination process has been so slow, due to a lack of vaccine availability. It’s picking up now though, I have finally had one shot.
Before the pandemic I had already learned to enjoy my own company as I live alone and my children and grandchild live far away from Västerås. But with the pandemic it was of course an entirely new approach to living alone … “making me stronger” as you put it! I am very lucky to find stimulation, meaning, and fun in improving my singing and during the pandemic. I have been taking voice lessons on Zoom with a coach in Wisconsin – very exciting to adjust basic elements of singing so that I will be ready when I can sing live again. Vocally I continue to improve and that is very exciting when you are pushing 70! And because of the pandemic and the changes in my lifestyle, I have also learned to be even more grateful for my life and the people and places who are and have been important to me.
mwe3: I read that you performed a series of outdoor concerts for senior citizens in nursing homes last summer in 2020. That was brave of you as most people didn’t even get out of their own front door for much of 2020. Tell us about those shows in Västerås, which is one of the oldest cities in Europe. Do you live in Västerås? Tell us about your connection to that city.
Deborah Henriksson: I have lived in Västerås since 1978, when I moved to Sweden with my Swedish husband. So now I have lived here longer than I have lived in the U.S! The summer of 2020, Västerås Town sponsored outdoor concerts for seniors and nursing homes since they were in the hardest isolation, and I was booked to do 20. I got to be my own sound technician too, and roadie, as I lugged around my excellent Bose system to the different venues. I had my backgrounds on my iPad and as long as I stayed out of direct sun all went well… my iPad did not like being in the sun and it took a rest a few times, shortly, so I sang a cappella in between. Otherwise it was a very pleasant concert series: it so obviously gave pleasure to others… which gave me great pleasure too!
mwe3: You’re from New Jersey originally. Do you have any Swedish ancestry and at what age did you move to Sweden from New Jersey? How did you adapt and relate to being in New Jersey and then in Sweden?
Deborah Henriksson: As I mentioned, I moved to Sweden in 1978 with my Swedish husband. I grew up in Morristown, New Jersey, studied at George Washington University in DC, then The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, then worked as a secretary at Harvard Divinity School, studying voice and singing on the side. When I got to Sweden I had to learn Swedish of course but also learn to understand the Swedish culture and way of life, and carve out a life for myself here. I had quite a lot of culture shock, too, since it is something to be fully literate in one language and then all of a sudden be without a voice in a new language. Never underestimate what it takes to move to another country and learn a new language: especially in your 20’s when you already have a well-developed sense of self. It’s like becoming a frustrated 3 year-old all over again, when you can’t express yourself and just don’t understand how these people think. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and you are more appreciative of what immigrants and refugees go through! Anyway, after a few years I decided I needed a Swedish higher degree if I was to have any job security so I got a master’s in Music and Education at the University of Gothenburg and had my two children during that time period. Singing of course has been parallel to all these events. With my Swedish degree I have taught at lower and middle schools, but mostly at the high school level. I am presently retired from teaching.
mwe3: You write and sing your lyrics in English. Do you find English is better language for pop music compared with Swedish and have you recorded music in Swedish? Do you speak fluent Swedish? For Swedes into pop music, ABBA is the most obvious choice but Sweden has long been a hot spot for American and English pop music as well as having a vast and unique scene for jazz and rock. What era of music did you grow up in, how old were you when the Beatles came to Sweden in 1964 and who were your early musical influences?
Deborah Henriksson: While I am completely fluent in Swedish it is not the language of my feelings and my soul so, therefore I write in English. I was in Morristown, New Jersey when I first heard the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show… I was what, 13? I was completely caught up in the folk song renaissance of that period: the Carter Family, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Pete Seeger, Joni Mitchell, the Weavers but before that I loved opera, ballet music, symphonies so I am a musical hybrid. For a long time I thought I had to choose the one or the other: but now I know that I found my own path with elements of both.
mwe3: When did you decide to study music and was there an “ah ha!” moment when you decided to become a musician? What instruments did you study and when did you discover your singing voice, which is excellent by the way, and what did your family think of your musical career? You sound like a natural singer to my ears.
Deborah Henriksson: I have always loved singing, it was my first love from a very early age, at least from 4 or 5. I studied piano for 6 years, picking it up later during my Master’s in Gothenburg. I played the guitar from the age of 14, off and on most of my life, though piano is my preferred instrument. I did not begin to study voice until the end of college and I have been working on it, with or without the help of teachers consistently so far! In my teens I always sang with my guitar, in college I discovered art songs and went classical.
Then in 2009, when recording my Christmas album, I re-discovered the innocence of my “original” voice before the lessons and have been honing that voice ever since. When did I decide to become a musician? I knew that music was in my soul but I opted for a regular job in teaching instead, always cultivating my drive to sing on the side. Although that meant that other things “took over” sometimes, I never stopped listening to the call of my voice. I experienced much more peace when I finally decided to follow that call rather than anything else, even if I still held down a part time teaching job. When I was growing up in my family, I cannot say that I was particularly encouraged to pursue music as a profession, or was particularly appreciated for my voice.
mwe3: You mention that Enya, Judy Collins and Buffy St. Marie were big influences. What albums by those artists and others were influential to your songs and recording career? Hearing Enya back in the 1980s was a real wakeup call.
Deborah Henriksson: I discovered Buffy Sainte-Marie when I was about 13 – her early albums among others It’s My Way, Fire, Fleet and Candlelight, Little Wheel Spin and Spin to name a few… Judy Collins, also at about 13, In My Life, Wildflowers, Recollections, Who Knows Where the Time Goes and also Ian and Silvia at the same time. Enya Shepherd Moon, Caribbean Blue in the 1980’s. I was still listening to opera in my teens, in particular Leontyne Price as Aida in particular. And Pete Seeger’s recordings of course. I remember seeing him live several times in D.C. about 1969.
mwe3: What was your first recordings like and how did that lead to your current music? You also recorded several early albums including a Christmas album and an album of Classical music songs? Tell us about your early recordings and how your music has progressed over the past 20 years?
Deborah Henriksson: I was recovering from a severe case of burn out, chronic fatigue syndrome, in 2006 when I decided to record an album. Singing was the only thing that gave me any joy in that dark time. So I booked a hall and recorded many of the art songs by Samuel Barber and Paul Bowles that I had been singing up until them, while including some beloved folk songs. That resulted in Simple Gifts in 2007.
My next album, Simply Christmas was recorded in 2009 and it was recorded and engineered Mats Nyman. In that process I re-discovered the part of my voice that was “untouched” by my classical training and when it was done I felt I had to explore this new style. That’s when my musical collaboration with Mats Nyman began, and it led to my third CD, The Heart’s Cry in 2012. Having found my voice it was time to move from cover songs to original songs and two more albums: Traces in 2014 and Near and Far in 2017 plus some singles in 2018 and 2019. So my journey since 2006 has been a movement to hone my physical and my poetic voice in collaboration with Mats. So Far (2021) is thus a natural anthology of my works… so far!
mwe3: Tell us about your 2020 So Far collection. Was it difficult to pick and choose which tracks you wanted on the double CD set? Why was there a long time between your early albums and the track chosen from the three albums you released between 2012 and 2017? You are also a music teacher and a choir conductor.
Deborah Henriksson: Most of the choices for So Far were organic and natural, based on a combination of those songs which have been most well received and on those which speak most to me personally. There has been roughly three years between each of my albums: 2007, 2009, 2012, 2014, 2017, singles in 2018 and 2019. What can I say… it takes the time it takes! I was also teaching up until 2016.
mwe3: Tell us about working with Mats Nyman and other musicians you worked with on the So Far tracks. How do you collaborate with Mats? It sounds low-key and meditative, yet the overall sound is very full-bodied and sumptuous. How did you and Mats get such a great sound on these tracks? What instruments does Mats play on So Far and who did the engineering and production of the tracks? What other musicians do you work with? Is it mostly keyboards and programming compared to guitars. Which guitarists do you like to record with? Tell us about your guitars and Mats guitars.
Deborah Henriksson: When Mats and I began writing songs, it usually worked like this: from his melodic idea he would make a soundscape and I would associate freely to come up with a lyric that resonated with me. Sometimes he would do a guitar version of his melody and I would associate to that. My choice of words might also be affected by their position in the melody, or the vocal line and we would negotiate changes. He built his melodies around my voice and we tried different styles with Celtic and Americana inspiration. We would discuss his backgrounds as they were works in progress to be sure that we were in agreement with the sound /arrangements/ production for each song, and the finished product.
Mats wears many hats: he was producer, recording engineer, arranger, and did the mixing and mastering. We almost always included live musicians in the backgrounds as well as Mats’ magic. We often worked with guitarist Bengt Andersson, also from Västerås, and he worked his magic as well. Often we performed live with a combination of partial backing tracks, Mats’ keyboards, and Bengt on guitar, thus recreating the studio sound embellished with live vocals and instruments. In recording we’ve used dobro guitar, western guitar, 12-string, electric guitar…
mwe3: Is “Wide Open” considered one of your signature songs? Can you tell us what inspired the lyrics “Wide Open” and also tell us about the two different versions on So Far, including the alternate version? Are the alternate versions different mixes?
Deborah Henriksson: Yes, “Wide Open” is definitely a signature song! As soon as I heard Mats’ soundscape draft I was transported to a trip I took with my Swedish family to the Southwest, in particular to Monument Valley: I could feel the warm dry wind and the hot sun on the red earth and stone in his music. Check out the lyric video on YouTube: we used vintage footage of Monument Valley and you will see what I mean!
The different versions on So Far grew out of a deliberate effort to reimagine the songs, not just a remix! These are either extended or alternate versions which take each song to a new interpretation. In particular the alternate version of “Calling” changed the character of that song… a fun contrast to the Celtic inspiration of the original. So yes, these were remixed and remastered by Mats.
mwe3: Another favorite from So Far is “Breaker’s Roar”. Tell us about the inspirations for that track and did you film the video for “Breaker’s Roar” on Cape Cod? What was that like? Also you filmed the video for “Face Your Fears” in Cornwall England? Wow, those must have been pretty adventurous locations to film videos. Did you fly there expressly to film the videos? Who shot the footage and turned them into the videos? They are all superbly done.
Deborah Henriksson: “Breakers’ Roar” was directly inspired by a trip to the rocky Oregon coast, where we performed at the Florence Folk Music Festival. I could not help but reflect on the effect of water on rocks in that dramatic landscape, molding them in fantastical shapes, just as life molds us in our lives… The video of “Breakers’ Roar” was indeed shot on Cape Cod at different locations there; Chatham, Dennis Port, and Wellfleet. I am well acquainted with that area having spent most of my childhood summer vacations there. We were at Cape Cod to do a performance in Dennis Port. In 2017 we went to Cornwall, England since the song we were doing at the time, “Face Your Fears”, is based on King Arthur, and King Arthur’s Camelot is said to be located in Cornwall and we wanted that feeling for the video. We also went to the Isle of Man and Liverpool to shoot on another occasion, when we played in Liverpool. Mats did the filming/cutting, and we used a drone for some of the shots.
mwe3: What has the reaction been to So Far in Sweden, Scandinavia, Europe, the US and all over the world? You must have fans that listen to your music all over the world. Have you traveled to far off places in Asia in the past or Australia and New Zealand? Do you still have relatives or interests in New Jersey? Swedes love New York City. I can attest to that!
Deborah Henriksson: Yes, I have some close family in New Jersey and elsewhere as well as warm childhood friends in the States. I still feel very connected to the U.S. but there is no way I am going to travel until the pandemic situation is drastically changed. This is a sorrow that I cannot visit my friends and family. I never imagined that such a thing could happen. There have been times when I couldn’t afford a plane ticket, but now I don’t want to get on a plane even if I had a ticket!
I have many fans across the world, it is true. Still, despite significant radio play in different countries, winning awards and great reviews, the music has largely fallen beneath the mainstream radar. Now that the world has slowed down a bit I hope that there will be a renewed interest in listening to Celtic and Americana inspired pop music with sparse lyrics.
mwe3: What are you hoping next for as we look to the future? You have the So Far compilation gaining strength since it came out a few months ago. So now what kind of music are you planning or looking forward to next? Are you happy with the model of online concerts and performances yet I suppose the recordings studio is still the future for the progression of music in the 21st century because we all know artists need to write and record music even before they can perform it live. And CD buyers need to buy CDs and music venues need to sell tickets.
Deborah Henriksson: For now I continue to hone my voice and to find ways to use my gift, and look forward to performing live again. There is no lack of good songs to learn and to make my own. I continue to do live streaming on Facebook and Instagram. Singing online is actually a fun way to connect with an audience and in these days it feels meaningful to spread some cheer that way. I expect to be able to perform outdoors this summer again here in Sweden, in selected situations. Open air concerts are still not allowed for general admission here, but I am cultivating opportunities for live performing once the restrictions are lifted, as well as private concerts like I did last summer. For now I perform with backing tracks from my albums, but also sometimes I play for myself on keyboard. These days it feels best to stay in the present moment and value where I am at. I am grateful for the gift of my voice and it gives me pleasure to use it often, even without an audience! It keeps me grounded in that present moment.