SAN FRANCISCO — Aurora may have played her last American shows for the year, but if the Norwegian pop singer-songwriter realizes her artistic vision, fans won’t have to wait too long to see her again.
That’s because Aurora Aksnes, 23, plans on making an album per year for the next several years, and following a European tour, she’ll be working on her fourth album. Her last two records, 2018’s Infections of a Different Kind (Step 1) and June’s A Different Kind of Human (Step 2), saw the slight, pixie-haired artist take an activist stance. Like the fairy protagonist in FernGully: The Last Rainforest, Aurora’s songs are a reminder to protect what we, as humankind, have left on earth.
“I believe that naturally people are good,” said Aurora, speaking shortly before her performance at Outside Lands. “I believe so much in people; in humankind. I believe we have so much potential to change things. Because it’s only us here on this planet. We have to fix things. No one else will. It’s up to us—every single small thing and every single big thing.”
Aurora’s pop is electronic and orchestral at the same time, with her icy ethereal voice riding atop the blend. It’s distinct. The songs on Step 2 are sometimes a plea, sometimes encouragement and sometimes a warning. On “Soulless Creatures” Mother Earth warns humankind that it’s given too much to us. “Hunger” is about the endless pursuit of power and status that could destroy everything. “The River” speaks to mental health openness and suicide prevention; particular in men, who in many societies are expected to keep their feelings bottled up. “The Seed” is a literal call for environmental protections.
The issues presented are deep, for sure, but not unusual for someone who makes a point attentively to take at least five deep breaths each day.
Part 1 was about finding an internal spark to improve one’s own life and Part 2 is about empowerment to change the world. While Aurora is working on another record in this series, she’s keen to point out that her next LP will be a standalone collection of songs. She doesn’t want to spoil the surprise yet, but said that her fans will understand the following clue:
“It’s just about the fact that everything matters—those two words,” she said.
We spoke with Aurora about her style—it turns out practicality is key—inciting a revolution with her songs, and her appreciation for metalcore music.
RIFF: You have a very unique look when you perform. What does it represent for you?
Aurora: I always wear trousers under my skirts—so I could do a cartwheel whenever I want. Some things kind of started as practical. I cut my hair short because I didn’t like to shower for long and use conditioner—it’s so boring. I cut it short to not have to take care of it. I cut bangs so I wouldn’t get hair in my eyes. I wear pants so I could move around as I want; as a wild person. But I’ve always worn skirts my whole life. I don’t even own a pair of jeans. And these [here she shows off her arm sleeves]; I don’t like the sun, so I wore these to protect myself. But I like the way it looks, so I started using them. So everything has a reason or purpose. … I like old clothes and I like to know who made the clothes. It’s scary these days; when clothes are so cheap and you don’t know who makes it. I find it really scary and really unsettling. So I like to make my own clothes or buy really old ones, so I know where they come from.
That’s one of the central themes on “Hunger.” That song is about our desire and greed for stuff, some of which is made by the poor in other countries in inhospitable conditions. Many of your songs on the last record are about various injustices and problems taking place today. The songs call for action from your listeners. You’re more or less talking about revolution.
That’s a very interesting part of that because I feel like we are so close to a true revolution. As humankind has always done, we are reacting to now to what happened the decade before. We are always reacting to our own mistakes; sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad ways. … I see people … want to do something. How can I say this without talking for an hour… Social media and the internet and all that stuff has created a very strange sense of value that people have. What means happiness? What means success? These platforms have created a not very realistic or even true standards to how we should behave. It’s narrowing down our minds, and then we don’t see what life truly has to offer. We focus on our own mistakes because we have this small goal that we want to achieve.
What can people do to combat that?
I believe that naturally people are good. … I think it also appeals to us because it makes people happy to care about something bigger than yourself. It gives another bigger sense of purpose, and I think it’s really good for people to have that and to be reminded that we are part of something. We’re part of a whole family of equal-minded people that want to be good. That’s what’s inspiring to me, and I want to write music to remind people. I don’t like to be preaching. I think people know it already but they just need to be reminded of it. … People do care about their families, for example. They are kind and do anything for their friends. But I think we are meant to do everything we can for everyone and everything.
Have you gotten a chance to talk to fans about how they have connected with A Different Kind of Human (Step 2)?
Yes, I have! They are very happy and very encouraged and empowered by it. I wanted to make an album … to make people feel empowered; to make them feel like they can face everything and impact everything with their own mind and potential. It’s been very fun to see how natural it is for me and all my fans to care about the world; to be invested in something that is very important and something that will even affect the world after we’re gone. I believe that music can save the world; it can! The only thing we need to save the world is that people [need to be] awake, that they see, and that they act. And I see that [fans] want to save the world with me. I can’t do anything alone.
What sorts of things are you writing about right now?
I’m working on two albums, but one is longer into the future. The whole album concept always comes to me first, and then I write the songs. So I have two now, but I know the other one the world is not ready for yet. I need to wait five, maybe four years for that.
What’s the closer one?
The next one is its own album. It’s not connected to Step 2. It has its own story. The perspective is much bigger. It’s still quite political, and it’s still quite opinionated. And it’s also very emotional. It’s even more about the individuals that make the army. It’s an album for every individual within the big army of love.
I’ve heard you’re a fan of really hard music; how’d that happen, besides the part of the world from which you came being big on metal?
Yes. I like that it’s so extroverted, and it’s very primitive to me. But it’s also very intellectual. I love the way they make many different types of music into heavy metal. Some people … think it’s noise. But it’s not noise if you love it. I love the arithmetical part of heavy metal. As you can hear, sometimes, in my songs; the percussive parts. And it’s almost like jazz. I like the way it’s complicated but in an instinctive way. It’s just pure.
What are your interests outside of music?
I paint a lot with oil. I painted a cover for a song I have called “Forgotten Love.” It’s an orange self-portrait of myself. And I love to make food, but for me. I don’t like to make food for other people. I like to make food for one; a tiny portion of goodness. And I like to just be with myself. I love to read, and I like to be quiet a lot.