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The Return of Annie: Richard X, the Karate Kid and Joey McIntyre

The Return of Annie: Richard X, the Karate Kid and Joey McIntyre

30 July 2013, 12:04

A year of renewal, reinvention and reconnection has come to characterise the world of music in 2013. Comebacks were once the antithesis of credibility and artistic development; an economic necessity for some, an indulgence for others. In pop music’s infancy, they were predicated on a sketchy, almost prelapsarian dynamic between bands and their public. At a time when legends were cast from mortal men and women, these figures were meant to shine brightly before falling in a blaze of glory, never to return and disturb the perfect story arc the’d planted in our consciousness.

Then shit got real. The web rapidly aided a dissolution of whatever barrier existed between the myth and reality of popstars as well as revealing the men behind the curtain, pulling the strings. We didn’t resist: we simply adjusted our fandom to a more meta state of mind. This year an overwhelming collective voice seemed to speak as one, accepting the comeback as simply another part of the story: solo careers, time out for family, side projects and band breakups are no longer a full stop but a seasonal cliffhanger, dragged out by the expectation and imagination. We filters rumours through facts, creating a patchwork of Chinese whispers to fill in the gaps.

Anne Lilia Berge Strand released her last record three years ago – but really she didn’t. The second Annie album Don’t Stop was ready as early as 2008 but fell foul to business decisions that pushed it late into the next year. The woman who forged a reputation on self-aware, forward-thinking electro pop – a blueprint that’s been followed by countless others since her 2004 debut Anniemal - then went to ground. Her myth crystallised as time passed and the Norwegian singer’s name became a benchmark we’d throw at other left-of-centre pop, forever yearning to hear what the Annie of 2013 – a year primed for her return – would sound like. The ever on-the-money Popjustice describe her as ”one of those popstars liked by critics and people who don’t like pop music, which generally means nobody buys her albums. This, of course, does not mean she’s not amazing, because as it happens she’s also liked by people who fucking love pop music.”

Annie wasn’t exactly resting; basing herself between Berlin and her hometown of Bergen she wrote with the Xenomania folk, co-penning ‘I Left My Heart In Tokyo’ by Mini Viva. This week’s A&R EP marked a conclusive return to music and distilled everything we expect from our pop into five fabulous tracks, with longtime collaborator Richard X back on production duties and Little Boots as co-writer. We wanted to know more so we called her up for a chat.

Hey Annie! Let’s talk about your EP. The first track is ‘Back Together’, did you write that with Little Boots?

Yeah I did! When Richard X first sent it over to me, I loved it and thought it was definitely something that I wanted to do so I was really pleased.

What was it like writing with Victoria?

It was great. I think she’s an amazing songwriter and I really like some of the stuff she’s done for herself, she’s a really inspiring artist so it was really good.

And then there’s track 3, called ‘Ralph Macchio’ inspired by the actor, why did you decide to choose him?

Well it was either Ralph Macchio [The Karate Kid] or Joey McIntyre because those were the two guys that I really had a crush on as a teenager. I thought it was a bit boring to write about Joe, as I think he’s maybe not that interesting as a character, but Ralph Macchio is a bit of a mystery, he disappeared for so long and everyone thought he was dead but then he came back somehow.

Was it the mystery that you found attractive?

I don’t know…but I thought he was really cute back then! It was hard writing about him, maybe I should have written about somebody else, but Ralph was the one when I was growing up.

Back to the EP: ‘Invisible’ is an acid-house, rave-banger. Is that representative of the more dancey vibe that you’re going for now?

Yeah definitely. I’ve been listening to a lot of house and rave lately and I told Richard that I wanted to do a track like that so he kept sending me these kind of beats and I really loved them. It’s definitely a bit of a darker side of Annie.

It seems like there’s a bit of resurgence in acid house right now. Do you think it’s to do with the economic and political situation or do you think it’s just time to look at something different?

I think it must be a bit of the political state at the moment. For me I found it really inspiring when I first heard it; I was too young to go to some rave parties but I still went there and in some ways it was a little bit scary but at the same time really good, so it inspired me in so many ways. But it could also be that music keeps changing as the whole world changes.

Have you always been into pop music? I read somewhere that you were really into rock when you were younger?

Yeah I’ve been into so many things but it’s almost a bit too much, I have a lot of records! I’ve always been collecting records too so it’s almost a bit of a mess, really.

What was the first record you ever bought?

Annie: I’m not sure what was the very first! One of the very first was the Pet Shop Boys and I still love them, I think their last record was amazing.

There are so many great pop moments on it.

Yes there are! It sounds like the really early stuff they did too, which I love. I also obviously bought Michael Jackson and Madonna as well. As a kid I was a big pop fan, but then I was listening to a lot of Ramones and a bit of Blondie too.

Do you listen to mainstream pop such as One Direction?

Some of it, I love: The Pet Shop Boys have done some really good stuff, I liked the last record. I like a band called Canyons, they’re really good. I listen to some but I buy more singles, I don’t listen to many albums really, and only some pop but it depends, some is good and some is boring.

Have you got a pop act that you hate?

I have some artists that I see and find annoying. I got a bit tired of Flo Rida, I find them a bit boring but I don’t hate it, it’s too boring to be hated in a way.


So coming back to the EP, it was recorded in London. What were you listening to when you put were recording? Was there a big British influence?

When we did ‘Invisible’ I was listening more to house but for ‘Ralph Macchio’ it was a lot of pop songs. I don’t remember exactly because we went through SO much music, that’s the great thing with Richard; he has really good taste in music…

I bet! What’s the best thing about working with Richard X?

I feel like we have a really similar understanding of music and that always helps. It’s also really inspiring to write with him, he has such a mad mind and way of thinking that working with someone like that is really great and very different to some of the other producers I’ve worked with.

It sounds quite chaotic and a lot of fun.

It can be! When I was in London I was only there for six days so we did the songs really fast, it’s sort of a combination of chaos and working hard.

Hang on a minute: you recorded the whole thing in six days? That’s amazing. I don’t think many people would be able to record such a good EP in six days!

Thank you! I guess we hadn’t worked for a while so we had to be fast and creative; it was creative explosion.

And you worked for Xenomania too: what’s it like working in one of those hit-factory studio situations?

I think it’s good but for me, I really needed to work with other people as well because it’s a very different way of working than with Richard, or Paul Epworth. I mean Brian Higgins is a great producer and when it comes to music he knows what he wants and what he doesn’t want, but it’s also really intense when you’re there and it’s good to get out of there but it’s also good to come back . I think I learned a lot about songwriting and music. It’s definitely inspiring to work with different people, but I’m not the type of person who will work with just one producer for a long period of time I sort of always need to jump a bit here and there.

I read somewhere that you said something about the increasing speed of releases now as compared to ten years ago. Was it daunting to come back into that scenario?

No I don’t think so. In a way it really suits me to work this way. I’ve been on some major labels and it can be okay but it’s really annoying when there are so many people who have ideas about how things should be and then they keep on changing their minds all the time, it’s such a long process. Working with Richard it’s always just me and him alone and I prefer that. It’s much more creative and at the same we could just put out the record two weeks after it was mastered. You can do things the way you want!

So you like being the boss?

Yeah exactly!

I read as well that you’ve been travelling a lot over the last few years, how much of an influence does that have on your music and where have you been?

I live in Berlin at the moment and been here five months but at the same time in Norway and travelled a bit to Finland and all over Europe. I like to travel, it’s inspiring and when I start to write music I always start with the melody and that can happen wherever so it’s quite easy to just start writing a song. I like to be on the move, it’s good for the mind. I’m a bit of a gypsy.

Would you say you prefer writing music or performing?

I like performing but I definitely prefer writing, it’s something that I can do wherever I go and whenever I want. I get so many ideas all the time and it never stops. That’s probably what I like the most but I love setting up a live set, it’s very inspiring and something that I want to do more of – I’d love to play in London.

There’s a lot of people in the UK that would like to see you live – will there be a tour?

Yes, I will be putting together a tour.

Excellent news! Just going back to songwriting there’s always a really strong narrative with your songs, there’s always a really strong story. How important is that to you in your work?

Definitely very important. If you don’t have anything to say it you shouldn’t say it. It’s very important to be telling either your own story or someone else’s story. Or if it’s just something you feel you need to say, it’s important to have something there. It’s very important for me as an artist, the most important.

Finally, there are two more EPs coming very soon, will they have the same kind of vibe?

They’re going to be a bit different. I guess that’s why I’m actually doing it this way; I prefer it to doing albums, because I want them to fit together somehow.

When I did these songs with Richard there were five songs that really suited together and I’ve done some others that I thought were different that are going to be out later this year.

The A&R EP comes out on 5 August.

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