girl in red on writer’s block, self-censorship, and going cinematic
In the latest episode of The FADER Interview podcast, Jordan Darville speaks with girl in red about her debut album if i could make it go quiet.
girl in red on writer’s block, self-censorship, and going cinematic Jonathan Kise / Grandstand

The FADER Interview is a brand new podcast series in which the world’s most exciting musicians talk with the staff of The FADER about their latest projects. We’ll hear from emerging pop artists on the verge of mainstream breakthroughs, underground rappers pushing boundaries, and icons from across the world who laid the foundations for today’s thriving scenes. Listen to this week’s episode of the podcast below, read a full transcript of this week’s episode after the jump, and follow The FADER Interview wherever you listen to podcasts.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Marie Ulven, a 22 year old singer-songwriter from Norway better known as girl in red writes music that sounds as volatile, passionate, and dramatic as the final scene from a great romance film. Her early songs about queer identity, singles like 2017’s, “We Fell In Love In October” and 2018’s, “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” amassed hundreds of millions of streams, and they turned Ulven into a Gen Z it girl, with the phrase “do you listen to girl in red?” becoming code for young queer girls to ask other girls if they like girls. In April, girl in red released her debut album, if i could make it go quiet.

Ulven retains her diaristic lyricism on the album, refusing to sand down the rough edges of heartbreak or mental health struggles. At the same time, girl in red pushes into the future. Maximizing each element of her sound, whether it’s blinding guitar pop bombast, or tender aching balladry. A few days before the release of the album, The FADER’s Jordan Darville caught up with Ulven to talk about how working on her mental health makes her a better songwriter, what she learned about love from creating if i could make it go quiet and the music she’s been working on since.

ADVERTISEMENT

The FADER: So I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your dog. I’ve seen your dog a lot on your TikTok account and on your social media. And I was wondering if getting a dog influenced this album at all.

girl in red: I think it influenced it in the way that it made me happy. Getting a dog has gradually just made me more and more happy. I think that somehow probably has influenced the album because I make much better music when I’m happy.

I think there’s this stereotype, especially when people are listening to albums like yours which are full of so many intense emotions and focus on a lot of really heartbreaking feelings. That in order to create that, that person needs to be sad all the time. And that’s just not true.

ADVERTISEMENT

I’m really not about that kind of sad artists living alone in isolation because that really… At least as an artist, I want to be happy in my life. And it makes me really sad to think that I can’t be happy to create music. And I don’t think that’s true either. I really don’t want to take part of that narrative of that, it’s like a blessing in disguise when artists are depressed and stuff like that. I really don’t fuck with that energy.

Is that a sort of energy that you have to deal with frequently? Because I feel like at least my impression of your fan base is that a lot of them feel seen by your music.

I don’t know if people think of me like that. I hope they don’t. And I don’t think my fans and my listeners also want that for me either. And kind of, I know that my fans are really happy when I’m happy and that just makes me even more happy because that’s a really good quality to be happy on others’ behalf. So I don’t think people see me as a tortured artist, but I know it’s like more of an idea maybe that more people know of.

And speaking about fans, I wanted to talk to you a little bit about your relationship with the internet. Because on one hand, you’ve got this incredible fan base and you’ve become this mini icon for Gen Z. But of course, being on the internet for long periods of time can have really serious effects on mental health. So I was wondering if you’d found a balance of that yet, or if it’s just something you just soldier through.

I wouldn’t say I figured that out yet, actually. I’m still kind of trying to find out what works best for me and what’s good for me. There’s so much stuff out there, but I’m trying to just learn that, I’m an artist now, apparently. At least other people see me as an artist and people think that I don’t see what people say and what people post. So I’m just trying to come to terms with, and try to focus on the people around me that know me for who I am and they know that I’m a good person and try to not care too much about all the other bad negative stuff that comes with it.

It is really hard actually just filtering out all that shit. It’s a lot. I’m trying to get away from the noise that’s on social media, but also still remain connected to my fans. And that’s a very, very fine balance. I don’t want to feel far away from my fans but I also, if I go onto my phone and if I go to my notifications, there’s going to be someone tagging me in some weird shit that I probably don’t want to see about myself. Or I do check my tags and it’s just a bunch of love, but you never know. And it’s that kind of, what am I going to see right now? But it’s mostly all love.

And it must be especially tough for a musician who writes lyrics like you do. In a way it feels almost like a conversation, which of course it’s not. But certain people can listen to it and feel like you’re talking at them or about them and it’s an invitation to engage with you on that personal level, which I’m sure can be nice sometimes, but other times it can be crossing a line.

To me, it’s kind of obvious that this isn’t an actual conversation but not everyone does feel that and some people do cross boundaries. But even people who cross boundaries, I think they all have good intentions. That’s a very Norwegian thing. I always think the best of everyone. So even when someone showed up at my door once I was like, “This is kind of weird,” but it’s also like, I definitely think you just had good intentions. So even to that girl, if she’s listening to this, I’m like, “Sorry, I didn’t hang out with you, but I hope you have a good day.”

So talk to me a little bit about the writing and recording process for this album.

So I started recording this album in 2019 in my room and on a tour bus and in a hotel room and just literally just all around the world. I just started messing around with ideas and I was like, “I feel like all of these ideas fit in a bigger body of work.” And I made a song in January last year called “Midnight Love” and I was like, “Wow. This definitely feels like a next step. I definitely feel like I’m going somewhere with this.” And I just kept making music. And then I was like, “I actually have 11 ideas right now that I’m very certain I want to have on my album.” And in February or early March I finished this song called Midnight Love with a guy called Matias Tellez. And I think we both kind of fell in love with each other as friends, obviously, but we decided to work together throughout that entire year.

And I just finished up all those ideas I had been working on for the past year. And I was just in Bergen. It was just me and my dog and Matias and his dog. We both got a dog during the album creation, which was really fun. And I was just driving back and forth from Oslo to Bergen, which is an eight hour drive-ish. And just listening to the music I’ve been making, going back home, listening even more, writing notes, writing lyrics, going back to the studio, recording those lyrics and kind of working very much back and forth like that. So I took a whole year, but I made it. I’m happy I got there in the end.

For this album were you writing your songs in the same places as your earlier stuff?

A lot of my early stuff I wrote in my, I guess, my hometown, in my mother’s house. And then some things I wrote in my apartment here in Oslo. But the majority of this record I wrote in my apartment here in Oslo. And also I would say in Bergen. But I did actually start “Serotonin” in my hometown. So maybe, I honestly, I make so much good music when I visit my mom. So I need to go there more often and just bring my laptop and just get cracking at the kitchen table. Because it’s really… I do be making some bops there.

Were there any songs that were particularly difficult for you to write for any reason”?

“Apartment 402” was kind of hard to write.

That’s one of my favorite songs on the album.

Yeah, it is? Okay. You can’t see it, but I’m smiling because I love that song too and it took a lot for me to get there, to make that. But I’m so happy how it ended up sounding. I’ve been listening to that song on repeat today as well. It’s definitely one of my favorites. Obviously I can’t really pick one, but it’s one that I’ve been gravitating towards a lot lately. But every song has been hard writing at some point during the song process, you know what I mean? It hasn’t been just going swiftly with every song all the time. It’s always, at some point you kind of get that writer’s block with the song and you’re kind of like, “Damn it, I’m stuck.” But I’ve been able to get through those writing blocks.

Do you have any go-to methods for getting over writer’s block or is it just as simple as just keep writing?

It’s kind of just, get over yourself, Marie. Just you have to do this, you’ve got to finish the song. I think now that I’m kind of working more project-based and kind of more goal based now that I’m kind of like, I’m actually going to turn this into career and I need to get shit done, I’m definitely more hard on myself that I just, I’m not going to wallow in writer’s block. I’m not going to sit here and be like, “Oh my God, I can’t write.” Because the only thing that’s telling me I can’t write is myself and I just got to get over it.

How has that transition been for you from being an artist that can create pretty much on their own terms to somebody with a team and a schedule and a rollout?

It’s been a little bit all over the place. You kind of learn a lot along the way. And you’d think that I knew everything that was happening right now and that everything was rolling out perfectly, but it’s not. And things are always kind of getting messed up and things are getting postponed and pushed around all the time. So you can’t get used to one thing really, because it’s always changing, but it’s kind of like… At least when it comes to building a team and stuff, I started working with AWAL instead of maybe someone else who would have had a lot bigger say in my creative process and stuff. So I’ve definitely picking people that will just kind of let me make what I want to make and keep all my rights and stuff.

Has the more frantic pace inspired you at all to try new sounds? Because on this album, it definitely feels you’re branching out into new sonic territory.

I think that’s just because I’ve been making music that people haven’t really been hearing for the past year and a half. And I think this is just where I am right now or where I was at least last year. I’m in a different place now. So I think that’s just my musical progress, really. That’s why things are kind of sounding like I’m going into different sonically music sounds. I don’t even know what it’s called. But because I’m just trying out new stuff and doing what excites me.

When you write music, is there anything in your life that’s totally off limits without getting into specifics, obviously?

Not really yet. Things haven’t really been off limits because I’ve never really felt like somebody’s going to get… Nothing bad could ever happen from me being brutally honest in a track. Or even not even being honest about my life, but just writing a story that’s really honest objectively. I never thought that anything negative could come out of that. But now that more people are listening, I feel like I’m scared I’m going to start censoring myself. I’m not going to lie, I’m scared of that. But I really don’t want to. I don’t want to start censoring myself and I don’t want to censor how I feel and what I want to write because that’s really boring. Nobody loves a censored nude, you know what I mean? It’s just not interesting. I really hope that I can keep that level of honesty with myself and my audience.

For a lot of the songs across this album, it explores love from many different angles. Did making the album teach you anything about love, how you love, how you approach love?

I think it definitely made me sort of… I’m a lot more aware of my own role in a relationship now. And that might just be a result of growing up and kind of not thinking that everything bad that happens to you is, it’s someone else and putting the blame on others which is not something I do and not something I want to do. But sometimes people have the tendency to not look within before they start judging others. I’m really looking at myself on a few of these songs and kind of that’s also what I’ve just been doing so much this past year. Is just looking in at myself and just being, “Wait, what? What did I do here? And what could I have said differently here and how can I make it up to this person? Or how can I let this person know what I feel?” And kind of just being like… Thinking a lot more about communication which is so key in all of our relationships, really. So I feel like that’s something I’ve sort of been thinking about this past year when it comes to love and just…

Are you a person who communicates better through their art than in conversation?

I would say so, because I don’t know. It’s definitely easier writing a song. Writing a song is like talking to yourself really. As long as you’re okay with saying it to yourself, it’s not that hard to put it out on paper either or into your notes. It’s definitely easier for me to write songs instead of communicating in real life. I’m aware of that and that’s something I want to get better at. I want to be like, “Hey, you know what? What you said there that actually made me feel really shitty,” instead of going home and being left with a weird feeling and then writing about it three months later.

And sort of on that tip, has keeping a diary helped you as a musician?

Yes. I would say so. It wasn’t necessarily about a feeling, but I read a diary entry from 2014 the other day and I kind of go back to it sometimes where I’m like, I want to be… I was 15, 16, whatever. I want to make music. I haven’t been making any music recently. I feel like I’ve lost my ability. And I was like, “Oh my God. This is 15 year old, 16 year old Marie saying the shit I’m feeling right now.” And I was like… So even though it wasn’t anything related to a love entry or anything that, but it was just really great to see that I was struggling with feeling like I’m never going to write a good song again at that age. And then I’ve written several albums worth of music after that and that it’s going to be okay and that I just got to keep making stuff. So in a way I would say a diary entry has actually helped me as a musician.

When you look back at the music that you’ve released under your birth name, what is some of the key differences that you hear in it, between that work and your work as girl in red?

I would say the key difference is that this music really sounds like what I want it to sound like. And this music is straight out from my head and not someone else’s. The music that was under my real name, I didn’t know what producing was at that point. Even when I was in the studio with the studio guy, I didn’t know that his role was a producer. And I didn’t know that word. And I was just like, “You glued the song together.” I was so beyond a rabbit hole of not knowing anything. I would just say that the biggest difference is that this is truly how I want my music to sound and it’s coming from me because I’m a producer now and I have abilities that I didn’t have. I feel like that’s the biggest difference other than the fact that it’s Norwegian and really bad.

So have you listened to some of your older girl in red songs recently? And if so, how do you feel about them now that you’re going to release your first album?

I have. I actually checked out a few ones very briefly. But I still love them, but I’m also like, “Whoa, this sounds different.” I’ve gotten so much better. And that really… so I’m actually… I get this really cool boost when I listen to them because I’m like, I’ve just been working so hard to get better and I’m getting better and that’s really inspiring. Even though sometimes I kind of lose track of that, I’m actually progressing. I’m actually getting better. And I listen to my old stuff and I was like, “This sounds like mud. This sounds like… I love this, but it also sounds like the mix is so off. The bass tone is literally… It’s the wrong key. It’s dissonance.” But it’s so raw and it’s so straight from my heart. So you can still feel how much I met everything and I just think that’s really cool.

I also read that you really like film scores and of course the final track on your album is this beautiful instrumental piece. I was wondering if you had any favorite film scores and what kinds of movies you would like to score.

Thank you by the way. I also kind of look at that as a film score. And I think it sounds really peaceful. I don’t… Trying to… I don’t really have a favorite film score that comes to mind, but I always know when I really… I always really appreciate it, but I’m not a film score geek. But I want to score a movie maybe at some point in my life. Maybe not all by myself, but with someone. I feel like that would be great. To be in a studio with someone and kind of compose something together for a movie would be so cool. I don’t even know what movie, but probably some indie movie that’s shot on film, that just feels really… A movie that would be really important to me as a teenager, I want to score one of those movies so that I can have something to say in a young person’s adolescence and make the soundtrack to a movie that changed their life. That would be really cool.

So have you started thinking at all about how you want your next record to sound?

Yes, actually I have. And I’m kind of in the middle of making that right now and figuring that out. Yes. I got to be productive. I have the weird opportunity now to not go on tour, but then to make more music. I kind of want to make the most out of that opportunity. I want to get cracking. I’m going to the studio very soon. In three weeks, I’m going back to the studio and I’m going to be working on an idea that I’ve been producing and writing on. So I’m definitely trying to figure out what I want my second album to sound like.

Was writing an album something that you always wanted to do from when you started playing music? Because for a while, at least as girl in red it seemed like you were content to just put out singles and EPs.

That is something I’ve always wanted. I saw this TikTok the other day that showed you how you could read your old Instagram bios. So I went to one of my first Instagrams. And I was in my bio, it was 16 and then music emoji. And then, I’m making an album, music emoji. So when I was 16 years old, that’s six years ago. So that was 16. And I was already, then, I was like, “I’m making an album.” Obviously I wasn’t because I did not know what it took at that point. I was just like, “I’m making many songs that is equals making album,” which is not the same. But I think in some ways that is something I’ve always wanted to do. I just think that the reason I was putting out so many songs was because I was kind of… I had figured out that I could make songs and produce songs.

And that was such a big wow moment for me. So I wanted to sort of explore that a little bit before I wanted… And sort of learn what it meant for me as a musician and kind of who am I as a musician and what role do I have? So I wanted to really take that time to figure it out. And I feel like if I would’ve made an album earlier, it wouldn’t be If I Can Make It Go Quiet, it would, it would be something completely different and it would be rushed. And I also don’t want to rush music.

I think that’s a good point to talk a little about the album title, If I Could Make It Go Quiet. What does that album title mean to you in the context of the record?

In the context of the record, it means that there’s so much shit going on in my head and I want to make it all go away, kind of. It’s all about the mental noise that’s so loud and it takes up all your mind space and it sort of sits in your chest and it’s everywhere. And it’s that loud feeling of wanting to make it all sort of go away and wanting to make it go quiet and wanting to just be happy and in a quiet place, kind of. It’s a metaphor. So the quiet, the noise is everything that’s not okay, kind of. And the world is a lot. So I just wanted to lower that shit.

And does making music help you do that?

Ironically, yes. Making music makes me really happy and it allows me to have a lot of other noise in my head instead of my thoughts that are incredibly annoying sometimes. So I would definitely say that making music makes other stuff go quiet.

I’ve also read in a couple of interviews from you that world domination is the end goal. So in your mind, how is the world changed after girl in red has dominated it?

That’s a good question. Oh my God. I honestly don’t even know. I should know this. I would just say that a lot of people are happy. People are being filled with great music. That is world domination. People are listening to music and they are connecting through music. I feel like that would be awesome.

Okay, great. I think we’ll leave it there. Thanks for joining us, girl in red.

Thank you for talking to me. I hope you have a good day.

The FADER Interview would like to thank Lauten Audio for providing our microphones and James Ivy, who wrote and performed our intro music. Our engineer is Tony Giambrone and our Associate Producer is Salvatore Maicki.

girl in red on writer’s block, self-censorship, and going cinematic