Interview: Astrid S, a different kind of new.
Astrid Smeplass is a different kind of new - a different kind of superhuman, a new kind of popstar, and a singularly unique personality. The 21-year-old is incredibly self-aware beyond her young years, perceptively discussing everything from gender stereotypes, to the inevitability of compromise when writing songs with other people, and spends the entirety of our three hours together foraging for new knowledge from all staff present, be they a make-up artist or photographer.
Coup De Main spoke to Astrid on the phone back in July of this year, as well as more recently during her first ever trip to New Zealand. What follows below is a truncated combination of both conversations for ease of reading...
COUP DE MAIN: Last time I talked to you back in June, I told you that Aurora had been to New Zealand at the beginning of the year, and you said, "Now it's my turn," and now you're here! It was indeed your turn next!! And Sigrid is coming to New Zealand next year.
ASTRID S: Really? When is she here?
CDM: She's here in March to play a big music festival - Auckland City Limits.
ASTRID S: Wow! That's so cool. She's amazing, I'm a huge fan. Are you going to meet up with her?
CDM: Hopefully! I love her EP, it's so good.
ASTIRD S: It's so good, it's amazing.
CDM: Do you want to come back to NZ to play your own headline show?
ASTRID S: I would love to. Definitely as soon as there's demand. When I've grown to a certain level of me actually being relevant, I'm really looking forward to that.
CDM: Then you can play 'Sushi'!
ASTRID S: I can play 'Sushi', yeah!
IF I HAD A DAY OFF IN NEW ZEALAND, I WOULD GO BUNGY JUMPING...
CDM: I loved your show last night. Your set was so good. It was the first time I'd heard 'Paper Thin' and it reminded me why I love your songs - they're so emotive. You're so super sassy in 'Such A Boy', but then also making everyone emotional with 'Paper Thin'. What do you think is the hardest feeling or emotion to write songs about and convey in song-form?
ASTRID S: Thank you! I think it's definitely, in general, vulnerability. Which for me, is usually writing about mostly heartbreak - I just feel really uncomfortable, you're putting yourself out there, and especially with pop music. I have songs where the lyrics are more metaphorical and it's more open and in general, but then I have songs that are really pinpointed and you can really understand what it's about and those songs are really really uncomfortable to perform live and write, but I think those are also usually the songs that I get the most feedback on from people that listen and really relate, which is a really great feeling too.
CDM: You've said that 'Breathe' was a really hard song to write. What were you struggling with?
ASTRID S: I think it was just getting everything right, and everyone in the studio had different opinions. I love those sessions, [but] there's no compromises. Sometimes that can be very tiring, but we just had a really good flow and everyone just respected everyone’s opinion and we didn’t settle for just-okay-not-ready lyrics, we just kept fighting our way to get everyone happy, and to where everyone feels like there's no compromises. And usually that means it takes one day to write a song, but we spent two days on that song.
CDM: I can't stop listening to 'Such A Boy'. The lyrics are so sassy and on-point. What was running through your mind while writing the song?
ASTRID S: <laughs> Thank you! I just remember I was in the studio with a guy named Cass Lowe and we were talking about... I think we started the whole song with just writing the, "You say you need more space / What are you, an astronaut?" Sometimes you don't know if you're dating, or if you're in a relationship. Boys can be-- They say something and they do something else. After a while when we got more into the lyrics I realised this is how girls are portrayed or written about, how we're so emotional or we're so dramatic. I don’t know the English word for it, but in movies and books we're always the one not really in control in the relationship that is portrayed. We're the ones being back and forth, and I just remember being pissed off about people telling me sometimes not to be 'such a girl’, like in a very negative way, and we just talked about it and figured that the song is gonna be named ‘Such A Boy’ and that’s what the song’s gonna be about.
CDM: Especially when we’re children, you’re conditioned into thinking that showing emotions is perceived to be a sign of weakness, and that’s a negative feminine trait.
ASTRID S: Exactly. I don't remember ever being told not to be such a boy. I remember when I was little it was super cool to be more boyish, to not wear make-up, to not like girl colours, and everyone thought you were really cool if you were into 'boy things' like soccer. Everything is labelled and I think it's just really sad. I remember being really confused when I was little and people told me not to be such a girl, because I was like, ‘Why not?!' I thought being a girl was the best thing, so it just didn't make sense. I've never been told to not be such a boy and I thought it was time, so yeah.
CDM: I love it. What does it even mean anyway, being 'such a girl’ or a 'boy'? They’re just labels.
ASTRID S: I agree! So I sing about boys just the same way as girls are being sung about, I think it kinda neutralises the labels - being 'such a girl' is just the same as being 'such a boy'. People just put labels on things.
CDM: It's so rad that you care about breaking down gender stereotypes with your music. A lot of your fans have been tweeting us wanting to know what it's like for you being a role model to other young women?
ASTRID S: I think it's different from artist to artist or celebrity to celebrity, but for me it's been something very important. I'm very proud to be a role model and I think it's a very important responsibility, and the more I've thought about it the less I do about it, if that makes sense, because I've figured to just be myself is the best role model you can be. But I am aware of what I say, and what I do, and what I post, because I know how affected I am by what my role models say and do. But it's very moving to know that I am a role model and it's the nicest thing to know, when people message me and tell me like how I've changed the way they look at themselves or how they've heard something I've said and agreed with it, or it's made them go for what they've always wanted to do. It’s just a very nice thought knowing that I am a role model to someone.
CDM: Two of your songs, 'Atic' ("Say you need your space, I can read your face"), and 'Such A Boy' ("Say you need more space") begin with lyrics about a relationship in which your partner says they need space apart from you. Was that self-referencing deliberate?
ASTRID S: No, I think it's fun, because 'Atic' is more about a friend of mine that wanted to have space and close herself in a little bit which is one way of saying it, and then in 'Such A Boy' it's more about a guy asking you to give him more space. It's not about the same person, but it's fun to use the same lyrics or words in several songs because then you get a red thread and it's--
CDM: Kind of like an easter egg for your fans!
ASTRID S: Yes it is! It's more clear that you're a part of writing your own songs.
CDM: There’s an astronaut on your drum-kit, you reference astronauts in your song 'Breathe', and you dressed up as Buzz Lightyear for your birthday show recently. What's the special significance of astronauts to you?
ASTRID S: I don't really know, but I think my fans call themselves 'astridnauts'. That's why in 'Such A Boy' and in 'Atic' and 'Breathe' I have the lyric 'astronaut' in the songs, and then I wanted to have the astronaut drumkit and be Buzz Lightyear, but now I'm starting to think maybe I'm wrong, I don''t know if I actually have a name for my fandom, but I hope it's 'astridnauts' because I've been making it a thing, so it's really awkward if it's not what they call themselves.
CDM: Like Buzz Lightyear, is your motto also, "To Infinity and Beyond!"?
ASTRID S: No, <laughs> I don't think so. It could be, it's a really good motto. I don't think I have a motto. My motto is to not have a motto I think.
CDM: Or maybe you're making music just to secretly fund buying yourself a ticket to space? I think Richard Branson was selling tickets for $250,000 dollars each at one point.
ASTRID S: $250,000 dollars?!
CDM: Yeah, Virgin Galactic is selling them. Apparently, Justin Bieber and his manager both bought tickets.
ASTRID S: Have they gone? When are they going to go?
CDM: I don't know, maybe next year? It keeps getting delayed.
ASTRID S: I really want to go!
CDM: It's $250,000 dollars, so start saving.
ASTRID S: Oh no, I'm not gonna waste money on that! I'm going to be clever, I'm going to buy 100 dogs instead.
CDM: I know you are a fan of Lorde's album 'Melodrama', which sort of revolves around the concept of spending a night at a house-party and the whole spectrum of emotions you go through over the course of the night. Your song 'Party's Over' and its sentiments of wanting to stay in a perfect moment forever are also really relatable. Why do you think the concept of a party is such a meaningful metaphor for musicians to write about in songs?
ASTRID S: Oh, that's a very good question. I think for me, a party is just, like you said, a moment where I always find myself feeling like, ‘Oh I wish this could last forever,’ which is a similar feeling to when you're in a relationship, or when you're graduating and you're in high school. I feel like it just seems like a really good metaphor for people to relate to in any way they can, and who doesn't like to party? And who doesn't go to parties? There's so many different parties, just like there is so many different people. You can bend and break the word ‘party’. You can write about a party in so many different ways. You can just approach it in so many ways and people can relate to it in so many ways, and a lot of people love to party, or hate to, and it just reminds me of a lot of things in life, like I said, relationships or graduating or anything really.
CDM:The tracklist sequencing for your 'Party's Over' EP takes the listener on a journey from first attraction in 'Breathe', to the end of a relationship in 'Does She Know'. Was that deliberate?
ASTRID S: Yes and no, I think both. Even though I know people probably don't listen to the whole EP throughout from track one to the last song, I like to think that they do, so I also want it to be a nice transition between the songs and so it’s not boring. I wouldn't want to put three slow songs after each other. I want it to be dynamic like it is in a concert, so yes and no. I think the first song is like the moment when you see someone and you fall in love, and the last songs are about the other part, moving forward without you, and how that’s sad. I think I thought about both things, I wanted how it was tracklisted to make sense and also for it to be dynamic.
CDM: In 'Jump' you sing, "I'm getting crazy ideas in my head / And I'm not even trying to stop them / Jump." What are these crazy ideas you're cooking up in your head? If you could go act upon one of them right now, what would it be?
ASTRID S: I would probably... If there was a really hot boiling cup of tea or coffee, I would just take it in my face. <laughs> I'm really crazy sometimes.
CDM: Please don't do that! Your tour manager is looking at me so horrified right now.
ASTRID S: I'm just really impulsive. I'm never going to do that sort of stuff. I'm not going to do it, but it's just really exciting to me how you have the power to just do it. It's not like I'm going to do it, but the thought of just doing it, and then you've done it. The thought of the reaction - like, what would you guys do if I just had a boiling cup of coffee and I just went <imitates throwing coffee onto face>. It's kind of funny to me! That's why I'm just like that, that's why we wrote 'Jump' - if that was the question? <laughs>
CDM: Why did you decide to only put 'Mexico' on the acoustic version of your 'Party's Over' EP?
ASTRID S: It's a song that we've tried to figure out for a very long time. We've tried to have different producers on it, but everyone that I worked with had different ideas for the production, so it was just a mess and we could never figure out what we wanted because we wanted different things. So it was just laying around, but it's a song that I really like, and then when we were going to release the acoustic EP, I just suggested to release the demo which is acoustic and then we just put it on.
CDM: Like you mentioned with the writing of 'Breathe', how does that compromise process play out with songwriters you work with?
ASTRID S: To be honest, it's really tiring. Everyone just wants the best for me and my music, and you can't be selfish doing this because then I don't think you're going to get anywhere, but sometimes I'm not always right either, there's no wrong or right with music. There is just opinions and personal taste and I love that I have a very open dialogue with the closest people that I work with, that they are able to say whatever they want and be as honest as they can. Sometimes I've had compromises where now I listen to a song and I'm like, 'Ugh, I shouldn't have done that or agreed to that!' Sometimes I'm really happy that I did agree to that idea or changed that thing, but I think now I've come to a point where I don't think I want to do it anymore. Because it's just really haunting me the times I've done it and I think that I shouldn't have put that song out or I shouldn't have done that, but it's okay because you have to try and again there is no right or wrong. I think in the future I'll try to just put myself first, and I think you can forget sometimes how this really is bottom line about me and my feelings and it's super personal to me and it's my face and name that's out there, and for people in the background to have opinions--
CDM: You're the one who is going to have to sing these songs for the rest of your life.
ASTRID S: Yes exactly, and stand up for mistakes or anything that we do out in public, so you just have to be really careful. It's easier to get horrible reviews on a song or to get bad feedback if you know that it was really what you wanted and what I stood up for, instead of being other people telling me what to do and then getting those reactions - that can be really hurtful. It's hard to find a good mix and balance with the compromising and how much you should listen to others. I think it's just really important to not be selfish and have an understanding that there is no right or wrong. I feel like it's a lot about of course quality, but also about good luck and timing in this industry with doing music, so sometimes you're lucky and sometimes you're not. It's not about wrong or right or pointing fingers, it's just about following your gut feeling and trusting in people. We're in it together!
CDM: You wrote your song 'Hyde' after reading about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - are there any other books or movies or TV shows you've been feeling particularly inspired by?
ASTRID S: I remember being really inspired by 'The Notebook'.
CDM: Were you inspired by 'The Notebook' or Ryan Gosling?
ASTRID S: <laughs> Maybe both! I think all my heartache songs are about Ryan Gosling - could be? No, but I do really, especially on airplanes, that's where I get all my ideas, and I watch a lot of movies on airplanes. I just sometimes feel nostalgic watching movies because I can really relate to a character or a character reminds me of a person or a situation or an experience or a moment that I've experienced in my life, so it's cool because that really puts you back in that place and that feeling you felt experiencing that and being in that moment. It's really easy to get ideas and channel that into a song, but I really love watching movies, and also cartoons. It was the cartoon I watched of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. To me, that cartoon is about a family man that has an addiction problem, and I think it's really cool how they've portrayed that in a children's cartoon - with this guy in the cartoon he is at a laboratory where they are experimenting and he takes this liquid which could be anything relatable. It's very interesting because he just becomes another person. I think a lot of people experience that with people in their family, or friends, it can feel very unsafe as a child when you know someone, a friend or someone you look up to, who is suddenly influenced by something and you don't really understand what's happening and you feel like the person is another person, and I thought that was really cool in that cartoon how that is something children watch, but for us adults watching it, it means something else.
CDM: You just finished watching the new season of 'Strangers Things' right? Thoughts??
ASTRID S: Well! It's really exhausting because it's so nerve-racking, my shoulders were up to my ears all the time and I had to get a massage the day after, but I never did, so I feel very sore but it was really good. I love, love, love 'Stranger Things', and it just makes me wish I could live in the 80s and wear those clothes and be a part of their party.
CDM: Are you still planning on releasing an album next year?
ASTRID S: Yes, I'm planning to write it next year. In January, I've rented a studio by the coast in Norway, it's like a cabin, and I'm just going to shut myself in there with my favourite producers and will start writing some music and hopefully it'll be released next year, but we'll see.
MY FAVOURITE THING ABOUT SIGRID IS...
Click here to order CDM Zine #8 x Astrid S.