Friday, January 30, 2015

Maggie Bjorklund Interview:
The Pedal Steel Guitar Peacock

Conducted by Anthony Servante


Maggie with Jack White and the Peacocks 
at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles

Maggie Bj√∂rklund has played pedal steel guitar for Jack White's band (away from The White Stripes), the Peacocks, but the Danish singer-songwriter has since begun a solo career and released two records to date: Coming Home (2011) and her current Shaken (2014). She is touring but has taken a few moments to join the Servante of Darkness readers for a chat. 

Maggie Bjorklund Biography: 

I was born in the country side of Denmark, south of Copenhagen. It was rural country and I lived way out. Near the end of the road. Mind you the roads are very much shorter than almost anywhere else in the world since Denmark is such a tiny country, but for a child even a few kilometers separation from the classmates is a huge distance. So while growing up I learned to entertain myself and music was easy to fall into and occupy me. I loved the nature around me and took great interest in the forests and the fjord, but besides riding horses, music was my big passion from early on, and there was plenty of time to indulge in that.

Through high school I forgot a little bit about that passion; the world was so wonderful and strong and there was much else that caught my interest in those years, though I did take lessons on different instruments. But once I was out of high school and not knowing where I should go, I started looking at the music again, but wavered for a few years until there was a point of no return where I became a professional musician. And I have never looked back ever since. 

The Interview:

Anthony: I’d like to begin with your early interests in music. When did you decide being a musician was for you and why? 
Maggie: I was deeply fascinated by LP’s and the music they produced when I was a tiny child. My parents listened to a lot of classical music, and I was captivated by the music of Mozart and the story of this wonder child who could write operas and perform for kings and emperors. The radio provided some modern music, but I didn't know anyone who really indulged in that kind of music so my passion for rock and all sorts of other musical styles came later. After high school, I was a little lost as to what to do and where to go and I took dance lessons, and lessons on guitar and viola, and played in a lot of different bands. But at one point I knew that I should either get real serious, or stop, and go to university and get a degree in something completely different. I decided to go to GIT in Hollywood for a year, and that was where my life turned, and as soon as I returned to Denmark from there, I was hauled into a life as a professional musician, and have remained so ever since.

Anthony: Did you see or expect any obstacles to reaching your musical goals because of your gender? If so, how did you overcome them? If not, were you welcomed with open arms? 
Maggie:——IF my gender should be an obstacle to my musical goals then it is all in my own head. Once you reach a level of security and ability with your instrument, gender has absolutely nothing to do with how you can work as a musician. On a recording you cant tell if a guitar is played by a woman or man. That said, there sometimes is a slight difference in how men and woman play their instruments, but it is more like a faint perfume of something undefinable, a fragrance that you can not hear but only feel sometimes. Being a woman that plays pedal steel guitar has of course made me a bit more visible since it is an instrument traditionally not played by women, and even further being of Scandinavian origin is also somewhat of a novelty in the steel guitar world. But if I couldn't play, nobody would care where I came from or if I was a man or a woman.

Anthony: Tell us about your entrance into the music scene. Your first bands. 
Maggie:—— At the GIT in Hollywood I had a fantastic country guitar teacher. I thought it was so much fun to learn how to play all those styles of chicken picking and bending and all those things. I think it is the nerd in me that was happy. So when I returned to Denmark I immediately started an all girl country band called Darleens, and within a few months we were signed to Sony music in Denmark and was out on tour and recording albums straight away. I wrote most of the music for that band. And it was a blast. I had so much fun. Those were years of learning how to be a professional musician and what it entails. A good basis for my further career after that band broke up, as bands have a habit of doing sooner or later. 

Anthony: How did you transition into your current band? And can you introduce its members? Maggie:——- I started my solo career after years of being a side man for danish and international acts. I reached a point where I just knew it was time to explore the artist and composer side of me. I wanted to have my steel guitar at the center of composing and venture into unknown steel guitar territory. I love the blind spots on the map. What lies there? What sounds can you escalate that no one else have found. Its like a beautiful treasure hunt. The members of my current band are a group of danish and Swedish musicians. Anders Pedersen on guitar, Peter Dombernowski on drums, Erik Olevik on Cello. Anders and Peter have toured for many years with Howe Gelb and Giant Sand, and they have worked with a lot of international acts such as Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell. And Erik is a Swedish bass and cello player with loads of experience. I was so happy to find these great musicians in my own country. I wanted to have musicians with a bit more international sound than the average danish musician, and the fact that they have all toured extensively in america and Europe has given them a feel in the music that is very rare. I am so honored to have them with me on stage. 

Anthony: Can you tell us how your musical styles evolved into the “Shaken” recording? 
Maggie:——— On my first solo album “Coming Home” I had started writing some of the songs on the pedal steel. It is but rarely something people do in this world and I was so happy with the melodies and textures that comes from that approach. Touring extensively with my won music and of course big international acts really sharpened my senses towards the magic of the pedal steel and what it can do. So for Shaken I just walked on down the path into the musical jungle of my mind. 

Anthony: Can you list the recordings you have available and any links where readers can purchase copies? 
Maggie:——— “Coming Home” ( Bloodshot Records, found on itunes, etc ), “Shaken” ( Bloodshot Records available through all normal channels including itunes, etc ).

Anthony: Can you tell me the story behind “Missing at Sea”? It’s a haunting piece of music. 
Maggie:—— Missing at sea was based on the crazy lick of bouncing the steel bar and slides that is persistent all through the tune. When I came up with that lick I just loved the groove and the strangeness of it and building the rest took only a very short time. It came as an almost finished gem to me, and I just had to sit down and weave the pattern on a recording. I really like that it is such a dark piece of music. I am a big fan of disharmonies. They make the world an interesting place. 

Anthony: What are you working on now that we can look forward to hearing soon? Can you tell us a bit about it? 
Maggie:——- I am fooling around with a loop pedal a lot these days and coming up with some very fun tunes and landscapes that is for solo pedal steel. But I am as always constantly recording little scraps of ideas on my phone or any other device that is near by. I may not write whole songs at this point but I am gathering a scrap book of musical ideas that will be the basis for the new music later down the road. 

Anthony: Can you tell about your current or upcoming tour plans? 
Maggie:———- I am on my way out on tour later this spring and summer. I am starting with a small tour of Denmark, which I am really looking forward to. It is but rarely I get a chance to play in my home country and it will be so much fun to be on the road here. Then we head on down into main Europe and the summer will bring festivals. All together very exciting. I LOVE touring.

Anthony: Lastly, can you list for us your Top Ten Songs that have helped shape you and your music. They can be your own songs or songs by other artists or bands. And can you tell us a little about the significance of each song?

Maggie's Top Ten Song List: 

1. Wasteland ( by me, this tune was the first I wrote for the pedal steel and the fact that I was able to do it had a big significance to me going down the road as a solo artist with my pedal steel guitar ).

2. - Requiem - Mozart ( the depth of this music is bottomless. So full of emotions and dark power and it is still a big inspiration for me to listen to it ).

3. The Persuaders theme - John Barry (listening to film and TV music as a child has shaped my musical liking and I love film scores and TV themes with all my heart ).

4. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - Beatles ( I have to put up the whole album; Beatles fills up a good part of my musical heart. They are the modern day Mozart. The depth of their arrangements and melodies is bottomless ). 

5. 1917 - Emmylou Harris - this song helped me through a patch of a musical dark period in my life. I was in a place where I didn't know if I wanted to go on being a musician or if it was time to do something else. I didn't listen to music in that period, it was too hard, but one day I put this song on, and it went straight to my heart rekindling my love for music, and making me understand that giving up my life in music is not an option for me. 

6. Waltz#2 Elliott Smith - so simple so full of emotions and melodies that carries you along. 

7. Sprawl - Calexico - the first time I encountered Calexico was on a festival in Denmark, and I was blown away by that strange mix of Mexican exotic-ness and Americana. The way John Convertino plays those drums has been a big inspiration for me, and I am so proud that I have been able to have him work with me in the studio on both my solo albums.

8. Vertigo - Bernard Herman - the film score is a master piece as is all his scores. I have learned so much listening to his music. What can I say, I LOVE film and TV music. 

9. High Ball Stepper - Jack White - He is a musical genius and having the honor of having worked with him has been such a path of learning and growing as a musician for me. I’m really proud of the steel guitar I put on this track. 

10. Picacho Peak - Howe Gelb - such a beautiful haunting song that goes straight to the heart. Having the honor of playing music with this musical icon has been an adventure and a milestone in my musical life. He is an amazing and unique artist through and through.


I am always impressed by the songlists by my musical guests here on the blog. Maggie's list covers the spectrum of eclectic favorites, from classical to TV and movie themes. Very amazing selection. 

I'd like to thank Maggie Bjorklund for joining the Servante of Darkness for this interview and providing this thoughtful song list. I'd also like to thank the readers for stopping by to meet this talented artist. Please treat yourself to some enthralling mood pieces from her solo works (click here). You won't be disappointed. 

Until next time, this is your host, Anthony Servante.  

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