Not Your Average Hit List

Quotes are all by Stina, taken from the biography text at the official Stina Nordenstam web site
(© Véronique Eeman).

© Stina Nordenstam for the cover photo (excerpt).

© Stina Nordenstam/ Warner Music for the music.

© Per A.J. Andersson for the text. Written July 2003, updated November 2011.

People Are Strange
by Stina Nordenstam

For the last decade the world has witnessed Sweden entering charts and ears with everything from Army of Lovers to Roxette, from Cardigans to Kent and beyond. Ultimately becoming the number three music exporter (only behind the US and the UK). Those chart successes were no thanks to Stina Nordenstam, though. Although she appeared amidst a whole wave of female artists (Lisa Nilsson, Rebecca Törnqvist, Lisa Ekdahl...), she proved to be quite the rare bird.

— • —

Contrasting with the large majority of the new singstresses debuting in the early '90s, Stina Nordenstam sung in English from the start. And has continued doing so.

"For language to make sense, it needs to communicate and I didn't have that when I was growing up so it was easier to develop my musical language in English, which also has the advantage of being a more profound language than Swedish, with a richer musical heritage."

Stina was born and raised in Stockholm. Her parents were of conservative upbringing, reacting by joining the Communist party. And Stina was left somewhere in between. Then she discovered music and used it as an escape.

— • —

"I wasn't really interested in anything, not even living, because I was severely depressed until I was 20. I was sealed off, I didn't have one healthy relationship until I was 20."

Years later she broke completely with her family.

However, through school and fraternising with a more diverse crowd of students, Stina entered a small jazz community in her late teens. She played in bands but were soon bored with having to use the same material over and over. And started making her own songs, discovering her voice in the process.

— • —

Jazz singers like Billie Holliday or Chet Baker comes to mind, when listening to Stina's very intimate and almost private way of singing. Inventing her own distinctively muted vocal style also bore something in common with jazz artists such as Miles Davis.

Her first album was released in 1991. It was made possible through her winning a local competition, with the recording of an album as the first prize. "Memories of a Color" reflected Stina Nordenstam's detailed interest in musical arrangements paired with lyrics of a stark emotional intensity. Feelings of loneliness and dark moods abound, maybe in part reflecting Stina's own life.

The resulting sound had more than one critic compare her to Rickie Lee Jones, another singer-songwriter dealing with emptiness through a fragile, personal voice. Others have mentioned Björk, the determined Icelandic fairy.

— • —

Along the lines of Björk Stina ventured into more troubled musical territory with her third album. "Dynamite" features a more aggressive sound, replete with distorted quitars and processed vocals.

1998 saw the release of "People Are Strange" (*). A cover album was hardly a thing expected from such an independent artist as Stina Nordenstam. But listening through the CD, one notices quickly that this is something out of the ordinary. Stina has herself explained that she thinks an interesting cover is a song that isn't too good, only "half bad" but with something that she can take further.

Which she certainly did. Rod Stewart's "Sailing" and Prince's "Purple Rain" comes out as completely new songs, processed through Stina's deceptively fragile voice and arrangements mixing industrial sounds against orchestral strings.

— • —

To anyone feeling the urge to dance - don't use Stina Nordenstam's music. She doesn't do dance music. Neither does she tour. Or lets herself easily be interviewed. In fact her public persona has been close to inexisting for the whole of her career. Her low profile has not been of any help getting her music on the airwaves or getting her popular with the record companies (although she has been in high demand as a session vocalist for other artists). If that was what she wanted.

"The only thing I want is to live an exciting life. I don't want anything else. I don't want success, I don't want money. That's all i want."

Then she obviously wants her music to speak for itself. Which it does, in volumes. Stina's narcotic sense of melancholy and musical innovations have made her many an admiring review. And she has created a fervent cult following of people trying to get to know this "modern Greta Garbo" a little bit better. Which in this case is a challenge worthy of its comparison. //

— • —

(*) Fellow musician Tori Amos, working in a similar style as Stina, entitled her 2001 album "Strange Little Girl". And this was yet another take on the concept of cover albums. Strange coincidence...


(Warner/EastWest, 1998)

• Sailing
• I Dream of Jeannie
• Love Hurts
• Lonesome Road
• Bird on a Wire
• Purple Rain
• Swallow Strings
• Like a Swallow
• Reason to Believe
• I Came So Far for Beauty
• Come to Me
• People Are Strange (EXCERPT)

Compositions: G Sutherland, S C Foster, B Bryant etc
Production: Ian Caple/Stina Nordenstam

• Memories of a Color (1991)

• And She Closed Her Eyes (1994)
• Dynamite (1996)
• People Are Strange (1998)
• This is... (2001)
• The World is Saved (2004)

CQD - seekyoudanger
Stina Online
Ectophile's Guide
Stina Nordenstam Lyrics
Stina Homepage

• Fleshquartet (collaboration)
• Rikki Lee Jones (fragile appearance)
Björk (artistic innovations)
Tori Amos (cover albums)
Regina Lund (artistic approach)
Justyna Steczkowska (vocal style)

Not Your Average Hit List 43 minutes... Alla är Ambition Consequences Door to Door The Dreaming Dzien i noc État d'urgence In the Spirit of Things Kaze no tani no Naushika Lights in the Night Martwa woda Nuit d'amour Once in a Million Open Door People Are Strange The Royal Scam Stationary Traveller Victim of Love Whore Music Up North Music Out West Music Far East Music Down South Films I Like a Lot Comic or Not On and Off TV About Me There's so much more out there ...