Classical ballet

Oh Land is the Danish pop star fusing classical ballet with electro-pop

Photo by Helena Christensen.

Nanna Fabricius – or Oh Land, as her fans have known her – first burst onto the music scene as an up-and-coming pop singer from a small town outside of Copenhagen with her 2010 self-titled album.. A lot has changed since then, but Fabricius’ unwavering commitment to grinding his creative gears hasn’t changed. After five years of absence from the front lines of pop music, the singer releases her fifth album, Family tree-his most personal, and grounded, to date. Fabricius has transformed years of emotional life changes – a divorce, a baby and a return to his native land – into music rooted in growth, maturity and compassion. But although she took a leave, the singer-songwriter never really left. During his break, Oh Land tested his judging skills in the Danish version of The X factor, and casually composed scores for Netflix The rain and the ballets of Tivoli askepot (Cinderella), which she wrote with Queen Margrethe II of Denmark. The latter comes without surprise; Oh Land’s mother is a classically trained opera singer. His latest project is a music video directed by a Danish model, photographer and longtime friend. Helena Christensen. During a long phone conversation, Fabricius talked about pain, recording choir voices for St. Vincent, and his dream of writing alternative music for children.


ERNEST MACIAS: Family tree seems to be a bit more personal. I feel more mature. Can you tell me about the process of making this album? I know you took time to release music.

OH LAND: I’ve taken some time to release solo albums, but I’ve done a lot of work on the sheet music in the meantime. I have made ballet and theater music. I think, for me, I went through so many changes that it took me a few years before I could do another solo album. Family tree talks about me and things that happened in my family, which was a lot. Over the past few years, I became a mother, got divorced, my dad had a heart attack, and I fell in love all over again. There are many uprooted roots and new branches being built. So all of that became my family tree.

MACIAS: That’s a lot to go through, for anyone. But it’s also a very nice way of looking at things.

OH LAND: The years following my last album, sick of the earth, I was on tour, then I got pregnant and gave birth to my child. So all of this has really happened in the last three years. I also moved from New York to Denmark. Really major changes.

MACIAS: Did you leave and start writing for a while, or did you just find inspiration in all this chaos?

OH LAND: When I was writing all the songs on this album, that was literally when I absolutely needed to write a song, because that was the only way to deal with these things. I haven’t talked about it with my friends or family. The only place I could really understand all of this was at the piano. It sounds like such a cheesy thing, but the piano still listens and doesn’t ask questions. You can say whatever you want to say.

MACIAS: What did you learn during the process of creating this new album?

OH LAND: I feel like the hardest thing about going through a lot of dramatic changes is your family and friends wanting to understand. I discovered that it is not always necessary to understand. Sometimes you just need to accept that you don’t need to understand, you just need to let all those questions float through your system and you don’t need to answer them. It’s just raw emotion.

MACIAS: There’s your song, “Make My Trouble Beautiful.” The feelings and feelings behind it are palpable.

OH LAND: Every night before a new song was released, I was sweating and freaking out, I didn’t even want to go online. But once it’s out, it’s such a relief because when there’s a lot of energy behind something, that’s when you have the chance to connect with other people. When you’re in pain, there’s nothing beautiful about it. This part comes later.

MACIAS: Do you have to get into a different creative headspace to be able to do other things, like compose ballet music?

OH LAND: I have to use my brain a lot, not just my emotions. I feel like when I make my own music, I don’t even think. It’s straight out of the emotion I feel. When I make ballet music, I have to think in a completely different way. There’s so much technical stuff. I have to keep track of the overall narrative in a completely different way than I do when I write songs. It’s fun because of the challenge. It frees me from my own music. As Oh Land, I’m limited to a certain aesthetic. When I make scores and orders, I have the freedom to do what corresponds to this project. It allows me to explore a lot of musical genres that I like, but it doesn’t necessarily correspond to my own universe.

MACIAS: What is your relationship with Saint Vincent?

OH LAND: I actually sang backing vocals on a record she produced. It was really intimidating, actually, to sing while she was in the studio. I hadn’t expected this. I just came to say hello to [producer] Thomas [Bartlett], and she was working on a project. And then Tom said, “Why don’t you sing backing vocals.” And I did. I’m not even sure it’s going to get used to, but just having her there to produce it was a pretty cool experience. It’s New York for me. Only in New York does this happen.

MACIAS: How long did you live in New York, before returning to Denmark?

OH LAND: 7 years, and that was actually a big step forward. My son was 5 months old when I moved out, and I was just sick of the medicare bureaucracy and stuff in America. But then I arrived in Denmark and literally I just got a phone call from the health insurance saying, “Oh hello, welcome to Denmark, here’s your card. Someone will come say hello to your baby in a few days. But I miss New York a lot.

MACIAS: It’s amazing. Now tell me the story behind your label name, Tusk or Tooth.

OH LAND: That’s pretty ridiculous. It refers to narwhals. You know, the narwhal’s tooth. Nobody really knows if it’s a tusk or a dent.

MACIAS: What is one thing that hasn’t changed throughout your career?

OH LAND: Where does my inspiration come from? I always write the best when I go through major changes. And when I’m unable to communicate with words, I’m still very drawn to melodies and making music.

MACIAS: Now that you have a child, would you consider making children’s music?

OH LAND: That’s a really good question because it’s definitely a natural instinct when you have a kid that you want to do things for your kid. It’s definitely something that could be really fun. There’s this really cool show called Puffin Island and it has a symphony orchestra score. I would like to make alternative music for children. Not just like normal Baby shark dance.