Artist Lena Maria Vendelius has released a new album, "Dad's Favorites 3". On the cover, not only her radiant presence shines but also the jewelry from ZOE HOOP. We called her and had a lovely conversation about the album, jewelry, and her extensive career.
It was during a summer concert and women's breakfast at Gullbrannagården in Halmstad that Lena Maria Vendelius discovered ZOE HOOP's jewelry.
– I was incredibly fascinated and very inspired when the founder Caroline Johansson shared her story about how well-received the jewelry has been around the world and her journey to get there, she says, and continues:
– It's one thing to convey a message in a cross. But to succeed in infusing all jewelry with a message, I think, is a fantastic business idea. And she designs so beautifully, the execution is superb, says Lena Maria Vendelius.
The company's vision and story are also things she recognizes from her own life as an artist and painter.
– Living according to the opportunities that arise has shaped my life. And it's a lifestyle that inspires me greatly. I dared to pursue my calling without really knowing what I would do. In that way, I see myself in the journey ZOE HOOP is making, she says.
The jewelry that particularly caught her interest was the earrings and necklace with the Shepherd's cross, based on Psalm 23. For Lena Maria Vendelius, these are not just accessories but a strong symbol of her life experiences.
– Musical versions of that psalm have followed me all my life. So it's very, very significant to me, she says.
She begins to talk about a specific occasion, but first, we must mention what "all my life" means for Lena Maria - she was born without arms and with one leg shorter than the other. The seemingly tough physical challenges, however, have not stopped her from anything.
– Instead, I feel I've been able to do much more in life because I'm different. I believe that has everything to do with my Christian faith. I don't think I could have thought this way otherwise, she says.
So, instead of becoming angry and irritated about her disability, she instead won world championships and set world records in swimming, made a name for herself as a singer, author, and painter. Received a medal from the king and became a manga character in Japan.
Ahead of the Paralympics in Seoul in 1988, SVT (Swedish national tv) made a documentary about her life. She was only 20 years old at the time. Among the chlorine-scented underwater images of swimming techniques, she suddenly sits in her apartment singing with the clearest voice while playing her keyboard with her toes.
- It was Psalm 23 I sang, the version composed by Hans Lennart Rask. So it feels like a special connection, she says.
After that TV performance, the singing didn't really quiet down. 50 records and films later, Lena Maria is perhaps best known today as an artist.
Lena Maria Vendelius Dad's Favorites
Right now, she's current with a new album, "Dad's Favorites 3". A sequel to the success of Dad's Favorites, which originally was a wish from Lena Maria's father Rolf. He asked before his 60th birthday if she could make a record with his favorite songs on it.
– At first, I thought it was impossible, these are mostly older songs, and don't fit with what I do. Besides, it would be a very expensive gift, says Lena Maria.
But she didn't let go of the idea and eventually contacted her friend, the singer Irene Kristérn. Together, they recorded the father's selected songs, and it turned out not only to be the father's favorite songs.
- The album was a hit in Sweden and sold really well, and we toured with it all fall then, says Lena Maria.
On the first album, all the songs were chosen by the father. It was followed by a Dad's Favorites 2 - Heavenly Songs. And when it was time for an 80th birthday celebration this year, a Dad's Favorites 3 was a given. This album includes songs by everyone from Roland Utbult to Lars Mörlid, Nils F Nygren, Inga-Maj Hörnberg, Pelle Karlsson, and Evie Tornquist.
– This time I took the liberty to have a say as well, so we chose some newer music, songs I myself liked during my upbringing, she says.
The new album is also the reason we discovered the jewelry on Lena Maria. One day, there was a ping on Facebook. The likes started pouring in. Had ZOE HOOP gone viral? 700 likes later, we understood what had happened. It was Lena Maria who tagged us in a picture with her stylist and clothing store, among others.
– I like to tag what I like on Facebook. It's a network between different friends and it's nice to be able to lift each other and talk about things that are interesting or important, she says.
With nearly 10,000 followers on Facebook, she's quite popular on social media. But an influencer she doesn't want to call herself.
– It's a bit of a silly term, even though I know it's something many aspire to become and work with. But we are all influencers, wherever we go we affect our environment, she says.
After the TV show "Målet i sikte," she became famous overnight in Japan. A disabled person was then an uncommon sight over there, except in special institutions. Now, she has done 75 tours in Asia so far.
– The first ten years, I found it a bit difficult when they just wanted to ask about the disability. I thought it was more fun to talk about my career and my songs, she says.
But after enough questions, she suddenly realized the great value in everyone's curiosity.
– Then my whole feeling turned around. Maybe I wasn't there primarily as a singer, but I was more there to talk about the equal value of all people, which doesn't exist there in the same way as here in Sweden, she says.
Today, she sees it as a natural tool for her social engagement, a platform to give voice to people living in vulnerable situations and tell them that every person is unique and important and has something to give.
– My focus changed when I realized that I was what you call an influencer, but that word didn't exist then, she says.
In the press photos for Dad's Favorites 3, you can also see Gravsjö Mission House studios. Behind that name, you find Lena Maria's bassist who has played with her for 15 years, Magnus Ahlgren. He has bought an old mission house outside Mullsjö in Småland and turned it into a music studio.
– All the old furnishings and items are still there, it's really fun. Sometimes he also organizes concerts and then everyone has to squeeze into the old benches, she says.
The choice of studio has also affected the sound on the new album. Lena Maria compares it with when she recorded big productions for the Japanese market. Then it was with radio symphonics and the biggest music studios in Stockholm.
Everything had to be prepared down to the smallest detail there. Now we could instead record song by song and allow ourselves more spontaneous arranging in the moment, she says.
Although songs and jewelry are different forms of expression, Lena Maria recognizes herself in ZOE HOOP's goal and aspiration to be more than just a product.
– Jewelry makes you feel beautiful and if it has a message, it also becomes deeper content. Just like that, I feel when I sing or paint. It's not just a song or a painting, but I want to say something through it that makes people feel inspired or better, she says
She also emphasizes that she is convinced that God wants us to enjoy the beautiful and fine things we can create.
– As a Christian, I meet many people who are not outspoken Christians or even have a different religion or belief. But still, there is something in both what ZOE HOOP and I present that attracts these people and at the same time shows God's love and care for us, she says.
Traveling in Asia has still not resumed since Covid-19. But when the pandemic struck, Lena Maria had a lot of time left after being canceled everywhere. She did as she usually does, let herself be led in a new direction. And suddenly she had started sharing her singing expertise through an online course.
– It's been really fun, with over 4000 students participating in various ways, she says.
The success of the singing course has led her to also want to share her other experiences through a course in life management, how to handle adversity, grief, and various life situations.
– I have quite a bit of experience. But to have something more concrete to stand on, I also trained as a conversation therapist for it, she says.
With curiosity, she now looks forward to packaging her joy of life and sharing it as a conversation therapist and inspirer.
– I have no idea what the future holds, but I am ready to embrace it, concludes Lena Maria with clear optimism in her voice.
The second part of my road trip in the USA during the fall of 2023. Read about all the big and small experiences during the journey.
The first leg of my road trip in the USA in the fall of 2023. Read about both the highs and lows and discover all the amazing people I've met along the way.