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Danish singer/songwriter Agnes Obel, born Agnes Caroline Thaarup Obel October 28, 1980, took up the piano at a very young age, honing her craft amidst the strains of Bartok and Chopin emanating from the fingers of her musician mother. She later drew inspiration from the work of Swedish jazz pianist Jan Johansson, and it was between those two worlds that her own sound began to emerge. Citing influences as diverse as PJ Harvey and Claude DeBussy, and drawing comparisons to the likes Ane Brun, Eva Cassidy, and Joni Mitchell, Obel's 2010 debut, Philharmonics, was written (with the exception of a cover of John Cale's I Keep a Close Watch), performed and produced by the artist herself. Pure, austere, and remarkably poised, the pristine mix of instrumentals and atmospheric, melancholy balladry, was both a critical and commercial success, especially in her native Denmark, where the record went double platinum.
Agnes Caroline Thaarup Obel (born 28 October 1980 in Gentofte, Copenhagen) is a Danish singer/songwriter. Her first album, Philharmonics, was released by PIAS Recordings on October 4th, 2010 in Europe, most notably Denmark, Norway, and Germany. Philharmonics was certified gold in June 2011 by the Belgian Entertainment Association (BEA) for sales of 10,000 units. At the Danish Music Awards in November 2011, Agnes Obel won five prizes: Best Album Of The Year, Best Pop Release Of The Year, Best Debut Artist Of The Year, Best Female Artist Of The Year and Best Songwriter Of The Year.
Early life 
Obel, and her younger brother Holger, grew up in an unconventional environment. Her father had three children from another marriage. He loved to collect strange objects and instruments like the xylophone and the double bass. Her mother, Katja Obel, was a jurist but also a brilliant musician. She used to play Bartók and Chopin on the piano. With a house full of sound and music Agnes Obel learned piano at a very young age. During her childhood, Agnes Obel found inspiration in Jan Johansson's work. Johansson's songs, European folk tunes done in a jazzy style, have influenced the young musician a lot.
In 1987, Obel joined a small band as a singer and bass guitar player. The group appeared in a festival and recorded some titles.
In 1994, Agnes Obel had a little part in the short film The Boy Who Walked Backwards / Drengen der gik baglæns by Thomas Vinterberg. Her brother, Holger Thaarup, played the main character in the movie. Credited as Agnes Obel, she has only two scenes. She plays a pupil who share her table with the new comer Andreas (Holger Thaarup).
She attended high school at Det frie Gymnasium, a free school where she was able to make 10 hours of pottery by week and play a lot of music. But she quickly stopped her studies. "At seventeen,(...) I met a man who was running a studio. I gave up quickly my musical studies to learn the sounds's techniques." Later, and with the help of Danish musician and producer Elton Theander, Obel founded the Copenhagen based band Sohio. But work in a rock band appeared to expose the dangers of an "encumbered" music. During a visit to Berlin, the artist saw the city as an ideal ground for musical creation, far from Copenhagen which had become "a too small city, too choking." Since 2005, Obel has lived in Berlin.
In 2009, Obel put a demo of "Just So" on Myspace. The telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom used "Just So" in an advertisement and, after this great opportunity, Obel encountered less difficulty in finding a label for her first album.
Agnes Obel is influenced by artists such as Roy Orbison, Joni Mitchell and PJ Harvey, and also by the French composers Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Erik Satie. She also likes Edgar Allan Poe and photographers Sybille Bergemann, Robert Mapplethorpe, Tina Modotti and Alfred Hitchcock. Concerning Hitchcock, she says, "I adore his enigmatic style, his sophisticated esthetic but always with an extreme simplicity." The cover of her first album, photographed by Berlin photographer Mali Lazell, is an 'homage' to The Birds (film).
Obel debuted as a solo singer with her first album Philharmonics (2010).
She writes, plays, sings, records and produces all her material herself. "The orchestral or symphonic music never interested me. I always was attracted by simple melodies, almost childish.(…) I put a long time before writing texts because the music seems to tell already a story, to project images." Her piano is really much more than an instrument—Obel says, "The piano and the singing are two equal things to me – maybe not inseparable but very connected. You can say they are like two equal voices." Obel says that, "The music is the most obvious means to express what I am, where I am." "I don't have the feeling of being motivated by anger, revenge or frustration. I do exactly what I always wanted to do. In fact, I don't have the feeling to have chosen music. The music chose me."
"I don't go out and seek inspiration, I think I get my inspiration from the melody. Sometimes I feel like a melody doesn't have anything to do with me, but it's just something that comes, is accumulated from me playing on the piano, and then this little creature just appears."—Agnes Obel about her inspiration in The Quietus
For the promotion of Philharmonics, Agnes Obel appears (under the lenses of Mali Lazell) beside an impressive and worrying owl. This is clearly a reference to Alfred Hitchcock's classic The Birds (film). However there is no owl in Hitchcock's film and many people find more connection with Ingmar Bergman universe. "Agnes, really superb, looks like Liv Ullmann in Ingmar Bergman's Persona (film) or Tippi Hedren disguised in a proud Marnie (film) rather than to its catatonic character of The Birds (film)".
Philharmonics has garnered generally positive review with for example James Skinner from BBC saying that "the compositions... are slow, sombre, sepulchral even, but not without a sense of occasionally singular beauty". In the French cultural magazine Les Inrockuptibles, Johanna Seban speaks about a "disarming purity" and states, "There is, in these deeply melancholic ballads, the clearness and reassuring nobility of bedside discs." At last, in Musicomh, Ben Edgell writes, "Obel sings with a hushed and tender grace that waxes wistful and serene over yearning cello, harp, and piano vignettes. She's a fey siren, with a dusky, near-whispered vocal that speaks to Ane Brun or Eva Cassidy." French journalists have called Obel "A revelation to follow".
This first album has become a critical and commercial success. Philippe Cornet underligne that Philharmonics is "A success that hypnotizes a greedy era of peace and redemption." In March 2011, Obel appeared for the first time in the United States. At the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Agnes Obel has performed all the titles of her album. In October 2011, Agnes Obel has signed with Wintrup Musik for a more important diffusion of Philharmonics. Wintrup is an independent publisher with its own radio & TV promotion department and the worldwide network of a "major".
"Just So" was featured in a Deutsche Telekom commercial in Germany. Three songs from the album were on the soundtrack of the 2009 film Submarino. "Riverside" was featured in the episode "Not Responsible" of Grey's Anatomy and in Episode 12 of the second season of Offspring. "Avenue" was played in the episode "Trust" from Revenge. "Riverside" was played in the episode "Duplicity" from Revenge and in the episodes "What Are You Doing Here, Ho-Bag?" from The CW's Ringer. "Brother Sparrow" is used in Nivea advertising for Nivea Pure & Natural. In April 2011, the Danish group Lulu Rouge have released a remix version of Agnes Obel's Riverside. Keeping the tracks original beauty, Lulu Rouge have added their special electronic tempo on this famous song.
All of the songs in Philharmonics are original work except "Close Watch" (I keep A Close Watch by John Cale) & "Katie Cruel" (a folk traditional; as the iTunes bonus track of the album). In 'Live à Paris', released in 11 April 2011 on iTunes, Agnes Obel sings a cover of Elliot Smith's "Between The Bars". Furthermore, Agnes did a duet with Editors singer Tom Smith, performing "The Christmas Song" by Mel Torme - to be found on the Smith & Burrows - album "Funny Looking Angels" (released in November 2011).
Philharmonics – Deluxe Version 
PIAS Recordings has released, on 7 February 2011, a 'Deluxe Version' of Philharmonics. This Deluxe Version contains five more tracks. Two instrumentals (Riverside and Just So) and three live versions: Over the Hill, Just So, and a new song Smoke & Mirrors. In Riverside EP, Agnes Obel sings "Sons & Daughters". This work is only available on this album.
Since June 2011, Philharmonics is certified gold by the Belgian Entertainment Association (BEA) for sales of 10,000 units. In February 2011, Obel's first album has been nominated for 'Impala European Independent Album of the Year' and the title Riverside (from the Submarino's soundtrack) won the Robert Award for the Best Song of the year 2011.
In October 2011, Agnes Obel wins the 2012 European Border Breakers Awards. The prize celebrate the top new talents in European pop music who "have all succeeded in reaching out to audiences beyond their home country through their talent and energy."
In November 2011, Agnes Obel triumphs at the Danish Music Awards with five prizes for her first album Philharmonics. The artist wins for the Best Album Of The Year, Best Pop Release Of The Year, Best Debut Artist Of The Year, Best Female Artist Of The Year and Best Songwriter Of The Year.
New Album 
Since 2011, the composer is working on a new album. In an interview, Obel explains, "There will be new melodies that do not take origin on my life in Berlin or when I was a teenager. I will begin recording this summer when I can take a break from my tour." About her new album, she said, "I started to write new pieces, but all were instrumental ones, with the piano alone… In this moment, I feel more inclined to compose instrumental pieces. I already started to write some texts, but for me, it's more difficult to compose melodies." In April 2012, Agnes Obel started recording her new album at Lichte Studio in Berlin. In January 2013, Obel finalizes her new album with a serial of mixing sessions.