As career choices go, there’s a very valid argument to be made that Aurora Aksnes has made something of an odd one.
Her rapid ascension as a synths-and-beats-oriented singer-songwriter has not only taken her away from the places that she loves most, but also pushed her right out of her comfort zone.
When the artist who performs simply as Aurora is reached in San Francisco, she admits that alone time is in short supply these days—life has become a blur of hotel rooms and concert halls. Where that becomes challenging is there’s nothing the 20-year-old cherishes more than being by herself, preferably out in nature in her native Norway.
“Early in my life I really depended on my alone time because I really needed it,” Aurora says in charmingly mellifluous English, speaking on the phone from a San Fran hotel room. “I’d be like, ‘I’m really stressed now, but later I’ll be alone for the whole evening so I will be fine.’
“Right now I don’t have that promise of being able to hang by myself, which can be difficult because I love my own company. I’m my own best friend.”
Her love of solitude, and walks on the shores and in the forests of Norway, can perhaps be traced back to a childhood when she wasn’t exactly one of the incrowd at school.
Like many who end up making art, Aurora was introverted during her younger years, and in some ways that hasn’t changed today. Stage fright was a major problem when she began performing, between-songs banter remains a work in progress, and as endlessly charming as she is during her talk with the Straight, interviews can sometimes be challenging.
Looking back at her childhood she remembers finding solace in music, that removing some of the sting of being on the outside looking in.
“I was afraid as a kid—I think that everyone is afraid from the ages of 8 to 14,” she opines. “It’s scary being alive—everything is so simple and so complicated at the same time. So it’s absolutely logical that if you find someone that’s easy to pick on and to laugh at it will make you feel bigger about yourself. It’s about finding an easy target, and I definitely was.”
If there’s a silver lining to that, it’s that Aurora has connect with others just like her with her debut album, All My Demons Greeting Me As a Friend, the very title of which suggests she’s capable of turning dark moments into something positive.
(And in case the record’s title doesn’t get the message through, consider how the cover art depicts Aurora swaddled in pale mummylike fabric with her eyes closed, beige butterfly wings sprouting from her back, the whole picture suggesting someone caught in mid-metamorphosis.)
The songs on All My Demons Greeting Me As a Friend straddle two different worlds, the music lush and ethereal, the lyrics suggesting someone had some dark times that needed working through.
Aurora—who’s been writing songs since she was nine—has drawn comparisons to folk-pop giants like Sia, Of Monsters and Men, and Lorde, all of which are understandable. The hazy heart-of-pain synths and her wonderfully wounded delivery will also resonate with those desperately wishing Lana Del Rey would get back in the studio.
Major fans have included everyone from Howard Stern and Katy Perry to the editors at Rolling Stone, who pegged her as one of 2016’s artists to watch at the beginning of the year.
The hype is more than justified. Where things get fascinating on All My Demons is that the songs never come across as depressing, despite lyrics like “All I need is to remember how it was to feel alive,” from the lightly trip-hopped “Winter Bird”. That dichotomy is entirely intentional. As much as she loves being alone, Aurora has learned how to cope around her fellow human beings.
“Things could have turned out badly for me—like, I used to be terrified of people who wanted to hug me,” she says. “I did not like to be hugged as a child. And I used to be terrified of one of my teachers at school, but then I met him a few months ago, and it was really nice. It’s weird how things change.
“I used to really be afraid of playing live on-stage, and now I look forward to it every time. Sometimes it’s about getting to know your fears and realizing that things really weren’t that scary after all.”
UPDATE: the Aurora show scheduled for the Vogue on Saturday (December 3) has been CANCELLED.