When you sit down and talk with musician Theresa Andersson, you notice – in a good way – that she uses the word “inspired” a lot, whether it’s in reference to other musicians, her students, music that has influenced her or what’s around her. To me it seems apropos, because Andersson, herself, is inspiring – to musicians of all ages and gender, and as a woman in a business that can value style over substance.
Most New Orleanians know her story: She left her native Sweden at age 18 with her boyfriend, musician Anders Osborne, to come to the U.S. For a number of years, they were a duo professionally and personally — living together and making music. They broke up and Andersson and her dog Ruby, who many may remember seeing on the stage during performances (she has since retired,) moved to Nashville. Theresa spread her musical wings in a place that can often discourage even the most talented and strong-willed musician.
When Theresa would travel from Nashville to New Orleans to perform, she was surprised that she had “such a wonderful fan base who let me know they missed me. I just didn’t know.” Much to her fan base’s delight, Theresa did return to New Orleans, after living in Austin, the next stop in her musical journey after Nashville. Her music – she’s a self-described roots musician – is influenced by Sweden and New Orleans. From Sweden she notes the melodic violin music, while jazz, rhythm and blues and the “mambo” of New Orleans are her inspirations.
When I told people that I was interviewing Theresa, both men and women remarked on what a great performer she is – and not a few men mentioned her appearance at Jazz Fest a few years ago when she wore a bikini and body paint. Sorry, boys, that’s probably not in the cards again.
Today she collaborates with a number of New Orleans musicians, including her husband, Arthur Mintz, the drummer for World Leader Pretend. She will be busy this month performing at the French Quarter Festival on Fri. April 13 at 3:30 p.m. at the Main Stage, and at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Sun. April 29.
Age: 35 Born: Silte, on the southern part of Gotland, Sweden. See, I’m naturally drawn to the South! Family: Husband, Arthur Mintz; Ruby, my 13-year-old Labrador mix Resides: Algiers Point. I love it. After living all over New Orleans, I find it’s really quaint, very relaxed and quiet. It’s neighborhood-y. Favorite restaurant: I’m a vegetarian, but eat fish. My favorite lunch spot is Tout de Suite. Lately I’ve been going to Pho Tau Bay. I like Kyoto for sushi, Nirvana for Indian, Fire is a good place to bring our families, and even Cochon, which has good vegetarian food. Favorite book: I always enjoy the stories of Hans Christian Andersen. I’ve also been reading a Gotland poet named Gustav Larsson; his words make me feel closer to my roots. Favorite movie: I just saw Music of the Heart with Meryl Streep. It was very inspiring. Favorite TV show: I don’t watch TV.
How many instruments do you play? Violin, guitar, the saw and my voice. I’m dabbling with banjo.
When did you start performing? My first performance was when I was four years old singing at Sunday School for Christmas. I started playing the violin when I was 9 years old. I took to it naturally.
Who are your favorite musicians? I love a lot of different stuff. Lately I’ve started to listening Stuff Smith, a violinist who played pre-bop in the 1930s.
Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt inspire me. They channel their music beautifully, and how they can express themselves in their music – it moves me. Bonnie seems to have been on the path that I’ve been taking, and that’s the long road. She started from the roots and was a musician first – a singer of songs. She picks all those all cool old tunes. The same thing with Emmylou; she’s always had a knack for picking songs and finding great writers.
They both have kept their integrity through their whole careers. I really respect that. They keep evolving and showing that there’s something more. You hear a real voice when you play their music. I haven’t performed with them, but I hope to do so one day.
Any other musical influences? In different phases of my career I’ve been influenced by varying sources. For a period I listened to guitar players, a lot of Ry Cooder and Lowell George. I think it’s informed a lot of my own playing. It hasn’t been until lately that I’ve started listening to violin players, guys from the 1930s. There are all kinds of great violin players, and YouTube is the greatest thing ever – you can go on a journey.
Do you think you are treated differently as a woman musician? If they don’t respect me, they don’t show it to me in a way that affects me. I do what I want to do, and it’s okay if not everyone likes it. What it comes down to is that you need to be happy with yourself. Sometimes your career takes a different road for whatever reason, and I’ve taken one that put me in that playing field that is not ProTools’ voices, liposuction and fake breasts. I’m not interested in that. I’m in a different place.
I saw something on TV recently where a man who couldn’t carry a tune, and through the magic of the recording studio, suddenly had a great voice. What’s your thoughts on that? I know the trend of using ProTools, which can doctor your voice. Engineers can go in and basically reconstruct voices. Which to me is just ridiculous.
Obviously that’s not where I’m at. I like to get the performance, the real emotion, the real deal – even if that includes the mistakes. Certain music such as country and pop is treated like that to get slick productions.
How many albums do you have? Vibes on Rabadash Records, a local label; No Regrets, which was a self-release; Peace Stories, a Christmas album that I did with John Fohl and David Doucet; Shine and a self-titled EP, both on the Basin Street Records label.
What record label represents you now? Basin Street Records in New Orleans.
Looking at your latest production (self-titled EP), you cover Madonna’s “Borderline.” What attracted you to this song? I played it with World Leader Pretend at an Offbeat magazine show. WLP’s Keith Ferguson suggested it for me, arranged it – though I arranged the strings – and Andy Wagner and Arthur Mintz produced it.
What has your career been like after Hurricane Katrina? I had to re-think my life and had to find a deeper meaning with my music and what I was doing. And part of that was going back to the kids – to share with them a little of what I know. I started with Young Audiences, and now Arthur and I are doing Betcha Can Cans. We show how to make music from everyday objects – and instruments don’t have to be expensive. It’s creative thinking.
This fall we want to put on a show that teaches children about New Orleans’ musical history, which you would be surprised that many children don’t know.
I also teach private lessons at Academy of the Sacred Heart. There are 65 students, all beginners, kindergarten to high school. They are learning the drums, bass, piano, guitar, violin and voice.
I didn’t think I was going to be teaching and wasn’t sure I was going to like it, because it might take away from my performing. But it’s just the opposite – I’ve been very inspired. It was different trying to address music at an elementary level.
Any words of wisdom for performers? I have been able to carve a living here. I think if you’re inventive and nurture relationships here, you can do it – it’s up to you. I’ve never been handed anything, I’ve worked for it.
True confession: I love to create things: paint, decorate and sew. For this photograph, I’m wearing a dress that I sewed. (Andersson’s necklace is by Tina Kay Stanley of Mars Violet.)