Norway's new extreme pop sensation
Pure pop with suss and style - easy enough in theory, almost impossible to pull off in practice. Until now. Annie's album 'Anniemal' is as commercial as a blockbuster, as smart as a whip and as irresistible as gravity. Its lead single 'Chewing Gum', produced by Richard X, is a 24-carat pop masterpiece to file alongside 'No Good Advice', 'Oops I Did It Again' and 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head'. Come in Kylie, your time is up.
You may already know Annie from her 1999 single 'The Greatest Hit', an inspired dance pop song based on a loop from Madonna's 'Everybody'. Before that became an underground cult classic, Annie Lilia Berge Strand (to give her her full name) was growing up in various parts of Norway, settling at 13 in Bergen, home of Kings Of Convenience, Royksopp, Ralph Myers and Sondre Lerche. Her first band was called Suitcase, an "indie rock" band that fell apart when, says Annie, "the other members wanted to make trip hop." While Annie's tastes encompassed everything from classic disco producer Larry Levan to punk like the Ramones, she didn't like trip hop.
Annie started writing her own songs. In 1999, she met a young producer called Tore Andreas Kroknes who was making excellent electronic dance records under the name Erot. They got together, musically and as a couple, and ended up making 'The Greatest Hit'. Released four times in all, "I know people who've been in LA and heard it, and in Australia and all over Europe," says Annie. "But it never became a hit and I've no idea how much it sold."
Annie and Tore made a second single called 'I Will Go On'. Very soon afterwards however, Tore, who was born with a heart defect, became seriously ill and was hospitalised. He died in April 2001, aged 23. "After that," says Annie, "I was so depressed I just wasn't able to do anything. I stayed at home, away from everyone, completely in my own world. I wanted to make the album with Tore - that was the plan. After he died I just didn't think I had the heart. But then I thought, 'Right, you're really depressed now but you have to make this album. Tore would be quite pissed off if you just stopped doing anything.'"
Annie rallied herself enough to start working on some new songs. She and a friend started her own club in Bergen called Pop Til You Drop. It was there that she met Timo from Finnish electroheads Opl:Bastards and The Left Handed, who she'd booked as a DJ. She returned the compliment by DJing at his club in Hensinki, then went in the studio to add lend her vocals to some Opl: Bastards tracks at his invitation. "Then I asked if maybe he was interested in doing some production on my record. It just started off for fun and turned out to be good."
Timo ended up producing nine of 'Anniemal''s 12 tracks, from the breathtaking eight-minute disco 'Come Together' to the Missy Elliott-esque R&B rumble of 'Always Too Late'.
Annie then worked with her friends Royksopp, who despite turning down offers to produce everyone from Britney Spears to the Pet Shop Boys, did three tracks on 'Anniemal'. One of them, 'Heartbeat', is an incredible, Motown-tinged stomper which contains no synthesizers at all; another is the Shakatak-sampling breeze-pop classic 'No Easy Love'.
Richard X completed the final piece of the jigsaw. Having originally approached Annie to sing on his debut album, the pair recorded 'Chewing Gum' in London this February. The overall result is 'Anniemal', an album which leaps between styles with amazing poise, while retaining a coherence and grace that is entirely down to Annie. From the still-mighty pop stylings of 'The Greatest Hit' to the downy soft soul of 'Easy Love', it's got a consistency often promised but rarely delivered in pop - hell, in (i)any(i) albums.
"I feel like I've been making this record for such a long time," says Annie. "For so many years I didn't have any work or anything, but I was just convinced I was going to make music. But now it looks like I've finally managed to make a record and it's out in August. So for me it's an achievement just to do that - and hopefully I'll sell a lot of records."
Her patience - and faith - has been more than justified. Once the Anniemal is unleashed ,there'll be no stopping her.
We did it over here in Moloko studios in Old Street. Richard X is great. He must be one of the nicest people I've ever met. This track sounds a bit like the Tom Tom Club.
We did two versions. One was housey but it sounded a bit cheesy, so we made it like a rock track. It's a party song about enjoying the moment and having a good time while it's there.
Always Too Late
I'm usually always too late myself. The production is really good. It's really big sounding, much louder than the other tracks.
The Greatest Hit
I was thinking about not including this, but while a lot of people have heard it, a lot more haven't.
No Easy Love
It's got a really big sample from Shakatak. It's about five seconds of it - then a really horrible piano comes in on their original record. The lyrics are... well, there is no easy love. It's about being in love and having a difficult time, something I can relate to very much.
Tore said that I had to make a song called 'Anniemal' and I was thinking, 'that's really, really stupid'. The lyrics are saying, there are so many people who are talking a lot about things but never doing them, but you should let everything out and be yourself.
That was one of the first tracks I started to work on. It's about a relationship that a friend of mine had where he was very foolish and falling in love very easily, then having problems.
That's the hippy song. It's very disco too. I wrote it in the winter when everybody was listening to really depressing songs and I wanted to make a really happy track. It's easier to make depressive, sad songs, but to make a happy, positive track is often very difficult. To make a good melody that isn't stupid is extremely hard.
My Best Friend
My best friend was in a state and I was just thinking about her and writing that track. That's one of the really melancholic tracks. It leaves the album on a down - so then you've got to put it on again and get happy.
Chewing Gum: Released on 6th September on 679 Recordings.
Anniemal: Released on 27th September on 679 Recordings
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