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Mirel Wagner: Music, Art and Life on the Road

Helsingin Sanomat
Mirel Wagner: Music, Art and Life on the Road
Mirel Wagner: Music, Art and Life on the Road
From the forests of Espoo, to childhood vampire stories and skeleton art - award winning singer-songwriter Mirel Wagner will be taking a piece of Finnish winter darkness with her when she starts her first Australia tour in January.

When Mirel Wagner heads to Australia in January for her first Antipodean tour, she'll be taking a piece of Finnish winter darkness with her to the Sydney summer.

"It's exciting, Australia, the sunshine" she tells HSTV's English-language current affairs show Newsmakers.

The three-city tour will see 28-year old Wagner play venues in Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart Tasmania. It's her first trip Down Under, and her first experience of the Australian festival circuit. "I'm looking forward to seeing the audience" she says "just playing to people - there is this sort of atmosphere, and this sort of feeling of sharing in some ways... that's something I always look forward to".

It's been a landmark few years for the Espoo-based singer-songwriter, whose sophomore album "When The Cellar Children See The Light of Day" topped the Finnish charts. The album beat out more high profile Nordic artists like Denmark's and Sweden's Neneh Cherry and Lykke Li to claim the Nordic Music Prize in 2014. That lead directly to a live performance on the BBC's eponymous Jools Holland show which raised her profile in the UK.

For the uninitiated, Wagner's style of folk roots music is simple and unhurried. "It's not party music" Wagner admits with a smile. "I would recommend just to sit down and have a moment with it".

In contrast to her everyday persona, Wagner's lyrics are often dark and tinged with sadness. Brief flashes of joy are marred with hidden dangers. There's murder, poverty, hunger, yearning and loss. It seems a world away from suburban Espoo, where a young Mirel Wagner attended Montessori, took violin lessons and played at being pop stars with her classmates.

"Once you start to think about it, it sort of makes sense" she says. "Espoo is this sort of beautiful and calm and very quiet place, but there is a history of very ugly things happening in quiet and beautiful places".

Wagner's song writing process, she concedes, is "still finding its form". After two albums she feel as if she's yet to truly embark on the 'journey' she wants to take as a songwriter and storyteller. But it was this not-yet-fully-formed talent that lead Sub Pop Records to sign her in the US, the same legendary record label that was home to Nirvana, Soundgarden and many other 'Seattle Sound' acts from the 1980s and early 1990s.

Her method of writing is "mostly a combination of hard work and intuition". A balancing act between "what feels good" and "what feels like a good story that needs to be told". Unlike many other young Finnish musicians, Wagner's method means writing and recording in English, which she says is a "huge part" of the song writing process. "It changes the way I use words of course because it's a different language" she says.

Honing her music during high school, Wagner couldn't yet work out how to make a successful living as a musician, and although she was encouraged to express herself through music, she says there was no sense that it could be anything more than just a hobby.

"Sometimes I feel that these days [children] are being pushed quite a lot into deciding things in a very early age, what career and even in music ... maybe there should be more support in finding your own way in expressing yourself and finding the career in there also" she says.

Branching out from music, Wagner has five artworks displayed in a Helsinki gallery during December. Her art, like her music, is dark - she considers that a compliment - depicting skeletons, spiders, and a tongue impaled on a giant pair of scissors. The singer has "always been fascinated by visual arts" but again, it was not something she considered as a profession. "The idea of making a living from them seemed impossible... that was one of the biggest obstacles when I was growing up... how could I make a living out of it".

When Mirel Wagner arrives in Australia next month, she'll be travelling only with her sound engineer Juha Kokkonen - her entourage of one. "My set up is very simple" she explains "I just have a guitar and me".

And what Aussie audiences can expect to see is the interplay between Mirel the person, and Mirel the musician - the pivot point of half smiles, low glances, simple sounds and haunting lyrics.

"That's where the magic happens these different sides of ourselves" she says. "We all have these sort of feelings and emotions and different kinds of stories inside of us, and it's a balancing act"

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