Tuesday 12 December 2017

Q&A: Chamber pop sensation Agnes Obel

On being championed by Time Magazine, going to number one in France and overcoming stage fright

Ed Power

Ed Power

Your songs are gorgeous and haunting, but there's a lot of angst ebbing under the surface. Are you channelling some awful trauma? Or are you the sort of person who feels miserable even when everything is going well?

Even though music is something I travel around doing, it is also a very private thing. A sort of escapism. With this album I discovered that when you write lyrics, sometimes it is later that you realise what you are talking about. Time gives context.

You're huge in Denmark, but the first time many of people in the English-speaking world heard of you was when you were interviewed in Time magazine, of all places. We look forward to reading about your further adventures in next week's Economist.

That was very strange. It's cool, but I don't feel as if I'm the one getting the attention, I think it's the music. It was the journalist who contacted my label rather than the other way around. He was a fan, I think. It wasn't necessarily that big a deal in Denmark.

You used to play guitar in a Radiohead-style band in Copenhagen. It's quite a journey to the stripped-down material you perform now. Why in heaven's name would you want to stop ripping off Thom Yorke?

This was a project I totally did for myself. It was important for me personally to do it. I had all these songs. I wanted them to come out and not disappear into a black hole in my mind. It's kind of fun that other people want to hear them. When I wrote them it never occurred to me that this might happen.

And then you went to number one in Denmark and France. Denmark is a small country like Ireland. But France, that's properly major league.

Sacre bleu etc

Yes, it was quite a shock when I found out.

You seem quite retiring. Has all the exposure been difficult to come to terms with? Nobody's going to mistake you for Lady Gaga -- or even Bjork.

I used to get very nervous before a concert. It's okay when you are in a band. You can kind of disappear. But when it's just you... yes, that was difficult. I would not say it is easy now. But when you do it for a long time you do learn to cope.

You're based in Berlin at the moment. We've read all about it being an avant-grade hot-bed etc. But, let's be honest, the cheap rent doesn't do any harm.

I would like to say it was for musical reasons entirely. My boyfriend and I were in a small apartment in Copenhagen. I wanted to try something new. I love Denmark. But it is a very safe place and it is easy to let the state look after everything for you.

We can't interview a Danish musician without asking you for your opinion on Barbie Girl by Aqua. Does the phrase 'Come on Barbie, let's go party' make your chest swell with national pride?

Ha! I'd better not answer that. People in Denmark think we are as successful in music as the rest of Scandinavia...

Agnes Obel plays St Canice's Cathedral on Thursday, August 11, as part of Kilkenny Arts Festival, see www.kilkennyarts.ie

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