In Conversation: Agnes Obel

In Conversation: Agnes Obel

A move to Berlin brings personal and creative liberation...

“I’m trying to capture the sound of my mind,” Agnes Obel explains. Like a roman sculpture, her face so defined and flawless effortlessly tilts as she softly speaks.

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It’s a typical cold afternoon in the German capital, the clear skies splattered with washed-out blues and grey vagrant clouds. With a crisp rejuvenating breeze I felt obliged to soak up the creativity Berlin has to offer, finding myself fully immersed in its renowned flourishing cultural scene and way of life.

While it might be most associated with its cutting-edge electronic scene, Berlin’s musical landscape has blossomed in manifold directions offering everything from avant-garde classical to burgeoning indie-rock and world music.

Velvet-voiced, Danish-born singer/songwriter and classically trained pianist, Agnes Obel’s poised and haunting chamber pop draws from wraithlike harmonies, sonic textures and bewitching melancholy. Although originally from Copenhagen, her evocative blend of shivering gothic violins, eerie cello pizzicatos and deeply alluring electronics is so pure and transcendently lifting, it creates a captivating and hushed intimacy, perfectly fitting Berlin’s aesthetic.

“I feel very liberated and since moving here I’ve been writing much more,” she says. “Because I didn’t fit into a certain category, I was sort of very free to be myself.”

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From the platinum-selling 'Philiharmonics' and 'Aventine', to the ambitious 2016 release 'Citizen Of Glass', Obel manages to introduce austere, ghostly synths, and mysterious dystopian-esque personas. Now taking the next step, the sorrowful 'Myopia' serves pensive nocturnes. 

“When I was working on my previous album 'Citizen Of Glass', it was mainly focussed on how technology obscures our perception. I soon came to realise that my own mind is doing the same thing, so technology isn’t all to blame. I sort of felt that was something I should look into musically and find out if I can recreate it, in the sense that can you really trust your own perception of things,” Agnes tells me.

Pausing to think her delicate voice continues to float; “Emotions are not something that are stable or dependable. It got me thinking how that feeling sounded like which formed different ideas.”

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Pre-release ‘Island Of Doom’ sees Obel take you on an incredibly mystifying journey, reflected by the equally hypnotic video. “I was trying to depict a sound of something that was gone but is still there somehow. It’s a paradox I suppose!” she goes onto explain.

“A memory, something that’s past but still with you. You know early memories you have where you can’t really remember but it’s like a sense and very similar to a dream? That’s what I wanted to capture in my sound and develop this eerie state as on this particular song I wanted to show how death is not so finalised. Of course it is in a way but people who have passed away are still very much there in your memory. For me I feel as though I can still have a conversation with them or know what they’d say or respond to things, so in a way they are still changing something.”

Falling into the darkest of topics, we find ourselves spiralling into doom and gloom as we discuss death and afterlife, pondering over what it really means to different people.

“I certainly wonder,” she confides. “I’m not religious at all actually but I hope so, in some form. It makes me think about something my mother-in-law said to me which was before we’re born we are dust in the universe, and when we die we return as dust in the universe.”

“It’s very poetic and beautiful, so maybe something like that as it could be seen as afterlife. I’ve had close family members to me pass away but through me I think they live on and carry a life. I feel like a lot of people you meet in your life you carry with you, so in that sense I certainly believe in an afterlife.”

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Assembled in the confines of her home studio, Obel cleverly produces exquisite minimalism and intricately crafted compositions. Channelling isolation and loneliness, musically Agnes seems like a recluse hiding from the world, which is true to a certain extent when it comes to her writing technique. Mixing and producing all herself, the editing process is unsurprisingly long.

“I have a tendency to expect certain things from others and then my own expectations are set high which can be very bad for creativity. I have to work alone to sort of forget about time and everybody else, even about myself! If it’s a good day then you forget about time and suddenly you realise it’s three in the morning,” she laughs. “I get very obsessed with certain sounds, especially instrumentation.”

Aiming for perhaps more of an under the radar approach, Obel’s thoughtful and refreshing artistic traits make her even more desirable and unfathomable. 2020 could yet prove to be a game-changing year, and in Myopia she’s delivered an album more than capable of shouldering the charge.

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Agnes Obel will release new album 'Myopia' on February 21st.

Words + Photography: Lauren McDermott

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