Breaking Free: An interview with Maja Schønning from Forever Still
Interview by Rich Leggatt
It baffles me to think that, until only a few short weeks ago, I hadn't heard of Copenhagen's hottest new hard rock act, Forever Still. Exploding out of the city's underground scene, Forever Still has taken global cyberspace by storm. They've amassed an online following of thousands of loyal fans (myself included) in a very short amount of time. But what's really impressive is that they've accomplished this with little more than a handful of recorded song releases, thus proving the old adage: it's the quality that counts, not the quantity.
In 2009 vocalist extraordinaire Maja Schønning joined creative forces with recording engineer and songwriting genius Mikkel Haastrup. The duo immediately began to write and record material together, recruiting band members along the way. The complete lineup includes drummer Chad T. Charlton and guitarist Carsten Christensen. Guitarist Anders Bo Jespersen added his handiwork to the studio recordings.
As if this perfect storm of talent, passion and technical expertise were not enough, Forever Still teamed up with Grammy Award winning producer Flemming Rasmussen (Flemming took home the award for producing Metallica's "One" in 1989). Ultimately with his help they released their flawless debut EP "Breaking Free" in February 2013.
Forever Still have so much going for them right now that it only seems to be a matter of time before they are catapulted into mega-stardom. They're the real deal. They've got the image and the music to back it up. It's impossible not to be impressed by Maja's passionate and emotional delivery of each lyric in every song. But there are more than just looks, swagger and skill in this band of rockers. There's a genuine sense of the amount of gratitude that they have for their fans. As I read through their social media pages I couldn't help but notice how Maja actively responds to every comment with appreciation and kindness. It's enduring little touches like these that make a world of difference to the people who follow you.
I had the privilege of asking Maja some questions about Forever Still, and about her own personal relationship with music. With wholehearted conviction, here is what she had to say:
HMS: Maja, you have such a lovely voice and a remarkable vocal range. I'm assuming that you were classically trained. Growing up, has music always been a part of your life? When did you know that this was what you wanted to do?
Maja: Why thank you very much! So many questions in one, I'll try to narrow down my answer. I haven't had any classical training, and until a few years ago I hadn't had any training at all. I had this idea that it would be cooler if I could get really, really good all by myself. Luckily I realized that this was a stupid decision, and I've only gotten better since I started taking classes. I try to take one every month but it's an expensive business.
Music has helped me through a lot of tough times, especially as a teenager, and music is still what I turn to, whether it's because I'm happy or sad or anywhere in between.
I have loved singing and even creating my own songs since I was very small. But it wasn't until a few years ago that I really dared to believe that, if I wanted to, I could make it in the music business. Since I was 5 years old, I thought I was going to be a veterinarian, and I had it all planned out. I'm happy I grew up and decided that I should have the right to wake up every day and do what makes me happy instead.
HMS: Were there any singers or performers that influenced your unique vocal style?
Maja: Definitely, but honestly I'm not aware of who or how. I have listened to a lot of different vocalists, male and female, in many different genres. Of course I'm inspired by singers with great vocal ability, but more importantly I'm inspired by singers who are able to convey emotion through their voice. If you're that second type of vocalist then you can hit as many wrong notes as you want, and they'll all just be right.
HMS: I read that you first met Mikkel Haastrup during a gig while you were performing in another band. Were you coming from a hard rock background? Put another way, was Forever Still a departure for you from the bands that you were previously involved with, in terms of musical style?
Maja: True, I was playing with a hard rock/metal band at that time, my first real band. I was in the band for the fun and for the practice, but I wasn't really inspired to write. Mikkel sent me an instrumental piece of music and melodies started forming in my head. I was intrigued by the dreamy and melodic soundscapes that the electronic elements helped create. But I wasn't ready to part with my old band, so I did both for a year until I felt like Forever Still needed my full attention.
"Music has helped me through a lot of tough times..."
HMS: Give us a little insight into Forever Still's songwriting process. Are you and Mikkel Haastrup the primary songwriters for the group? Or do the songs come together organically during band practices?
Maja: Yes we are, and we usually work like I mentioned previously. I start out with an instrumental piece from Mikkel, and I present him with the melodies. Then we let ourselves inspire one another and mold the different pieces to fit each other until the final product becomes as good as possible. If we're not happy with one thing or the other, we do it again and come up with new stuff. But I look forward to start writing again, I have a few raw vocals with piano chords only, so it could be fun to work the other way around too.
HMS: Forever Still definitely has a very strong online following. Does the band have an equally strong fan base in your hometown of Copenhagen?
Maja: Yes, we are lucky enough to have attracted a wonderful following from across the globe. We always have a nice turnout when we play in Copenhagen, so that's a pleasure. But it's a small city so we can't do that every month. We very much look forward to traveling a bit more with the music and visiting our fans in other countries!
HMS: I know that touring can be exhausting; especially when even the most popular up and coming bands still need to work day jobs to make ends meet. Does Forever Still do a lot touring outside of Copenhagen to reach a wider audience?
Maja: We have toured most of Denmark, but there are still cities that we'd love to visit and revisit. We've gotten great responses in the cities that we've been to, and we've met a lot of cool people. So we very much look forward to going on tour again. Outside of Denmark also!
HMS: The production quality of your EP, "Breaking Free", is impeccable! Tell us what it was like to work with award winning producer Flemming Rasmussen. Will he be involved on the production of an upcoming Forever Still album?
Maja: So pleased to hear that, thank you! The production is a result of Mikkel doing one of the things he does best. Flemming was really cool to work with in the studio, and he's very pleasant to be around so it's easy to get things done. Like us, he wanted the final product to be as good as it possibly could, so we only stopped when we were sure it couldn't get any better. We've had a very clear vision of how we wanted the full length album to turn out and, since Mikkel has recorded and produced some of the best selling Danish artists around, we thought it best to take full control of the process and do it ourselves.
HMS: Just like I felt with your EP, I don't want this interview to end so soon. But in closing, give us a glimpse of what the future holds for Forever Still. Can we look forward to seeing Forever Still in concert on North American shores someday?
Maja: It's been a pleasure, and trust me it's hard for me to stop talking as well (I know a few people who'll be nodding their head at the screen now)! The release date for the album is not official yet so I can't give that away. But I promise you that it will be out this year and, dare I say, it's going to be even better than the EP!
Every time people like yourself help us out by spreading the word about our music, our fan base grows faster, which makes it all the more likely that we'll come sooner. North America already holds a fairly big part of our fan base, so no matter what, it's safe to say we're going to tour there in the future. How near in the future is in your hands as well as ours!
We at HMS would like to thank Maja Schønning of Forever Still for speaking with us. You can preview and purchase Forever Still's music through the links we have posted in the sidebar.
Rich Leggatt, HMS