Emily Barker hails from Western Australia and currently resides in England. Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo have two albums out — "Photos.Fires.Fables" and "Despite the Snow." A third album, "Almanac," will be released in 2011.
Only in its second season, Wallander has already become unmistakable — for its ethereal scenes of Sweden, Kenneth Branagh's open-hearted portrayal of Kurt Wallander and unexpectedly, for it's haunting theme, "Nostalgia."
Penned and performed by 29-year-old Australian native Emily Barker and her group The Red Clay Halo, the addictive "Nostalgia" has become an award-winning hit for Barker. Barker spoke to Masterpiece's Bruce Kohl in October, 2010, about her surprising career boost thanks to a brooding Swedish detective.
Listen now to an unreleased 2007 demo of "Nostalgia" (The Wallander theme)
How did it happen that your song "Nostalgia" became the theme for Wallander?
Red Clay Halo and I were fundraising to release our album "Despite the Snow" by doing house gigs. At one of the garden parties in London, Martin Phipps was a guest, and he obviously did the rest of the music for Wallander. [Editor's note: Phipps has also written music for many other masterpiece productions, including Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Small Island and Endgame among others.] "Nostalgia" was the final song we played, and he came up to me straightaway afterwards and said how much he enjoyed the show, and in particular the last song.
I didn't know anything about him, but I got a call a couple of days later from Martin, and he said, " I would love to use the song for a BBC drama series called Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh." I didn't even know who Kenneth Branagh was because I have never owned a TV and had not lived in Britain for that long. I wasn't familiar with the books etiher. But the BBC drama part sounded very good to me! We went into the studio with Martin and re-recorded "Nostalgia" and the producers and directors really, really liked the song.
Since Wallander first aired, how has the audience reacted to the song?
The response has been fantastic for me, especially being an independent artist. The first series of Wallander aired around Christmas in the UK, and when it was released, one week we sent out over 800 CDs — me and my mother-in-law packaging them and carrying big bags to the post office. Then, we found ourselves on the top of the iTunes and Amazon download charts in the UK.
How did the song "Nostalgia" originate?
I wrote the lyrics while doing a solo tour in Australia. Most of them came about when I was in Melbourne, hence the place references such as "standing on the corner of Brunswick" and "my knuckles bleed down Johnston Street." I was missing my partner back in the UK, I felt the excitement and fear one feels when traveling alone in a new place not knowing anyone, the feeling that I could be whoever I wanted to be. I felt a bit lost but was comforted by the nostalgia and familiarity of Australia, my home country. The smell, the trees, the landscape and the culture all inspired the song.
The English press reports that there's a raging debate on the Internet over which Wallander television theme is "more Mankell" — yours, or the one used for the Swedish version of the series, "Quiet Night" by Anna Ternheim. You throw out a challenge on your website — "May the best woman win!" How's the competition coming?
[Laughs] Of course, all my supporters have gotten in touch to say, "You win!" At the same time, people say her song is so beautiful too. I think it is really beautiful, nicely sparse and delicate. I haven't seen any of the Swedish episodes though.
Now that you've written the Wallander theme, do you think you could be onto something? You could record themes for the Stieg Larsson books and other Nordic crime novels.
[Laughs] I would love to! I really enjoy songwriting. Not that "Nostalgia" was written for Wallander, but I love writing to a story. Lots of my inspiration comes from books and films, other art forms and people's stories around me.
"Nostalgia" has a decidedly folk/country flavor to it — Where did your musical inspiration come from?
It comes from my parents' record collection. They were really into Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones. When I was a teenage, I started getting into soul music — Aretha Franklin, Betty LaVette and other African American women singers. I loved the power of their voices. My singing is influenced by them, and my songwriting is influenced by Neil Young in particular and by Fairport Convention.
As you said, a new version of "Nostalgia" was recorded for the Wallander series. What can we hear that is different than the album version?
Yeah it is different. I did change some of the lyrics. In the album version I say things specific to Melbourne in Australia — referencing Johnston Street and the corner of Brunswick. Not relevant to a detective series set in Sweden. So, there are a few lyrical changes. Also, the instrumentation — Martin put some percussion and piano in. We did various versions of it for different parts of the series. In series 1, in one of the episodes, we moved it to a lower key and it was just me and an acoustic guitar playing in a lower register.
Your album "Despite the Snow" was recorded over a snowy Easter weekend in 2008 in a 16th century barn in England in just four days. How is that vibe get captured in "Nostalgia" and the other songs?
It was recorded live, and we were cold — we were all huddled around with blankets. The chilling of the instruments moves in and out of it — sometimes it bends your ear a bit. I like that. It has a certain edge to it. We wanted to do a live album, and it is very honest and stripped back. It is similar to what you would hear at one of our gigs. We recorded for four days, but had to write off everything from the first two days because the instruments were too cold. We had a wood burner in the barn, and the first two days the wind was blowing the smoke from the fireplace into the space we were recording in and we couldn't sing. The second two days, the wind changed direction and we were much warmer.
What's next for Emily Barker?
We are going on tour around the UK next. Our new single "Little Deaths" is being released, and then I'm working on all the mixes of our next album, "Almanac." That is due for release at the end of January, 2011. We are working really hard to try to finish that. Then, we'll be on tour in February in the UK for the album release, but I am hoping to do more writing over the winter.