Music interview – Sigrid: ‘It’s really cool that our music can mean something to someone else’

Sigrid. Picture: Francesca Allen
Sigrid. Picture: Francesca Allen
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Since being tipped by the BBC’s annual taste-making poll to become pop’s brightest new star in 2018 Norwegian singer Sigrid has noticed a new phenomenon at her concerts.

“There’s definitely a lot more people waiting after we’ve played the show,” she says with a gentle laugh. “That’s quite crazy. Last night there was, like, 40 people waiting outside the venue.

“That is the first time it has happened to us. It was really cool but we had to go and I was so sorry. It’s great that people are really into it. I’m just so honoured.”

Queues for autographs may be something the 21-year-old – whose full name is Sigrid Solbakk Raabe – might have to get used to if her trajectory continues as planned.

A short spring tour of the UK sold out fast. She reports that her gig last week at Leeds University was “a really good show”.

“The energy was really nice in the crowd, they were singing along, we had a good time, so that was fun.”

Sigrid is due to perform at Leeds Festival in August.

Sigrid is due to perform at Leeds Festival in August.

A summer of festivals, including the Isle of Wight and Leeds and Reading, awaits.

As winner of the BBC Sound of... poll, Sigrid is certainly following in some illustrious footsteps. Previous winners have included Adele, Sam Smith, Corinne Bailey Rae and Ellie Goulding.

“Winning the poll is a huge deal to me,” she says. “I never thought I would get my music across borders. I never dared to dream about it and winning the same prize as some of my favourite artists have won before me that’s quite huge.”

Then again, she recognises: “It’s a huge honour but it’s not going to change anything. Well, it’s definitely changing some things but it’s not going to change the way I work. We’re still going to make the songs that we love.”

The funny thing is I’ve tried to write political songs so many times and it’s difficult to get that into a three-minute pop song because you want to get the nuances.

Sigrid

Many listeners’ introduction to Sigrid’s music came via the song Don’t Kill My Vibe. It might not have been a top 40 hit but it has clocked up millions of streams on online platforms such as Spotify and YouTube. Written in response to a patronising producer, the song has been adopted as an anthem by young fans – something the singer finds immensely gratifying.

“That’s what we’re all hoping for, isn’t it?” she says. “For me it’s just amazing, and the fact that people have listened to Don’t Kill My Vibe means that we can go on tours like this and sell out the tour. We’re just very happy about it and it means a lot.

“We were looking at one gift we got from a fan that was struggling – I won’t go into details because it’s personal – but it was a son and his mum and they gave us this gift and it was a teddy bear with a message that [the song] means so much to [them]. That’s really cool that our music can mean something to someone else.

“I have such a strong relationship to music and music is the soundtrack of my life, all my favourite artists they mean so much to me. I don’t know them but their music just speaks to me, so it’s beautiful to see music connects us.”

Sigrid, the daughter of an engineer and an architect, describes growing up in the west coast port of Ålesund, in idyllic terms. “It’s very remote,” she says. “It’s a small city that’s most beautiful. I had a really nice upbringing and I’m very close to my family. I’m going back there [after completing her UK tour] to do a little skiing and hiking. My childhood was just very normal.

“I spent a lot of time with school. I always had ambitions and dreams but I wanted to become a doctor or a teacher or a lawyer at some point.” She chuckles. “I think none of that is going to happen. I’m really hoping I can do music now.”

There was no pressure at home for her to become a singer. “No one pushed me into the music industry. That was my choice.”

The encouragement came from her brother Tellef and sister Johanne. “I would say from the right way, though. It just came from the love of music,” says Sigrid.

“Our whole family loves music. My Dad plays guitar as a hobby and my Mum is very into music. She has a very musical ear. We’ve always had music around in our family. I think that is why I love music. My grandmother taught me piano and I’ve also had great teachers – a piano teacher and a vocal teacher.

“It was my brother who kind of pushed me gently to write my first song. He was playing a show in our home town and he said that I couldn’t do a cover; he wanted me to do an original song with him on stage so I had two weeks to write a song and I kind of freaked out but I also finished it.”

Sigrid’s family shares a love of Neil Young. “My favourite thing is the combination of harmonies and the lyrics,” the singer says. “It just sounds like they’ve gone to the studio and they’ve had a good time and I love that. It’s the same feeling I have when I listen to Fleetwood Mac – even though I know Fleetwood Mac is full of drama. I think it’s got nerve and that’s what I’m searching for in my music.

“That’s what I like about Neil Young. You can hear it in his voice. His voice is so full of emotion. He’s not necessarily the greatest singer on Earth, he’s a good singer, but it’s the way he sings it. It’s so emotive and beautiful.”

Sigrid released her first music in Norway four years ago. She feels her songwriting has developed considerably in recent times. “I remember when I first started writing I always did writing for weeks. My first song I wrote for my brother then my second song, Two Fish, I wrote for an English assignment. I wanted to get the highest grade in English and we were told to write a poem – this was in the second grade of high school – and thought ‘What if I write a song?’ I actually did it to get a higher grade and I didn’t get it; that was annoying. I got the song instead.

“I thought if I put a lot of symbols in it, like a lyrical picture, so I wrote a lot around that. I thought that would help my English grade. I don’t do that any more – that was only for school. When I write now I write things that are inspired by private things, by experience, but it’s not necessarily straightforward, it’s like storytelling.”

As an artist she think she should not be afraid to express opinions on the wider world. “I think you have an important opportunity to speak up about things you think matter and I try to write about those things. The funny thing is I’ve tried to write political songs so many times and it’s difficult to get that into a three-minute pop song because you want to get the nuances.

“It’s never black and white, it’s always full of nuances, and it’s very complex issues. But I’ve written a couple. There’s one song on the album called Savage In Our Blood, that’s quite political. That’s probably one of my favourite songs. I wrote that with Odd Martin Skålnes in Bergen.

“I think you have a voice and the more people that come to your shows if I can talk about things that matter to me maybe I can inspire someone else. But then again I think it’s really important to listen. I think we should all listen and talk and discuss in a polite way. I think you lose the respect when you just shout at each other in life.

“It’s a huge thing in Norway right now, our Minister of Justice left her position, and that goes back to this shouting. We’re talking a lot about it.”

As regards her debut album, Sigrid says she’s still in the process of completing it. “I’m working with a lot of talented producers and writers, all my little team, we’re working a lot together. It’s great.”

She is however coy about further plans for the year ahead. “We are touring over the summer, that will be very exciting. I have to be a bit mysterious about it, but I promise I won’t disappear.”

Sigrid plays at Leeds Festival on August 26. Her new EP, Raw, is out on May 11. www.facebook.com/thisissigrid