The Icelander Cometh

For a few years, Emiliana Torrini wasn't sure she'd ever make music again. Then the phone started ringing.

Fisherman's Woman -- Iceland-born songstress Emiliana Torrini's second album -- begins on a positive enough note: "Home alone and happy/ Nothing brings me down," Torrini coos on the opening track, her warm, dulcet voice draped gently over a comforting bed of folky guitar-picking, piano plinks, and the slightest breaths of percussion and electric guitar hovering in the background.

But as breezy and optimistic a vibe as the song imparts, the events of the past five years brought the 27-year-old singer down so far that the possibility of a follow-up to Love in the Time of Science, her modest gem of a debut (released in 1999 in the U.K. and the next year in the United States), was remote. Sure, there was the usual record company bullshit: Torrini and Virgin severed their ties, amid much legal wrangling, after Lovefailed to generate big sales. And because of her accent and phrasing -- plus the lush, trip-hoppy nature of Love(produced by Roland Orzabal of Tears for Fears) -- persistent and occasionally disparaging media comparisons to Björk overshadowed or discounted Torrini's arresting songs, her magnificently elastic vocals, and her ability to shift across a spectrum of moods, from carefree to spectral, with ease and sincerity. Yet all of that industry-related twaddle paled in comparison to what was going on in her personal life, shortly after Lovehit store shelves.

"I don't want to get into too many details, but what happened was that I lost a person that was very, very close to me," Torrini says quietly over the phone in her delicate Reykjavik lilt, not yet diluted from a couple of years living in Brighton, England, which is where she's calling from. "I went into a bit of a ... well, I don't know, really. I don't remember a year and a half of it, to be honest. It was entirely devastating, and my priorities changed. I wasn't listening to any music, and there was no music happening in my head. It was quite bleak."

Emiliana Torrini: "I have about eight 
personalities, and I was very happy to be 
able to air out the disco diva."
Emiliana Torrini: "I have about eight personalities, and I was very happy to be able to air out the disco diva."

For a full three years, in fact, she says she had no creative impulses whatsoever. While the fans she garnered from the debut album and a lengthy U.S. tour -- fans who were unaware of the singer's plight -- wondered when they'd get to hear some new material, Torrini simply wondered if the muse had deserted her forever, and how she'd go about piecing her life back together.

"I sort of went, 'What can I do?' I've done music all of my life. I've never done anything else. I've never been able to keep a job! But at that time I was really feeling like I would never do music again. I just wasn't interested; all my thoughts were elsewhere. I was like, 'I have to go and study something. I guess I have to go and make something of myself.' And then, somehow, I got pulled back into it."

Torrini's climb back into the world of musicmaking involved a series of carefully considered baby steps and a bit of luck. It began with a friendship she struck up with Rob Garza and Eric Hilton, aka suave Washington, D.C., electro-groovers Thievery Corporation. Fans of Love, the pair asked Torrini to tour with them as a guest vocalist, then implored her to join them in the studio for their 2002 album, The Richest Man in Babylon (she ended up co-writing and singing on two tracks). Then came an even bigger break: Lord of the Ringsdirector Peter Jackson got in touch, asking her to write a song for 2002's The Two Towers, the second film in the trilogy. It was an opportunity too good to pass up, though Torrini was still struggling to find her creative chops again.

"I've never called myself a songwriter," she says. "I'm an accidental writer. I'm one of those people who's always running away from writing, and I can't really come up with a song unless I have to use it. I just need a really specific mood, surrounding, and purpose for it to happen."

While the massive exposure from Torrini's suitably dramatic "Gollum's Song" piqued interest in her solo career, she wasn't quite ready to begin work on another album -- mostly, she says, because she was still dealing with her loss and trying to find the perfect situation, and the perfect people, to work with. And then she met "Mr. Dan" Carey, a British ambient-breakbeat musician and producer who had endured his own tribulations with Virgin in the early '00s, developing a close friendship that soon blossomed into a musical partnership. By the middle of 2003, Torrini's fortunate streak was starting to part her dark clouds.

"It took me a really long time to have that ding! where you wake up from it all and get over it. Good things started happening, and when good things start happening after good things haven't happened for sooo long, you start to come awake again."

Though both Torrini and Carey had established themselves as electronic artists, when they entered the studio together they found themselves coming up with melodies and ideas primarily on acoustic guitars. Rather than transform those tunes into layered, synthetic soundscapes, they stuck with the simple, organic approach for the entirety of the disc.

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