- 05 Mar 20
Agnes Obel feels like she’s emerging from the long, dark tunnel she ventured down working on her astonishing fourth album, Myopia. The Danish baroque-pop queen tells Tanis Smither about her most perfectly realised artistic statement to date.
Listening to Agnes Obel’s Myopia is much like holding up a sonic mirror image of the artist herself: intense and ethereal. She greets me with a fluttery “hello”, making sure she knows my name before we begin. She’s tired, but nonetheless patient, while mentally steeling herself for a full day of press.
Obel grew up in Copenhagen, a city she describes as being too small. She has since relocated to Berlin, where she feels free to explore. “There’s not really a clear centre,” she tells me of the city, “so when you move there you feel like there’s space for you. Where I’m from, there’s less space to define yourself.”
Obel’s mother was an accomplished pianist, who played Bartok and Chopin at home, while her father was a jazz musician. As a result, Obel was did piano lessons from a very early age, although her musical education was still relaxed.
“I think it’s really important that you have music teachers who understand that it should be like a game,” she reflects. “I play with classical musicians, and I can see I have a much more relaxed relationship to perfection than they do. I think it’s because they had very strict teachers. I never had that. So I just have good memories, and I’m totally forgiving of my own mistakes.”
It also helped that she was able to play only things that she enjoyed. In fact, the first piece of music she credits with changing her perception is Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’.
“I had the most amazing experience when I heard that piece,” she says, piercing blue eyes twinkling. “I remember lying in our house, where everything was made of stone, and the sound was travelling in a very beautiful way. The piece starts very sparse, and then it becomes quite dramatic. I remember watching myself from above, almost.”
Obel’s last album, Citizen Of Glass, toed the line between alt-pop and classical, using modern technology to bend and augment the sounds of classical instruments.
“I love the journey, the details,” she enthuses. “There are many feelings inside one piece of classical music. I feel like electronic music is often just a way to sustain one feeling all the time.”
Redundancy is something she tried to avoid on her latest opus, Myopia. “I am, in a sense, still just making pop songs,” she considers. “But I try – within my limited scope – to add some of the intricacies into one song, so you can, hopefully, feel different things in one piece.”
The new record is dark, cinematic and experimental, a concept album about what it’s like to be locked inside your own head – something Obel is familiar with. She wrote, recorded, produced and mixed Myopia almost entirely by herself, spending two years alone in a studio nursing her vision.
“I’ve done it on every album,” she explains. “In a way, it’s normal for any sort of bigger project. You have to remove yourself and not check your email – or do 1000 things at the same time – if you want to go deep into what you’re doing. In literature, for example, it’s quite normal to work like that.”
Where working methds are concerned, there are pros and cons. “I think if you want to get a more idiosyncratic, personal product,” she explains, “it’s better that the person who makes it stays with it, and doesn’t delegate too many aspects out to other people. I think it would be fun to collaborate if it was with somebody who understood me, and I understood her or him intuitively. So we didn’t have to speak, in a way. But I think, to some extent, the formulation of the vision and the intuitive aspect of it disappears during collaboration.”