As anyone who’s ever been hurled unexpectedly into a stressful life situation will be able to tell you, sometimes you’ve got to be thrown into the deep end to figure out whether you’re going to sink or swim.
For Anna Of The North’s Anna Lotterud, that moment came shortly after the then-duo wrapped up the campaign for their debut album, Lovers. Anna parted ways with her producer/partner Brady Daniell-Smith, who’d made up the second half of Anna Of The North since the pair met in Melbourne in 2014, and faced the prospect of making her second album alone.
“It felt really scary. Me and Brady worked together for three years or so, and he was my producer part, doing the things that I don’t,” she admits, thinking back today from Oslo, where she’s currently based. “I play piano and guitar and sing, and I’ve produced a little, but that’s not my strongest side. It was like losing that part of me, so I had to find that again. You just have to start over.”
A lot had happened since making that album. The breakup-inspired dream-pop of Lovers had become an unexpected hit, one that had allowed Anna to travel the world playing her songs and even caught the attention of Tyler, The Creator, who invited her to appear on his 2017 album, Flower Boy.
But, despite all their success and the benefits of working as a duo, it had sometimes been limiting; making new album, Dream Girl as a solo artist allowed her to explore a new sound without so many preconceived notions of what her music could be. While Lovers was full of glossy synth-pop, Dream Girl feels more raw or, as Anna describes it, “more organic,” and has given her more of a belief in her abilities as a musician.
Trying to gain a bit more clarity about herself and where her life was going, Anna saw a psychologist after the campaign for Lovers ended. “It put it more in perspective, in a way,” she says on how the experience helped her music. “I think we’re all quite similar. We’re really complex and our brains are working in ways we don’t understand.
“It’s nice just having a person letting us know that it’s absolutely normal to be like that – to be human. Talking to strangers sometimes can be really good because they don’t have any expectations from you. It’s the closest thing to meeting yourself for the first time.”
“It was like losing that part of me, so I had to find that again. You just have to start over.”
This new-found confidence and clarity is found all over the new record, which Anna describes as “the moving on album”. On ‘Leaning On Myself’, Anna explores the experience of breaking out into a new situation on your own and feeling out the limits of your own independence, singing: “Lately, I don’t need nobody else/ Just trying not to feel the way I felt.” On ‘Playing Games’, she addresses the pain you sometimes need to go through to come out stronger in the end, with the punchy chorus: “If it’s hurting, then it’s working, Oh my god!”
It also spills over into the album’s title. The Dream Girl featured on the title-track and album art, Anna explains, is fictitious, representing a standard that can’t be reached. A real-life ‘dream girl’ is not perfection in someone else’s eyes, but someone who’s good enough in her own.
“The ‘Dream Girl’ is like ‘OK, shit, he doesn’t love me! I love him! That sucks, but okay, I’ll survive,’” she laughs. “It doesn’t have to be about breakups. If you go through something shit, whatever you wanted to happen, or whatever you were longing for that you couldn’t have, it’s about being strong and open-minded, being like, well, something’s out there, something else will come along.
“It’s not meant to be about being pretty but about saying in your head, in my world, I’m good enough.”