Biography

INGA LILJESTROM

I’m a singer and composer, originally from Australia, recently moved to the UK, my mother’s ancestral home. My father is Scandinavian, from the Swedish part of Finland, which explains my name and also my love of Northern things, my obsession with snow and cold, elks, northern lights, Sami people and yoik singing…

I started writing poetry when I was a kid, and would write every day, leaving little pieces of paper scattered around the house. At first I was schooled by a family friend, with two other children who lived close by. It was a very creative way to start learning, and consequently  when we joined the public school system we were wonderful creatives, but had no idea of rules…spelling and maths took a while to get use to. I have no regrets being brought up this way, as I feel it influences my compositions which also break rules, and are more intuitive and free.

My mum was alternative and brought me up in an environment that was very creative and wonderful for children. We lived in the ‘Promised Land’ in Bellingen, N.S.W. surrounded by rivers and mountains, morning mist – things I have always drawn inspiration from.  Music was always playing in our house…early Rolling Stones, Melanie Safka, Nick Drake, John Martyn, Maddy Prior from Steeleye Span, Blondie…

I was given a classical guitar when I was 10 years old, and I would spend every spare moment at school in a patch of sunshine, teaching myself to play.

My first concert experience was Melanie Safka when I was around 7 years old. I fell asleep for the duration of the concert, overcome with excitement. I remember her coming on stage, the red velvet curtains, her dark hair, smile and long skirt, the bright smiling faces of the audience…I would lie on the lounge at home when I was a kid, and listen to her, and be covered in goosebumps. Recently Melanie had lunch with a girlfriend of mine, who played her my music…full circle!

My mum joined a religious community when I was 11 years old, and music was a big part of it, with electric guitars, bass, drums and women who could really sing…hippies living together in the country. I would sing with the band, and my mum was the leader of the tambourine players. I think this is when I learnt to improvise with singing, ‘speaking in tongues’, which later aided me in my jazz vocal studies.

As a young teenager, I joined a touring rock band playing bass. I was shy and awkward, and it wasn’t until i went to University to study music that I delved into singing again. I studied jazz singers, and felt an affinity with Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson…I had a duo with the guitar lecturer Jim Kelly, and cut my teeth singing standards.

After University, I met Felicity Fox, a film composer and fellow wild woman. We formed a group ‘Helgrind’, full of angst and beauty, described as Led Zeppelin meets Tori Amos. We wore 50s bathing costumes with biker boots, old platinum blonde and red wigs. We wrote our songs together, and had no rules regarding composing. I remember one record executive yelling at us over the phone ‘you make me feel like I don’t understand music’. For us at the time it was a compliment.

I began venturing out as a solo writer and singer after this, and experimented with programming music, loving the sound of string instruments and beats.  I received a government grant to record my first CD ‘Urchin’, and worked with a great engineer and composer, Bob Scott.

After this, I sang with many groups, touring Australia and New Zealand, writing with different artists and recording with them. These groups included d.i.g (directions in groove) with their album ‘Curveystrasse’; with Gerling, singing the hit single ‘Dust Me Selecta’; with Australian iconic group The Church, (recording and performing) and a remix for Gotye’s Aria winning album ‘Mixed Blood’.

I received another grant, and spent two years locked away in my room in the suburbs of Sydney…a strangely cold room that felt like eternal winter, and wrote my first commercially released album, Elk. It was all about the Northern landscapes, fjords, and magical isolated places, endeavouring to create these landscapes with the music, and then weave stories and characters with words and melodies.

Soon after, I formed my first band under my own name, with Cameron Undy, one of Australia’s best double bass players; Veronique Serret, a brilliant violinist who plays with the ACO, Joanna Newsome etc; Haydn Walker, a wonderful guitarist and string arranger; and Evan Mannell on drums, my favourite drummer. Zoe Hauptmann and Jonathon Zwartz have also played bass with me, both incredible players. Some shows featured flamenco dancers, aerialists and film. We performed at the Opera House,  sell out shows at the Vanguard and 505 in our hometown of Sydney, and festivals around Australia and New Caledonia.

I was approached by various Australian film makers wanting to make clips to the Elk album. I received another grant for this, resulting in the DVD ‘Ra Djur’, a collection of eleven clips by film makers Andrew Wholley, Tanya Andrea Stadellman, Jacob Simkin, David Davidson and Paul Andrew, Daniel Kojta, Matthew, Matthew Chuang… A remix album called ‘Sprawling Fauns’ was made around the same time, with remixes of Elk songs by Ben Frost, Pimmon, Saddleback (Tony Dupe) and Brokn (Jacob Cook) .

‘Urban street-style meets dance, a skater, a break-dancer, a BMX rider, an acrobat, a dancer and a singer converge at a meeting in a stark urban space’ describes the physical theatre/ dance show I was in called ‘Paradise City’, directed by Helpmann award winning group Branch Nebula. I played the fallen diva, singing the inner thoughts of the performers. We toured Brazil, South America and regional Australia for a few months, and had a season at the Opera House. I worked on the music with Bob Scott, with a wonderful (and slightly nerve wracking) finale of improvised cascading vocal loops for the final scene.

Another project ‘Quiet Music for Quiet People’ was recorded over two nights in a Sydney studio by a friend and lovely engineer, Andy Hills. The music was completely improvised, featuring double bass, pedal steel guitar, drums, sound scapes, cello and me flicking though some old diaries finding words to sing. I described a scene to the musicians of a desert scape at night, romance, heat, a scene from a David Lynch film of a girl dancing on the bonnet of an old car under the stars…we’d then turn the lights out and try to recreate these images.

People always said my music belonged in Europe, so finally I moved to France and formed a band with great French musicians. We recorded an album together called ‘Black Crow Jane’, tracking the songs live in a house in Normandie over a few days. Such an amazing experience, with the crackling fire, the winter skeleton like trees, the conversations I could barely understand with my limited French, me being the designated cook and failing repeatedly…but thankfully making great music together. The musicians were Guillaume Magne with his ferocious yet beautiful guitar playing and co-composing on two tracks, Sebestian Brun on drums and sound scapes, Theo Girard on double bass(one of the warmest sounds i have heard on the bass come from his fingers), Jean-Philippe Feiss on cello, all captured on tape and then mixed by the formidable Olivier Gascoin.

Groovescooter records release my music in Australia…a small but wonderful label. I also have publisher/ record labels based in Paris.

I released a new album in 2014 called ‘Two Dangers’, recorded in the Blue Mountains, Australia and also in France. I had been writing songs on the back steps of my sisters house, serenading the currawong birds in the Blue Mountains, when John Kelly, a great friend and engineer, asked if I would like to do some recording. We’d set up in friends houses, in their lounge rooms, invite some great players to jam on the songs, and John would capture us with his portable set up. I was lucky enough to play with magical musicians Rens van der Zalm on guitar, mandolin, tenor guitar, accordion; Len Marks on slide and guitars and Michael Bridges on violin and saw.  In France I recorded some more songs for this album with wonderful musicians and engineers Olivier Gascoin and Jonathan Reig, recording in old schools and lounge rooms. Wonderful experiences with great people, many a fine lunch, many laughs and many birds, bees, trucks, trains, caught on the recording.

My most recent album release is called ‘We Have Tigers'(late 2015), a collaboration with award  winning film composer, Michael Lira. We raised money through a campaign to put the album out ourselves. We recorded the album in our homes studios, Michael in Australia, and me in France. Michael mixed the album and I made all the artwork.  It’s full of beautiful traditional songs, plus some originals, and features Michael’s wonderful arranging and he plays all the instruments (apart from the acoustic guitar i play). It is music inspired by the desert and Ennio Morricone. We signed a synchronisation deal in Los Angeles for this album with Lip Sync.

My music has been used for film and TV, more recently with Bloodbrothers, (ABC), Rake (ABC), Kettering Incident (BBC) and promo of Dracula series (Sky TV).

I have composed for art installations, the most recent being Light Origami, a ‘3D telescopic’ Origami dome which exhibited in light festivals in Sydney (Vivid), Arizona (Scottsdale Canal Convergence) and Singapore (i Light Marina Bay). The dome was created by Kaz Shirane and produced by Reuben Young.

I’ve performed with bands, duos and recently solo.

In the last few years I’ve also worked with students in Universities (in Finland and Australia) , directing and running tutorials, culminating in multi-media performances of original music, film, art, and dance.

I’m interested in the healing properties of music and plan to incorporate this into my practice on some level…my next adventure.

2 comments

  1. Cubby O'hara-Close

    Wow loved reading this Inga! You have done so much living! I too love Melanie Safka and had the privilege of a private meeting with her after her concert at Sydney Town Hall. Gosh I was in awe! She was my heroine! You do remind me of her Inga. Keep up the great life! xxxxxx

    • hey Cubby! thanks darlin! gotta update it soon- a few more things have happened. Love Melanie Safka- my favourite! (apart from Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, John Martyn….the list goes on!) xx

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