Sometimes the softest, quietest of dreams can transform into the most promising realities. And in an age where success is often measured by relentless comparison and tireless hustle, it can be refreshing to find a story of success that is built on lifting people up, maintaining a humble perspective, and treating yourself with care. Such a story can be found in the artistic journey of Norwegian-born singer-songwriter Anna Lotterud—better known by her stage name Anna of the North.
Anna was born in Gjøvik, a small town just a couple of hours north of Oslo, where she is now based. Before delving head first into her musical career, Anna worked in a small shop while studying graphic design, all the while privately harboring her artistic dreams. That is until she decided to make a big move to Melbourne to further her studies. It was there that she met her previous collaborator, New Zealand-producer Brady Daniell-Smith. The duo has since split and Anna has taken full reign over the project, working with a host of accomplished producers along the way. Regardless of who the rising international star is working with (past collaborators include Frank Ocean, Tyler the Creator, and Steve Lacy) or how much success she has garnered throughout her short but fruitful career, Anna has preserved an immensely caring, unassuming demeanor that appears to guide her musical journey. Anna’s relationships with the people in her life along with everything that surrounds her also play a major role in her creative process.
The combination of Anna’s distinct, ethereal vocals and melancholic arrangements strikes the ear in a way that does not feel like any standard pop music you’ve heard before, yet still manages to feel like an embrace from an old friend. Anna of the North’s sound is brazenly nostalgic and attentive. Her soft, electronic melodies and soul-bearing lyrics take you to that place.
FRONTRUNNER spoke over the phone with Anna while she was staying with her family near Oslo. We discussed ways she is staying creative and connecting with her fans during COVID, the importance of remaining honest with herself throughout the creative process, and how intimidating it can be to collaborate with a musical icon like Tyler the Creator. During our conversation we also learned that Anna of the North’s favorite song ever is “Believe” by Cher.
How have you been keeping busy and staying creative during the past few months?
Of course, the corona thing is so horrible, but there’s also been so much time. Like, I haven’t had this much time on my hands in a long, long time. So, I’ve been trying to stay creative and learn new stuff. I’ve been learning how to knit, so I’ve knitted a couple hats. And yeah I’ve been writing music and just trying to stay as creative as I can and keep like a normal day-to-day rhythm. I’ve also started to work out again (which I haven’t been too good at) so I feel good. I feel like I needed this time off. But of course, I wish it had happened in a different way.
How have you been able to remain connected with your fans around the globe? Especially in the US, I know you are very popular here.
Thank god we have social media and the internet. I think everyone has just turned to that—I’ve been able to work on some charity livestreams that way. What I’ve been loving doing lately is the YouTube live premiere thing when releasing new music videos and stuff. It’s nice because you can kind of watch the premiere together on YouTube and it has these like live shots going on. So yes, that’s been really cool.
Back in June you took part in a livestream performance with Katy Perry in support of COVID-19 relief efforts—what was that experience like?
Yes, that was really cool—I hadn’t really done any livestreams before that. To be honest, I think it’s so scary to do anything like radio where it’s just total silence and the sound isn’t even going out through the speakers it’s just going into your ears and then out somewhere in a different country. I feel like that stuff is so scary—playing radio where you are just in a studio and it’s soundproofed just makes me so scared. So when everyone started doing livestreams and stuff I was so scared, but in the end I managed to do it and I’m proud of myself. It worked out really well and it was a cool team. It was a really cool gig as well. That charity itself had a big audience and they just had these huge headliners every day, so it was a cool thing to be a part of.
So the word is that you’ve been working on an acoustic EP (with some stripped down Anna of the North favorites as well as some fresh covers) and so far you’ve released two tracks off the project: “Dream Girl (Home Made)” and “Lovers (Home Made)” two of your most popular tracks…what was it like reworking these old but significant songs in your career?
It was actually quite hard, harder than I imagined it would be. “Dream Girl” is such a happy song, so it was actually easier to make lowkey, but “Lovers” is such a chill song already so it was super hard to transfer it to something else.
It’s difficult because you think you know a song inside out and you’re like I think I know what I want to do with it. But then since I already know the song so well as soon as I tweak it it’s like “nooo, this doesn’t sound right.” So it’s been hard but I think it’s super awesome to challenge myself in that way and try to give my own songs a new life.
I feel like “Dream Girl,” the song itself is kind of jolly and the new version now gives way more depth to it. So yes, it’s cool.
Did reworking your song “Lover” give you the opportunity to hear it in a completely different light compositionally?
Yes, so we had to tweak it, tweak it, tweak it and see what worked for it because it’s already super electronic, but it’s also kind of lowkey. I love Daniel Caesar and he uses this kind of waltz rhythm on his song “Japanese Denim.” I love that song, there’s not really much going on beyond the beat and the vocals, and I was like can we just try that kind of rhythm on this track, and I thought it sounded really cool and I’m really happy with it. But yes, it was a hard one. At the same time, “Lovers” is one of my biggest streaming songs at the moment as well so you don’t want to fuck with it too much (laughs).
Have you decided what covers you are including on the acoustic EP yet?
I think everyone who knows me or has been to my gigs is going to know what song it’s going to be. It’s just going to be a couple of covers, not too many—one of them is really unknown and the other one is a huge song. My favorite song is “Believe” by Cher so towards the end of every gig I start blasting “Believe” by Cher (not like a cover or anything). So we just blast that and have a big dance off and I go down to the crowd and we all dance together. It’s my favorite song, it’s such a good song. It’s also super scary to do a cover of so I’m just going to do a super simple version. Usually, I probably wouldn’t have chosen that song but it’s kind of funny with the story behind it. But no one can do it better than Cher that’s for sure. Maybe down the line I can start doing my version at the end of the set and make it build into her version so then we can go all like dance party. So yeah that’s a future plan (laughs).
Have you experienced a major growth in your international fanbase since “Dream Girl” got featured on the Global Apple iPad commercial?
Yeah, that was a huge commercial. It’s quite insane and I was super lucky that they chose my song. So yes, it’s growing slow and steady and just getting better and better every day, and I just heard that it’s charted in France on the radio stations there. And I’ve never done that with a song before so that’s quite cool. So, we’ll just have to see, I don’t know how far that commercial will take me, but it’s really awesome because I’m reaching a whole new audience. It’s something that I couldn’t do on my own. And the thing as well is there’s so much good music out there in the world and so much music that never gets heard that should have been heard. The thing is you just need a platform, sometimes you need someone to share it. Obviously, the internet is such a huge place and some people are super lucky and they get picked up that way, but for most artists that just never happens so for them to choose my song is really awesome. I’m super thankful.
On a similar note, you were recently awarded a Spellemannprisen award for the same track (“Dream Girl”).
Yes, I got what we call a Norwegian Grammy for my music video for that track but that was from before “Leaning on Myself.” But that was funny as well, after Apple picked up the song it started getting listed on Norwegian radio too. People are scared sometimes to put new music out there by new artists so that’s why it’s so cool that Apple does that. They give us a platform—I think Apple has done that a bunch of times with new, up-and-coming artists. But that’s what we need—we need a platform to get out there.
Did you know “Dream Girl” was going to be your biggest song or is it still kind of a surprise?
No, not at all but at the same time it was one of my favorites. For this album I was in this weird space where I was writing jolly songs where I was like “fuck everything, I’m just going to be happy, and “Dream Girl” is one of those. It’s melancholic in a way but it’s still like “well, well,” it’s still ignorant in a way. I also called my album Dream Girl so obviously I liked it a lot and I felt like that was the central concept at the time. So that they chose that song is really awesome as well because the album has the same title, and when they search for “Dream Girl” my whole album is going to pop up as well, which is really cool.
What was your songwriting process like for “Dream Girl”?
I had the idea in my head of like, “In my dream world / I’m still your dream girl” and I was like I need to do that before anyone else does it (laughs) because I just love how the words play with each other. Then I had that and I remember going into one session with those words and we just started writing the song from there but it was just too serious in a way at first. And I was just like “no, no that’s not the one” so I brought the words to another session and we were just having a lot of fun and made it more ironic but in a way still melancholic and serious but it had all of these feelings in one song. I felt like that was the right vibe for those words and what I wanted to say. So, it turned out really cool, but it was a big process and I remember that song was lying in my demo list for a long, long time with other songs I had to finish. I kept being like “shit, it needs a chorus, it doesn’t have a chorus!” because the chorus is just like “oooo oooo” and everyone was like it needs a chorus. And I was like trying but it was like “nah, it’s kind of done how it is.” But they were still like no it needs a chorus, and then I was like “no fuck it, that’s the song, that’s it.” And I’m so happy I didn’t change it. It kind of came naturally in a way, but that’s the way songs go. If you write it and you don’t finish it or if you don’t make it how you think it’s going to be straightaway and you pick it up later you can usually never change it because you are so used to it. Some songs are just meant to be as well I feel. And you know with this song, it just wasn’t supposed to have a chorus. It was just supposed to be like BOOM! 2 minutes and 30 seconds with no chorus.
What was your experience like working with Tyler, the Creator on Flower Boy?
Yeah it was super, super cool. He’s such a cool guy. And you know it was like the same thing with Apple, Tyler could have chosen any voice in the entire universe and they would have done it. But he chose me and that’s what so cool about it. He’s such a huge trendsetter—he doesn’t follow trends he makes them, and again that’s what is so cool about him bringing me on board. He could have chosen anyone but he chose little old me. So yes, it was so awesome and he’s such a creative soul. I was writing a bit more with him some time after that album (Flower Boy). I had met with him in LA. It was in this huge studio and we were writing to my beats and kind of getting down good, small ideas that came out quickly. And then he was like, “okay take them with you and finish them.” And I was like ah, how do I go about doing that for someone that I respect so much? I still regret it to this day because I didn’t manage to do everything I wanted and it didn’t really turn out how I wanted it to. I felt like it wasn’t good enough for him, you know what I mean? So, I never ended up sending anything back to him. Yeah it’s hard working with artists that are so huge—I just feel like they have the answers to everything and anything they do just turns out cool anyway. But I’ll send it to him next time.
I am not going to take any credit for the songs I was featured on off Flower Boy because they were already fully written. He just sent them to me and he was just like, “hey, I have these songs and I heard your song “Sway” and I would love to have something similar vocally on this track.” And then I just sang something that was already written. But then when I sent it back to him, he was like, “oh, I didn’t know you were going to do this” basically saying that he originally had another plan for what he was going to do with it. And I was kind of like, “oh well, it’s totally fine if you don’t want to use it but now you have the stems so do whatever you want with it.” Then that was kind of it, I didn’t know if he was going to use it or not. Eventually I got another message asking if I wanted to sing another track, (off the same project) which was “Boredom.” I remember I did that and sent it off to him and it took probably half a year. It was like with the Apple stuff as well, I didn’t know that it was actually going to happen because whatever they do is so secretive and no one can know anything. It was the same with Tyler, I didn’t get to hear the entire song until it got released so I had no idea if it was going to come out. I just remember I got messages being like, “Anna, the new Tyler is out!” And I was like oh my god, he released it! (laughs) So yeah that was really, really cool.
What do you think the next year or so (going into 2021) is going to look like for you as a musician and a performer?
I will finish my next album and release it. (laughs) That is still my plan. And I’m going to keep on trying to be healthy. I feel so much better now than I’ve felt in years because it’s been like no alcohol and just working out, chilling, and taking time for myself. I’m going to try to be good with myself and write music and do what I like to do. And stay creative.