Aurora: "Without Darkness the World Would Be Boring and Life Would Be Very Flat"
The Norwegian's songs have accrued millions of plays and today she releases her debut LP. We meet the 20-year-old singer in London to find there's a ton more weird to her than meets the eye.
Aurora's beguiling electro-pop has already earned her Twitter shout outs from Jaden Smith and Katy Perry, and her lovely stripped down cover of Oasis' "Half the World Away" became a UK chart hit after being picked to soundtrack a British department store's Christmas TV commercial (24 million views and counting). But when we meet the 20-year-old from rural Norway in the lobby of a London hotel, she surprises us by saying: "I didn't actually want to be an artist. I just wanted to write songs because it made me happy." When she was 16, Aurora performed a "really long and boring song about world peace" at her high school's leaving ceremony and a classmate put the video online. Around the same time, a friend uploaded a track Aurora had recorded for her parents to Soundcloud. These two songs were discovered by a Norwegian management company, who invited Aurora to visit their office for a meeting in early 2013.
"At first I thought no," recalls the platinum pale singer. "But then my mum said I should think about the idea of sharing my music with the world because maybe there's someone out there who desperately needs it. And that could actually be a good thing." The young singer then set about working on her songwriting for around a year before giving her "first proper live performance" at a Norwegian music festival. The reviews were so positive—"like six out of six in all the papers"—landing a record deal was a cinch. Now this somewhat reluctant artist is releasing her debut album, All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend, a heady blend of anthemic pop songs like "Conqueror" (below) and "Running with the Wolves" and darker, folkier material like "Winter Bird" and "Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1)." Each video accruing multiple million views.
"I think it will be a really wonderful and horrible day when it's actually released because I am a perfectionist and I can't listen to anything I've ever made," she confides. As we chat over tea for around an hour, Aurora is consistently thoughtful, completely honest, and quite unlike any singer we've ever met before: delicate and sometimes idealistic, but also grounded and attuned to the business side of being a recording artist in 2016.
Noisey: All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend is a pretty evocative album title. Where does it come from?
Aurora: Everything affects me a lot, I'm hyper-sensitive I think you call it, and many of my songs are about other people and things that I've seen or heard about that happen in this world. In between the beauty, there's a lot of horribleness in the world. The main reason I write songs is so I can spend time thinking about each happening, and try to understand it and then move on feeling a bit lighter afterwards. That's really what I mean by greeting each demon as a friend. Without darkness, the world would be very boring and life would be very flat. Sadly we need darkness so we can know when we're supposed to be happy.
How long does this process of understanding and moving on usually take?
Well, I think it varies a lot. Because as an artist you compromise a lot, especially on the first album after you get signed by all these record companies—I have three record companies in different countries! You know, I can really feel the difference on the album between the songs that come from my heart and the songs that are just there because they have to be there. All the songs that are closest to my heart are songs that just happened, like an epiphany. Writing them was almost like falling, there's nothing else in the world that can make me as happy as when those songs appear. "Runaway" and "Murder Song" happened that way. But to answer your question, it depends a lot. I have a song now that I've been working on since I was 16, but I haven't found the right words to finish it. I know it will be a good song when it's perfect, but I'm just looking for one line in the fourth verse to complete it. And in four years, I haven't found that line yet.
What do you mean by "songs that are just there because they have to be there?"
I used to only write to make myself satisfied. I didn't really care if people said, "Oh, this is a nice song." But all these people who've signed me, they know the industry and what will fit on radio—whereas I don't really think about things like that, it's not my job. Even though I know these people love me and only want me to succeed, we care about different things. Often we disagree and sometimes I win, and sometimes I don't. But the B-side on the album is kind of like my side, and the A-side is kind of the record companies' side, except for "Runaway" and "Winter Bird" which are songs I feel very close to. "Conqueror"—the single which is out now—is more the business part than the heart part. But it's nice to play live because it’s one song where I can smile and dance and not feel like crying. Some of my other songs are quite dark.
Presumably recording the Oasis cover for a British chain store's Christmas TV advert was a business decision.
Yeah. But it's a beautiful song, it has words I feel I can stand for, so it's not the biggest compromise. But it's really strange being known for a cover and a commercial because obviously that's more rewarding when it comes to the business side than the heart side. And I don't think I will play this song live that much in the future, which I think will disappoint many people. Maybe I'll just play it at Christmas.
You mention that some of your songs are pretty dark. Where does this darkness come from? Is it partly from growing up in Norway?
I think so. Most people in Norway are a bit dark when it comes to their taste in music, movies, books, art. There are no happy movies made in Norway. When there's a sex scene in an American movie, it's always very beautiful and the light's very warm and there are all these nice details: hands touching, people kissing. But Norwegian sex scenes in movies are always really harsh and there's no romance! Everything is really dark, even the nice things, but that's how we are. The weather is dark: for five months a year, the sun goes down at 4 PM and it rises up at 12 PM. We have four hours of daylight for five months a year and I think that does something to people. We are nice people, but often quite introverted, and many Norwegians, especially the older generation, like quietness and being alone. Often we need an extra push to be, like, out there.
Do you find it hard doing the more extrovert things that come with being an artist—like this interview for example, or meeting fans?
It was very strange at first. I remember the first time I got recognized at an airport, I got so stressed that I had to hide in the plane's bathroom until it took off. But it's much easier now because I've got used to it. People are just people, and I remind myself of that. But I do feel a pressure that people expect me to be this kind of hero that they have in their minds. And I understand that: I'd feel like that if I met someone like Bob Dylan.
If someone says something negative about you on social media, does it affect you?
It actually feels like someone is deleting all the bad comments on my Facebook and Twitter and Instagram because there are almost none. So I quite like it once in a while when one appears. I know on YouTube there must be loads more negative comments than on my own pages—because I know I can look quite strange when I perform. I saw a video of myself once and it was horrifying, it looked like I was doing an exorcism or something! But if someone says "you suck" on one of my pages, I like to go on their profile and see who they are: "Oh, he's from Sweden and he's 56 years old and he posts lots of pictures of horses." So then I can reply saying, "Thank you—and that's a really nice horse you have." But it doesn't hurt me when people say bad things because the reasons why we say bad things are complicated, and it wouldn't be right to let myself be brought down by words. I know that as I get more seconds in the limelight, there will be many more different opinions about me and I wouldn’t like it if everyone just loved everything. Everything isn't for everyone, you know. It's important in life that there are contrasts.
Aurora Tour Dates
3/15-3/18: Austin, TX @ SXSW
4/4: Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
4/5: Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour – SOLD OUT
4/6: San Francisco, CA @ The Independent
4/8: Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
4/9: Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile
4/10: Vancouver, BC @ Imperial
4/13: Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St Entry
4/14: Chicago, IL @ Schubas Tavern – SOLD OUT
4/15: Toronto, ON @ The Velvet Underground
4/16: Montreal, QC @ La Sala Rossa
4/17: Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hal
4/19: New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom – SOLD OUT
4/20: Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s
4/21: Washington, DC @ U Street Music Hall
7/23: New York, NY @ Panorama
Aurora’s album All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend is out now via Glassnote.
Nick Levine was quite captivated by Aurora and he lives in London. Follow him on Twitter.