Interview: Sarah Dawn Finer
GT chills with one of out favourite Eurovision babes...
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Sarah Dawn Finer is a Swedish singer, songwriter and actress with British and American heritage. For those of you who were too pissed to remember that night in May, she performed at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest final as herself (with a stunning "naked" rendition of ABBA's Winner Takes It All) as well as playing the English comedy-character 'Lynda Woodruff', a scatty half-tour guide/half-admin assistant, representative from the EBU [the European Broadcasting Union].
Push The Button caught up with the European super-star to chat about Ibiza Uncovered, “cosy” Malmö, the United Kingdom’s chances at Eurovision, and popping over to Vauxhall.
We absolutely adored your rendition of ABBA’s The Winner Takes It All – an apt song choice for the pre-voting bit of the show. How did that come about?
SVT [the Swedish equivalent of the BBC] asked me to make a demo version of The Winner Takes it All back in February. They had an idea to have a very "stripped down" version of the song in the finale right before the voting began, as a contrast to the glitzy show-numbers and big songs. I made a new version of the song three weeks before the show and recorded it with strings and a piano, which we then had to shorten to fit the two and a half minute slot we had to perform it in.
Were you nervous? You know, singing an ABBA song at Eurovision… in Sweden.
I was so nervous to perform it as the original is so loved. SVT wanted me to make my own take of it and yet I wanted to stay true as much as I could to the original.
The original is amazing. What do you think Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny made of it?
Well, I performed Summer Night City at the ABBA Museum opening in Stockholm in early-May, and Benny Andersson spoke to me about it! He said kind words of support which gave me confidence because he said he liked the version when he heard it - so that felt nice. I wanted to make sure he was OK with it, and listened to his comments.
…and, as we all know, it went down well on the night…
I had never sung for an audience that big, so I was more nervous than I had been for years, but the crowd was so loving and after the two and a half minutes I could finally breathe a sigh of relief that I hadn’t fucked it up too bad [laughs.]
And that audience could have been even bigger had it been hosted in Stockholm – what did you think to SVT’s decision of holding the contest in Malmö?
I love Stockholm. I live there and think it’s a beautiful and great city, but Malmö was so much better for the ESC. I think it was the right choice. The whole town was involved and you really felt the love all around.
Lynda Woodruff [the English-accented Eurovision Broadcasting Union spokeswoman comedy-character Finer portrayed at the finals] described Malmö Arena as “cosy”.
We heard that you based Lynda’s voice on the Ibiza Uncovered narrator, which would have been Lisa I'Anson. Is this true?
Yes! I based the accent and voice initially on her for a EBU presentation that I voiced in 2008, but the whole character is a combination of my personality and the different things I find humorous, so Catherine Tate, Little Britain, Russell Brand and Sophia Grace & Rosie. A lot of the character came from improvisations, "Eric Sadeydey" for example.
We thought Lynda was a blast! Over here, in the UK, there’s a bit of a perception by Eurovision fans that the reason we’ve done so appallingly for the best part of a decade is simply that we don’t take the contest seriously enough. How difficult is it to balance a character like Lynda so that there’s enough irreverence and gentle-ribbing of the contest, whilst still remaining respectful?
Humour is about different things, and Lynda genuinely loves the EBU and Eurovision… she’s just completely nonchalant about her research and reading up on info. As for the UK, I am sure that you could and will win again. It's about the best song in combination with the right artist, like Loreen… it’s not about the most famous singer.
Was Only Teardrops [Denmark’s winning entry] a worthy winner?
Anouk [the Netherlands entrant with Birds] was more my kind of music but I love Emmelie de Forest as an artist and singer and the song was nice.
Anouk was our favourite too. Is she more reflective of the artists that inspire you?
Lots of artists have been musical inspirations in my life: The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Tracy Chapman, Aretha Franklin, Prince and Simon & Garfunkel, John Mayer, Jay-Z just to name very few… Then there are vocalists like Donny Hathaway, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, Freddy Mercury, Adele, Beyoncé, Elvis, Alicia Keys, Eva Cassidy, Billie Holliday.
So can we expect another Melodifestivalen entry from you next year? Please say yes!
No. Not for Sweden. Not any time soon… but I would love to write a song or sing for the UK one year. So if you want a half-British, half-American singer for 2015, I know of one.
Amazing. How have those British roots influenced your life, if at all?
My father is from Bethnal Green, East London. He came to Sweden as a young teenager, so compared to my mom, who came to Sweden from the Bronx in New York at 29; he spoke perfect Swedish by the time I grew up. Both my parents have been a huge influence in my life as people - their language and background, my relatives, and their love of the arts. I go to London or New York at least once a year and it has been that way since I was a child.
What next for Sarah Dawn Finer?
Time off. I just did two very intense years of work in Sweden: two tours, released an album, hosted the Swedish Melodifestivalen, TV host at Christmas, Eurovision, Lynda Woodruff, many different concerts and acted in a Swedish motion picture out this Fall. So Summer 2013 is all about vacation… oh, and preparing for the release of my Swedish album in Norway. I am doing some work for radio as well.
Yep, and in the fall I am coming over to the UK to write some songs with Glen Scott [who has worked with James Morrison, Blue, Atomic Kitten, Craig David, Charlotte Church] and his partners as well as some co-writing in Sweden. I am also preparing to play Sally Bowles in Cabaret in Sweden.
And what for Lynda Woodruff?
You tell me!
We want to see her on British TV!
Well if anyone in the TV business in the UK wants her to come "home" to work - she is game!
Love it, but if you had to choose between acting and singing…
Always music. I love acting but I will always be a Singer/Songwriter who acts, and not the other way around. It's great to get to be somebody else for a while, especially if you are a bit tired of yourself which you are at times as a solo artist.
The gays absolutely love you – why do you think that is?
Because I love them! Maybe because I am a gay man in a woman’s body after spending all my life in a “Gay world” with many dear friends. Also, perhaps just a little of the same reason as when Barbra Streisand answered that question: "because I was ‘different’ and I made it." I saw her at the O2 recently.
Next time you’re in London you’ll have to pop by Vauxhall and do a turn at Push The Button…
Maybe someday. I would love to sing for you. I love my British fans and am so thankful for their support.
Will they see you or Lynda in Denmark 2014?
Well, as Lynda would say: Copenhagen. They have good pints of beer…
Words: Robin Holley from Push the Button