Interview: Oh Land
Published on November 14th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams and Jo Healey
Fresh from supporting Katy Perry and now embarking on a headline European tour of her own, Nanna Øland Fabricius‘ star looks to be teetering excitingly on the brink between ‘ascendant’ and ‘fully-fledged’.
Indeed, astrological analogies would appear to be somewhat apt given the degree of destiny that some might say has played its part in the Dane’s rise to prominence: most notably, a back injury that put the brakes on her highly promising ballet career, turning her onto music-making by way of compensation, and a remarkably chance encounter that led to her signing her first major label record deal (read on for more about that).Her 2008 debut album Fauna was a frequently breathtaking assortment of shimmering musical rock pools that Rocksucker was amazed to discover had for the most part been self-produced – and this year’s eponymous follow-up managed to somehow weld those otherworldly, Björk-esque tendencies onto a strong pop backbone with assistance from big-hitting producers Dan Carey, Dave McCracken and Lester Mendez. The result? A thing of harmonic, beatsy loveliness, technicolour daydreams granted the earthly mouthpiece of pop song, all served up in its primary creator’s engaging, free-spirited and eccentrically energetic image.
Rocksucker enjoyed a hearty natter with Nana on the evening she was due to perform at London’s Heaven venue (this will now take place on 23rd February), the day after the end of the Katy Perry tour yet the day before the start of her European tour, on which she is taking erstwhile Rocksucker interviewees The Good Natured as support. Oh Land all o’er the land, it seems…
How did the Katy Perry tour go?
It was good. I just got off it yesterday, so I’m kind of ‘post-tour depressed’!
How come the Heaven gig in London was postponed?
Because of boring stuff, like timing with the album release and all that. Timing-wise, it was just better to do it in February. I would have loved to play tonight but it just didn’t work out.
Congratulations on your UK Music Video Award for “White Nights”! The video looks like it must have been a lot of fun and hard work to make…
Thank you. It was a lot of hard fun! (Laughs) I was in Barcelona for ten days doing all these crazy shots because there were so many different scenes in the video and we just had to do so much every day. It was like sixteen-hour days, shooting constantly. I’m so happy that it got an award and that all the hard work was appreciated. Canadá was so amazing to work with.
Did you get to have much say in terms of the video’s creative direction or choreography?
Yeah, because I used to dance myself. What happened was that I saw one of Canadá‘s videos a year ago, the one for “Bombay” by El Guincho, and I just freaked out because I could really see the whole aesthetic working with my music. It’s funny because, at the same time, they asked their managers to see if they could work with me, so it was the perfect scenario and we all just really wanted to do the same things. Then I collected a lot of pictures and wrote a lot about what the song was about and how I envisioned the video to be, and they basically wrote the treatment from my ideas, my dreams. Then we just spoke on Skype and tried to figure it all out.
Congratulations also on a cracking second album. It’s quite different to your first – how much do you think its direction and sound was pushed by the producers involved?
I definitely thought I was pushed a lot as a person because I did the first album completely undisturbed, just doing whatever I wanted to do, completely isolated in Copenhagen, where I lived at the time. Nobody had any expectations that I would even become a musician because nobody even knew that I was fiddling with music at all. It was kind of secret. So it was a very big change when I suddenly got signed to a major label – every back home in Denmark was like, oh, a major label! It was another kind of pressure. But everything that happened and everything that is on the album was all my choices, although I did get a wall to push against (laughs) that I didn’t have on my first album.
I read that you were performing at SXSW when Amanda Ghost, then president of Epic Records, just happened to walk in. Was it really all that much of a coincidence?
Yeah, it was a total coincidence. It’s hard to believe that it happened the way it did but I was reading a music magazine [Q Magazine] on the way to SXSW and there was a picture of her in it, and it said something like: “Amanda Ghost, the most powerful woman in music”. I showed it to my bandmates and said, joking, “I’ve got to meet this girl!” Then an hour and a half later in Austin, where we were playing, she just came up to me after the show and I knew exactly who she was because I’d just read about her. It was all a crazy coincidence.
There’s quite the feel of destiny about your rising stardom, what with this story and the fact that you turned to music after a back injury put a stop to your dancing. Do you look back on that injury now as a blessing in disguise?
I definitely couldn’t be happier about the turn that my life has taken but it was a very tough time in my life and I don’t think that it has to happen that way, although in my case it just did and it turned out to be really good (laughs)! I’m much happier about what I do know than what I did then. I feel like making music is like making a living from writing your diary.
Can you pinpoint the genesis of your songs? Do they tend to begin life with you playing an instrument, or with a melody popping into your head, or what? Apparently Amanda pushed you more towards composing on a piano for your second album…
I play various instruments but lately for instance I’ve been on the road a lot – all these long drives of like seven hours, sometimes longer in the US – so I’ll just be sitting on the backseat of the van writing lots of lyrics down and then I’ll be recording little melodies as voice memos on my iPhone just to remember it. Then the next chance I get to actually play a piano by myself, I’ll go and figure out the chords and everything. It’s all a bit like a puzzle: I have fragments that I like and, if I’m lucky, they all come together!
Apparently Fauna was self-produced. Quite the production it is, too – how did you manage to pull a debut like that out of the hat?
When engineers opened up my sessions, they were having laugh attacks because it looked so crazy and I’d used things completely wrong, like filters, equalisers and everything. I’d just used them in the oddest ways because I didn’t know how things worked technically. I only made music by ear, using intuitions and emotions and everything. I didn’t know much about it, I just knew for sure what I liked and what I didn’t like. I had a very clear vision about how I wanted the drums to sound and how I wanted the vocals to be – kind of like ‘an earthquake meets an angelic choir’!
At the risk of shifting this interview too abruptly into ‘frivolous’ mode, what did Kanye West tell you about his teeth?
(Laughs) I just told him that he had funny teeth! It was kind of an odd night, at the Met Gala in New York – I met him and I felt kind of baffled, didn’t know what to say, so the only thing it felt natural to say was: “You’ve got funny teeth”. Because he had those diamond grills, you know? It just flew out of my mouth and it definitely wasn’t the thing he expected to hear. That was pretty much it.
Apparently Rihanna asked you to write a song for her but you never got back to her about it…
Well, yeah, that was right at the start when I got signed to Sony. When things get too crazy too fast, it can be hard to figure out what’s actually real and what’s just ‘talk’, because there’s just so much ‘talk’ in the music scene and sometimes it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not. I met Rihanna and she listened to one of my songs and said, “I love that song – would you write a song for me?” I just didn’t know what to say because everything felt so unreal.The moment she said it, I didn’t think it had actually happened. I was like, was that just something in my head? So I just chose to ignore it, which was really rude! I couldn’t believe that it was actually part of reality so I just started talking about something else, like: “Er…so, when’s your album coming out?” I was so freaked out because it was so otherworldly.
I’m dying to see it. I haven’t watched it but I’m obsessed with Arctic fauna in general. My great granddad wrote the first book about the Greenlandic fauna [Fauna Groenlandica, 1780] and that’s what my first album was named after. My mum, sister and brother lived in Greenland for many years so I’m just really into the frozen planet in general!
Your Twitter is endlessly entertaining and, as such, I have a few questions pertaining to specific tweets of yours. However, before I do so, may I put forward the Great Grey Owl as a future Animal of the Day?
The Great Grey Owl?
‘Tis a majestic-looking beast.
Is it? I can’t wait to see it.
See the Owl…
Anyway, I’m in Glasgow at this moment so I thought I’d ask a couple of vaguely stalker-ish questions pertaining to your recent trip here. Firstly, how was the black pudding?
I love black pudding! I have a real weak spot for all sorts of offal (laughs). I’m a bit of a carnivore, although I’d love to be a vegetarian because I love animals so much. But I just can’t help it, and black pudding and stewed hearts is just one of my favourites.
It’s okay to love animals in more than one way.
Yeah, exactly. I love them in all ways.
(Dwells for a moment on the implication of what we both just said) Er…did you find a snow globe in the end?
I did find a Scottish snow globe and I found an Irish one as well, which I was pleased about because that was really hard.
“It’s a funny thing, that wolfs will never meet prawns” – when and why did this particular observation come to mind? It’s an interesting thought.
(Laughs) Isn’t it interesting? I was eating all this exotic food, Thai food, and I was eating animals that would never really meet in nature. It’s such a weird thing that most of the animals you meet, you meet when you eat them, you never really meet them for real. Then I was just thinking about how most animals would never meet. Imagine, like, a caribou meeting a polar bear – I don’t think the polar bear would even know how to eat it, although it would probably be perfect food for it.
Have you ever seen the honey badger?
I have and I love it. Have you seen the video of it that’s overdubbed by a gay guy? That’s really funny.
Now for the sixty-four-million-dollar question, which takes its lead from your comment: “I heard that the amount of water on our planet has never changed…does that mean that I could be drinking a little of Mozart’s sweat in this glass of water?” – Would you drink a pint of Mozart’s sweat?
(Mulls) I think I would take a little sip every night while sitting in front of an open fire, looking at my favourite new animals.
Like a fine whiskey or a brandy?
What’s been the best narwhal picture you’ve had from your fans so far?
The best narwhal picture…(laughs) I’ve had some good ones. There’s a girl who made a narwhal out of her hair – I also experimented with this narwhal hairstyle but I really like that she’s paid attention to detail and put the tooth on the side of her head and not in the middle, because obviously it’s not in the middle. It’s not a horn, it’s a tooth: that’s a very important detail. I also had a little knitted narwhal, which I loved.
Are there any journalistic clichés or buzzwords that you’re sick of seeing/hearing as descriptions of your music? I’ll start the ball rolling with “quirky”…
There are a lot of clichés. There are some words that I don’t ever want to hear in my life again but it’s not a description of my music, it’s just music industry language: “bullet points”. It just makes me really angry! Also “target audience” – I hate that.
What’s your favourite Björk album?
Homogenic, for sure. I love the Debut album but, as a piece of art, I think Homogenic is better. It’s more cohesive. As a kind of alternative Björk album, Medúlla is my favourite.
Is it too early to ask what kind of direction your next album might take, or if you’ve already got songs in mind for it?
At the moment, I feel like it will be…(mulls)…Star Wars meets…(laughs)…The Clash of the Narwhals!
That simply has to be the title of the album. Finally, could you name – as of this very moment, just off the top of your head – your top three albums of all time?
Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev, the Russian composer, Abbey Road by The Beatles and Kid A by Radiohead.
Oh Land, thank you.