“I’m pretty calculated. I have it like ‘vrooooom! This is how it’s gonna be!’ It’s gonna be a verse, pre, chorus, verse, pre, chorus – No! Wait – Verse, pre, A-chorus, verse, pre, A-chorus, B-chorus, instrumental, middle eight, A-chorus… or.... mmm. Yeah. A-chorus, then B-chorus, B-chorus, outro. That’s how I do it.” According to Sigrid, who has just released her debut album Sucker Punch, that is the formula for the perfect pop song.
As a songwriter, Sigrid takes small moments and gives them depth. Her debut 2017 single Don’t Kill My Vibe blew everyone away. Written after a particularly tough studio session where two unnamed producers foolishly underestimated her songwriting skills, she takes the older men down in her lyrics as she builds up a crescendo of piano, catchy hooks, power choruses and confidence. Sigrid reworked the bad feelings that come with being patronised and made them into something uplifting, proving those producers very, very wrong.
At 22 years of age, it’s easy to brandish Sigrid as a bit of a musical genius but she doesn’t play the role of the tortured artist. Not even slightly. She’s upbeat, open-minded and thoughtful. She speaks confidently but she is also polite and inquisitive. Everything I ask, she finds a way to return the question so that she can learn about her surroundings and the people around her. She’s a hard worker but she’s considerate, taking the time to find out everyone’s name in the room. Anyone I know that has worked with her in Ireland, whether they’re concert promoters or artist liaison officers at a festival, say that she is one of the nicest performers they’ve met. She is also one of the nicest people I’ve interviewed.
Sigrid is getting ready to play to a full house, and she's nervous. This is her sixth Irish show in 12 months
Sitting in Maureen’s Bar in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre, she’s getting ready to play to a full house, and she’s nervous. This is her sixth Irish show in 12 months, and she’s got three more lined up for 2019, including her biggest headlining Irish show in Dublin’s 3Arena in November. “I put a lot of pressure on myself with gigs like this because I’ve been waiting to play this for so long and Ireland is like my favourite place to play outside Norway I think,” she says, then pointing to her jumper which has the Other Voices logo on it. “I love them. The whole team, the crew is amazing. All of them,” she says of the Other Voices crew, remembering her 2017 performance in Dingle and her most recent gig at their stage at Electric Picnic 2018. “From the sound techs to the producers to the presenters. They’re lovely. So yeah. I don’t know. I just really like being here.”
Is there a similarity between Irish people and Norwegian people? “I think so. There must be. I’m trying to come up with why I feel at home here,” she says drumming the table as she thinks. “I think we’re similar in some ways. Norwegians can be a bit stiff. From the Scandinavian countries, I think we’re the least stiff ones maybe. Like, as in uptight.” She then clicks her fingers, finally landing on what it is that makes her feel so comfortable in Ireland. “I feel we have the same... we have the same qualities when we get drunk. Very eloquent and elegant,” she jokes. “No. We’re just fun. I think. I really like being here. Where in Ireland are you from?”
Born in 1996 and raised in the port town of Ålesund in west Norway, Sigrid Raabe grew up in a close-knit, cat-loving family and was always surrounded by music. Her parents listened to singer-songwriters like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell at home and she cites both of those artists as huge inspirations, with Adele being her all-time favourite. She later asks that I add Kacey Musgraves as one of her favourites: “Please put her in that question because she’s f***ing brilliant. I love her lyrics. It’s funny, witty, intelligent and I love lyrics that say something, that mean something”. She also lists off Ellie Goulding, Thom Yorke, Chris Martin and Chet Baker as her favourites. “I look up to the big guns.”
Her two siblings also share the musical gene. She was briefly in a band with her sister (and best friend) Johanne, who is now an aircraft engineer, called Sala Says Mhyp. They named themselves after their dead cat Sala and their song Sadness for Sale is tagged as “catpop” on Soundcloud. Her brother Tellef, a full-time musician who makes moodier pop music than his siblings, can be credited with giving his little sister the push she needed to start writing her own songs.
He asked her to open up a gig for him in their hometown in 2013 but instead of performing an Adele cover on piano, he asked her to compose an original song. The song she wrote was Sun, a jangly indie-pop song, that was picked up by P3 Untouched, a Norwegian platform that supports unsigned and undiscovered acts, which then led to the indie label Petroleum signing her when she was 16. Since then, it has been non-stop.
She moved to Bergen, which has a bustling music scene, and shared a flat with her brother, his girlfriend and some friends when she turned 18. Less than a year later, she signed a new deal with Island Records and released the Don’t Kill My Vibe EP in May 2017. In January 2018, she was announced as the winner of BBC’s Sound of 2018, making her busy schedule even busier.
Helping herself to a pre-gig snack of buttered brown bread and raw vegetables, she says that with her full schedule of gigging and touring, she’s learned that her health has to come first. “It’s an incredible honour that we’re being asked to go around all of these places. Always getting offers, it’s amazing and it’s a real luxury problem. But I think it’s very important to say no to things,” she says. “If I just can’t do it, my health comes first and everyone on my team knows that. So, yeah. If I have to cancel something, I cancel it.”
While it’s difficult for her to turn things down, she knows she’s not alone in trying to find the perfect work-life balance. “I feel like everyone is so busy. You know what I mean? When I look at my friends, my family, acquaintances or other people – random people I know – I just think ‘Jesus Christ, people have so much stuff going on. All the time’,” she says. “I know I have the travel in addition to the normal stuff I do all the time but it’s a lot to manage. And I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be in school right now and then having social media on top of it. I am 22 so I had social media when I was in high school but it was not at the same level as now, I think.
“I wish I could go more offline but that’s a part of my job too,” she adds.
From the bolshiness of Plot Twist to her refusal to wallow in sadness in Don't Feel Like Crying, Sigrid writes the way a friend would talk
Sigrid speaks a mile a minute, taking on a number of subjects at once, but she is very decisive in her answers. This outrightness comes through in her music too. From the bolshiness of the break-up song Plot Twist (“Do you need me to spell it out loud? You screwed it up. Plot twist; moved on and now you want me”) to her refusal to wallow in sadness in Don’t Feel Like Crying, she writes the way a friend would talk. She once said in an interview with Noisey that she wanted to protect her private life from her songwriting. Is this still the case? “It’s so f***ing hard. It’s funny that I said that too. I still write quite personal, I think. Because it changes! Again, my age. It’s an age about finding out about things and growing.” Well, 22 is a very fun age, I say. “God yeah. But it’s great. I wouldn’t be another age. But it’s very important for me to secure my private life.”
Sigrid challenges the idea that she’s as upbeat as the tempo of her music – an easy mistake to make based on her cheery disposition. “I think that people may have an assumption of me always being like super happy and ‘rarrrrrgh!’ Very high energy, as I am on stage, but it’s also my job. And you wouldn’t go to your job being grumpy and tired,” she explains, graciously assuming that no one turns up to work in a bad mood. “I try to stay professional about it so obviously there’s days where I’m not super happy or full on high adrenaline. It’s important that I have those days too. Everyone has those days.”
Sucker Punch isn’t a concept album as such, she says, but a collection of her favourite songs. “It’s just songs that I listen to all the time. I listen to my demos every day. I know... It’s... I love my songs,” she says unashamedly. When it comes to describing relationships and her feelings in songs, she’s as clear cut in her lyrics as she is in person. Mine Right Now acknowledges that relationships don’t last forever so she’ll appreciate them when she’s still in them. In Vain is a stinger of a sad song that sees her refusing to stick around for someone who doesn’t love her and Level Up is a play on the saying that a problem shared is a problem halved. “When we get through the struggle, that’s when we level up,” she sings softly over a tip-toeing beat.
Her songwriting is an admirable mix of independence, rose-tinted romanticism and emotional intelligence but there’s one thing that can’t be denied; Sigrid is mad for a good hook. She doesn’t think that people should have to hold out for the chorus as the big moment: “ I want people to remember everything about the song, not just the chorus. Not to be like... ‘THERE we go’”. The enjoyment of her audience is at the core of her music so when she was writing the single Sucker Punch, she wanted the chorus to work for a festival crowd and that’s what she achieved. “I just like everything that’s a bit massive,” she says. “It’s the viking in me.”
Sigrid is a force to be reckoned with and a complete sounder, which makes the title of her debut album so perfect. Sucker Punch. She seemingly came out of nowhere in 2017 and she’s been giving us hit after hit ever since. While she questions if she’ll always make pop music (“I don’t know what kind of music I’ll be making in a couple of years. Maybe something different. Maybe I’m going to lean towards... I listen to so many different genres. I love. I do love pop music that’s leaning towards country”), she’s taking the time to relish where she is now. “You never get your debut album back. It’s a one time. And it’s not going to be the last album I release.”