Interviews

Norwegian Country Artist Malin Pettersen Brings American Music's Roots Full Circle

Julia Marie Naglestad

Ever since the May 2018 release of her debut solo album References Pt. 1, Malin Pettersen has earned accolades and landed festival gigs in her home country of Norway. In fact, the longtime Lucky Lips member won the equivalent of a Norwegian Grammy, a Spellemannpis, for her contributions to a bustling scene of homegrown singer-songwriters.

The last 17 months of Pettersen's life also included three trips to Nashville: she made her AmericanaFest debut in September 2018, returned five months later to record new material with local musicians and wrapped up her sophomore album there last month. Making seemingly instant connections in such a competitive environment may trump anything comparable to a Grammy win.

As Pettersen tells it, a lifetime of exposure to great music prepared her for recent tastes of cross-Atlantic success.

"I kind of have as much of a traditional country story as you can have in a country that's not America," she says. "I also grew up with country music with my dad being a country musician. Bluegrass and country and old-time music has always been a part of my life.

"My mom used to listen to jazz and stuff like that, so I felt a connection to America from a very early age," she adds. "When I was younger, I would even dream in English and my thoughts would be in English even though my native language is Norwegian."

Conversation with Pettersen often centers on America. After all, she leads a honky-tonk band at home and cites George Jones, Iris DeMent and Lucinda Williams as musical influences. However, she's quick to point out that elements of her favorite music actually come from her side of the globe.

"I had a short time span where I felt like maybe I couldn't do American folk music because I was not from America, but when I went into the history of country and bluegrass and old time music, I was like, 'Well, it all comes from Europe and merged with African music in the New World'," she says. "It's all kind of come full circle."

By the 21st century, the music of Pettersen's childhood, be it American country or Norwegian folk, existed to some extent in both countries. As Pettersen learned when former Alaska resident and current Austin, Texas-based fidder Beth Chrisman visited Norway, distinctly Norwegian fiddle tunes traveled over time to the Last Frontier.

"Norwegian folk music has a lot of fiddle in it, and it's very story-based like the ballads that came from England to the states," Pettersen adds. "I think that's why country music is so big in Norway. We can relate to that aspect of it."

Fans of Pettersen's work or curious new listeners don't have to wait until the album she cut this year in Nashville is released in early 2020. A mini album of solo, acoustic recordings titled Alonesome arrives on Friday (Oct. 11) and offers a bare-bones taste of her talents through such songs as the lovelorn "Get You Back Again" and the softhearted "Pause."

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Norwegian Country Artist Malin Pettersen Brings American Music's Roots Full Circle