We had a chat with the Copenhagen-based, fine art student/chanteuse of the moment in her favorite Copenhagen coffee hang-out.
Everyone’s talking about MØ at the moment. Pitchfork, Hypetrak, NME; they can’t get enough of the subtly singular styles of this Copenhagen-based art student- slash-up-and-coming indie star and that’s totally understandable as Karen Marie Ørsted’s music doesn’t really sound like anything else out there. But it’s also kind of surprising as the 23-year-old artist has only ever released two songs.
If you really apply yourself and employ an intense level of music nerd scrutiny, you’ll be able to hear very vague echoes of Karen O and catch extremely faint whiffs of 90s grunge. But that’s actually more of an attitude and an energy thing. Casual observers will probably just think she makes great, edgy pop music, which is totally true, but that doesn’t make her curiously indefinable sound any less fascinating to some of us trainspotters here at AIAIAI.
Indeed, the ‘uncategorizable’ tag has been a recurring theme during the last 10 years or so of music journalism where eclectism has been the unspoken aim of many a musician and a buzzword of the indie press. The thing is you can’t really call MØ ‘eclectic’. She’s just MØ. And that’s undoubtedly a central part of her enigmatic allure.
We met up with the Danish songstress for a coffee and a chat about hip hop, art vs. music - and telling society to fuck off.
U: Let’s start from the beginning: How did you first get into music?
K:I think it was actually around the third grade with the Spice Girls. That may sound a little fucked, but when I got my first CD player I wanted to create music to the point where it almost hurt a little bit. I guess that’s where the whole vision of my music-making started. When I became a teen, I got into punk and started a punk band. But then something happened in my 20s where I got very inspired by hip hop and rap and things that are more ‘ street’. And now….I think it’s kind of a mix between all those things. There’s a bit of Spice Girls – you know, those great pop songs – some punk and quite a bit of hip hop energy.
U: You always hear that contemporary musicians are hard to categorize, but in your case that seems particularly true – can you name some influences?
MØ: I think that one of the bands that I’ve been really crazy about is definitely Sonic Youth. I know you probably can’t hear that in the music at all – actually you really can’t. And I’m also very fond of Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Again, I’ve never been told that I sound anything like her, so I think it’s more a case of me thinking those thoughts than people being able to see it and hear it…
U: Is it more about channeling a specific energy that copying a sound?
MØ: Yeah, that’s exactly it. It’s a universe that I draw inspiration from. A feeling and a mental state that I use when I’m on stage. Actually, it’s very grungy come to think of it. That energy and attitude is definitely there. But then again, I’ve always liked contrasts, which is why my music is very much a mix of soft melancholy and a bit of ugly fuck off-attitude. In fact, sometimes when I think things get too soft I try to add a bit of (sticks her tongue out and makes a barfing noise), you know? I’m also really down with Santigold and I really dig Major Lazer…And then there’s was a period where I fell head over heels in love with J Dilla. But whether or not this is something you can hear in my music, I don’t know. It’s more about an atmosphere – a style, a direction and a feeling. I’m currently studying at Funen Academy of Fine Art and there are actually times when I discover an art movement where I use that in my creativity.
U: That sounds super interesting. Your art actually filters into the music?
MØ: Yes. It’s not because I’m aiming to sound super artsy, but I’ve always thought that music and art are interconnected and that art is about creating a universe. The same thing goes for music, in my opinion. I think that’s why I’m so inspired by Sonic Youth. Because they were – and are – part of a visual art scene.
U: And very visually-minded.
MØ: Totally. I’m really down with Sonic Youth...
U: I think that also comes through in your videos to a certain extent.
MØ: Thanks, but I can’t really take credit for that. It’s my friend Anne Skaaring who produced those. I do have some creative say, but it’s mostly her. So thanks, Anne!
U: Could you talk a bit about your creative process – how do you usually get from idea to result?
MØ: It can start from anything , really. Sometimes it’s a sentence, lyrics where I go:’ That’s really fucking well put together and then something starts from that. And other times it’s a melody. I’ve actually experienced that I can go to sleep, dream a melody and then build on it when I wake up.
MØ: And I even think that my best work comes from that because when I dream it’s all sort of pre-made. It’s almost a finished product that I can use. That is, when I wake up after having dreamt a melody and can remember parts of, like, maybe a vocal part (sings three high notes). But I also just work normally where I’m like: a mix of this and this would be cool. I get inspiration from everywhere and I can get really frustrated if I don’t get it out. I’ve got a gazillion little notes like ‘African choir mixed with that text’, you know?
U: I think so. It also sounds to me like you put a pretty big emphasis on lyrics – would that be fair to say?
MØ: Most definitely. And I like really simple, minimalist texts that say a lot. I find that if I want to say too much then it often becomes a bit crappy. Nothing makes me happier than when I’ve written lyrics that are simple but tell a meaningful story – and it doesn’t hurt if they’re a little bit ‘badass’, you know?
U: Alright. This question is a little bit different: What kind of gear and equipment do you use?
MØ: Well, in my home studio I use Logic - the computer programme - where I also record most of my vocals. When I’m working with my producer Ronni Vindahl usually record the piano first and then I give that to Ronni, which is where he starts building the music - and then we create the track together. I have to say that he’s an amazing producer. Some of the of stuff I give him is pretty fucked up, but it still ends up sounding great when he’s through with it. I’m not a great pianist in any way…but that’s the way it usually works; I feed him some raw material that I’ve recorded and he builds on that and then we meet up somewhere at the end.
U: What’s your favorite decade when it comes to music?
MØ: Uuuh, that’s a hard one. If I had to answer that question, I’d say 50s, 80s, 90s- but also just now. Actually I’d probably just say the decade that we’re currently in because everyone can make something these days. And that’s super cool. So the easy way to answer would be to say the 10s because of its inherent freedom.
U: What are you listening to at the moment?
MØ: The thing is that I don’t actually listen to music that much. Most people go around listening to music all the time – I don’t do that. It’s only at parties and events that I hear music. Who knows, maybe I should…But I think what it comes down to is the fact that I’m afraid it might influence what I’m doing a little too much, you know? I like hearing little bits hear and there - then you get the essence of it, and you can mix that up in your own personal brew, so to speak. I’ve actually sometimes experienced that when I listen to a certain track a little bit too much, my own music starts to sound like it! And that’s the last thing I want.
U: If there were no restrictions of any kind, who would you most like to work with?
MØ: Hmm. I really like working with Ronni! But if I had to choose someone else, it would be rad to work with Major Lazer – and SBTRKT. Those guys are awesome. Major Lazer, FUCK, I’d love to work with them. Their track ‘Get free’ is one of my all-time favorites. And then there’s that Blood Orange guy. He actually reminds me a little bit of my Ronni.
U: You just went to New York for the CMJ Conference. Can you talk a little bit about what the future holds?
MØ: Right now our main focus is just to finish my debut album. It has to be rad, of course, so at the moment everything revolves around the music. I’m waiting for my manager and producer to come home from the US and then we’ll begin hatching some plans.
U: Is there a concept behind the debut album? Or is that something you don’t really think about?
MØ: That’s actually something I think about all the time. But to be honest, everything is coming together at the moment, so I don’t feel comfortable talking too much about it…for the simple reason that I could easily talk rubbish. If was to begin to put it into words at this stage, I could mess things up. But concept is something that we’re we’re very aware of. The music, the universe and the text; it all has to mesh and cohere in one package. Not because it has to sell, but because it has to be a meaningful expression. It’s extremely important to me that people understand exactly what it is that I’m trying to say, and I have a feeling that they’ll understand it much better if they’re presented with something that’s carefully considered.
U: Cool. This may be a hard question, but nevertheless: where do you see yourself in 10 years?
MØ: Ok, I think I’m just going to come right out and say it: I want to travel – and tour - the world. I want to reach as many people as humanly possible. On the other hand, I’m not the sort of person who could ever be a pop princess. That’s just not in my nature. So I’m not gonna go Britney Spears on you…If I’m doing this, it has to be my way of doing it.
U: Can you tell us a little bit about what the song Pilgrim is about?
MØ: That song is about being yourself. And about giving the finger to our society, which is so hysteric sometimes. It’s about doing your own thing, walking along your own road – and fucking off from everything. I know it’s a bit of a cliché to say that the media constantly tells you how to be, but I think it’s true. And don’t get me wrong, I like living in the big city, but there are times when you just need to get away from all that ego and hysteria. It can be so superficial. And the thing is that I can be superficial too! I think everyone plays a certain role from time to time…but that’s why it’s so nice to just get away from it all. To get into some natural surroundings – sit under a starry sky - and experience how insignificant you really are.
U: MØ, thanks for talking to us.
MØ: My pleasure!