Running with Aurora

Published May 27, 2015

Ever since Aurora Aksnes began writing songs at age nine, melancholy has steadily seeped into her music. Her first composition, “I Had a Dream,” addressed how harsh the world can be; when she was 11, the sight of a drunken man sleeping on the streets of her small, coastal hometown of Os, Norway, saddened her to the point of feeling compelled to write about him. “I understand that people find me a bit strange, but I don’t think about it that much,” she says. “I was quite strange as a kid, even more than I am now.”

Earlier this month, Aurora (who drops her surname as an artist) released her debut EP, Running With the Wolves, a four-song collection that showcases her world-weary storytelling, adorned by elegant folk melodies and sparkling electronic instrumentation. Before the release, in March, Katy Perry tweeted a link to the wintry video for the EP’s lead track, “Runaway,” telling her 60 million followers that she finally found new music that made her heart flutter.

For most of her life, Aurora was too shy to share her music with others, even her family, and it wasn’t until her last day of 10th grade that she performed in public for the first time. Shortly thereafter, in December 2012, a friend posted her brooding track, “Puppet,” to a Norwegian website for unsigned artists. Although she was upset by this at first, it led the singer-songwriter to her current management. Since then, the now 18-year-old has been developing her sound in the studio: producing with bandmates O. Martin and Magnus Skylstad, while also incorporating bits of nature through field recordings. Last night, Aurora previewed songs from her forthcoming debut LP (due this fall) at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, and tonight, she will preview them once more at Rockwood Music Hall, marking her first return to New York since CMJ last year.

CHRIS TINKHAM: Your songs “Runaway” and “Awakening” both express a yearning to return home. Were you having premonitions of the touring lifestyle when you wrote them?

AURORA: It’s weird—these songs fit my situation better now, because I’m traveling a lot, at least once a week. “Runaway” kind of fits my situation ’cause it can be scary to be everywhere else for a long time. I always feel that I’m safe at home, near my family, [and in] the forest as well.

TINKHAM: On Facebook, you recommended that fans share your track, “Running With the Wolves,” with a pet. Do you have any pets?

AURORA: I really want a pet, and I really love animals. I have this bird that’s not mine but I feel that it lives with us, ’cause we have all these trees outside our house. It’s like a crow, and he sits in that tree almost every day. I feel that he’s a part of the family but he’s free.

TINKHAM: Does he have a name?

AURORA: No. A free animal doesn’t have a name, I feel. But I have named my dead moth. I collect dead bugs, and he’s called Nightcrawler. I think that’s a movie as well, but that’s his name.

TINKHAM: With your first song, “I Had a Dream,” how did you get the idea of the world being a sad place at such a young age?

AURORA: I’m very sensitive. I remember, as a kid at school, if someone in the classroom was sad or angry, it could have a great impact on me. I think I just watched the news once, as a nine-year-old, and had to write about it.

TINKHAM: When was the last time that you cried?

AURORA: Yesterday. It was just a cry for no particular reason. I think it’s good for you, and I try to be in touch with my feelings and emotions as much as I can, and I try not to put them aside, or else I might blow up. [laughs] You never know what will happen if I explode.

TINKHAM: What makes you angry?

AURORA: When people are treated unfairly or when people are getting bullied. I don’t understand why or how we can bully each other.

TINKHAM: Do you enjoy spending time by yourself?

AURORA: I love to be alone, and I did as a child as well, especially if I was outside. When you’re outside, and everything is highland, it’s like nature has its own sound, and that’s one of my favorite sounds. I really loved sitting still silently outside, in a tree or in a bush, to just think.

TINKHAM: What’s your history with the song “Don’t Worry Be Happy”?

AURORA: [laughs] My dad and my mom sang in a choir a few years ago as a hobby, and they had so much fun with that. My dad had the lead vocal with that song, and he rehearsed it a lot at home. Then I helped him sometimes—did harmonies and humming. So we sang that song a lot together. It’s almost like a family song now. It makes me happy when I hear it.

TINKHAM: What about the Titanic song, “My Heart Will Go On”?

AURORA: I was never allowed to watch it when I was younger, but I remember watching one scene when I was three years old. That’s one of my first memories. I walked into the living room, and my whole family was sitting there watching it, and I was supposed to be in bed. I managed to catch a glimpse of the scene where they were standing on the edge of the ship holding each other, with the song in the background. That burned into my mind. Then I started going over to my neighbor’s lawn; they had a rock on that lawn that kind of looked like the front of a ship. Every day, I walked over to that stone, stood on the edge of it and sang that song. [laughs] I think I felt really beautiful. Sometimes I would wear several gowns on top of each other. It made me look like a round ball.

TINKHAM: You grew up listening to Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. What caused you to pursue an electronic sound?

AURORA: That’s how I think I’m meant to sound. I didn’t really think about the sound of my songs before I started recording things in the studio. Then, [once I was in the studio,] I wanted to find all these new sounds and make songs sound just as [they did] in my head. Now I think in different ways, because I know the possibilities you have in the studio. So after being in the studio, I realized this is how I want to be. It just feels right.

TINKHAM: Where were you when you found out that Katy Perry had tweeted about you?

AURORA: I was in my bed. [laughs] I just woke up, and it was so strange to wake up to that. My phone was buzzing a lot. It got many notifications and messages, and then I realized that Katy Perry had been writing about a Norwegian artist. I realized later that it was me, that I was the Norwegian artist. It was weird to know that she knows who I am. But it was really nice of her to do it.

TINKHAM: After a Stockholm show, you apologized on Facebook for the silence in between your songs. How is your stage banter these days?

AURORA: I’m getting used to the singing part but not the talking part. It’s very awkward to stand there being yourself and having to talk and entertain people in that way. I’m quite bad at it. I become quite awkward and silly. It’s stressful, but I’m working on it.

TINKHAM: Would you prefer not to say anything?

AURORA: Yeah, I would prefer that. Still, I don’t like not saying anything. I don’t like having a wall between me and the audience. I want to break down that wall and communicate with the people in the room, ’cause we’re there together and we’re having a nice moment. So I try to talk to a few individual people. It makes it more personal.

TINKHAM: What are your hopes for your debut LP?

AURORA: I think that, whatever happens, I’m just happy I’ve written those songs and I’ve made an album. That’s really big for me, and I’m proud of that. But I hope that it can be of help, that people will find some therapy and joy in it.

AURORA WILL PERFORM TONIGHT AT ROCKWOOD MUSIC HALL IN NEW YORK. FOR MORE ON THE ARTIST, VISIT HER FACEBOOK.