June 28, 2018

A boxing ring and 2000 colored feathers

A boxing ring and 2000 colored feathers

Delia Albu-Comănescu
INTERVIEWS

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Katy Gunn (left) and Anna Lidell (right) of Teenage Love. Photo: Jonas Raaby

You might know Anna Lidell from Teenage Love and marstal:lidell, but apart from being a musician, she’s one of those versatile people that most of us envy. She can start her day with responding to emails, meeting with politicians as the vice-president of DJBFA, and end up in the studio working on a new music project by the end of the day.

Not long ago, we had a chat with her about the nuts and bolts of working in a creative environment, the struggles that come with music and money-making, but also about engaging communities around music.

 

Hi Anna, thanks for your time! Could we start by you telling us a bit about your musical background?

Anna: As a teenager I went to London Music School for one year, but eventually ended up doing a master in Philosophy and Literature at Aarhus and Copenhagen University. I did a bunch of different things during my studies. For instance, I started my own company during a collaboration with Minerva Film – one of the biggest documentary companies in Denmark at the time. Unfortunately they went bankrupt and I never got paid, but I now had a company! I went on to record audiobooks for Gyldendal, made websites and wrote jingles and soundtracks... I ended up having one leg in academia and the other one in music and I feel like that gave me a pretty broad network of people to work with.


When did you know you would seriously pursue music?

Anna: I think it got serious when I was 18 and I did a record with a friend in Belgium. We were just playing in the streets and a producer approached us and said "Hey, let's record this." We thought he was joking, but then he drove to Denmark and we actually recorded the full album. After that, I was in another band which was really fun, a kind of 8bit Nintendo pop band and we got to tour in several cities in China and the US. It’s strange how things happen, right?

Success in creative work seems almost whimsical in a way, and sort of leads me to my next question. If you were to give a definition of creativity, what would it be?

Anna: I think collaboration is a really big part of creativity. I love to see what happens when you collaborate with someone new or someone you know really well. It’s great to work with the same people on long term projects like Teenage Love and marstal:lidell, but it’s also fun to bring in a third person. I’ve done a lot of sessions where you would meet with a complete stranger at 4 PM and you had to write a song, record it and finish it before midnight.

teenage-love_Lazer-Eyes

Photo: Jonas Raaby

That sounds to be equally exhilerating and exhausting. So if you were to extrapolate a little bit from this thought of creativity as collaboration, how would you define a creative community?

Anna: I think it’s all about supporting each other. In London, I didn’t feel that it was so creative because there was a lot of elbow-throwing and competitiveness. It wasn’t all bad though, I met people there who I still collaborate with today. I recently worked on composing the soundtrack for SKAM Italia with one of them. I feel that people in Denmark work together differently, maybe because of all the different music organisations. I've spent a lot of time in DJBFA, the composers' union, because they offered co-writing camps, speeches about the industry, networking events. That’s where I met and talked to a lot of talented people and now when I think “I need someone who can do this”, I know who to reach out to because I've already met them. Now I’m the vice-president of DJBFA, and I can now give back what the union gave me — both in terms of networks and groups, but also giving composers a stronger political voice in every aspect of the cultural scene.


How would you describe the creative community in Copenhagen in a few words?

Anna: People are very open and they seem to do what they want to do. It might be because they are a little more financially independent compared to New York, for example. People there seem to be much more focused on making hits and getting their big break and I believe that might sometimes be nearsighted. At the same time, sometimes I feel that we kind of lack ambition in Denmark.


That sounds intriguing — could you elaborate on that a bit more?

Anna: It’s efficient, in a way, but unfortunately a lot of people are willing to do everything for free and then all of a sudden they get tired of it and they give up – maybe too easily. Or maybe they find themselves in a context where too much free music is demanded of them. Things fluctuate a lot. When things are rough, it’s very important to not fall into a negative thought pattern, to not allow yourself to not do anything. I feel that things start to go wrong when you can’t deliver on your wishes and promises, because you prioritized other money-making parts of your life.


"When things are rough, it’s very important to not fall into a negative thought pattern."

How do you juggle that, though? How do you decide when you can give your work for free and when it’s not okay to do that?

Anna: It’s not like I sit down and say “if you work for free for this, I’ll give you this”, but I’m always aware of the fact that if you work with people for free, you have to show them respect. You also have to drive it. We did a video for Teenage Love with a budget of 2000 kr.  and we had to get a boxing ring, 2000 colored feathers and 2 kilos of yarn sponsored... Something like that is definitely driven by co-creation and honesty from everybody in the crew.


Where do you even get 2000 colored feathers? And most importantly, what other costs does making a video entail, though?

Anna: (laughs) Essentially we made a video that should have cost about 100.000–150.000kr, if we had paid advertising agency prices. We spent 1000 kr for a green screen room, which normally costs about 10.000 kr. and 1000kr for some swimsuits that were very colorful. We had a crew of 20 people working for free, together with the amazing professional photographer Sanne This and director Justin Ulbrichtsen. They really believed in the project. We are deeply thankful for that! It sounds idyllic, but to work like that demands a lot of preparation beforehand, and it’s also pretty exhausting arranging it. On the other hand, you get a video where everybody is very engaged and there are a lot of ambassadors for it once it’s done. I think the hard part is always balancing what you want to do for free and what you don’t want to do for free, but essentially nothing is ever free. Every time you do something for free, you have to also do other work – elsewhere – that pays you. So you end up doing double the work. You have to constantly keep track of time like you would track an investment or you just become jaded, I think. And you don’t want to do that.


"I think the hard part is always balancing what you want to do for free and what you don’t want to do for free, but essentially nothing is ever free."

 

Teenage Love's Sweaterface video


How do you think the industry is now, in terms of allowing you to live off your music?

Anna: You can live off your music, I think, but you have to find your way around it. I think some structural and political things can be improved — that’s what I'm working towards with DJBFA. Otherwise, I think collaborations are the key. You need to test yourself and your network, maybe give some things for free in the beginning in order to increase your potential of making money later on. Because you can’t do it yourself. There’s this mentality that you can be DIY about everything, but you actually can’t, because it would mean you’re doing 3-4 full time jobs on your own — if you take yourself seriously. It’s a profession to only do the booking, another one to do the publishing, and another to do the songwriting. If you don’t acknowledge that and think you can do everything yourself you’re never going to grow very much as an artist - even though you will probably learn a lot of everything as a person. I learned this from experience in these past years, but it has been extremely stressful at times.


It seems like the entire process needs not only musical and entrepreneurial know-how, but also some sort of gut instinct?

Anna: Yes, I think so. More than that, I think people can feel that I like what I’m doing and that I’m motivated about it and the things I do. I always finish things – that’s another thing I really like to do. When people realize that, they want to be a part of it, they offer themselves and I need them. I think if I did something I didn’t like, then my attitude would be different. When you have a difficult time it seems like collaborations present themselves less often. In some ways, I think being entrepreneurial requires a positive attitude, being a person that other people want to work with. I had one of those rough years in 2012 and it was especially difficult because nothing seemed to come naturally.


"I always finish things – that’s another thing I really like to do."


I find that discussing about the rough patches is very important. How did you navigate that situation? Did you attempt to push yourself out of it or did you take a step back and allowed things to happen?

Anna: I allowed myself to take a step back and I had great support from close family and friends. Afterwards, I started Teenage Love, a collaboration that wasn’t even supposed to be a band at that point. We just went to a summer house and had fun and wrote some over the top pop. It didn’t have to be artsy, or anything more than what it was. We both just wanted to forget our troubles.


Hence the lyrics “I want a hug and a cup of bacon”?

Anna: (laughs) Yes! Most of the lyrics are very autobiographical there.


What’s your impression on the way your music helps shape communities?

Anna: It definitely engages people. For example, at a Low-fi concert at Khora VR, a guy was taking photos and I really liked them. We met again afterwards and became good friends who spend time listening to LPs. Actually, our new Teenage Love vinyl is using his picture as the cover. It’s a great way to meet new people, and so is teaching each other. I sometimes collaborate with a folk musician, Jullie Hjetland, who wanted to get more into electronic music at a certain point. I taught her some things about it and she brought me on when she played concerts with Lukkif. And it turns out we will be composing music together for Peer Gynt at the Folketeatret. I think it’s great to experience this connection with people from a lot of different cultures simply because we are tied together by music.

teenage-love_sweaterfaces

Katy Gunn (left) and Anna Lidell (right) showing us that a little sweaterface never hurt a friendship. Photo: Jonas Raaby

Katy Gunn (left) and Anna Lidell (right) showing us that a little sweaterface never hurt a friendship. Photo: Jonas Raby

*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

If you got completely over-the-top enthusiastic about hearing Anna playing, you can always book Teenage Love and marstal:lidell to come play in your living room or attend one of their concerts. Also, keep an eye out for a Teenage Love LP that is coming out soon. Just saying.

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