It all started in 2009, when a relatively unknown former ballerina from Denmark took the stage at SXSW, enchanting audience members with her dreamy electro-pop. She had just one self-produced album and little more than a year’s worth of experience making music under her belt. She’d never before performed in the U.S.
Now Nanna Øland Fabricius, otherwise known as Oh Land, is set to release her first major label album on Sony’s Epic Records later this year. After flying back and forth between LA and NYC, she just settled down for good this past January in Williamsburg, and will be playing at our very own Free Williamsburg showcase at the Northside festival this Sunday.
We sat down with the 25-year-old Copenhagen native to discuss her custom made electronic bell organ, being her own tour manager, and why her show will be like Mary Poppins on acid.
Free Williamsburg: So, you’ve just moved to Williamsburg. How do you like it so far?
Oh Land: I wanted to move here because I really like the feeling and the vibe. It’s more relaxed than manhattan. Like going over the bridge: all the work is in Manhattan and then it’s nice to go over the water and be out here and leave all that behind. Actually, Williamsburg reminds me a little bit of Copenhagen, where I come from. It’s like a little village.
FW: It sure is. Tell me about how you started making music.
OL: I actually started making music when I started making my first album [in 2008]. I used to be a ballerina. I was dancing at the Royal Danish Ballet School and the Royal Swedish Ballet School. But then I got a back injury and had to stop dancing.
And then I found out that the reason I was dancing was because of the music. My mom’s an opera singer and my dad’s a composer, so music was really in my whole house growing up. It was very natural for me to start playing piano and making my own music, although I never thought I would be a musician.
But I started playing with a garage band, and I started really getting into electronic music. I began sampling sounds on my little sound recorder, just recording sounds from everywhere like birds and all kinds of stuff. And then I got really into songwriting, and yeah. Since I started recording I haven’t done anything else.
FW: Will your new album be very different than your first one?
OL: Oh Land is a solo project I started in 2008 and I’ve released one record in Denmark only [Fauna] and I produced and arranged everything myself. Now I’m about to make my first international album on Sony, that will be released this year.
For this album I am focusing a lot on the songwriting; I really like the hunt for the perfect song. It’s still very electronic, but it has an orchestral element with a lot of strings and choir. A little like Lori Anderson.
FW: What do you hope people get out of your music?
OL: I feel like it’s dreamy pop music, I would like my listener to get in a dreamy mood. I feel like the music is very cinematic, and when you listen you get a lot of pictures in your head. I want my listeners to dream away in it and make up their own film starring themselves. And I wouldn’t complain if they were dancing a little bit too.
OL: I’ve been playing a lot in Denmark, and played the Iceland Airways festival last year in Reykjavík. And then after I played South by Southwest, I booked a ten-gig tour myself. I just called a whole bunch of places and asked if I could play and I went to San Francisco and New York and LA and San Francisco and Austen. It was so fun, a really good experience to be my own booker, even though it was really tough, because it was one like month of constant emailing. I was living on different people’s floors in exchange for like a bag of candy.
FW: Ha. Very nice. So tell me, what do you like most about performing music?
OL: With performing, I think I see performing as a testament for the record, and how you would want the afterlife of the record to be. I feel like I can’t translate a record directly to live, you have to take the most essential elements and make them really big. And you can really live it another way, like I can pull the visual elements. It’s really important to me to be visual, right? For instance with this show I’ve acquired an old bell organ, but an electronic bell organ that works almost like a swiss knife: I can pull out instruments and trigger electronic elements.
FW: Whoa! How did you build that?
OL: It took a while. A friend made a design for it, he designed the visual of it and then another friend made the technical stuff and built it and put it together. Everything I will play will trigger a projector that will project on balloons. It will be a whole electronic experience, like Mary Poppins on acid.
I’ve never done this before and I’m actually in the rehearsal space right now rehearsing for this. It’s going to be really fun. And I’m doing the choirs. On the recording there are choirs, so I’m going to do the choir side myself and do a lot of looping.
FW: We’re excited to see it in action! One last question – do you have any favorite places to go in Williamsburg?
I also actually really love Brooklyn Bowl, it’s an amazing place. And I love going to the little park at the end of Grand street.
Oh Land will be playing this Sunday at the Free Williamsburg Northside Showcase, and will be releasing her first US single in the beginning of September. Until then, you can checkout her Myspace page.