Agnes Obel: Minimalist Piano Pop

It’s hard to describe the music of Denmark born, Berlin-based singer, songwriter and pianist Agnes Obel. Her sound contains elements of baroque, pop and experimental as evidenced by her latest release (and third full-length overall), Citizen of Glass. This is a refreshingly good thing, especially in an age when the majority of what you hear on the radio sounds too darn cookie cutter. Abel, who was discovered via Myspace and whose debut album was certified five times platinum in Denmark, will be performing in NYC at Le Poisson Rouge, on March 13.

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Pulse: Let’s start by discussing your latest album, Citizen of Glass.
Agnes Obel: It’s the first time I had the title before I had written any songs… I was looking for this title, and then I was reading about surveillance and privacy, and there was a lot of debate about it in Germany. I came across this really cool term, which is gläserner bürger. It’s sort of a political term—when the individual has lost his or her privacy, you say they’re made of glass. And it can be in different contexts, like as a patient, as a citizen, or just as a human when you’ve lost everything and you have no secrets anymore. I loved it because I think the whole political discussions are very interesting and important, but I have to say, I understood this term sort of aesthetically, and I thought it was beautiful… I haven’t heard this way of describing the loss of privacy like that in any other language… But I think it’s a uniquely German way of talking about it. And I could sort of see that all humans are glass citizens, and I think you can look at us all in that way, not just in terms of privacy, but also aesthetically. Within our culture, I feel as if we’re pushed towards being made of glass, and we’re doing it ourselves with our media. And I think there is an ideal in our art world, literature, and music to make yourself of glass—to expose everything… And then I thought about it sonically, it could be really great to try and express the experience of being made out of glass sonically. I knew I had to find instruments and new sounds, and express that emotion and that experience.

How would you describe your musical style?
I am certainly aware of certain genres and styles within music, but it’s not something I really deliberately aim towards. What I see myself as is somebody who likes few instruments—sort of minimalism within the production. I really like to make albums with just two or three instruments. Or now, Citizen Glass is more instruments. For example all the rhythms are made with cello with a bow, or on the side of the piano, or with the floor. I like the simplicity of recording. For me, that’s my genre.

What can fans expect at your upcoming NYC show? 
We’re going to be four on stage. Two cellists—one of them also plays guitar and percussion, and the other also plays autoharp, and they both sing. Then I play with a clarinetist from Belgium, and she also plays percussion, and loops her clarinet, so we can make these orchestral things, even though we’re only four. But for the New York show, we also have a violinist flown in from Montreal—a guy named John Corban. He also played on the album. This is actually the first time with my own music that I’m playing with a guy. I’m normally always playing with women. So it’s going to be fun.

greg prato

greg prato

Greg Prato has lived almost his entire life on Long Island. He has written for Rolling Stone, and has penned many a book on either rock n’ roll or sports. See what he’s up to on Twitter @gregpratowriter.