Of Embla

Of Embla, the project of Norwegian born Maiken Sundby, is the type of artist you hear and are immediately entranced by. Each piece of her creations seems expertly placed and carefully considered, much like the mythology that inspires her. The artist seems to never rest, and it’s clear that experiencing the world keeps fueling her ingenuity. Sundby will be releasing a new single in a few days, and then she’ll follow that with an EP in late April. But, in between our respective travels, we had the time to catch up with her about her inspirations outside of the musical world, her passions, and the culture that has made Of Embla what it is today.

Let’s start with the big picture – your work seems to create a lot of mental visuals. What’s the creative process like that makes your lyrics so vivid?

Everything I write is taken from or based on my own personal experiences. I think that’s quite important. I couldn’t simply come up with these things; I’m not that creative. I take inspiration from true things and embellish them. I also believe in the story of a song/lyric. To me, this is the most important thing. I do my best to create a story that creates a picture in your mind, and invites you into its own world. How that comes about in the listeners mind is different from person to person, and that’s the beauty of it.

“Shadow Play” and “Puppet” both seem to exist in a dark world where there are glimmers of light poking through. How do you get to that mood during the writing process?

The writing process is a very individual process for every writer. To me it’s almost like the songs have been written before I write them, and I simply take them out of a library of songs to give them life. I can’t explain how they come to be; a lot of the time I feel like I am a tool for something or someone else. It’s a lot like meditation. I find that I won’t know exactly what the song is about right away, but a week or month later the pieces fall into place, and I realize what it came from. Maybe someone out there is trying to tell me something, to help me along the way of life!

When you’re creating, is there a collaboration between the production and lyrics, or does one come before the other?

It varies. Most of the time I will write both together, but then I will have this one lyric rolling around in my mind for a long time, or a guitar lick or melody, and suddenly one day it turns into a song. But then a lot of the time they become poems. If I can’t write them as songs straight away, they become poems.

For songs like “Puppet,” it’s a different thing. They were made together with my producer, Nick Athens. I had a demo of the song, a simpler version I showed to him. He took it home, arranged it, and made it even better.

It seems like when we’ve messaged back and forth some that you’ve been in various parts of the world. Was it for traveling, touring, or just looking for general inspiration? How does moving around so much keep you going as an artist?

Traveling is one of my passions. To move around, experience, see, meet, taste, smell, feel, hear – all of this is exactly what inspires me; it’s what makes it possible for me to do what I do. I have periods where I seem to stand completely still, and I am only ever in one place. And then I have to keep moving again, keep taking experiences and new thoughts in. In many ways I’m just learning. Always learning. Recently I have been travelling for performances, for leisure, and for work. I really enjoy the fact that I can travel with music and art. Recently I was in Prague for a performance with good friends of mine from all over the world. We did a dance performance, with live music, and we came 2nd! Yeei! So now we get to go on tour in May! Woop…

I got ahead of myself though, so I’m going to rewind a bit… what is the origin behind Of Embla? What’s the story behind how you’ve become where you are as an artist right now?

Of Embla comes from Northern mythology. Ask and Embla, from Northern mythology, are like the Adam and Eve of Christianity; they were the first humans to walk the earth. Ask and Embla were created by the Gods Odin, Viled and Ve from two pieces of wood in the sand on a beach. They were created simultaneously and from nature. There are some differences in how the story is told, depending on where you read it, but this is the general story. I prefer this idea.

I like the thought that we also come from this planet, that we also belong to nature and have to coexist with it. Also, it is my belief that the way the woman, Eve, is portrayed in Christianity is the reason why women have been treated so terribly in many Christian countries. The woman is secondary to Adam, she is the sinner, the temptress. I don’t believe this. I don’t see anyone as more or less worthy or important than others. Woman can’t exist without man, man can’t exist without woman. What is this everlasting battle of being the best? We are both equally great, in different ways. This is what we should be celebrating, our incredible differences.

I also come from a family with a history of strong women. My great grandmother, Klara, was an incredibly talented, intelligent, and resourceful woman. During the Second World War, she and my great grandfather fought in the resistance in Norway. She wrote about farming culture for the university in Oslo, she was a talented painter, she made wine, and so on and so on. I never knew her personally – sadly she died while I was still a baby. She died in her bed in the main building on the farm, and I am pretty sure she comes by every now and then to check up on things and make sure everything is in the proper order.

So it is very important to me, and I feel great responsibility as a woman to keep making an example for other women and girls, and to do all that I can to be as great as I possibly can. If we want equality, if we want happiness, if we want what is best for our loved ones, we have to go out and set the example. I wish to use music, my talent, and songs to be this example. To shed light on difficult matters and to tell the stories right.

Do you think the cross cultural background (Norwegian born/London residing) has affected your music very much?

I am very inspired by Norwegian folklore and different styles of folk music from different places in the world. It has definitely affected me. It keeps inspiring me still. My absolute favorite lullaby my father would sing to me before going to sleep at night is about a hunter. It’s called “Mannen og Kråka,” meaning the man and the crow.

A man with a bow and arrow is wondering through the forest, and he sees a crow sitting on a branch up in a tree, and thinks to himself “This crow will kill me,” so he shoots the crow down. And from this crow he is able to make twelve pairs of shoes for his twelve children. He makes a window from its eyes, a boat from its beak, and much, much more. He uses every single part of this crow, until there is nothing left. So at the end of the song the words say, “And one who cannot use a crow this well, he is not worthy of a crow.” It is beautiful. It tells such an incredible story and teaches an important lesson at the same time.

Norway was for a long, long time very poor, and the people of Norway knew very well how to survive with very little and how to make the most of everything. This is just one small example of the culture and how much music is a part of it. It’s like this for all types of folk music around the world. I love the stories, the dramas, the lessons, and the teachings. It’s very poetic; I find it incredibly beautiful.

You seem unafraid to toy around with various genre influences. Is this intentional, or is it organic?

I listen to a lot of different styles of music, and I like so many different things. It is intentional sometimes, and other times just pure inspiration. If I hear something I like, I will subconsciously add it in. Sometimes I will realize quite quickly, and other times I have had friends point it out to me. I try not to think too much about it, I just wanna make good music.

Finally, what’s next for you? Are you planning any EPs or singles soon, or for 2016?

I have recently released my first single “Puppet” and its music video just before Christmas. In April we are launching our first EP, or as I like to call it “Double EP.” It has a total of six songs, three songs electronic and a little more danceable, three songs live recorded and more folk inspired. I have for a long time worked with two different sides of the project and could never decide what I wanted to focus on mainly. And I kept getting positive feedback for both!

So eventually I thought “Why choose?” So I kept working on it, and here it is. A double, two-faced EP. Black and white, yin yang, one and two… however you wanna see it. I think we all have two sides to ourselves anyway. Everyone’s got secrets, things we only share with ourselves. I wanna celebrate that. We have to have something that is purely ours! There’s a reason our thoughts are silent. If they were meant for everyone, we’d be fitted with speakers!