Agnes Obel taps into the piano’s ‘dreamy nature’

Danish musician Agnes Obel spoke to Art Beat about her “piano music” before a recent concert at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Video shot by Victoria Fleischer and Rachel Wellford

Danish musician Agnes Obel grew up surrounded by guitars, pianos, marimbas and double basses. Her father collected and sold instruments and her mother was a classical pianist, so you can say that music is in her blood.

“I had access to all these instruments and I can’t believe he actually let us play on everything like he did,” Obel told Art Beat before her performance at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. last month. “I learned that music should be fun and should be a way to express yourself, that there aren’t really any rules.”

Obel doesn’t like to describe her sound, but when she does, her first choice is as “piano music.”

“If I then have to say more, I say I make music — I like to work with the idea that I make sort of folk music with classical elements.”

Despite all of her time around other instruments, she can’t help but be drawn to the piano.

“I think it sort of had a dreamy nature … It’s a very accessible instrument. You can just play one note and let it ring and all sort of associations come to mind.”

The singer/songwriter hails from Copenhagen, where she was a member of a band before moving to Germany. She has been living in Berlin for almost nine years now and the “do-it-yourself” culture of the capital has given her a new license.

Berlin is a city teeming with electronic music, where artists often work in isolation in any location of their choosing.

“What I discovered in Berlin was this immense freedom because it felt like you could start any kind of project and nobody would care … and that’s what I sort of adopted to my own,” said Obel. “You don’t have to go into these really structured places like the studio and organize it in the same way that I used to do when I made music in Copenhagen. Now I basically just do everything on my own in my home studio or wherever I choose to work.”

Obel released her second album, “Aventine,” last September. Unlike her award-winning debut solo album “Philharmonics,” “Aventine” is performed as a trio: Obel is on the piano and vocals, accompanied by a cello and a violin.

While the songs from “Philharmonics” were written over the course of several years, from her teens to her mid-20s, “Aventine” was written and recorded in the span of two years.

“It’s sort of way more concentrated and it’s also way more about my life and state of mind at that time … it was interesting to work with my life here and now and sort of reflecting about it — not trying to make sense of it, just trying to describe it musically.”

On Oct. 7, she will release a deluxe edition with two new tracks and two remixes, one by renowned filmmaker, musician and Obel fan David Lynch.

Support PBS NewsHour: