blómi, Susanne Sundfør’s sixth studio LP and first since 2017’s Music for People in Trouble, takes its name from the Norse word meaning “to bloom.” At its heart – and there’s a lot of it – lies an openness to the interconnected beauty of nature, which the Norwegian singer-songwriter explores in part by celebrating her own roots and legacy. The album was inspired by the birth of her daughter in 2020, and it is also dedicated to her grandfather, Kjell Aartun, a linguist who specialized in Semitic languages. There are songs that encourage you to do a little digging to get to the core; mirroring her uniquely intricate arrangements, Sundfør has a way of obscuring her language, or weaving together references to history and mythology that complicate their message without diminishing its power. As unapologetically eccentric as it can be, blómi is also graciously radiant from beginning to end, whether sifts through gentle meditations, vibrant left turns, or grand declarations of love. “Cherish the gift that your mother delivered,” she sings on the title track, paying tribute to an eternal cycle that blooms with promise: “From the ashes of sorrow, we will rise again.”
We caught up with Susanne Sundfør to break down every song on her new album, which is out today. Read the track-by-track interview and listen to blómi below.
1. orð vǫlu
This is a spoken word piece performed by Eline Vis, which explores the fluidity of the body and beautifully compares it to the gravitational force of a black hole. Why did it feel like an appropriate philosophical introduction to the album?
I wanted to include Eline on the album, because she sees things differently than perhaps what people are taught in schools or in university. She just has a different perspective on reality. I find it incredibly fascinating to talk to her, and I really wanted to share her perspective on life. I felt it was really nice way of capsuling the album, to start with her and to finish with her. I actually haven’t really participated on those two tracks. It’s Elena talking – my participation is that I am doing a session with her. She’s looking at my body, and she starts talking about the heart – not my heart in particular, but she’s looking at my heart. I was having heart palpitations and some chest pain, so I came to her. That’s why she’s going on this journey talking about the heart and black holes. And then Jørgen Træen, who is the producer of the album, created the music around her words, and that goes for the last track as well.
It’s amazing to hear it came about organically through that interaction, because it felt almost like a devised poem.
It’s interesting, because thinking in symbols, or seeing patterns like that, is something that I think you need to do as an artist. Artists are already used to trying to compare things that maybe other people wouldn’t necessarily see similarities between.
I think it’s important that the music also embodies what Elina is saying, because what she’s saying is very much rooted in the body.
I agree, I think Jørgen did a really good job interpreting her words through music. It’s also a continuance of the ‘Music for People in Trouble’ track on the previous album. It’s almost pastiche, because we’re imitating the post-war, early electronic Stockhausen music.
Something that stuck out to me in relation to the themes of the album is this idea of the darkness of the black hole being a glowing, almost sparkling darkness – the light isn’t in opposition to the darkness, but emerges from it.
Yeah, it goes back to the Daoist principle of yin and yang. A lot of these early folk religions and more animist religions, they also talk about the chaos and order that the Greeks talked about. I feel like that resonates in what Elena talks about as well.
2. ashera’s song
In ancient Semitic religion, Ashera is referred to as “mother goddess,” and this struck me as very much a devotional song that ties into the theme of motherhood, of wisdom being passed from mother to child. What were the origins of it?
This is one of the most recent songs I’ve made. Some of the songs on the album, like ‘blómi’ and ‘fare thee well’, are quite old, and some of them are quite new. ‘ashera’s song’ I think is the newest. I wrote it specifically to have a song on the album that celebrates the mother goddess. There’s always a tension, it seems, in academia – from the very little I know of it – that there was such a thing as a mother religion. There seems to be more consensus about it now, that earlier people wouldn’t just worship a paternal deity but also a maternal deity, so there was more of a balance there.
One of the things that I wanted to emphasize on the album is the more feminine aspect of religion. For example, often there’s a difference between female and male shamans in that male shamans often focus on conquering evil, and females shamans often focus on creating balance. To me, I feel we have this tendency today to thinking more in sort of – this is a very unsophisticated way of me to say it, but in lack of a better word, a male way. Like with climate change: “Oh, we just need to conquer it. We need to fight. We need to build some machine and then we’ll fix the atmosphere.” And I think we should move more towards, “Let’s just look at what’s out of balance here, and try and counter that and bring things into harmony again.”
Those are some of the themes that I have tried to convey on this album, and that’s why I wanted to create a specific song for this mother goddess and what she stands for. I used lines from different texts that I’ve read. There’s some Tao Te Ching in there, which is an old Daoist book. There’s a line from my grandfather; my grandpa used to study old languages, and he knows a lot about Semitic religions, actually. That’s also where I found Ashera. So it’s a mix of different references in this effort to create a song worshipping her.
The reason I sing “The crocuses are in bloom” is a reference to the Minoan culture, because they were obsessed with saffron crocuses. They did business with them, so a lot of their art has saffron caucuses in it. It’s a culture that must have loved nature – there’s a lot we don’t know about them, but there was so much life and nature, animals, and a lot of women everywhere; mostly women are depicted. It’s also the start of European civilization, and they must have been egalitarian. I wanted to bring that culture onto the album somehow as well, because I think it’s such a positive light on European culture that that is actually where we come from, so I feel like we need to go back to our roots. And it’s interesting that our roots are actually a nature-loving, woman-celebrating, peaceful society. But also, with ‘blómi’, what I’m talking about is a circular view on existence and life, which is also often seen in earlier religions, and I feel like it’s a more positive perspective than the linear perspective we have in Western societies.
The album was written as a love letter to your daughter, and I feel like the title track is as direct as it gets in that respect. It nurtures a kind of belief in love and beauty that might have felt inaccessible in the past or under different circumstances. Was that your experience as well, and if so, how did it affect your approach to songwriting?
You change a lot when you have a child. To me, I’ve just gotten much more sensitive and more easily touched by things. I feel like becoming a mom has made me more stressed and more relaxed at the same time. [laughs] More stressed because you are responsible for another human being – that’s a pretty big task – and then also more relaxed, because a lot of things don’t sway me or bother me anymore. You just navigate your world differently. It’s hard for me to say if it’s affected my songwriting, but when I’ve listened to the album after it was mixed, I do notice that it’s more sensual, in a way, what I’ve done before. I feel like before I had the need to express more anger, maybe, whereas on this one it’s a different emotion. There’s been love before as well, so it’s not about the absence or presence of love. But it’s maybe a different love.
I feel like we forget sometimes that we are all part of the same bigger consciousness. That may sound too spiritual to some people, but I feel that more and more. I think we often forget that it’s not just you and me who worry about war or climate change – most of us, many of us are worried. And this feeling of being together about it, I think we really need to remember that this separation is so detrimental to our well-being and health today. That’s something that I try and address in this song.
One line that stood out to me is, “They’ll try to force it/ Metamorphosis/ But everything aligns with a mysterious purpose.”
It’s sort of a reference to the biotechnology and the transhumanism trend that’s developing, and a lot of is coming from Silicon Valley. There’s this idea that we can conquer nature with machines, and it’s very strange. I’m not anti-technology, I think technology is done amazing things for humanity. I just think that we need to be more deeply connected with nature while we use all these tools, because if we become disconnected and we don’t understand nature, then we might destroy it. Everything is happening, all these transitions – seasons, life, death – these elemental forces, we can study them and study them, and we will understand more and more, but we won’t understand the whole picture. We need to respect that.
The mystery of it.
Yeah. And it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be curious and ask questions. I’m extremely curious, and I ask way too many questions until people get really annoyed with me. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about – well, again, coming back to balance. We’re only focused on, “We’re going to fix everything with technology or we’re going to even merge with machines,” and I feel like we need to ask more critical questions.
5. fare thee well
This is a kind of straightforward and simple goodbye song, but at the same time, these can be the hardest ones to write and get right. Did it feel like a challenge to you?
I wrote it when I was 19 or 20, in the beginning of my songwriting career. I never released it, because I just couldn’t finish it. It’s not like I’ve been working on it every day for 15 years, but it has come up and I had no idea how to solve it. But this time I thought, “I want to include it on the album. I’ll just have to sit down with it.” And then it sort of clicked, and I finished it. A lot of the lyrics are changed from the original version.
Most of the album is about love and coming together, and this is a nice counterbalance to that, because I think throughout life, you change and people around you change, and that’s okay. It can come to a point where there’s no chemistry – or it’s not even about chemistry, you’re just not good for each other anymore. I think it’s important to be around people who make you feel like you can be yourself to the fullest. And if you don’t get that, then you can leave. It’s okay to leave, and I think a lot of people get stuck because they think they have to stay.
Was that a perspective you became more settled with over time?
I think when I wrote it, there was a lot of anger. I was struggling to write something positive, so for me it was really therapeutic way of ending a friendship, because I didn’t want anger in the song. I wanted to find what was good, and to say good things, because even though you can feel betrayed and angry, you loved someone for a reason. This song made me able to find those reasons, and to find love in my heart. For me, that was how I could actually let go. It was not like I planned a therapy session with myself, but that’s just what happened. [laughs] And I think that goes for art in general – it can be a really profound way to process emotions, on either side: from the artist’s perspective, creating something out of an emotion, and the listener or viewer.
6. leikara ljóð
This sounds like it came together very organically, in terms of the layers of percussion and handclaps and the vocals.
You’re dead right. [laughs] That’s also a really old song, but I’d only made that middle part where there’s more lyrics, and then I added the intro and the outro. I basically made the whole choir arrangements, and then and Jørgen, the producer, made all the percussion. ‘leikara ljóð’ is an old Norse tale based on a French tale, and it’s about women talking about how men are trying their best to be brave knights and impress people, but really they just want to get laid. You think that all the medieval stuff is all about saints and churches, religious texts, but you also have these folk texts that are the complete opposite. I just thought it was fun thing to add to the album.
This song feels to me like the heart of blómi in its purest form. How did you feel when you first heard the final version of it?
I’m sorry to say, but I wasn’t happy with it. [laughs] It was a song that I just had to let go, because it just could never be what I wanted it to be. It’s hard to explain, but sometimes you just have to put down the pencil and say, “Enough.” It’s so difficult to sing it. It doesn’t sound like it – maybe it sounds like ‘leikara ljóð’ is more difficult to sing – but ‘alyosha’ is so hard to sing. So I can’t really hear it. I can hear that it went well, you know, but I’m such a perfectionist, and I really wanted that song to be what I envisioned, but it just didn’t get there. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not finished. I know it’s finished. I couldn’t do it better. Sometimes I feel like that about songs.
Was it mostly about the singing, or was there something else that made it feel precious?
Yeah, I felt like it was the strongest track on the album. I felt that I’d done something well songwriting-wise, an I wanted to do it justice with the arrangements and the production and the recording. Sometimes, also, you get really connected to the demo, and then it changes in the studio. And you’re really just trying to get back to the demo, but the demo wasn’t well enough recorded, and you’re stuck in this thing in between. I think that’s why I was being very strict with myself.
How did you feel when you had the first demo?
I wanted to explore it more. I felt like I was on to something.
8. ṣānnu yārru lī
My grandpa interpreted a disk that they found in Hephaestus, so this is my performance of his interpretation. My grandfather had a long career of studying languages, and he has some really interesting but also controversial theories. He hasn’t really gotten much attention for it, but it’s part of my family history to hear about these theories. It’s part of my childhood. My mom would tell me a lot of the things that he discovered, so I would learn things in school and then I would learn different history at home. I just wanted to celebrate that. I wanted to include my grandpa because I wanted to present to the world my eccentric family. I wanted to celebrate our eccentricity because I live in a country where eccentricity is frowned upon, and we don’t like when people act differently or have different ideas. We’re very consensus-driven people; as long as we agree, everything is fine. And I just wasn’t raised that way.
‘náttsǫngr’ is a love song, and it’s sort of the same themes as ‘alyosha’. I was single for a lot of my grown-up life; most of my twenties I spent as single. And I recently – well, now it’s not recent, five years ago – but I met the love of my life, so he also shapes this album and some songs are are dedicated to him.
10. orð hjartans
Now that you’ve sat with this album for a while, how unwavering is your belief in that final declaration that Elina makes – that the word in the heart is “yes”? Does it still resonate with you fully?
Yeah, it does. I think it’s really important that we are open to ourselves – negative emotions and positive emotions. I do think, though, that it needs to be balanced with focus. I feel like in therapy today, there is a lot of focus on emotions, it’s like a new trend. I’ve done therapy for some years and I’ve seen these trends come and go, and I think that we can get lost sometimes in exploring our emotions. So I would say I completely agree with Elina and what she says that in order for us to become whole – what she’s basically saying is that to stop your heart from shrinking, you need to keep it open. It’s really important to focus as well because if you have a lot of darkness, you can get stuck in it. But it doesn’t work to shut off the darkness. You have to accept it. So I guess what I’m trying to say is: Keep your heart open, accept all the emotions you feel, and then focus.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Susanne Sundfør’s blómi is out now via Bella Union.