To live solely from music is hard, and to find time to promote oneself is hard too

By Beverley Knight

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We all know life can test us. Songwriter Ann Nielsen used this growth. Her acoustic indie pop sound experiments with blues and soul and speaks of experiences and emotions. Daydreaming lets the mind wander freely. “Sometimes a made-up story inspires my lyrics, and sometimes a movie or a book does.” Whatever the stimulus, Ann keeps things flowing as naturally as possible. As long as the lyrics sound good to her, she writes what appears. “I don’t construct or think consciously about them.”

Ann’s childhood was chaotic, which makes her see and feel some aspects of life with melancholy, but she remains optimistic. “Things can be tough, but there are ways out of hard times.” Because of her experiences, she is a good improviser; she’s savvy. Joining her first band when she was 14, the sound amplification was poor, so Ann quickly learnt to sing loudly. It became clear that the music came first. Therefore she found ways to make her voice matter. “I also learned to create melodies on top of musical ideas brought by the bass or guitar player of the band.”

Originating in Denmark, She moved to Germany in 1989, where she found an underground scene to belong to for five years. Her community was fizzing, but the eighties were clean-cut. People stuck to one style like disco, rock, punk or new wave, and their looks reflected it. Ann was different; she liked the lot. “I loved new wave, punk and progressive rock, like David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Blondie, to name a few.”

Getting to know the other musicians, they helped each other book concerts. Often, they’d suggest other bands to the organisers. And when they made CDs, artists got together to cover costs. It wasn’t competitive; it was supportive. “We’d hang out with punks who’d illegally moved into empty houses. We were young and free and were very open-minded.” They got to know artists by rehearsing in old war bunkers.

Crowds showered Ann with love when she played in places like Aachen at the Autonomes Zentrum. Opportunity was all around if you were open to it. After one concert, a guy asked Ann if she wanted to make a song for a movie. “I got to work with Reinhold Heil from Spliff – Punk icon Nina Hagen’s band – in Berlin.

Some things are culturally universal. There wasn’t much difference between Denmark and Germany in a creative sense. Pursuing music takes the same time and the same money. “To live solely from music is hard, and to find time to promote oneself is hard too.

She hustled to get gigs. “We asked, and, in many cases, they’d ask us. We said yes to anything.” It was the same when she looked for producers to distribute music. “Someone discovered us at one of our gigs. We recorded an album, but the drummer and guitarist fell out with the producers. In the end, the album didn’t get released.”

It was a time of learning and kinship. “We had a lot of fantastic moments playing, rehearsing, drinking, laughing…” There were long journeys, waiting, playing for a handful of people, but they cheered each other up, saying, ‘Hey, we played well.’ “Music is what it’s all about. I am so thankful to be making it still.

One Black Spot, her most recent EP, was out last year. It journeyed from mood to mood, never without good humour. Although she feels most creative amongst nature in peace and silence, she can create whenever she’s in the zone. It often strikes in the studio. “Missing lyrics sometimes come just before recording.” If you’re looking for Ann, that’s where you’ll find her as she works on her next album, ready for the world to hear next year.

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