Danish electronic pop artist Oh Land is quite the productive pop star with four albums released from 2008 to 2014. The singer toured Europe with the most recent record, called Earth Sick. During her stay in Amsterdam I had a chat with Nanna (Oh Land’s real name) about everything that has happened in her career so far, from her time as a ballet dancer to the moment she decided to go independent and release the fourth album through Pledge. “I wanted to go back to the necessity to make music I once felt.”
Let’s go back to the start. You were a dancer, got injured and started a music career. How does your background as a dancer influence your music?
The first songs I wrote were about dance and having to end that career. For the album Fauna, I wrote ‘Numb’ and ‘Frostbite’ and both dealt with not feeling anything and an incapability to express yourself after the feeling you lost everything that meant something. Now you see it in the way I perform as I dance a lot on stage and in almost every music video. I have been dancing since I was nine on a high level and you can’t just get rid of that mentality, so it’s still part of the way I think.
Do you think you still would have been a dancer if it wasn’t for the injury?
In a way I feel lucky things turned out the way they did, because I have so much more fun doing what I am doing now. Ever since I started a career as a musician I feel I can really express my personality and make my own rules. I can express my weirdness and people will even like that!
You recorded your fourth album Earth Sick at home and you funded it through Pledge Music. Why?
I did it because I had been through the whole major label ‘we are going to make you a superstar’ part of the music industry and I felt the people around me wanted to make me into a brand and did not care so much about me as an artist or a person. I became a bit cynical and I wanted to go back to the necessity to make music I once felt. I just started to create beats in my living room. For me it’s a clear statement about who I am as an artist and a person and I wanted to invite my fans into that world. Without any label bosses around who judge from a commercial point of view it was a lot of fun, hard, but fun.
Did you ever feel like you had to compromise in your career to keep the people around you happy?
I had that feeling a few times, but I neved used the songs I didn’t fully support. I have never released anything that I didn’t love. There are artists that are pressured into recording songs that they don’t really like and then those tracks become hits and they have to play them for the rest of their lives. I don’t want to end up like that. I want to enjoy it every time I perform my songs. I just want to express emotions and stories that are important to me.
“There are artists that are pressured into recording songs that they don’t really like and then those tracks become hits and they have to play them for the rest of their lives. I don’t want to end up like that.”
What did you want to say with the album Earth Sick?
There are quite big subjects. ‘Flags’ for example is about the hypocrisy I see in other people but also in myself. You judge people harshly and you tend to think everything is easy for them and everything has been hard for yourself. Many people do this and it makes you bitter. I wanted to write about that, because it is easy to judge everyone immediately online. I mean, ten years ago if you thought something was a bad show, you would not feel the need to immediately write that to the person who performed. Maybe people don’t mean it as bad as it comes out, but it would be better if that energy was used to contribute something yourself. The whole record is based on frustrations I have that I would like to change. I guess that is where the title Earth Sick came from. It is about caring for your planet, caring for our lives.
Looking back at your career, what is your biggest achievement?
I think the song I love most of everything I have written is ‘Earth Sick’. If you don’t listen closely, it will go over your head, but to me that song has a very special and sacred thing, that I can’t explain, but it feels like it was handed to me. It was written in ten minutes and it has exactly the feeling I was going for. It’s haunting and elastic. I am proud I was able to write it. Of course I am also very happy about the fact that I managed to create an audience that follows what I do. Before the release of my second album I never expected my music to reach so many people.
Were there down sides to having a bigger audience as well?
The scrutiny that comes with it. For example, when I released the video for ‘Sun of a Gun’, we got so many hits on YouTube and at the same time the negative comments rolled in that said I looked like a man. I was wondering where all those people came from. It frightened me a little a bit and that might be one of the reasons I wanted to be a little less commercial.
What does the future hold for you? What are you aiming to achieve next?
I’m still hoping to one day write and record a major hit that I love. Songs that are hits but have a lot of personality, for example ‘Sweet Dreams’ by Eurythmics or ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley, there are a lot of them. I would die to write a track like that.
I guess you are writing at the moment as well? Already any idea what the next project will be like?
I actually wrote a song today. I write a lot and not all of it is good, but that is how I work. And I tell myself that I am not really working on a next project yet, but secretly it might be a yes!