Always an after
Some persons you only need to look in the eyes once to see their personality shine through. Such a person is Danish singer and songwriter Nanna Øland Fabricius, also known as Oh Land. Her eyes radiate a wonderful combination of sincerity, straightforwardness, and curiosity as we meet her in her home in Gentofte – to talk about her upcoming album as well as her move away from ballet and into music, because there is always an after.
Your first album Fauna was released in 2008, and Audition Day was your first single. Did this also hold a reference to your ballet career? As a 10-year-old you entered the Royal Ballet School but were forced to quit at 18 because of a back injury.
“Yes, indeed. Audition Day is all about the ballet school´s competitive environment where you are constantly judged. A sentence from the single goes like this: “We can´t laugh no more when the smiley face boss is walking in the corridor.” I am talking about a specific teacher. She always said: “Put ooon a smiley face,” says Nanna Øland Fabricius, while she draws up her point fingers from the corners of the mouth, to illustrate a happy clown face. “It was also her favourite sentence when your feet were bleeding and you barely couldn´t make it. The show must go on was always top of mind. It was a tough environment, and we were only kids. I was raised with a number on my back, and every year there were two options: To stay or to be kicked out.”
Oh Land in Rory Dress
How has this background affected you?
“I think it is something I am still paying for. I just gave two concerts with a hardcore pneumonia, and I didn´t even consider cancelling. And off course I should not. Ballet has taught me to perform on a completely different level.”
Do you think music was part of your healing process?
“Fauna is about transformation and how to succeed with this – both in relation to the pains, I went through because of my back injury and because of the identity crisis I went through. Before this I exactly knew what I wanted and suddenly there was no plan at all. It is not easy to cheat your brain to focus on something else when you are determined about something. It took me a long time to heal that wound, and my first album was part of that cure.”
What happened when you got the message?
“It was a long process and after two years of struggling a doctor told me that I would not be able to dance professionally again. I think I needed to hear this message, and at the same time it was the worst message I could get. I was both relieved and devastated. Because it was a tough fight, and it was not worthy at all. In this process I felt I lost my dignity for a while.”
Nanna anno 1996
“When dancing I was more interested in moving ugly. This was also why I slowly got more interested in modern dance. I never had a dream of being the swanprincess. When I look back, I can see that I was more interested in creating the fairy tales myself.”
You have compared ballet and music because both are channels to express oneself. When did you realize that music was your new channel?
“In fact, my surroundings discovered this before I did. I have been writing music since I was 7-8 years old, so most of my life I have expressed myself through music. To me dance was a way to express myself rather than a need to move beautifully. When I was told that I would never be able to dance professionally again, I started to write music and recording it myself – because at that time I didn´t have any connections within the music industry. I didn´t have a band and I had never held a microphone. Back then I had a boyfriend who was an artist, and I played a few songs for him. Simultaneously, I had forgotten a cd in my mother´s car, and within a day they both came back to me with the words: “You have to take this seriously.” It was two people whom I deeply respected. And to be honest, it came as a surprise to me – because I grew up in a musical environment and had always felt that if I was not able to play a violin at the age of five it was too late. As a child I could play the flute and the piano, but it was nothing compared to what the rest of my family was capable at.”
One can easily sense that you are full of dreams and colours, always looking for new adventures. Where does it derive from?
“I have always had a need to delve into my imagination. Since I was a little girl, I have been inventing my own languages and worlds – and luckily, I had some friends with the same needs. In my childhood I was often on my own. Both my parents were musicians and worked a lot, and my siblings were 11 and 13 years older than me. At the same time, it gave me a certain freedom as I was not always entertained by others but had the freedom to explore and come up with my own ideas. I want my children to have the same freedom. I am very aware not to entertain them all the time, they should have space for their own imagination.”
Was music also a showdown with the beauty of ballet?
“Perhaps there was an element of showdown. When dancing I was more interested in moving ugly. This was also why I slowly got more interested in modern dance. I never had a dream of being the swan princess. When I look back, I can see that I was more interested in creating the fairy tales myself.”
Was this approach ever a problem in relation to ballet?
“Yes, it was a problem. I received a lot of scolding because I was distracted and was living in my own reality. For example, I got several reprimands for stealing the other´s attention. I made up a world that I named the cock and avocet world. My friend was the avocet, and I was the cock and I remember how we practiced the avocet lake – instead of the swan lake – in the dressing room during our lunch break. The whole team took part, and I received so much scolding for facilitating this because we were supposed to eat our lunch. I still remember how unfair I felt it was. It was not because I was unhappy at ballet school – I just didn´t fit into the norms that prevailed at the time.”
Your parents are both musicians so perhaps a musical career was always written in the stars. How has this background shaped you?
“There has always been a great room for diversity in my family. And to such an extent that things that were seen as abnormal were seen as normal in my family. I didn´t feel different until I got out into the real world and realized that, well – maybe we are not that normal. For a period, I was quite fascinated by everything that seemed normal and strict because my home was so chaotic and creative. I have always looked for the contrasts.”
Adi in London Coat / Oh Land in Dello Cardigan and Skall Classic scarf
Your mother is an opera singer, and your father is a composer – and you have worked closely with them on several of your albums. What role do they play in your career?
“Previously my mother was the critical one while my father has always been my biggest supporter. Always completely uncritical and it has been a good thing. One may think that this unconditional support could have had a bad impact on me. But in fact, it has made me more critical. Do you know what I mean?” she says laughing.
You work closely with your husband Adi – what do you have in common when it comes to music?
“I fell in love with him through music. I immediately felt that we could feel and follow each other through music. We were in tune from the very beginning, had the same thoughts at the same time. I am not always that good with words – they can be so concrete. Through music I felt that I could communicate and understand him on a level which meant that we quickly opened up to each other.”
“Through music I felt that I could communicate and understand him on a level which meant that we quickly opened up to each other.”
Do you involve your children in your music?
“Because it is such a natural way for us to communicate, it also feels natural to involve our children and to play, sing and dance with them. But it is only recently that my son at seven knows that I am also a public person. Lately they have been involved in my concerts, and they both feel so comfortable when entering the scene. I think this is such a great experience to bring with them – because it can benefit in so many ways later on.”
You once said that sounds come to you and afterwards turn into music – how?
“I hear rhythms everywhere and immediately start to look for sound patterns. It can be so annoying because sometimes I cannot sleep at night. If the water tap is dripping it has a rhythm. Dum da dit dit dum. And then I start to count. Or if I hear a bird singing, I start to count the seconds between each sound. It makes it easy for me to create music, but it also means that I can never relax. Perhaps I have a bit of OCD here.”
“I hear rhythms everywhere and immediately start to look for sound patterns. It can be so annoying because sometimes I cannot sleep at night. If the water tapis dripping it has a rhythm. Dum da dit dit dum. And then I start to count. Or if I hear a bird singing, I start to count theseconds between each sound. It makes it easy for me to create music, but italso means that I can never relax. Perhaps I have a bit of OCD here.”
Oh Land in Skall Denim Wide Leg and Edie Cardigan
In April your single Bleeed was released, and in September your new album will be out. What is the focus?
“On this album the song writing has been very important to me and with a special focus on the storytelling. And it has been important to make the productions easy and smooth – to put even more focus on the words. Some of the songs are rooted in the frustrations I have in my own everyday life. I am trying to question the things that does not make sense to me, also in relation to society. At the same time there is a focus on the beat. I wanted the feet to understand the message before the head. I think that music and words are best perceived through the body.”
To summarize, to move from ballet to music – what is your biggest learning?
“I have learned that there is always an after. Every time I think that this is the end, and life cannot go on, it somehow does. It has given me a greater responsiveness and humbleness towards the future. Because I know that I don´t know anything about what is going to happen.”
Oh Land in Gaby Coat and Claudia Pants
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