The mysterious pop singer talks her new EP and what it's like to experience sexism in the music industry.
2013 is quickly turning into the Year of the Welcomed Comeback with long-dormant artists such as Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, My Bloody Valentine, and Boards of Canada popping up with applauded new releases. Soon you can add another name to that list: Annie, the buoyant Norwegian singer responsible for some of the catchiest pop of the noughties—2005’s Anniemal and 2009’s Don’t Stop—returns August 5 with The A&R EP. The title’s short for Annie and Richard, a.k.a. Richard X—another veteran who’s been quiet for some time after making his name in the ‘00s with mashups, then working with artists like Jarvis Cocker, M.I.A., and Sugababes (the original members of which are plotting their own comeback). Annie’s still reigning as the Queen of Dark Pop on the five-track EP, pairing emotionally damaged lyrics with dancefloor ringers in the vein of Icona Pop and Charli XCX—who she paved the way for 10 years ago as one of the first artists to collide the worlds of indie and pop. I caught up with Annie over the phone to talk about her ode to 90s raves, unleashing her alter ego “Mannie”, and breaking her aching cycle of putting out a phenomenal release and then retreating from the spotlight.
Noisey: I’m dying to know what you’ve been up to over the past few years. Where have you been living? How have you been living?
Annie: I’m still living in Berlin and I’ve lived here for a bit over three years. I still have family and a lot of friends in Bergen [Norway] so I go back there a lot and I’m there now. But I’ve been spending most of my time at my apartment in Berlin, working in the studios there, DJing, and writing for myself and some artists. I wrote for Ralph Myerz (“Take a Look At the World”) and I did a couple of songs for this Finnish rock band called K-X-P, which came out recently. I love to write different music. My own music is more electropop and this was totally something else. It’s really cool to do different things and different writing is really appealing to me. I was also writing a song for the short film The Night Within and that’s going to be out later this year. I really want to do more film music. That’s very inspiring.
Did you feel like you were consciously stepping away from the public over the past few years?
In some ways I was and a part of me needed to do that. I wasn’t releasing that much music under my own name. When you step away for a while you sort of feel like “okay, I haven’t been out there,” but, at the same time, it’s good to focus on the music and being in the studio. I’m really excited to get something out now.
Let’s get into it: You said that “Tube Stops and Lonely Hearts” is a tribute to rave culture in the 90s. How amazing was living through that time?
I wasn’t really old enough to get into rave parties and, of course, in Europe they were everywhere at that time. So I remember borrowing someone’s ID to get into these parties and staying there for hours. It was a bit scary because it was so packed with people and the sound was huge and there were lots of lights. There could be up to 1,000 people dressed up looking really mad. It was really exciting being 15 there. It felt a bit like you were doing something illegal, at the same time it was really huge.
What’s your wildest memory from that time?
I remember dressing up looking kind of sleazy but wearing so much makeup that I probably looked more like a clown. The whole scene was so huge when you’re a teenager. I didn’t do a lot of drugs then, when a lot of people were doing them. I found it quite mad to see those people dancing insane and not really cool.
How have you seen the culture of electronic music changed since you started making it?
It’s always changing but the biggest thing is that people tend to release their music much faster now than they did 10 years ago. Before it took months from when you actually made it to the time you released it, while now the process is much faster and there’s a lot of artists doing it on their own label or small labels putting it out the next day after they finish their song. Some of the music has become much more commercial. Drum ’n’ bass, for example, wasn’t really huge in the U.S. in the 90s whereas it was really popular in the UK. Now the U.S. and UK are a bit more similar.
As far as artists self-releasing more, you’re an artist who’s forgone traditional release channels. What advantages do you see in that?
I’m not doing this EP on my own label. It’s great to be able to release your own music and have control over it. A while ago you had to think “What should I do now? Should I go on a bigger label?” It was a bit trickier and right now it’s easier. At the same time, it’s harder to get the right push you need to get it out there.
Is “Back Together” about you and Richard X?
In one way it should be because I made some tracks with Richard a few years ago. I hadn’t actually seen him in two years and now we were back together doing music. But it wasn’t written about us. It’s more about having the best time with the people you enjoy the most and listening to good music. It’s a good feeling.
You once said that it was harder for you to make a happy song than a sad one, so you’re more interested in making happy songs. Is that still the case?
Making a happy song with some dark moments in it is really challenging. It’s still the case but I don’t think about it as much as I did before.
You’ve definitely balanced those moments on the EP. “Invisible” is a really gritty breakup song.
Yeah, I think you’re right about that.
That one is probably the most challenging song but it’s also the most entrancing.
I like that song. It was funny to do that because we call it Annie featuring Mannie since there are two persons singing about each other even though, of course, it’s me singing. It’s quite dark and you don’t really know which person is actually the bad or the good one.
What was your editing process like for this song? Were there any lyrics that you cut because they were too personal?
In a way, it is quite personal. It’s sort of like looking at yourself and attacking the personal side of you that you’re not too happy with then the other side is saying “No, I didn’t do anything wrong.” It’s about a relationship that’s going really wrong, and I’ve been in that.
We all have.
How do you think your exes would handle this?
That’s up to him, if he ever listens to the lyrics. I’m not sure what he’s gonna see in it, if he’s ever going to understand it.
Back to working with Richard X, why do you think you two click so well?
We have similar thoughts about music and he’s a very inspiring person. He’s a bit mad but in a good way. When we wrote “Antonio”, I remember he had this perfume that was really smelling like this old man and that was the feeling I had thinking of Antonio. So we were sitting around smelling this perfume and it got us inspired to write the song. I don’t know of any other producer I can do that with. It was very fun. We were writing for seven days and had a great time.
So according to your press release, “Ralph Macchio” is an 80s-nostalgic song about watching him on VHS. Was he your first crush for real?
It was sort of him and Joey McIntyre of New Kids on the Block, but Ralph had disappeared and for a while there was this rumor that Ralph Macchio was dead. He’s a little more mysterious than Joey McIntyre so I thought it was more interesting to write a song about Ralph. I definitely had a crush on him.
The people who start those internet rumors are pretty terrible human beings.
Yeah, it’s really crazy and quite evil.
Do you think he’ll be happy to hear the song?
He should be happy. It’s really meant as a compliment.
I would be flattered if someone wrote me a song like that. It’s such an upbeat song too.
I’m going to try to send it to him somehow and hope he’s going to smile and have a good day while he’s listening to it.
You were at the forefront of breaking down the wall between pop and indie music. What are your thoughts on this new crop of female artists like Icona Pop, Charli XCX, and Sky Ferreira, who are also doing that?
Icona Pop is really good. They’re doing some really good music and it’s great that there’s so much good music coming out. But, to be honest, I don’t think about it too much.
“I Love It” has an Annie spirit because it’s this massive dance song with pretty crushing lyrics.
They’re good. I really want to see them live.
What is some other new music you’re excited about?
I like Grimes.
Would you ever work together with her?
Well, I just read an interview with her that said she’s really a loner when it comes to writing. So I don’t know if she’d work with me. But I think she’s really inspiring and really good, so I’d definitely work with her.
Did you read her thoughts on experiencing sexism on the music industry?
No, I haven’t read that.
She wrote a post on Tumblr which talked about how it’s really hard to be a woman making pop music because all of these men approach you thinking that you need help, so that’s likely one of the reason’s she might have been defensive about writing her own songs. Has that been your experience?
That makes sense. I never really felt that it was difficult to be a woman in the business. I can understand that people feel it has been difficult. Of course, I’ve been getting stupid questions when I’m DJing from guys who are like “I was dancing for three hours and I just realized it was a woman.” It’s so ridiculous. But at the same time, it doesn’t really bother me. There’s a lot of stupid people.
What’s the significance of the title of this EP?
Some people were asking me if it’s about Annie and Richard or Annie and Ralph Macchio. I guess it’s Annie and Richard.
I first took A&R to be a reference to the industry.
When I meet Richard, we always sit down and have a lot of thoughts about how we want the whole thing to be. I guess, in a way, we are sort of being our own A&R, collecting everything we want it to be.
What are your upcoming plans? You’ve created this near-mythical aura around yourself because you put out a stellar release and then vanish for years. Please say you won’t do that again.
No, I’m going to try not to disappear this time! I already have so much new music now and I’m gonna come out with another EP. I really love making EPs because I make so much music and sometimes the songs don’t fit too well together so I’m better at creating an EP with five or six songs than putting out an album. I’m definitely going to come out with two more EPs ASAP.
Marissa Muller really doesn't want Annie to disappear again. She's on Twitter — @marissagmuller