AURORA On Womaning Up & Connecting To Nature: 'It Felt Like Singing On Behalf Of Mother Earth'

6 June 2024 | 11:23 am | Mary Varvaris

On her dazzling fifth album, 'What Happened To The Heart?', Norwegian alt-pop luminary AURORA says she was inspired by "music that seems like the soul of different places of the earth".


AURORA (Credit: Wanda Martin)

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AURORA has been pondering important things like life and death.

Following 2016’s All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend, 2018’s Infections Of A Different Kind (Step 1), 2019’s A Different Kind Of Human (Step 2) and 2022’s The Gods We Can Touch, the Norwegian alt-pop singer, songwriter and record producer is preparing to release her fifth album, What Happened To The Heart? She can’t wait for her devoted fans to hear it.

“I feel like I'm about to give birth,” she jokes from her hotel room in Paris. “I cannot wait not to be pregnant anymore; I can have a glass of wine again [laughs]. No, it feels super intense, and it feels wonderful. I'm really excited for the world to hear it, especially my fans. I'm just so excited for them to hear it.”

And her fans have a lot to be excited about.

In November, AURORA returned with her first new music in two years with Your Blood, a floating, disco-infused, groove-laden song that found her vocals reaching new heights. She followed that up with The Conflict Of The Mind, a relaxed song encouraging slow dancing.

Then in March she dropped Some Type Of Skin, where she sings, “Hit me hard where I am soft”, perhaps influencing one of her most famous fans, Billie Eilish – a perfect modern pop song with a soaring chorus. Last month, she opened up the dancefloors with the surprise drop of the epic single, To Be Alright. No one is ready for the single that comes next.

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Back in April, though, she released a remix by Brian Eno on what might be the most poignant track on What Happened To The Heart? A song anchored by the mandolin, A Soul With No King takes AURORA – and the world – back to her folky roots for a story about humans painfully out of touch with nature.

“We've come to a place where people don't really touch grass during a whole day,” AURORA says, referencing a popular internet term but in her genuine, unflinching manner. “People wake up because they have to, not because they want to, and they go to work and sit inside these rooms… that is like a prison! And we can't leave. I feel like society is structured in such a strange way that it is meant to make people feel like they are not individuals or free because we find all these ways to trap people in these temporary prisons all around us.

“I wonder why we decided to make the world like that,” she ponders, “because now it feels like we cannot change it because that's how the world goes round. It's so strange to me. The food we eat – so many countries eat food that doesn't even come from the Earth. We don't even know what's in it anymore.

“A human with a soul with no king is a very dangerous thing. There’s no direction or intuition pulling you anywhere. You're just tagging along without thinking. I don't know, it's kind of dystopian.” It’s not so dystopian because what AURORA discusses is all too real (“Preach, girl, preach!” she exclaims).

What Happened To The Heart? was born with the title first, and the songs followed. AURORA has described her forthcoming album as her “most personal and cathartic” album to date. After reading a letter co-written by Indigenous activists titled, We Are The Earth that “changed her life”, she found the album’s title and concept in the letter’s description of the Earth as “the heart that pulsates within us”.

In March, AURORA described the album title as “the most important, beautiful and sad question I’ve ever wondered in my life”. With the album arriving on Friday, she says the question What Happened To The Heart? helped her process grief, anger and pain.

“It started out as pain and grief, and then it became anger – not a blind anger – and eventually, after the grief was processed, it became the focus, I would say,” she shares. “First, you grieve whatever you find so hopelessly wrong and unworthy in this world that we live in. So many people deserve so much more than what this world is giving them, and it's just completely heartbreaking to think that we deserve so much more as people, such a better world.”

She continues, “Eventually, it becomes focused, and you think, ‘Okay, well, now we need to do something about it.’ Give yourself some time to sulk, to cry, to grieve, to go a bit numb. That's part of it; that's okay. And then you get focused, and then you woman up, and you do something about it. That's how I'm thinking about it.”

As for what ‘womaning up’ entails, AURORA says the process begins by allowing pain to be a part of you. To move from self-destruction to self-healing, the Running With The Wolves singer believes you need to be willing to fight for humans.

The beginning of that process is explored in the album’s first song, Echo Of My Shadow. “It’s about a day that I died, or a version of me died, and I realised that okay, from now on, I will not be the same that I was, but I will become a better, peaceful weapon for the world for me and for people like me,” she comments. “So, I died, and then I dealt with that, and that's how I warmed up during the album and my process of making it.”

Womaning up includes “accepting that people are capable of afflicting pain on each other,” she notes. “That's human, sadly, but it is a human thing. Then, learn to love and be willing to fight for humans, even though we're capable of such evil, but still find us worthy of fighting for, if that makes sense. That's the process I went through.”

What Happened To The Heart? has many sides and personalities, and AURORA wanted to capture them all on one album. “It feels always like a very overwhelming, big thing,” she concurs. To her, the question has a lengthy answer, and she felt it was too important not to answer in every way she could.

“I feel like every time I write an album; it feels like a huge mountaintop you have to conquer because everything you want to write about is so complex and so deep. The way the world is right now is very strange, very connected to itself,” she explains.

AURORA considers the magical things that speak to the soul: good food, pure food, art, music – all things that conjure magic on this planet. All things that contribute to our self-worth and relationships with other humans.

“It keeps us going,” she says, “And in the current world, a lot of these languages have stopped talking directly to our soul because the food people eat has no soul anymore, the clothes we wear come with so much forced labour and pain, and a lot of the music we listen to doesn't really speak in a way that it is to the soul. Our connection is with people that aren't here physically. I feel like there's so much to us as human beings right now that is affecting us to become these numb creatures.”

On What Happened To The Heart?, AURORA is at the meeting point of the traditional and the modern. But it’s far from the first time she’s straddled such a fine line to produce something truly spectacular.

In 2018, she joined the Norwegian band Wardruna for an awe-inspiring performance of their song Helvegen, which the band describes as being “about death, dying, and remembering those who have passed.” According to the band, it’s “about crossing over and about letting go. It is a song about searching for lost songs and old traditions.”

With her angelic voice opening the song for a one-off live version filmed at Bergenhus Fortress in Bergen, Norway, AURORA embraces her roots as her voice becomes one with Wardruna singer Einar Selvik.

On what she channelled in that phenomenal performance, AURORA quips, “our ancient roots, the wrath of the Gods and the pleasures of Valhalla.”

“I’m a very big admirer of Wardruna. I like basically all bands that are folky or metal; that's my favourite genre,” she explains. “I just love the darkness they bring because that's a big part of Norwegian culture – not in a destructive way, it's just very acknowledging of the dark that death is a big part of life, and grief is a big part of life, and that's okay.”

She adds that she enjoys the realism and beauty of ancient Norwegian beliefs and cultures in music and that Wardruna “captures that really beautifully. Together, it felt like singing on behalf of Mother Earth.”

She collaborated with another band earlier this year: English metallers Bring Me The Horizon on the Deftones-inspired liMOusIne. AURORA immediately laughs at the stark contrast between the collaborations and says, “Okay, we didn't exactly sing for Mother Earth, but it also felt really cool, just tapping into the darkness, but in a more seductive way.”

Like What Happened To The Heart?, the pair mined themes of self-destruction, with AURORA continuing: “You’re letting yourself be seduced by what’s dark, but then it also has a lot of power and a lot of individualism.”

Across her new album’s 16 songs, AURORA follows the Greek Mythology inspiration of her fourth album, 2022’s The Gods We Can Touch, with stories of humans. She takes her influences of The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy and Underworld, her love for folk and metal, and her roots in traditional Norwegian culture to answer her main question.

She’s with nature, incorporating instruments such as the Chinese pipa (a four-string plucked lute) on My Name; she maintains acoustic beauty on The Essence, A Soul With No King, and Earthly Delights; she hosts the dance of Starvation and the already-released singles; and she isn’t afraid to shine within the darkness of The Blade. “I'm very inspired by old or new, whatever music that seems like the soul of different places of the earth,” AURORA adds.

She has “many friends” in Berlin, as well as a devoted fanbase, and the German EDM scene was a big inspiration on Starvation. “When I listen to music, I'm a very big fan of The Prodigy and Underworld and Chemical Brothers. I think that kind of music is very cool, and I'm European, so it makes sense.”

But with A Soul With No King and the other acoustic-led songs on What Happened To The Heart?, AURORA says she “cannot make an album without having something a bit folky”. She explains, “I've always been a bit folk pop because I love the ancientness of it. I just follow what feels good. I don't really think [about it] much; it's just doing what feels right.

“I feel very different every day, and this album is inspired by humans. It's for humans, about humans, and humans are all over the place, so it makes sense that this album is all over the place.”

What Happened To The Heart? is out on Friday June 7 via Glassnote Records. You can pre-order/pre-save the album here.