SHE/BEAST

If 2020 marked the birth of She/Beast, then 2021 is the year it evolves. When the pandemic cancelled Katja Nielsen’s best-laid plans, with her acclaimed punk outfit Arre! Arre! forced off the road, the singer and guitarist used the free time to develop her own identity as a singer-songwriter. That identity is She/Beast, and the fruits of her isolation writing sessions were two incendiary EPs: In the Depths of Misery, released last December, and This Too Shall Pass, which arrived back in March.

They held huge personal significance for Nielsen. Around a year before she began working on them, she finally received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, after more than a decade of suffering from it. She/Beast provided her with an outlet, one in which to pour a maelstrom of angst and complicated emotions surrounding her condition. “The lyrics on the two EPs were all about me and my mental disorder,” she explains. “Through the songs, I was putting all of my grief, trauma and anger to rest. It was a way of telling myself, “OK, so this happened, and now that you know why, you can do something about it when it happens again.” In fact, the disorder itself was something she found she was able to turn to her advantage; “for me, it comes with easy access to creative thinking and ‘flow’, even when I’m not having an episode.”

With those demons exorcised, Nielsen has moved on to break new ground with the first She/Beast full-length. Violent Tendencies is a ten-track rollercoaster that veers between a glut of different genres, themes and lyrical ideas, although still scored through with Nielsen’s sharp ear for melody. The eighties synth stylings of In the Depths of Misery and This Too Shall Pass are eschewed in favour of bringing the guitar to the forefront, forming the sonic backbone of the album, alongside a new reliance on organs. “I wanted to go from that 80s synth vibe to more of a pop-rock feeling.”

The tracks were again penned at home in Nielsen’s living room, while the songs were cut at Studio Sickan in her native Malmö, with Joakim Lindberg producing. The main focus, she says, was on developing the She/Beast sound, which meant shuffling the pack when it came to her influences; where bedroom pop and dark wave defined the sound of the EPs, Violent Tendencies owes a debt to everything from Motown to the Beatles. “I’ve always been a big fan of 50s and 60s pop, and I just knew I had an album inside of me, waiting to come out,” she says. “In my head, I already had ‘templates’ for songs that I wanted to work on, and when I decided on a main theme lyrically, it all came together quickly.”

That theme is a world away from the ones she was working with last time; whereas the EPs were introspective, the appropriately-titled Violent Tendencies has her looking outward, at a particularly dark historical thread: female murderers. Each track on the record looks unflinchingly at the topic, with every song looking at a different killer, from sinister tales of child kidnapping (‘Stranger Danger’) to the pitch-black, razor-sharp storytelling of ‘Two Wives, One Axe’. “I’m a big fan of true crime, and I never knew that there were so many women who’d killed somebody,” Nielsen explains. “It was very enticing to do the research needed for the lyrics – I found out that a lot of the murders were a crime of passion. So, I guess this is a way of highlighting women in history, even though they were sometimes vicious, and not well behaved.”

Having assembled a live band, it’s Nielsen’s eventual intention to take She/Beast on the road. By the time she does, she’ll have plenty of material to delve into; it’s difficult to believe that it remains such a fledgling project, with three varied and enthralling releases in the space of a year. “I always need a project to keep me busy,” she says. “It helps me to stay sane!”


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IMAGES: To download, click above. Photo credit to Christine “Smulan” Björk.

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