As Denmark’s best-selling female singer returns to music full time, just ahead of her 60th birthday, nerves and performance anxiety would be understandable. But Hanne Boel is surprisingly calm. Scan Magazine spoke to the singer about the madness of fame, musicianship as artistic expression, and forgiving yourself.

She won the hearts of all Scandinavia in 1990 with her hit single I Wanna Make Love to You and went on to become the best-selling female singer in Denmark, but Hanne Boel is not interested in entertaining the idea of mad success. “I was brought up to be a sensible, wellbehaved, measured woman, so I was really aware on the one hand of letting the whole thing happen, and on the other of thinking that this is something any grown woman can handle and that I should act natural and not freak out,” she says. “I was actually almost 30, which is probably eight to ten years older than many artists when they first experience that fame, and I was blessed in that I was older, I was mature, I was a mother. I had a foundation to stand on in my life.”

At the same time, being a mother and having to pack up and go on tour was not wholly uncomplicated. She laughs. “I can see that I made some funny decisions here and there. From about 1988 to 1996 were the heavy years – things were really moving fast and that time has a tendency to feel like a blur. I must’ve been really stressed out. But that’s what happens when you experience this kind of fame – you can’t avoid it.”

Revolting and forgiving yourself

She talks about what followed as a sort of resistance, as her behaving like a 35-year-old teenager insistent on trying out something new and expecting her audience to follow her. “I see this happening to other artists, and I’ve tried to explain it to them but they won’t listen to me,” she says. This becomes a recurring theme: Boel talking about other, often younger, artists and wanting to help them, almost as if to protect them – perhaps trying to make sense of her own story. “When you don’t say no at the right time, you end up feeling like you’ve been driven around the circus too much, and you want to go the opposite direction. I sometimes think I should be a mentor for record companies and help manage young artists, because it’s such a natural thing and I can see it happening before it happens.”

Boel’s children are now 24 and 32 and, while she sees the past for what it was, she is resolute in her belief that regret is a waste of time. “I think I was there enough. Of course, when your kid turns 21 you start hearing the truth, and we’ve been through some truths,” she pauses. “They must have suffered… but one of the most important things is the ability to forgive yourself. I actually said to both my kids that I was pretty aware of not being perfect, but hey, surprise, no one is! I’ve spent some time forgiving myself – not that anything was wrong, but ten years of my life kind of passed by like a storm.”

Artistry and academia

Boel went on to release more than a dozen solo albums in genres ranging from pop and soul to jazz, gospel and rockier sounds. To this day, she has sold over 2.5 million records. But in 2009, a whole new chapter started as she took on a job as professor at Copenhagen’s Rhythmic Music Conservatory. “Once I got over the writing of this huge application, I just felt angry at the institution for how they were handling students and music education,” she recalls. “I spoke about it during the interview, said ‘you guys have to change your attitude’, so when I started that became a natural direction – and they needed that drive and energy. It was frustrating in the beginning; art and music have to come from the body and not the brain – I don’t think we can bring up artists if we’re not bringing in the artistic way. It has to be the heart that brings about art.”

She started out as professor in vocals but eventually took on more of an artistic development role. She describes this as the shift the institution made in employing her: adopting the craftsman’s way of looking at art. “If you’re fantastic at playing the bass, you might be able to express something in an artistic way – but while skills are important, they’re only facilitating that artistic expression, so we changed it around,” Boel explains. “First comes this thing you want to say, and then you pick your weapon, a way to get the story out of your body. Then, if you’re not a good enough bass player to do it, we’ll motivate you to become a better bass player – but never just for the sake of it.”

Feeling secure

2017 is a big year for the singer, who is turning 60 and moving on from academia. Touring and doing her own music proved difficult while giving the professorship her all, and now the urge is back. “I got so enthusiastic about the job at the Conservatory, so it made sense to give it everything I had,” she says. “It’s been a wonderful time, but I’m really happy to be feeling this growing lust – and nervousness, but in a good sense – about doing music again.”

The past few years of making music have mostly consisted of Boel gigging with an acoustic trio, something she thinks will impact on her sound. “It’s been happening without me thinking about it, this floating into a new way of doing my music,” she reflects and describes a sound that marries acoustic chamber music with analogue keyboards and some percussion. While her 60th birthday is just another year to her, maturity may well impact on her musical arrangements. “That’s one thing about becoming older – I feel my voice is enough. I feel more laid back and secure, more ‘yeah’, you know? Leaving that heavy instrumentation behind doesn’t mean it won’t groove, but I feel comfortable with my voice being centred and the instruments just adding the framework.”

All she knows now is that she has a few months to go at the academy and that the next focus will be music. “The only real plan I have so far is to come back to doing music – more live concerts, writing more, spending more time with my own music,” she says. As for genres, styles and the rest, she seems unfazed. “I don’t have to fit any boxes. It’s a little bit scary, but on the other hand, it’s like, what are you afraid of? Nobody’s expecting anything – any expectations are my own. I want to put out an album that makes sense to me, out of my necessity and no one else’s. I don’t have to prove anything.”

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