As told to J. Bennett, 2043 words.
Tags: Music, Process, Inspiration, Mental health.
On finding inspiration in dreams and natureMusician Amalie Bruun, also known as Myrkur, on the importance of our dreams as creative fuel, why nature is a ultimate evergreen source of inspiration, and playing with the sounds of language.
You’ve talked about the importance of putting intent and motivation behind every note when you’re writing a song. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
I suppose that it’s a bit of a life philosophy, even boiled down to a “work smarter, not harder” type thing. Of course, you should move freely and be open to different things that the universe may send your way—you should have your windows open. But I try not to do anything or sing anything where it doesn’t have much meaning. [But] you shouldn’t only do things that are controlled because I think it’s quite important for the creative process to just act on intuition, and almost let that guide you. I guess it sounds like two opposing opinions, but that’s the best I could say.
You mentioned leaving yourself open to what the universe sends you. Are you on the lookout for signs that you need to go in this direction or that direction with a song or an idea or a record?
I’m not on the lookout, but when a sign comes, I don’t ignore it. And they do come all the time if you’re open to them.
Can you recall a specific example of a sign that you received that you ended up following?
My last record was very much guided by my dreams, and my nightmares. So in a way you could say that record was one big message that I needed to follow—not just as a therapeutic process, but also as a way of developing my creativity simply by drawing from my subconscious instead of what I already know, because I realize how much of a new universe that opens inside of me as a human being.
Artists and musicians have a long history of being inspired by their dreams—or their nightmares, in your case. What is it about this world that you find so compelling or inspiring?
Well, the obvious thing is it’s kind of magical when you think about it. It’s this endless fantasy world of things. You get to live in a fantasy universe where things happened that don’t actually happen in reality. So that in itself, I think, will be attractive to anyone who thinks a little outside of the box. It’s like a mirror of certain things that you can only see when you close your eyes and fall asleep—and then you get to look in the mirror in a way that doesn’t involve your physical appearance. It’s like your spirit mirror or something.
Do you find that your dreams often affect your waking life?
Yeah, they do. I have dreams that puzzle me for days and weeks. I have this one which I’m not going to talk about because [it’s] too personal, but oh my god, it’s bothering me so much. I cannot make sense of it, and it’s so symbolic. I wrote my friend, who’s a Jungian analyst, and he said, “I can give you perspective, but you’re not gonna like it.” So I haven’t called him, because I don’t want to know.
Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night with a musical idea—a melody or a lyric?
That has happened, but it’s never good. I think, “Wow,” and then I sing or play it, and it’s not very interesting. But for the last record, that’s all I did: Whenever I woke up from a nightmare I just started writing right away. And then some of them became a song, and some of them just became a little poem and then I moved on.
You play many different instruments. Is there a particular one that you tend to write most of your songs on?
Not anymore, no. I really just switch between all of them now. They all give me something different for writing. Right now, I’m writing on string instruments a lot because I’m writing a folk album, so I tend to stay away from the piano, because it’s not really genre-appropriate in a way.
Do you try to play an instrument every day, or do you think it’s important to take days off?
I don’t know. I think I would like to play every day, but I don’t always do it or have time. I think it’s nice to play music every day, though.
You’ve been hugely influenced by old Scandinavian folk songs. What do you think it is about that music that initially attracted you?
It was one of the first styles of music that really spoke to me in a very profound way. I think anything that truly speaks to your spirit, there isn’t one particular aspect. In fact, it’s very abstract, and you don’t really know why, but you just love it, you know?
Listening to traditional Scandinavian folk also helped you pick out the differences between Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish singers—which in turn helped you develop your own voice.
Well, we have to be very careful because it’s very subjective, but I would say maybe that I find it has influenced my voice to become better, just because of… language-wise, the Danish language is very flat and throaty, whereas Norwegian and Swedish is very melodic. It’s heady, it’s round, and it has much more of a tone to it, and much more over-tonal than Danish. So, for me to be able to sing certain things, I realized that it was a lot about the language, which was kind of a breakthrough for me as a singer when I discovered how big of a part that plays in it.
That’s a fascinating concept, the way language can affect the voice.
Yeah, but if you think about, why can Indian singers sing that way, in those little quarter notes? Why can they just do that? It seems like very few people outside of that region can sing that way, and I think a lot of it has to do with language.
You also wrote lyrics in English for the first time on Mareridt. Do you see different creative possibilities in different languages?
I think I do, actually. I try not to overthink it, though. Just write whatever feels natural when you’re writing and stay with that language for that song.
You’ve obviously had many musical collaborators over the years—Garm from Ulver, members of Mayhem, Wolves in the Throne Room, Chelsea Wolfe. What appeals to you about the process of creating with others?
Sometimes two minds think better than one. It’s exciting, you know? To work with somebody that you respect musically [and] see what you can make together. Pretty simple, I guess.
You often draw inspiration from spending time in nature. What do you get out of that experience, creatively speaking?
I think it’s one of those things where words don’t really, can’t really describe it. It’s in between the lines. It’s the spiritual world, almost—that kind of experience that nature gives you, and how it affects you is not something that you—or words—can really describe. It’s the language that exists outside of the thinking brain.
Have you ever had writer’s block?
Yeah, I did before I wrote Mareridt. But it wasn’t really writer’s block. I just had no desire to play or write music at all. And then one day I did, and I couldn’t stop.
Why do you think you went through that period of having no desire to work on anything?
Because I was touring, and I didn’t enjoy it.
Did you do anything specific to snap yourself out of that feeling?
No, I didn’t feel creative at all. I just had so many nightmares that I started to say, “I’ve got to do something, and therapy isn’t helping, so let’s try and write some music.” So that was really it.
Do you have any thoughts on why therapy wasn’t working?
I do, but I don’t want to offend psychologists, especially ‘cause my mom is one and she’s a very talented one. But I think that my “problem,” in quotations, if you will, was lying outside of the normal psychology realm. It was in a different universe, if you will. But I really encourage everyone to seek out therapy, ‘cause I think for most people it’s very beneficial, and almost mandatory in today’s world. And I have been in therapy a lot, and now I see a Jungian dream analyst. That’s psychology, but I need to have the spiritual aspect with me in there. I can’t just be focusing on [the] brain diagnosis, you know.
Do you have any sort of spiritual practices or rituals that you do?
Not besides eating children. [Laughs] No, I have in my own ways, but I guess I don’t really like talking about it.
When you’re working on music or your live show, do you ever consider your audience?
No, I don’t think like that. I definitely feel a very strong connection to my fans. It seems to be multidimensional. It’s not some kind of idol worship, just based on my persona or something. It seems to be based in, again, a spiritual connection, love of nature, even different types of pagan beliefs and overall outlook on life. So it makes me happy, definitely, if my music can bring a sense of shared connection with these people that I’ve never met.
You worked with Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins in your previous band, Ex-Cops, and I know you regard him as a bit of a mentor. Has he given you any good advice in regards to creativity or inspiration?
Not really advice, but he’s been very supportive, and he’s given me advice on dealing with the industry, which, while less romantic and poetic than your question, is pretty important. And then, at a time when I felt like I was drowning in work and overwhelmed and many things around me seemed to be something that they were not, I asked Billy, “What do you think? Should I do this? Should I take this tour?” I was being very … I can’t find the English word, but very focused on specific things, and he said, “I think you need to take a step back, go to your forest, put your hands on a tree and reconnect with your ancestors.”
Now, that’s not some kind of groundbreaking advice that I don’t already kind of think about, but it really was something that shook me out of my… I was really starting to get a little bit too much into the bullshit, if I may say so. And I realized, “Oh, no, where am I going? No. This does not feel very true to myself.” So that was very nice, that I could hear him see right through that.
Many listeners have had very visceral reactions to your music, both positive and negative. Does some part of you think that you must be on the right track creatively, to be inspiring people to react so intensely to your work?
No, I don’t really think that way, because then you become conceited. It’s dangerous, as an artist with fans—you’re always in the danger zone of becoming narcissistic—where everybody becomes your mirror, and like, “Oh, that person is reacting this way to me,” rather than seeing the human being. I don’t think that that’s a good or healthy place to be. So I don’t see it that way. In fact, I don’t see it as anything. I think it’s their journey. It’s not mine, you know?
How do you know when something you’re working on is done?
I don’t know if you know. You just decide it. I don’t think anyone really knows. Didn’t even Mozart not know? So you don’t. We are just humans. We don’t know anything.
Amalie Bruun Recommends
Walks and sleeping in nature
Sagas and fairytales
Learning new instruments
Dreams / nightmares
Selected Amalie Bruun:
As Amalie Bruun
Amalie Bruun (2006)
Housecat (EP) (2008)
Branches (EP) (2010)
Crush (EP) (2012)
With Ex Cops
True Hallucinations (LP) (2013)
Daggers (LP) (2014)
Myrkur (EP) (2014)
Mausoleum (EP) (2016)