Over the past several years, Norwegian artist Dagny has been impressing audiences across the globe with her own brand of “uplifting, energetic pop music”, this interviewer included.
With the self-professed northern songbird finally gearing up to release her debut album (‘Strangers/Lovers’), I caught up with her, live from an Oslo train station (“I thought I was going to get home in time,” she tells me) to find out more about the journey it’s taken to bring it to life.
Despite the uncertainty that 2020 has thrown at her plans for this year (“Not being able to play festivals and not knowing when we can has been a bit frustrating”), she’s used the time wisely to finish and plan her collection of songs.
When asked how excited she is about the album finally coming out, she was pretty clear.
“On a scale of one to ten, this is probably such a cliché, but 20,” she enthuses. “It’s been a really long time coming and it’s a bit surreal that this is happening.”
The wheels started turning when she amicably parted ways with her US label.
“I came out of a big [record] deal with Republic,” she says. “Working with them was such a learning curve and a lot of people had to be involved to make things happen.
“But with this album it’s been like me and a few other people, we’ve been producing it together. I think the whole thing of learning to make decisions and stick with them has been a really interesting part of the process.
“The biggest difference between this album and how we’ve been working previously has been not only the fact that this is a bigger body of work, I’ve had to think about it in a slightly different way, because you want everything to feel cohesive, that it’s a journey and how it all fits together.”
Back in 2015, Dagny’s debut single ‘Backbeat’ made audiences sit up and pay attention. It was clear from the very beginning she had a gift for song writing and creating immensely catchy pop tunes. Her follow up singles ‘Fool’s Gold’, ‘Wearing Nothing’ and ‘Love You Like That’ proved she was capturing something special.
“As I was making the album, you get inspired, so it was also lovely to write some more and focus in on certain emotions,” she tells me.
I asked Dagny about how the interpolation of ‘Love You Like That’ into Katy Perry’s monster comeback single ‘Never Really Over’, how it came to be and whether it validated her own abilities.
“I was purely happy about it,” she reveals. “Some of the writers that wrote ‘Never Really Over’ had been working with me and the producer from ‘Love Me Like That’ from a while earlier. They reached out and we got to be part of it which isn’t a given.
“Secondly, ‘Love You Like That’ is one of the most special and most personal songs to me. I always kind of felt like the song had more potential than I was able to give it.
“So for it to get this new life through Katy Perry and this other song, it was really good for it”.
It also helps that she thoroughly enjoyed Katy’s song and it meant she could see how her music has the potential to translate to other musicians and fans.
When Dagny began to bring together the songs she wanted to feature on her debut album, her focus was on being able to create a strong body of work.
“My dream was to make the album and they [her former label] wanted to focus on singles. Making that decision, all of us, to go separate ways was like a release because it meant I was able to get to work and do whatever I wanted to do. I felt like that was a freeing feeling.
“I almost immediately sat down and started listening to the 250 songs I’d written over the past five years. Making my short list, it was already clear then what the story was”.
That short list became the two halves of the story she tells of a relationship beginning, becoming comfortable and the inevitable demise. It’s how the title ‘Strangers/Lovers’ came to be.
With the timing of our chat coming within release day week, Dagny is understandably excited.
“I’ve been very clear that we’re going to make a vinyl,” she says. “We started working on the vinyl and they were like ‘oh we’ve actually never done physical before’ but I can’t wait just to hold it in my hands”.
She’s also doing a lot of the work herself with the support of her sister and a local imprint of the label. Quite the creative and liberating experience after being in the machine of a large label.
Bringing those songs together and choosing those that would complement each other has been tricky, but it’s clear she’s got a talent for pulling out the best in her music.
“I really only tried to react on how the song made me feel,” she says. “Did I feel anything when I heard this song? But then as time goes on, particularly Side B was tricky because a breakup is so many different things. It’s not as chronological as the first half where you meet someone, and get intrigued, and then you get interested, and then you start to know each other and fall in love.
“But with a break up, you can feel so many different things. You can feel sadness, frustration, regret, anger and bitterness”.
The play on emotions lyrically against glittering beats is part of the magic Dagny has managed to capture.
In the video for the lead single from her album, ‘It’s Only A Heartbreak’, Dagny’s brought back some stellar choreography to really bring the story of the song to life.
What I loved as we discussed the video and how complicated the courtyard sequence was (“It was much harder than it looks! It definitely took a few takes, but it ended up in a good place”) was how much this kind of video was Dagny’s personality coming out on screen.
“When it’s up to me to make a video, it’s like, ‘okay let’s do some synchronised dancing’! I think both ‘Wearing Nothing’ and ‘It’s Only A Heartbreak’ are probably the most ‘me’ videos. It’s what I’m inspired by and drawn to. The whole quirky, cheeky dancing is just fun!”
It’s exciting that Dagny’s finally getting a chance to share her vision with pop music fans across the globe.
Despite not making it to Australia yet (“There was a plan going this year before the Corona situation happened, so I’ll definitely be on the first flight out – I’ve never been!”), I tempted her with a summer visit and a piña colada and she’s keen to pay us Aussies a visit and to do festivals and shows.
Before we signed off, I asked her if there was a message she wanted to share with her Australian fans and she had this to say;
“I’m so happy you guys are listening to the music. I’ve always felt like we should go to Australia and just play shows. I feel like we’d connect. I’m really just happy to hear that the music is connecting over there. Thank you to everyone who is listening to me.”
Dagny’s debut album ‘Strangers/Lovers’ is out October 02 via Little Dagger Records/Universal.
(The vinyl release of the album is currently only available in Norway. More information on a global release is coming soon.)