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Norway’s Punk-Pop Spitfire Ida Maria

Booze, sex and ultra-catchy garage rock from Europe’s Chrissie Hynde

David Browne Jun 21, 2009

“It takes a lot of work to be drunk all the time,” Ida Maria tells a sellout crowd at New York’s Mercury Lounge. Decked out in a glittery gold dress, the 24-year-old Norwegian tears through her tight garage-pop tunes at breakneck speed, sounding like a cross between Nico and Chrissie Hynde. The crowd screams along with her songs about sex (the bubblegum blitzkrieg of ”˜I Like You So Much Better When You’re Naked’), boozing (the stop-start ”˜Oh My God’) and general craziness (the mod-rocking ”˜Queen of the World’). At the end of the set, Maria chastises the audience for being too quiet ”“ and then empties a bottle of water over her head.

The next afternoon, while dining on pizza and coffee, Maria seems sheepish about her onstage antics. “When you work in a bar, watching people drink all night, all you want to do is have a beer,” she says. With her jeans, down jacket and brown shag, she’s more like a polite exchange student than a punky pop hellion whose debut album ”“ Fortress ’Round My Heart ”“ was getting rave reviews nearly a year before it was released here. “It’s all been a blur,” Maria says. “It was like taking out a really fast car.”

Raised in the tiny burg of Nesna (population 1,800) in way-northern Norway, Ida (pronounced eee-da) Maria Borli Sivertsen grew up relatively sheltered. “You have to go by car over a mountain to find a record store,” she says. “And there you might find some local country bands. It’s just really hard to find music up there.” She didn’t hear any classic rock until she baby-sat for the town doctor as a teenager and dipped into his 3,000-plus record collection, falling in love with Kate Bush and Bob Dylan.

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When Maria eventually started performing, her music was still pretty mild ”“ covers of jazz classics like ”˜Summertime’ and folky versions of Lou Reed songs. But during a brief stab at college near Stockholm, she formed a band ”“ and the other, less inhibited performer emerged. She cut out the complex jazz progressions and focussed on writing punchy, three-minute songs with as few chords as possible. “It became like an explosion,” she recalls. “I wanted to keep it simple so I could get the lyrics across.”

On the verge of her album release and first US tour, Maria has moved back to Nesna, which isn’t a sign of retreat. “I feel like my job is more important than ever,” she says. “But I’m not trying to figure out the world. I’ll leave that to Bob Dylan.”