After years of touring and releasing beloved pop singles, Norwegian singer Dagny finally gifted us with a joyful, sparkling debut album in 2020 – well, half of one, anyway. Strangers / Lovers Side A, released in May of this year, is a collection of six upbeat bops that tell the story of a relationship as it blossoms from nervous beginnings into new love.
Side B of the album is coming in October, and we caught up with Dagny to find out what she has in store for that, and how the mood might be different next time around. She told us about the strange feeling of releasing a pop album in the middle of a pandemic, and about how one of her most indelible songs, ‘Love You Like That‘, went on to become a hit for Katy Perry.
Alasdair Duncan: This is a very weird year to be releasing an album – how has it felt putting Strangers / Lovers Side A out into the world at a time when you can’t tour it?
Dagny: My first thought was that I feel like I’ve waited forever to do an album, so I decided that nothing’s going to stop it now. My second thought was, in a time like this, I guess people need music and art more than almost any time before, so in a way I thought it was nice … obviously the further I’ve gotten into the album campaign, the more I’ve realised that I really want to go out into the world and play the songs and see people’s reactions to them. We’re so used to releasing things and going on tour and seeing how people react, and it feels like a shame that I won’t be able to do that, but at the same time it would be so selfish to complain because lots of people are very heavily affected by the corona situation. I guess I’ll just look forward to next year, and hopefully we’ll be able to tour then.
AD: Your song ‘Paris’ is about enjoying the pleasures of home instead of going out – you said it’s meant to be about rejecting materialism, but right now, when everyone’s actually forced to stay home, do you feel like it has an added layer of meaning? Is it an isolation anthem now?
Dagny: That’s funny you should ask, because I feel like the hashtag of this summer is “we don’t need Paris”. I’m in Norway and it’s beautiful here, there are a lot of people who are upset because they can’t travel or go to their summer holidays, but we really have such a beautiful country here on our doorstep, I feel like you have to make the best of it. There are many good things you can do without travelling. The simple things can be so nice. I’ve spent my time at home in quarantine making a vegetable garden and sewing and there’s something very peaceful about that. You don’t have to be on the go all the time to be happy, and I feel like the song ‘Paris’ is trying to celebrate the idea of rejecting materialism and living in a simple way, but feeling content and happy, whether that’s because of the people you’re around or the passion you can find in the small things.
AD: Has the lockdown given you the opportunity to write any new songs?
Dagny: I spent most of my 20s writing new songs and constantly thinking about the next project, and when that situation happened, I saw how serious it was and it was scary. I was worried about how it was going to affect everyone. Up until that point I’d been working so intensely on the album and juggling a thousand balls at once … when quarantine happened I took it as a little break and started connecting with a few things outside of music. I didn’t write anything during that period.
AD: How many songs did you have to choose from when putting together Side A, and why did you end up choosing the six songs that you did?
Dagny: When I decided to make an album I listened to something like 250 sketches – I think I had 184 fully written songs and another batch of tracks and ideas and stuff. It was things I’d collected over a long period of time, but it felt very relevant to choose things that were from the last eighteen to twenty-four months. I picked around 20 favourites and when listening to them I realised there was almost a reoccurring theme or concept – that made it easier to choose the final songs, because I felt like I was telling a story. I had to kill some darlings in the process, but I felt like the six that I ended up with told a story in the way that I wanted to.
AD: Your song ‘Somebody’ really captures the intense rush of being in love – were there any particular people or experiences you were thinking about?
Dagny: I was trying to capture that feeling you get when you’re in love. If you’ve ever been very much in love it feels special and unique and all-consuming. It’s one of the most intense things you can feel as a human, so I was trying to capture the essence of that feeling in a song. As I was doing it, it wasn’t one situation I was thinking of, I was collecting fifteen years of having felt different things into one song. In a way it’s nice, because you’re not in love all the time, so in those periods in life when I’m not, it might be nice to listen to that song and remember how it can be.
AD: You said ‘Coulda Woulda Shoulda’ was inspired by a Samantha line in Sex & The City – were any other songs inspired by TV shows or pop culture?
Dagny: Yes, it’s funny you should ask, I shouldn’t say this but there’s a song coming on Side B called ‘It’s Only Heartbreak’, and the chorus is inspired by the old movie Casablanca. There’s a line where the guy in the movie goes “here’s looking at you, kid”, and that line inspired one of the main songs from Side B on the album. There are a few pop culture references like that on the album.
AD: Can you tell me a bit more about Side B of the album – is the mood going to be different from Side A?
Dagny: Yes and no – I think the main difference is lyrical content. For the people who like to analyse lyrics, you’ll see it’s from a different perspective than Side A. I think Side B is a bit bolder and more emotional, because it’s not as big and anthemic, it’s more understated in a way. For the people who listen to and know my music, you’ll know it’s mine. I released Side A for the [northern] summer, so it’s a bit brighter – autumn is a bit darker and more moody, and so I think that will be reflected in Side B.
AD: When you launched Side A you shared a little video on Instagram that included a pink LP in the corner – is that a hint that we might be getting a physical release of the album at some point, maybe a vinyl?
Dagny: You really pay attention! This is impressive.
AD: I can’t fully take credit for that one, my bestie is also a big fan and he noticed this detail and pointed it out to me, so this has been a bit of a team effort …
Dagny: I haven’t really said this before but I guess the answer is yes. Making an album is so exciting, I’ve always been very eager to make one, even today when people focus mainly on singles, it’s been a big dream of mine. I think it would be such a shame to do an album and not do some sort of physical release to go along with it. I’ll have to wait until the second half is out, because that’s when the album will be complete, but I will make physicals, even if it’s just enough for my family and my hardcore fans! It’s kind of a niche thing, but a lot of people are interested in vinyls and I am too so I will be making one.
AD: A lot of pop fans right now seem to be really into vinyl collecting – there seems to be a real demand now.
Dagny: I’m surprised to see how many people have requested it! I wasn’t sure how many people would, but as you say, there’s a demand, and it’s cool to be able to hold an album in your hands.
AD: Your song ‘Love You Like That’ was famously used as the basis for Katy Perry’s ‘Never Really Over’ – how did all that come about, and how did you feel about it?
Dagny: I feel really excited about it, I feel like whenever I get asked about it I should have a brilliant story about how I had a girls’ night out with Katy and she was like ‘I love your song, should we make a remake?’ It was nothing like that. We released ‘Love You Like That’ in 2017 and it was a big song for me, and a very personal one. We toured it and it was great and two year went by and we didn’t think any more of it – we did what we could with that song and that was it. Then, at the start of last year, the phone rang and it was Katy Perry’s management, calling to tell me that she had done a remake of it called ‘Never Really Over’.
AD: Oh wow.
Dagny: I didn’t believe it at first because you hear stories about a big artist making a song and it takes forever to release it, so I played it cool, but the minute I could download it and watch the video, it was insane. I loved it. I’ve always believed in ‘Love You Like That’ as a song and it just got a second life. Katy Perry is someone that I grew up with, she has inspired so many young singers in pop, and it’s really cool to see it can go the other way – she can get inspired by this random girl from northern Norway. It was a big compliment and very exciting to take part in that.
AD: You said in another interview that you really want to write for other artists and challenge yourself in song writing – what other artists would you love to write for?
Dagny: There are a few. I’m a massive Robyn fan, I think she’s incredible. Also, you know what, I’m gonna say this even though it sounds a bit random, but Taylor Swift. People are telling me more and more how pop is becoming a niche – the kind of super pop that I love, like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, you don’t really get a lot of that at the moment. I’m such a sucker for that kind of pop, I’d love go into the studio with Taylor Swift and write a banger.
AD: Last year she made ‘Cruel Summer’ with St. Vincent and that was a bop, I’d love to hear more songs like that …
Dagny: Absolutely, that would be fun. There are many artists I’d like to work with. I’m just getting into the whole thing of writing for other artists as well as making my own music, so I’d like to get into more of that. Hopefully!
AD: It feels like the future is very up in the air for everyone right now, but what are your plans for the next little while?
Dagny: For me it’s always been very week to week, month to month, I’ve never thought too far into the future and it’s always worked for me. It took me a long time to get around to making my first album – I would like to jump right into the second. The first one felt like such a big thing, such a milestone, that it almost became an impossible task, but I’m ready now to jump right into the second one. I can’t tour so I might as well jump into the studio and write. I have a lot of songs lying around so we’ll see! I toured for the longest time before I even started releasing music, so a proper round of touring would be good. I’d love to tour Scandinavia and Europe and Australia – I’ve never been there. That’s my other big goal, to get out there on the road again.