Written as an examination of personal relationships, the new album by The Northern Belle is aptly titled We Wither, We Bloom. The Norwegian septet is among the pioneers of the Nordicana scene that has been gaining momentum in the US for the last few years. Fronted by prolific singer-songwriter Stine Andreassen (also of folk quartet Silver Lining) and armed with pedal steel, slide guitar, lush harmonies, a string quartet, and their secret weapon, the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, The Northern Belle have developed their own unique brew of pop-oriented Americana and folk music. Imagine Fleetwood Mac fronted by Jenny Lewis in a country mood.
Brimming with melodic tunes and clever lyrics, We Wither, We Bloom is the band’s third studio album, albeit the first to be released internationally. Having made the difficult decision to quit her day job to pursue music, Andreassen and The Northern Belle received widespread praise and a Spellemann nomination (Norwegian Grammy) for the 2018 album Blinding Blue Neon. In the spring of 2019, Andreassen traveled to Nashville for three months to write the follow-up. The welcoming and thriving music scene found east of the Cumberland River sparked a creative songwriting spell that resulted in this inspired collection of tracks. The distance from home allowed for new views on friends, family, love, loss, and homesickness, resulting in the band’s most personal album to date.
Can you talk to us more about your song “Remember It”?
I am sick and tired of always having to pretend to be perfect at all times. After a break-up, it should be ok to think that this guy is an idiot. Especially if he actually is! For me, this is the ultimate break-up song and payback, where I get to say everything I never dared to say. So incredibly liberating. It’s also a tribute to all the strong boys and girls out there who stand their ground. Middle finger up to those exes that used you and all the people that try to suck out all your energy. They are not worth your tears! The song is co-written with the talented Nashville-based singer-songwriter Henry Brill. It was so much fun writing with him while I was living there myself. That city is filled with inspiration and talented people.
Did any event, in particular, inspire you to write this song?
Well yes: A relationship. Haha! I feel like Taylor Swift when I say this. Or she would probably have hidden messages. Need to work on that.
Can you tell me about the inspiration behind the album title We Whiter, We Bloom?
I’ve struggled with the feeling of not being good enough, being labeled because I’m a woman, and that I should have had kids already and that the clock is ticking. I’ve destroyed friendships and made new ones, but I’m left with feeling stronger than before because I’ve confronted the things that hurt in my songs. I also listen a lot to Fleetwood Mac, Kacey Musgraves, Jackson Brown, Erin Rae, Jenny Lewis, Margo Price, the list goes on and on, while writing this album.
How was the recording and writing process?
For me, it all starts out with the lyrics and the melody. In Nashville, I got help and the boost I needed to work even harder. The first month was overwhelming and I cried a bit because if you start comparing yourself to every good songwriter and musician out there you’ll look like a little piece of shit. But after hanging out in East Nashville, meeting so many like-minded people and musicians, and just listening to so much good music, it hit me. I’m not doing this to be the next Taylor Swift, would be nice with that kind of success of course, but I’m doing it because this is my calling and something I love and that I’m good at. We worked closely with our producer Marcus Forsgren from Jaga Jazzist and The Lionheart Brothers. He’s a genius! He’s the perfect amount of nerd and also a music lover. He could suddenly call out a reference – a band or an artist – that I had listened to while writing the song or that I love and kinda want to be like. We started out with recording drums, bass, and some guitars while I was singing lead. I love working that way. We build up the songs by recording the basics first and then adding more and more flavors along the way.
All the songs were written beforehand and we had so many ideas going into the studio. Some of them stuck but there are also a lot of cool elements that were art by accident, but also ideas we got while recording. I think it is important to have an open mind and give the songs time to grow. I cried when we recorded the string quartet. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time. It hit all the right spots. One song is more classic in it’s sound, another is more like the strings The Beatles would use – the pop way – and the third sounds more indie and ambient – maybe a bit like Laura Marling.
How did the process of putting together this album differ from your previous releases?
I wrote almost every song in Nashville and it was such an inspiration! This is also the first album where I have dared to write with people outside the band. It was terrifying but such a relief when it clicked. The sound has developed further on with a string quartet, stronger harmonies, more flavors of pop, indie, and rock’n’roll, more 12-string guitars, and also a super cute 12-string mandocaster and it has more slide guitar this time. Personally, I think the songs are stronger as well. I also love that we still mix the Norwegian Hardanger fiddle with pedal steel. The album was both easy and hard to write at the same time. When it clicked the songs came pouring out.
What role does Nashville play in your music?
Nashville has been a blessing. It breathes music! For me, it was essential to stay there for three months and write this album. I get goosebumps just thinking about it! The fact that people can work as songwriters is new to me. I’ve heard about it, but it’s not something I see that much in Norway.
What aspect of your life did you get to explore on this record?
I try to stay in the present, but I tend to look back with nostalgia. I love listening to stories from my grandma and it triggers something in me. I collect so much stuff and love old things with a history! So it’s a mix of the present, some pieces of history I would love to be a part of, a conversation with the younger version of me, and also a glimpse of hope for the future. It’s just me. All the hurting, all the joy, and everything in between.
Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
Taking long walks is always a boost for the mind and soul. I try to read poems, but I often have to stop because I come over a word that triggers something in me and I just have to write down whatever that comes out. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s the same with music. It helps set the mood when I’m writing.
How has the pandemic affected you?
It has affected the whole industry. We don’t know what lies ahead for the live market if the venues will survive being closed and out of business for such a long time, and we just have to follow the rules our government gives us.
What else is happening next in The Northern Belle’s world?
Hopefully, we can play some concerts, but now the most important thing is to keep safe and not spread this virus. I hope we can keep on making music and play all around the world when the time is right and it is safe again! I love meeting new people and seeing new places. It’s so inspiring.
Watch video for Late Bloomer