wears the trousers magazine


annie: can’t stop the pop

wie_annie

words in edgeways with annie

Sharp as the horns on a Viking helmet, Norwegian popstar Annie Lilia Berge Strand is far from the bubblegum princess some people might imagine her to be. In the 10 years (!) since she released her first single ‘Greatest Hit’, our colourful friend has been busy redefining the concept of tenacity. Her first album Anniemal was nearly scuppered by the tragic death of her boyfriend and musical partner in 2001, but was eventually completed and released in 2004 through 679 Recordings with promises to make her a star. But despite huge critical acclaim for the album, only one of the singles entered the UK Top 40 and the label lost faith and Annie was out in the cold.

By 2007, she’d picked herself up and inked a new contract with Island Records, but changes in management at the label and a lack of shared vision with the new team meant delay after delay to the release of her second album Don’t Stop. In the end, Annie realised that she’d be better off leaving the label altogether and trying to win back the masters, which she eventually accomplished. Now she’s back with a new version of Don’t Stop that will absolutely-definitely-no-question-about-it be released in November through Norwegian independent Smalltown Supersound.

Wears The Trousers met up with Annie some months before this latest resurgence in her rollercoaster career to get some insight – okay, a LOT of insight – into the world of Annie, the themes behind the album, and how she’s still secretly planning to take over the world. “I’ll just keep going out there,” she grinned. “I’ve probably failed millions of times but I still keep on going. That’s the whole idea behind Don’t Stop. That’s it exactly!” [Be warned – this is long!]

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On her musical beginnings

When I was very little I had to go to church. I remember going there with my father when I was really small, sitting there and watching him playing this enormous, massive organ with three different levels. I found it really scary. But we always had a piano at home and very soon I found out that I enjoyed playing it. I’ve never been very good at reading music – it’s hard! – but I was always quite good at coming up with a melody, or just hearing another song and playing it from that. I was listening, of course, to a-ha. It’s the law. I was listening a lot to Kate Bush too. Madonna, of course. A bit of The Human League and Pet Shop Boys – I thought they were great – and then, definitely, New Kids On The Block. I also liked Blondie and Saint Etienne.

On her past life in Ancient Egypt

Growing up, for a long time I wanted to be an archaeologist. I still find it interesting. I remember I was at home in Kristiansand and we had a huge veranda, and underneath there was just basically soil. I had this small hammer and a digging thing and I remember sitting there for three days just digging. I found this sort of axe head, a really big one – of course it had nothing to do with the Vikings but at the time I was sure. I took it home and said to my mum, “I’m going to find an archaeologist. I think this is from the year 200” or something. I was more inspired by the Egyptians than Viking tales and Nordic folklore. My mother is very cultured and I remember she’d say, “There’s not much you really have to do Annie, but you have to go to museums to learn about history.” And I was like, “No! I don’t want to do that.” But in the end of course I went with her. And always when I came to the Egyptian section, like in England at the British Museum, I felt – this might sound insane – sort of at home among all the pyramids. Maybe I was an Egyptian in my last life. I really, really want to go to Cairo.

On starting her music career in Bergen

I grew up in Bergen but first I lived in a city called Kristiansand, which is all the way south. I was born in Trøndheim, then I moved to Kristiansand, so I moved around a bit. Bergen is great but in the beginning I hated it, I was so angry. I didn’t want to leave Kristiansand. First I wanted to be a photographer, but I was so bad at taking pictures. Lots of people go through this phase of wanting to be a photographer but I had a lot of friends doing music and so I started playing in a band called Suitcase. It wasn’t very good but it was really fun. Then I started to going to rave parties and I started to DJ a bit. It was just really great to live there in that sense. In Bergen we have a lot of musicians who do a lot of different things. But it’s not like in London where you can have different scenes. It’s so small that if you don’t go to one techno party that’s happening – if you like rock or something – then you’re maybe going to be really bored because there won’t be a rock party for another three weeks. There’s not a lot of choice, but I guess in that sense you get inspired by other things as well.

On dancing

Norwegians aren’t very good at dancing. It’s definitely something they haven’t done for many years and maybe it’s something they shouldn’t do at all. I think the French can dance better than the Norwegians, and probably more than the Germans. Not that the Germans are bad dancers, but France is a little bit more south. And the more south you get the more [clicks fingers, *snap*] you have. It’s warmer. The British aren’t too bad. Better than the Germans.

On gender discrimination among DJs

I would like to say it hasn’t happened to me but I think, at some point, yeah maybe. Not if you think from a very indie perspective, because people can find it really fascinating in a sort of Stone Age mindset, like “It’s a female! I’ve never seen it before. It’s amazing!” But you don’t really see any big female DJs like Tiësto. Of course, you have Miss Kittin, who’s doing really well, but if you think of it in terms of the really, really big DJs, no women are really up there. Ellen Allien is good, she’s big, but thinking really big, there are just so many men. I think the reason is just that women, in some ways, are a bit perfectionist and sort of a bit afraid that maybe something will go wrong. Men are more like, okay, let’s just do it. Maybe I’ll fail but I don’t care. While females are more skeptical and don’t really want to risk it going wrong. It’s a shame.

On living in Berlin

I love it there. I think it’s good for artists to live there because rent is cheap and food is cheap. And, you know, it’s a big city of 6 million people but it only feels like 3.5 million. It’s not like in London where it feels like there’s so many people and you get stressed sometimes. Berlin is a huge, huge city but it feels a bit peaceful, makes you feel like you have a little space. It’s quite good to live in a city where you sort of feel that it’s in development. It’s such a poor city and it’s only recently that people found out that there’s affordable housing and going there and buying a house. A lot of people who moved to New York in the ’80s say that there’s the same feeling in Berlin now. You can go away for maybe a month and see changes there. And there are so many good clubs. A lot of great parties and a lot of good musicians living there. Peaches is a friend of mine. I was dancing with her back in Bergen! I think she’s amazing, and a really nice person. Silje Nes is a friend of mine too. She’s a sweet girl.

On being big in Britain

I love the UK and I listen to a lot of English music, and I love English culture in very many ways. I just think it’s great. All the history, and so much good music. I have a lot of great English friends, I love the humour. I think the English manner really attracts me. It’s definitely very important for me to make it in England.

On working with Xenomania

That was actually related to working with Saint Etienne, because they worked with Xenomania before. Saint Etienne are amazing. I think they must be some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Really really sweet. We did this one song and Bob [Stanley] said it would be great to get another producer on it and they suggested Brian [Higgins, Xenomania founder]. He really loved ‘Heartbeat’. He thought it was a great song and said he’d always been looking for the songwriter, and he didn’t realise I had written it myself. He was really excited and almost offered me a record deal the day after. I think he’s doing some really great stuff. I mean, he’s making music all the time and he’s really creative and has a lot of good ideas. Serious and ambitious. It gave me an extra punch to work really hard and that was exactly what I needed.

On the rumoured Girls Aloud fallout

When I was doing ‘My Love Is Better’ they were recording ‘I Can’t Speak French’ so they were around all the time. Brian just asked them if they wanted to sing backing vocals on my song and they were really up for it – they had heard ‘Chewing Gum’ before – so, yeah, it was really really fun. But then of course their record company said no and they ended up not singing on the song after all. I thought it was a little bit stupid but what can you say? It wasn’t my choice. They were really nice, very sweet.

On working with Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos

He played on ‘My Love Is Better’ and on ‘Loco’ as well. I don’t know him really well but I met him for the first time in Japan. We were both playing in Australia and then we went to Japan and hung out there. We went to this party that was quite mad! I was a little bit drunk, it was quite embarrassing. I was making this song, ‘I Can’t Let Go’ – I used to call it ‘Misery’ – at the time, and I was inspired by Alan Vega – jukebox, sort of rockabilly – and I always thought that Alex’s voice would really suit it. So I sent him the song but it didn’t happen. He decided he didn’t want to do it after all. But when I was working in Kent with Xenomania, he played ‘My Love Is Better’ and ‘Loco’ to Alex and he really wanted to play on those, so he did.

On focusing on her songwriting

I think in some ways my songwriting has changed between albums. It was so important to me to make really good melodies this time. For the first album I look back and think, “It’s a good album but melody-wise there’s some things I would change.” So for this album I wanted to change things all the time and spent a lot of time just figuring out whether the melodies were good together, so I was much more focused on that part. I sometimes write songs on the piano but usually I just come up with a melody by itself. Lately I’ve actually been using GarageBand and just singing into the computer and making melodies. I have this song called ‘Take You Home’, which I did like that. Recording vocals and making some really crap drums, playing some chords and building it up like that. I actually made a pretty decent demo which I took into the studio.

On ‘Heaven & Hell’

It’s quite a dramatic song. It starts with, “Our love is stuck between heaven and hell,” so it’s quite massive. We played it a lot live in the beginning and it was getting a lot of reviews. A lot of people thought it was the best song. It’s a bit Phil Spector-ish, I read. I don’t know if it really is but it’s definitely got a 1960s feeling to it. Richard X was saying it was the most not-sounding-like-Annie song, like what I used to do before, so I guess it’s something quite different. But I really like the song. It’s sort of tear-dripping and dramatic and I really enjoy songs that are very life-and-death and very dramatic.

On ‘Marie Cherie’

This song is really dramatic too. It wasn’t supposed to be that dramatic but it ended up being exceptionally dramatic. It’s a made up story. It’s all fiction. It’s funny because the rest of the album is more or less true stories, or at least is related to something in my life or to somebody else. But ‘Marie Cherie’ was very different. I wanted to make a very French, cinematic song, so all the time I had the story of a film inside my head when I was doing it. I think that’s the song I’m most proud of. I keep changing my mind. Maybe it’s because it’s so fictional. I would definitely like to write more songs like this.

On ‘Bad Times’

That’s basically about myself. Things have been quite dramatic. You get days when you’re really sort of down and depressed but then at those times you keep on thinking about a certain person, and the song is really about that. There are a lot of songs like that on the first album too, so in that sense it’s maybe a bit similar. I never thought about that before. Don’t stop dancing through the pain? Yeah, that’s right!

On the album’s “power ballad”, ‘When The Night’

Who was my role model for that? Everyone! Shit, I have to think about that. [Maria McKee’s] ‘Show Me Heaven’ is quite amazing. It doesn’t sound like that at all but I wanted to make a song that was quite simple, but really sort of about pain and longing for something in a way. I might do more power ballads. Maybe a Las Vegas residency! I would love to go to Vegas. I’m not now saying that my next album will be all power ballads. I’m not becoming Céline Dion! Not yet. I think it’s probably wise. There’s only room for one.

On ‘The Breakfast Song’

A lot of people say they really can’t stand it, or they say that they love it, and I sort of like that. I think it’s a really stereotypical song that you either love or find so annoying. It was made while I was making breakfast together with Timo from the band. I think I was making eggs or something. And I was singing, “What do you want / what do you want for breakfast,” and he was, like, “Woah, that’s amazing! Let’s just record it.” It’s such a strange song. I can’t really define what it is. I really love ‘I Want Candy’ by Bow Wow Wow, and I love that Cibo Matto record that’s all about food [Viva! La Woman]. Now I got to do the same with my food track!

On the curious breakfast delicacy of Norwegian brown cheese

A lot of Americans go to Norway and they’re like, “Ooh, Norwegian chocolate!” but then they buy the brown cheese and they’re like, “Shit!” It’s insane. I like it, but it’s not like something you’d want to eat if you’re extremely hungry. You can’t have much of it in one go.

On her surprising passion for politics

It’s so important to know these things! Everything is getting so much closer to us these days. I don’t want to be a person who just does music without any outside knowledge at all. I’m definitely very interested in politics. It seems to me that Gordon Brown doesn’t quite understand what he wants to do. I don’t really like these politicians who aren’t straight with what they want or how they’re working, because it means they either have a horrible plan or don’t really know what they’re doing. And that can be really scary. They’re more interested in the image they’re projecting than what they’re actually doing, and that’s not good. I love to read books about politics. I’m reading a lot about dictators, like Chairman Mao, so I can learn how to take over the world!

On what she might do if the music career doesn’t work out

I haven’t tried acting, but I would love to. Maybe a musical, though some of them are really horrible. I’m not too big a fan of ‘Annie’! It’s so funny that people who don’t really like hip hop, who are more into rock, somehow all really like Jay-Z’s ‘Hard Knock Life’. I heard it and I got really annoyed. When he played it at Glastonbury all my friends cheering. I think it’s terrible. My favourite musical is one that Woody Allen did, ‘Everyone Says I Love You’. I like things that are quirky and offbeat.

I would like to write a book, definitely. I think if I was going to, it would probably take a long time. And I don’t know if I’m a good enough writer. When I was little I used to write poems and I used to think they were quite good, but I look back and them now and realise they were not so good. So I don’t know. If I get really famous I could write kids’ books, because that’s what everyone is doing. That’s wonderful. Maybe I’ll do that. Or write books for really old people.

* * *

Alan Pedder

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