Making music her life's work was a foregone conclusion. "I've been asked before when did I decide to do this for a living, when did I decide to be a musician, and I never decided that. It was just suddenly there and there was no return."
She is equally at home in folk, jazz, New Age, and stadium-rock idioms. On one of her earliest albums, Annbjørg, she heads a group of Norwegian jazz artists. Subsequent works found her delving more deeply into the folk tradition. Kjellstadslåtter, for example, is a collection of tunes from her home district and she has won numerous national championships in traditional music.
In 1987, she and Arve Moen Bergset, Steinar Ofsdal, and Bjorn Ole Rasch formed the group Bukkene Bruse (Billy Goats Gruff). The group has toured the world, receiving rave reviews wherever they've played. In 1994, they had the double honor of playing for the closing ceremonies of the Lillehammer Olympics and winning a Norwegian Grammy. That same year, her solo work was introduced to North America on Shanachie's Sweet Sunny North compilation.
Between working with Bukkene Bruse, she has released several solo efforts. Baba Yaga and the tour in support of it were both made possible by a prestigious Norwegian culture grant that she received in 1998. She has an appreciation of the Norwegian government's healthy support of the arts: "I'm able to do concerts and tours because of that. It opens up some doors and you're able to make a living." The grant she received was the first to go to a folk musician. "That was a big victory for folk music in Norway, because it's always gone to rock music or classical or jazz."
Baba Yaga is a massive work, full of sweeping electronic sounds and tone colors from all over the world. "It's a bigger production," she says, "It's more programmed, more of an electronic expression mixed with acoustic instruments. It has bigger contrasts than the previous ones, contrasts between very light and very dark, from big to small, from drastic to beautiful. It was very inspiring to start to work musically on those kind of big contrasts." The listener will hear a definite Emerson, Lake, and Palmer influence on this one, with its classical gesture mixed with electronic stadium rock. Lien readily admits to this influence. "Keith Emerson and a lot of other musicians have been inspired by Pictures at an Exhibition," she says. One of the movements of Mussorgsky's massive work is based on the fairy tale of Baba Yaga. "Baba Yaga has contrasts in her life, her energy, her being. I researched a lot on the Internet to learn more about Baba Yaga, and I found that she was a perfect kind of character for a more or less a concept album," she says.
She sees this work as a logical progression of where she's been up to now: "One CD was based on the last one and that one on the one before that. It's a process based on what I've done already. This is the album I want to do now, and that's how it is with an album. You never know when you start how it will be, where you are at that year. That trip, that line will change over time compared to what you have experienced between the last album and the new one. That's the beauty of making records. It's kind of a documentation of where you were at that year, musically and in the soul."
Other than ELP, Lien's influences run wide and deep. "I think it's very hard to pick one or two because you get a lot of inspiration without knowing it, just listening to a lot of records, going to a lot of concerts, meeting a lot of people," she says. "It doesn't have to be musicians. It could be just beautiful people you meet on the street or anywhere that you can transcribe into music. I have been able to travel to different countries, learn about different traditions, and just collect everything up in a bag and then turn it upside-down and just use it in my own way."
Process is not as important to Lien as absorbing as much of what's around her as possible by traveling, meeting and playing with other musicians. "I think the important thing is not to think too much, but to go in there and define what exists. I think it could be very dangerous to go in there and analyze it too much," she says, "Without knowing it, a lot of inspiration is going into your body, and you just bring it back home and it's there. So I try to keep it as open as possible and not to try and think too much about what is right and what is wrong and where it all comes from, but just to do music and enjoy it."
She sees herself as part of a movement among Scandinavian musicians who are using traditional music in more avant-garde ways. Bands such as Utla and Bazar Blå are bringing a sort of "new primitive" sound into the fore. "There's definitely a movement. It's kind of a break-out-of-the-box thing," she says. "I think it's important for the folk scene to have purists and it's very important for the folk scene to have the avant-garde people to widen things. One side gives the other side life and it brings up a lot of discussion, which is good. It's much better to disagree than not do anything. I think it's healthy; it makes it alive."
"In Norway, there's never been anything other than the completely traditional. Norwegian tradition moves so slowly that you can have control over it," says Lien. "It's not like Ireland, for example, where all of the bands and the modern musicians and artists have brought the folk music expression in their tunes at an early stage. In Norway, there's never been anybody like that to do crossover things in folk music. I think that's why we have such a unique tradition."
Lien feels blessed to have the rare opportunity to follow her own path: "For me, the most important thing is to have a personal relationship to it and not just copy what the others are doing, but find my own roots. It's so important that you take some chances to keep it alive. I've had beautiful people around me all the way with open arms, saying 'Just do what you want to do.' I feel I've been very lucky." - Peggy Latkovich
Read more about the music of Norway on RootsWorld