Nordic melodies and North American roots merge on stage

Lena Anderson, Faroese-Canadian folk singer. | Photo by

Lena Anderson, Faroese-Canadian folk singer. | Photo by

One fateful night changed Lena Anderssen’s life and set her on the path of a musical career, leading her to take the stage at the upcoming Vancouver Folk Music Festival this July.

It happened nine years ago. Anderssen was working at a café in the Faroe Islands, singing to herself while she was closing shop, when a drummer suddenly appeared. She hadn’t realized there were any customers left behind. He had just come up the stairs from the washroom below when he heard Anderssen sing. It was then that the drummer asked her to be the lead singer in a cover band he was starting.

Not long after, Anderssen and Niclas Johannesen, another band member, started writing their own original compositions. They typically perform as a duo on stage and are partners in songwriting. Anderssen’s music has been described as “hauntingly honest,” and, in her own view, is a mixture of folk and pop music.

Anderssen was born in the Faroe Islands and moved to Vancouver with her family when she was three years old. She would wind up moving around and living in different parts of Canada, before finally settling in the Faroe Islands semi-permanently.

“I feel that I have roots on both sides of the world,” she says.

Anderssen suspects that her cultural background has been reflected in her music. Even though she speaks Faroese and Danish, she sings in English, which reflects her North American culture. But she suggests that her music is also tempered with the flavours and experiences she’s gathered from the other side of the world. Some of her songs have a strong Nordic melodic structure.

Generally, Nordic melodic structure, she explains, is vertical – it jumps from major to minor scales. North American roots are more horizontal and rich in storytelling.

Anderssen mentions that there’s a big music scene in the Faroes that may have something to do with the ocean surrounding the little island, while the big world outside waits.

“It creates this sort of longing, and I think it’s that longing that also inspires much music,” she says.

This same type of longing and restlessness can also be heard in Anderssen’s music. But having had no formal training in writing melodies, she credits her partner, Johannesen, with introducing her to the process.

“The way he sort of introduced songwriting to me, he made it so un-strange and un-mystical that I didn’t think that you had to study songwriting for a bunch of years in order to write a song,” she says.

She notes that Johannesen comes from a melodic background, inspired by groups like the Beatles, while she comes from a North American background.

“I think the two [styles] merge quite nicely. You don’t necessarily think about a style and then become the style, you just are it,” she says.

Anderssen is looking forward to coming back to Vancouver for the Folk Music Festival, where she will be performing with Johannesen, along with one other percussionist.

“It’s going to be an intimate and stripped down set where I just let the songs and the vocals speak for themselves,” she explains.

After the festival, Anderssen and Johannesen will be recording their next album. She reveals that a lot of the lyrical content for the new material will be about her childhood, so she needs to come back and revisit the places where she grew up.

Asked where she feels most at home, Anderssen reveals that her nomadic life has changed what homes to her.

“I’ve just made this really great home in my head and that’s where it stays because I take myself with me wherever I go. I don’t really feel any more at home here or there or anywhere,” she says.

The Folk Music Festival is happening July 19–21 at Jericho Beach Park. See website for full schedule and ticket prices at