Growing up in relative isolation in the woodlands of Os, Norway; singer and producer Aurora Aksnes weaves an ethereal yet battle-ready brand of dreamy pop music that is connecting with a growing fanbase across the globe.
If on the surface her subject matter conjures Nordic fairytale-style images of wolves, moonlight and flowing rivers; it’s her surprising juxtaposition of emotional vulnerability and warrior-like resolution that has resonated with a world, at least in part, concerned with mindfulness, social and environmental responsibility – and ready to change for the better.
a world, at least in part, concerned with mindfulness, social and environmental responsibility – and ready to change for the better
Aurora’s latest project comes in two parts or, more tellingly, steps. Aurora doesn’t shy away from a singular message. Rather than leaving her work open to interpretation, Aurora is happy to say that her music is instructive.
2018’s Infections of a Different Kind – Step 1 and summer’s A Different Kind of Human – Step 2 are ‘two parts of one emotional process’ Aurora explains. ‘They’re related, but they’re different steps on the way – different steps that you have to take to end up where I want you to end up emotionally.
Step 1 is way more individual and personal, while Step 2 is more political
‘Step 1 is way more individual and personal, while Step 2 is more political and it’s more about looking around you and seeing what you can offer the world. You have to see what you can offer yourself first and become a warrior for yourself, and then you should become a warrior for the world and for everyone that needs you out there.
become a warrior for yourself, and then you should become a warrior for the world
‘Step 1 was kind of a gift from me to the fans I already had. I wanted to release it as a surprise, so that my fans would be the first ones to hear it, rather than reading reviews in the papers. And then Step 2 has fuelled my fans in a really, really fun way. I can see them all. I feel like all of my fans are such kind and wonderful people, and many of them share in common with me how it feels to be an underdog. So it becomes a very instinctive thing to fight for anything else that is an underdog in this world.
We’re all a part of that change, because it’s obviously up to the individuals now
‘A Different Kind of Human – Step 2 is about standing up for everything we love and believe in. So it’s been really fun to see them grow more passionate about the situations and the world that we would all like to change. We’re all a part of that change, because it’s obviously up to the individuals now.’
While most of us find inspiration in musical or artistic reference points from what has come before, Aurora finds a muse in herself and in nature. To such point, in fact, that she doesn’t like listening to music, which becomes like a noisy distraction from the music that’s innately in her head.
‘I just don’t need music in that way right now in my life. When I grew up, we didn’t have MTV, we didn’t have radio in my house, I didn’t really have any natural way of discovering new music.
‘I have so much music in my head all the time – every second of every day, I’m always making an album. The second I released Step 2, I started on my next one, even though it was midnight. I’m always in the process of making a new baby and then I find it really distracting to listen to music. It almost becomes noisy, even though it’s beautiful.
I find it really distracting to listen to music. It almost becomes noisy, even though it’s beautiful
‘I listen to Enya, because she’s very reliable, she gives my brain calmness. I listen to her when I’m on an airplane, because they’re noisy, I like to replace the airplane or airport noise with music. So I like to listen to Enya – and heavy metal’ she adds.
Shut off from outside influence, firstly by circumstance and now by choice, if a modern day artist was ever born to music, surely it’s Aurora. Since childhood, music has been a very natural way for her to translate emotion.
‘I never wanted to be famous, I didn’t want to do anything with the music, I just really enjoyed writing and making music. It was something I knew from a very young age. It made me feel very powerful and in control – and also without control.
I think I would become sick without music
‘It makes me feel like I know why I’m here. It feels like now pain has a purpose and happiness has a purpose, when I can write about it and make it into sound. Music gives everything I experience and everything I see purpose, so I don’t know what I would do without it. I think I would become sick without music. I don’t think I would have a good time on this planet.’
Despite its Nordic complexity, mysticism and themes, Aurora’s music has reached all corners of the globe, touring throughout UK, Europe, US, South America and Asia just in 2019. While on one hand, she can’t understand this level of success – ‘it’s so strange’ – in the same breath, Aurora solves her own riddle: nature taught her to be a philosopher.
everyone should listen more to nature
‘I think everyone should listen more to nature, because once you’re out there, nothing else really matters. How you look or what you’re doing tomorrow, the things you didn’t manage to complete, or the things you feel like you’re not doing well enough, or the clothes you’re wearing.
‘I solve most things in life by just thinking until I have a solution. I was in the woods for at least nine hours every day my whole childhood, it’s just fascinating and it gives you perspective. You realise how small the stupid problems are and you realise how beauty is free. And that you’re smaller than the big trees and you’re bigger than the tiny bugs and it just lets you exist.
nature is the one place I’ve discovered (…) that gives me the chance to be nothing more than a beating heart and a brain
‘I think this world is very demanding of us and we as people are very demanding of ourselves. It’s hard to be a human these days and nature is the one place I’ve discovered, so far at least, that gives me the chance to be nothing more than a beating heart and a brain.’
The power of nature is also something Aurora can invert to encourage self-reflection, recording the whole of A Different Kind of Human – Step 2 in a small, dark room.
‘A Different Kind of Human is a more political album. I felt like I had to reach more within myself and figure out where I stand and figure out my own opinions,’ Aurora explains. ‘That’s why I wanted to be in a small, dark room, because there’s no big field for your energy or your thoughts – they just hit the wall and then come back to you like a bouncing ball.
I had to reach more within myself and figure out where I stand and figure out my own opinions
‘With every album, it’s very important for me to make them in different spaces so they don’t touch. For my next album, that I’m making now, I’m writing the skeletons of my songs and the soul of them wherever I go. But when I sit down and actually produce them and make the album into one whole baby, then I’ll have to go somewhere else. I know where I’m going, I’m not going to say yet, but it’s going to be a very different place again from every other place I’ve made an album before.’
As an artist that evidently pours so much of herself into her music, you’d imagine that making an album is an exhausting and somewhat draining process, but for the born music maker, it’s quite the opposite. Though Aurora had hinted at a possible 2020 follow up after Step 1 was released, Step 2 hit shelves less than half way through 2019. It’s also the first record that Aurora has co-produced every track, having dipped her toe in with two tracks on Step 1.
‘I find very energising. When I’m in the studio, I’m there for at least twelve hours every time – until late, late night. There is no deadline and there is no finish line when you create. The possibilities are endless, especially now I’ve learned to become a producer.
The possibilities are endless, especially now I’ve learned to become a producer
‘I find producing extremely fun and extremely important too. I know in this world, many women have struggled with being able to be given space to produce their own songs and music. So I find it really important to step up for myself and my music. I would love one day to teach more female artists how to begin.’
It’s hard not to feel empowered both listening to and talking to Aurora, who so beautifully presents the idea that a better you and a better world is within grasp. As she says, it’s down to the individuals – and those that inspire them. She opens her the two-step project: ‘I will be your warrior’, and this is no doubt just the beginning of Aurora’s Queendom.
Words by Rachel Morris