Norwegian singer/songwriter/DJ Annie is the kind of woman who looks like an off-duty model, but also has a huge record collection and likes wearing a sweater with a penis print on it to business meetings. In other words—she’s just cool. So it’s not too surprising that her new album, Don’t Stop is supremely addictive. But what is a little shocking is that it almost didn’t happen.
After her first album, Anniemal, was lavished with critical acclaim, Annie was signed to Island Records. Things went fine for a little while—until the guy who signed her left the label and she was left with executives who just didn’t get her high-energy electropop tunes with their oddball flourishes. After stalling release of the album for more than a year, Annie decided to take matters into her own hands and release the album on her own, with the help of label Smalltown Supersound. The result is a sophomore effort that breaks the curse, with songs that range from the wistful, indie-tinged “Bad Times” to the best insult song ever penned, “I Don’t Like Your Band.” We sat down to chat with Annie about writing almost 400 songs for the album, getting the right album cover, picking out stage ensembles, and what she thinks of American guys. The Frisky: When things went south at Island, how did you decide to start over and put the album out yourself?
Annie: To be honest, I’ve been doing the label for a while. I’m a really big fan of vinyl, so I released one 10-inch with this band Flying Lizards and it was a cover of “Sex Machine,” and I released a 12-inch. So I had it in mind that I wanted to release everything I liked myself. When things were getting difficult with Island, I started to think more about releasing an album on my own label. So when I had an opportunity to do that, I was really excited and very happy. Of course, I got a lot of help from Smalltown Supersound. They’re brilliant. It’s nice, you feel much more in control. Of course, it’s much more work. You have the chance to know exactly who’s doing what. If something’s not getting done, you can only blame yourself.
The Frisky: You said you wrote 300 or 400 songs for this album?
Annie: I did.
The Frisky: How do you write so much?
Annie: I basically was just sitting in the studio in England and wrote and wrote and wrote millions of songs. Maybe not millions, but more than 300.
The Frisky: That’s one a day for a year.
Annie: Sometimes even two a day. I didn’t finish them all. Some of them are missing a verse or a bridge or something like that. But it’s a lot of songs!
The Frisky: Where do ideas for songs come from?
Annie: I get inspired by watching quite a lot of movies. Lately, a lot of visual things have been very inspiring. I’ve been going to a lot of art exhibits.
The Frisky: How do you narrow it down once you have hundreds of songs?
Annie: That was definitely one of the more difficult parts. I managed to narrow it down to 17 songs—that was hard enough and I thought, “Okay, this is gonna be the album.” But my management said, “No, no you shouldn’t have that many songs.” I thought why not—a lot of hip hop artists do that. But I took their opinion. But for at least four months, I was going back and forth trying to pick the songs. It was a very good nightmare.
The Frisky: And you also changed the cover art. What did you think when you saw the original art?
Annie: I wasn’t happy. I kept trying to change the cover with the designer, and I think after a while he got quite annoyed with me. I kept being like, “No, it can’t be like that. This isn’t quite right. That’s wrong.” That was one of the first things I thought about when I got out of the Island contract and started my own thing—that I was definitely going to do new art work.
The Frisky: What inspired the new cover?
Annie: I wanted something more punchy. I think the title, Don’t Stop, is quite strong. So I wanted something more colorful, more punchy, just something that represented how I saw the music. I was going to a lot of websites with my friend who’s a stylist. She showed me this French designer, and I picked out this dress. I thought was amazing. The tiger.
The Frisky: In sequins.
Annie: Maybe it’s a leopard? Something in the cat family. But I love it.
The Frisky: In general, how do you pick what you’re gonna wear onstage or to DJ?
Annie: It’s difficult. I love dresses and costumes, but I have to feel slightly comfortable so I can run around. In stores, I’m always like, “Oh, I really want to buy this. But it’s not very nice to wear.”
The Frisky: It doesn’t feel good with sweat on it.
Annie: That’s always a problem. I like to wear stuff that is fun. I like to wear things friends are making.
The Frisky: You have a little bit of theatricality to what you wear. Maybe not on a Lady Gaga level, but it’s there. Do you think people are hungry for some spectacle?
Annie: I think so. A lot of people really want to dress up. In pop music, like late ’90s and beginning 2000s, there hasn’t been too much drama. The music videos are a little bit lame, nothing is that surprising. So I think people really like seeing Lady Gaga in a frog costume. I thought that was brilliant. If you want to dress up, then why not? it’s great.
The Frisky: Speaking of, what’s going on in your sweater? [She’s wearing a black cardigan with a print of penises on it. Seriously, check it out here.]
Annie: It’s so funny, I had this old lady looking at my sweater and she said, “This is such a pretty sweater.” I thought, Have you looked at it carefully. I don’t think you have. It’s Agent Provacatuer. It’s penises. I had a meeting earlier, and one person looked rather surprised seeing this sweater. He looked at me, like hmmm.
The Frisky: It’s your secret weapon sweater. Speaking of penises, what percentage of your fans do you think are men and what percentage are women?
Annie: I’m not sure. I think in Europe it’s a bit more women and here it’s a bit more men. It’s hard to say. I hope it would be 50/50—men meets women in perfect harmony.
The Frisky: Which feels more you—being in the studio recording music or being at a party DJing?
Annie: I love to record. I’m very strict with myself so it’s quite tiring because I work long hours and really have to concentrate. I love to do it but it’s grueling. When I’m DJing, it’s more just fun basically. I prefer to DJ at the party then go out myself actually. I prefer to be in charge of the music. Sometimes, I think too much about what I want the DJ to play next. Quite often, actually.
The Frisky: I feel like every celebrity wants to DJ—from Jesus Luz to Heidi Montag. What do you think of that?
Annie: Sometimes people have really good taste and they should be DJing. But if you don’t … let someone else take care of it. Stand there and look good and do whatever you do.
The Frisky: When you DJ, what percentage of familiar songs do you play and what percentage of obscure songs do you play?
Annie: I like to combine it a bit—some things people never heard. I play a lot of remixes aren’t released yet of my own stuff, and things friends made, and really old things. But then I like to play Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” I like to combine stuff.
The Frisky: I heard the cover you did of “Two Hearts.” What songs do you want to cover in the new future?
Annie: I really love this artist Valerie Door. She’s brilliant. the lyrics are insane. She’s Italian, but she’s not very good in English. Some of the lyrics are like, “What is happening here.” It’s totally out there, but really dreamy and beautiful. She has this one song called, “In the Night.” I would like to cover that.
The Frisky: You’re from Norway. If I ever travel there, what are things I should do?
Annie: Norway is very big country, so you can travel a lot of places. I’m from Bergen, the second biggest city in Norway and it’s very beautiful. I would definitely try to go in May, if you could. It’s the best month. If you can rent a boat or go on a boat trip into the fjords, it’s really, really beautiful. If you’re there in the winter, go ice skating—that can be really fun. The greatest thing about Norway is definitely the nature—shopping I would rather do here. The nature is amazing. Some of it you won’t really see anywhere else. If you go up in the north, you can see the midnight sun.
The Frisky: When you come to New York, what are the things you love to do?
Annie: I love to buy bagels in New York. They’re amazing. And I just love to walk around in New York—I can walk for four hours and cross the bridges.
The Frisky: And you just moved to Berlin?
Annie: I got kicked out of my apartment in Bergen. I got this letter in the post that they were going to turn my apartment building into a hotel. So I had one and a half months to get out of there. I was looking for a place to stay in Bergen, but it’s so expensive and I just got annoyed. I got offered a great apartment in Berlin, that’s the same amount as my small, stupid apartment in Bergen that had fungus on the walls. I thought, “Why not go to Berlin?” I have a lot of friends there and it’s a great city.
The Frisky: What are you loving there?
Annie: I don’t yet totally feel like it’s my home even though I’ve been there one and a half years, because I’ve been traveling around so much. What I really like is that it’s a big city—but it has four million people and it can fit six million or more, so there’s a lot of space. So you can have the feeling of being by yourself and really relax, but at the same time you can go out and have some fun, you go to clubs, get drinks. It’s basically something for everyone. And it’s a poor city, so you have a lot of creative people making things. It’s not as much run by capitalism as cities like New York and London.
The Frisky: Do you notice any differences between guys in Norway, Germany, and the United States?
Annie: I think the men are a bit gentler in Europe. Norwegian men are really nice when you get to know them, but it takes a little bit longer time. Germans, I don’t know. Most of the guys I know in Berlin are gay, just by coincidence. I like American men. I think it’s really easy to talk to them. And there’s a lot of good looking guys here.
But really, I like the fact that you can stop to talk to someone quite easily—it’s not necessarily that you get to know them really well, but you can talk to them. In Norway, we don’t do that. We just don’t talk. It takes a little bit longer time. You’ll see someone five times, and then they’ll look at you and maybe your friend will have a friend who knows them to introduce you. Or if they’re really drunk…
The Frisky: Ha. It’s the great equalizer. Can you describe to me the perfect party? What you’d throw for yourself?
Annie: It would have one of my favorite DJs. I’m a big fan of these two guys from Scotland, Optimo. I like bigger venues, but I prefer something in the middle. What I like about Berlin is that clubs are open Friday to Sunday, so you can go out whenever you want—like on a Sunday afternoon, it’ll still be a good party. So maybe it would be somewhere in Berlin. It would have to have great drinks—I really like gin and tonics. All my friends should be there. And maybe some American guys. The best parties are those you don’t plan. They just happen. Oh, and people would dress up. It’d be a costume party.
The Frisky: What would you be doing if you hadn’t discovered you have this great passion for music?
Annie: I always wanted to be an archaeologist. And I love to read books—sometimes I think maybe I should write a book. And I would love to study film or something.
The Frisky: You were once in a band. Is that something you’d ever do again?
Annie: No. Well, never say never. But thinking about it now, I prefer being on my own. When I play live I play with a lot of different musicians. That’s nice, because sometimes you get tired of each other. In a band that can be a problem sometimes.