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 na•ve. 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.
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 ÐÐ
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 ÐÐ 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 ÐÐ 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."
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."