This land is Oh Land's

 

The pop star who goes by the name of Oh Land suffered early-life ballet disappointment without going all Natalie Portman about it. She’s made a good fist of the pop game, though, having supported Katy Perry in Dublin earlier in the week. She talks to LAUREN MURPHY

NANNA Øland Fabricius: it’s an easy name to remember. You might know her as Oh Land, Denmark’s biggest pop success since Aqua unleashed Barbie Girl. Now she’s staking her claim on the rest of the world with her eponymous second album, released this summer.

But things, as the 26-year-old readily admits, could have been very different. Fabricius’s backstory is the stuff that record-label press department dreams are made of: having trained professionally as a ballet dancer since the age of 10, an injury at 18 meant that her twinkle-toed career was abruptly sidelined. You’d like to think that it’s all very Black Swan; life and death performances driven by angst, romance and passion. In reality, her cheery voice doesn’t sound like she is too cut up about her dream as a prima ballerina assoluta being prematurely dashed. Being a naturally gifted musician and the daughter of a professional opera singer (mum) and classically trained organist (dad) helped soften the blow.

“I think my parents were relieved, in a way. When I finally found my own way into music, they were just so happy. They’re very supportive, even though they’re also very critical. I think it’s a work injury! They can’t just listen to something and think it’s wrong without saying something, so they’ll call me and say ‘Oh, you sound a bit pitchy there’, or ‘I don’t think that’s the right chord’.”

Once her course was set, both her fierce independence and her familial bonds found their way into her sound. Her 2009 debut, Fauna, was named for her great-great-grandfather Otto Fabricius, an 18th-century ethnographer, explorer and naturalist who was the first person to document the fauna of Greenland in 1780. As well as representing the singer’s early exposure to classical music on several songs, many of that album’s themes were tied up in metaphors and allusions to animal life.

“He went up there and basically looked polar bears in the mouth,” she giggles of her famous ancestor. “I was reading about him, and I thought the title, Fauna, which was also the name of his book, fitted perfectly on my record. I like to use animals as a symbol of human behaviour. I think, at that time, I was watching a lot of David Attenborough films – he’s one of my big heroes. That album was definitely a bit more lyrically abstract, but this album is very much about me, and my experiences, and the metaphors are a bit different.”

Shortly after Fauna’srelease, Fabricius upped sticks and went travelling, eventually settling in New York City after a quick stop off at renowned Texan showcase festival SXSW in 2009, where she signed a deal with Epic after impressing label bosses. Those experiences have been coming thick and fast ever since, and are palpable on Oh Land.

“The past two years that I’ve been writing this record have been very different. I travelled around for a year, living in London, New York and Los Angeles most of the time, and I was writing during that whole period, in all these different places where I was always a stranger. So the album is very much about longing for something familiar, or someone familiar, and the search for new inspiration and new things that you’ve never encountered before.

“But sound-wise, I’ve also been introduced to some new people like Dan Carey and Dave McCracken, and that’s definitely also influenced me.”

The dynamic pop element has been brought to the fore with the slick electro undercurrents on songs such as the kaleidoscopic Sun of a Gun, the catchy Voodooand the gleeful rattle of White Nights.

It’s clear, judging by performances on the David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel TV shows, that she is going places. There’s always the danger, however, of being swept into a scene led by fellow Scandinavians Lykke Li and Robyn, although there’s a quirk about these songs that recalls a certain Icelandic musician, too.

“I actually see it as a huge compliment to be compared to Björk, because I think she’s one of the greatest. I don’t think my voice is anything like hers, and we’re different in many ways – but I’d much rather be compared to her than Lady Gaga.

“When I first started making music, I had never played in a band, so it wasn’t like I had tried to play a lot of genres and knew what fit me or anything. When I started out, I didn’t really have any references. I just tried to make what I heard inside my head. I think what made me realise ‘All right, you don’t have to sound a certain way to make music’ were artists like Björk, Cocorosie and Portishead. That made me realise ‘okay, I don’t have to sound like Beyoncé – I can sound like myself and still be considered a singer’.”

As resolute as Fabricius appears to be, the stylistic gap between her first and second albums means that she remains an artist somewhat in flux. Support slots with Sia perhaps point to a more alternative-minded musician, but then there’s the small matter of a gargantuan arena tour with pop star Katy Perry, which hit Dublin earlier this week. Her dancing days may be over, but remnants of the strong-willed youngster remain.

“I don’t think I’ll ever make music to satisfy a certain crowd,” she says. “I want to make music that is the best I can make. But I won’t target my music in a way that’s like ‘I only want Katy Perry’s fans to like this’. It doesn’t matter whether I support Katy Perry or I support Sia – I think I will just always make the music that feels right for me to do.”


Oh Land