On the brink of releasing her fourth album, one can feel, even divided by two screens, that Norwegian singer-songwriter
Signe Marie Rustad is sitting on the edge of her seat, as we talk shortly before her new record Particles Of Faith drops, and one can tell her being torn between feeling content and nervous at the same time. Well, actually, she also tells that to me right from the start too:
“I’m very happy with what we made. So, of course, that makes me a little nervous. Thinking I’m going to jinx it. I feel really good because it’s the album I wanted to make … [but] especially the last part of the process of recording, I find it very, like, pulling teeth, like I always say, because you know where you want to go and you just go at it. So the last two weeks are always hard.”
Adopting a position as one of the more classic folk-pop creators, Signe Marie Rustad certainly breathes these spirits of old, giving new life to a well-defined tradition standing on the shoulders of Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez or Karen Dalton, just to name some female paragons. Particles Of Faith well acknowledges that heritage and fuses nods to her inspirations with some contemporary twists and a hopeful message that defies the cruel gravity of everyday existence.
“Oh The Particles of Faith
Are flying in from outer space
Or can it be just that one is running laps around the sun
Then coming back to you
In the shape of something new
That you can hold on to” (Particles Of Faith)
Back To The Roots
It is the music we listened to when we were kids that really defines us the most, isn’t it? Signe Marie Rustad strongly roots for that notion, as she tries to locate the core to her writing the songs for Particles Of Faith. “It’s just all of these things I listened to growing up”, she explains. “When Words Feel Freely, [my last album] was more of really a shift and then [Particles Of Faith] is like more going that same direction”.
“Yes, I listen to a lot of the music I grew up with, a lot of R.E.M. and Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, all of these kind of bands. And even, you know, I’m in a Pearl Jam period now… So that’s in the blood that runs through my veins and also through my producers veins, because we have the same references. So we kind of have the same taste. It’s just something in our taste that gets pulled towards that, if you know what I mean. So, and I think it’s because even though I feel very at home and I love, absolutely love the singer-songwriter traditions, based in the 70s. All of this is very close to my heart. But what you actually grew up with, is always going to be under your skin and in your blood in a way you can’t really get rid of, if you know what I mean. And I like that.”
With that inescapable spirit and an unharmed sense for tender melodies and an overall soothing design which works into the only seven tracks of the record, eliciting junctures of acoustic and melodic felicity.
“I feel very at home and I love, absolutely love the singer-songwriter traditions, based in the 70s. All of this is a very, you know, something that’s close to my heart. But what you actually grew up with is always going to be under your skin and in your blood in a way you can’t really get rid of, if you know what I mean. And I like that. And now I kind of try to embrace that whole thing, just letting everything in. And it’s even what people would say was cheesy. You know, it’s even those things that I listened to in the 90s that I still love…”
As we get into talk about the overall design of the record, Signe stresses her determination that it all “makes sense to me when I listen from start to end”, although “they should stand by themselves” on their own, so we agree to go into the tracks, each on his own, one after the other.
The “Particles Of Faith”
“The first one is Welcome Back and it’s kind of a short poem”, Signe Marie Rustad introduces her record and points out how it entails the entire theme of the album, connecting “to the last song on the album”.
“Particles of Faith
Come smooth out this face of combat
Aimed so high to take a shot at
Every sweet intention of life” (Welcome Back)
“A lot of [this album] is very personal, like things from my personal life… I Love You From Before is about becoming a mother and how that process can be hard. It is just the essence of going through something hard but then what comes out on the other end is more beautiful than you ever thought it would be”, she elaborates, summarising it as a tune that hails the relationship between mother and child.
“It is a declaration of love to the most important person in my life, that’s kind of the basic of it.”
Falling Into Place
Particles Of Faith then is also about intense inner struggles and “hardships” and shows the progression of a character who eventually discovers her own strength again, being able to believe in life at last. Such shows Hello It’s Me, which the artist describes with the image of “peeling off the layers to find yourself after you lost yourself in something you’ve gone through, and just that feeling of when you’re able to lift that and just find the core of who you are and, and the strength that lies with that.”
“I can stand on my two feet and close my eyes and in one, two, three… I’m halfway around the world so it’s kind of the power of what you actually can do if you’re grounded and in yourself.”
A lot of songs are “from the kind of what you hear is what you get”, Signe continues. Bark Up Someone Else’s Tree as Carackalinga then touch on failing relationships and how to come to terms with them. “In retrospect it is easy to see why something doesn’t work, but it’s not always so easy when you’re emotionally involved in a strong way”, she heads into the former, while the latter ode to the South Australian coastal town is just going through the issues, as we can follow the character resolving out an emotional crisis: “The day before the night you went away / Our smiles blew away / On the hillside by the beach where we would lay.”
“So I think I’m kind of going through our relationship but using elements from that place, so all of these images that I’m writing are things that I can remember, you know, from that trip. But of course what I’m actually writing about is bigger, it’s that whole, it’s the whole relationship.”
A Vision Complete
“The ultimate track, ‘Particles Of Faith’, is one of those songs where I can’t really tell you where it came from. I have a few of those songs, it’s just, that’s what happened and when it happens it’s very clear that this had to be the basis for the whole album”, Signe rounds off the record, as our conversation comes to its end. This song binds the lot of it together, as it connects its themes and brings them to a hopeful close.
“The album as a whole, it’s about keeping the faith in life and in love. And yeah, even though you go through things that make you lose that faith. So it’s not really a religious thing. It can be for the listener, you know, and it could be for anyone, but that’s really kind of not the core of it for me. But it is keeping the faith in something, keeping the faith that it’ll come back to you and you’ll be okay again. So that’s the whole kind of red thread and for me, it’s like every song is about something that has happened in my life. And I try to turn it into something beautiful by making a song.”
“I wasn’t writing it to find a theme but when I wrote it, it just was very obvious that it was”, she continues. “So it’s kind of just, yeah, because I, I have a hard time getting into a new, like thinking about a new record if I don’t have that red thread through. So if I don’t have a vision of what it’s going to be like, even the sequencing, I always know of the songs before we record that this has to be the sequence”, she outlines and resumes:
“This is the story and if I don’t have like an overall story that I at least in my head can focus on, then I can’t really start the process. Then it’s just like, just songs floating. So when this came I knew, okay, now we can start because now I can sew this together.”
Signe Marie Rustad’s Particles Of Faith is out now via Die With Your Boots On Records. She also co-curated a playlist with us, which you can stream below.