Releasing an album in late 2020 is a brave move. Releasing two, well... Norway's Ane Brun tells Harry Guerin about her new records, Breaking the Surface and How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow.

Harry Guerin: Two new albums within a month of each other. When did this plan start forming in your head, and why not a double album?

Ane Brun: I actually meant to make only one album. I had written 16 songs before we went into the studio, and usually all songs don't fit into an album. I thought we would probably end up with an album and a few bonus tracks. I wanted it to be an album with a big sound: beats, basslines, big strings, synths and warm vocals, a hybrid of acoustic and digital sounds. But as time went by, many of the tracks didn't reach their full potential in the big production so I stripped them down into more intimate versions, where their message could come through.

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And when the pandemic started, and I ended up in semi-lockdown in Oslo, I had a lot of time to work through the songs, really listen, and make some important decisions. I rearranged three more songs that I wasn't happy with and made them into more intimate versions. And when that was done, I had written a new acoustic song, Breaking the Surface. All of a sudden, I had two albums that represented two different sides of my music: the experimental part of me and the more traditional part of me.

Both albums together made up 90 minutes of music, and at least I, as a listener, don't have the attention span for so much music at once. I really wanted my listeners to be able to give all the songs a real chance so I decided to separate the releases with four weeks. Especially the second album, How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow, has the function of a playlist. You enter a state of mind when you put it on.

Did you do much agonising over the albums' titles? Why did you settle on them?
It was quite easy, actually. I had originally decided that the intended album would be called How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow. And then After the Great Storm was another suggestion that we had already thought about, so it all fell very naturally into place. 

And the sequencing?
I always find sequencing difficult and let my manager make a few suggestions to me, since it's hard to be objective in the order of the songs. I usually want them all to be in the top three. 

I hear After the Great Storm as more expansive and How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow as more intimate. Is that wide of the mark?
After the Great Storm represents the adventurous side of me, where I want to challenge my sound and expand it. It's a bit dark yet still warm. How Beauty Holds... is a more familiar sound, the singer-songwriter part of me, the ballads and the softness, melancholic and empathetic. 

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It's fascinating how much the lyrics seem to pertain to what we're all living through now. Which ones give you the most chills, given that they were written before all this began?
I think that Take Hold of Me really captures an existentially 'hungry' feeling that I've felt this year; that things are on hold, that we don't live life at its full potential right now. And We Need a Mother talks about the lack of authentic leaders that can unify us.  

What have you found most challenging on a da-to-day basis since last March?
It's challenging not to be able to socialise with friends and family as spontaneously and naturally as I want to. I also live my life in two cities, Stockholm and Oslo, and the quarantine situation makes that very hard, logistically, since I can't go back and forth as I'm used to. I also am very sad that my long European tour was moved to next year. 

What have you learned about yourself?
I've learned how to be here and now. To be in what is, and not what was supposed to be happening right now. I learn to not take things for granted, and it feels like a training camp in acceptance.  

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Looking ahead to better times, you're due to finish your 2021 tour in Dublin next November. What stands out about the first time you played Ireland?
I tried to figure out when the first time was, but couldn't really... It must be about 12-13 years ago. But I can say that I always just love playing in Ireland - you have a generous and warm audience and lovely people. 

After the Great Storm is out now. How Beauty Holds the Hand of Sorrow is released on 27 November. Ane Brun plays Vicar St on 23 November, 2021. Tickets are on sale now.