Jeanett Albeck is a talented woman. The Danish composer, musician, actress and singer frequently wears all four hats in the same theatre productions, as she just has in the now completed run of of the very well received Tove! Tove! Tove! from the Royal Danish Theatre. The show dealt with the life of Danish poet and writer Tove Ditlevsen. She is also the lead singer and songwriter of her band O'HARA which plays melodious,soulful and poetic music. O'HARA will be touring widely this summer, including a spot at the Roskilde Festival. Kapital spoke with Jeanett about her development as an artist and why Danish is her language of choice for composition and singing.
Jeanett please tell us about your life in music and theatre. How did you enter into this world?
Neither of my parents are musicians or working with art, but music was always a part of my childhood. I started playing piano at an early age and my sister is an actress. She is 7 years older than me, so I think that has influenced the fact that I am both in music and theatre.
I thought for some years that I wanted to be an actress as well. I attended a school for theatre and one day my teacher said to me; you have to work with acting the same natural way as you play music (he had heard me playing piano in a break between classes). And that was a turning point for me, because that was the time I understood that music was so natural for me because it was the RIGHT thing for me. Because I just lived it without thinking. So from that point I focused more and more on the music, composing, writing etc.
But still I loved theatre and wanted to work with stories, and not only playing one song after the other. I knew that I didn’t like “Musical” in the classical meaning. But I didn’t know what it was then. Another teacher recommended I go to the south of France where there is a school called Roy Hart, where they work with music and theatre but in a more experimental way. I went there, and everything started for me there, with writing music, both for my own band but also for theatre. And that is still what I do now for a living.
Sometimes you know that you are longing for something or you want to develop something but you can not clarify exactly what it is that you want. I found out that I just had to say out loud what I was longing for, even though it was a bit unclear and abstract, and suddenly you meet the right person who tells you the right thing in the right moment and that changes everything for you. I have done that ever since. I am always fascinated by how you can reach things that you never thought possible just by saying it out loud until you meet the right person. Life is about transforming your dreams and thoughts and hopes in that way if you ask me.
So music was something you loved and practiced growing up?
I grew up with music. Not that my parents played themselves but we had a piano at home and I started playing classical piano when I was a child. I was lucky I had a teacher who loved playing with me so I always went to her place and played for hours just for fun. And she encouraged me to write my own music as well and gave me the opportunity to play my own music in big concerts at a very early age. So writing music became a natural way to express myself for me.
When you are presented with a musical commission, what is the process? How do you approach creating the right musical atmosphere for a given subject matter?
It depends a lot on the project. The people in the project etc. But I prefer the collective process where the show/performance/ concert etc. is built by everyone in it. It's always inspiring to work with other people in art, to get into their way of thinking and creating. Some collaborations are off course better or easier than others.
I was in Saint Petersburg writing music for a big theatre performance in a theatre called Skazka last year. 60 pieces of music were to be written and the director only spoke Russian and no English, and I don’t speak Russian so we had a translator. It was a huge challenge to understand each other, not only because of the language, but also because of our different cultural backgrounds. That was extremely interesting to try that, and very exhausting as well. But we were happy about the result in the end.
What are some of the really interesting productions you have been a part of?
Theatre-wise Sort Samvittighed is the most inspiring place to be for me. We have developed a unique collective way of working that is extremely inspiring for me. It is not a very typical theatre process. Also the members of Sort Samvittighed are in my opinion very talented artists in each of their areas and I think we have found something very unique together that I am extremely grateful for.
My band O`HARA is my heart. Because I do everything myself, write the music, the words etc. Of course, that is the place where I’m closest to myself. And the more you are working on something that is really your own thing the more attached to it you get and the more it means for you. That's why you often use the word “Baby” about something very important for you in your art.
In watching Tove! Tove! Tove! I was struck by the wonderful synergy not only of the various “Toves” but in the weaving of differing emotional content, that is, humor, pathos, hope, sadness etc. But the overall tone of the work was a kind of tragic joie de vivre. Any comments?
When we started working with Tove, both her writing and her life I knew the tragic part of her story and her writing quite well. But what became very clear after diving into her life and work was that she was a very very funny woman as well. And that her humour was a big part of her life and writing as well. Therefore we have tried in Tove! Tove! Tove! to show her as a whole person, not only the tragic part of her life, but also about how wonderfully full of humour, life and wildness she was also. And these things were closely connected in her life.
Were Tove Ditlevsen's poems and novels something you pretty familiar with?
Yes, especially the poems were something I grew up with. I always loved them very much. The novels were more new to me. Vilhelms Værelse especially hit me hard. And how multifaceted she was. She was an extremely interesting writer and person.
Tell us about O'HARA. It's nice that you sing in Danish with your band. It's refreshing, but do you feel it's limiting? Is it best to pursue the Abba model?
I could never write in any other language than Danish. I believe that your mother tongue is also the language where you are closest to yourself. Therefore it can sometimes also be more difficult to write in your own language than in simple English, because it is more obvious when it is not good. Both for yourself and for the listener. BUT when it's good, it gets closer to your heart than any other language. That is my belief. I can only speak for myself of course. My English is not good enough for writing lyrics in it.
I was once singing with a guy who only sings in English and he said “wow, its interesting to sing in Danish, you feel the words more than in English”. That is logical in my opinion. For me at least it is the most natural thing to do. But on the other hand I want to have the possibility to play concerts and publish my music in other countries than Denmark, so I am working with a English/Danish poet who is translating all the lyrics into English so O´HARA can be played outside of Denmark as well. I would like to tour in Germany this coming year, and I have some upcoming concerts in NYC, Istanbul and Saint Petersburg this coming fall.
If you had to choose, would you prefer to work in musical theatre or be a pop star?
I am not good at “either/or”. Like Tove I prefer “Both/and”. But if I really had to choose I would say writing my own music and performing it myself. That is the place where I can combine all my creativity and express it the way that I want it.
What's is your secret wish in life or art?
I have many dreams and wishes and plans…but they are secret of course.
I have ONE thing that I have promised myself, and that is; never think anything is too late. Nothing is ever too late in life. I you want something go for it with everything you have. Stay open, disciplined and brave. That is my wish in life and in art.