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photography: Jack Alexander / EUPH.

Astrid S

"All I can do, is make sure that the music I’m putting out is something I’m 100% happy with and proud of."

Jack Alexander
Thomas George Wulbern
Paul Percival with Frank Agency
Lauren Griffin

When Astrid S announced earlier this year that she was forced to cancel her tour plans, because her album wasn’t ready, many fans were shocked and slightly disappointed. With no immediate announcement on rescheduled dates – it was unclear what the timeline of a new tour would look like, or what would happen to the album. But then just weeks later, new tour dates were added, and I suddenly got the opportunity to interview Astrid while she was in Oslo.

During our conversation, we discussed her upcoming album, her fans, and of course – the postponed tour. Astrid immediately tells me that she was very aware of the fact that making such a big decision was scary, particularly because of the impact. “I know how much work has been put into making the tour happen – from my team and everyone I worked with, but also the fans who’ve saved money and purchased tickets and maybe booked hotels and planes. It seems really bad when you have to cancel, so I’m glad we were able to just postpone it, so people could at least keep their tickets if they want to.”

It’s a real testament to Astrid’s fans and the mutual trust they share as well. Having scoured Twitter for days in order to do my research on her fanbase, the one common denominator is that they want her to be happy with the music she’s releasing. She knows as she emphasizes multiple times throughout our conversation just how lucky she is with her fanbase. “They’re very understanding. I appreciate that it makes it easier for me to just focus on making great music. I guess it’s like, not a give-take relationship. But I know how much they invest in me, so all I can do is make sure that the music I’m putting out is something I’m 100% happy with and proud of. Especially when I’m going on tour, I want to give them value for the ticket, if that makes sense.”

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Jacket: Asos | Trousers: Off White | Shoes: Adidas

It’s why Astrid still seems slightly evasive when it comes to her telling me anything about her debut album. When I ask her if the rescheduled tour dates mean the album is good to go, she denies that is the case. “It’s not almost ready, I feel like I still have some work to do. But it does mean there will definitely be an album this year, so that’s exciting. I’m really excited,” she says instead, underscoring that stroke of perfectionism once more.

Wanting to have control over all aspects of her music is something that’s definitely become more of a priority for her over the years. In fact, having to admit she wasn’t happy with the album and wanted to keep on working was “some kind of epiphany for me,” Astrid explains. “A lot of decisions that are made [when it comes to my career] are sometimes based on what I want, and sometimes I put my trust in others to schedule things or make a plan that will benefit me. And sometimes things don’t work out, which is fine, but I realized that I’m the one who’ll always have to deal with the consequences in the end.” She continues, “it made me feel like this time around I just want to be even more involved in every decision. And just make sure that if anything like that happens again that I know that I’m still 100% down with it if that makes sense? It’s not like I’m pointing fingers at all, it’s great to have a team that you trust and can rely on. It’s more so from my side that I would personally feel better if I’m maybe even more involved, and putting in the extra work so I’m fully aware of the whole situation at all times.”

I feel like I’ve grown and have the abilities and energy to be more involved and be on top of everything on just another level.”

It’s also something that has to do with the fact Astrid is no longer the teenager she was when she first participated in a reality-tv singing competition. She’s grown up, and with that comes the yearning for more responsibility and control over your own future. “I was very young when I started, and I wouldn’t have been able to be as involved as I am now, back then. It’s great to have people help you out, but now I’m 23 and I’ve been doing this for a little while now. I feel like I’ve grown and have the abilities and energy to be more involved and be on top of everything on just another level.”

That’s not to say she’s felt like she wasn’t in control before, she just didn’t feel as comfortable with it. “I’ve always had my chances to have the lead on everything, it’s more been my decision to sometimes put my trust in others so I can focus on the creative process rather than the strategies. So I’ve always had the power and chance to make all decisions and sometimes I choose not to because maybe I don’t have time or the energy, that I feel I do have now. Which is a good feeling.” When I ask her to elaborate, she pauses for a bit as she tries to find the right English words to express her thoughts. “I feel like I’m even more – I don’t compromise as much as I used to. I’ve become very aware of that when choosing songs. I need to put them out because I want to because I feel like they’re great and represent me. Not because I want to please anyone else, or just because someone else thinks they’re good. They’re not committed to those songs in the same way that I am. When I put something out I’ll probably have to talk about it for years and perform it for years and have a relationship with that song. I’ve become more aware of that, which is a good feeling because I used to be easily affected by what other people think. I used to be a bit more insecure, and now I feel more confident and I especially just now want to put out things that I am really proud of: Music that I think is great. Which is a good foundation when you’re making an album,” she laughs.

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But even though she’s adamant to take ownership and control of her own career in ways she hasn’t done before, the creative process is still very much a collaborative one. In fact, rather than the album being a concept album, Astrid envisions it more as an exploratory album. One where she gets to dip her toes into multiple genres and styles instead. “I’ve just been writing a lot over the past year. It’s been more of me experimenting in songwriting and working with producers – I’ve found two producers that I really like and have really only worked with for the past six months [Swedish production duo Jack & Coke]. And right now I’m just writing about whatever is going on in my life. I feel like I’m still doing the same kind of music I’m used to doing, electronic pop. But I’ve been able to experiment more along the whole spectrum if that makes sense? I’m doing some songs that are darker, and some that are lighter – I’m expanding my musical universe”

As promising as that sounds, she admits it also makes the process even more complicated. “I’m not sure yet what it’s going to be pinned down to, because there’s just so many songs now. But towards the end, there’ll be a more clear version of what the entire album is going to come down to, and what it’s going to be then.”

Astrid pauses, before confessing that at times she suffers from impostor syndrome just as much as the next person, hoping she’s made the right choices. “It’s a bit overwhelming because sometimes I just have no idea what I’m doing and I’ll have this one song that’s a whole other direction than another song and I have no idea how they’ll fit together, even if both are really good.”

That doesn’t mean she’s chosen her approach on a whim. She reasons that most people nowadays don’t really look for that type of continuity in theme anyways. “I don’t think for this album it needs to be a red-thread concept album, it can just be me. You know, experimenting with my songwriting and sound and trying to find my way. And then maybe for another album, I’ll really dig into one sound or theme or concept. I don’t think people listen to – I love listening to albums that have a clear thought behind them, but also people these days make playlists that can include so many different artists and genres. I think it’s cool if my music can be a bit different.”

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For some, part of Astrid’s musical style can be captured by the genre label of Scandipop – short for Scandinavian pop. When I ask her what she thinks of the term, and if she’d apply it to her own music, she enthusiastically agrees. “I think you can hear the difference between Scandinavian and American pop. It’s also very different when it comes to how music is consumed. Especially in the States, radio is so big, whereas here it’s all about streaming and algorithms. But I think also when it comes to influences – where I grew up, I was mostly influenced by Robyn, and I think you can hear a lot of her album Body Talk, still, in a lot of Scandinavian pop music. But I’m in the middle of it, so I can’t really see it from the outside, but I do think that there’s a difference. And I think that’s cool, actually, that people can tell if that music is from Scandinavia, versus American, English or Spanish.”

You can hear the influences of Robyn all across the pop industry today, but it’s not surprising that her music would then be even more important for other Scandinavian artists just like  Astrid S. It brings me to the question if there are any current artists she takes inspiration from. Interestingly, she says she’s mostly inspired by Norwegian music. “There’s Sigrid, Aurora – I think there’s a lot of very cool pop urban acts that sing in Norwegian. I listen a lot to that, I think that’s really cool.”

Astrid then tells me she actually finds it’s easier to give her take on a Norwegian song, than one in English. “Actually the other day, I played the producers one of my favorite Norwegian songs from last year and we tried to do my take on it. The goal was to just, for the song that we wrote that day, to give it the same feeling as the Norwegian material. It’s kind of, lyrically, about being really into a girl. But very much on the surface, just fun, and we made my version of just having a crush on someone and having fun with that. It’s almost easier to interpret it when translating from Norwegian, because I write in English anyways. So I can kind of, it’s easier to do my own take on that. If I were to give my take on a Sigrid song, that’s already in English, it’d be more difficult to really make it my own – if that makes sense?”

But despite her love for Norwegian music, she actually doesn’t record her music in Oslo all that much. “Now that I’m working with Jack & Coke, I go to Stockholm a lot. I’ve mostly been writing there, but I just went to LA for two weeks. It was really nice, but I guess it depends. I don’t work as much as I’d like to in Oslo – and there are great producers and songwriters here too – but it’s just become a thing where we just travel to Stockholm, London, and LA to work on music. But we should [record more in Oslo]! It’d be nice.”

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L: Dress: Christopher Kane | R: Dress & Gloves: Miscreants | Jacket: Angel Chen | Shoes: Kurt Geiger

When I ask her if there’s a difference between her experiences of working in the States versus working in Scandinavia or the UK, she needs some time to think about it. “That’s a good question, I haven’t been aware of a difference between the London and LA writing culture. But I guess it depends more on who I work with mostly. I think sometimes I find – and I’m not saying it’s a negative thing – that working with songwriters that have a session with new people every day, it can feel a bit rushed. I feel like that must be very draining and tiring sometimes, which I understand. Especially in LA, because there are so many songwriters there, and people are used to sessions being canceled and moved around all the time. But it’s nice as well because you feel less pressure and the variation can make sessions feel refreshing when you work that way sometimes. But I think in Scandinavia, especially in Stockholm – people take their time and have fewer sessions overall – there’s less of that same rushed feeling. It’s not a negative thing, I think both ways of working are useful in their own way.”

The common denominator, regardless of who or where she’s writing, is the overarching approach Astrid has when it comes to songwriting. She plays both the piano and guitar and so she usually starts with either of those instruments. “After we’ve got the lyrical concept or the melodies down, we’ll try to find the production and sound that fits with our vision. It’s mostly some chords I have, or maybe just a melody on guitar and then I bring that to the studio and we’ll try to piece it all together.”

The lyrical concepts she mentions are usually born out of conversations she’s had herself, or stuff she’s overheard – in real life or as part of a movie. “I put a lot down in my notes on my phone. If I have a conversation with someone, or I overhear anything, or if I’ve watched a movie and there’s a conversation in there that I can relate to, that puts something in words in a way that I haven’t heard before and makes sense to me – I’ll write it down. I scroll through them before I go to the studio and see what I can bring to the table and what we can work with.”

Nevertheless, Astrid doesn’t see lyrics as her biggest strength as a songwriter, even though she’s gotten better at them. As such, it’s imperative to have collaborators around – to lean on, and to learn from. “I make almost all the melodies myself, I think that’s my strong suit. I think with lyrics it’s so great to have someone you can talk to. Because I think what inspires me to write is mostly conversations, so to be able to have conversations while you’re writing the lyrics is very important to me. That way it becomes more relatable and conversational, and it’s just more fun! Sometimes if I write alone, it just doesn’t get as good as I’m just in my own head. It’s cool to have someone that can be a little critical and can push you like, 20% beyond the initial idea you had.”

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Top: Topshop | Co-ord: dyspnea | Shoes: Adidas

She emphasizes that it’s important though to have a genuine connection with your collaborator and the song you’re trying to create. Taking Billie Eilish as an example, she argues that “you can hear that she and her brother [FINNEAS] just made the entire thing in her bedroom and had fun with it. And it’s not been – I think you can tell if someone is trying to be too smart or has overthought a song. And I think you can tell if people just had fun with it and it comes from a genuine place.”

One of the main reasons as to why Astrid has improved her writing has to do with the fact this isn’t for an EP or a stand-alone single. She exclaims: “It’s very different to work towards an album. At least when I’m writing I feel more free, because I know it’s going to be a body of work. I think I write better, I don’t feel the pressure as much. I used to feel like every day whenever I walked into the studio, I felt like we had to make a single and a radio song. And now I’m just more focused on making great music.”

When I ask her if she isn’t even a little bit tempted to release an EP or single in the meantime, she’s adamant and resolute in her reply. “No, I feel like what I’ve been doing the past years. I’ve never even released an album, so it’s really time now to make one. I’ve done the EPs and singles, I’m tired of it. Like, the best songs [of the album] will probably be the singles, of course, and then some songs will be on the album or maybe find their own way.” It’s an interesting take on a debut album, as it’s usually paired with a lot of stress caused by the fact this is the very first official full-length project of an artist, full of new and unknown songs. But for Astrid S, that’s not such a gloomy, anxious experience at all. In fact, she’s often incorporated new music into her live sets, just so she can gauge the reaction from fans.

“It’s cool because they don’t have any agenda. When you work as a team, I think it’s impossible to avoid that there’s going to be an agenda. I think that’s a cool thing, but it’s refreshing to hear other people’s opinions too. My team gets to listen to my demos and songs all the time, and they probably get sick of doing it too, so it’s really nice what the people – or my fans – think because that’s what’s really important to me,” she explains.

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When I tell her that her fans must appreciate it a lot, as two fan favorites seem to be unreleased tracks “Naked” and “Bleed,” she seems somewhat surprised. “Oh, they’re really old. Okay, cool, well, maybe I’ll have to revisit them for this album, maybe like a fan release or something.”

She’s done something similar once before, asking fans to send in lyric ideas out of which she made a song called “Relevant.” It’s something she hadn’t considered, but “would love to do it again. Like you said, maybe I could just take more inspiration, ask them, or try to involve them more – especially now that I’m in the middle of making an album, it’d be cool to get lyric ideas or poems. I have some fans who will send me poems that are really great. I should look more into that and see if I can take some inspiration from them.”

It’s exactly what she’s striving for with this album as well. When I ask Astrid if she has any frontrunners when it comes to being her favorite song ever, she shakes her head and refers instead to “Emotion” as her favorite – for now at least… “I’m still in the middle of finishing some of the songs on the album. So maybe in a couple of months, that answer will have changed, hopefully. But I’m really excited about the new songs that I’ve been working on. I try not to [compare the songs]. It’s so circumstantial when you’re writing a song. At that time, I was for instance 18, there were other things going on in my life that I maybe didn’t even have the vocabulary at the time in English to write about it in the way that I can now. So it’s hard to explain. It kind of has its own place in time, and it was good in its own way for when it was written and put out. And it just represents that time in my life, it’d be hard to compare that to anything I’m making now – so I try not to do that.”

In that sense, her fans have grown with her and have been able to appreciate each song for what it means to Astrid, but also to them personally. “I’ve had like a core group of fans for a while that I feel like I know very well, and they know me very well too. We kind of chat every day about what goes on in their lives and I really feel like they care about me.”

She grins, talking passionately about how she’s come to understand that mutual relationship. “It’s strange, I used to think before I got into music and I would watch tv shows and see pop stars talk about how much they cared about fans and the relationship they had with them. I always thought that was something they faked because I thought – it doesn’t make sense, you don’t know them, how can you care about someone you don’t really know. But now I’ve experienced it myself, I’ve realized that it’s truly a special bond.”

So perhaps it’s fair to say that while Astrid feels liberated by her own newfound exertion of control over her music career, she still very much cares about what her fans think of the music. The want for perfection isn’t just something she needs to achieve for herself, it’s an equation that includes the fans too. “They invest so much time and energy in my career – they want me to do well. On a personal level as well, so. They check up on me every day almost. Just their support. There are moments that stuck out, but what I think about the most is the relationship we’ve built throughout the past years. It feels really special and they’re really important to me. And I’m not just saying that like I once assumed, but it really is a special bond and I want to make them proud – I hope they are too.”

Judging by the vast amount of people who’d love to see her tour in their country, she shouldn’t worry too much about it.