In Conversation: Aurora

Bergen songwriter caught backstage at Way Out West...

Norwegian pop singer/songwriter Aurora possesses an energy marks beyond her years. Born Aurora Aksnes from the ‘fjord of light’ outside of Bergen, she is a slight, feeble thing, yet her stage presence is commanding. From her deep, emotive vocals reminiscent of Florence and the Machine, to her buoyant, fiery dance moves – the 20 year-old has a gift. And she knows it.

But rather than abuse her raw talent, she intelligently gathers the energy that emanates around her, from her family whom she gives credit to for her success, to the beautific mountain-scape that is just outside her door where she writes songs with a ukulele. Her friends now extend to the likes of Katie Perry whose tweet about the singer has pushed Aurora and band to greater international heights.

She is currently on a European and US tour promoting her debut full length album, 'All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend', which was released in early 2016, rising to number one in Norway and charting across Western Europe.

The album’s press has garnered her with appearances on major American shows including The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon; and her cover songs have provided her with further notoriety: she recorded the Oasis track 'Half The World Away' for the 2015 John Lewis Christmas advert in the UK, and in March, her cover of David Bowie’s 'Life On Mars' was featured in an episode of HBO series Girls. It’s clearly just the beginning for this young talent.

Clash caught up with the singer following a packed-out performance at Sweden’s Way Out West music festival…

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You are only 20 years-old, yet you have been successfully performing on your own since 2014. What is your secret?
The mind is so powerful. For example, if I’ve been sick, I know I will be well tomorrow because I know I have an important show. I always get well in time. I live in the mind. And since I perform a lot these days, I also meditate before each show telling myself every show is special and different. I never want to do the same as yesterday – I would hate for my performances to become automatic.

The energy from your performance is infectious – you have the ability to really let go on stage, and as a result, you get your packed audience also singing and dancing long after your set is finished. Can you talk about that?
It’s come naturally by time. I was more stiff on stage two years when I began playing live, but I have so many emotions to get out of this tiny body. So I use my hands and head a lot because I am giving it everything I have to get the emotions out and clear. Now my voice is getting more firm and I know the words by heart so I feel more safe and free to let myself go.

Many female vocalists are coming from Scandinavia – from Sia and Zara Larsson in Sweden to Lykke Li near your hometown in Bergen. Was this a factor in motivating you several years ago when you were starting out?
I do see that currently there are many musicians from Scandinavia which I think is wonderful, but I have never connected music to place, it’s where people are. Countries only exist because we have divided them ourselves. People making music is natural, we have done it for thousands of years – at funerals and at birthdays, we sing naturally all the time. Dancing too. It comes from everywhere. So maybe it’s like when people find an apple tree with good apples, they go back for more. And I guess that is what is happening with Scandinavia. Long ago they found Scandinavian artists which people liked and then they go back looking for more of them. It’s just about being open to it.

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Countries only exist because we have divided them ourselves.

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At what point when you were growing up did you know being a musician is what you wanted to do?
I never wished for it to happen. But I did think I would like writing lyrics for other artists from when I was nine years-old. I taught myself how to play music. It was easy: I just listened and learned. That is such a gift. I am very happy it lies within me, it has helped me a lot.

I made a song for my parents for my confirmation, and somehow it made it on YouTube. I have no idea how. I don’t question these things. And that is how my management Made [in Bergen] found me in 2012, and said they would like to sign me. At first, I thought, ‘No, I don’t want to do it.’ But my mom encouraged me, even though she had not heard me sing much except for at my confirmation. I always sang on my own in my room.

Which artists have inspired your darkly uplifting pop sound?
I am a big fan of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. They are heroes of mine – lyric and timing wise. Norwegian vocalist Ane Brun has inspired me a lot, she has also helped me with many ups and downs. I am very happy she exists. And my favourite band is Wardruna – from Bergen, very dark Norwegian folk. Their lyrics are from old Viking books.

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It was easy: I just listened and learned.

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You are now touring on your own to sold out shows across Europe, and now the US, where you were also on a series of US talk shows including Jimmy Fallon, Howard Stern and Conan O’Brien. Do you feel more pressure because of this?
It is strange – it has good and bad sides. But I am not complaining, it’s wonderful how many people come to our shows. I still can’t believe our shows in the US are often sold out. These large audiences help bring variety to my life and my performance on stage.

Katy Perry is also one of your biggest fans. Since she tweeted saying your music makes her “heart flutter”, it has brought you in to the public eye even more-so. Can you talk about that?
It was very nice of her to tweet. She did not have to do that. She opened doors for me. We have performed twice in LA and she has come both times, going backstage to say hello. She is just a woman who loves music.

In 2015, you recorded a cover of the Oasis song Half The World Away for the John Lewis Christmas advert in the UK, and this year your cover for David Bowie’s 'Life On Mars' was used in an episode of Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls. How did those songs transpire?
I was asked to record the song for the John Lewis advert, and I have been doing a cover for David Bowie’s 'Life On Mars' for two years now because I love this song. When he died, it became an even more important song. And then Lena Dunham found me on YouTube, and her manager contacted mine saying she wanted my song to be in an episode. It was a beautiful scene too, I cried.

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What made you record the cover for 'Life On Mars' two years ago? Are you a big David Bowie fan?
I always liked 'Life On Mars' – I was fascinated with the piano playing and the chords of the songs. I first played it at home on my piano, and then I used to play it myself for many live performances as an extra number after the show. Because of this, I have seen there is a big age range in my shows which is a gift. I grew up with him: the kids my age enjoy my single and it’s nice to keep good music alive.

You write most of your own songs. What is your process?
I play piano, ukulele, guitar and I am learning to play (a smaller) harp. I have a beautiful piano by the window that looks out to an ocean and two mountains. It’s a very inspiring place to write. And sometimes I bring my ukulele up to the mountains and write. It depends what comes first – the melody or the words, it’s whatever grinds in the heart and needs to come out.

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I have a beautiful piano by the window that looks out to an ocean and two mountains.

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Can you talk about your upcoming album?
I have just released a new single ('I Went Too Far') – and I have recorded a lot of songs already. I have also written over 50 songs that I need to get down on a demo so I can’t wait to release more music – I am almost blowing up.

The goal for my second album is November but I know it is not possible because of my touring schedule. Ideally, I want to release an album every year so this second album has to be released by at least next year. I like autumn, I am not a summer artist.

How do you make time to record the album?
Everything in my life has become so strange. I never thought I would be like this at this point in my life. It’s one in a million chances that these things happen. And I didn’t even dream for it, it just happened. My calendar is terrifying – it’s full everyday until the 19th of December with the tour, promo and studio recordings and band rehearsals.

So I make time to record along the way, we bring a tiny studio with us on tour, and I have a studio at home in my room. I produce as well, it’s the most fun part of my job to record, produce and write the songs.

What are you looking forward to next?
I am looking forward to living each day, like sleeping and seeing my family again. I will be home for two days and then I am looking forward to my next show. I just try and take it day by day.

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Words: Tiffany Pritchard

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