STAR AND MASTER OF HER OWN LIFE

Kaufmann Journal meets Danish pop singer Lis Sørensen at her home in Gentofte. Originally a small black tar-pitched holiday home, the singer has built extensions and annexes, transforming it into her dream home. She has lived here with her husband and son for over 20 years. But that will end soon. Lis Sørensen and Jan Sivertsen are divorced, her son has moved out and the house is set to sale. Lis Sørensen has no idea what the future will bring and has no plans as to where she will live. Which suits her fine. It is a very special kind of freedom, to paddle your own kayak and set a course for hopeful shores. BY VIBE NØRGAARD PHOTOGRAPH: MICHAEL ELLEHAMMER
Lis Sørensen

Lis Sørensen

Although Lis Sørensen’s personal future is uncertain, her work plans are not. There are loyal fans and new fans all across the country waiting to see her perform in small and large venues. “Playing in a community hall in Ringkøbing, where they tell us it’s their fondest wish to hear us, is as important as when we play in the Danish Royal Theatre,” she says.

With 100 concerts last year, her popularity and broad appeal is undeniable. It also shows that she works hard and is very focussed. Her high energy is evident on the stage and on the tennis court from where she has just come. She has new projects on the horizon and her concert calendar is full. And this is a big part of what makes life meaningful. Singing on the stage.

“I love to be on the stage. It’s a lifestyle. It’s how I make my living and it’s the reason I can afford a horse and can travel around the world. But you need to have the energy. I have to stay fit. I play tennis for two hours every day. I played yesterday as well. Because it takes a lot to get on stage. I like the fact I have to get myself together. I like the discipline. And I can feel when I’m ready.”

It started with the band “De Fem”

When Lis Sørensen was in third grade in school and started her own girl band called “De Fem” (The Five), she never imagined she would still be singing on stage when she was 62. “I definitely didn’t think I’d still be singing when I was 30,” she says. “We were kids, so we didn’t think too far ahead.” At school in Brabrand in Aarhus, Lis Sørensen and her classmates had a new music teacher. Holger Laumann (later husband to singer Anne Linnet, and father to her two eldest children) changed Lis Sørensen’s life forever. “Holger turned up with his long hair, poncho and saxophone, and that changed everything for me. At school everything was very orderly and strict. We stood in a row and if you didn’t listen, you got a slap on the ear. Then here comes Holger and the music. It was the start of everything. Suddenly I had a guitar, sang in a chorus. Going to school was exciting.”

Lis Sørensen
Performing on stage requires a lot of energy, so it’s important Lis Sørensen keeps herself fit. She plays tennis several times a week.

“De Fem” wasn’t just any school band. They also toured. “Our first gig was at the town hall, where we played for the mayor. Usually we played at town celebrations, things like that. Holger went with us and we earned fifty kroner per gig.” ‘De Fem’ also recorded songs together with Holger Laumann and his band Tears. Were there other girl bands around at that time? “There was the Ladybirds,” says Lis and smiles. “They played topless. We didn’t.” That must certainly have pleased Lis Sørensen’s mother, who already warned Lis about the life of a rock musician when she was just a child. “My first experience with a beat band was on Fanø where we were on holiday and where there was a beat music club called Pelargoniehuset. I was six or seven when I looked at all of the buses and the beatniks getting off them. My mum held my hand and said: ‘Don’t you ever turn out like them.’” “De Fem” split up when the girls turned 14. “A lot of things happened at once. I got a horse. And then there were boys ...”

And then Anne Linnet called

Lis Sørensen had started upper secondary school and was enjoying the life of a teenage girl with boys, horses and books when the phone rang. It was Anne Linnet. “It was a phone call that changed my life. She asked if I wanted to join a girl band and that was the start of Shit & Chanel.” Just like “De Fem”, Shit & Chanel was an all-girl band and it became a legendary, gaining a lot of attention on the Danish music scene. Lis Sørensen played guitar and everyone still remembers her number “Smuk og dejlig” (Beautiful and lovely). The band made four albums together and played countless concerts. “It all happened so fast. We played intensively for six years, until 1979, and then the band slowly started to break up. But before that we toured in Norway.” – Lis smiles– “We only played at two venues but we called it our Norway tour. One of the venues was in Oslo, were we played in front of a couple of dozen people. The other venue was a bit further north and it only about 16 or 17 people. But one of them was Sebastian.

Sebastian and a whole new musical landscape

Meeting Sebastian was a turning point in Lis Sørensen’s life. “When Sebastian asked me to play in his band it was another musical landscape. They had some amazing musicians, and even though I’d played in Shit & Chanel, these musicians were in a whole other league...and then I got “Stille før storm” (Stillness before the storm)”. The song changed Lis Sørensen’s life in many ways. “I went from being in Shit & Chanel with my guitar to now I was a soloist for real. The song was a catalyst for the rest of my musical life. I came alive as a singer by singing songs like that. It’s a little song in a big musical world.” Lis Sørensen established her solo career during the 1980s. Her first album “Himmelen ned på Jorden” (Heaven on Earth) was released in 1983, followed by “Lis Sørensen” in 1985 and “Sigøjnerblod” (Gypsy Blood) in 1987. She released the album “Hjerternes Sang” (Hearts’ Songs) in 1989 and 350,000 were sold in Denmark. Now in her 30s, the whole of Denmark loved Lis Sørensen’s amazing voice and there was no end to her success. But while the 80 were nothing but success, the 90s were more difficult.

Lis Sørensen
Lis Sørensen started her career in girl bands. Today, she’s one of the boys.

Difficult period

Today, Lis Sørensen does not give her age much thought, whether she is 50 or 60. But this was not always the case. “Today it’s acceptable to become old in this job. But it absolutely wasn’t when I was 40. It was so difficult. I’d just become a mother, and I thought, how am I supposed to make this work with people’s expectations? And my own expectations? Can I continue as before? Can I still decide to do what I want to do? There came a day when I had to admit to myself I needed to make a choice – If I couldn’t make what I wanted to make, then there wasn’t any point. Maybe the ice-cream shop in Tversted will be up for sale, and maybe I’ll just go and buy that.” Lis Sørensen faced many difficult challenges at the end of the 1990s. “So much had happened in the industry. You had to sing in English. You had to tour abroad. And here I was, from the 80s, singing in Danish and felt people were like ‘now we’ve heard enough from you’.” The music festivals didn’t ask for me, and I had to re-assess and reflect – could I even go on in my own terms?”

17 man band

Lis Sørensen’s dreams were way out of step with the time’s techno music. Quite the opposite. The collaboration with Sebastian was successful and they played together for a number of years. In 2000, against the wishes of the record companies, Lis Sørensen released her album Rose, a celebration of her work with Sebastian and his songs. “I wanted to make the album Rose. And I wanted to make it with a 17 man band. After my work with Sebastian was finished, I did everything to put distance between me and Sebastian, me and Anne Linnet, me and Sanne Salomonsen. I needed to go out and find my own foundation. But I could see how much I’d been influenced by all of Sebastian’s world, his texts, his songs. And I knew that I had to do something, even though at that time it was very difficult to convince the record companies that there was a project that had a future. So two years passed like that, and I looked at my budget and I could see it wasn’t working out. I wasn’t earning money when I travelled with a 17 man band and they had to stay at a hotel.”

The singer changed course. The “Rose” album had been released and now she was touring to survive financially and musically. “I put together a small team with my husband Jan, Jette Schandorff and Per Frost and we started to play in very small venues. We all sat together in the car with all of the instruments and one technician. I stared that in 2003. And then around 2007, I did the Kronborg Concert, and from there on, things got better.”

Lis Sørensen
Lis Sørensen performs in some of the biggest and smallest venues in Denmark, and every performance has to be the ultimate performance.

One of the boys

As a girl and then as a young woman, Lis Sørensen's career involved only girl bands. Now she is one of the boys. Her band consists of men, some of the most talented in the industry – and she’s known some of them almost her entire life. “When you tour as much as I do, having a band is alpha and omega, where we challenge each other all of the time, where I feel secure, where I know they will turn up on time and that they’re dependable. This is what we’re together for, and we have to give it our all every time. No one falls asleep at the wheel when they’re with me. I’ve never done that. And I know my music is good.”

“On a personal note, being together also makes us very happy, and I take care of my band. If one of us is under the weather, I’ll find some paracetamol tablets in my tour bag. It’s the same on the stage. It’s just a look, a way of catching each other’s attention. We have eye contact. We look after one another. I can’t imagine not having them.”

Entrepreneur

Lis Sørensen is the leader of the band and her own boss. She controls her life with a mix of passion, experience, flair and entrepreneurship. “It’s all about finding good partners – a record company who respects my artistic freedom, a booking agency that understands where I want to play and who I want to play for. I play in tiny venues and I also play at the Danish Royal Theatre, and I know well that you don’t arrive at a tiny venue with a huge band. I’ll arrive with a deluxe team who can provide the ultimate concert, even though there’s only 200 people. I make sure that everyone makes money, including the organisers, so we can come back. I’m a kind of an entrepreneur. I’ve personally learned how to do this, found out where I will play, how many people I’ll bring, how much lighting to use. etc. It’s a huge amount of freedom.” There has been both belief and doubt in Lis Sørensen’s life. “I’ve doubted as much as I’ve believed. But I’ve gone ahead anyway, because I wanted to give my family a good life. I still doubt – it’s doubt that makes me think things through so thoroughly. And if I say yes, it’s binding.”