What are you going to do about things that are hard to talk about? For Synne Sanden, being the fearless and inventive artist that she is, the answer has always been to put it into sound. But do not mistake, Unfold, documenting the singer’s own struggle with “intimacy and sexuality” is coming through with a strong message, which takes the musician from her own damaging experiences to addressing the issue of sexuality in our culture at large:

“It’s a reaction against pornography, superficial, mechanical sexuality, but also the high numbers of rapes and sexual violence that is really spreading, really damaging so many. It is also my protest against this, for my own sake but also for others.”

Being the sensitive topic that this is, I am not only glad that we can give Synne Sanden the space to talk about these things, I am also relieved that she takes on the bulk of the talking, delivering her account of what she has to say in an almost uninterrupted flow. “It’s nice to let it go now”, she ponders in the beginning of our talk, “because then I can move on, think about new albums and also get to play it live. I really look forward to do that. It’s kind of mixed feelings. It’s very vulnerable but at the same time very exciting to finally release it, and also scary.”

“I feel that [this is my] most political album too. It’s a lot about my experiences, but also about the society and what I don’t find healthy in relation to sexuality. In the media it is often a very superficial [subject] and very separate from us in a way. All these intimate experiences, [they] really affect us. Not only our sexuality but also our self-esteem and how good we feel with others, if we trust each other or ourselves. It’s both introverted in a way, my own reflections on my own experiences, but also with comments on the society.”

Intimacy And Sexuality

There is a cathartic undertone from the moment that Synne Sanden starts talking and she assures me more than once that she is in a “very different state of mind” right now, speaking from a position of reflection and convalescence, which does not diminish her message one tiny bit. I had a bad experience in my past with a destructive relationship… that was really crossing my boundaries”, she starts. 

“I was in a state where I didn’t have so much respect for myself and I really felt that this damaged me on a much deeper level that I did think. I realised that no one tells us that it’s okay to say no. That it’s okay to confront, that boundaries are both important to learn how to put up, but also for others to respect. It’s also a reaction to this and also a confrontation against people that have been crossing my boundaries. I really felt, to have these experiences, they made me feel small and weak. It really affected my health and how I felt about myself. I got a lot of anxiety and I was depressed after it. It really affected me in many ways and also my ability to trust other people and to feel safe.”

It is all about the big picture with Unfold and how the process of personal mending circles out to the question of interpersonal relationships and also one’s conjunction to the world outside at large, if you will. I realised that sexuality is often portrayed as something sacred, that it’s something isolated. But for me it’s really affecting the whole [of] how I experience others, how I experience myself… how I think about relationships [and] intimacy in general. I think [that] from when we are babies, we need intimacy to feel safe. This is all very painful in the aftermath.” And although the core of Unfold dives into traumatising and severe past experiences, as in Rubberband (“he stretched her like a rubberband / until she cracked / and he was in demand”), just to name one lyrical sequence, it is not without a look into the light of liberation and a good portion of anger and self-determination, that the poetic voice of the record lifts itself out of its depressed mindset, to be witnessed in tracks like the throbbing Firewood:

“I’m taking back my body 
I’m taking it back for good 
won’t let anybody own it 
or use it as firewood 

And Synne Sanden really stresses the vital aspect of putting an emphasis to the healing side that she got to experience by working through all of it:

“I wanted to write about the importance of healthy sexuality because I think that one of the problems with this very unhealthy sexuality is the lack of focus on what is healthy… For me [it] was really important to see the damaging side, but on the healing side as well. For me that was to be respected and to be taken care of and to be seen, to have this equal meeting where intimacy actually happens. I think there’s a lot of sexuality that is not intimacy at all. It’s not something that gives people pleasure but just damages us. This healing journey has been really important to me and I wanted to share this as well.”

Photo by Signe Luksengaard

“Through Vulnerability And Shame …”

As we go through the separate songs of Unfold, there are some standing out in the process. Witness is one of those. I feel very connected to all of the songs, but I think that ‘Witness’ is a very vulnerable song for me. It’s really a description of how it can feel when someone crosses your boundaries, it was really vulnerable to write that song.” But not only that, it was when the music and beats literally kicked in, that the emotional potential unfolded its true impact, as she relates it in the next minute:

“First it was a very vulnerable song without drums and everything, and then I showed it to my boyfriend, who has been along with me for the process of the album, making a lot of beats and co-producing some of the songs. I wanted him to put some beats on the song and I just told him if he could make some aggressive and industrial beats for it. Because I felt I needed to express that anger to be in the production. And then he put something on and I just started crying like crazy, like he really understood my emotions and what I needed to express it. This is always a very emotional moment for me. This journey has been something done by myself a lot. And then kind of him helping me to express these emotions became very supportive for me and very healing, to see that he could understand how I feel and express it with my music.”

Photo by Signe Luksengaard

“This is very to the bone”, she keeps on reflecting, how it can feel when someone crosses your boundaries and … how painful this can be.” In the end, the artist is in the happy place to see all of this “as a journey through vulnerability, shame, anger into hope and what gives pleasure and what feels good”. As concerns the creative vision of Unfold she says further: 

“It is a bit hard to put in a box, because I like to write about the positive and healing but also the damaging parts. I have dark songs and more upbeat songs. I really, for me this is really what I feel that I am. I am a very sensitive person … [and] I feel like very intense, both [the] damaging and painful emotions, but also the euphoric and positive emotions. Also, anger is a very important part of this album and I think, for me that has been a very big part why it is so therapeutic in the end. Before I just thought of this anger as a very negative feeling and I didn’t accept it so much and didn’t allow it so much. I don’t get angry so easily, but I released my anger into the music this time, where it can’t hurt someone directly, it’s a big release. It feels like a kind of protection … and it is a very important and constructive feeling in healing these emotions. I would say it is all very vulnerable, but also very explosive.”

“… Into Hope And What Gives Pleasure”

What remains of the journey towards liberation and intimate healing? For Synne Sanden, all of this has amounted to an issue that she really burn[s] for”. She is “in a very different state now”, she admits, safe and sound “in a very healthy and beautiful relationship” and admittedly “very happy” to be so.

“I’m in a very different place now, but it still is something that really shakes me, to have had these experiences. It’s something that I am very eager to talk about. I feel that it is still a very important case for me. But it’s not the struggle for me so much anymore. Still, it’s also, although I healed a lot, it’s kind of these experiences, it takes time to really heal one hundred percent. I’m not finished, but I am much, much better now.”

And by the way she announces her case of growth, one can tell she means every word of it and that she will continue to raise awareness and provide support for those going through similar hardships. Unfold is one strong pillar of hope for those who know this struggle, and it shines far with particular strength, resilience and artistic maturity.

“So now she wont unfold herself
until she finds it
but she will find it” (Inhalation)

Unfold is out now via Nordic Records. Synne Sanden also curated a playlist for us, gathering her inspirations along the process of this album. Stream it now.