Norwegian singer Aurora Aksnes has found fame as a powerful force for good, having amassed a huge global following since her debut album All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend came out back in 2016. Ahead of the release of what will be her third studio album, The Gods We Can Touch, we got the chance to speak to her about what inspired this latest record, what motivates her, and how things have changed since starting out all those years ago…
Hi AURORA – Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me today. Whereabouts in the world are you at the moment?
I’m good! I am in Oslo. It’s very dry and sunny and cold, and I’m going home to Bergen in a few hours.
Very nice! When were you last home?
I was home a week ago, so not too long. But these three days I have coming up in Bergen will be my last for a long time, so I’m going to really breathe all of Bergen in.
Faith and Mythology
Congratulations on your latest album. It’s a fantastic record. The Gods We Can Touch is a very intriguing title. You’ve said that it’s about shame, desire, and morality, all seen through the narrative prism of Greek mythology – what was it that sparked the inspiration for this theme and this album in your mind?
It began when I wrote Exist For Love in January 2020. That’s when I knew what the album was going to be called. When I fell asleep after I’d written and recorded Exist For Love, I knew the title for the album. All the other songs came naturally after that.
Greek Mythology is a big and complicated, but also inspiring topic. It’s easy to be inspired by this dance between people and their Gods, people and each other, love and lust, evil and good, women and man. I decided to let myself be inspired by the Greek Gods because I love the way we used faith a long, long time ago compared to the way it’s being used now. Personally, I resonate much more with the way faith was lived back then. In Greek mythology, for example, there was no such thing as homophobia. So, in a way that is more progressive even. We lost that somewhere along the way.
Absolutely. And you mentioned the fact that some of the Greek Gods were flawed. That is very different to how some religions present their gods and ideology today.
I’ve read so much about the fascinating history of religion. I am eager to understand when this change happened and why it happened. It is a very interesting topic to dive into. I find our obsession with perfection confusing. Perfection is subjective and not a necessity for beauty. I think we are beautiful just the way we are.
So, where do you go to do your reading and what have you been reading?
I have read a lot of religious history books, things that have been written by people who’ve dedicated their lives to understand this. Most of my research comes from talking to people who are educated in religious history. But it is not just subjective, and I try to understand why things are the way they are from a more objective view. What fascinates me is how something so beautiful can be used for so much evil at times.
Responsibility and Existence
There are obviously big themes on this album, but it also sounds like it was a lot of fun to make. There is a playful element to lots of the songs, for example The Innocent and Cure For Me. And it was recorded in a castle! What was the most enjoyable part of recording it?
The most fun part was when I realised, I could do whatever I want with it! We sometimes keep these strange things in our heads – fear, or rigid structural expectations of the world, or whatever. Even though I know that I can do what I want, sometimes I forget it. With this album, I re-reminded myself that I can play around! I’m a very playful person but I make a lot of serious music. I decided with this album to show a more playful, sensual, and carefree side of myself, which is also a part of me. And I’m excited to have fun with it on stage. It’s nice to take a break from crying all the time!
Since you first started out around ten years ago, your sound and your style has changed quite a lot. You’ve also amassed a huge following along the way. What has been the biggest change for you? And do you feel the weight of this extra responsibility.
Things have changed and I definitely feel the weight of the responsibility. Not in a way that makes life feel heavy, but it can be conflicting at times. I see all these problems in the world, but I know I’m not a politician. I’m just an artist who wants to make music, but I still feel the responsibility to speak up against issues. You try to include everyone by making sure that your message is meaningful and that the words heal rather than hurt. But sometimes that can make you forget that you’re just a human. Sometimes you want to do more than you can, which can be frustrating. It is also near impossible to educate yourself on every single political and social issue in the world. I think about this a lot, but I try to not get too distracted by it.
It is a naïve thought, that it’s my responsibility to fix anything. Big-headed, but I think in a way it’s how we all feel. Particularly online, there is pressure to be vocal about everything. Which is good, but it can be overwhelming! Sometimes it is enough to just exist. We don’t have to justify our existence by constantly aiming to improve. We don’t have to justify all the things we do. It is important to remember that we are enough.
Musically, the more successful I get, the smaller I feel. In the beginning, I was just as big as my music. We were the same. But as the music has grown, and I’ve stayed the same. So, I feel smaller now, which is good. The music is living a life of its own.
Norway and Beyond
You’ve also announced a headlining tour for 2022 to go with the album. How are things looking with that at the moment?
Well, I don’t know for sure. We’re trying and I hope we can do it, but it might be difficult. But you never know! I just don’t want to be the reason for anyone to get COVID. It is a difficult decision to make and a lot of responsibility! But we’ll just do the best we can. It’s a luxury problem to have compared to other problems.
Assuming it does go ahead, how are you feeling about the prospect of touring and playing live to people again?
I’m excited! I’m excited to see people because people make the music beautiful. It’s like alchemy. I see it happening right there when I sing for them. I want to be reminded of how my music resonates with the people.
Now, you’ve also collaborated with some fantastic artists over the years. If you could collaborate with anyone, alive or otherwise, who would it be and why?
Well, my dream was to collaborate with the Chemical Brothers, and I’ve done that now! But I want to collaborate more with them. I would love to work with Prodigy or with Gojira, a heavy metal band from France. They are both amazing.
Speaking of collaborations, you’ve worked with and written with some incredibly talented artists over the years. You are also part of a fantastic network of Norwegian musicians – I’m thinking Iris, Moyka, Kamara, UR Monarch, and obviously you worked a lot with Askjell too. Do you have recommendations for up-and-coming artists we should keep an eye on this year?
There are two really exciting new artists, I like. One of them is Hannah Storm. She is remarkable and I think the world is going to love her. She will release her first song ever soon and you will be blown away. The other one is an artist called Sei Selena, who is a beautiful soul. She released a song last November called Only When You’re Asleep, and it’s incredibly serene. She is actually coming with me on my tour to Europe.
The Gods We Can Touch is out Friday 21st of January via Decca.