Aurora Aksnes – who favours the stylised mononym AURORA – is one of 2016’s breakthrough artists. The Norwegian singer/songwriter, still only 19, has courted a cult fanbase with her darkly romantic electro-folk. But she’s also intrigued even the most cynical media types with her charming eccentricity.
Now Aksnes has unveiled her debut, All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend. It sounds like Robyn joining Of Monsters And Men at a goth nightclub. And the album has received rapturous reviews. “It’s been quite overwhelming,” Aksnes says of the response in careful English. “It’s made me very, very calm. It’s like I’ve had this tornado inside of me and, having these nice words from people, has kinda made the tornado calm down a bit – which is a nice feeling.”
Aksnes originates from Os in Norway – nearby Bergen, coincidentally the home of an earlier, albeit more effervescent, electro-pop starlet in Annie. The youngest of three girls, Aksnes uncovered an abandoned electric piano from her family’s attic and began to play. She was writing songs as a pre-teen.
The precocious Aksnes was inspired by Leonard Cohen, imagining herself as “a storyteller”. A friend surreptitiously posted a school performance online – which, while not necessarily the shy Aksnes’ desire – generated interest from a management company, culminating in record deals. Aksnes issued her first EP, Running With The Wolves, last year.
To her astonishment, Katy Perry shared its maximalist single Runaway on Twitter, stating, “Finally. New music that makes my heart a flutter. Check this 17 yr old angel.” Over time, Aksnes has become a confident festival act, fronting a band. She appeared at 2015’s Nobel Peace Prize Concert. Aksnes affectionately calls her fans “warriors” (the single Warrior is for them).
Aksnes’ own listening habits are varied. She mentions (guess!) Björk and the comparatively unhip Enya. But, unexpectedly, she’s also enthusiastic about heavy metal – namechecking Tool and French prog metallers Gojira. Aksnes has other quirks – this nature lover’s hobby is collecting (dead) bugs.
Most arresting about Aksnes’ music is the preternatural darkness of her lyrics. Murder Song (5, 4, 3, 2, 1) is a disturbing murder ballad, sung from the victim’s standpoint. Even Aksnes has dropped the word “morbid” in interviews. “First of all, I have a really vivid imagination,” she laughs. In fact, Aksnes suggests that penning something like Murder Song allows her to sublimate anxieties over what she sees occurring in the real world via the news.
“You know that these things may be happening to someone right now. It’s kind of a terrifying thought. I just had to get that thought out of my head – and that’s why I wrote this song. But the two characters are actually just made up in my head. I’ve written many songs about them – maybe I’ll make a book with them.”
Aksnes’ Twitter feed brims with youthful positivity and a sense of adventure. Nevertheless, her material reveals another side. The poetic Under The Water is about drowning. For Aksnes, it’s more cathartically emotional than ’emo’. “I’ve always been very drawn to sadness and to nightmares and to scary stories or going out in the dark – I don’t know why. There’s something (whispers) mystical about it – which is very exciting, isn’t it?”
“And I’ve always been very emotional. I’ve had my part of sad events in life – as we all have. I’m just being a bit realistic, because darkness in life comes quite natural to everyone… Sadly but true. I guess that’s why I write music in the first place – to kind of process everything that I feel, and everything that people around me feel as well, ’cause I’m hyper-sensitive.”
Aksnes’ dramatic songs are appealing to television’s music supervisors – the anthemic Running With The Wolves memorably synced in MTV’s Teen Wolf. “I don’t watch that many shows,” Aksnes admits. “Or TV, actually.”
Ironically, Aksnes’ biggest hit, at least in the UK, came with her cover of Oasis’ Half The World Away for the department store John Lewis’ traditional Christmas ad. (It’s included on the deluxe edition of All My Demons…) Aksnes confesses that the Brit-pop band “is not really my cup of tea”.
“I think Oasis are good songwriters,” she says graciously. “I definitely understand their success. But I hadn’t even heard Half The World Away before I was asked to do a cover of it.” Bolder again was Aksnes’ haunting remake of David Bowie’s Life On Mars? – cut exclusively for the fifth season of Girls.
Aksnes is “a huge fan” of Bowie – and was “really devastated” over his January passing. “He’s very quirky, in his magical way, but I think it’s important to be quirky,” she muses. “We’re all quirky, in many ways – it’s just that we learn to hide it. That’s one of the biggest missions in life – to accept all your quirkiness and to just be who you are.”
Like Bowie, Aksnes has an independent outlook on the music industry. “I’ve learned that everything is out there in my name and I am in the front of the ship. So I’m definitely going to stand on my ground a bit more and to be even more bossy and take a bit more control of the ship – ’cause I am a very stubborn lady and I know what I want. I’m just going to trust my own ideas – even though they might seem a bit weird and unusual at the time.”
Aksnes is thinking ahead to her second album. “I really want to release my next album [on] the first of January 2017 – if you’re allowed to do that,” she laughs. The singer has already accumulated 45 songs. “I’ve made many demos in my home studio in my room. So I’ve been working a bit at night-time alone.”
Rumours have circulated of Aksnes visiting Australia for months. “Actually, a few little birds have been telling me that I might be coming over to Australia in [my] wintertime this year – or maybe January, February next year,” she divulges. “So I will definitely come. I’m very excited – you have no idea – ’cause I love bugs and I love kangaroos. I can’t wait to see all the amazing bugs you have – and, of course, to play and meet all the wonderful people as well. But it’s definitely the bugs!” The first Laneway 2017 tip?
‘All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend’ is out now. Order a copy, here.