Annie on David Cronenberg's Crash, Karate, and Her Hopes for Her Children

Annie on David Cronenberg's Crash, Karate, and Her Hopes for Her Children
Annie via Hildegunn Wærness

Back when it actually took some hard-earned cash to hear music that came out in other countries, I threw down what must’ve been at least $25 for a copy of Annie’s first album Anniemal. (I was 16 or 17 at the time, so it might as well have been a thousand dollars.) I loved it and have tremendously enjoyed her music since, from her second solo album Don’t Stop in 2009 to the various smaller projects she’s put out since.

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Annie just released her first album in eleven years, Dark Hearts, and as usual it’s extremely good. Instead of working with regular collaborator Richard X, this time around she hit the studio with Stefan Storm and crafted something that sounds quite unlike what she’s done before—slow, epic synth-pop, filmic by design and as moody as it is darkly beautiful. I loved hopping on Zoom with her to talk bout the new album, her many experiences seeing scary movies, and how she became a green belt in karate—among other things.

How’s life in Bergen been?

It’s been good. Over here in Norway, they were quite strict [about COVID-19] early on. In Oslo, it’s been a bit of a challenge because it spread out everywhere, but in Bergen we’ve been really strict. Everything was locked down, but when it all started to open again, people were taking everything really seriously so it didn’t feel that scary.

But it’s strange. I’m home with both of my kids and taking care of them. Some people are panicking. It’s terrible.

What stage of reopening are you in at this point?

It’s stage two over here. Over the summer, things opened because of the tourists, so [COVID-19] started to spread out again. I just hope it’s going to calm down, to be honest. This has lasted for so long. Are you in New York?


It must be really bad over there.

It was really bad, but we’ve been doing okay—better than a lot of the country. Hopefully we’re gonna be okay in the end. So where did the creative process for this new album start?

I met with Stefan Storm in London a couple of years ago when I was recording the Vacation EP with Richard X. We did one track that didn’t end up on that EP that I thought was quite good, and Stefan was saying that it would be fun to meet up and do more. He came over to Berlin and we started talking about doing more music. He’d just bought the new Enya record, so we were listening to a lot of Enya.

He stayed in Berlin for two weeks, and we recorded three tracks over the course of four days. At first, we were talking about doing an EP, and then we realized it had to be an album. We were creating a world that was working quite well.

Have you always loved Enya?

Yeah. I’m a big Enya fan. Stefan’s an even bigger fan than me. He went to her house in Ireland and took pictures of himself in front of her house. I’m not that big of a fan, though. [Laughs] I’m not gonna go stand outside of her house. What’s special about Enya is that it’s about the world that she creates, and the feeling. She comforts you and makes you feel good. You don’t have that many artists that necessarily do that.

What else has comforted you during the pandemic?

I always listen to Vangelis. When the whole pandemic started and you just had to sit inside, it just felt good to listen to Vangelis and relax. I was a bit stressed for a while—like, “Should we even release this record?” But it’s a pretty relaxed record, so maybe it suits these pandemic times. [Laughs] I’ve been watching a lot of TV series. Yesterday, I started watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. [Laughs] I don’t know why I did that.

It’s a fun show!

It gives you a good feeling.

“American Cars” was inspired by when you saw David Cronenberg’s Crash in theaters. Tell me what that was like for you.

It was quite strange. It was in the spring, maybe early summer, that it came to Norway. I skipped school. They had a cinema for older [people] and pregnant women in the daytime. I was quite young, but I went there. There was a woman with small babies in there, and they were crying a bit, and then there were two men in the audience too. It was a really weird feeling, sitting in the cinema there.

In the beginning, I thought it was a bit scary and haunting. But it really made an impression on me, so I had to watch it later. It’s a really, really good film, and really strange. I think it’s one of his best movies.

I do too. There’s nothing like it. What was the first time you ever went to a movie theater?

I think I was eight years old, watching some Astrid Lindgren film—some Swedish movie. But I was a movie nerd, so I saw a lot of weird movies. I remember watching The Blair Witch Project in New Jersey when I was there with my boyfriend. There was no text underneath, so it really felt like someone made a home movie. I was so scared. We were in the cinema alone, and afterwards there were all these insects flying at the window of the place we were staying at. I couldn’t sleep for two nights afterwards. [Laughs] I always like to watch these movies that are a bit scary.

This album sounds very cinematic in general.

After I did “Russian Kiss,” I liked the idea of working around a concept. It’s so much more interesting and fun than making a track out of nothing—to have pictures and stories behind the music. That was part of the process. We talked about movies we’d seen, stories we’d experienced, pictures we heard. My dream come true would be to make music for films—”Anthonio” was in The Guest—and this is my music to an imaginary film that doesn’t exist.

The music also reminds me of Chromatics.

They were definitely an inspiration, even though we weren’t listening to them while we were making the album. But I love Johnny Jewel, and I love Glass Candy. I saw them once in Sweden, and it was so good. I’d always been a fan, and they’ve done brilliant stuff.

What was the last concert you went to?

It was a while ago now! I actually saw some DJs playing a couple of weeks ago, but that wasn’t a concert. There haven’t really been any concerts here since the beginning of the year.

The song “The Bomb” reminds me a little of Heaven 17’s “Let’s Build a Bomb.” It also feels relevant, just as that song was relevant when it came out.

It was one of the last tracks we did on the album. We felt we needed a part of the record that was elemental, dark, and haunting—when everything is about to fall to pieces. [Laughs] “The Bomb” represents that part in a film where things aren’t going the right way. I’d never done a track with something so close to drum’n’bass production before. It was really cool. That and “Dark Hearts” are the dance-y tracks on the record. The rest are more mellow and relaxed. I heard “The Bomb” out once and it really worked on the dancefloor too.

You were a guest on Idol Norway in 2014. What was that like?

I was only there for four days. I was a judge on two episodes. I’d been asked to do a whole season earlier, but I said that I didn’t want to do it back then. But I started thinking that maybe it would be fun to challenge myself and do something that I didn’t know I was necessarily good at.

To be honest, it was really fun. If I were asked to do a whole season, I don’t think I would. And at the same time, when I did it, it was all these people that wanted to become artists, which is quite tough. I like to take people really seriously, and they have so many questions that you need to attend to properly.

When you were a kid, what were your dreams?

I wanted to be an archeologist. I remember digging into the dirt everywhere, looking for things and bringing them home to my mom. “Look what I found!” Later on, I found out that I wanted to be a pop artist. [Laughs] I started writing a lot of music from a very early age. At first I was writing really bad poems, and then I started playing the piano. I guess I did follow that dream.

You have a green belt in karate. Do you still practice?

No. I used to live in Kristiansand, and a lot of people played football and did this and that. I wanted to do karate. There was a really good teacher there who was one of the greatest in Scandinavia, and he was helping me out. It was quite hardcore! Sometimes you had to actually fight someone. I would never send my kid there now. [Laughs]

I felt a little bit like The Karate Kid, but it was very serious. I managed to get a green belt, but after that I lost interest and found out that it was just ridiculous. I sometimes wish I kept on doing it, though. It’s good exercise. It’s all about the teacher, though. Some are good, and some are just mad.

How many children do you have?

Seventeen. No, I’m just kidding. I have two children, and my boyfriend has a daughter. I’m a bonus mother to one. While I was making this record, I became pregnant twice. I have a daughter and a son, and my son actually turns one year old today!

What are you doing for his birthday?

I have so much work to do today and so does my boyfriend, but we baked a chocolate cake. His sister really wanted to have balloons, too. We’ll have a small pandemic party in a few weeks too. [Laughs]

What are your hopes for the world that your children will inherit?

A big problem with kids has been bullying, and they’ve taken that so seriously here in Norway. You always have these politicians talking about it, and when I meet kids, they seem much more open-minded than they were ten years ago. I hope they will grow up and become who they want to be, and feel like they belong somewhere—to not feel like an outsider. It’s very important when you grow up to have a place that you belong.

But it’s a lot of challenges, especially looking at politics—and not just in the U.S. In Norway we have things that I hope would change after a while. It’s much more important to me now than it used to be, when I just had to care about myself. But I have children now, and it really bothers you when you see that things are difficult. I just hope they grow up to feel free to do whatever they want to do, as long as it’s something they’re happy with.

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Jamie Larson