Cracking Oh Land’s Wish Bone
Try as she might, Danish-bred siren Nanna Fabricius can’t escape her musical chops. Having turned to ballet as a form of rebellion against her musically inclined parents—her mother, an opera singer, her father, a composer—the Copenhagen native was forced to hang up her tutu and pointe shoes after a career-ending injury at the age of 18. Ten years and three albums later, Fabricius is following in her parents’ footsteps, and this time, she’s happy to do so.
Better known as her stage name, Oh Land, Fabricius first made waves back in 2011 following the release of her toe-tapping hit single, “Sun of a Gun.” Opting for a more bare-bones, less stylized approach with her latest album, Wish Bone, Oh Land’s 13 new tracks still manage to ooze with the same catchy charisma she’s come to be known for. Featuring her latest single and nod to women everywhere, “Renaissance Girls,” Wish Bone doesn’t need any bells and whistles to hit all the right chords.
JAMIE LINCOLN: You’ve been living in Brooklyn for a few years now, right?
NANNA FABRICIUS: Yeah, that’s right.
LINCOLN: How do you find New York as a whole differs from Denmark?
FABRICIUS: It’s like, the complete opposite. Everything is possible all the time, it’s a super convenient place to be. If you want sushi at midnight on a Sunday, you can get it delivered to your door. It’s just a crazy place where everything is accessible all the time. In Denmark, it’s very much different. Saturdays and Sundays, everything is closed. It’s very like, small village-y.
LINCOLN: Do you prefer living in New York, then?
FABRICIUS: Yeah. It’s definitely easier living in New York because everything is here. I get a lot of erratic ideas all the time, like things I want to do, I have to do them now. In Denmark, it’s pretty hard to realize ideas quickly, because everything has to be ordered from outside of the country, but here you can do a lot of things right away. I really love that about New York.
LINCOLN: Besides making music, what’s your favorite thing to do in Brooklyn?
FABRICIUS: I love going to the flea markets on Saturdays and Sundays, and I love walking by the new pier down on North Sixth, or North Fifth, I think it is … and playing with the dogs in the dog park. [laughs]
LINCOLN: Your new video “Renaissance Girls” features some seriously impressive dance moves.
FABRICIUS: [laughs] Thank you!
LINCOLN: I read that you were a student at the Royal Swedish Ballet School, but a serious injury ended your career.
FABRICIUS: Yeah, that’s right.
LINCOLN: So are you able to dance at remotely the same caliber now?
FABRICIUS: No, not at all. I was super crazy strong. I was like … what are they called? Transformers. [laughs] Super strong and super flexible, I felt like I could do anything, like I could climb houses. Now I’m just a normal soft body. [laughs]
LINCOLN: [laughs] Does it hurt to dance, then?
FABRICIUS: Yeah, it does. I can’t do it at all at that level, like I was training 32 hours a week back then. Now, I just do it for fun to express myself. I care more about the awkward movements and not so much about the beautiful and sexy movements.
LINCOLN: And dance would have been a potential career path, had you not suffered an injury?
FABRICIUS: Yeah, absolutely. That was what I wanted to do until… I didn’t even know that music was such a natural place for me to be, although it was where I grew up with parents who were musicians.
LINCOLN: I could be reading into the lyrics a little too much, but is “Renaissance Girls” a commentary on the unrealistic expectations often placed on women?
FABRICIUS: Yeah, absolutely. It’s for men as well, it’s just that I’m not a man so I don’t know exactly how it feels. [laughs] And also, there isn’t a term called “Renaissance girls,” there’s a term called “Renaissance men,” so I wanted to make that song for us.
LINCOLN: You’re also rocking some pretty vibrant blue hair in the video. Did you just wake up one morning and say, “I think I’ll go blue today?”
FABRICIUS: I had been in South Africa for a movie project—it was an 1870s Western movie—and I had to be super natural, blonde, and after those three weeks I was just so bored looking at myself in the mirror, and I was just like, something has to happen. So I just colored my hair blue.
LINCOLN: Wait a second, you were in South Africa filming a movie?
FABRICIUS: It’s called The Salvation, it’s out in 2014.
LINCOLN: What’s it about?
FABRICIUS: It’s a Western about immigrants coming to America, settlers.
LINCOLN: I had no idea you were interested in acting.
FABRICIUS: No, me either. [laughs] It happened quite suddenly, and it’s definitely not something I’ve been chasing because I want to focus on music, but this was an opportunity that I couldn’t really turn down because it was so fun.
LINCOLN: Do you have a large role in the film?
FABRICIUS: I play the main character’s wife, but I do get killed quite quick. [laughs]
LINCOLN: [laughs] Wow, tough break! Let’s talk about your new album, Wish Bone. I found your explanation of the title fascinating; you said the album explores the juxtaposition between the physical and the ethereal, in a way. That in the end, we’re all just bones and meat, but our wishes, souls, thoughts, and dreams continue to float around. How does Wish Bone explore this juxtaposition?
FABRICIUS: Because I had that injury when I was 18, I definitely met my physical limit at a very young age, and I have to always think about what I can do physically. In my head, there are endless opportunities and you think that certain scenarios will turn out a certain way because you dream it up and then you realize reality is different. So it’s this constant struggle between the brain and the real world. The world in your head, and the world we live in.
LINCOLN: Why did you decide to work with producer Dave Sitek (TV on the Radio)?
FABRICIUS: I’ve always been a fan of his work, and I really wanted to meet him. I came to his house one day in Glendale, and we just pretty quickly wrote a bunch of songs. It sounded like the life I was living, it wasn’t a romanticized version of it; there was raw emotion in it. I just knew I was going to make the album with him.
LINCOLN: You’ve talked about constructing songs based on the idea of sonic minimalism. What does sonic minimalism mean to you?
FABRICIUS: It means that I’m naturally a maximalist, and I like as many layers and as many choirs and as many strings and horn sections as possible and I love it, but in this album, I just really wanted to stick to the point of what I wanted to say in each song and not try to decorate it. I didn’t want any message to be overshadowed by beauty.
LINCOLN: Tell me a little bit about your creative process. When it comes to songwriting, how do you get your wheels turning?
FABRICIUS: It’s very much a process in my everyday life; it can be a conversation I have with someone, or on the subway I see a man who has a certain expression on his face. It can be little things that make me think and wonder and reflect about my own life and that’s when I get inspired. And then I usually start with words.
LINCOLN: Do you ever get really frustrated while songwriting? If you can’t get the words out, or they’re not coming out properly?
FABRICIUS: I definitely get really frustrated sometimes, particularly about words, but with melody it’s very natural for me. Words can be very difficult because once you’ve said something, it’s out there and you can’t take it back. You have to really know that what you’re saying is what you mean, what you want to express, and exactly that shade of it, and not just the most obvious shade. It’s very fragile, so I can definitely get frustrated with words.
LINCOLN: Tell me a little bit about your fashion sense. Do you have a fashion icon, or a favorite designer?
FABRICIUS: I love a Danish designer called Anne Sofie Madsen, I think she’s just brilliant. From the U.S., I really love Phillip Lim, I’m also wearing a lot of Phillip Lim in my video “Renaissance Girls.” I just love Prada and Miu Miu, they’re probably my all-time favorites.
LINCOLN: You seem to have a fairly eclectic sense of style. You’re always wearing an interesting piece, or repurposing an outfit to be worn in a different way.
FABRICIUS: I think I’m very drawn to juxtaposition. If I wear something very feminine, I want to wear something masculine with it. If I wear something sexy, I want to wear something awkward. [laughs] I very much like the contrast, and that’s how I dress myself mostly.
LINCOLN: It pains me to admit I’ve never seen you live in concert, but I’ve heard you’re quite the stage performer. What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done on stage? I once read you threw glitter bombs into the crowd.
FABRICIUS: I think the craziest thing that happened to me was probably when I walked off a stage without seeing the edge of it, and it was like two meters high! And I just disappeared into the darkness. [laughs]
LINCOLN: [laughs] Oh my God, did people catch you, or you just fell right off?
FABRICIUS: It was in an arena in London and there was quite a way from the stage to the audience, so I just disappeared in the gap in between. They usually have neon masking tape at the edge of the stage, but for some reason they didn’t have it at that one, so I just disappeared. The stage was so tall that I couldn’t get up again, but I kept singing, so people couldn’t see me on stage but they could just hear me singing some words… down in the grave. [laughs]
LINCOLN: That’s horrifying and hilarious. Did you injure yourself?
FABRICIUS: A little bit, yeah.
LINCOLN: But you kept singing, so I guess that’s the important thing, right?
FABRICIUS: I was just like, the show must go on. [laughs]
LINCOLN: Speaking of performing, you’re kicking off your North American tour next week. Do you enjoy touring, or do you consider yourself more of a homebody?
FABRICIUS: I’m definitely a homebody, but I also like seeing the world and traveling around. I’m super, super excited about playing my new songs live—that’s all I want to do, but I do love spending a whole day at home, making tea parties and stuff like that. I’m secretly 85.
LINCOLN: [laughs] Do you have anything crazy planned for “Pyromaniac” on stage?
FABRICIUS: Well, no … you mean like setting somebody on fire? [laughs]
LINCOLN: [laughs] No, no! In the video, you have these fire dancers and you’re swinging a rope of fire at one point, so I thought you might incorporate that into your stage performance somehow.
FABRICIUS: My shows are actually going to be pretty focused around the music, and not so much about props on stage and outfits. It’s just going to be very musical. But that video was hilarious, we made it during my shows in Copenhagen, so after my shows had finished, we just went out and shot. Those fire girls were just people we met on the street—they were street performers—and we asked if they wanted to be in it. So everything was very spontaneous.
LINCOLN: You just asked random people off the street to be in your video?
FABRICIUS: Yeah! It was crazy, they had just come in from Mexico two days before and were traveling around Europe.
LINCOLN: That’s too funny, I assumed you had hired them a long time prior to shooting.
FABRICIUS: None of that video shoot was planned. We went out in the farmland and had these emergency lights that we fired off on the top of my granny’s car … I hope that she never sees that.
LINCOLN: [laughs] Have you ever considered collaborating with your parents, given their musical backgrounds?
FABRICIUS: I work a lot with my parents, actually. They help me orchestrate, because I’ve played a bunch of concerts with classic instrumentation, like symphony orchestra. My dad always helps me arrange because he knows how to arrange for symphony orchestra, and my mom has actually sung backup on a few songs.
LINCOLN: No way! On the new album?
FABRICIUS: No, on Fauna; there’s a song called “Numb,” and she does like an opera choir in the middle of it.
LINCOLN: That’s so amazing. If you could collaborate with any musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
FABRICIUS: I think probably John Lennon, just because he’s such a brilliant songwriter. But I would probably just sit down and listen to him play instead of really doing anything myself. [laughs]
WISH BONE IS OUT TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24. FOR MORE ON OH LAND, VISIT THE ARTIST’S WEBSITE.