Bluefat Archive September 2007

Quien Me Querra?

Christina Rosenvinge

Much like her music, Madrid's Danish-moderne Christina Rosenvinge is quite beautiful, but rather complicated. Darkish 'round the edges, with a lingering afterglow...

Her latest album is called Continental 62, on the estimable Smells Like label, the imprimatur of Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley. It was Shelley and his SY bandmate Lee Ranaldo who initially encouraged Rosenvinge to grow up and out of her Europop roots, and with whom she's continued to collaborate.

Perhaps it makes sense that Christina seems such a curious blend of warm and cool. Her parents were originally from Denmark, and came to Spain in the '50s. While she was born in Madrid, "I never felt I really belonged to any place in particular," she says. "So when I got to New York, I found home there, because everybody was in that situation."

In the '80s and '90s, Rosenvinge was a big star in Europe as half of the duo Alex y Christina. They made light pop, inspired by the music from London they were listening to, and especially sounds from France, such as Françoise Hardy. "But," she says, "it was very nave. Even back then I felt like I had some existentialist anxiety that was not fulfilled by the music I was doing...I had some darkness inside."

Christina was growing up, it seems. And as she grew, she learned how to make music which allowed her true nature to come out. Her inspiration came in part from that legendarily elegant intellectual Leonard Cohen.

"I would even say that I learned English through Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan; I liked their music so much that I wanted to understand the lyrics. So I found a way to do it, and of course I learned most of the songs by heart."

Although Christina had felt confined creatively by the packaging she'd had to undergo in order to mass-market herself as part of a chart-topping Europop act, the experience taught her something about how a stylized imagery can play such a big part in the conveying of musical impact.

"It's sort of a game," she says, laughing. "I don't take it too seriously. But it's fun to play the game. The way you appear to people gives information of who you are and what you want them to think about you."

A few years ago, Rosenvinge began her collaborative relationship with Shelley, Ranaldo and a slew of New York's finest freely improvising musicians, initially as a member of Shelley's Two Dollar Guitar, then recording the curiously experimental but sweetly heartwrenching Frozen Pools, followed a year later by an even more disturbingly gorgeous Foreign Land.

Naturally, or unnaturally, her stay in the Big Apple had an enormous impact, literally in the way she saw things, and in the way she thought about making music.

"After living in Europe, where everything is quite easy," she says, "living in New York is like going into the jungle. The New York experience changes the way you are. It makes you greater, more brave. You feel like you can get to do a thing if you want to do it. New York is really encouraging in that sense any idea that you have you feel like you can do it because somebody is going to be interested in listening to it."

In a somewhat skewed way, Rosenvinge's view of the appropriate use of style remains an important tool in persuading us to immerse ourselves in her music.

"I really try to approach any situation from an intellectual point of view," she says. "I'm trying to put together different cultures. Of course the English-speaking culture is the strongest now, but I would like to find the common difference with the European pop sphere, not only about pop music but about also Existentialism, and the '30s in Berlin or the '60s in Paris and the '70s in Italy. There are many good things that happened in those countries, new ideas, that can be put together with the way we are making music nowadays. It must be very fresh and direct."

To that end, Rosenvinge draws from a wide palette of mostly film sources; in fact her Continental 62 sounds from some angles like a clever musical conflation of two of her favorite filmmakers, the brooding Dane [Carl Theodor] Dreyer (Joan of Arc) and the fuzzily warm Francois Truffaut. The album fairly sighs under the weight of so many ostensibly conflicting emotions, with each tune wandering across constantly shifting harmonic terrain, often strewn with the shards of lamented memories. Always, there's the suggestion of turmoil, upheaval yet just as often a heartening acceptance of change. In one song, she puts it this way: "Love is a big white hole."

That song ends very abruptly. But that's not the end of the story.

"I started writing `White Hole' when I was married, but I didn't finish it. Then six months later I wrote it next time I'm going to write a really bright future for myself, see if it works again." [Laughs]

As with the impossibly lovely "Liar to Love," Christina's songs resonate when they apply starkly adult lyrical content to music that's persuasively comely to the ear. Taken all together, it vibrates.

"I think pop music has to grow up," she states with conviction. "It shouldn't be only about young people and immediate satisfaction. We get older and we still want to listen to this music, and the music has to adapt to who we are now."

In the Hardy/Michel Legrand-inspired "Quien Me Querra" ("Who's Going to Love Me?"), Rosenvinge sought those very specific kinds of so, so French chord changes that calmly rip the heart out of the chest and tread lightly upon it in high, pointy heels.

She laughs. "Because life is so rough and who has the time and the will to do it? You try to be very sweet and very lonely so somebody eventually will actually fall in love with you through the song."

It worked for us.