Aurora on festivals, finding connection, and fourth album 'What Happened To The Heart?'

Interview Aurora: With Every Heartbeat

Scandipop star AURORA knows a thing or two about bringing crowds together, and with a fourth album rooted in humanity and healing, she’ll be spending the summer in joyful communion.

AURORA is worried about the loss of connection. Whether in the personal connections between individuals, the metaphysical links between our emotions and our actions, or the spiritual life forces that connect all human activity, she sees more broken bonds than strong ties.

The concern is writ large across the Norwegian artist’s fourth album ‘What Happened to the Heart?’ - a record that acts as a clarion call for bridging these barriers. “This album is a lot about the human – about where emotion lies and where logic is; where truth and compassion are,” she says. “It’s about what we value, and our capability to have compassion, and not just the drive for success.

“For a long time, having an emotional approach to matters of the world was considered a weakness, but the attributes we look upon as fit to lead the world have gotten us into a shithole,” she continues. “The world is dying; our home is rotting, burning up, and we are engaging in meaningless wars that put resources over human lives. I think a lot of us look at the world and wonder: what happened?”

If AURORA’s diagnosis of the state of the world is alarming, then she’s far from defeated. The record’s first single ‘Your Blood’ finds her singing about stitching up internal holes and questioning what she’s made of, before ultimately calling out for help and refusing to die. The defiance of the message is matched by the urgent, restless energy of the track, which shimmers with synthpop stardust and insistent, hooky melodies.

As she was writing the new material - largely while on tour in support of 2022’s UK Top Ten album ‘The Gods We Can Touch’ - she felt swallowed up by the enormity of the questions she was wrestling with. Inspiration, it would transpire, came from an unpredictable source.

Her travels allowed her to meet three female indigenous leaders of tribes in Colombia, Argentina and Brazil, each deeply philosophical in their insistence on the primary importance of basic human compassion in leadership. For AURORA, the women represented exactly what she was longing for.

“It was really inspiring. Their warmth, the way they speak as leaders but are still so poetic and beautiful. They lead people but they still look upon the resources that they see around them not as a right or a claim, but as something we should co-exist with,” she reflects. “It’s quite simple: have more respect and more kindness. It’s so obvious. A child knows this, we all know it. But then we grow up and the world teaches us eventually that you can earn a lot by tricking and cheating the system, and some people take advantage of it, and the people who don’t are left on the outside.”

“It’s quite simple: have more respect and more kindness. It’s so obvious. A child knows this.”

For an album so occupied with the world at large, ‘What Happened to the Heart?’ is also, by AURORA’s own estimation, her most personal album too. Speaking with these inspirational women pushed the singer to burrow deeper into the connections that may have gone astray in her own life, and she describes the record as fragile, with tracks like ‘Some Type of Skin’ desperately trying to assemble a shield to protect its author from the hostility of the outside world.

She admits that she was “going through something” during that period. “I realised at one point I needed to build a thicker skin to find a way forward without feeling too much,” she nods. “But I built too much skin and I kind of lost touch with a lot of important things. It’s the same with the world – it’s too wounded to even be in touch with the good things that are in it.”

AURORA also took the unusual step of writing only in places that she deemed “unsafe” rather than in her familiar environs of the forests of Bergen, citing a need to exist beyond her bubble. She became exhaustedly attuned to the bleakness of events in Gaza and Ukraine, believing it would be hypocritical to sing about social disconnection while looking the other way herself. Ignorance is not bliss, after all, and change begins with knowledge.

With this craving for connection stemming back to the ideas that pushed her to seek a life as an artist in the first place, it seems fitting that ‘What Happened To The Heart?’ will be bringing crowds together this summer in that most communal celebration of human fellowship - the festival season. She’ll be playing Glastonbury, Roskilde and Sziget among many others, and the singer’s face lights up at the very thought of it.

“The times now are very good at dividing us, and festivals are good at being fuelled by actual love,” she says. “The beauty about festivals is you meet audiences who maybe don’t know you, so you get to connect to people just based on you all being there in the moment together. It’s quite magical.”

She reflects on the cathartic explosion of tension and relief that was the first post-pandemic summer of gatherings, and suggests that, given the sober nature of the world in 2024, the congregations might take on extra meaning this time around too. “It’s going to be a bit different this time, I feel like people need it,” she says. “The more the world seems to be burning, the more beautiful the festival seasons are.”

What has happened to AURORA’s heart is that it’s been enlarged by observing the survival of the people who strive to keep the connections between us intact. She recognises the scale of humanity’s challenges, but through making this album, she’s been galvanised both in her inner life and her outer worldview that hope does, in fact, remain.

“We are so good when we gather around something – a fire, a concert, whatever,” she smiles. “It’s good for us. This year, I feel like people are going to be ready to gather; to let the world know that we see the unseen and we hear the voiceless. We are all together. I’m excited.”

‘What Happened To The Heart?’ is out now via Decca / Glassnote / Petroleum. 

Tags: AURORA, Festivals, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

As featured in the 2024 Festival Guide issue of DIY, out now.

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