In 2004, Annie—Bergen, Norway’s sunniest export—scored both club hits and indie cred with her debut album Anniemal. Her sophomore LP Don’t Stop was initially announced in early 2008, but got tangled up, as she explains it, in a nasty case of record label drama. “I kept on delivering things but it was never enough,” says the singer.
Fast forward a year-and-a-half later, and Don’t Stop has finally arrived on these shores, thanks to Oslo-based label Smalltown Supersound. Idolator met up with 31-year-old Annie (real name: Anne Lilia Berge Strand) in Los Angeles on the eve of her album’s release to discuss her upcoming American DJ gigs and how she eventually got the spectacularly upbeat Don’t Stop into her fans’ hands.
RD: This week marks the U.S. release of your second album Don’t Stop, yet it was originally supposed to come out back in 2008. Why’d it end up taking a year-and-a-half?
A: Well, first of all, I signed with the boss of Island Records [UK]. He was really enthusiastic and really into the project. Then it sort of went, I guess, three or four months, and he stopped working for Island and started working for EMI UK. Then there was another guy on the project. He didn’t get it at all. He was just being really difficult. He sort of wanted me to do new tracks all the time, and I went to the studio, did new tracks—and I love to do music, so that was fine. But at the same time, it was like, here’s one song, and he was like, “No. I want another one that’s a little bit more like Justice.” I kept on delivering things but it was never enough.
RD: What eventually happened?
A: They kept delaying the release of the album. It was supposed to be out around the 14th of October last year, or something. Then three days before, I got a message saying it’s going to be delayed until January. And then a couple days before that, no, it’s going to be delayed. You get so frustrated. In the end I had a meeting with them and they were like, “We don’t know really what to do with it.” So, basically I left the label, but I managed to get all the rights back. I was very lucky and I even got some money. I was very happy, in that sense. But of course it was annoying to have lost one-and-a-half years, basically.
RD: That was around the time you released “Anthonio” as a European single. Was that originally going to be on Don’t Stop?
A: No, it wasn’t, really. It was actually a song I just recorded. I played it out to a lot of people and everybody really likes it. I like to have some releases that are just special for fans. It’s sometimes good to keep the album a little bit special.
[Note: The physical CD of Don’t Stop is packaged with a five-song EP, All Night.]
RD: Between the album and the All Night EP, there are six songs you recorded with British producers Xenomania. How did that come about?
A: The reason that I met up with them was through Saint Etienne, because I started doing some songs with them. Bob Stanley, he was suggesting maybe Brian Higgins could work on some of the songs.
RD: And of course, Saint Etienne have worked with Brian a lot over the years.
A: Yeah, they did. I didn’t really know much about Brian, so I remember I first met him and I was a little bit hungover. I only slept for two hours and felt terrible! He was like, “Right. Okay. We’re gonna start working now.” And I was like, shit—this is terrible. But, to me it’s been the greatest experience, because most of the producers are much more into production and all the sounds. And of course that’s brilliant. But Brian is just about songs, basically. He really challenged me on my own songwriting. I just felt I experienced a lot. The first thing he said when we did the contract was, “We have to write a lot of songs, and it’s going to take a really long time.” So I ended up writing 300 to 400 songs. I have loads of songs lying around there.
RD: Did you say 400 songs?
A: Yeah! [Laughs] In a way, he’s a maniac. But he’s wonderful. He’s one of the most hard-working persons I think I ever met in my life, but really such a lover of great pop music.
RD: Given that Brian Higgins is such a perfectionist, did you butt heads with him at all?
A: To be honest, no. I think he’s used to working with a lot of artists who don’t write their own music, who don’t take part in the production. I remember when we recorded “Bad Times,” I immediately had some ideas for some synth lines. He was like, “I’m amazed! I’ve got so much more respect for you.” For me, it was very natural to take part in the production. I don’t think he was that used to working with somebody who was that involved in the process of doing the actual music.
RD: At one point it was said that Girls Aloud were doing the backing vocals on “My Love Is Better.” But they’re not on the version that ended up on the album.
A: No, they’re not. They used to [be on there], but what happened was the record label got so excited because Girls Aloud wanted to do it. I think [the label] called up their management—”Oh! We have to have a music video with Girls Aloud!” Of course, then the management of Girls Aloud panicked. They were like, “No! Their record is gonna come out at the same time as Annie’s, and it’s just gonna be confusing.” Blah, blah, blah. It was a shame, and Brian was annoyed because he thought we should just record it and not talk too much about it.
RD: Well, we’ll just have to wait for the Annie box set to hear it, then! You also co-wrote British duo Mini Viva’s single “Left My Heart In Tokyo,” and I read on your MySpace that you’re writing more songs with Xenomania. Will you be contributing any more to their upcoming album?
A: Not for Mini Viva. I can’t tell you who right now.
RD: Shrouded in secrecy! Do you ever see yourself transitioning into writing songs for other artists full time?
A: I don’t think I could only do just that. I think the reason is that I love to DJ and make music and write music. I sort of need to do a lot of things to be happy. When it comes to my own music, I take it so seriously. It’s almost quite difficult for me to be in the studio, because I’m never happy. It’s not like I’m not enjoying it—I just take it so seriously. So when I’m DJ-ing, I’m much more relaxed and I’m basically having fun. I would never be that super DJ who’s like, oh, this mix has to be perfect! I just like to do several different things.
RD: How did you initially get into being a DJ?
A: I started in Bergen. There was a small place there called Café Opera. The owner there just asked me one day, “Well, you have a good record collection. Maybe you should try to spin some records.” One of my favorite DJs, Bjørn Torske, was playing the same evening as me, and I was just so nervous because he’s brilliant. But it was really, really fun! There were records everywhere. Everybody loved it and a month after that I started this club evening called Pop Till You Drop.
RD: You’re DJ-ing tonight here in Los Angeles at Cinespace and then on Saturday at the Tribeca Grand in New York. What can club-goers expect for an Annie set?
A: Well, I’m gonna play some of my own stuff, as well [as other music]. And I have a couple remixes that haven’t been released yet that I’m gonna play. Besides that, I think it’s gonna be quite a fun set.
RD: Speaking of which, have you done any record shopping here in L.A.?
A: Not yet, but I hear there’s this great store called Amoeba. We were at the one in San Francisco.
RD: Can we expect you back in the States at some point to tour for Don’t Stop?
A: Yeah! Next year there’s gonna be a tour. I’m not sure when I’m gonna do the U.S., but maybe March or April.
RD: You moved to Germany recently. What prompted you to relocate from Bergen to Berlin?
A: I really like it there. Also, I was kicked out of the apartment in Bergen I was living in. They were making it into a hotel—it was quite absurd! I got a letter in the box saying, “You have to be out in a month because it’s basically going to be a hotel in half a year.” And Bergen is so expensive it’s ridiculous. I got the offer for an apartment in Berlin and I thought, why not?
RD: It sounds so simple. Maybe they’ll turn my place into a hotel, too! What else are you doing the few days you’re in L.A.?
A: Interviews, buying records. I have to buy some sunglasses. It’s great [here]! Back in Berlin it’s like five degrees.
RD: So is it true you have a cat named Joey, and that you named her after both Joey Ramone and Joey McIntyre?
A: I did! I always had quite vivid musical tastes. So I always listened to a lot of pop music, and New Kids On The Block and Ramones. I found this cat at at my school. She’s in good shape. She looks like a tiger.
RD: Well, I brought you Pit’r Pat cat treats for your musically-inclined kitty.
A: Oh, that’s so sweet! I think she’ll like it. You know, she’s quite old now, and she’s getting so skeptical to everything. She really loves these kind of small things I give her in small packages, so this looks good.
Don’t Stop (Smalltown Supersound) is out today. Catch Annie’s DJ sets tonight in Los Angeles at Cinespace and Saturday, November 21 at New York’s Tribeca Grand Hotel.