Chatting with Ida Maria

September 10, 2009


Although she was confined to one of the smaller stages, Norwegian singer and songwriter Ida Maria Børli Sivertsen--Ida Maria for short--was one of the biggest presences at last month's Lollapalooza, rivaling Iggy Pop's appearance a few years back for brilliantly controlled chaos.

Fronting her tight guitar, bass and drums quartet, Ida Maria rolled on the floor, dropped to her knees and doused herself with water throughout a set that built to a climax with the raucous but melodic European hits "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" and "Oh My God" from her 2008 debut "Fortress Round My Heart." The she took things even higher with, appropriately enough, a cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by Iggy and the Stooges.

I spoke to Ida Maria from her current home in Stockholm, Sweden, as she and the band prepared to make their second visit to Chicago next weekend.

Q. I was blown away by your set at Lollapalooza; it seemed as if you were having the time of your life.

A. Yeah, I was! But it was one of the first times in a long that I have been seriously nervous, and I don't know why. It just struck me really hard before the gig. I was shaking!

Q. Really? You've played some of the biggest European festivals.

A. Yeah, lots. But you never really know when you're going to get nervous. But we didn't let that stop us. In fact, the band had never played "I Wanna Be Your Dog" before; we just rehearsed it a bit, and before we went on stage, I said, "O.K., we're going to do the Stooges cover today, so let's throw ourselves into it." It's like diving into the ocean: If you wait or hesitate, you might fall wrong.

Q. "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked" and "Oh My God" are two of the most distinctive punk anthems I've heard in years. Tell me about writing those.

A. You know, the naked song... people hear it so differently from person to person. For some people, it is provocative! I think that's really funny. For some people, it's a feminist song; for others, it's a really stupid and silly pop song. It's all of those together, which is why I like it very much.

Q. Well, I heard it as a feminist song in the sense of you being completely comfortable being yourself: "Yes, I'm a woman, and hey, I like to have sex. Have you got a problem with that?" And, by extension, you're not going to be pigeonholed by falling into any of the tired stereotypes that still prevail for "women in rock."

A. You have a really good point there. It's very tiring to have to get past all of those comparisons and have to make people understand that you're actually making your own music. I have never really been into Blondie or Patti Smith, and it's just recently that I started discovering PJ Harvey. Just because I'm a girl doesn't mean that I'm particularly interested or take so much inspiration from other female artists. I've always said, "I'm a songwriter and musician. Those things come before anything else."

Q. What inspires you to sit down and write?

A. Lots of things. Mostly it's the collisions between people and expectations that never really turn out to be what you thought they were going to be. That and living life. It's very cathartic, honest and autobiographical for me. I've written a couple of songs that are more stories--more fiction--but most of my songs are about me.

Q. Though they're new to America, some of the songs you're playing on tour were written several years ago now. Are you eager to move on to the next record?

A. Yeah, my head is totally on the next record. I'm going to do one more tour here, but it's the final blast on this record.

It was so frustrating [with the first record], to have all of the songs ready but to take so much time [before releasing them] because of the record label. It's impossible for me to understand as a songwriter that you can have a song like "Oh My God" that is ready in a flash in a day--newly baked bread or whatever--but a record label can hesitate for up to two years to get the song out. For a songwriter, that's very frustrating.

I have been on a bad label, and a good label. Now I'm on the good one [Mercury] and we're communicating and that's great. Everything I have learned backwards on this record I'm going to set straight on the next one. I'm really looking forward to it.

I think that for the first record, I was using all of my pop-music knowledge. Next time, I'll do something simpler: Bare, naked songs, but with more of everything. More humble, more aggressive, more naked... more!


Ida Maria, Ladyhawke, Semi Precious Weapons and Sliimy

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19

Metro, 3730 N. Clark St.

Tickets $17.50