My first encounter with Anya, hors-email, is 25 minutes after my arrival in Aarhus, through a wall: on my way to ArOs museum, I overhear her soundcheck. Shortly afterwards she calls and changes the location of our meeting from Bill’s Coffee (where she used to work) to Musikhuset (where I would see her perform to a packed room the next evening). She is warm and charming in person. ‘I’m so jet-lagged’, she tells me, but her tiredness doesn’t show.
Interview & introduction by Teddy Au Top. Photos by Jonas Fogh (firstname.lastname@example.org)
So I know your boyfriend, Jonas, who’s my photographer this weekend. He also directed one of your videos; is that how you met him?
No; he’s been doing my press photos for a while. I had an idea for the Break-up Battle video and we were going to get a production company to do it, but we know lots of people, so we gathered our own team and did it ourselves. The cast is a mixture of our friends and people we found on Facebook.
You just got back from Colombia, did you get a taste of latin music while there?
Yes, the public sphere there is filled with latin music. In Denmark, we don’t really have folk music that everyone loves and that everyone feels is part is part of their culture, but I think it’s so uniting – everyone’s dansing salsa and loves that vibe. It was very inspiring.
Can you see yourself doing something with that kind of music?
Definitely. I loved Hotline Bling for example. Some kinds of music just ooze joie de vivre – I’d like to take that essence and use it.
You’re from Naestved, Denmark, which is quite small, I gather, but you’re also half-American?
It is. The population is about 40k. My mum is from Baltimore and we used to go there in the summer or for Christmas: it was the best.
Do you think your interest in black music has a connection to your roots?
For sure. My mum listened to motown and artists like Randy Crawford when I ws a kid, and I definitely found inspiration in that. Also, going to the States influenced what I listened to: my cousins were listening to artists like Genuine and R Kelly. In Denmark there was a big pop scene, and I was more into US hip-hop and jazz, soul, blues, RnB, etc.
You’ve mentioned Erykah Badu as an influence – what do you like about her?
Her originality. I love how she mixes rapping and singing, and explores a range of subjects, not just love.
Most of your material so far has been about love & relationships, right?
Yes, the tracks I’ve released anyway, but I write about all kinds of stuff. Lately I’ve been writing about ego/identity/what goes on in the self, detached from other relationships.
You come across as very down to earth. I heard that you like to describe yourself as a Scandinavian artist: are you aginast diva-esque bravado?
Absolutely. I played at a showcase here in Aarhus once and they had ahugebillboard saying ‘The new diva in Denmark’, and I thought ‘is that a compliment?’.
I think people get mixed up with the meaning behind that word: female superstar, or prima donna – there’s a big difference.
My bandmates and I were saying earlier that you just can’t be full of yourself here in Denmark: the industry is so small.
Janteloven (the Scandinavian view that individual success and achievement are somehow negative)?
Yeah, which is horrible, but I think I’m influenced by it in my sense of ego. I see myself as pretty humble. I have a ‘we’ll see how it goes’ kind of attitude. You’re only as good as your last record or show.
You have US citizenship?
No. If i’m going to work in LA, I’ll look into it. There’s so much music-making and writing going on there, so I’m considering it. I was recently in London writing with some people – mainly underground artists (super talented).
You were studying law in Copenhagen and journalism in Aarhus – how did you meet the producers you’ve worked with here in Aarhus and how did that process go?
I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, then I decided I wanted to write (It’s nice that I now have the language to navigate my contracts though). I think I started at university too early. I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do.
I was singing backing vocals for a band called OKAPI. When Carl Barsk heard me sing, he was interested, so we thought we’d work together. I had written and composed stuff, and had some finished songs and some sketches. ‘Need to know’ was almost done, for example. Carl and I started working and then Frederik Carstens got involved. We sent out some demos, and before we knew it, we had an offer from Sony.
I was supposed to go to Hamburg for my last year of my masters, but then I had a record deal, so couldn’t turn it down. The singer in me didn’t believe this was something you could actually do full-time. I thought I was an academic and that music was just a hobby. Now I definitely see myself as a musician.
Your music is quite radio-friendly pop, but I can hear your soul/jazz /RnB influences. How much of your sound comes from you and how much from your producers?
I’m excited for you to hear the concert tomorrow. The new stuff is very much me. I do make pop for sure, but I draw on a lot of different genres. Right now I’m listening to a lot of house and hip-hop, so there’s a bit more bass in the ones I’m working on. My voice is quite jazzy, but the productions are varied. The new stuff is maybe a bit more Disclosure-esque. I’ve moved a bit away from straight-up RnB-pop.
It’s more of a harder, street sound?
Yeah, it’s a bit more of a punch, than a caress.
I’m excited to hear it. How do you feel about covers? Like the Hotline Bling cover by Erykah Badu? Are you open to making some?
I like doing new interpretations of of old songs – I love ‘Crush’ by Jai Paul, for example. I did a cover of ‘In Your Eyes’ by Kylie Minogue, which I think we’ll do a live video session of soon. We played it recently at a show and it went down well, but I have so many new songs of my own, so I just wanted to do them.
Later I’m interviewing Emil from M.I.L.K., which he describes as a flydende kollektiv (fluid collective). How would you feel about being involved in something like that?
That was kind of how I started off in Aarhus, in the Hukaos kollektiv, with which I was affiliated but not a part of per se. I think it’s a cool way to look at music – it becomes one big project that’s everyone’s property. Sometimes the creation process can be a bit too much about cuts, so I think the collective spirit is beneficial.
Let’s end by talking about being a woman in the music industry – showing flesh is something you had said you do not want to do…
I don’t feel strong on stage wearing a bikini. Women have been taking their clothes off for so long, for me it doesn’t feel like the modern thing to do. The question is ‘do we have to do it to be interesting?’ If the music is good enough, then I don’t think so. Let’s just stick to the music! Jay-Z is never twerking. I saw a performance of ‘Drunk in love’ with he and Beyoncé where she was in a bathing suit and he was fully dressed…
In Musikhuset’s Store Sal, the crowd cannot sit still, moved by Anya‘s infectious energy. She commands the stage like her equally strong, female idols, but without provocation and there is not a bathing suit in sight. The new tracks she performs are as catchy as those we’ve heard before and there’s a connection with the audience – we don’t feel like mere spectators, but rather like friends of hers. She speaks to us between songs in a relaxed, amiable tone and introduces her band, as though we were in her living room. Her openness and humility, I think, are what makes this diva (in the most positive sense of the word) a special phenomenon.