Deejay/singer/songwriter Annie Lilia Berge-Strand, commonly known as Annie, hails from Bergen, Norway, one of Europe’s leading cities for jazz and blues and home of bands such as Kings of Convenience and Royksopp. Annie got her start playing in an indie-rock band called Suitcase, but she found her first taste of stardom in Norway with a club anthem called “The Greatest Hit” in 1999. But it’s her solo debut, Anniemal, that’s been bringing her sound — a blend of pop and stylish electronica — to new audiences around the world.
Anniemal gained critical acclaim and substantial success in Europe when it was released in 2004, and it has been making waves stateside as well. Spearheaded by the singles “Heartbeat” and “Chewing Gum,” the latter of which has recently been getting airtime on MTV2, Annie is winning over American crowds one show at a time, and perhaps renewing their faith for a new era in pop music.
Annie is a musician first and foremost — not a dancer, not an actress. She can work the ones and twos as well as she can carry a note, and she is determined to make music that the hippest of hipsters and teeniest of teenagers can enjoy. We chatted with Annie while she was on the road during her recent North American tour. In her thick, charming accent, she talked to us about sharing the stage with Peaches, her admiration of Natalie Portman and what makes her laugh when Americans talk about Norway.
You recently performed at SXSW. How was that experience?
It was okay. We had really much trouble with the sound, because we didn’t have a sound man and, like all the other bands, we didn’t have a sound check. It was a little bit of a mess, but besides that we had a lot of fun. I also was deejaying with Peaches, and that was really great. I haven’t seen her for a couple of years.
When did you first start to deejay?
I guess it must have been six years ago, so I’ve been doing it for a while.
When you’re deejaying, what are some of your favorite records to play?
I always keep on playing ESG all the time. That’s definitely one of my favorite bands. I was really sad I didn’t get to see them at SXSW because I heard they were playing there. I’ve never seen them live, and I’m a huge fan of ESG.
You’ve also played in Tokyo. What was your overall impression of Asian culture?
I was really surprised because I was told that Japanese people were a little bit like Scandinavians — a little bit reserved and would maybe just stare at you when you’re playing — but I don’t think I’ve seen an audience dancing and partying as much as the Japanese. They just went mad. We had a great crowd over there. We did like three [shows] in Tokyo and two gigs in Osaka and Nagoya. It was really fun to travel there. We did one show there with Royksopp from Bergen, so it was a little Norwegian there and we had some really good parties. It was great.
What are the main things you’re trying to accomplish with this North American tour?
Right now, to be honest, I was coming over here to work on my new album. I’m gonna spend some time in New York doing that, so I guess it will be my last tour for a while now in the U.S. But it’s been so good for us here so I would like to keep it going, to play here as much as I can. We had the chance to do the SXSW, and we wanted to do some more dates at the same time. When I’m done this week, I’m gonna stay here for three weeks and work and have some fun.
How would you say the reception has been for Anniemal in the U.S.?
I think it’s been extremely good. When I first made the album, I didn’t really know what to expect from the U.S., because to me the album is so European. But I think it’s been really good. I know “Chewing Gum” came out quite recently, and it’s been playing on a lot of different TV stations. I’ve been very happy.
What are some of the differences you see in American crowds as compared to European ones?
I think the crowd in Europe is quite a mix of people — all sorts of ages and all sorts of people — while in the U.S. it’s probably a lot of young kids. The only thing is it’s younger in general. It’s always fun to play in the U.S. I think the audience is always extremely good and responds very well. I actually think it’s much more fun than [playing] Europe.
What differences do you see in the youth in Norway and the younger generations here?
It’s difficult for me to say. I haven’t really been spending that much time over here. It just seems the U.S. crowd is always a bit more eager and a little bit more enthusiastic. Maybe it’s ’cause I’m European it’s much more fun to travel over here. Of course it depends on where in Europe where you play. Scandinavia is nice, but I guess Norwegians are a little bit more reserved. If they’re into something, they don’t necessary show it at all; they just talk about it afterward. I think Americans in general are much more direct with Europe it’s difficult to say; [sometimes] everybody’s just staring at you and you don’t really feel any energy or any sort of reaction from the audience.
What’s the biggest misconception you think Americans have about Norwegians/Scandinavians?
I’m quite surprised to meet a lot of Americans who think there’s a lot of ice and, what do you call it — [polar] bears — and that white bears are walking in the streets of Norway everywhere [laughs]. I think that’s sort of strange. That’s not actually the way it is. Besides that, some people don’t really know about Norway. They just think that Sweden is the only place in Scandinavia. You meet people and they say, “Hey, how’s it going in Sweden?” I think some people think Norway is a small part of Sweden. That’s not good [laughs].
What singers are you listening to right now?
Some Johnny Cash, just a little different stuff. I’m also sitting here trying to do some music while we’re driving.
You seem to be on the road and in the studio a lot as well. When you actually have some free time, how do you spend those moments?
I try to write as much as I can and do some different melodies, and then I do some reading and watch some films. I just try to take it easy, and I try to sleep everywhere as much as I can. This car [we’re driving in] is actually quite nice, so I’ve been getting a lot of sleep here.
What are some of the better films you’ve seen lately?
I played at this venue in Toronto yesterday, so they gave me a copy of the new Futurama. I’ve been watching that, and that’s great — I love that. I saw this History of Violence — that was good. I liked that, and of course Walk the Line — that’s a good film. Besides that, I’ve been watching some really crappy movies, and I don’t even remember the names of them.
If someone made a movie about your life, who would you want to play the role of Annie?
I guess I shouldn’t do it myself. I really like Natalie Portman, but she doesn’t necessarily look so much like me. Maybe Scarlett Johansson or Patricia Arquette [laughs].
If you were writing this story, how would you portray Annie to the readers?
I’m quite clumsy; I tend to forget things everywhere. I forgot my record bag in a cab the other day when I was in Austin, and the next day I forgot my mobile in a cab. But [honestly] I would like them to remember me as a songwriter and hopefully a good songwriter and just a woman that’s making good music. As long as they think that, I’m happy.