“Connected,“ the leadoff track on singer/songwriter/violinist Theresa Andersson’s new album, Shine, celebrates that hair-raising symbiosis that can occur when a performer and audience share a moment, when both the artist and crowd are lost in song. “That’s the most important thing to me, to feel that connection,“ Andersson says. “Good music can’t happen without energy from both sides.“
Creating such moments is something the songbird has become quite good at over the past decade. Since moving to New Orleans in the early ’90s, Andersson has wowed Big Easy crowds and critics with regularity, earning herself a cream-of-the-crop reputation and scores of accolades. Her eclectic brand of roots-informed rock that can segue from bluegrass hoe-downs into swirling, Sonic Youth-styled distortion jams, has garnered her Offbeat’s Best of the Beat award for violin for six consecutive years and the 2003 Big Easy Award for Best Female Artist, as well as a regular slot at the city’s famed Jazz & Heritage Festival. With the sassy, spirited Shine, her debut for New Orleans-based Basin Street Records, Andersson is ramping up for a shot at the pop-rock pie, with her most mainstream-aimed, songwriting-focused set yet.
Andersson was 12 years old when she first got a taste of that performer-crowd magic; it was during a singing contest in her native Sweden, on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Although she had been singing in front of a small group of people since the age of 4, this was the first time she stepped behind a microphone-before 6,000 people no less. Delivering the theme from The Deer Hunter, she slayed, winning the contest with ease. It was then that Andersson became hooked on music and live performance. As “Connected“ points out, she’s always felt as though she was born to sing, and that was the moment that she decided to devote her life to it.
As a youngster, music wasn’t everything, but it had a large presence in her early life. Growing up on a small Swedish farm, Andersson’s father raised pigs and cows and grew grains and carrots while her mother played piano, accordion and trumpet, and taught music to local school children. While Andersson’s parents didn’t own a vast rock’n’roll record collection, albums by the likes of Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin caught her ear, as did the Peter Gabriel, Tina Turner and Duran Duran singles that were being spun by local European pop stations. Today, Andersson is revered for the Hendrix-like flare she injects into her electric violin, which she often plays through a wah wah pedal or pod. It’s a tad ironic, considering she never intended to pick up the instrument in the first place. It was only after Andersson was locked out of playing the flute in school - due to an excess number of her peers signing up for the instrument - that teachers asked Andersson’s mother to convince her daughter to give the violin a try.
As a teen, Andersson attended performing arts schools and toured with the prestigious World Youth Choir. She also performed and sang as a member of a three-piece, all-female group called Sudrets Spiror. Sudrets Spiror focused on three-part harmonies and played everything from Earth, Wind & Fire tunes to Swedish and Ukrainian folk songs. After being one of a handful of students selected to attend a noted Swedish music school-where she was to study jazz singing-a friend introduced her to Sweden-born roots artist Anders Osborne, who was in need of a violinist to accompany him at shows in his homeland.
Andersson landed the gig with Osborne, and quickly impressed him with her singing as well. Before long, sparks were flying and the two became a couple. Andersson skipped jazz vocal school and moved to New Orleans with her new beau and over the next nine years, she became a regular in Osborne’s band. “That was the period of my life that I learned how to be a musician,“ she says. “That’s where I learned how to interact with other musicians, not as band leader but as a member of a band.“ During this time Andersson also found her style becoming increasingly influenced by American roots music, largely due to Osborne’s bluesy, slide guitar playing. Her profile on the local scene grew tenfold, and she contributed violin and/or vocals to albums by Cowboy Mouth, Galactic, Mike West, Marva Wright, World Leader Pretend and others.
The official start of Andersson’s solo career can be traced to the 1994 release of Vibes (Rabadash Records), a collection of jazz standards recorded for fun with a handful of top-shelf New Orleans players. But it wasn’t until she split with Osborne romantically and professionally in 1998 that Andersson began writing her own material, thus allowing her solo career to truly blossom.
Stays in Nashville and Austin helped that process along, with each city’s music scene influencing the structure and rock edge to her solo material, respectively. In 2002, she returned to New Orleans with the songs that would become her true debut, No Regrets, released on her own PoVolt Records imprint. Collaborating with a small handful of songwriters, the disc offers rootsy R&B and features performances by such N’Awlins fixtures as Continental Drifters guitarist Robert Mache and Papa Grows Funk keyboardist John Gros. The album was the top selling independent release at the New Orleans’ Jazz Festival store two years in a row. “A lot of inspiration for that album came from stepping out into my own,“ Andersson says, noting that the title is a reference to her decision to begin anew. “It was like, ’All of a sudden, I’m independent, I’m on my own.’ I was just writing a lot about that shift, and just finding strength and believing in yourself as a woman.“
Shine, Andersson’s follow-up release, is aggressive and in-your-face: a sharp turn from the more gentle sounds on No Regrets. Lyrically, however, Shine may be seen as a continuation and an expansion of the themes touched upon in her debut album. “I talk a lot about believing in yourself and being strong - like in the title track - which I think every woman can relate to, and guys, too, of course,“ Andersson explains. “’I’m On My Way’ is another one of those “girl-you-can-do-it-songs,’“ she says. “I’ve had women come up to me crying after they heard it. In the chorus of that one, I talk about how if you want to see me, you cannot use your eyes. If you really want to see me, you have to realize I’m more than I appear to be. And perhaps that is really the biggest thing I’ve dealt with in music-and in life-just to be taken seriously, and having people really notice.“
The album’s sexy undertone is also something that fills the smiley Andersson with pride. Shine finds her flirting with sexuality on the disc. In some ways the album documents her evolution from nervous, but confident schoolgirl to confident, in-command woman and kick-ass musician. “Coming into this record, I basically felt more assertive and sure with what I’m doing. I’m not concerned with trying to be pretty or perfect; I just want people to feel it and be moved by the performance or the lyrics.“
While growing more confident as both a woman and songwriter, Andersson also developed a reputation as one of the best musicians in a city of fine musicians. Want proof? Not only has she guested on discs by Cowboy Mouth and the Radiators, but for Shine she brings in such guests as Neville Brothers drummer Willie Green, Anders Osborne, Jon Cleary, and Grammy nominee Sonny Landreth. Members of her crack live band will be accompanying Andersson this year on her first extensive national tour. (Aside from regional gigs, Andersson has gigged in Canada, the Northeast, California and in Arizona.)
And Andersson is chomping at the bit to get out there. Ever since she was a child, not only was she in love with singing and performing, but she was driven to excel at it. “Whenever I heard about someone that did something, that accomplished something, I was like, ’Well, I can do that, too.’ And I got in there and did it. And in the last couple of years, I’ve gotten this hunger again to conquer.“ And that conquering begins with the release of Shine.