At 19, songwriter Maria Mena has done more than many artists achieve in a life-time. She’s released three critically acclaimed albums, scored several domestic as well as international hits and done high-profile gigs such as a slot at Letterman’s. Mena’s on-stage confidence is high as a result of last year’s highly successful domestic tour and now she’s gearing up for yet another international campaign.
Maria Mena’s music has an ability to hit most people –critics and plain folk alike- where it feels good and where it hurts, (i.e. the heart?) Hers is a kind of unscathed depiction of sorrow -sometimes with anguish in its undertow- but always saturated with the distinctly adolescent future-oriented serenity that includes hope verging on certainty. Maybe that’s why so many like her; she’s sure all will be well, for her and for all of us. Her melodies are plain and down to earth, but also instant and extremely catchy; a combination that sets her music apart from designed pop and makes it convincing. She sings about things in a way that is reassuringly youthful and endearingly sweet, but at the same time gives you the impression that she’s one of those rare few young who somehow seem to be as old as they are young.
2002 saw the release of Maria Mena’s debut album ‘Another Phase’ which spawned the emotional hit My Lullaby which dealt with the painful divorce of her parents. The album went gold in Norway and firmly established Mena in the top division of Norwegian pop. Two years later, her second album ‘Mellow’ hit the shelves of domestic record shops. Spearheaded by the infectious ‘You Are The Only One’, the album shot to the top of the charts. The album’s hit-single also pawed the way for Mena’s international career which soon took her to the North American market. A new version of ‘Mellow’ titled ‘White Turns Blue’ was released to great critical acclaim and ‘You Are The Only One’ climbed steadily the Billboard Hot 100 charts. A string of high-profile media appearances followed including a prime-time performance at David Letterman’s. Mena is set to build upon the success of ‘Mellow’ with her latest album ‘Apparently Unaffected’ which was released on the domestic market late last year to great critical acclaim.
Apparently Unaffected but still thrilled
Says Mena on the positive response her latest album has garnered: ‘I try not to think too much on the response to the record before it has actually happened. I feel that with this album I’ve climbed a step up the ladder – it’s especially gratifying to experience the appreciation that I’ve gotten from my peers and colleagues. I feel that I’m somewhat more accepted now. I’m not just this young pop darling anymore; I’ve reached out to a wider and more diverse audience.’
When listening to ‘Apparently Unaffected’ one is struck by the level of maturity displayed by the young songwriter. Says Mena: ‘I realised that I had developed as an artist when I saw that it became easier to perform in front of an audience. I realised that I had to challenge myself and be honest. I didn’t want my last album to be restrictive in any way – I wanted it to grow with me. ‘Apparently Unaffected’ has set a standard which the next album must reach or exceed’ says Mena: ‘I have high expectations for my next record. It must pass on the spirit of this one and confirm who I am.’
Honesty seems to be a common denominator for ‘Apparently Unaffected’: ‘I need to be honest’ says Mena. ‘It is easy to lie, but for my own sake I need to reflect as much as I can, stand up for what I say and be able to look back at it and say ‘this was what I said and did back then’. I’ll often build up a song as if it was a retrospective reflection of a period in my life – if those songs are to have any meaning I have to be honest. Most of my songs deal with me and my life. My first album was pretty much about not being able to fit in. My last album is largely about myself seen in relation to another person who I at one point had a very close relation to. Contrary to what has been said in media, this is not an album about broken hearts and lost love. I don’t try consciously to create one theme for my albums – I don’t want things to become too complicated.’
Over the course of three albums, Maria Mena has stayed faithful to Norwegian producer Arvid Solvang. Says Mena on the dynamic between the two: ‘We are diametric opposites. Whereas I’m always tossing out wild ideas and having spontaneous creative outbursts, Arvid is much more structured and thinks everything through over and over again until it sounds right. There isn’t anything on the record that ended up there by mistake or mishap – it’s all very carefully thought trough. We challenge each other constantly and that’s why we work so well together.’
Plans for an international launch of ‘Apparently Unaffected are being made says Mena: ‘There will be an international campaign, although we haven’t got all details fixed yet. I want to take this album as far as I possibly can, I don’t want to be restricted just to the Norwegian market.’
On playing live
Apart from a few promotional gigs, Mena has hardly done any real live-playing up until last autumn’s very successful domestic tour. Backed by a new band, Mena’s live-confidence received a serious boost. ‘I’m gradually establishing myself as a live artist. In the past I hated to play live but now I’ve got an entirely different platform. I’m backed by a great team and a fantastic band and that has changed the whole live situation tremendously. I really love to play live now! We have toured Norway over the last few months and the reception has been fantastic! I’ve barely played any real concerts before, just promo gigs, and it’s been amazing to play for audiences that give you so much in return.’
Being young, female and an adept songwriter, Maria Mena is frequently pegged as one of the main artists in a wave of young Norwegian female talent. What’s it like being constantly compared to other artists that share her age and gender: ‘I believe that if I work hard enough I’ll escape the limitations of comparisons’ says Mena. ‘It can be a burden to constantly be compared to other artists that you don’t necessary have anything in common with. I don’t feel as if I’m part of some kind of wave of young female artists or anything. I’m doing my thing and I want to ride my very own wave that I’m surfing now. I’m just in a really good phase of my life right now and I want to enjoy it to the max. ‘
The Bottom Line:
19-year old songwriter and artist signed to Sony Norway at the age of 14.
Released her debut album ‘Another Phase’ in 2002 at the age of 16.
Her second album ‘Mellow’ was released domestically in 2004 and was later launched in the US with the title ‘White Turns Blue’ to great critical acclaim.
Her hit You’re the Only One was selected as Time Magazine’s hottest summer tune, soared the Billboard Hot 100 charts and it also landed her a slot at Letterman.
Her latest album ‘Apparently Unaffected’ saw its domestic release last autumn and was met with rave reviews.