“It’s weird being called a pioneer,” Stine Andreassen, leader of Norweigan band The Northern Belle, admits.
For the band and the rest of Norway’s underground folk scene, their common musical ground began with influences like Gillian Welch, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and John Prine. It was only when The Northern Belle began mixing other niche influences with traditional Nordic folk instruments like the Hardanger fiddle that they spawned a movement, fittingly titled Nordicana (Nordic Americana). This seamless mesh is captured especially in their latest cover of John Prine’s “Summer’s End.”
As a singer/songwriter, Andreassen’s appreciation for Prine was present from her musical beginnings. But when Prine suddenly passed away in April of 2020, she realized just how important a figure he had been in her life. “When he died, I sat in my room and started crying,” Andreassen shares with American Songwriter. “I don’t know John Prine, but you kind of feel like you know him through his music and a way of writing because he was so heartfelt.”
The passing initiated a period of swimming through Prine’s discography, which allowed Andreassen to remember why she loved him. When she listened back to Prine’s 2018 release “When I Get to Heaven,” her imagination was triggered. She pictured her grandfather, who had passed away in 2016, sitting at the bar dreamed up in the song, sipping on Vodka and Ginger Ale with Prine. “I was just hoping that my granddad is in that bar chatting John Prine up and having a laugh and a good time,” Andreassen says. “It was comforting. I’m just glad that a song that he [Prine] wrote could bring something else out. So, he helped me in a way. It was good to think about that.”
Andreassen then channeled her sorrow into a song on The Northern Belle’s upcoming project The Women in Me, slated to release in the fall, along with a cover of “Summer’s End,” another one of Prine’s 2018 releases. The melancholy song deals with the struggle of addiction in lyrics like, Well, you never know how far from home you’re feeling / Until you watch the shadows cross the ceiling. But Andreassen saw the silver lining.
“I feel like it’s a picture of summers ending, but also that you are in your last chapter of life and reflect on everything around you,” Andreassen shares. “I just love the song, as well. I think it has so many layers. It’s both funny and super depressing in some way. And it’s kind of John Prine in a nutshell.”
To do Prine’s witty lyrics justice, Andreassen, with the help of The Northern Belle’s guitarist Bjørnar Ekse Brandseth, opted for a toned-down electric guitar sound to let the words shine. They then called upon a friend to lay down cello tracks, further elevating the cover’s soothing atmosphere. “I want to cry when I hear the intro because it kind of plays on all the heartstrings,” Andreassen says. Out of the simplistic approach came a heartfelt rendition, but it was not without the given hesitation of covering a longtime idol.
“Of course, when you have a song that you love that much, it’s kind of scary to cover it. But sometimes, when you just sit at home and play something, you make it your own,” Andreassen says. “I hope that Prine’s in heaven and can listen to it— and be happy about it.”
Listen to The Northern Belle’s cover of “Summer’s End” below.
Photos by Julia Marie Naglestad