With her atmospheric blend of jazz, rock, and electronica, Susanna combines ambitious concepts with singer/songwriter intimacy. A large part of the classically trained Norwegian vocalist/pianist/composer's creative flexibility comes from her clear, elegant voice, which has drawn comparisons to Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, and Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser. The range of her music is even wider, spanning her artfully stark covers of artists ranging from Dylan to Prince to AC/DC to her own ambitious compositions. Over the years, she's proven herself to be an innovative and generous collaborator, working with luminaries of Norway's jazz and prog rock scenes as well as international artists like John Paul Jones and Bonnie "Prince" Billy. After embarking on her solo career in the late 2000s with minimalistic efforts such as 2007's Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos, she fleshed out her sound in the 2010s with award-winning albums such as 2013's The Forester, a collaboration with new music group Ensemble neoN; 2015's Meshes of Voice, a team-up with Jenny Hval; and 2016's eclectic Triangle. Later in the decade, interpreting the work of other artists in fresh ways remained a vital part of her career, whether on 2019's Hieronymous Bosch-inspired Garden of Earthly Delights or the following year's Baudelaire & Piano.
Born in Kongsberg, Norway, Susanna Wallumrød is part of a musical family that includes her brothers, drummer Fredrik Wallumrød and pianist Christian Wallumrød, and her cousin, pianist David Wallumrød. She began performing in 2000 as Susanna and the Magical Orchestra with keyboardist Morten Qvenild (also of Jaga Jazzist). The duo's debut album, List of Lights and Buoys, appeared in 2004 and combined original songs with covers such as Dolly Parton's "Jolene." It was co-produced by Andreas Mjøs and Deathprod's Helge Sten (to whom Susanna is married). On 2006's Melody Mountain, Susanna and the Magical Orchestra delivered a set of interpretations of songs by artists including Kiss and Sandy Denny.
In 2007, Susanna struck out on her own with her solo debut, Sonata Mix Dwarf Cosmos. An album of quiet, ambient pop originals, it featured Sten and Qvenild as well as esteemed players in Norway's jazz and prog scenes, including Christian Wallumrød, drummer Pål Hausken, and Baroque harpist Giovanna Pessi. On the following year's Flower of Evil, Susanna teamed up with Sten and Hausken on another set dominated by covers, including a version of Bonnie "Prince" Billy's "Joy and Jubilee" that was one of two songs on which the American singer/songwriter appeared.
In 2009, Susanna returned to the Magical Orchestra project with 3, which found her joined by Wildbirds & Peacedrums' Mariam Wallentin and Fredrik Wallumrød as well as Sten and Qvenild. That year, she also toured with Bonnie "Prince" Billy and released a pair of duets with him, "Forever/In Spite of Ourselves" as a limited-edition single. Susanna reunited with Pessi for the 2011 ECM album If Grief Could Wait, which featured interpretations of works by Henry Purcell and Leonard Cohen as well as Wallumrød's own songs. Also in 2011, she composed the music for Jeg Vil Hjem Til Menneskene, a collection of poems by Gunvor Hofmos. The following year saw the release of Susanna's third solo album Wild Dog on her own SusannaSonata label. Featuring contributions from members of Arcade Fire and Bonnie "Prince" Billy's band, Wild Dog was praised in particular for Wallumrød's songwriting. Her 2012 performances included a collaboration with Norwegian Quartet at that year's Oslo Jazz Festival. Also in 2012, she won a Gammleng Award in the Open category.
After sharing the stage with John Paul Jones at 2013's Øya-festivalen, Susanna teamed with Ensemble neoN for The Forester, a set of chamber folk songs that earned Wallumrød her first Spellemannprisen, the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy. She then collaborated with Jenny Hval on 2015's Meshes of Voice (which won another Spellemannprisen), following it with an EP of Tina Turner and Leonard Cohen songs that summer. She was also the recipient of that year's Radka Toneff Award, which honors a performer continuing the artistic spirit of its namesake Norwegian jazz singer. In 2016, she won the DNB Award at the Kongsberg Jazz festival, which included a cash prize and commissioned work to perform at the next year's festival. For that year's ambitious, spiritually minded solo album Triangle, she recorded in Oslo and L.A., working with members of Norwegian bands including Splashgirl, Supersilent, Moskus, and Sudan Dudan as well as American acts like Helen Money and the Cairo Gang. Like its predecessors, the album won a Spellemannprisen. Susanna also won the Edvard Award, a prize given to Norwegian composers, for her work on Triangle.
Susanna followed Triangle with 2018's Go Dig My Grave, which included a version of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" as well as traditional songs and featured Pessi. With Garden of Earthly Delights -- originally a work commissioned for the Vossajazz Festival 2017 -- she delivered a set of complex, sensual songs inspired by the absurd imagery within Hieronymus Bosch's famous triptych. Her backing group, the Brotherhood of Our Lady (which was named for the religious organization that sponsored Bosch), included members of the Norwegian acts Skadedyr, Listen to Girl, and Propan. Recorded on the Northwest coast of Norway, the album arrived on SusannaSonata in February 2019 and was nominated for a Spellemannprisen. The following September, Susanna released Baudelaire & Piano. A set of stripped-down interpretations of poems from the French poet's Flowers of Evil, the album was recorded at Stockholm's Atlantis Studio and was co-produced by Wallumrød and Sten. ~ Heather Phares & James Christopher Monger
BORNJune 23, 1979