Life is a journey, so we’re told. We are born, then educated during our youth, before growing into an adulthood of increasing workload, conformity and responsibility. So often at the latter stages of life, we are inclined to look back and reflect; Did I really make the most of my time? Why didn’t I break free from this race? Would I do it differently if I had my time again?
Not for Su Andersson, who eschewed this particular storyline in favour of a spirit of adventure. Having enjoyed the creativity and self exploration of music in her youth, a career as an architect and CEO of a limited company meant that music took a back seat for this semi lapsed musician from the west coast of Sweden. Yet 35 years in to a successful career and blissfully contented worklife, Su dropped it all, to re-pursue her passion for music.
A gift of some time in a recording studio from her old high school friends started the process, reigniting her sense of joy in musical self expression. It was the beginnings of a process that was to convert her transformation into contemporary troubadour, as she was welcomed into the bosom of the open mic scene from destinations as far apart as New York’s East Village, and Gothenburg, in her native Sweden. Music, and travel, were already to the fore.
It was in 2016 though, that she became intrigued by the American singer songwriter Laura Gibson, who’s album “Empire Builder” was based around her experience of taking the well trodden train journey spanning between Chicago and Portland and Seattle. Something in the combination of musical narrative and physical journey struck a chord, she felt a yearning to return to the US once more, but to take the process further still, and plot a coast to coast trip documented by song, the album that was ultimately to become “Train Stories” had begun its long gestation.
An original notion of musically documenting the train ride from Chicago to San Francisco only, rapidly expanded to something much more, criss crossing through no less than 15 of America’s states, and ultimately all the way back to the familiar streets of New York City. Summer 2019 saw the crucial planning stage of the trip, locking in on a very specific and well honed itinerary encompassing the trip itself in the month of October, followed by a commitment to record the musical upshot in January of 2020.
The upshot is a wonderfully eclectic tail of life, harking back to a mostly forgotten bygone age of travelling innocence, blended with contemporary experience, yet still encompassing the wit and wisdom of Su’s accumulated life knowledge.
It is at once americana album and travelog; a self expression of release and freedom via a lifelong fantasy of travel and exploration. “For Roses And Rain” explores the sense of anticipation of a journey still to come, whilst “On The Train Part 1” confronts a fear of missing out on the tapestry of experiences of the initial 52 hour trip from Chicago to San Francisco. Each song in turn relays a story or an encounter, or the whimsical ponderings of a solitary traveller as they yearn for interaction whilst simultaneously relishing the opportunity for contemplation. Inspiration was everywhere says Andersson; “I wrote all the time whilst on the trip; what I saw, what I felt, what I heard. Words called out to me, based on experiences, coincidences, or sometimes just something I’d seen on a road sign”.
The album, like the trip itself, culminates in New York City; “I am at once excited as always to return to New York, it feels like coming home, but also sad to leave behind my new life of dining cars, rivers, and great plains”.
Working with co-producers Henning Sernhede and Frida Claeson Johansson, Su Andersson manages to encapsulate the spirit of many of her North American influences in both her highly distinctive vocal delivery, and knack for storytelling, be they Gillian Welch, Band Of Horses or Cat Power, there is an astute eye for observation in evidence from the outset, as much as there is a celebration of her own enjoyment of the americana lineage which clearly runs throughout.
Inspiring wanderlust and a spirit of adventure regardless of age or circumstance, “Train Stories” is a music book of stories and americana nostalgia through the eyes of a lifelong European, yet it is also much more besides, for this album serves notice to everyone to have the courage to embrace lifelong fantasies and embark upon their very own voyage of exploration. The result is sublime.