Frøkedal interview: The Norwegian indie singer opens up about the creation of her bold and candid new album How We Made It
Anne-Lise Frøkedal is an Oslo-based singer and songwriter who can be filed under “indie” or “folk,” but on her recently released new album How We Made It, she flits between styles and traditions so readily that trying to tag it is a fairly facile operation. Perhaps the best word for her music would be “honest”, as across the 12 tracks that make up the album the consistent element is her unwavering dedication to brave lyricism. Many of the songs clearly come from her own experiences with ex-boyfriends and other loved ones, and she doesn’t often put much distance between her true self and the way she writes lyrics. With How We Made It being such a fascinating collection, we thought we’d better get in touch with Frøkedal herself to ask about the genesis of the stories that have become the songs on her wonderful new record.
The introductory materials for this album quote you as saying that you’re sick of diplomacy, hence the frankness of a lot of the lyrics on the album – are the personalities in the songs true versions of yourself?
I think it would be closer to the truth to say that these are personality traits I wish I could show more often. Mood wise I have a tendency of staying safely in between the highs and lows – even when something really great happens, I’ll think about it for a couple of seconds and then I move on. In spite of this I like being around people who appear to be larger than life, enjoy their victories, or say or do controversial things without worrying too much about stepping on anyone’s toes. I tend to think too much – hence the diplomacy.
Did you always know that ‘I Don’t Care’ would be the first track? Do you take perverse joy from opening the album with the line “I don’t even care anymore”?
Since this song displays feelings we’re not usually proud of, like anger and hurt, I tried writing lyrics that would almost be a bit painful or “uncool” to sing. This, in turn, gave me second thoughts about the whole track. Then Jimmy Robertson did this great mix, it was the only track that was finished straight away without any adjustments. And I suddenly realised that this uncompromising vocal line was just the start this album needed. So, yeah, in the end I guess I take (perverse) joy from opening the album just like that.
The passion of the detachment of ‘I Don’t Care’ seems so genuine and fresh, was it written quickly after the demise of the relationship in question?
To many people’s great confusion, I remain good friends with my exes. Perhaps that is why I find the transition from having someone as your nearest and dearest – to turning all of that upside down when the relationship ends, so interesting and heartbreaking. This person that you now despise is still the same person that you once thought the world of and chose to be your partner. Then again, certain people can do you real damage. I have witnessed people I care about in unhealthy relationships, and I think I borrowed some of their brokenness and resentment. And added my own heartfelt anger to it.
Is it pleasing to you to pepper some of your sweet-sounding folk songs with rude language and unseemly imagery?
I often wish I could write heavier, more aggressive music, but so far I haven’t figured out how. So this is probably my way of doing it. I also think being Norwegian is a part of it, we don’t have the same restrictions when it comes to swearing in public, like on TV or radio, as you guys do. So we are probably more used to rude language in general.
Second track ‘Cracks’ is almost the complete opposite feeling to ‘I Don’t Care’, where the singer is completely giving herself over to the other person, are these the two polarities of emotion on the album?
I think you’re onto something there. While ‘I Don’t Care’ dwells bitterly on the past, ‘Cracks’ is at the threshold of a new beginning – and it is as glorious as it is frightening: Nothing is more daring than exposing our weaknesses and imperfections to others. But the narrator also realises that it is necessary to take that risk. And when making the album I kept thinking: which of these two emotional states came first? Perhaps they just keep on alternating in our lives.
‘Hybel’ is a really transportative and meditative song, and is a bit of an outlier as it is based around keyboards and has comparatively few lyrics in its 6+ minutes; can you tell us about writing this one?
I initially came up with ‘Hybel’’s melodic theme as one of several score ideas for a short film. In the end it wasn’t used, and I rediscovered the idea when working on this album. I hadn’t heard it in a year or so, and found myself really enjoying it. So I worked out a drum beat and a short vocal part. I am not a virtuoso keyboard player, and I was jamming when I came up with the initial idea, so some of the weird bluesy notes in the melody are just a result of me fumbling around on the keys – and with time they became a part of the melodic structure. I love all kinds of organ sounds and listening to organ music, so even if ‘Hybel’ has less vocals and definitely more organ than the other tracks, it is perhaps the one I enjoy the most playing live right now. We recorded it live with drums, with Erlend and myself splitting the chords and melody between us. That was a happy few hours in the studio!
Mentions of being in Oslo and Norway crop up a few times on the album, is your home a big influence on the songs and the sound?
Well, you write about what you know about. A few of these stories are inspired by growing up in a rural area on the West coast of Norway and not having a lot of people around caring about the same things as you. Oslo has been my home for well over a decade now, and though I love it here, the landscape and the people from my childhood are still a big part of who I am today. I think these two geographical areas will always be present in my songs in one way or the other, even if they’re not mentioned by name.
‘David’ is a very heartfelt song, is it written for a close friend?
It is named after someone who I consider a friend, though we’ve only met once as he lives far away. His way of adding enthusiasm to everyday situations and create a warm, relaxed environment for everyone around, was very inspiring. Many of us, myself included, have a tendency of being easily brought down by trifles. In the end happiness is a talent that you have to keep working on.
How did the instrumental track ‘Spinners’ come about and what do you play on it?
Ingeleiv and Olav Christer play violins and various string instruments in Familien. They both have a background in playing traditional (Norwegian) music, and many of my songs don’t have a lot of room for this side to our sound, so I wanted to create a space for them to shine a little. Olav had told me that music in triple metre is slowly dying out, as it is not used much in modern music. So I wanted to make up for this by writing a new waltz for those guys to play on the album. I recorded the demo on a keyboard with a lot of gliding notes to simulate a sentimental violin. It sounded awful, but they immediately got it. Apart from a few guitar arpeggios I don’t play on the recording, it’s mostly the two violins and Erlend’s organ.
‘How We Made It’ is the nostalgic and emotional core of the album, can you tell us about the lyrical story being told? When did you know you would title the album How We Made It?
It is a story about being young and intoxicated to the point where isolation seems like the best option. Most of the songs on this record describe a more or less dramatic point in life, where your actions become dominated by feelings – not logic. We all experience these moments, we get through them somehow and they all become a part of our history. There was already this song named ‘How We Made It’ and that seemed to sum it all up. But I didn’t know this would be the album title until everything was mixed and put together.
In ‘Believe’ when you say “I’ve got my mind set right this time,” what’s the right setting?
For this character: If you believe in something strongly enough, all your wishes will come true.
‘Treehouse’ was inspired by childish mischief and destruction – why does it appeal to you?
Because it seems to apply to everyone, I don’t think we ever outgrow the urge to be destructive, to become pissed off when we feel left out. We just hide it better than kids do.
Apart from ‘Treehouse’, most of the songs on How We Made It seemingly adhere to adult themes, but do you think there’s childishness in some of the other songs too?
The track ‘How We Made It’ displays a fair share of raging hormones, I think. The word ‘Hybel’ is Norwegian and can perhaps be translated to “bedsit”; it is a kind of accommodation for a young person, typically the first place you live when you move away from home. I moved to one when I was 16. It is a time in life where it is easier to be completely carried away by the people you meet. Luckily it is not just reserved for the young. In a way childishness is also present in ‘I Don’t Care’, the title itself being an oxymoron.
‘You Don’t Have To’ is a very dark and demure song to finish the album, what was the inspiration?
‘You Don’t Have To’ is a song of worry and care for the person who stays way too long at the party – or in other words: loses control completely. I think of it as a homage to the various personalities on the album – and of course some who I know in real life.
Are there any particular books or films that you think might have had an influence on the album? Or any you would just like to recommend to people?
Carson McCullers’ short stories is one of the best reading experiences I’ve had and it has stayed with me since. Her texts are poetic and beautifully written, and the way she describes her broad spectrum of characters – outsiders, children, artists – is filled with empathy and care. Check out “The Member of The Wedding”, “The Ballad Of The Sad Café” and “Who Has Seen The Wind”.
Are you going to be touring?
Yes! We have 24 gigs, mainly in Norway, some in Germany and a couple in the UK. Electrowerkz in London on Oct 22nd being one of them.
Frøkedal's How We Made It is out now on Propeller Recordings.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 11th September 2018.