ARY a Norwegian singer with Trinidadian lineage, is fast becoming one of the glittering stars of the Nordic music scene. Alongside Anders Kjaer, she has been in studio working on material for a debut album for the past 12 months. Having released just one single, the rave reviewed electro-pop track, ‘Higher’, full of pulsing electronic bass, dance floor grooves and quirkily enticing vocals, ARY has both captivated, and captured the attention of, music media across Europe – a staggering feat for someone with such little output. Excepting for vocal contributions to two Carl Louis’ tracks including the icy dreamscape, ‘Telescope’, there is no other music out there from this Bjork doppelganger, which makes her meteoric rise all the more astonishing.
Fascinated by this jet propelled trajectory and indeed by ARY’s unique talent, I caught up with the young Norwegian artist just hours before her cracking set at Trondheim. Open, witty, self-deprecating and intelligent, ARY made a charming and refreshingly unpretentious interviewee. A young lady with a clear focus and a keen understanding of what it takes to make good music and succeed in a more than difficult industry, she has a level headed approach to the “madness” which so far she seems to have successfully avoided.
Here she talks about owning her songs, her desire to collab with Röyksopp, why she won’t leave Norway and how her day only begins after a healthy dose of yoga and coffee.
So you’ve been working on album material with Anders for some time now ARY, tell me, do you write all your own lyrics and is it important to maintain ownership of the content?
“Yes I’ve written everything except for one song but I don’t think we’re going to release that anyway. That’s something that I won’t stand for being changed. Ownership, it depends. If I come across a great top liner that could make the material and the songs even better, I wouldn’t hesitate at all, because it doesn’t really matter to me how much of it is mine, “ she explains. “What matters is how good the music is. I think it will help make the music so much better if I reach a state of mind where it’s ok for someone else to help me, so I’m working on that.”
When you finish the album and all the songs have been mastered, would you contemplate doing remixes of the songs, having someone else remix them maybe?
“Yeah, I would love that,” she enthuses. “It would be so exciting to see how other people would change things. It would be amazing to have someone like Coucheron or Romy (the French producer), remix my work. Oh and M83. Definitely M83.”
Clearly a fan of M83 then, but what about collaborations I ask.
“That’s a hard question. Again, maybe M83 or Röyksopp,” her eyes light up with excitement,” Yeah Röyksopp would be amazing. I’m planning to maybe send them a letter”, at which she bursts out laughing.
We’ll have to ensure Röyksopp get to hear about this! What a dream come true that would be for a young girl who only a year ago, was an unknown singer, playing bars with a laptop in tow. How has she found the transition? Has it all been a bit of a whirlwind, I ask?
“Yeah, it’s a new world. I used to work as a bartender, it was a very relaxed life,” cue more infectious laughing, “ I used to work two days a week and chill out the rest, so I think it’s kind of a transition, going from that to this, and also getting used to being very busy.”
Based just outside of Oslo to be close to her management and record label, I ask if she plans to keep it that way.
“Absolutely, I hope to continue to be based in Oslo and build a network.” And is it important to stay in Norway? “Yes, I just love everything about it. I have everyone who is close to me here. I especially love the environment around Sandvika, just outside of Oslo. It’s really grabbed me.”
I wonder if staying in Norway will keep her grounded and away from the “madness” as we’ve decided to call all the brouhaha that comes with becoming famous.
“I think so,” she smiles broadly “because I haven’t really seen the madness yet or maybe all the madness is going on behind my back.” She laughs heartily, something which she does a lot throughout our time together. “I try to just focus on my work. Everything else around it like interviews I take seriously, but not too seriously, because when you are in the spotlight everybody wants to give you compliments, but if you just accept that it’s not really a part of you. It is easier to just have fun and work with the music because at the end of the day this I have a really good life.”
Well, at the end of the day you’re getting compliments from people that don’t know you, so in a sense it’s all very superficial because they’re just seeing the top layer, they’re not seeing the real person, I suggest.
“I agree. Sometimes when people give me compliments, I try to enter into a conversation, mainly because I am genuinely interested in talking to people. But they often seem bored, cos I’m like not the cool person they thought I was gonna be and just when I’m about to say something they walk away. It’s such a weird contrast.” Self-deprecating ARY howls with laughter at her perceived lack of cool. Isn’t it interesting that media types feign interest just to get the scoop I opine.
“Yeah, it’s such a weird thing, because usually when people are interested in talking to me I think that it’s because I have a stunning personality but I just get it confirmed every time that I don’t.”
This girl is a tonic – truly refreshing. What is interesting though is that at such a tender age, and with relatively little media experience, she is already savvy to the cynical ways of music liggers and much of the hard-nosed press types.
But how does this shy youngster cope with being on stage in front of large audiences. Do you feel that you transform in any way when you go on stage, I ask?
“Yes, I think sometimes, if I’m not too nervous, I can just release myself from who I am as a person, because I’m normally very shy, and open, but I’m not too dancey. I try to get into my character, or alter ego, to make it easier,” she says matter of factly.
So you are not completely exposing yourself or your inner self to the audience then?
“In the beginning when I went on stage, I didn’t have that switch inside and would be very shy. I’d be like “Oooh, everyone’s looking at me,” she mimics herself “I was smiling and waving at people,” she giggles, “it just didn’t work for anyone. I was so self-aware that I was shaking, I was so, so scared.”
But all that’s’ changed now though. What about audience interaction, I say?
“I try to interact,” she explains, “it’s really important to me to connect with people, even though they might just stand there looking at me like I’m such a freak, or they standing like this …” (she stands up and juts out her hip, putting her hand on her hipbone.)
Well yeah, they’re standing like that cos they have a pain in their back from standing so long ARY. That’s how I was standing by the end of last night, I say laughingly.
“It’s important for me to make everyone in the audience feel as seen as me, because when I feel seen, and I get afraid, I look back and during the parts where I don’t sing, I can feel a bit useless, and stand there thinking, “What am I going to do?”, she says shrugging her shoulders. “If I focus on them, then they feel seen as well. I welcome them into my world, and we can make a connection”.
I suggest having visuals in the background might help distract the audience and remove their gaping stars, even if just momentarily.
“That would be amazing, “she enthuses. “You know, it used to be just me and my MAC, and during the instrumental parts I was just felt so alone. But now it helps to have the band because they deflect attention away from me.”
You’re playing two sets at the by:Larm festival. How have you prepared for your sets? Are you excited.
“Yeah, we are really excited and delighted with the scenes we’ve been allocated. The sets aren’t long, maybe 9-10 songs over 25 minutes. But that’s enough for us right now. We’ve only just really started to play live,” says the singer, positively sparkling with enthusiasm.
So what’s the plan after this? You go away, back to the studio, and mix the single? Will you be involved in the mixing and mastering?
“Yes, I’m always involved in all elements of my music. I always produce my sketches myself, and then I give them to another producer who’ll maybe include new elements, remove elements, but I always make the foundation of the song myself. It’s really important to me that someone doesn’t come in and make me a star. I really need to retain control, because not everyone makes the things I like. This way I ensure that people aren’t putting in long wasted hours only for me to end up saying, “Sorry, we’re not going to use it”.”
But not even everything she crafts is going to work is it, so what happens to the material?
“It depends on the song,” she explains. “If I’ve fallen in love with a song, or even just a sentence, I’ll try to use it, but most times it’s hard to work on something. I have a song called ‘Robin Hood’ for example, it’s not a favourite with anyone,” she laughs and shakes her head, “but I fell in love with one sentence, and I’ve tried making about six songs out of it with three different producers and everyone keeps saying “Oh, that’s such a cool line, let’s do it” but then everyone discovers afterwards that this just doesn’t work. It doesn’t matter what we do, it just doesn’t fit in anywhere. Sometimes you just have to “Kill your Darlings”,” she says with mock sadness, “Sometimes it’s so much better with a whole song that makes sense, than just part of the song being great and the rest, nah.”
And when the album is done, what then, will she keep on writing?
“Yeah, I write every day. It’s the biggest pleasure I have in my life right now. Mostly I’ll make a beat in ‘Logic’, and loop it. Usually just four bars with some chords, because it’s my kind of therapy, so I’m not really writing to finish stuff, or to show it to people, it’s just my way of expressing myself to myself, sort of like a diary, so that I always, if I do that, then I keep my mood ok. It’s that and my yoga, and a coffee in the morning then I’m set. I need yoga every morning and evening. I just need some part of the day to be peaceful, and to be about me. It’s so easy just to pull out a mat in the morning and do 30 minutes.”
So what else do you do to relax? What kind of music do you listen to?
“I don’t really listen to a lot of music, but when I do it’s mainly electronic. I don’t listen to it to wind down, because music always excites me. To wind down I need to have quiet or make my own music or just go for a trip, yeah, a walk or something.” She smiles warmly at me as her phone rings, hailing the end of our time together. It has been a pleasure to meet this warm, charming, engaging and funny young singer/musician.
ARY plays two sets at by:Larm, Oslo this week, (details here) both of which are set to be packed to the rafters, so if you’re going, get their early to avoid disappointment. What the future holds for this young talent is anyone’s guess. Mine is that it’s going to be a a pretty spectacular one, but one that will always include yoga, coffee and Norway.