When keyboardist Maria Linden partnered with guitarist Fredrik Balck in her native Sweden — first as simply Maria, then as I Break Horses, named for a song from her favorite band Smog — the Stockholm native knew she hit upon a magical, 4AD-velvety combination.
But when she unfurled their moody 2011 debut “Hearts,” there was one small problem: She was too shy to perform the songs in public.
“I always just wanted to make music in my little chamber and I was very happy to release it,” she says. “But that’s how I looked at it. I wanted to sit in my studio and be anonymous.”
These days, Linden is bristling with confidence and she can’t wait to play San Francisco on Friday with her band, promoting its sepulchral second album “Chiaroscuro,” and a conversely sparkling “Faith” remix EP.
But shaking the stage fright has not been easy. She thinks it all began in grade school, when she was forced to do two classical-piano recitals a year in front of her classmates.
“I could play the Bach composition like running water,” she recalls. “But then I just froze coming up onstage, and the whole piano turned to this black and white mess and I couldn’t remember a thing.”
For five years, Linden, 32, punched a company clock in human resources, quietly pursuing music in her off hours. She finally quit to open for M83 in America. It was a trial by fire.
“I had only done four live shows, total, before that, and it was freaking me out completely,” she says. She refused to see a psychologist — they’re too expensive in Sweden, and she knew they would only recommend cognitive therapy.
“That’s basically what I was doing anyway, just going out and being onstage — it was my therapy,” she adds.
The singer tried facing away from the audience, but she felt that shortchanged her fans. Appearing at London’s Wembley Stadium with Sigur Rós last year, that group’s frontman Jonsi suggested his jitters-calming method — having a glass of wine before going on, which she’ll now do occasionally.
“But I usually try not to, because I have all these rhythmic things I need to do, like sequencing. So drinking is not a very good idea for me,” she says.
Perhaps it’s somehow due to the dark subject matter of “Chiaroscuro,” inspired by the tragic death of a relative, but Linden no longer has problems with crowd communication.
“Life is too short to be afraid of things,” she says. “I mean, I’ll be ashamed for awhile. But I won’t die because of a bad show!”
IF YOU GO
I Break Horses
Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Friday