Oh Land, Unearthed
On her new album, Earth Sick, a fearless Nanna Øland Fabricius digs deep.
It’s no surprise to learn that Nanna Øland Fabricius grew up dancing. At 29, the singer-songwriter better known as Oh Land has long limbs and sharp features, and retains the kind of graceful movements that could only stem from a classical ballet background. But a serious back injury at the age of 18 kept the Denmark native from going pro. Perhaps serendipitously, it was also the thing that propelled her toward music. “When I was bedridden, I realized that I could sing and make up melodies and words and write songs,” she recalls. “I think once I healed more and got stronger, I realized that I didn’t want to go back to dance. I wanted to live in this new world that I’d created for myself.” In 2008 she shared that new world under the moniker Oh Land on her debut album, Fauna. Her latest record, Earth Sick—home-recorded, self-produced, and fan-funded—contains ecstatic sparkly pop, floor-shaking drum and bass, and heaps of brooding, defiant lyrics lifted by vocals that seem to soar with ease. From her plant-filled home in Brooklyn, NY, with her dog, Ujan, at her side, Fabricius spoke to Tidal about her musical upbringing, the significance of first love, and what gives her superhuman powers.
Several members of your family are on the new record—your dad plays strings, your mom sings. What was it like growing up surrounded by musicians?
It was funny. Whenever we had family come over, uncles or aunts or whatever, it was always about playing. My dad and my aunt would get scores out and start playing piano, and my mom would sing opera and my cousin would play violin. I wouldn’t really do anything because I wasn’t a musician. I definitely felt a little left out in that classical circle. Looking back, I think it’s safe to say I was the clown in the family.
What was their reaction when you started writing songs?
I think they were surprised by the language that I have in my music. It was something that was so different from my family and something that was so much myself, particularly because I wasn’t trained. I came from a background where training is such an important thing. But more than anything, I think everyone was just relieved because they saw me happy again. They felt like I was being more true in what I was doing than I had ever been.
How does the high from dancing compare to the high of making music?
I think they’re very different highs, but I also think there’s something to be said for the first love. I think it’s hard to ever fall in love the way you did the first time you fell in love, because you had no fear. I think when I was 15, dancing was a euphoria that came from being active onstage and training and being so strong and able to move so fast. It was an adrenaline rush. Music is a very different kind of love. It’s more subtle, and it’s more about communication. Dance, to me, was an egotistical thing, where music is really about reaching out to people. It’s a social thing for me, where I communicate my deepest thoughts to other people.
Do you feel like there’s a theme to the songs on Earth Sick?
Yeah. I think there’s some kind of longing, some kind of homesickness in the way that there’s a longing to be balanced and be present in whatever situation I’m in. There are a lot of songs where I’m expressing frustration—frustration about being scared, about the environment, about TV, about friends, frustration with having feelings. I feel like I’m striving to be this robot who’s not impacted by anything, but also, I understand how sad that would be, so maybe I should just accept the frustration.
What do you enjoy about making music?
I think I love that you can never go wrong. No matter what you do, you will always be safe. It’s weird to describe, but I feel like when I’m making music, I’m completely fearless and I can do anything, and that’s not a feeling I generally have in life. With music I feel like Superman. I feel like I can jump on the roof and run up the walls and do anything.
Is that heightened onstage?
Definitely. When I’m onstage, not only do I think I can do those things, but I also try to do those things. You’ve heard those stories about mothers who lift trucks to save their kids? I feel like I get those superpowers onstage, which also results in me getting injured quite a lot. [Laughs] I have hundreds of scars. It’s not a good show if I don’t hurt myself somehow.