!! OMG, a Q&A with Annie !!

Annie by Hildegunn Wærness

Photo by Hildegunn Wærness

Norwegian electronic pop star Annie’s first record Anniemal was unleashed to the world amidst the fever-pitch of the retro-obsessed Electroclash fad in 2004. While the stripped down, brash and snotty Electroclash movement was fleeting and dominated by one hit wonders, Annie’s Madonna-sampling first single “Greatest Hit” featured slick-but-smart pop production and giant hooks.

Now, after a ten-year hiatus from releasing music and nearly twenty years into her career as a recording artist, Annie is back with her new record, Dark Hearts. The synth-heavy, spaced-out opus was conceived as a soundtrack to an imaginary film, taking cues from the films of David Lynch and creepy folk-horror classics like Wicker Man.

It’s no surprise that, having been recorded in a haunted house on the seaside, her new record brings those darker themes to the forefront, enveloped in a more spacious, brooding, cosmic disco sound. Each song on the record acts as a sort of snapshot of varying semi-apocalyptic scenarios, all the while delivered in the singer’s trademark candied vocal style.

We talked to Annie about how 2020 has repurposed those fantasy-based constructs into an eerily real soundtrack to the life we’ve collectively entered this year, and what she’s been up to since we last heard from her.

Read the full Q&A with Annie after the jump!

Your new album, Dark Hearts was released this past week.  How has that been for you in these strange, pandemic times?

Yes, finally! It’s been brilliant. I mean, it’s weird; the last couple of years I’ve sort of been releasing singles, but doing an album is completely different. I’ve been a bit nervous as it’s been a while since I came out with the last album!

What do you mean by “finally”? Was the project delayed a lot?

Well, we started up in a way when the world was still sunny! We started the project I think in late 2016. And of course, I got pregnant— actually I’ve had two pregnancies in between this and the last record — so there was some time in between where we were just taking it easy with the music and doing other things.

I had to take care of my babies and blah blah blah, so I guess to say that it’s finally out means that it was a bit of… Well, we weren’t sure if it was going to happen, but it did! And that’s wonderful. So wonderful.

Photo by Hildegunn Wærness

During that time you also had a stint as a judge on Norwegian Idol, which may come as a surprise to some of your North American audience!

Yes! But only for a couple of episodes.

How did that come about?

Well, I was asked earlier to be a judge for a whole season but I said no. Then I was asked again and I just thought that it was a new experience and I thought maybe sometimes you just need to challenge yourself.

I’ve been doing music for so long that I sort of felt like, “Okay, I’ve always been sort of a bit sceptic to doing that sort of thing. You know, I love to listen to other people doing music.”

You’re a more alternative artist who makes pop music, but are you considered more of a mainstream pop star in Norway?

Yeah, I mean, I’ve been on the charts and I’ve been in the magazines where they write about where you live, who you’re together with and this kind of thing, too.

OMG. Like in the  gossip rags?

Yes! But I think people always find me a bit strange and mysterious, because I sort of keep disappearing. I have never really been desperate to be famous or anything. I’d just love to use it [her spot on Norwegian Idol]  to be honest.

Was it super strange entering that massively televised world?

I thought it was a bit strange because I had watched the seasons of Idol myself, you know?! Sometimes there’s a lot of talented people coming on, but sometimes you feel a bit sorry for them also because some of them have so many dreams wrapped up in it, and I don’t really know how to make it happen for them.

Do you feel responsible for these people who are so passionate about music, but don’t understand how hard it can be to be in an industry where they are just a product?

Yeah, exactly, and they actually don’t know what to do with that. Even if they have the talent, you only see them for a couple of minutes, when you really feel like sitting down with them and just having a long chat and trying to help them.

So, that feels really uncomfortable in a way, , but at the same time very interesting to do something else than what I had done before.

So  how is “now” Annie different from ten-years-ago Annie?

I think like ten years ago, I moved to Bergen from the city where I’m from in Norway, and then I moved to Berlin, which is a much bigger city. It was completely different for me back then. I just wanted to get away and sort of do something else than just living in this small, small city where I’m from.

I don’t know if I had expectations when moving [to Berlin], but I wanted to create more challenges for myself.  I felt that I needed more experience also when it comes to music, and it was cool to live in a city where the club scene was bigger. I had the chance to DJ more and go out and see lots of DJs and go to clubs and just feel a bit more free.

Were you writing this record in Berlin? It seems that the vibe of that city can be felt in the tone of this record.

Yes, actually, the first song on the record, “In Heaven” was written in Berlin. So we did start the project when I still lived there.

I also wrote parts of “Anthonio”[a bonus track from her 2009 record, Don’t Stop]  there. So, when we did the Berlin Breakdown version of that song, I decided I wanted to do a record that had the same kind of feeling as that remix.

So yeah, it was definitely inspired by Berlin in some ways.

So now that you’ve returned to Norway, do you feel like you got that wanderlust out of your system?

Well, after ten years of living in Berlin, I felt I had a good time there and I had a lot of friends, but also my mom got sick and I felt I had to be with her.  I had to be closer to her, because we have a really good relationship. So that was important to me.

It just felt that it was time, in many ways, to go back and be here. Of course I miss Berlin, because I have to say there is obviously a little bit more to do there when it comes to the club scene and stuff!

One thing that hasn’t changed with time is the fact that you’re still singing to yourself in third person! Is that an intentional motif in your records?

[Laughing] Well, I feel like when I’m writing a song, there’s really gotta be a strong story there and even if it’s not necessarily a story about yourself, it’s got to be something that you can have a really strong relationship to. So, I guess that felt very natural when we did “The Streets Where I Belong,” because that song is about going back in time and, you know, I guess you’re right! I guess I used that way early on as well.

People who know me very well know that I very often go off and sing by myself and just come up with melodies that I end up singing into my mobile, so that seems very natural for me!

You talk about your focus on stories, and this record does feel like each song is like a little story in itself — a series of little portraits of specific people, places, memories and time — almost like Polaroids in song format. Was that structure intentional in a conceptual way?

Definitely. And it was very important for both myself and my producer/co-writer Stefan Storm, that we sort of have these strong stories and pictures that we tried to make very visual for people through the music.

Your intention to make the music cinematic really comes through successfully with the record.

Well, both Stefan and I have always watched a lot of films, and I’ve always loved soundtrack music. So, to me, when we did this record, I wanted it to be like film music to a film that doesn’t exist.

It had to have strong visual pictures that we could somehow try to present to people through the music. I’ve always wanted to do music for a film.

Now that you’ve done this record, is that something you would like to try next?

That would be a dream come true! Definitely. I was so happy when they used the Berlin Breakdown version of “Anthonio” in the film The Guest. That’s such a good film. It was in a main scene too. They actually used more or less the whole track!  I thought that was really good. That really made me want to do film music even more.

This record is full of contradictions in the way that it features your token, semi-sweet sound that brings lightness to it, but thematically it’s actually quite dark. I mean, you’re talking about the end of the world, so it’s really dramatic. Can you just talk about how you found balance in those contradictions?

Well, I think it’s a combination of the fact that I have experienced a lot in my life, and of course not everything is just like alive and fun. I think if you can have fun, you also have to experience the dark side.  You can’t carry on with a balloon and fly all the time; there’s got to be balance.

We did want to bring some more melancholic elements into it than what you heard on some of the earlier Annie stuff.  But actually many of those early songs really do have some melancholic aspects, like “Heartbeats” and “Bad Times,” but you just have to listen a bit closer than on the new record.

Well, the track “Countdown To The End Of The World’ is as apocalyptic as it gets!  Obviously the world does feel like it’s ending now in a much more realistic way than when you first conceived of them.  How does it feel to watch that imaginary movie come to life in these songs?

Well, we had just finished “The Bomb” when the whole Corona thing started, with all the weird politics going on that make you sometimes feel like things are so mad that you just could this be the end of the world. But of course there’s a bit of irony there as well. It has to be both, but then again, you never give up, you always keep on going.

In a weird way, it’s great timing for the record to come out. After all, we need a soundtrack to get through things. I guess in a demented way we’ve become your cast!

I don’t want it to seem like it’s coming from a place of being depressed, though, because for me I think there is a lot of hope in the record.

It doesn’t feel depressing. You mentioned your track The Bomb,” which really stands out on the album production-wise, with its upbeat, skittering break beat. Can you talk about why that is?

Even though I was very determined I didn’t want this to be a club record, we felt that we wanted to do something that was a bit more upbeat at some point. Overall, I wanted it to be a record you listen to before going to the club, or after when you are relaxing, but I felt that we need something to shake it up a bit.

I was listening to some break beats and some drum and bass stuff, and I knew I didn’t want a pure house track. I wanted something still a bit darker, but cool and fun, so that just seemed right.

The track has no vocals but features movie samples. Where are they from and how did you choose them?

They’re from a film called Miracle Mile and it’s a bit of an end-of-the-world film as well. It’s quite dramatic. You should see it.  Its an American film from 1988.

We wanted something a bit edgy, but at the same time, it’s quite nineties, I would say, and it felt that that suited the production style. We tried a bunch of different samples but that just seemed to suit the track best!

Halloween is upon us, and I’d be remiss not to mention the fact that the album was recorded in a haunted house! Did you know that before you went in or did you find out by experiencing something otherworldly?

It was actually a haunted garden. There was a nun who had been there since the war, because in Norway there were a lot of Nazis that took over different houses, and they took over this specific house. I’m not sure how the story went exactly, but she either went mad or she died or something.

But, they said that every night she was going out in the garden and you could see her sort of dancing or waving her arms in the garden. So it was really strange, and this house was by the sea, so it was really foggy at night and not much light.  So whenever you could see some movement outside  everybody was like “Oh, it’s the nun!!!”

This record seems to slowly transform from spacious and dreamy into an almost quaint 1950s-style pop format by its close. In the press release for the record, you mention the influence of David Lynch on the songs, and that influence becomes transparent on the last track, “It’s Finally Over.” The contradictions we talked about earlier become quite transparent and literal. Can you talk about that progression throughout the album?

First of all, I thought it was really funny to make a song called “It’s Finally Over” as the last track on the record, you know what I mean? Like, “Thank god this record is over!”

When it comes to influences on the melody and the way it was sung, I was listening to lots of Roy Orbison and also Johnny Cash. So you have a more classical way of singing, and also I was thinking of all these Disney movies, where everything is a bit (cartoon voice singing) higher. It’s all a bit dreamy but also sort of mad!

The lyrics were inspired by this movie with Nicole Kidman called The Hours. I was thinking of this character played by Juliane Moore where she has this life that’s more or less perfect, yet she decides she’s just going to up and leave her whole life behind. She just leaves her son and her home with the TV still on and disappears from this perfect life.

Of course, in the film she’s quite depressed, and my character is not depressed. She’s more just like, “I’m just going to leave and live my life and do whatever I want to! I’m gonna go to Paris!”

That’s how life is. Sometimes you just look at some people and think, “Oh my god, they have the most perfect life!” But then, years later, you find out it’s so far from perfect.

Photo by Hildegunn Wærness

It’s always kind of like a bit of a relief when you find that out!, which is bad, but comforting!

Yep. It’s not just you; it’s everyone. Everyone has their thing.

At the beginning of this interview, you mentioned that you were nervous about this record being out. But now that it’s finally over (wink wink), how are you feeling about being back?

I’m so happy, and I feel so great that it’s out. I didn’t know what people would think about it since some of it is quite different from what I had done earlier. I wondered if they would even care about me because it’s been so long since I came out with new music!

Of course, then you have the Corona situation and, you know, I really didn’t know how anything would be. But in the end I’m getting really sweet responses and messages and I’m just so pleased!

— Q&A by Kevin Hegge (@theekevinhegge)

Dark Hearts is out now on all platforms


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