How MO Burst The LA Bubble

19 October 2018 | 1:20 pm | Cyclone Wehner

Ahead of the release of second LP 'Forever Neverland', Cyclone speaks to Danish sensation MO about finding Neverland in LA, not wanting to float away and taking her time to write a personal record.

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The Danish electro-popster MO (aka Karen Andersen) rules streaming platforms as a featured artist – famously co-writing and singing Major Lazer's record-breaking 2015 tropical banger Lean On with DJ Snake. Now the in-demand singer-songwriter is reclaiming her musical identity with a spirited second album, Forever Neverland.

Hailing from outside Odense in southern Denmark, Andersen's childhood musical fix was the Spice Girls. But, by her teens, she was active in the punk scene. After a spell in the noise duo MOR, Andersen went solo as a wonky pop act. She connected with Diplo early for XXX 88. In 2014, MO debuted with the buzz LP No Mythologies To Follow – inevitably compared to those Scandinavian icons Bjork and Robyn. She bonded with Diplo, featuring on Lean On and another Major Lazer mega-hit, Cold Water, alongside Justin Bieber. Andersen would subsequently cut tracks with everyone from Snakehips to Jack Antonoff (for the Love, Simon OST). In between, she toured.

"I guess I felt like a Peter Pan kind of figure a little bit for the last couple of years, living this amazing life."

Back in late 2016, as Andersen prepared to headline the Falls Festival, she spoke of presenting an oft-delayed second album the following year. That summer, the star pulled out of live dates, having developed pneumonia. "That sucked," a breezy Andersen recalls today from Copenhagen. In fact, even as she released singles like the Diplo-stamped Kamikaze (and a stopgap EP, When I Was Young), the album evolved. "It took me four and a half years to write this one, so it's been quite a while – yeah, it's been a long journey," Andersen laughs. "But my first album came out in 2014 and I was kind of like an upcoming indie-pop artist. Then, with Lean On happening, because all of a sudden everybody around the world knew this song and they were like, 'Oh, who's this girl singing?' that just opened so many doors and so many new possibilities. I think, in the storm of all that, it just took me a little while to find my own sound and my own voice again – and not in a bad way, but it took me a little while to find out what this album was gonna be like. Because I love putting out singles and doing collaborations but, with an album, I still feel like you need to tell a story. It's all these little chapters. It needs to be very well done. So I took my time."

In July, The Sunday Times profiled Andersen, suggesting that she "walked away from the industry". Yet her full account isn't as dramatic. Andersen once typically wrote solitarily. But, befitting her A-list status as a pop phenom, Forever Neverland is ambitiously curated. Indeed, Andersen worked in Los Angeles with myriad co-writers and super-producers – including, yes, Diplo (the delicate single Sun In Our Eyes), Frank Dukes and Illangelo. It was, she admits, "scary". "I think that was the biggest challenge for me: to figure out a way to operate and to be vulnerable and to be myself and to get my ideas through in an environment like that where it's all about all this collaboration and all these different people." She hooked up with Sydney future bass-type What So Not for Mercy – the pair hitting a studio when Andersen supported "Queen Sia" here last year. "He's such a sweet guy and I really love what he does." As guests, Andersen solicited colleagues-cum-friends Charli XCX and Empress Of ("I just love her vibe"). However, she eventually did retreat so as to ensure that Forever Neverland remained her vision – and was "cohesive". "I feel like albums have to be personal, otherwise I'm not super-interested." She wrapped Forever Neverland with ST!NT, her executive producer, who's previously guided Gallant.

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Impressively, Forever Neverland has retained the ethos of an indie-pop project with its experimental undercurrent. Andersen adapted the album's theme from JM Barrie's mythos of Peter Pan – leader of the Lost Boys in Neverland. For her, Forever Neverland is deeper than a coming-of-age narrative with a gender switch. "I think I liked the idea of this kinda magical title – Forever Neverland. But, actually, when you look at what 'Neverland' means, it's quite dark. It's all these Lost Boys and Peter Pan, who refuses to grow up; they refuse to see reality as it is. So basically it's escapism. I guess I felt like a Peter Pan kind of figure a little bit for the last couple of years, living this amazing life. But also it's so far removed from the life that I came from back in Denmark – you know, my middle-class family, and all of a sudden living this life where you're flying around and you're in LA all the time. And LA is its own little thing; LA is its own little bubble. I remember thinking that LA almost was like a real-life 'Neverland', in a way." In recent years, when not on the road, Andersen has spent considerable time in LA, but her apartment is in Denmark. "I think it's important to keep grounded and it's important for me to keep up my very strong, old relationships with people that I have in Denmark. I don't just wanna fly away and float away." Nevertheless, Andersen isn't necessarily unsettled by success. "I love this hectic lifestyle," she tenders. "It treats me well."

At 30, Andersen has plans. "I do think a lot about the future, but I also try to take it day-to-day, because in this industry things can change overnight almost," she reasons. Andersen is currently "super-excited" about touring behind Forever Neverland, with European shows in November. And she'll return to Australia. "I know that it's on the table." She won't stop. "I'm really excited to just now start on the third album, and get started on new music, because this album has been on my mind for four and a half years. So I'm just so excited to go into a songwriting process where it's kinda like from a total clean sheet – just like, 'Whoosh, what's next?' And then I wanna do more collaborations and put out singles and stuff. But I'm just excited about everything now. It's a new chapter."