From Jazz to The Spice Girls to Beats 1 - A Conversation with Dagny
Dagny is a name you’ve likely never heard before, but should get used to hearing. The 27 year-old pop phenom out of Tromsø, Norway broke onto the international music scene when in 2015 her song “Backbeat” was premiered on Beats 1 radio by Zane Lowe. Since then she has released an electric debut EP “Ultraviolet”, and followed it up with an absolute smash “Wearing Nothing”, which will make even the biggest wallflower move out to the dance floor and get loose. Now on her first run of U.S. shows opening for dream pop band, LANY, we had the opportunity to sit down with the future superstar at her Fort Lauderdale show and chat about her upbringing, moving fast even when there’s no plan, and how being able to embrace your own personal taste can push you right into exactly the creative space you need to be.
Pleasure to finally be meeting with you! Welcome to Florida
Right back at you! And thank you, it feels like I’m on a tropical holiday or something.
So let me get a lightning round one-minute introduction from you and then we’ll really get into this.
Awesome I love it! Well I’m Dagny, I’m from Northern Norway and I do band-driven energetic pop music! I’ve never been touring in the U.S. before, but my band and I have done tours a few runs in Scandinavia particularly, and also in England because I lived in London for about 6 years. So this is our first time touring in the states and on a bus. It’s been exciting and up until now I’ve only had 7 songs out, but we’re about to start another round of releases in October!
Wow, what a pleasant surprise! Let me tell you, I know a lot of people are going to be very excited to hear that news. And that crowd grows every night now with the tour so that’s fantastic! Now I know you’re from Norway and I’ve also noticed some other big pop forces coming out of Norway including Kygo and Sigrid… So what’s the scene look like over there right now?
It’s very good! I think at this point now it’s changed little bit, it used to be incredibly electronic and dark… quite melancholia. And now it’s become more upbeat and poppy. There’s a lot of artists with attitude and I like it.
So I’ve read that your parents are both jazz artists… First off I wanna admit that I’m a little jealous because your whole childhood probably had the coolest soundtrack EVER, but tell me a little bit about growing up in that environment and how it influenced you and your taste growing up?
Well I think that when I hear about everyone my age and how they grew up and the music they grew up around, in my house we didn’t have any of that. I knew like none of the classic rock or pop songs from the 70’s and 80’s, it was only jazz… and a lot of bossa nova too. Which is really exciting for me now because it’s opened up a whole world of music for me that I probably would have never discovered, so looking back it was really interesting.
At the time I bet it was probably not as fun growing up to a different beat as everyone else but it’s amazing to see how it pays off in your musicianship. Did your parents affect the way you viewed the industry from a young age?
I think that growing up with musician parents I always knew that you really had to work and be passionate about it. I grew up watching them do tours on their own, record albums, put together bands, all these things, and it wasn’t always glamorous. It made me want to do music in a real organic way because that’s what I’d seen them do. Even though it wasn’t easy all the time it was always a really nice vibe in the house. Their was always musicians coming and going, sleeping on the couch, rehearsals in the living room… I love that there will always be good memories to look back at.
I could only imagine how paramount that must’ve been for you, especially still in the early stages of your career, understanding that overnight success isn’t promised and a lot of real work is needed.
Exactly! There’s a lot of real work that goes into it that I don’t think people are necessarily aware of. And maybe they don’t have to be because in a way a big part of the whole pop thing is to take care of this big illusion about what it is to be a pop star. Though now because of social media it actually seems like it’s becoming less of that. Fans like you. They like you for what you create and the dream that comes from following someone. But I think for me it was very nice to have already known and experienced what it was like to be a musician in order to be prepared for this kind of life.
You make such a good point. “The dream that comes from following someone”. So you’re relocated to London now correct?
Yes, in 2011.
How did that change things for you?
Oh my god there was so much music! Suddenly I could go to gigs I would’ve never dreamed of. For like the first 2 years of living there all we did was go to shows and it was so great. It’s an incredible scene, everyone plays a lot everywhere and we just played so many shows in the first years of being there. London is an exciting city and I love it.
When I hear your music it reminds me of a big city. Do you think moving to London gave you a new sonic inspiration?
I love to hear that, thank you! I think the energy in the music has really changed. A LOT. When I moved from Tromsø I used to sing acoustic/singer-songwriter music, and when I came to London I realized “Hey, no, this isn’t me at all”. I want to be on a stage where I can jump around and move and have a fun time, and because of that the music started sounding how I felt. Moving to the city really changed a lot for me.
Well doing things your way is really doing you well I’d say! And I think it’s interesting you mention that you started out doing singer/songwriter music because I know you’ve done acoustic versions for your two singles so far “Backbeat” and “Wearing Nothing” that don’t sound just like your typical “Singer and a guitar/piano” acoustic version. They actually have quite a bit of mojo to them and it looks like quite a lot of folks love them..
Yea, I love acoustic music. Still to this day when I go to shows I go see a lot of singer-songwriter shows. And I love hearing that feedback that you like it because for me sometimes I hear other acoustic versions and they’re very simple and I’m like, “shit, did we overdo it?”
But I love those versions and I feel like with the acoustic music you can really play on that hopeful emotion more than on the originals. Sometimes the pop production that we do is so much about energy and the punch, but with the acoustic versions you can be more emotional in a way. So I think it’s good that we get to do both. Acoustic music is still so close to my heart in a way but I can’t imagine myself being on a stage with just an acoustic guitar singing very sad songs because it’s just not me.
No doubt. And now that we know how important singer/songwriter music is to you, I wanna go back to some of the other influences you said. I know you mentioned Ryan Adams, No Doubt, and I think I’ve seen an interview where you even mention the Spice Girls..?
I definitely was digging the fuckin’ Spice Girls oh my gosh.
So tell me a little more about some of those artists you chose to grow up on?
It was a LOT of Spice Girls. And the Backstreet Boys too, I’m surprised not more people from the 90’s are coming out like “I LOVE THE SPICE GIRLS”. Cause they were everything to us, we were doing all the dance moves, we had all the stickers, all the tee shirts, all the albums, we knew all the songs. Like I don’t know if they did that over here but growing up each little girl group would have their own characters so I was Mel B, and Juna (Dagny’s Tour Manager) was Emma. I think that was the biggest obsession musically I’ve ever had if I’m going to be honest. We were chatting about this on the bus the other day with the band. Scott (Dagny’s Guitarist) was saying “yea I went to see U2 a couple years ago and I was fangirling it was mental, have you ever done that?” And I said “you know what, after Spice Girls I don’t think I’ve ever had that ‘fangirl’ reaction to anything”. I love music, I love getting lost in music. If I have a favorite song I can play it 100 times on repeat, but that obsession with a band or an artist, I don’t get that. Except from The Spice Girls. So that was the biggest inspiration I’d say, I’m a sucker for good pop music and good pop songs as you can probably tell from my music. It’s very much pop music. And I think that through my teenage years I would pretend that I didn’t like pop music like “pop music is so stupid I hate that shit.” But I came back in my 20’s and honestly I’m a sucker for pop music and that’s just how it is.
Your self-proclaimed Spice Girls obsession is now the front-runner for favorite thing I’m taking from this interview.
Check out Zachary Lai's photo coverage of the concert.
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I think there can be a kind of stigma where people, especially in their music taste, want to look cooler and want to only like the things that are seen as “deep” or more “hip” or whatever it may be. So to hear you be so aware of what you loved and that you didn’t attempt to hide your preferences, though people may have had other opinions, is quite admirable.
I honestly think that the best thing you can do as an artist is to be super honest about what you truly, really like. That’s really the only way to do it. Art is so individual, the only way you can really do it is to make something you want to listen to because then the chances that someone else wants to listen to it too is much bigger than if you’re trying to make something that you don’t even like but you think that’s what everyone else wants to hear. You just can’t do that. I guess for me when I truly embraced my true love for pop music everything really fell into place a little bit more.
Those are such great thoughts, you couldn’t have hit it more on the head with embracing what you love and not attempting to conform to what you’d think others would want. The best part too is that these most profound thoughts all stemmed from a question about the Spice Girls. So now to talk about the music for a bit, “Backbeat” was your breakout single and it had a crazy start with Zane Lowe picking it up, tell me a little about that.
Oh it was very random. We had just decided that we were going to go and release our own stuff and not think too much about labels or plans or anything. So then we get a call on a Friday night saying like “Hey this is Apple, we want to premiere your song on Beats 1 on Wednesday”. The song wasn’t even mastered, it wasn’t mixed yet properly but we thought we just have to do this. In just a few days we got everything put together— and Wednesday came and we got a group of friends together and they played the song and everyone was so excited and cheering and drinking. Then he just went straight from that song into the next. And it was this weird moment after he played the song where everyone just looked at each other and we were like, “what happens now?”… so we just went back to rehearsal and there was no plan. And I remember just sitting on the train on the way back home just eating a cheese sandwich and there was literally no plan. But then the next morning out of nowhere messages literally start pouring in. People from record labels starting to call trying to figure out who was this girl and in just a few days somebody had us flown out to Los Angeles to meet for 48 hours. It was insane but it was so good because literally we had nothing planned. Zane just wanted to play the song and we were like “fuck it, do it” and that was it. And yeah it was really weird watching the power of the internet because that song just took on it’s own life and did it’s thing and it was out of our control. And I think that is what good music does. You can’t plan everything. If music is good, that’s all that matters and people will want to listen to it.
Exactly. And also when Zane Lowe says “go” I think that just means it’s time to go.
Oh my god, he’s one of the few people I’d meet that’d make me super starstruck. I met him once and I was blushing my way through the whole thing.
I won’t lie I’m more jealous about the fact that you met him more than I’d like to admit. On the timeline of “Backbeat”, I know a few months ago it popped up on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, there was nothing like that in the plan either was there?
Nope, just a really good example of the song just doing it’s thing I guess. And it’s opened so many doors obviously and I feel like thanks to that everything happened. Now we’ve followed it up with an EP, and “Wearing Nothing”, and basically just like the building blocks to a catalogue.
Well let’s cheers to Backbeat because I think I’m just as happy about it as you are. Now following up with the EP, its a very fluid release and really plays off the emotion and sonic feeling of “Backbeat”. Were all the songs created like that around the same time or?
Actually no, so they came around six months later when I was in L.A. for the first time. And what was so fun for me about that EP was that I spent about five weeks in L.A. just writing and it was the most thrilling, exciting, energizing, period.. It was just so much fun. We were writing every day and going out every evening, literally just living life. We were just having a fun time and it was one of those moments where I just didn’t want to go to bed ever because it was just great. We met so many new, talented, and inspiring people and so when you listen to the EP, songs like “Too Young” and “Fight Sleep” and these songs, they are all about those five weeks. So the EP really captured this moment in time in a way, the things I was feeling, the things I was reflecting over, really just this emotion of not wanting to ever go to sleep. I mean “Fight Sleep” is all about that. So I was really happy with how the EP came out and again, it wasn’t too planned, more just going with what I felt was right, and what was good and whoever was the most inspiring to work with.
Yet again I’ll say I’m really glad you went with your gut, because the EP is an absolute smash. I love hearing you talk about how real the emotions were in the writing of it too because I’m a big fan of “Fight Sleep”, and when it comes to that track I know I hear some of that 90’s rock/No Doubt vibe. Can you point to any other specific influences throughout the EP?
That’s a tough one, I’ll have to think about that for a second… We had a lot of inspiration from Cardigans. we had playlists going that were full-on band-driven pop music. No Doubt, The Cranberries, proper 90’s female-fronted bands. Really “Fool’s Gold” was the only song with a slightly different vibe, and that was with Tommy English who worked with BØRNS! And I was just discovering BØRNS over those few weeks and he was my new musical muse,I just loved him and obviously he sang on the song which was just amazing. I was jumping around for joy when that happened. But yeah, they’re all a bit different in their own way but still were all trying to capture that band-driven vibe. That was the biggest inspiration. “Wearing Nothing” was a bit more electronic.
I noticed that! But to my surprise when I watched a video of you performing it live and then I listened to it again I noticed there really aren’t to many loops or samples..
No! And so that was because it was written with someone who comes from an incredibly electronic background and I’m coming from a very organic place, so we were trying to meet in the middle I guess. He was the first guy that I worked with that I was really trying to…
Toe the line in a way?
Yeah! Kind of put his stuff into it. While still being very aware that my music is very band-driven. We met in the middle and kept some live bass and drums on it still to capture that vibe.
For sure. Even hearing the hook in the chorus with that little guitar line, I really admire you staying true to your ways and I think that’s something people are really noticing about you is your integrity with your sound. It’s very special thing you’re doing and we’re very far from seeing the end of it.
Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.