Editor’s Note: In celebration of Women’s History Month, You Sing I Write is highlighting female country artists and songwriters throughout March.
Malin Pettersen grew up in Oslo, Norway, listening to country acts like Dwight Yoakam, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and George Jones. She says she found these voices mysterious and often connected with the emotions within country songs. Her father was a musician and she began playing country music with his band at an early age. Pettersen soon had her heart set on Austin, Texas after a chance meeting with Brennen Leigh at a music festival in Norway when she was 17. Leigh talked of playing there and Pettersen recalled stories from her father performing in Texas too.
“I was 17 and everything I wanted was to go to the States and play music,” she says. “But my dad was like, ‘You won’t get into any of the shows until you’re 21. So wait to go until you’re 21.’” She eventually did make it to Austin at 21 and found a kinship with the musicians she met, who also knew her favorite country artists. “Coming to Austin where everybody had the same reference that I did times a thousand, it was a very magical time,” she adds.
Wildhorse embraces Pettersen’s love of American country music and America itself. Songs like the sweeping and vivid “California” place the listener in the Golden State with mesmerizing pedal steel and Pettersen’s delicate vocals. The song was written on a road trip with her family there and serves as a reflection on what she was seeing. Having never been to California before, she was in awe of the state’s diverse landscape and likened it to several different countries.
“The beach, but also the mountains and everything in between, it really made an impact,” she says. “There were so many places that we went where I felt like a piece of American history was very present. The nature is so overwhelming and it was very easy to picture the America that was there before America was America. It was very easy to see the wilderness and think what maybe it was like before. It felt like a new world.”
Unbeknownst to her at the time, Pettersen says the album ended up being about journeys. One song in particular, “Let’s Go Out,” has changed in meaning due to the current racial climate around the world.
“The topic of race is getting more and more talked about not just in the States, but in Europe too. It took on a whole new meaning for me. ‘Let’s Go Out’ suddenly was about, ‘Let’s go out into the streets and not stop until things actually change, until people actually listen and actually make these changes to our own lives, but also on a society level,’” she says. “The more literal meaning is a lot clearer to me now.”
Pettersen recorded Wildhorse in February and September 2019, flying from Norway to Nashville on both occasions. She enlisted the help of Nashville’s ace musicians including Aaron Goodrich (Colter Wall), Misa Arriaga (Kacey Musgraves, Lillie Mae), Ryan A. Keith (Rayland Baxter), and Eddy Dunlap (Luke Bryan, the Grand Ole Opry house band), with contributions from Logan Ledger, Dennis Crouch, Ben Sanders, Mike Eli and Emily Keith. Pettersen recorded the album live and Wildhorse currently serves as a time capsule of her trips to Nashville until she can return.
“The people who I made this album with are people who I am so proud and thankful to have worked with and friends for life. I got on that plane and I had sent them songs. We didn’t know if it was going to be an album or a couple of songs,” she continues. “For them to include me in their life those weeks that I was there and take me in the way that they did both creatively and also personally, they’ve given me something that when I put the album on, it takes me straight back to that studio to those days and those weeks of making it.”
For more of my interview with Malin Pettersen, visit Forbes.