Karen Marie Ørsted, the Danish post-punk princess also known as MØ, is set to perform at the Hultsfred festival on June 14 in Stockholm. Despite widespread acclaim – which includes comparisons to industry starlets such as Grimes, Santigold and Lykke Li – she remains cripplingly shy and, perhaps as a result, shrouded in mystery. In an exclusive interview we spoke with the 24-year-old about her love of the Spice Girls, moody teenagers and the correct pronunciation of that name.
Earlier this year MØ found herself at the center of a hotly contested bidding war. Before the ink had dried on a contract with Sony the blogosphere ignited with chatter. Within a matter of days the Guardian, the NME and online tastemakers Pitchfork touted her as one to watch in 2013. The hype was undeniable. It was a blistering start to the year but a long way off from what can only be described as humble beginnings back in rural Denmark.
“I remember my father listening to Sam Cooke and Billie Holiday when I was growing up,” she says. “I liked those old records. But when I was about seven I got my first album. It was the Spice Girl’s debut. It spoke to me. I was so amazed and thrilled that music could make me feel different emotions. From that point on I wanted to create music. It’s where my obsession began.”
During the years that followed Sonic Youth and the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs replaced the Spice Girls in her record collection. She began writing lyrics and eventually started composing songs on a battered piano her parents owned.
“Over the years I’ve sang, played drums and bass in a lot of weird bands and music projects. My aim has always been to create music that stirs people.”
Before stepping out on her own MØ was one half of electro punk duo Mor. Meaning mother in Danish, she shared vocal duties and gigged with childhood friend Josefine Struckmann during the bands five year lifecycle. Their standout track – Fisse I Dit Fjase (Pussy in your Face) – released in 2009, was moderately well received but made little lasting impact. Up to that point Mor had been the artists most serious project to date.
“We had a thrashy sound a bit like Peaches. My vocals were bad and although we were a bit sloppy and clunky it was a lot of fun. I was taking it seriously but also trying to find my voice and my sound. Looking back it was an important part of my evolution as an artist.”
While gigging in NYC during the summer of 2012 the duo were invited to play the Spaz festival in Denmark. Their management encouraged them to record and release a new track to promote the gig on the internet.
MØ began collaborating on a track with Ronni Vindahl from No Wav, part of a songwriting and production team based in Copenhagen and Los Angeles that works with Pharrell Williams, amongst others.
“I sent Ronni a few a cappella tracks by email. He started producing and mixing different elements together. When I heard the first cut I was like ‘Wow! Fuck! This is how I want my music to sound.’ All the pieces fell into place. It was magical.”
That track, christened Maiden, was released in May 2012 to critical acclaim. It marked MØ’s lonely first step into the limelight. The atmospheric hooks and haunting vocals were present even if the production was a little lo-fi. By August the pair had established a workflow and another track, Pilgrim, was released. (A fantastic remix by New York duo MS MR was released on May 11 – check it out at the end of the article).
On it she sings: “Old wise river take me to the sea, breathe free – like pilgrims.” If this is a critique of modern society could MØ yearn for a simple life free from distractions?
“Pilgrim is my middle finger to a shallow, plastic world, which causes illness to the body and soul,” she says. “We never find the time to come to peace with each other or ourselves because of all the constant noises, meaningless discussions and politics.”
The production on Glass, her most recent and finest release to date, glistens while the chorus pirouettes like an uninhibited schoolyard chant. On it, MØ mourns the loss of her youth and sings about “days slipping away,” a recurring theme in much of her work.
“A lot of my lyrics are about being restless, in search of identity and having the rebellion of youth running through your veins,” she says. “When I write lyrics I think back to my teenage years because that period of life is so crazy. You have all of these feelings and are transitioning from being a child to an adult. In a way I still feel like I’m going through that transition. It’s still hard to figure out how life should be and what you should do.”
Her debut album is slated for international release during the summer. MØ maintains the same approach to writing music that has resulted in her stratospheric rise in popularity.
“I still compose songs on my family’s old piano for the album,” she says. “However, Ronni and I record all the vocals and work with the arrangements in the studio. The album is going really well and should be out, hopefully, before summer.”
The as yet unnamed album is inspired by life in general as well as the people around her.
“I have many friends that are so confused about life. The album is about living and about being afraid of not doing what you should do. When crippled by fear doing nothing is a vicious circle some of us end-up in.”
Unsurprisingly, MØ admits she has always been attracted to the darker side of life.
“I like to play with the dark side. When I was 19 I didn’t want to do anything. My priorities were getting drunk and partying. It’s funny that people can be so selfish. It’s not that I don’t sympathize with them because I have been a moody teenager myself but young people in general are so melodramatic.”
And what about that cryptic name?
“Oh, that’s simple. I took the first letter of both my surnames – Marie Ørsted – and put them together to create MØ. It’s pronounced ‘muhh’ in Danish and means maiden.”
Hultsfred takes place over three days, June 13-15 around the city. A three day festival pass costs 1460sek. For up to date info check here.
(Enjoyed this article? You might like this interview with Elliphant too).