It might seem peculiar to suggest LEAVE ME BREATHLESS, Norwegian born, Stockholm based ANE BRUN’s seventh studio release, is her most personal yet, given that it consists of fourteen cover versions. Love and romance have never been themes the multiple Norwegian Grammy Award winning artist has shied away from, her songs frequently overflowing with candid, confessional insights. Nonetheless, BRUN confides, “the whole project started with me falling head over heels with someone new. I recorded cover songs for this person because, quite simply, I was overwhelmed by emotions. The love story was short, but, when it ended, I continued the project. The original idea had been to interpret love songs, romantic songs, but, in the end, there are a few with other themes as well.”
“If I randomly pick a song to cover myself, and it´s not for a specific purpose,” Brun says, “it´s usually because I love the melody. Maybe I´m reminded of a song while in a taxi where they have a radio station on with classic 80s and 90s hits, or it´s played at a restaurant and I´ve forgotten about it. Then I check if the lyrics are inspiring or not. If they’re terrible and completely impossible to relate to, or sexist, or ignorant, I won´t do the song. I have to feel that I can sing the words with my head high and some kind of authenticity.”
Brun’s no stranger to reinterpreting other people’s work. Earlier this year, at Sweden’s Polar Music Prize, she even performed Sting’s Why Should I Cry For You? in front of The Police’s frontman himself. Fans are familiar with her habit of slipping other people’s music into her live sets, and her releases are sprinkled with cover versions, from Beyoncé’s Halo to Arcade Fire’s Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels). Each time, she makes a song her own, and, on Leave Me Breathless, her remarkable voice and delicate arrangements reveal new angles and hidden depths in songs with which one might be familiar – even overfamiliar – rendering them as good as new, and, sometimes, even better.
Initially, Brun's short-lived romance influenced the songs she picked for Leave Me Breathless. Lucinda Williams’ Right In Time was chosen because it was “one of the person I was in love with’s favourite songs”, and her elegant, string-adorned Make You Feel My Love because “I wanted to find a Dylan song to fit the state of mind I was in.” Her tender rendition of Nick Cave’s Into My Arms was also one of these “home love song recordings”, but after the relationship came to an end, Brun began to broaden her horizons, even if, as she admits, some tunes were, in a sense, chosen for her. She’d been asked to perform Always On My Mind for a charity TV gala on behalf of Children In Need, and her immaculate rendition of Girl From The North Country came about after she was invited to perform at a tribute show to celebrate Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature. Tracks by Radiohead and Sade were chosen for a more sombre reason, with Brun asked to play at the funeral for Crispin Bevington – one of the five people killed in the Stockholm terrorist attack of April 7, 2017 – by his widow. “Crispin and his wife, Annika, loved these two songs,” Brun says, “and she specifically asked me to perform them at the ceremony.” Later the same day, Brun and Klas-Henrik Hörngren, leader of jazz/electronica project Klabbes Bank, recorded By Your Side and How To Disappear Completely as they had performed them earlier. Brun felt that the songs turned out so well that she wanted to include them, in honour of his memory.
In contrast, a Tom Petty cover was expressly solicited by a friend, and Mariah Carey’s Hero was first singled out for a popular power ballad night held by Stockholm’s Natten nightclub. Maria McKee’s Show Me Heaven was another Brun felt an overwhelming urge to reinterpret, while Unchained Melody has always been something she’s adored singing. “Why keep that to myself?” she grins. Shakespears Sister’s Stay, meanwhile, is a remnant of her childhood passion for the band, while she completely remoulds Foreigner’s I Want To Know What Love Is, her tremulous voice, accompanied only by guitar and a rare hint of keyboards, exposing the “heartache and pain” at the song’s core.
The album’s earliest songs were taped alone at home with just a guitar and a single microphone, before Brun brought in Anton Sundell (an up and coming producer/technician and long-time road crew member) and Johan Lindström (of regular collaborators / bandmates Tonbruket) to join forces with her in helping develop the record’s sound, and further musicians – including Martin Hederos (Tonbrucket, Soundtrack Of Our Lives) – to add to the arrangements. Some work was done at Bruket, Tonbruket’s studio, and at Gig Studio, while two more tracks, as well as strings, were recorded at Stockholm’s Atlantis Studios. (The new album was mixed there too.) Further recordings took place at Stockholm’s Riksmixningsverket, owned by ABBA’s Benny Andersson: his Yamaha GX-1 – the legendary “dream machine” heard, for instance, on Does Your Mother Know –appears on Brun's interpretation of Hero.
It’s Brun's ability to find meaning and sentiment in her chosen songs that ensures Leave Me Breathless is never less than exquisite. “There’s a long tradition through the history of popular music for artists to perform other people’s music,” she concludes.” So many great singers have done this: Sinatra, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Jeff Buckley, Billie Holliday, Elvis… I just feel that when a singer I love sings songs I love, it can be a gift, and I guess that´s what I believe this album can be. For the people who enjoy my voice to hear me sing songs they love… It´s as simple as that. It’s like if you were sitting with me late at night and I picked up the guitar to sing a few famous songs. Just because I feel like it, and because it makes you happy…”