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The last time I had the chance to review a new album by Ephemera was late 2004, just after they released their brilliant fifth CD, MONOLOVE. I’d already grown so fond of this sublime Norwegian female pop trio by then, that I wondered if they were simply too good to be true. Who makes music this sparkly so seemingly effortlessly? The gorgeous, impossibly gentle voices employing flawless harmonies; economical and universal lyrics that summed up dilemmas about life and love in simple but relatable terms; inventive arrangements that seemed to always have one extra “earworm” than you’d expect, and a genius producer in Yngve Saetre. Ephemera had already won the equivalent of the Norwegian Grammy (called the “Spellemannprisen” award) for Best Pop Group twice for previous albums, and enjoyed at least one international hit with “Girls Keep Secrets in the Strangest Ways.” MONOLOVE was seemingly a gift for “deep listeners,” as it was a sonic treasure for those who liked more complex textures in their crystalline female pop, and it was a creative peak of sorts for the band. So, were they too good to be true? Or were good things just not meant to last? One couldn’t help but worry when the trio vanished after 2005 into the Norwegian cultural wilderness. Though the group’s songs are in English, there simply weren’t any articles in either language for a while, that made clear what happened. As year after year passed, the dedicated fan would have had to dig deep to discern Ephemera’s plans, and there were no clues on solo albums such as Christine Sandtorv’s FIRST LAST DANCE or Ingerlise Storksen’s ALL THE GOOD THINGS. You were free to speculate, but you probably were just gonna have to WAIT. The simple explanation, however, was that the three women all got married, had children at varying intervals and chose to live a calmer life for a while. They needed a break after five straight years of being a busy Nordic pop sensation; some reassessment was in order. But fans had to be delighted when an unexpected pair of new singles, “Magic” and “Hope” (words aptly associated with this trio), turned up in the latter half of 2019. Yes, they still had the gift! And now at last we are treated to their sixth album (seventh if you count the compilation SCORE), simply titled SEASONS. The girls love one-word titles! It appears right in the middle of a daunting, world-wide pandemic. And it is, simply, a soothing little gem. Whew! We’ve still got one of the finest girl groups in the world out there, serving up wisdom and life stories. Det er en lettelse!

EPHEMERA (Jannicke Larsen Berglund, Ingerlise Storksen, Christine Sandtorv) (photo credit: CECILIE BANNOW)

All the truly great artists have a sound, a style that contains their own flavors and seasoning. Ephemera are purveyors of lilting pop music which alternates between little stories that feature a melancholy undercurrent (sometimes overt, in fact) and upbeat, rapturous odes to love, self-realization, and getting lost in life’s beauty and wonder. They have a gift for making the listener rapturous, too… a few listens to any of their best songs and you start feeling like the world is a bit more awesome than you told yourself yesterday. There is unquestionably a vibe of empathy and inclusiveness in Ephemera songs – they are NOT detached or cynical. They are with YOU all the way, whether you’re mourning a loss or celebrating new love. They make you feel cared about, a somewhat rare trait for most pop ensembles. And with songs like “When the Best Ones Are Gone” and “Heartbeat,” both written by the luminous Christine Sandtorv (although that first tune is sung by Jannicke Larsen Berglund in a mode of absolute goddess-like wisdom and understanding), you can hear the most effective element in music holding you tight: Universality. Few things are more powerful than a great song at making you feel or at least ponder the ups and downs of life. “When the Best Ones Are Gone” is simply one of the most achingly beautiful songs Ephemera have ever recorded, with a gorgeous piano arrangement and a patient introduction of their patented harmony that pays off stunningly. “Everything falls apart/Everything breaks up/Somehow you must start/To pick up the pieces/And your broken heart,” sings Berglund, and then the trio together. If those simple words don’t get absolutely stuck in your head after a couple of listens to the haunting arrangement here, well, you may wanna have your ears checked. The concluding bridge is vintage Ephemera, with the word “undertow” standing out. It could have been an alternate title for this whole record. And “Heartbeat” has a similar timely impact, with Christine’s acoustic guitar and a more elemental but evocative keyboard part setting the scene: In her most sincere, winsome voice, Sandtorv sings “Do you have a heartbeat/Hidden hopes and dreams/As long as you have a heartbeat/You can get back on your feet.” Simply reading such lyrics won’t convey the power of hearing them sung sweetly amidst airily perfect instrumentation. And hearing such things in the midst of a dire time for humanity is overwhelmingly emotional. Many of us are sick right now, or angst-ridden. But the doctor is IN, with the name “Ephemera” on the office door. The doctor will see you now, and the prescription is some beautiful songcraft…

And there is so much more. Ingerlise Storksen is truly one of the most distinctive vocalists in all of Scandinavia; I shouldn’t try to analyze what she does because it is so transcendent when she’s at her best. And she IS here, on “Stranger,” a leisurely sung, dramatically paced slice of perfection with surprisingly minimal lyrics. The theme here is sadness over the sometimes inexplicable distance between people – in this case, the titular but unknown subject. A repeated sequence of four glistening high tones is soon accompanied by a lush string arrangement, on its way to setting up a chorus you won’t forget. The world holds its breath, and then there is a dramatic shift in Ingerlise’s delivery as she sings: “Birds are flying away/I can no longer count the days/I run but time keeps lead/I pray to see you again.” This passage is not merely a peak moment on SEASONS, but one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard on a record. In a single moment of emotive ecstasy, aiming for musical heaven and getting there, Ingerlise will surely have some listeners fighting back tears. The economy of the whole track is simply a marvel, and the sheer vulnerability this trio manages to capture in songs such as this is unprecedented. Then there is Berglund’s songwriting contribution, one of my absolute favorites, called “The More You Give.” Not generally as prolific as her two partners, Berglund has been responsible for some past Ephemera gems such as “One Minute” and “City Lights.” Her tune here is a potent combination of dreamy and weary, with at least three memorable earworms (or “hooks”). As the band’s keyboard player, she often lays down distinctive synth parts that are sometimes merely textural, sometimes the most memorable adornment in a song. They’re always beautiful, and they are truly an Ephemera trademark, especially the repeating swirl of coolly descending tones we’re treated to here. “You always want to be the best you can be/And you always want to see all that there is to see/Just remember to let them deep into your heart/All of those who were there for you right from the start,” she sings; a simple enough sentiment given emotional heft by the sterling arrangement, and the way Berglund’s more laconic delivery contrasts with Sandtorv’s sweeter voice on a couple of lines. Simply great stuff. It seems to UP the sophistication factor for Ephemera, as does Ingerlise’s “Too Good To Be,” a disarmingly sincere missive to someone about, probably, a commitment issue. It’s slow and patient, and true to Ephemera form, vulnerable and beautiful. A gradually ascending piano progression at the end is accompanied by that trademark eerie synth ascending right alongside it, and then the familiar vocal blend – did I mention that this group serves up melodies that always burrow deeper into your psyche the more you listen? And that few acts anywhere manage the splendiferous arrangements that these three women and their uncannily sympathetic producer achieve, song after song? Golly, and I haven’t even touched on the big singles yet: “Magic,” which revels in the band’s full three-part harmony and a can’t-be-beat Sandtorv melody that really DOES bring the magic, and “Hopeful,” a rocking Storksen tune that is probably the most upbeat, conventionally “fun” tune on the album. But the thing is, Ephemera just aren’t conventional. Not by a long shot. Yes, they write catchy tunes that you can tap your foot to, and yes, they experience all the same deep, conflicting emotions YOU do. But these three women happen to be uncommonly gifted as songwriters and arrangers. They’ve been at this for 25 years now (they formed in 1994 and their first CD, GLUE, came out in 1996), they have an enduring, resonant friendship, and by now, they really understand that not only is music a superlative way of delivering portraits of the deepest of human experiences, but they have a quirkily brilliant, musically distinctive and uncommonly delicate way of doing so. There are other girl groups out there, for sure, but Ephemera, like their tunes, offer something both “Hopeful” and something rich in the kind of recorded “Magic” that has earned them fans around the world. SEASONS is a short album (37 minutes) – it’s not as meaty as MONOLOVE, not quite as winkingly industry-friendly, perhaps, as AIR, their acclaimed 2003 effort. But SEASONS comes into a world where the music industry is kind of a mess, royalties are diminished, artists are working with much more restrictive circumstances, and the world itself is in grave peril – the current pandemic being just one sign that civilization has to learn and grow, or it may just burn out. When the stakes are high, Ephemera music sounds better than almost anything – it’s comforting, wise, communal, gently lulling, and always with an ear to your heart. Save yourself an expensive psychiatric bill – just listen to these Norwegian muses instead, and try to remember what a beautiful, exhilarating challenge life can still be…

EPHEMERA (Christine Sandtorv, Jannicke Larsen Berglund, Ingerlise Storksen) (photo credit: CECILIE BANNOW)

SEASONS is available digitally on iTunes, Tidal and Spotify.

EPHEMERA (Christine Sandtorv, Ingerlise Storksen, Jannicke Larsen Berglund) (photo credit: DYVEKE S NILSSEN)

(UPDATE) It’s a mixed blessing that the first new Ephemera album in 15 years would arrive in the midst of a global pandemic. That limits promotional activities and public appearances severely. On the other hand, when they can release a video for perhaps the album’s most beautiful song, one that should be seen by everyone, the healing effect and “we’re all in this together” vibe are profoundly moving. Here is the new video for “When the Best Ones Are Gone.”



A worldwide exclusive from KEVIN RENICK

Ephemera (Christine Sandtorve, Ingerlise Storksen, Jannicke Larsen) (uncredited photo)
Ephemera (Christine Sandtorv, Ingerlise Storksen, Jannicke Larsen) (uncredited photo)

Once upon a time, in the mystical, fjord-side town of Bergen, Norway, there were three clever and ambitious teenage girls who loved music. Christine Sandtorv, Ingerlise Storksen and Jannicke Larsen spent many hours together talking about music, songwriting and life itself, and they decided to form a singing group. They called their trio EPHEMERA, a word meaning “something transitory or short-lived.” The girls had voices that could soothe the most hardened soul, and when they blended their three voices together, the universe itself seemed to smile and nod in approval. In 1996, they excitedly released their quirky first album, GLUE. But then they met a wizardly producer named Yngve Leidulv Saetre, who instinctively understood the depths of the music these three girls were capable of making, and he wanted to guide them a bit. With Yngve at the helm, the trio released SUN in 2000, the first album to truly capture the beautiful, luminous sound they would come to be known for over the next five years. They built a following in their native land, and fans in other parts of Europe and even Japan began to rave about them. Their third album, BALLOONS AND CHAMPAGNE, won them a Spellemannprisen Award (the Nordic equivalent of the Grammys) for Best Pop Album in 2002. They toured, recorded and made magic together, and they kept growing as musicians. Across the ocean in America, one curious writer for a new publication discovered Ephemera’s music and fell in love with them. He became the first in that country to interview the band, and he told anyone who would listen how incredibly lovely and heartfelt Ephemera’s music was. America, though it seemed to be intrigued with many other popular artists emerging from Scandinavia, preferred flashier, more commercially aggressive or “obvious” type musicians, and did not take notice of Ephemera, despite one of their songs landing in a teen movie. Or maybe America just couldn’t keep up with all the Scandinavian exports of the new millennium and needed an urgent memo. The girls of Ephemera, however, decided to take a long break in 2005 to nurture relationships and raise families. But some fans, including the undaunted American writer, continued to listen, enjoy and talk about the band’s gorgeous music. “It’s like an amazing secret,” the writer said. “And more people should know about it.”

Ingerlise Storksen (photo credit: ORJAN DEISZ)
Ingerlise Storksen (photo credit: ORJAN DEISZ)

Oh, there are many ways to start an article about the female Norwegian musical trio Ephemera and the superb new solo album Ingerlise Storksen has just released, but since their music is so far above the norm, I thought we should begin with a fairytale flavor. The writer in that preface is yours truly, and I won’t hide the fact that this band has moved me to tears countless times with the transcendent beauty of their sound and songwriting. No other band in my adult life has given me shivers of emotion like Ephemera; I learned the word “frisson,” which means just that, because of them. I have digested every one of the songs on their five albums and even sublime rarities like “Puzzle” and “It Could Have Been Me.” I’ve had conversations with girlfriends, therapists and good friends about some of Ephemera’s most stellar compositions, which include “Maple Tree” (one of the most heartbreakingly life-affirming songs ever written), “One of a Kind” (should be an anthem for lonely or troubled people everywhere), “Little Lion,” “Bye,” “Thank You,” “Paint Your Sky” and many others. Ephemera’s music is sweet, romantic, sensual, empathetic, encouraging and hopeful. It is melodic, catchy and rendered with crystalline sonic clarity. It is free of cynicism and any sense of defeat; the songs are about living, loving, leaving (sometimes when you know you HAVE to) and learning to keep the fire burning in your heart. It may be classified as “pop music” stylistically, but the intimate vocals and engaging emotions in any Ephemera song make it something so much more, something more poetic and involving than just about anything you’ll hear in American popular music. It’s a gift, this band’s body of work, one with the kind of repeat listenability that only the best songs achieve. I have cherished and enjoyed a great deal of music throughout my life, but… sometimes, I see it like this: There is EPHEMERA. And then there’s everything else. The girls themselves may not truly realize how special they are…

Ingerlise Storksen (uncredited photo)
Ingerlise Storksen (uncredited photo)

Ingerlise Storksen isn’t the most prolific songwriter in Ephemera; that honor goes to Christine Sandtorv. But Ingerlise wrote some of the band’s most beautiful, heart-tugging tunes. No matter how many times I listen to her songs “Perfect,” “Close,” “Air,” “Bye” (simply a stunning gem of a song), and “Thank You,” the unmatched intimacy of her vocals sends shivers up my spine. Her songs are often “hushed secrets” that the listener gets to be privy to. And there’s a song called “Dead Against the Plan,” from the 2004 release MONOLOVE, a blue diamond of a pop song written by Ingerlise and Christine together, that is quite simply one of the most dazzlingly catchy, perfect songs EVER, not just out of Scandinavia. If I were teaching a class in songwriting and music arrangement, this is one of the songs I would have the class listen to and discuss. Yes, it’s that good.

It’s a big deal that Ingerlise is finally giving the world ALL THE GOOD THINGS, her first solo album. A big deal both for her artistic journey, and for fans of her contemplative songwriting style. While her mate, Christine Sandtorv, released FIRST LAST DANCE in 2006, followed it with several albums of children’s songs sung in Norwegian, and collaborated with other Nordic artists like Ralph Myerz, Ingerlise had not been so publically active. Those of us who are enthusiastic fans were quietly waiting and watching to see what she might do. And now here it is, the exceptional Yngve Saetre-produced gem that any Ephemera fan is going to adore. The album contains 11 original songs and Ingerlise performs with a band that includes Jorgen Sandvik on guitar, banjo and strings, Paul Inge Vikingtad on bass, Odd Martin Skalnes on keys and Vegard Fossum on drums. Ingerlise plays her distinctive acoustic guitar and also keyboards. It was no small thing for the artist to step away from Ephemera for the first time, and that was one of the first things I wanted to ask her about.

“At first I was a bit concerned and anxious that it was going to be too close to the Ephemera sound,” said Ingerlise via email. “But I concluded quickly that I am a big part of the Ephemera sound, and I cannot change my voice or the way I play the guitar or make music, just to keep a distance from what might possibly sound like something Ephemera did. The studio session was very focused and very good; I never thought about being on my own, or that it was scary or difficult. It was all very natural. The band was in the studio for only two days… so I had a good picture of what I wanted. Almost all the arrangements were already done, I had recorded them at home as demos. The band played and put their sounds and feelings into the songs and it went really great, I think.”

Ingerlise Storksen (uncredited photo)
Ingerlise Storksen (uncredited photo)

When a singer has been primarily known for being in a group with tight vocal harmonies, they must be cognizant of listeners’ expectations, and even though Ephemera were far from being “superstars,” they made a tremendous mark in the Norwegian music scene. But there is no trace of the other girls on this album, it is definitely all Ingerlise. Wasn’t that a bit strange?

“Actually, it wasn’t strange or difficult at all,” she said. “I love those girls, no question about that! But I have the need to make my own music, to make decisions and choices without always meeting others halfway. It’s been such a strong experience for me. Of course, I’ve had thoughts like, ‘what if I can’t do this without them? What if it isn’t good enough?’ But most of all, I’ve been excited and confident about this record. ALL THE GOOD THINGS is a turning point in my life. It’s a really personal album, and it is all about making the world the best it can be. To make the right decisions for yourself, spending the time right and doing what means something to you.”

Ingerlise is justifiably proud of this record indeed, as it’s a tremendous showcase for her sublime songwriting. “In the End” and “Hearbeat” are fine examples of the kind of achingly emotional, haunting ballads that Ingerlise contributed to Ephemera and now offers here in a different musical setting. It’s authentic and real, hearing songs such as these. Ms Storksen is incapable of ever hitting a false emotional note. On “Velvet Voice,” a phrase that could easily apply to the sound that comes out of Ingerlise’s mouth, unexpected harps add a surprising texture to a song that starts out somewhat plaintive and soon turns sublime. “If you have anything to say/Use your velvet voice in your best way,” the singer advises, and this could be directed to a struggling friend (“A poor lily lost her grounded view/Too much to lose… All the guilt, the endless wall/Insecure, even smaller… “) or possibly an affirmation for the singer herself. Such things are up to the listener to decide, but it’s a gorgeous song. There are simpler, acoustic guitar-driven tunes such as “Defender” and “The Birds Would Cry” that are the kind of songs Ingerlise seems to be able to write in her sleep. There’s an organic purity to these kinds of songs; if they were food, the label would say “organically grown, no artificial ingredients.” Like any normal person, Ingerlise has undoubtedly experienced plenty of hurt and disappointment, but the empathy in her voice at all times is a wondrous gift far beyond the ability of most singers to convey. “I keep breathing to keep you alive/I am your defender in every fight/I am floating, you’re dragging me down/I keep breathing, watching you drown,” she sings in “Defender,” a tune about someone that has clearly made some big mistakes and is NOT listening to our heroine. As for “Birds,” in one simple lyric, Ingerlise lays it on the line about the risk of loving: “I know you’re scared, so am I/The trees will mourn and the birds would cry/If we let it go without a try.” This is a singer who, when she sings words like that (in flawless, softly breathy English, by the way), you can’t imagine the kind of idiot who would NOT take her advice. Elsewhere on the album, there are some more rocking songs like “Knockout” and “No Need For Sleep,” both of which are incredibly catchy and should be on the radio. Of that former song, it is worth mentioning that the peerless arrangement and production provides a rare moment of apt comparison. It’s not often that Ingerlise (or the other Ephemera girls) particularly reminds me of any other artists, but there is a breathtaking chord change in the chorus (“Night and day/High and low/I’ve been looking for you”) and a big, sweeping vocal ascension that is absolutely reminiscent of latter day Cocteau Twins. Nothing about Ingerlise’s normal singing voice would remind one of Liz Fraser, but this amazing moment truly does. High praise, I assure you. It’s also worth mentioning the stylistically uncategorizable first single, “I Killed Your Horse.” The unsettling title is metaphorical, one assumes; this is a love song with some high stakes, apparently, about a “strong cowboy” (or IS he?) and the woman asking him questions he may or may not be able to answer. The chorus is again, excellent, and Ingerlise has already gotten some plaudits in the Norwegian press for the tune. What is most interesting is to see her expand stylistically; this song in particular is NOT reminiscent of Ephemera, while some of the ones mentioned above, definitely are. At any rate, she’s made a fantastic, smoothly consistent, emotionally stirring record. And that wonderful voice? It oughta be playing in therapy centers and mental health clinics everywhere; I have to believe that at least SOME patients would soon find themselves feeling less anxious…

There were many, many questions I wanted to ask this amazing artist, and it was difficult to try to limit myself to a dozen or so. But the bulk of them follow; they cover the new record, the past and future of Ephemera, Ingerlise’s formative years, et cetera. Initially it might require some patience to get ahold of the vinyl (yes, it IS released in that format) or CD of ALL THE BEST THINGS, but I’d advise you to persevere if you like intimate, emotionally cathartic music of uncommon melodic beauty. Ingerlise Storksen is worth whatever you have to go through to hear her music. Personally, just knowing she is on the planet makes me feel better!

Ingerlise Storksen (uncredited photo)
Ingerlise Storksen (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: You seem to have this trademark style that is primarily acoustic guitar, your amazing voice, and then various quirky sounds that emerge during the production process. Do you generally have your songs finished as acoustic arrangements before you go into the studio? And do you also have the keyboard parts in your head?

INGERLISE: Yes, the songs are all finished and arranged in acoustic composition before I go in the studio. I’m working a lot at home, recording demos where I arrange and compose melodies for keys and choir and even strings. I love working out harmonies, and I love putting them together, chasing for that little magic touch.

THE MULE: There are some very intimate, melancholy songs on this album, like “You Are Love,” “In the End” and “Heartbeat.” You do these songs with such gentleness and emotional clarity. Do you ever get overwhelmed with emotion by your own songs? Are songs like this always about people or situations from your own life? “In the End” strikes me as a song that could be either about a character talking to herself, like therapeutic “self affirmation,” or advice to an insecure friend who is suffering.

INGERLISE: Those songs you mention are all very important songs for me. They are written in “real” moments. Moments when I really HAD to write them out. They are all very personal and emotional – especially “Heartbeat.” That song is about my dear, dear grandmother who passed away in May 2014. She and I have always been very close, and still I think it is so strange and so sad that she is gone. This song is for her. I managed to sing it at her funeral. It was hard work, but it was the right thing to do. I know she knows. So, yes, sometimes a song can be overwhelming – even for me.

THE MULE: I love the song “Velvet Voice” and it sounds like one of the album’s highlights. Could you talk about the recording of this song? I don’t recognize one of the string instruments, but the arrangement is startling. Is Yngve Saetre proactive about suggesting unique instrumentation like this? Does he surprise you, or do members of your band surprise you with suggestions that maybe you would not have thought of yourself?

INGERLISE: This song is one of my favorites, as well. The string-thing was something that happened in the studio, all spontaneous. I think maybe Jorgen picked up one of the harps in studio, just to play along with me while going through the song before we started recording. And all of a sudden, Paul Inge and Odd Martin were playing harps as well. It sounded great right away, and we jumped into takes. I think we played through the song two or three times, live – and there it was. It is two small harps and one Guzheng used. Plus two acoustic guitars. And Odd Martin is humming, as well.

Ingerlise Storksen I Killed Your Horse single
Ingerlise Storksen I Killed Your Horse single

THE MULE: “Knockout” and “No Need For Sleep” are the upbeat rockers on the album. Is it more fun to do songs like that in the studio? What made you choose “I Killed Your Horse,” a more eccentric song, probably, for a single rather than one of the upbeat tunes like this?

INGERLISE: It is really fun to record upbeat songs. It’s a whole different energy and way of working. I think “I Killed Your Horse” is such a strong song. It is not a typical single right away, but still it’s got a good chorus, but maybe more; it’s got catchy verses. The lyrics are very important for this song, and it really comes through. The next single release will be “Knockout” – a much more easygoing radio song. But when that song comes out, I will have already established a “deeper” image. About myself and my music. And I like that!

THE MULE: “Defender” is also a marvelous song, what inspired that one? It’s a great example of your style and your musicality. Do you need a “defender” in your own life?

INGERLISE: “Defender” is an important song for me. It’s about the need to “keep on walking”, and to leave things behind. To put something into sleep, while still keeping hold of the good feelings and the soul and the moments. It’s one of those sad love stories. I would like to have a big and strong defender in my life… but sometimes I think we all need to just lay down and let somebody strong and safe take care of us. Without any questions.

THE MULE: Your producer, Yngve Saetre, is a genius in my opinion. He worked on all the Ephemera recordings, and now he has produced your solo album. It would be an understatement to say he has good ears. What makes him such an ideal producer for you?

INGERLISE: Yngve has this unassailable way of working with music. He is a man with strong meanings, without any filter. So… we have had some good discussions on the road. He is stubborn and I am stubborn, but we both agree that we have to do what’s the best for each song. He is a very creative soul, and can often see things that I never would. Still, the songs on ALL THE GOOD THINGS were so ready when I went into the studio, and with all the preparation I already had done – the arrangements and harmonies – so there was not so much to discuss. I love working with Yngve, and I hope I get the opportunity again.

THE MULE: Bergen, where you live, has consistently turned out amazing musical artists. We think of it as a mystical, almost mythical music town here in the US. What is it like for you who live there? What makes it so unique?

INGERLISE: Bergen Is a small, but big city. Small in its size, but big in its facilities due to music and art and soul. The one thing that actually is kind of unique with Bergen, is that everyone who’s from this city is really intensely committed. Proud and loud about it! Even the mayor is really well known throughout Norway because of her big love for Bergen. There’s a little something special about Bergen that is hard to explain. When it comes to the music scene, there has always been a lot of generosity around. It seems everybody is cheering for each other – there is no fighting for the spotlight. The main thing is the music. Not money. Not fame or any of that.

Ephemera (Ingerlise Storksen, Jannicke Larsen,Christine Sandtorve) (uncredited photo)
Ephemera (Ingerlise Storksen, Jannicke Larsen, Christine Sandtorv) (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: What is it that first made you want to write songs and sing? What were your biggest influences?

INGERLISE: I have all my life felt this big and natural passion for music. I remember being a small girl, yearning to sing out loud, being on stage, singing for people – it was an intense urge. I grew up in a very musical family, and both my parents always played music in our house. Actually, they both played in bands as youngsters, my mom in a girl band, and my dad as a lead singer in his band. So there were guitars and a piano around me at home, and I was 12 years old when I sat down in my room and started to figure out how to play the guitar. I loved it! And I preferred to stay home in my room, playing and singing, than to be outside playing with my girly friends. I began to write my own songs at 16 or 17, with no other ambition than just for the love of it. When we started to play gigs with Ephemera, we suddenly understood that people out there liked the music we made. And all of a sudden it meant something more… There was never a question about playing together or spending all our time doing music.

THE MULE: Did you set any particular guidelines or rules for yourself when you first started writing your own songs? Were you shy about the process?

INGERLISE: Hmm. No guidelines or rules. But just always hunting for the good melody. I think it is possible to learn a method, or follow rules and setups for how to write a song – but I don’t believe you can provoke the real soul that you can sometimes feel in a song. I write my best songs when I experience the darker days. I love writing songs when I NEED to. I remember I felt a bit shy early on, when I was performing a new song for the girls in Ephemera. Was it good enough? Would they like it? But we were all a bit shy back then.

THE MULE: How much did Christine and Jannicke, your partners in Ephemera, influence the way you composed? Did they give you a sense of what did or didn’t work? How much collaboration was there?

INGERLISE: Well, Jannicke, Christine and myself are so much alike when It comes to taste in music in general. We grew up together, and we shared our youth and the “basic time” …if that makes sense. Still, we are very different souls and we have different preferences. I would say that the three of us together IS the sound of Ephemera. We’ve influenced each other on the road, and we grew as a band and as songwriters together. That is quite beautiful, actually. We have shared some really great things together. We have mostly written songs on our own – taken the song to the band rehearsal, and together, making it an Ephemera-song. I developed my way of writing during the intense time in Ephemera, and of course I’ve been influenced by the other girls. Still, I have always had a clear view of my own music, and how and what I want it to become.

THE MULE: The first Ephemera album, GLUE, came out in 1996. It was a pleasant recording, but didn’t truly showcase the “Ephemera sound.” That came to fruition on SUN, when you started working with producer Yngve Saetre. What did he bring to your sound that made such a difference? What happened in the group during that period between GLUE and SUN, which was in 2000?

INGERLISE: Wow, it was a long time ago. I’ll try to think back. That first record, GLUE, was very pure. I was only 17 years old when we were recording this album. And we were very concerned, and focused on the “live sound,” making sure everything was clean and organic. And real. It was a great first experience, and we learned a lot during this recording. We met Yngve during the mix of GLUE, he is the one who mixed the album. He really liked the way we worked and our songs, and wanted to work some more with us. I remember recording the album SUN like magic. It was in summertime, late evenings, and we just had a really good process. Working with Yngve went very well. He understood us, and together, we found the Ephemera sound during this recording.

Ephemera (Jannicke Larsen,Christine Sandtorve, Ingerlise Storksen) (uncredited photo)
Ephemera (Jannicke Larsen,Christine Sandtorv, Ingerlise Storksen) (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: It’s hard to analyze what makes something “magical” in music, but I just want to tell you that for me as a listener, what you and Ephemera have achieved often sounds like pure magic. There is some special ingredient that makes it soar higher than mere “excellence.” What makes music achieve that magical level, in your opinion?

INGERLISE: The magic in music… that is so powerful. And, so hard to explain. For me, it is those times when you write music because you really NEED to – when there is pure and real feeling and meaning in your words. When you manage to get pieces of hurt or soul, fervently into a song – I think some of that soul keeps on living in that song, and other people can feel it when they listen to it. That is magic!

THE MULE: My impression is that you were not that assertive about songwriting in the early days of Ephemera, but became more so between AIR and MONOLOVE. Is this accurate? What was your “evolution” as a songwriter?

INGERLISE: Hmm… I think I have always had it in me. Remember – we were young back then. At least, that is what I kept saying to myself. 17,18,19, 20 years old. I think it was more about confidence than ability. For every year that went by, It became easier for me to write songs, and to believe in myself as a songwriter. Still, I have this fear of, “what if I never write a good song ever again?” But deep inside, I know it’s there. That there will be more songs. I hope!

THE MULE: All three of you have fantastic voices, and you each add something special to the mix. Christine has written a ton of great songs. And I have to say that a lot of your songs, your vocal performances, give me chills. There are many songs I could ask you about, but I specifically wondered about two songs from MONOLOVE, the last Ephemera album. “Thank You” features a heartbreakingly beautiful vocal from you, with a level of hushed intimacy that few singers could ever hope to achieve. And “Dead Against the Plan” is, to me, one of the catchiest and most dazzling pop songs ever put on record. Can you tell me a little about what it was like working in the studio on those two songs? Did you know you were capturing some amazing musical moments on record when you did these songs?

INGERLISE: “Thank You” is a song written to one of my favorite persons in my life, my grandmother. I have now written a song for both of them – but both were amazing, you see. Really. “Thank You” is about everything she gave to us. The beautiful perspective of life she gave us. She lost two of her children when she was young, and went through such hard times. Still, she was always there for my dad and us grandchildren. She gave us all the love in the world. She was so strong and small at the same time; she was broken, but she never broke. It just makes me so sad to think about. Life can be so brutal. “Dead Against the Plan.” This is a song I started writing, the melody and the story. But I needed some help from Christine to finish up. So this one is a collaboration. The story is about a girl and a boy, they have been really good friends through many years. Always there for each other, in the ups and downs. It all changes the day he starts to feel more. They ruin the friendship by not figuring it out, and they never get back to where they once were. Stupid, right? This was a special song, and it was recorded not long after it was written, so there is some real energy there.

THE MULE: What is the current status of Ephemera? Obviously you guys keep in touch, but some fans were disappointed when the “break” you took turned into over a decade long. What happened? Will the group ever record an album again?

INGERLISE: We will never fully break up the band. We are on a long break. You see, we started up when I was 15 years old, and Christine and Jannicke 16. From early on, Ephemera got a lot of attention and it quickly became a busy pleasure. So the life with Ephemera was committed, and it held us back from doing a lot of other things in life. BUT… I would never miss that for the world. We got to keep doing what we really loved, we traveled around and experienced a lot that other “kids” didn’t get to do. But after all those years together, we needed to do some stuff on our own. All of a sudden, there were babies coming into the band, and family life was a fact. It’s not easy to leave your kids behind, to travel and tour. So we decided to take a real break, with no pressure or expectations. And then came more kids, and we had time to finish our education and try out the “adult-life” for a bit. Will Ephemera ever make another album? I would say yes.

Ingerlise Storksen (uncredited photo)
Ingerlise Storksen (uncredited photo)

THE MULE: Do you have any insights as to why many Norwegian recordings don’t get released in the US? Many albums I love from Norway cannot be found ANYWHERE here, they can only be ordered as special imports. That is gradually changing, as downloading becomes the prominent way for listeners to get music, but still… why didn’t Ephemera records, for example, get released here?

INGERLISE: Hmm. I don’t know, actually. A lot of Norwegian bands typically tour and release their music in Germany, England and Europe in general, but not so often in the US. But yes, it’s changing now. I see more and more bands traveling over to you, and making things happen over there. Sondre Lerche. The Last Hurrah! They are both working in the US these days. With Ephemera, I don’t think we had the right contacts. And we were so busy touring in Europe, Japan – and we didn’t get to the US before we took this break. We did have some songs on some TV series and some movies, but it never quite got to anything else. Maybe I will try with my solo project! I would love to release my music over there.

THE MULE: During the long break since MONOLOVE, I understand that you were all raising families, but it has certainly been a much longer break than bands usually take. The only new recording the band made, I suppose, was your cover of the Prince song “Manic Monday” for a tribute album. How much were you working on music yourself those years? Did you ever lose interest in it? Or were there particular “barriers” to overcome?

INGERLISE: I could never lose interest. This is about so much more than just an interest. I’ve been writing music all the way, for all these years. It is such a big part of who I am, and I will never stop making songs and writing lyrics. It was just time for me to jump off the wagon for a while. I needed time home with my son, and this was a choice I made. I have been working as a journalist as well, and I tasted the “everyday-life.” I love being at home with my son, but working in front of a computer all day… no! It kills me. In the end, it makes me sad and “sick” if I can’t keep working and spending time with my passion and music. So I have recently quit my job, and will be focusing only on music now. And Oskar. There is one life. One chance.

Ingerlise Storksen (uncredited photo)
Ingerlise Storksen (uncredited photo)

ALL THE GOOD THINGS is due for release this Spring on iLs Records. You can follow Ingerlise’s activities at Most of Ephemera’s music is available on iTunes, and some of it can be heard at Spotify.


Although on hiatus, the Norwegian trio has recorded a clutch of albums that are stellar examples of luminous, emotionally compelling modern pop. Here are five of their very best songs to seek out:

Ephemera  (Jannicke Larsen, Ingerlise Storksen, Christine Sandtorve) (uncredited photo)
Ephemera (Jannicke Larsen, Ingerlise Storksen, Christine Sandtorv) (uncredited photo)

1. PERFECT – From their 2000 release SUN, Ingerlise sings this delicate tale of a troubled relationship in which the boy begs unsuccessfully for forgiveness for the way he’s messed things up. Spine-tingling harmonies only add bliss to the impossibly fragile lead vocal.

2. BYE – Another Ingerlise tune, this is one of the most perfect melancholy pop songs you’ll ever hear. Sweetly sad, flawlessly sung and graced with a soft chugging rhythm and singalong chorus. If that weren’t enough, the song unexpectedly breaks into a semi-jazzy piano break halfway through that sends this straight into “blue diamond” territory. Transcendent.

3. MAPLE TREE – Christine Sandtorv penned and sang this gorgeous romantic song from the 2003 release AIR. A seemingly simple song about a girl sitting under a tree on a sunny day, “holding a leaf with my toe,” with an unnamed romantic companion suddenly showing up. So perfect, sweet and life affirming is this song, it has brought me to tears on several occasions. “When the sky is blue, right in front of you/Touch it while you can/It may never happen again,” sings our angelic protagonist, and I don’t know of any advice on ANY recording that gets you right in the heart the way Christine does here. Nordic magic so sublime it puts the overproduced and melodramatic works by most American female artists to shame. Probably one of my ten favorite songs of all time.

4. ON MY FEET AGAIN – Another tune from AIR, this is a lovely collaboration between Christine and Ingerlise in which, improbably, almost every line begins with the word “Maybe.” It comes across as a girl talking to herself, trying to figure out, perhaps why things aren’t so great. The repeated refrain is a simple “Maybe I’ve got a lot to learn about falling down/Maybe I’ve got a lot to learn about getting up on my feet again.” Melodically rich, catchy as hell, featuring an evocative keyboard sound, and oooh, those sweetly feminine harmonies. Beautiful simplicity, something Ephemera does better than anyone.

5. DEAD AGAINST THE PLAN – Before their fifth album, MONOLOVE, came out in 2004, Ephemera had raised their own bar so high that one could be forgiven for thinking they were finally going to make something LESS wonderful, something maybe a bit, I don’t know. Self-indulgent? Repetitious? Ordinary bands do that sort of thing, after all. But gee whiz, MONOLOVE turned out to be deeper, richer and more multi-layered than ever before, with a full slate of gorgeous new songs like “Thank You” and the anthemic “Paint Your Sky” (one of Jannicke Larsen’s finest songs). “Dead Against the Plan,” however, another Ingerlise-Christine collaboration mostly sung by the former, is ridiculously brilliant. Every single second of this song is so meticulously sung, performed and arranged for maximum musical impact, that you can only shake your head in awe. Multiple hooks, rich harmonies, odd little detours and breaks, one of the best uses of a banjo on a pop song ever, and an A plus plus plus production by Yngve Saetre put this song in a class by itself. It’s so damn good that I only allow myself to listen to it once in a while, because I don’t want to ever take for granted or “get used to” pop music this dazzling. Anyone who wants to quickly find out why I am so in love with this band just needs to put this song on, turn it up loud, close your eyes and experience Nordic songcraft at its most enthralling.


(Ruminations of a music junkie, by KEVIN RENICK)

It’s interesting how certain albums come to mean so much to you, the longer you are an active music fan. From 1976 to 1979, I worked at a major record store, which increased my access to all kinds of new and upcoming artists. I also began to read music magazines obsessively, so I was able to follow the music scene really attentively. Hundreds and hundreds of albums crossed my path during that time and beyond. I went to college from 1980 to 1983, and that, too, brought a ton of new artists into my life. So-called “new wave” music ruled at that time, with artists such as Elvis Costello, the English Beat, the Clash, the Cars and many more finding favor among people I hung out with, and my friend Tina Carl and I began trading and sharing and even dancing to a lot of the music at that time. There was so much stuff I loved, but the sheer volume of it probably prevented most of it from becoming INFLUENTIAL. And that is my focus here: what were the albums that actively, in a meaningful way, became an influence on my life and creative journey? So, here is part two of that list of 25, carrying us from the late 70s to the present…



This is the second time I am cheating by calling a TIE between two albums. I pretty much HAVE to, because each of these albums by the New York new wave group fronted by David Byrne was HUGE for me. FEAR OF MUSIC came out while I worked at Record Bar, in the summer. It was an amazing piece of work, quirky as hell, rhythmically unique and heavily atmospheric. Songs like “Air,” “Cities,” “Animals,” “Drugs” and the new wave dance anthem “Life During Wartime” were like catnip for my ever-growing interest in offbeat music. And the hypnotic piece “Mind” became the unofficial breakup song for me and that girl who looked like Joni Mitchell. I loved this band, and the fact they were produced by my new hero, Brian Eno, was a bonus. But the following year, while I was attending Webster University, the incomparable REMAIN IN LIGHT came out. Influenced by African high life music, and featuring Eno again as producer and even co-writer of many of the tracks, this was just a full-on masterpiece of innovative modern rock. I absolutely went gaga over it, and “Once In A Lifetime” remains, to this day, one of the most instantly captivating weird songs ever recorded. Topping things off, MTV was becoming a going concern, showcasing this new “music video” art form to a fast-growing, interested public, and the Heads’ video for this song got huge attention. My friend Ted Moniak and I also discussed this album at length in college, and I remember him taking a long verse from the song “Crosseyed and Painless”, and writing the lyrics on a piece of paper which he posted on a door in the theatre conservatory to make a point. These were major, heady days of music listening for me, always intense, always communal. REMAIN IN LIGHT is truly one of the greatest and most interesting albums of all time, and that coincided with it being influential for me in its awesome creativity, its often dark and globally inclusive mood, and a palpable sense of ALL things truly being possible now. It made me want to learn about ethnic music, and my mind just kept opening more and more…



I didn’t know anything about Nick Drake when he was alive and making music (1969-1974). It was some years later that I learned about him through my friend, Ted. The doomed British singer/songwriter, who died at the age of 24 either through suicide or an accidental drug overdose (theories differ on that), was an instantly compelling new “find” for me. Nick always sounded like he was apart from the rest of humanity, a lonesome figure who couldn’t fit in and related more to nature and quiet moments than anything else. I probably identified a little too much with this, I have to say. FIVE LEAVES LEFT was his first album, and it’s one of the best debut albums ever. I love every song on it; “Time Has Told Me,” the gorgeous “River Man,” “Cello Song” and “Fruit Tree” are just a few of the timeless, intimate songs on this album. I began performing “River Man” as a musician myself some years later; the mood of isolation combined with a deep reverence and connection to nature, was a recurring and potent theme in Nick’s music. Also, the way his career never took off (fame eluded him during his lifetime; it took a clever Volkswagen commercial using his song “Pink Moon” to catapult him to real fame after his death) and the aching solitude made me start thinking much more about the uncertainties of being an artist and the pain of being perhaps too sensitive. This is essential singer/songwriter stuff, and will likely always be one of my top 10 albums of all time.



I already covered Eno’s album DISCREET MUSIC, which found him inventing a new kind of music that baffled many listeners and critics at the time. And in 1979, he basically announced ambient music as an “official” new genre with the release of MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS, labeled as “Ambient 1” in his new series at the time. That album was influential, for sure, but 1982’s ON LAND was so far ahead of the game in this genre, so much farther than his own DISCREET MUSIC, in fact, that in a way, my life instantly changed right then and there. If DISCREET MUSIC had made me feel like dreams had come to life, ON LAND recreated the experience of being lost in nature, and thinking about the most private and long-gone of memories while doing so. It was a series of rather lengthy pieces with titles such as “Lizard Point,” “The Lost Day,” “Lantern Marsh” and “Unfamiliar Wind,” all of which were made in such a mysterious process that almost no recognizable instruments appeared on them. Eno had traveled deeply into new, mysterious musical territory, and in these heady days before the internet, finding albums like this and maybe, just MAYBE encountering another human being who liked it, made you part of a cult in a way. I was utterly, utterly shocked and amazed that an album like ON LAND, which vividly captured the way I felt when I was out in nature, watching birds and feeling the glorious solitude of my surroundings, could exist. I had literally never been so affected by an album before, and I went a little nuts. I started collecting every article and review of Eno I could find, even compiling a scrapbook. More significantly, I decided I had to write to Brian Eno himself and express my admiration. It was a crazy, bold impulse, but I was unstoppable; I wrote about a 25-page letter to Mister Eno telling him about how I had long dreamed of a kind of cinematic, pastoral music that would evoke landscapes and the mysteries of life, and how in awe I was that HE had single-handedly created this music. Late in 1982, one day when I was at Webster University, I was flabbergasted when Eno answered my letter. He was warmly appreciative of my enthusiasm, hand-wrote a 3-page letter to me, and shared some of his thoughts about this bold new music that was happening. We corresponded several times, and it was a highlight of my life. It’s possible that ON LAND is, in fact, the MOST influential album of my life, it depends on how you want to measure these things. But the way this album combined many of my interests, veered sharply into unknown and haunting new sonic territory and carried with it an entire new philosophy about recorded musical art, was to change the big picture for me forever. And the time I played it on my car stereo at sunrise while driving into the Grand Canyon National Park, is one of the most unforgettable listening experiences of my entire life.



Ah, the Cocteau Twins. Their fans sigh and swoon at the mere mention of this so-called “shoegaze” band (a lousy label that some critic made famous, even though none of the dreamy sounding bands saddled with that label could stand it). You’re lucky in life if you meet friends who introduce you to some new band that goes on to really affect you, a band you might not have encountered otherwise. That was the case with my first introduction to this ethereal Scottish trio. Liz Fraser, the sublimely gifted female singer who fronted the band, sang like no one else EVER, not even singing understandable lyrics until the last years of the band. Instead, fans were treated to wailing, intoning, swooping and soaring, shiver-inducing tones and unearthly vocal bursts that were uncategorizable. With her partner at the time, Robin Guthrie, who conjured one of the most recognizable and groundbreaking painterly guitar sounds to ever come along, the Cocteau Twins (joined by bassist Simon Raymonde on most of their albums) earned in instant cult following with their visionary sonic palette. Many of their albums are now considered classics, but VICTORIALAND, a largely acoustic and sparsely played recording, has some of their most singularly beautiful moments. It’s music that is not easy to describe. In many ways, it is ambient, because Liz Fraser does not sing understandable lyrics, and the overall mood, a haunted one, is what you respond to most. The music is wintery, solemn and desolately beautiful, filled with mystery and destinations unknown. Some friends and I listened to it one day while we were all sprawled out on the floor together at a party, in a totally receptive mood. There was a sense of discovery at this time in the mid 80s that was magical, and by the time the internet came along and music like this was analyzed and discussed to death by countless pundits, some of that mystery went away. But the Cocteaus’ powerful music endures (though they disbanded in the late 90s), and Robin Guthrie is now a prominent ambient musician and soundtrack composer, continuing the awesome legacy of this pioneering band.

How it influenced me: By proving that truly wondrous music could render lyrics irrelevant, by emphasizing mystery over almost everything else, by demonstrating that a female voice could power a kind of “new form of ambient,” and by partially inspiring me to start writing my first novel, a story about a girl who worshipped this band, and happens to get embroiled in a supernatural murder mystery. Not sure if the novel will get finished or not, but if it does, I am contacting Robin Guthrie to compose the score.



This Athens, Georgia band became heroic in the ’90s for their status as one of the ultimate college bands and for helping to create the very notion of what “indie rock” meant. Michael Stipe had a unique, stylish approach to vocals (in the early days he utilized a kind of beguiling mumble), and there was something about the SOUND of these guys that was able to keep growing an audience year after year. “Losing My Religion” became their most classic song, but in 1992, they released AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE, an evocative song cycle about loss, change and disillusionment. Three of my favorite themes! This was an autumnal album, one that I played constantly and featured regularly on road trips with a couple of friends. It was conceptually solid, deeply moving and strangely comforting. I reacted most to the melancholy songs like “Try Not to Breathe” (a painful song about an old person’s last moments), “Sweetness Follows” (heartbreaking song, with potent cello playing, about the aftermath of a death in a family) “Nightswimming” and a personal favorite, “Find the River.” This album made me cry a few times, and I have to mention in particular that the song “Sweetness Follows,” a truly haunting piece, was something I listened to on the fateful day I found out that a close friend, and the founder of a publication I had written for, was killed in a horrible car accident coming home from Chicago. I was on the highway the same day, maybe an hour behind her, and didn’t find out ’til the next day what happened. It was a huge, tragic event. There were many upbeat REM songs, and I had fun growing with them album after album for almost 30 years. But it was their softer, more intimate songs that ultimately affected me the most. I don’t play this album that often because it brings back some painful memories, but it definitely had an impact.



Considering that most non-aficionados consider “ambient” to be nothing more than background music, something probably with repetitive droning or tinkly keyboards and not much variety, it’s a huge surprise to discover that there’s actually a HUGE diversity of sounds and approaches in the world of ambient releases. That topic will be discussed in depth another time on this site, but I have to include a Pete Namlook album on my list because Pete, like Eno, created an entire world of ambient releases. He launched a private German record label called Fax in the early 90s, and began releasing limited-edition recordings that became collectors items fairly quickly. The releases spanned the musical spectrum from straight ambient to stuff heavy on beats to weird experimental things to jazz stylings and beyond. Fax fans were challenged by all this and discussed Pete’s work on several key websites. One of the best pairs of ambient recordings on Fax was the first two volumes in a series called AIR. These were meant to be expansive, “ethno-ambient” projects that included instrumentation far beyond mere drones and keyboards. AIR 2, in particular, was a spectacular album. It’s hard to even describe, because it constantly changes, from hypnotic travelogue soundscape (with subtle rhythms) to breezy synth to chanted middle-eastern sounding vocals to glassy, wind chimey stuff and more. “Traveling Without Moving” is the subtitle of the work overall, but it is so filled with diversity, and so enthralling to listen to while driving, that it became a personal landmark for me. I played the entire thing in my car while driving in the mountains of Colorado one evening, with some dangerous conditions happening, and it was one of the most amazing cinematic experiences of my life. This is real musical art, raising the notion of “ambient to a much, much higher level.”

How it influenced me: By creating a bold, fascinating new vision of what ambient could be, and by allowing me to lure friends and other newbies into the ambient “fold” by providing a stellar, immersive and unforgettable listening experience.



Radiohead took the music world by storm with this album. It seemed to come out of nowhere, and it was said to be an epic meditation on millennial angst and the growing encroachment of technology in our lives (with the subsequent alienation we were sure to face). I was utterly enthralled with this recording; it really did achieve some sort of pinnacle of creativity for a rock album. Having always loved high, emotive male voices, Thom Yorke’s singing on stunning tracks like “Paranoid Android,” “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” “Let Down,” and “Lucky” was spine-tingling, and the arrangements (and production by Nigel Goodrich) maximized the emotional impact. I listened to this one over and over; it was a thoroughly modern rock masterpiece that took me back to the days of listening to Pink Floyd, Yes and the Moody Blues when I was a teen. The underlying anxiety about the future and the ups and downs that were soon to come with the pervasiveness of the internet and other technologies, were deeply ingrained in the musical aesthetic of this record.

How it influenced me: By announcing a new candidate for “Best group in the world,” showcasing powerful new songwriting and arrangements in a neo-prog rock idiom, and reminding me clearly of the power of writing music that echoed the times and tried to make people think and feel about our fate as humans.



This is the only Missouri album on my list, and at this writing, it is out of print, sadly. The trio of guitarist Steve Newman, upright bassist Brian Capps and drummer Les Gallier, based in Springfield, play roots music that blends barroom country and early rock and roll into a snappy, lively formula that is a genuine pleasure to listen to. But that’s not why the album is on my list. It’s here because the album came out when I was an active music journalist for a publication called NOISYPAPER, and I was assigned to review a show by the Domino Kings. I met Brian Capps and struck up a friendship with him. Just a few years later, when I saw Brian in concert again, I was about to endure one of the most painful relationship breakups of my entire life, and Brian’s songs not only served as a bit of a soundtrack for this period, they made me want to dance through the heartache. The Kings were (and still ARE) crack musicians, capable of playing the kind of alcohol-fueled, lost-at-love rave-ups that patrons have been dancing to and enjoying for years. On this album, the Capps tunes “Borrow A Lie,” “Alice” (a wickedly catchy stomper about a bad, bad woman), “Don’t Be Indifferent” and “Steppin’ Out Again” all deal with the kind of women and relationships that tear a man’s soul apart. As this happened to me at the end of 2003 and the first part of 2004, I got to hear Brian Capps perform live several times, with most of these tunes in the mix. And he was kind enough to discuss relationships with me and tell me his own stories of romantic woe. Very cathartic and significant. Additionally, the Kings’ music increased my awareness that Springfield, Missouri was a center of musical vitality. Not far in my future at this point was a deep connection and involvement in that city that would affect my own music career dramatically.



It’s funny how one little action can end up leading to something much bigger, something you couldn’t predict. By 2002, I was working at an advertising agency, getting into the groove of internet communication and browsing, and trying to learn about new music and discover new things. I had read a few things about Norwegian music, just sort of casually, and I ended up purchasing a CD called THIS IS NORWAY on impulse. It was a compilation of Norwegian pop and rock bands, and there was a track by a band called Ephemera on there. I had never heard of them, and knew nothing about them. The song, “Last Thing,” featured several female singers offering beautiful, tight vocal harmonies, and unusually crystalline keyboards and production. It stood out, and I wanted to know more about this group. Nothing by them was available in the US, but I ordered this album, BALLOONS AND CHAMPAGNE. Lordy. It so far exceeded anything I could have expected, that it’s hard to put into words. It was like realizing your eyes have been impaired for a long time, causing you to never see certain details, and then being given a pair of stunning new glasses that brighten up the entire world, with colors, details and landscapes you were never aware of appearing vividly before you. The three women of Ephemera – Christine Sandtorv, Ingerlise Storksen and Jannicke Larsen – are singer/songwriters of peerless, diamond-pure talent. Since I have an interview with Ingerlise pending, I’ll save most of my thoughts for that piece. But I was bowled over by this magical trio from the start, and they are one of my absolute favorite musical groups in the world. On BALLOONS AND CHAMPAGNE, tracks such as “Act,” “Air,” “Bye” and the title track are such heartbreakingly beautiful, with emotive, delicate singing and a level of purity that I had almost never heard on an American record. I love literally every song this band has recorded, and I came to the conclusion early on that they don’t really know how good they are. They are some kind of magical musical goddesses that simply do what they do, and trust that some people will like it. Ephemera opened up a new world to me, the world of Scandinavian pop music, which I would, within a year, be writing about regularly for a couple of different publications. They actually changed the way I LISTEN to music, because after absorbing the beauty of their vocals and the genius production techinques of their producer, Yngve Saetre, I could no longer respond the same way to typical American pop records. Here’s how passionately in love I am with Ephemera’s music. If there was a fire or a coming tornado, and I could only save a limited number of CDs from my collection, I’d grab an armful of ambient CDs and then use my other hand to grab my small stack of Ephemera CDs. They have been a HUGE, huge influence, and when I became a musician, I kept their intimate vocals in mind at all times as I advanced in my own career.



I never, never found so-called “Christian groups” musically interesting; the vast majority of what I heard in that vein seemed like the most shallow, over-reverent, musically insipid crap I could imagine. Nothing against Christianity, only something against boring music. But Lord God almighty! The Danielsons changed that in a big way. It is, of course, not cool or even accurate to call them a “Christian” band. In fact, they are so weird and arty that their first label, a Christian one called Tooth and Nail, dropped them after one album. Instead, Daniel Smith, the composer and frontman for this band along with a rotating cast of family members and friends, began to attract a following from the fringes of indie rock and outsider music. Smith has a very, very high voice, and he makes it even higher by singing one of the highest falsettos in the history of pop music. It is showcased on several tracks on this amazing, visionary album. But the entire album is notable for the focused PASSION on display, the extremely original songwriting, and the sense of communal empathy that pours from the whole thing. Less important than the Christianity of the band is their deep, poignant humanity and concern for the well-being of everyone, meaning every single listener. They really don’t PREACH per se, they simply share their souls, and they do it with powerful music that ranges from Beatles to Beefheart in influence. I’ve tried to share Danielson music with various friends, and it is honestly too much for a lot of them. When Smith ascends to that remarkable falsetto and starts ranting about something in the modern world, it results in a singular, aggressively original sound that is not meant for all. But the humanity and intensity of this album is undeniably hypnotic, emotional and yes, quite beautiful. Some of their later albums, although I like all of them, are at times spotty. But TELL ANOTHER JOKE… is a masterpiece to me.

How it influenced me: By demonstrating that religious themes on an album can be musically riveting, that the subject of confessed vulnerability (one of my favorites) is worth examining, and that weirdness and focused passion are absolutely compatible bedfellows, something I have kept in mind ever since.



I decided to include this one among some of the final “candidates” for this list because it was a crystal-clear example of a dark, depressing album being cathartic at a time when I was lost. The very offbeat, non-commercial style of Ms Germano is an acquired taste, but fans of originality and darker artsy/folksy stuff can find a lot to love in her work. LULLABYE… was released to little fanfare late in 2003, right as I was breaking up with a girl named Star in an unexpected manner. I went into a downward spiral for a time, and this record is about just that, a downward spiral. Although I’d found other dark, sad albums in the past to be compelling, such as stuff by Neil Young, Lou Reed, Joy Division and others, Lisa Germano really let her worst fears and sorrows hang out, and the album was willfully uncommercial. Yet it had a lot of fragile beauty on it. There were some verses, and eerie sounds (inspired by struggles with alcoholism, reportedly) on this album that could absolutely get under your skin. One verse that almost brought me to tears, was “Without you here/Without your love/The world’s just THERE/It doesn’t move me.” The songs are generally short, and Ms Germano really sounds like she is fighting off a breakdown, which oughta sound familiar to anyone who has suddenly lost their love, or found themselves on the wrong end of a battle with substance abuse. This is not a fun album, but I’ll never forget how it provided therapy and catharsis during a pretty rotten four month stretch for me.

25. In order for this list to have a sense of “completeness” for me, I have to put FILM SOUNDTRACKS


for the final slot. I don’t mean loose collections of songs, I mean orchestral scores. I grew up with film music and I love it, and my brother is one of the most knowledgeable film soundtrack buffs in the country; he writes a column about it. Film music has been described as the “first cousin” of ambient music; it’s generally instrumental, generally evocative and mood-setting, and able to be created in many different musical idioms. Watching movies and TV shows all my life, I have to say that I always noticed the music, and the mood-enhancing nature of movie music got deeply into my psyche. When I write songs now, there is always part of me that hopes to capture something subtly cinematic. There are tons of soundtracks in my collection, but to round out this list of influences, I will pick three different ones: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, the beautiful Elmer Bernstein score for the classic Gregory Peck movie (with a main theme that everyone loves and remembers); DANCES WITH WOLVES, a rapturous, Western-themed score by John Barry that covers as much terrain as the epic film itself does, and NEVER CRY WOLF, by the prolific Mark Isham, whose 1983 score was one of the first ambient soundtracks ever. Isham stated in interviews that he was influenced by Brian Eno, so… it figures I could identify with his movie work!






Although it didn’t feel right to place this on the main list of 25, I need to include Robynn Ragland’s record because, first of all, it was one of the most well-written and well-produced collections of songs by a local artist during my early years as a writer, first for NOISYPAPER, and then for PLAYBACK STL and fLUSH. Appreciating artists in Saint Louis wasn’t always easy, but Robynn made it a cinch. Her true significance for me was that we became close friends, and she really encouraged me with my own writing and creative pursuits. And in a twist that neither of us could have foreseen, when I had my surprising success with the UP IN THE AIR song, Robynn became my manager for a few years. She was singularly responsible for my spectacular trip to Japan to promote the movie, and I could hardly forget something like that!