Interview Oh Land: ‘I’m A Huge Fan Of David Attenborough’

DIY chats nature’s influence, the song-writing process and antibacterial handwash.

She’s already released two albums of irresistible electro-pop, racked up 11 million views of ‘Sun Of A Gun’ and performed to tens of thousands in her native Denmark. With an arena tour supporting Katy Perry lined up this autumn, Oh Land (aka Nanna Oland Fabricius) is inexorably going to blow up over here soon too. Currently in the midst of her US tour, DIY had a chat with the singer about nature’s influence, the song-writing process and antibacterial handwash.

Hey Nanna, how’s the tour?
It’s going really well. We’ve been touring with Sia, which is really fun. We’ve been playing some great, legendary venues. The other day we played the venue in Minneapolis where ‘Purple Rain’ was recorded. That was really amazing. We’re now on our way into Atlanta.

‘White Nights’ is your next single released over here. You filmed the video in Barcelona quite recently. Can you tell us anything about it?
The video is about that place where inspiration comes from. When I wrote the song, I’d just moved to New York and everything was, you know, quite overwhelming and exciting because I’d never been to a place with such an intense energy before. ‘White Nights’ refers to when, in the North, it doesn’t really get dark in summer – you get confused about what’s night and what’s day – kind of like when you’re in love. All those things like day and night just disappear and you just live in this weird bubble. Everything is inspiring and you look at everything in a new way. And that’s what the video’s about. It’s very creative, with a lot of fun things happening.

You talked about love. Are the tunes on your new album ‘Oh Land’ more personal or general?
All of them are very personal. I feel like I always try not to write about love, but I always end up doing it in some weird way anyway. I put them into fable-like stories, which gives it a kind of abstract feeling, even though the stories are about very specific experiences in my life.

I can hear shades of so many genres in your music – from classical to dubstep. But what would you say, out of anything in the world ever, has shaped your music the most?
Nature, I think. Animals… and observing their behaviour. I’m a huge fan of David Attenborough. I’ve been watching everything he’s done. I’ve always been interested in nature, and in some weird sort of way it has inspired me to make electronic music – the opposite of something natural. I know it’s a contradiction, but there’s just something about it being organic and beautiful that makes go really, like, industrial.

So if I were to ask what music has influenced you, what would you say?
I would probably say the music that has influenced me the most is the Beatles, quite a cliché, but it’s just so universal. The Beatles just had everything in them and you can project their music onto any genre and it’ll work. Obviously classical music is one of the things I’ve been listening to the most as well. Russian ballet composers like Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev.

You lived in Copenhagen until quite recently but as you mentioned, you now live in New York. Did the cultural differences between the two perhaps have an influence on your music?
Yeah, I definitely think it has influenced me. Denmark is an amazing place to live but it’s also quite small. If you want to go out into world and do something on an international level, it’d be hard to stay in Denmark forever. I feel like New York is a place where everyone has a dream and wants more out of life. I’m a bit of an opportunity seeker so it was great for me and my music.

You released your debut album ‘Fauna’ on a Danish indie label but you released its follow-up ‘Oh Land’ on Epic Records, which is a part of Sony. Do you think that had an impact on your music?
I guess it had an impact in the way I was suddenly introduced to a lot of really talented people – my producers Dan Carey and Dave McCracken for instance. From making an album in my bedroom, deciding everything for myself and as a complete novice, not knowing anything about music, to suddenly working with some of the most successful producers in the world was quite a change. I just feel very privileged to have met some people who really understood my way of thinking in music and who really respected what I brought into it. Although they were such big names in music, I never felt there was any hierarchy or that my opinion wasn’t valid. I do feel like I’ve been able to make exactly the album I wanted to. I just had a few helping hands. I feel they made it a better record than I could have done on my own.

So, do you prefer being on a major label now?
I just prefer making music that I hear in my head, being able to get it out there and being able to record and produce it. It doesn’t really matter what label I’m on as long as I get the support I need to do whatever I want, and I feel that now.

What is the song-writing process like when you go about penning a song like ‘White Nights’ or ‘Wolf & I’?
Each song is very different. It usually starts with singing because ‘the voice’ is the instrument I carry around with me all the time. I can always write with just singing to start with if I want. And I do that a lot. I get melodies in my head and I record them into my iPhone, or whatever I have handy. It usually starts with just melodies and beats. Those are the two things which come first because rhythm is very important to me. It’s what makes you move and dance, ritualistic in a way. Back-to-basics like in the Stone Age.

What would you say has been your highlight of the year so far?
It was a really, really great experience playing at Roskilde Festival. I played in front of over ten thousand people who were singing along to every song. I got completely blown away when I stepped on stage. I lost the first line of the song I started with because I was just so overwhelmed. We also played Webster Hall in New York recently, which was another great experience.

On the subject of festivals, what did you think of Glastonbury and Latitude?
Glastonbury was crazy. I’ve never seen so much my mud in my whole life. It was mad. We played three concerts in one day and we were hiking through mud to make it to the next venue. It was pouring down, but it was really fun. Latitude was equally mad. We had to cross a lake with all the gear and sail into the woods to set up and play. It seems like festivals in England have quite extreme natural conditions.

I actually saw you at Latitude. A really great performance. It must have been completely different to Roskilde though. A tiny tent in comparison, I suppose.
Thank you! Yeah, it was just as fantastic though. For me, as long as I feel like the people to whom I play are into it and they feel it, it’s great. I buzz off that.

Did you catch any other cool bands at Glastonbury, Roskilde or Latitude?
Yeah, I saw a few things I’d never seen before which I felt I needed to experience live. I saw Anna Calvi for the first time which was brilliant. I also saw James Blake who was amazing live. I also saw Radiohead. I saw quite a few bands I was really impressed with, but we were mostly just running around from one place to another to set up for the next gig, so we didn’t get to spend much time there as members of the audience.

So after all the mud and the general hassle, do you have any useful festival tips?
Festival tips? I think the best idea I ever had was to bring antibacterial with me, that came in really handy! And… er… I don’t know. Isn’t a festival a place where you don’t want any rules at all?

Finally, what do you see yourself doing in, say, two or three years time?
I see myself doing exactly what I’m doing now but for many more people. But I don’t see anything changing in what I do, because I’ll still keep writing songs, going into the studio as often as possible. That’s what I want to do.

Oh Land’s new album ‘Oh Land’ will be released in the UK on 5th September.

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