Anna of the North: “When the band split I had no idea who I was and where I was going”

"I think it’s so good and so healthy to have a girl like Billie Eilish representing young women"

A breakup can knock you sideways. Whether romantic or the end of a friendship, it can leave you rethinking your entire future. This is something Anna Lotterud knows only too well. As one of the two original members of electro-pop project Anna of the North, she found herself reevaluating everything when she split from her longterm musical collaborator producer Brady Daniell-Smith, with who she had formed the project in 2014.

“To be honest, when I split from Brady I had no idea who I was and where I was going,” Anna says over lunch in a cosy South London restaurant. “I felt safe having him onboard, and we wrote ‘Lovers’ [their debut album] and he was a big part of that. He’s a big reason why I’m here today, but we came to the point where we understood that I couldn’t be 100% myself in the music,” she explains.

The duo split amicably at the end of the campaign for their debut album ‘Lovers’, a soaring collection of glittering electronic tunes imbued with romantic yearning, in 2018. The change was a huge upheaval, not least because Brady was the first person Anna had really created music with; and it was her time in Melbourne, where they first teamed up, that made her realise music could be her future.

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But split they had to. “We were always two opinions, and it’s hard when somebody doesn’t agree at that stage… so it felt like I just needed to be myself 100% if I was going to be good at this and if I was going to manage to do this.”

Growing up in Gjøvik, a town in Norway, music had always been important, but never a career prospect. “There are videos of me performing at my aunt’s 30th birthday,” Anna reveals, whipping out her phone and showing me a very sweet video of her singing. As a teenager she fell in love with old school hip-hop like CunninLynguists and torch singers like Celine Dion. “I borrowed a [Celine Dion] record from a friend and never gave it back,” Anna admits. “She’s like my personal vocal coach as I try to imitate it,” she adds, before imitating one of Celine’s iconic flourishes.

Her love of hip-hop, however, was something she fell into. “I had a weird approach to listening to music,” Anna explains. “I used to Google lyrics with things that I felt, and I’d write a sentence down and if I found a song that had those lyrics I would download that and listen to it.”

At 18 Anna first started writing her own music, when her Dad gave her a microphone, guitar and sound card for her birthday. Despite uploading a few tunes to Soundcloud (“one got 500 listens even though I never shared it!”), Anna hadn’t considered music a job until she moved to Melbourne for her studies. “I never had a plan to become an artist, I just loved music and deep, deep, deep inside of me there was this dream to be able to [be a musician].”

“You’re not a musician in Norway until you have a song out on Spotify with 200,000 streams, or you’re not successful until you can live off it,” Anna says.

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This all changed when she went to university in Australia. “In Melbourne it was a totally different life. People were writers even though they hadn’t released songs, people were photographers without getting paid. People just spoke out loud about what they wanted to do. People were more like ‘yeah, I should do it!’”

It was there she met the other OG member of Anna of the North, Brady. The duo first released ‘Sway’ in 2014, which became an online smash and landed them a record deal with Honeymoon in the US. They then spent time touring the world, writing, recording and eventually releasing their breakup-inspired debut album ‘Lovers’.

Buzz around the duo grew, with Anna collaborating with Tyler, The Creator on his ‘Flower Boy’ album. The album’s title track ‘Lovers’ quickly racked up 20 million streams after being used in Netflix romcom To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

But everything changed when the duo split, with Anna suddenly finding herself as a solo artist. She had to return to the studio and find the type of music she really wanted to make, and tackle the fear of making mistakes with brand new collaborators head on. “At home in my room behind closed doors there are no rules, I can sing as loud as I can, and I can fail and I can try again without anybody judging me. You’re so vulnerable [sharing ideas in the studio] and I was so scared, it took me a lot of time before I dared to just sing out loud and try stuff.”

There were of course sessions that didn’t go well and people she didn’t click with, but after months of trying, she found the right collection of people and starting writing ‘Dream Girl’, a glorious collection of soaring dreamy pop, stuffed full of R&B rhythms and euphoric melodies. “I think you can hear in the music that I’m freer. The music is more positive, more energetic,” Anna says of the record, which came out at the end of 2019. And you’d have to agree. Tunes like ‘My Love’ are earworms of jubilant, 1970s flecked pop, whilst ‘Leaning on Myself’ is for those in the final stages of mourning a lost relationship (“It’s my own anthem, and if I ever feel shit, I’ll turn that up and just dance to it.”)

She’s grateful for artists like Billie Eilish, who have let Anna write the music she’s always wanted to. “I think it’s so good and so healthy to have a girl like her representing young women. She’s allowing me as a musician to write what the fuck I want, as I think now she’s opening up a whole new musical scene.”

Looking to the future Anna is just keen to keep making music her way. “I don’t really wanna be the biggest thing in the world,” she says honestly, “I just want to live a healthy life, and earn enough money to get a house and a car.” She’s also trying to do her part environmentally, ensuring she tours as sustainably as possible and releasing a vintage merch collection. “I’m trying to do what I can, and I don’t want to be too political about what I do, but I’m trying my best to help,” she says. “But sometimes I want to just sit down and cry and shoot myself in the head because there’s no way out of this mess! But I want to keep spreading my good values.”

And there may be no way out of this mess, but Anna is a pretty good person to follow through the storm. With her resilience, endlessly positivity and a stellar back catalogue of hella catchy tunes, even if it’s all falling apart you can count on Anna of the North to put together a euphoric soundtrack to the end of the world.

‘Dream Girl’ is out now

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