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“As a songwriter, you’re some sort of a lone wolf”

“As a songwriter, you’re some sort of a lone wolf”
New SUISA member: Joanna Deborah Bussinger who has adopted the pseudonym Debrah Scarlett.
Photo: Stian Foss
Text by guest author Markus Ganz
Debrah Scarlett already enjoyed international fame before releasing her début EP “DYS(U)TOPIA” in mid-March. Prior to that, the Norwegian-Swiss musician joined SUISA.

“I prefer to play it safe and don’t place expectations in myself and others that are too high”, explains Joanna Deborah Bussinger when asked about her future plans. It was not least because of this kind of caution that the 23-year-old avoided the risk of turning into a fleeting pop starlet that has to waive the control over its career. In 2013, the daughter of a Norwegian mother and a Swiss-Italian father had taken part in the Norwegian version of the talent show “The Voice” – and reached the semi-final.

“I didn’t even want to win”, she adds with a smile, “otherwise I would have had to subject myself to tricky conditions.” Still, she doesn’t want to miss the experience she gained there any less than the experience of representing Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest in 2015, where she reached eighth place under her pseudonym Debrah Scarlett together with her duet partner Kjetil Mørland.

Trying out new things

“I do like to face fascinating opportunities and challenges”, Joanna Deborah Bussinger explains. “Even if I am scared at first, I nearly always learn something from the experience.” This also applies to her commute between Switzerland and Norway. She grew up in her native town of Basel and moved together with her mother and her two brothers to Norway when she was six years old. At the age of ten, she decided to try out “what it would be like to live with her father in Basel”. When she turned 21, she moved back – “rather intuitively” – to Norway. “That was a point in time where a lot of things were open and nothing stood in my way.”

Her family also played a major role regarding her professional career. “My parents have always told me: If you want to do something, then do it.” Another characterising effect for Joanna Deborah Bussinger was that she comes from a family which had been art and music enthusiasts for generations. Her mother is a painter and singer, her father plays the piano and writes poems. “When I was five years old, I didn’t yet know that I wanted to become a musician but that I had to express myself somehow, whether visually or musically. Music turned out to be the most natural medium and means for me to create my own world.”

Fuelled by feelings

When she was 15, Joanna Deborah Bussinger began to play the piano and to write songs. Soon she took singing lessons and attended the preparatory class at the Academy of Art and Design as well as the prep class of the Jazz Campus in Basel. She became more and more active and was a singer with the project ‘The Rumours’, for example. What she really wanted to do, however, was to develop her own music. The début EP “DYS(U)TOPIA” which was released mid-March does, despite its many stylistic influences sound remarkably independent and proficient, and it isn’t just the captivating singing but also the dreamy atmosphere that stands out.

Joanna Deborah Bussinger has written most of the songs at home so far, alone in front of the piano. “I have, more recently, also started to collaborate with other musicians. It is exciting to try something that you wouldn’t do alone at home, after all, as a songwriter, you’re usually some sort of a lone wolf.” Most of her songs are fuelled by a feeling, present around her, and for which she was trying to find a melody. “From this, a theme usually emerges and I soon realise while I am composing which direction the journey will take.”

Still going in 40 years’ time!

Music has become her “language”, as she spoke several languages since childhood and yet never managed any of them to perfection. “Music allowed me to express myself properly.” Nevertheless, she also writes song lyrics subtle and pensive at the same time, which reverberate even more once they are sung. They are always in English even though this is neither her mother’s nor her father’s tongue. “Strangely enough, it feels better for me to write personal lyrics in English. It provides the story with a certain distance, as if I had experienced it three years ago and would now only sing about it.”

Joanna Deborah Bussinger hopes that her career will continue to develop steadily; she is already working on a début album. “I try to do what I can and all members of my great team are doing the same, helping me in Basel, Berlin, London and Oslo. Still, I want to keep a nice, slow pace, not too fast, so that I don’t get under commercial pressure. After all, I still want to make music in 40 years.”

Comforting knowledge

With such long-term plans in mind, SUISA also plays a role, even though Joanna Deborah Bussinger has only recently joined as a member. “I had not really seen the sense in a membership of a collective management organisation for copyright before, as I had not published my compositions at that time.” This changed since she has been signed to the management and label ‘Radicalis’. As the company has its offices in Basel, she decided to become a SUISA member even though she is still living in Norway. “This way, the specialists at Radicalis can check any questions directly with SUISA which is also known for the fact that settlements are made quicker than at any other collective management organisation.” She doesn’t know yet what exactly she can expect from SUISA in terms of royalties. “But I think it’s great for all musicians that this kind of cooperative society exists. After all, it simplifies our lives with its work and defends our rights – to know that is really comforting.”

4th – 6th April at the “Zermatt Unplugged Festival”., Debrah Scarlett’s official website

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