Photo Credit: Bjorn Franklin
The coming weeks have a lot in store for ASTRÆA. Not only will her new album, ‘Looking Up,’ drop on October 8th, but she’ll then be performing in London at the Servants Jazz Quarters on October 14th. We talked about all of that as well as showing off scars, Disney beginnings, and more.
Kendra: Like a lot of kids, you grew up singing along to Disney movies. Thinking back, which character do you think would be the basis for the best modern album?
ASTRÆA: Disney films were my obsession when I was a kid. We have so many home videos of me singing into my little microphone tape machine when I was a toddler. I credit them for why I started singing in the first place!
I think Mulan as a character could make such an epic modern album. She’s a woman striving to make a name for herself in a male-dominated area despite society’s expectations about what women can and cannot do. It’s something that as a producer and artist who’s a woman in the music industry, I can definitely relate to! I can totally imagine strong, empowering feminist anthems, massive orchestral drums playing huge driving beats, and lyrics that encourage every girl and woman that they can be whoever they want to be.
Kendra: Now let’s talk about your 2021 EP, ‘Looking Up.’ Is the title a response to the, well, the insane amount of negativity we’ve encountered since 2020?
ASTRÆA: Yes it definitely is. This last year has been excruciatingly difficult for pretty much everyone. I wanted to create something that could give myself and others hope that brighter times will come again if we can hang on for a while longer. I’ve always believed that going through the darkness can make us stronger people. There are certainly a lot of things that I appreciate more now, even just normal daily life things like going to the pub, seeing friends and family, traveling. Covid is far from being over yet and I think we’re all still reeling mentally from the impact of this last year. But I know that eventually, we will come out the other side of this.
Kendra: I think “Scars” could be seen that way as well because it’s about being sort of proud of the hurdles one has overcome and wearing it on their sleeve. Is the idea of wearing those scars without shame something you’ve learned along the way or has this always been something you’ve done?
ASTRÆA: I think I’ve mostly always appreciated my scars in some way and how they’ve made me into who I am. That mentality I think comes from my lifelong interest in Buddhist teachings and psychology. It can be hard to see it that way at the time of going through something difficult, especially when you’re in a deep dark hole. But without my scars, I don’t think I’d be writing and making music today. It’s those struggles that I’ve had and using music to cope with them that inspired me to write in the first place.
I found it an incredibly cathartic experience and knew how much other artists’ music has helped me pull through hard times. Knowing personally how powerful music can be as a medium for improving mental health and being a mode of release and expression is why I ended up studying for an MA in music therapy several years ago.
My biggest goal has always been to use music to help other people, as well as myself, cope with life and feel less alone in this world because it can be a scary place sometimes, as we all especially know now. So I’m proud of those experiences, bad and good, and how they’ve directed me along the path to where I am now.
Kendra: Watching the video, the whole thing screams elegance. So does a life in London, which you relocated to. So how does a girl from Minnesota find herself overseas?
ASTRÆA: It’s a funny story! I first came to London when I was doing a study abroad program during my undergraduate degree. I ended up meeting my partner during that time, so I decided to come back after I finished my degree and do my MA in music therapy over here at Roehampton University. London is a great place to be for music and I love the culture and history here. I do really miss the people, the summer lake life, and even the snowy winter wonderland Minnesota becomes so I try to get back as much as I can.
Kendra: I pressed play on “Scars” first, so when I started to get into the rest of ‘Looking Up,’ I was like – okay, there is range here. Other songs like “Stranger” lean into a more ‘80s vibe, which you said you kind of dove into during the lockdowns last year. What initially led you down that rabbit hole?
ASTRÆA: During lockdown, I was looking for an escape and something to take my mind off of how scary things were. In the past, I’ve always had a tendency of listening to slow and melancholic songs, but I found myself way more drawn to dance and pop music over the last year. I think I really needed music to take me somewhere else, to make me dance and move. The artists I delved into weren’t all necessarily ‘80s artists themselves, but modern synth-pop artists who are inspired by that decade, like Robyn with Body Talk, La Roux, Little Boots, Dua Lipa in ‘Future Nostalgia’.
Being a producer, I naturally then had this curiosity of what sounds made up these records. One of the biggest things are the drum machines and synthesizers that characterize that whole ‘80s synth-pop vibe, like the LinnDrum and the Juno-60 which I’m now obsessed with and you can hear all over “Stranger”.
Kendra: Also, in your recent listenings, what would you say were some standout musical moments from that decade?
ASTRÆA: I also got really into Prince while I was producing “Stranger”. Despite growing up in Minnesota where he’s from, for whatever reason I didn’t hear that much of his music growing up! So I properly delved into his music during lockdown one, particularly ‘Purple Rain’.
He was one of the first to be really experimental with drum machines in his production in the early ‘80s, particularly the LinnDrum. That album ended up being a big influence on the beats of “Stranger”. I love that big and gated reverb snare sound, the punchy kicks, and of course the huge pitched electronic toms that are so reminiscent of that era.
Of the more modern artists I was listening to at the time, Robyn’s ‘Body Talk’ is a huge standout and arguably one of the most influential pop records in recent history. She has a way of making bangers and huge pop tracks that lyrically are actually quite melancholic but make you want to dance! Tunes you can cry to on the dance floor. That album was a big influence on ‘Stranger’ as well.
Kendra: You have a big show coming up in October at the Servant Jazz Quarters in London. What does it feel like to have live music back in your life?
ASTRÆA: I’m really excited to get to see all the people that I’ve met who’ve come to my previous gigs again! It’s been way too long since we’ve been able to share music together. Playing live to an audience is an experience I found just wasn’t the same with live streams. I like to be able to see people read the emotions on their faces. My shows are such a personal experience so it’s really important to me to be able to play to people in the same room. So I’m very thrilled to have live music back again, albeit a little nervous of course as it’s been so long! But I’m really looking forward to it.
Kendra: Lastly, the EP is out October 8th, you’re playing shows, but what else do you have planned as we head into the last quarter of the year?
ASTRÆA: I’m currently producing and writing tracks for several other artists so hopefully you’ll be able to hear some of those soon too. In addition to that, I’m already back in sessions the week after the gig and EP release to start working on my debut album.