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How Brimheim found freedom in letting go

22 March 2024, 09:00
Words by Jen Long

As Danish/Faroese artist Helena Rebensdorff releases her stunning second album under the Brimheim alias, she tells Jen Long how she reclaimed her artistic dream.

“I turned 30 in 2020. It was a pandemic lockdown. I had given up the dream of a music career,” shrugs Helena Rebensdorff from the other side of our Zoom call. It’s a week before she releases her second album, the epicly titled RATKING. A dramatic rush of pop-noir, it also marks a stark progression from the moment she lost hope.

Thinking back to her thirtieth with the benefit of a clear four-years of hindsight, she smiles. “Turning that corner I think for many people prompts a lot of self-reflection. I've been trying for this since high school. I was like, I'm gonna be a rockstar, right? I never released anything. I guess I was a bit too scared to fail or maybe I just didn't quite believe in the music I made up until that point,” she says.

Rebensdorff grew up in Denmark. Her mother was a musician and had a home studio, something which felt slightly outrageous in the ‘90s. She sang from a young age, but was never pushed into formal music lessons. “My mom was forced to do that, so she never wanted to impose that upon me, but she was excited when I started showing an interest on my own,” she says.


Picking up on her mother’s music tastes, Rebensdorff remembers the likes of George Michael and Madonna playing a formative influence on her childhood. But it was her discovery of Avril Lavigne, at the tender age of twelve, which provided her gateway into a world of contemporary rock. “She played guitar in the ‘Complicated’ music video. I was like, that's the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life,” she laughs. “Very quickly I was like, Avril Lavigne, that's too pop. I found Kurt Cobain and Nirvana and I loved Smashing Pumpkins, and then I found PJ Harvey. That was sort of the trajectory.”

It was on trips back to her mother’s home on the Faroe Islands that Rebensdorff began to experiment with her musicianship. In Copenhagen, she attended an alternative high school, situated next door to an anarchist youth house. Heavily influenced by the DIY punk and hardcore shows the house staged, she started her own band.

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After high school, she studied music at the Royal Academy in Aarhus before winning a spot at Copenhagen’s highly competitive conservatoire, The Royal Danish Academy, to study a masters in songwriting and music creation.

Graduating in 2018, she was forced to quit music. Having fallen in love with an American, Rebensdorff needed immediate employment to prove to the Danish authorities that she could support her now wife. “I'm not qualified to do anything other than music. So of course, it was service work and retail, which is quite backbreaking and doesn't pay a lot,” she says.

She worked at a clothes shop in the day, and as a bartender at music venue Vega in the evenings. Turning thirty, she realised she needed to make a change. “I'm like, I don't want to do this kind of work for the next forty-years. That's not what I want to do,” she says. “I had been sending my music out to labels and got rejected. I was like, maybe I can live a happy life without being a rockstar. I had found peace with that.”


Having spent the past three years working on a collection of five songs she felt proud of, she decided to get the tracks mastered and give music one last shot. Sending her songs out, hardened to the usual rejections or silence, she reserved all expectations when she received an offer. “This one label really loved it and were down to release it,” she says. “It was a small local indie label. I was a bit sceptical about it, but I was happy that I had found a home for the EP.”

Despite releasing her first single “Kafka” in the depths of the pandemic, her music connected, winning over tastemakers and fans alike with its dark and propulsive rawness. The break from real life afforded Rebensdorff the space to invest further into her creativity. “The places that I worked were closed down so I could just focus on the music all of a sudden, which I hadn't been able to do for years,” she says.

Her debut EP Myself Misspelled came out in October 2020. Her debut album, can’t hate myself into a different shape, followed just over a year later. A brooding and angular collection of sparse catharsis, it gripped with its intimacy but shied away from the bold hooks and delivery of her newest release.

Brimming with confidence, direct vocals and illustrative storytelling, RATKING, out today, is an instant and captivating effort. Working again with producer Søren Buhl Lassen, the pair spent months collaborating on the songwriting, delving into Rebensdorff’s most intimate insecurities. “I think it definitely took the first record to build trust,” she says. “I just felt very free and I felt very good about letting go of control and just exploring what would happen between the two of us. Fairly quickly a theme emerged and then post-realising what that was, I was a bit more intentional.”

Digging into the intricacies of self-reliance versus ultra-dependence, Rebensdorff’s lyrics induce empathy and coax with a delicate honesty. “You're trying to fill that just very human existential void within all of us. You want to taste the heaven on someone else's lips, like you want them to fill that hole with their love,” she explains.

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The album’s aesthetic is just as evocative. Based on the natural phenomenon of a collection of rats whose tails become intertwined, its resonance is open to interpretation. “When I told my wife the title, she was like, ‘You really think you want to be associated with something that disgusting?’ I just think it's a really powerful word,” says Rebensdorff. “It could also be an unsolvable problem, being a part of something bigger and wanting to break free. You want your individuality and your freedom, kind of desperately reaching for that. It just captured my imagination and the contrast that I'm trying to talk about on the record.”

Despite its dark context, the record shines with moments of pop’s brightness alongside its thick and intricate guitars. Tracks like first single “Literally Everything” are bolstered by Buhl Lassen’s playful production and Rebensdorff’s striking delivery. “I really wanted it to be mixed like a pop record. I want the vocals to be super in front, way more than in my previous work,” she says.

Having grown her project through the pandemic, it took a couple of years for Brimheim to build her live show, making good use of the international showcase circuit. With the release of RATKING, she’s ready for what comes next. “Playing live is one of my favourite things about doing music. I love it,” she says. “We are going on our first European tour in May, so that's the first time I'm doing that thing for real and I've been dreaming about that since I was twelve-years-old. I'm super excited!"

RATKING is out now via Tambourhinoceros

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