Taken By Trees: Lady December

After departing The Concretes in 2006, Victoria Bergsman became <b>Taken By Trees</b>. Already two solo albums into her solo career, her latest is a triumph against adversity

Feature by Lauren Mayberry | 25 Nov 2009

After departing indie-pop octet The Concretes in 2006 to pursue a solo career under nom de plume Taken by Trees, Victoria Bergsman’s desire to go outwith the comfortable is illustrated by the unusual, turbulent recording location of recent album East of Eden - Lahore, capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab.

Inspired by legendary musicians such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Victoria’s sophomore solo effort - released this September - was created partly outside, using multi-field recording techniques, adding the sounds and the feel of the journey to the LP. “It was all very spontaneous, made wherever we were at that particular moment,” says the Swedish singer. The Swedish government advised against the 11 day South Asian trip, unable to guarantee their citizen's safety. Bergsman herself was painfully aware of the culture chasm before her, as a white female in a male-dominated and highly religious society.

“I had never been to a country that is so strictly Muslim before, and it was a very new and shocking experience,” she admits. “Some people were confused that I was a woman in charge of a recording project, but after a while they started to relax to an extent.” Upon leaving, having struggled to get her hands on a visa, Bergsman questioned whether the recordings would be sufficient. “We didn’t know on the plane back if we had enough material to make the record,” she says.

The album’s closing track, an adaptation of a Hermann Hesse poem, Bekännelse (Confession), summed up Bergsman’s feelings about their time in Pakistan. “I made that one to tie it together,” she says of her experience. It was at once wonderful but also tainted with the guilt of knowing she could leave the hardship and return to her liberal democracy - a concept documented by the short film accompanying the album. “There are a lot of images and it can be scary and intense, but you get a better understanding of what is going on there.”

The end product has, however, been well received. Filled with the native rhythms of their location and aided by local musicians, East of Eden is completed by recording engineer Andreas Söderström’s powerful, minimal guitar work and Bergman’s mysterious vocals and lyrical prowess. These plain-spoken, simple love songs delivered with an understated vocal presence have become Bergsman’s trademark. “For me, it’s important that there’s a lot of space for the listener to feel the music and reflect. Music is about imagining things,” she says. Having only previously sung in English, the Stockholm resident returned to her native tongue for two tracks on the album. “My own language is so naked, so close. English is good because, in a way, it’s not going so deep,” she says. “But everyone can find something in it, as it is a mix of so many different things. Whatever it is they hear, hopefully it is something playful.”

This slight mischievous side of Taken by Trees is evident in her penchant for a well-constructed cover, from Sweet Child o’ Mine to her take on Animal Collective’s My Girls (My Boys, reimagined by Bergsman’s gender-flipping gaze). Noah Lennox (known better to most of us as Panda Bear) contributes backing vocals to the song Anna on the new release. “Once we’d made the backing vocals, I wanted more from him. My Boys is a homage to him,” she explains. “With covers, you can always tell if someone has something on their own mind that they want to say with it. You must still have the essence of the song there, but make it personal - if you haven’t put yourself into it too, then what’s the point?”

Playing Mono, Glasgow on 13 Dec with support from Andrea Marini, John B McKenna and Camera Obscura DJs.