LOS ANGELES — Maria Jensen is the first to admit that not many soul artists make it big by way of Scandanavia. “I’m just a little girl from Denmark, so none of this should have been possible,” she says. And yet the 25-year-old’s debut album “My Soul,” can be heard playing nonstop on the radio and in venues like Lotus in New York and The Roxy in West Hollywood, where Jensen is rehearsing for a gig one Tuesday afternoon.
The half-Danish, half-Guyanian singer, who dropped her last name because “it’s the Danish equivalent of Smith,” is inspired by soulful, moody musicians like Sade and Massive Attack. The tracks on her record are both rhythmic and personal. “It’s not something that you can dance to, but you can certainly relate to it,” says the artist now known as Maria.
She wrote most of the album in the aftermath of a breakup. “It’s like opening up my diary from the last couple of years,” Maria says, noting that the first single, “I Give, You Take,” is about an ex who “was a bit of an ass, though he inspired a great song.”
On the other hand, the idea behind “Intoxicated” came from a Maya Angelou novel. The soul singer’s occasional literary angle comes thanks to her parents, who were convinced she’d be a lawyer one day and encouraged her to stay in school. But hoping to follow in the footsteps of Michael Jackson and Tracy Chapman, Maria signed with the Danish producer Soulshock at 15 instead, and has worked with him ever since.
After signing with Dreamworks three years ago and recording the album, Maria moved to L.A. at the beginning of the year. But Jensen is unlikely to be found cruising any of the city’s clubs where her songs are so popular. She says she’s more of a homebody, preferring songwriting and backgammon to clubbing. Even getting dolled up for photo shoots and videos isn’t really her thing. “My mom is a seamstress, so she spoiled me when it comes to clothes. I tend to have disagreements with tailors at my fittings,” she says.
And Maria’s style is decidedly un-flashy. “If I can find something that doesn’t look forced, than I’m happy,” she says. “I’m definitely not a bling-bling girl.”