Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Girl in Red 2a London Chris Almeida 2018
Nine Songs
girl in red

Low-fi star girl in red talks Ty Bennett through her emotional ties between memories, moments and music.

17 April 2020, 07:00 | Words by Ty Bennett

It’s difficult to be a female artist in 2020 and not be obsessed with the ostentatious importance of music. But girl in red isn’t interested in the songs she should listen to. For Marie Ulven, being human overcomes everything.

As such, her Nine Songs choices are snapshots that encapsulate significant moments of Ulven and her life, rather than significant moments in her musical development. “Music is like one of our senses” she explains, “like when you smell something, and it reminds you of a memory. With a song, it really takes you back to a certain moment in time.”

girl in red defines her memories with music, not the other way around. What’s intriguing about the 20-year-old Norwegian is she doesn’t reference pivotal junctures in musical history here. The first music Ulven remembers hearing was the soundtrack to the film adaptation of The Perks of Being A Wallflower, only six years ago.

“In terms of the most pivotal song, I’d say that Bowie’s “Heroes” from Perks has changed me as a person. Although "Leave This Behind" by Lovelier Other is a five-minute masterpiece,” she tells me as we speak over the phone during self-isolation.

Ulven talks at length about the effect soundtracks have on her and how many songs are the ‘soundtrack’ to a certain time. The Autumn (or ‘the fall’ to Ulven) trains and melodies are themes that have an overring presence, evoking images of burnt orange landscapes whipping by. “I definitely have a lot of emotions connected to the fall. With all of my favourite songs, I found them during fall. I mean, I have a whole ass song about falling in love in October!”

But what really ties her choices together is love. Leaving it behind, chasing it, falling and slowly reclining in love. Ex-girlfriends are as prominent a theme here as they are in her queer icon hit “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend.” “These are all songs that I have looked to when I’ve been going through change in love and life. Maybe that’s why I’ve really needed them and why I found something in them. Solace, maybe.”

She is fierce and direct with her trajectory to fight for love. “I’m all about not giving a fuck about who you want to be with. That’s what I stand for and that’s what I’m fighting for.” Ulven is currently in a period of transition, as she moves on from her ex-girlfriend with what she deems her final song of that relationship, her latest single “midnight love.”

Musically, Ulven’s choices are as low-fi as her own music. The songs she enjoys most are characterised by an understated texture, backseat vocals and painful guitar solos, that build into a crescendo of instrumentals and sonic bridges. Where “Lilo” by The Japanese House opens with distorted strings and synth, Dayglow’s hopeful ballad “Can I Call You Tonight?” is overflowing with clipped guitar. “There is a lot of guitar here, but I don’t like listening to it generally. I listen to small, very honest songs. This list is maybe lacking a bit more of the fun stuff, like Harry Styles “Lights Up”, that was one of my essentials this fall.”

Just like her debut EP’s, girl in red’s choices are songs of love, lust, mistakes and confusion. It is an existential portrait of longing, and the perfect playground for an unapologetic artist to explore her own sound within a landscape she ideologically resonates with.

“Heroes” by David Bowie

“I found “Heroes” and “Asleep” in the film The Perks of Being a Wallflower in 2013. I transcribed the entire soundtrack and listened to the songs all the time. It sparked this whole interest in ‘80s music and aesthetics. I fell in love with that ‘old looking’ thing - whatever it is. Nostalgia, I guess?

“I think a song is adaptable to any feeling. When I look back on when I listened to “Heroes” a lot, I think the feeling was a combination of sadness and happiness, but when I found it, it felt very hopeful. I remember being in Canada listening to it all the time on a boat, with those old, huge, round Apple headsets that don’t fit properly and make your ears sore.

“All of these songs were very easy to find, it took me literally three minutes to do the whole list. These songs are so present all the time in my life. It’s not like I listened to them for a while and never came back to them, so I have to find them. They are always there for me, most especially “Heroes”.

“Asleep” by The Smiths

Perks changed me so much. When I finished it, I felt extremely different. You know sometimes when you watch a movie, you leave the theatre and you feel like you are still in there? I watched Perks, stepped out, went to the veranda at my house and I just felt so different. And weird. I had never felt like that in my life. Especially that ending scene when Charlie says, ‘You are infinite.’

“You know when your perception of reality changes because of a piece of art? In January I watched Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It was an incredibly quiet movie, with only two scenes of music. When I got home, I felt so quiet - like I was still in the movie. It really stuck with me. That had an impact on me in the same way as Perks.

“I don’t think I knew at the time that “Asleep” was about wanting to die. I definitely felt that it was sad because it put me in a sad mood, but I hadn’t experienced anything like those types of feelings yet - they were coming for me, honey! But because I had heard it in the context of the film - when Charlie is at his worst mentally - I was projecting my life onto similar scenarios. When I was sad, I would probably listen to “Asleep” - you know, because I was a teenager.”

“Lose Your Mind” by So Many Wizards

“I can’t remember how I found “Lose Your Mind”. It was probably Discover Weekly on Spotify, which I would listen to every Monday on the way to high school. Discover Weekly was so important to me.

“This was the song I listened to when I first fell in love with a girl - well, the first one which turned into a relationship, I’d had crushes before. I would listen to the song and imagine me and the girl running after one of those old-fashioned trains with a platform at the back. I would picture her being on the train platform and me doubting whether I should run after her or not.

“Perhaps it was a metaphor for being scared. I guess I wanted to let go of the relationship I had with a boyfriend, which made things more complicated. It was a song that motivated me to jump into something which I was afraid of.”

“Leave This Behind” by Lovelier Other

“This is the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard in my entire life. It’s from 1996 and I just can’t believe that! It sounds so current.

“I found it in 2017, when it had practically no streams. It was the first fall after my girlfriend and I broke up, so the first fall without her after two years, which feels like forever when you’re young. I still loved her, I think, and I was listening to this song about leaving her behind. It’s the soundtrack to that time. I love that song so fucking hard.

“There is a high-hat part in this song and the first time I heard it I thought ‘Why did they put this break with just the hi-hat and instrumentals?’ Then I listened to it more and realised it was elevating the whole song. I put a similar hi-hat in my song “Watch You Sleep”, inspired by the high hat there. So, it has directly influenced my music.

“If I could listen to one song forever, it would be “Leave this Behind” because it always surprises me. I want to listen to it forever.”

“Lilo” by The Japanese House

“Honestly, I didn’t know which song to pick from this record. Good At Falling was so important to me this time last year. The whole year, but especially that time, because it was my first ever US tour when I was touring with Conan Gray. I would listen to the whole album from song number one to song thirteen on repeat every single day, probably six times a day. It was the best record of last year.

"I love “Lilo” because I love the melody line, it’s so beautiful. I love this song because it’s a fracture of a bigger and more important thing - which was to not die on that tour. Lyrically, I like the line “I saw myself an intellectual / I thought that I was capable / Every move was just habitual...” It’s such a good lyric. I relate to that, because sometimes I know things but that doesn’t mean that’s how I feel. Sometimes I know that behaving in a specific way is sometimes silly, or my behaviour is challenging. Being human always overcomes knowledge.

"You Seemed So Happy" is another favourite from the record. There’s the slight change in texture in that song. A lot of her songs are very dreamy, but the texture in that song feels refreshing.

“I remember trying to tell a manager that I wanted to be in a studio session with her, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. As an artist I don’t necessarily feel affiliated with her because I see her as something very unique. I look up to her, I think she’s really cool, and out of all these artists I feel most kinship with The Japanese House, because I love all of her songs. Her newest song “Chewing Cotton Wool” is so beautiful, that was also the soundtrack to my fall.”

“California” by Fog Lake

“This was a song that I found in the fall of 2018. I don’t even know the lyrics, but the melody feels like riding on a train through a Norwegian country with lots of orange leaves.

“That was the first fall where I lived in Oslo after I moved out of my parents for the first time - which I hope I never have to do again! “Fog Lake” feels like fall to me, something new but also something sad, because I was leaving a lot of things behind. I’d also just met my ex again. There were a lot of weird, random events that had led up to that meeting, that made me feel like she and I were soulmates and that made me really sad.

“Instead of getting back together with her, I ended up writing “Midnight Love” about this ex. It’s about me being a dick and using her for instant pleasure. I didn’t realise I was doing it at the time, but my friend had this dude calling her every night to see if she was home. It’s not wrong, but it’s not very nice behaviour, because it sends mixed signals and I realised that was me.

“So I wrote a song about that feeling. She was worried it was about her acting that way and I was like, ‘I literally wrote that song from your perspective!’ She said I really hit the nail on the head. I apologised for that time and now I feel closure, like ‘Now it’s done.’ I don’t feel like my next fall song will be about her. I hope it will be connected to something else… but this definitely feels like fall for me.”

“Blushing” by Hater

“I found this song during spring last year. Like “Heroes”, “Blushing” is also a very hopeful song for me.

“I remember listening to it in the shower when there was this beautiful light in the bathroom, because there was finally sun. I actually shaved my legs today, for the first time in four years! That’s what quarantine is doing to me! My legs feel so soft, I feel like a woman and I know hairless legs don’t make you a woman, but that’s how I feel - ‘Oh, I’m a girl.’ I suppose there’s a weird link there with the stereotypically feminine part of ‘blushing’ and my showering.

“Again, I don’t know what the lyrics are, I don’t understand them at all. I was lying in bed with my ex trying to work out what the lyrics were about, so I think about her when I listen to this song. She’s been in my life for five years now, so every year something comes up. I need to move the fuck on!

“I love the melodies and the vibe of it, it’s so good. (Ulven sings the melody.) I haven’t listened to it for two months, but I feel like now it’s time to start showering with that song again. It’s such a vibey song.”

“Can I Call You Tonight?” by Dayglow

“Last year I was on tour and I was calling my ex all the time, every night - that’s where "midnight love" came from. Then I got home and I didn’t call her or hang out, it was a weird thing. I listened to this song and I thought I was falling in love with her again. So, emotionally I was really connecting to the line ‘Can I call you tonight?’ because that’s what I felt all the time, at the time.

“Although obsession defines this song and has been commented on as one of my traits, to me it isn’t obsession - it’s being direct with your feelings and knowing what you want. Knowing what you want isn’t being obsessed with someone, it’s just saying it out loud. It’s about being sure of something and knowing it inherently.

“I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend” is the example people often use to talk about my obsession, because it’s like ‘I don’t wanna be your friend / I wanna be your bitch’ but it’s actually just coming out and knowing what I want. And I’m going to say it! That’s not a problem for me. Although, even though that’s in my music, in real life, when things start get serious then I’m usually nervous and scared. I should get some girl in red vibes into my real life!

“Can I Call You Tonight?” probably feels most out of place on this list, because I am done with that behaviour. I don’t even know why I was like that, and I never listen to that song anymore. I don’t feel the need to listen to it like I do with the other ones.”

“I CHOOSE YOU” by Adam Melchor

“When I think about what I like about this song, I think about how the context I heard it in grabbed me so much.

“There was a girl I liked last year but then I went on tour, she got a girlfriend while I was away, and things got weird between us. She put this song in a playlist she made for me in 2018 and I guess I’ve been listening to it and trying to figure out where she’s at right now. Actually, at the beginning of this year I was obsessively listening to this song. This girl updated the playlist not too long ago and I was like ‘So why are you putting that song in there, honey?’

“There’s something romantic about listening to a song on someone’s playlist and thinking about why it’s there. It’s also such a gay thing to do! I guess the straights do it too. If you make a playlist for someone and you add a song like this, knowing the history that’s there? There must be a reason. I don’t know if it’s about choosing me though, obviously actually it’s not me, because I’m not with her. I don’t want it to be me either now, because the time has passed and I’m ready to go on Tinder and find some other hot girl.

“I don’t even know if I would listen to it if I didn’t know what it’s about it. It’s like when you see a movie scene with a song over it and it takes on a new meaning and feeling. I feel like my life is the movie which the song is soundtracking, which makes it really sad.”

"midnight love" is out now via Awal
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