Adam Norden is one of my favorite film composers. He has established himself as the most sought-after young composer in Sweden. Adam enjoyed a diverse career working in all kinds of genres and media, composing music for feature films and television series as well as commercials and TV station identification packages. Born in Stockholm in 1971 Adam began his musical career while still in his teens, playing keyboards in various local jazz and pop groups.
In recent years Adam has concentrated on composing scores for feature films and television series – with great success. In January 2006 he received the Swedish Film Institutes ´Golden Bug´ for his score to Josef Fares critically acclaimed movie ‚Zozo‘. ‚Zozo‘ was Swedens official submission to the Oscar 2006. The score features the London Philharmonia orchestra. In 2004 Adam landed his first international assignments – ‚The Defender‘ and ‚Direct Action´ (Nu Image) – both featuring Swedish action hero Dolph Lundgren.
Adam has also lately been busy composing the score for 13 films based on world renowned author Henning Mankells popular character ´Wallander´.
Adam is a member of the European Film Academy. In 2001 he earned a nomination at the World Soundtrack Awards for his work on ´Beck – Revenge´ in the category ´Discovery of the year – young film composer´. He is the recipient of a scholarship from SKAP, The Swedish Society of Popular Music Composers, for his ´extraordinarily meritorious work as a composer.´ Adam is currently based in Stockholm at Riviera Music Sound & Post, Swedens leading music and sound design studio, where he is also one of the partners.
I read that you wanted to become either a pilot or a piano player, what made you choose the latter? And did you think that one day you would be as succesful as you are today?
Adam Nordén: Well I had bad eyesight – not a biggie but had it not been for that I would maybe have had another career. I will get my license sometime soon in any case. That´s definitely on the list of things to do.Well, I was always confident I had the talent and determination to make a living from making music. Not knowing where it would take me, I was determined to become a film composer. But as we all know there are a lot of determining factors in a persons career and there´s really no way of telling what will happen after you reach a certain point in your career.
Could you please give us a bit more insight into your musical background and career? How did it all start?
Adam Nordén: Music was always a natural and big part of my life as my dad is a singer and I have very musical mother too. So I started playing the piano at an early age – mostly pop songs. And then I started discovering jazz – which still is a big love, incidentally. From that I got the idea that I should become a jazz piano player, Bill Evans being my big idol. And from that started playing keyboards in lots of local bands – doing jazz & fusion gigs. And rehearsing a lot. I also played in pop & soul bands playing our own material and doing cover gigs as well. Which is btw a great school when it comes to understanding different styles. And that´s a skill that often comes in handy when you work with movies. And after that I started doing a bit of radio & TV work – composing and producing commercials & jingles. Which was also great for picking up producing & mixing chops. I still do commercials every now and then!
How did you get your first feature film comission and what was it?
Adam Nordén: I knew this producer, Lars Blomgren, who heard a commercial spot that I made. He liked that music a lot and thought that style would be perfect for a movie he produced. And he introduced me to director Harald Hamrell who was directing the movie – ´A witch in the family´. We connected instantly and have collaborated on a number of TV and movie projects since. And we´re still very good friends, ten years later.
What do you think were the most important decisions you made to become the musician you are today?
Adam Nordèn: I think I somehow down the road picked up a skill that I think is very hard to explain but I´ll try to put it in words. I have really high ambitions with what I do. And I have a very distinct idea if something is good or bad/right or wrong – knowing of course this something very subjective and may sound elitist. And I try to keep this relationship with my own music – trying to be objective all the time, trying to take a step back often and check if I´m on the right track or not. And I try not to give up until the music is as best as it can be. I think it´s a matter of putting in 110% all the time. Of course a lot of times you have to compromise, with budgets/schedules being tight etc. But in the right circumstances this is my ambition. Which goes for my tennis playing as well… :)
What is your preferred method of composing? Do you always start for example on the piano or does it differ from piece to piece?
Adam Nordén: I usually have a pretty clear idea in my head, complete with orchestration/soundscape and all. And then I work out the nits and grits on the keyboard, with my sample library/instruments to play around with different ideas. But every project and composition is different – sometimes it does start with something I stumble upon in my studio. A new sound, or something I find when I´m just playing around. A new chord or a rhythm etc. And sometimes I do it all at home on my piano and then just complete the arrangement in the studio.
For the score in „Zozo“ you worked with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, how was that for you?
Adam Nordén: Fantastic. What a great orchestra, such professionals. We had a lovely time in London. We also had the luxury of using some great soloists that sight read, improvise or just play what you hum – everything with such ease. A great joy!
At which stage are you usually involved, do you receive the script in advance and start with composing the different themes?
Adam Nordén: Again every project is different and sometimes I start very early, I´ve sometimes started even before the script was finished, just based on what the director told me about his visions. And sometimes it´s complete panic such as when you have to replace another composer. Or worst case, when you replace the composer that tried to replace the first composer, haha. But the most common situation is that I start working while the editing is still going on. This can be very rewarding too, working closely with an editor, exchanging ideas as we go along. And surprising too – if you have a creative editor that likes to play around with your stuff. I´m very open to such experiments.
Which projects are you currently working on?
Adam Nordèn: Scoring the last three episodes of a mini TV series based on Danish author Hanne Vibeke Holsts bestselling books ´The Crown Princess´. The first part of the series was nominated for an international Emmy. We hope to match that with the last three!
What kind of equipment do you use?
Adam Nordén: Mac, Logic, and lots of different sample libraries and software synths – new stuff come all the time but Vienna and Spectrasonics products have been with me for a long time. I´m an Apple/Logic guy since way back and that won´t change anytime soon…
Do you still have time for live performances?
Adam Nordén: Not really…nor do I have the chops. But I am practicing a little piano these days, so who knows :-). I also sing a little bit. We´ll see what happens to that…
I find that your music among other things stands out for its emotional depth. I particularly like „Linda’s theme“ from Wallander, its melody and the reduced arrangement which leaves enough room altogether [find itunes link at the end of this interview] – what does music mean to you?
Adam Nordén: Thanks! I find it very interesting and insightful that you mention this theme – in all it´s simplicity I do like it a lot. Well I guess I always lean towards less is more. And I do like the spaces between the notes, that´s one of the things you hear in this theme I guess. Not sure where this comes from, there is an element of reduced nordic melancholy in my music I think. I can´t tell if it´s cultural or personal really. Also harmony is really important to me. Cannot stress that enough – it has a lot to do with my jazz background I think, that gave me a very firm grasp of what can be done with harmony. Not comparing myself to the genius Bill Evans, but I think this is a perfect musical example of what I´m trying to explain with words. I have a very special relation with this kind of music – incidentally this is an old Swedish folk song, beautifully performed by Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund & Evans.
Are there any other art forms that you are especially interested in?
Adam Nordén: Well I think conceptual art is very interesting. Maybe because speaks more to my intellectual side than music does. It definitely hits another muscle. And I do take a great interest in society and politics – which this art form has great means of addressing.
Thank you for the interview, Adam. I wish you continuous success and all the best for your future.
Adam Nordén: Thanks for taking an interest in my work! Pleasure talking to you!
Foto © Adam Norden
Interview from September 2010