As one-half of Anna of the North, Anna Lotterud’s unstudied singing style adds a rough-edged intensity to the duo’s crystalline, contemplative synthpop. The 28-year-old’s vocals are just as memorable on two recent Tyler, The Creator songs, “Boredom” and “911 / Mr. Lonely,” both from his soul-baring new full-length, Flower Boy. In early July, Anna flew to New York to join Tyler and Steve Lacy for the Soul Train-inspired live debut of “911” on The Late Show — but a last-second visa issue meant she wasn’t able to join them on TV. “I basically spent two days in my hotel room,” she recounted later that month, with a toothy laugh and an eye-roll. We were chatting on the breezy terrace of a central London hotel bar, an hour before she was scheduled to perform a few tracks from Anna of the North’s seamless debut album, Lovers, which is due September 8 on Different Recordings/+1 Records/Honeymoon.
Anna missed out on a big late-night moment, but she did join Tyler and Lacy for a fun and impromptu piano jam session on The Late Show soundstage; the footage was later uploaded to YouTube as “911 Messing Around.” Tyler plays the keys, grinning as he bungles the chords, as Anna chirpily pitches in with her “Ring, ring, ring” hook, jumping around as if she had springs in her sneakers. Her hotel performance in London had a similarly spontaneous vibe: her bandmate Brady Daniell-Smith thwacked airy synth sounds out of a sampler, while Anna paced the stage in a baggy tee, scrunching up her eyes while singing. There was a charmingly ramshackle feel to her live presence, which brought to mind the DIY scrappiness of Balaeric-inspired Swedish pop groups like The Tough Alliance and Air France.
Anna of the North draws from similar influences on its new album, integrating these mid -’00s sounds with laser-focused synths on morphing mini-odyssey “Baby,” leaning into the ‘80s vibe on the Boy Meets Girl-ish “Someone,” or letting the airiness of their music breathe on the kaleidoscopic “Money.” We spoke again the same the month as the hotel gig, in a candid phone conversation where Anna explained linking up with Odd Future, sharing a passion for Céline Dion with Tyler, and the dangers of huldra — Nordic folklore’s siren-like trolls.
How did you first meet Tyler, The Creator?
Well, Taco started following me on Twitter around the time we released “Sway” [in summer 2014]. He said they'd been playing it on Odd Future radio for a while — I think they still do. And then, two years ago, they were playing the same festival as me in Norway. I didn’t have a pass for the Friday night, but they snuck me in backstage. I met Tyler, and he said he really liked “Sway.” Then about six months ago, Tyler mailed me and asked me if I was keen to do some vocals for him. He just sent [“911”] through, and I recorded [my part] in Norway. I had no idea Frank Ocean was going to be on it, too. They’re kind of secretive, those guys.
So Tyler had the “911” beat already when he approached you?
Yeah, it was all done; he just wanted the vocals. I know that he was really fond of the “Sway” vocals because they were really harsh and straight forward — we recorded those in GarageBand. The vocals [in my new music] are more pretty, but back then I really didn't like my voice, so I layered the fuck out of my vocals. I think there was something about that they liked. It's kind of ice cold. There was a lot of rappers who got in touch with me after “Sway” came out. Something hit their hip-hop hearts.
Have you always been a rap fan?
I've been listening to underground hip-hop since I was young — CunninLynguists, Jedi Mind Tricks, all that stuff. My Dad’s a musician, so he played us a lot of music as well, like Toto, Sting...and Céline Dion! She's my favorite, favorite artist. Her voice is really aggressive and really powerful. Tyler drops her name in [“911”] as well, so that's cool.
Lovers seems to be about heartbreak. Is that rooted in your personal experiences?
I don't think I've told this to anyone, but I was actually going through a heartbreak during the album [sessions]. It was really hard writing. For the first weeks and months, you just don't want to do anything. I had to, because we had a deadline. [My bandmate] Brady was really good at helping me put words to my feelings. It was quite an intense songwriting process. I have a strong connection to all of the songs on there.
When did you start making music?
When I was 20, I moved to Melbourne to study for my bachelor’s degree in graphic design. It was so hard getting to know people, and to be honest [I spent] a lot of time by myself. I’d brought my guitar to Australia, so when I felt sad and lonely, I would just make music and sing instead. It made me feel better. I had never thought about music as something I really wanted to push, but then I was like, "This is what I want to do."
How did you meet your bandmate Brady?
I met Brady at a gig, and we started chatting about music, sharing music. Then he put out this song called “The Dreamer,” which he was singing on, that I thought was amazing. I got his SoundCloud login, and I saw that I had played it like 250 times. Then [our version] just happened. [When I moved back to Norway] we just kept in touch. It was really chill. I like it when things aren’t forced. It’s like that with the Tyler, The Creator thing as well. What makes me really proud and happy is that I know it's organic. I know [Odd Future] wouldn't just choose anyone. I know that they only work with people they like.
Anna of the North has a strong visual identity — I love the cute “baby” shirts. How did you want the band's aesthetic to complement the music?
To be honest, I just do what I think looks cool. I love space, clean colors, air, and white. We made our [merch] with a friend of mine called Mari Nordén — she sews and makes all the clothes in Norway. Of course, I get inspired by what's happening now [in style]. I've heard that you have to see something seven times, and then you'll like it. I promised myself one thing — that flared jeans were never ever getting back on me. I thought they were the ugliest thing out of everything. But I like them now! [laughs]
The Norwegian TV show SKAM was a huge success recently. Do you think it gave an accurate depiction of teenage life in Norway?
It’s different from person to person, but, I think it's quite similar to being Norwegian. I’m from a little, small town, which was quite different from growing up in Oslo [where SKAM is set]. You know, there weren’t any people wearing a hijab at my school. But when it comes to the start of SKAM, and what that Jonas guy was talking about [an anti-capitalism monologue] — I was not smart at that [age]. I don't know if that's because I'm from Gjøvik [a town two hours outside of Oslo], where everything is so safe.
I recently read The Nix, a novel that explores Norwegian folklore. Were folk traditions a part of your life growing up?
Well, my grandma believed in everything. She believed in ghosts, and if a baby was crawling on the floor she was like. “No, you can’t do that. You can’t have your knees on the floor.” Everything was scary to her. Playing cards was like...you just didn't do that. Do you know trolls? You have something called a huldra, that's a troll lady — a really beautiful lady and she has a tail. In old times when guys were in the woods, if they never came back, they said they were taken by huldra. There are a lot of cool things like that. Like, in Oslo the buildings haven’t been there for a long time, but we have a lot of folktales and stuff like that [in our country's history]. I'm really proud of Norway and being Norwegian.