A Creative Flight: AURORA Interviewed

An emotional meeting with the Norwegian star...

Alternative pop singer AURORA is a creative and political lead, an artist who shines a bright, much needed light on the world. 

A tour de force, Aurora Aksnes’ ambitious new LP is cause to celebrate, even if the state of the world fails to match. The distinguished musician is unafraid to share understanding and insights gained in the past few years, where much time was spent reading, studying and acquiring knowledge.  

The Norwegian singer-songwriter is on a composite journey that involves, but is not limited to, absorbing information, examining creativity and political activism. There is a strong conviction and the commitment shown is unwavering. 

Creativity first, however. A meeting with the singer is arranged, the location is central London, and Clash meets her on a cloudy afternoon in May. “I bought a notebook in the airport,” she tells us. What initially is at risk of seeming like a mundane snippet of information gains in significance, fairly rapidly. 

Her way of observing the clouds is anything but casual, it seems. A painter too, looking at them inspires something else; “I understand why we painted these clouds in the ancient days,” the singer considers. “They were so gorgeous. I was flying through them, looking at them, it was magical. I wrote down what I was seeing, it became a creative flight. It was spiritual.”

One of several core themes, spirituality is a recurring thread in AURORA’s body of work. Then there is a need to make a difference, to help instigate change, have an impact on the outside world, this might explain why she has more to offer than a hit-upon-hit chart artist, which is just how she likes it. Not feeling right about topics such as love, heart aches and revenge is one thing, her agenda is substantial.

“I rant about something that I feel is needed for the world,” she reflects. “It’s hard work to tune in on other things in our daily lives, when there’s so much going wrong outside of us, outside of our families. We’re all brought up to care about our inner circle. All the politics, all these things that we are so scared of outside our inner circle, I write about the outer circles, far away from people in our circles.”

Continuing to discuss, essentially arguing that things in the outer circle are a lot less distant than we think, saying that they actually have a profound effect on us. “I believe that those things far away really affect the things in here, without us being aware of it. I keep that in mind when I write.” 

Unsurprisingly, writing is the backbone, and so much has been achieved, racking up billions of streams, world tours, her book, The Gods We Can Touch published in 2022, selling 14,000 copies, the recent vocal contribution on ‘liMOusIne’ with alt icons Bring Me the Horizon, the list goes on. 

She is the first to admit that things can become too personal and overwhelming, simply be too open to cope with. A decade can go quickly, she knew it was time to do things differently. “It’s very heart on sleeve,” she admits. “It can seem very personal. This album is the first time in my career, where it’s more personal. I was going through something for a long time, something that pulled me so far down that I actually needed music for myself.”

Fair point. But there is AURORA, the activist and environmental campaigner. A Greta Thunberg of music and art, where a dedicated, compassionate approach is demonstrated, an engagement of long-term commitment. What can seem fairly abstract about her work becomes more and more tangible as our conversation progresses. “It’s easier to call it activism. I just always loved nature, I want people to love her too. We need her and indigenous people are connected to that. To me everything comes back to nature, I’ve been very aware of it for years.” 

Honest, direct engagement is priority. Through The Rainforest Alliance contact with some groups was established, including conversations with three female tribe leaders in Colombia, Brazil and Argentina. “They remember a lot of things that we need to remember,” she states with a hint of frustration in her voice. “I cannot believe that we are attacking the very groups, who are protecting what’s left of the world and actually have so much to teach us. That’s a big thing for me.”

She maintains that it makes little sense to “attack the people who are connected to something, it’s like we want the world to forget. Taking the women who are the source of life, taking the children out who are the source of the future, those who are the connection to the past. We are killing everything.”

Viewing herself as a person whose role it is to influence and spread such words, makes arguing the opposite impossible and irrelevant. To her, listening goes beyond anything else, it’s about great listening skills, as is the quality to talk as a friend, as opposed to someone who lectures or patronises. The ability to talk as a friend combined with an urge to learn, educate and let oneself be educated along the way. 

The discovery of a passion for speaking about the environment started early on, even if she didn’t associate it with activism or identify it as such back then, she has been active since the age of sixteen. Her statement “art without politics is boring” is a huge part of who she is. The early realisation that she could use her voice, be someone who expresses ideas, opinions and perspectives was a conscious choice, it made her seek out the political path, which makes more sense now than ever before.   

There are situations where only a friend can help express the most uncomfortable facts, when things have gone too far. So often a friend can help provide what’s needed, and this is the type of voice AURORA aims to be and the voice she shares with others. It’s how she likes to communicate about important topics. 

The connection to nature and earth feeds right into album title ‘What Happened To the Heart?’ If the earth is the basis of everything the world should hold on to, then why is so little care shown, how did we become so far removed from it? “The situation in Palestine shows how willing we are to let unfair things happen, if it’s far away from us. It makes me ask the question now more than ever, what happened to the heart of human kind?” 

The prospect of seeing a colourful world, earth and nature turn into “grey nothingness” is less than favourable. The singer insists that “Mother Earth is the same, she doesn’t scream to us with words that we understand. She speaks to us in her own language, and many of us have forgotten that language completely.” 

What remains immensely positive is seeing how the urgency of this topic is dealt with so skilfully on the record. A concoction of style, a lofty effort, it doesn’t fail to thrill or educate. With its cathartic core it offers a spectrum of emotion, thought and sound palette. From electro-pop song ‘Some Type of Skin’, there are pulsating techno vibes as heard on ‘Starvation’, the more synth led ‘My Body Is Not Mine’ stands out, as does the more instinctive ‘My Name’. It’s an album of unlimited scope and invention. 

It has been an rewarding experience, which according to the singer offered numerous standalone moments. She worked closely with collaborators she knows well (Ane Brun and Matias Tellez), the record also captures fresh openings, new adventures that continue to invigorate. A meeting with a Chinese Pipa player (a string instrument similar to a lute) became the source of an enthralling collaboration. Impressing when she played one of the tracks, the singer just knew the player had to be involved. “I sent her the song. She came back to me the day after, it was amazing. What a woman, I loved the work and kept everything.”

It’s a busy year that continues to get even busier. With festival appearances in the diary, splendid events are in store this summer and include a return to Glastonbury and Roskilde. These are more than just cultural events, they involve engagement with different crowds, they are opportunities to engage with individuals. Each affair is different, people need different things every year, because the world keeps changing. 

“I’m excited to see how the youth inspires me, it makes me hopeful for the future. I want to see them be very much alive and well, which I hope and believe will happen. I’m excited to see the energies amongst people now, you get to see crowds and you realise what the audiences are like right now.”

The prospect of a world tour scheduled to begin later this year is massive, one of unmitigated excitement. “I’m very happy that I’m going out there. It’s beautiful that people accept me all over the place.” 

It’s hard to imagine a place or a country where AURORA isn’t accepted, given the amount of thought and consideration she puts into everything. It’s such a beautiful thing…

What Happened To The Heart?’ is out now. Catch AURORA at Glastonbury this weekend.

Words: Susan Hansen
Photography: Wanda Martin

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