By Caitlin Wolper
Anna Lotterud played her last headlining show on March 6 in San Francisco — just a week before coronavirus shutdowns rocked the United States. Lotterud, who performs bouncy, upbeat electro-pop as Anna of the North, was wracked with indecision — she was working on music in Los Angeles and wasn’t sure if she should go home to Norway. For quite some time, flights were full and booked; she’s back home now, but spent a while stuck in California.
The period of coronavirus-imposed uncertainty contributed to the dream-pop musician’s new EP, Believe. Out today (October 23), the release finds Lotterud pulling back on her usually upbeat production to offer something a bit slower. On Believe, she reimagines two of her own tracks — “Lovers” and “Dream Girl” — and offers up a new song, “Someone Special,” as well as two covers.
“[In my other work,] even though the lyrics are melancholic, the production is quite happy,” Lotterud tells MTV News. “[Believe is] a chance to show myself in a different way, more of who I am.”
Known for everything from her song “Lovers” in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before to her features on Tyler, the Creator’s “Boredom” and “911 / Mr. Lonely” — where she provides clean and jazzy backing vocals that smoothly counter Tyler’s verses — Lotterud’s already stacked up a number of hits, but Believe is a refreshing new entry.
The slower daily pace she’s experienced during the pandemic has resulted in a period of reflection: That’s how the eerie cover of Cher’s “Believe” came to be, as well as her take on jazz musician Bendik Baksaas’s “Lover Ghost.” The organ-led “Believe” is dramatically slowed to a ballad, and while the production relies on similar Auto-Tune, Lotterud’s voice doesn’t carry any affectation — it comes through clearly and cleanly above the noise. Her “Lover Ghost” cover strips the song of some of its jazzier overtones, opting instead for a slowed, sparer production relying on slow beats and her more electronic inclinations.
With their new production, the tracks are more vulnerable, intimate, and immediate. Cher’s “Believe” becomes a tender ballad; “Dream Girl” is nearly morose.
“All of the songs I’ve done, they all have their special meaning to me — ‘Believe’ and ‘Lover Ghost’ are songs I listened to when I moved to Melbourne, my anthems in 2014,” Lotterud says. “All these songs have special meanings to me and now is that time to think about that sort of stuff.”
And as she reflected on her favorite songs, she reflected on her own work as well. As she reworked “Lovers” and “Dream Girl,” Lotterud found herself reminded of her beginning, when she recorded in her bedroom. The two tracks, in their original states, are effervescent, bounding with a Lily Allen-esque twinkle that often obscures quite downbeat lyrics. Lotterud describes herself as a “happy-sad” person; the reimagined tracks on Believe err toward revealing the melancholy her lyrics have held all along.
“A different production can give a song an entire new meaning,” Lotterud says. “That is the cool part of covering your own songs, but it’s also the really hard part, because you have the song that’s done, you said you like it, then you start to write a new version of it. That’s really hard — everything sounds wrong, because you’re so used to hearing it [as the original].”
While Lotterud doesn’t see Believe as a tonal shift in her work — she currently has a new album in the works that aligns with the upbeat production of her previous albums — she does see it as something she’ll pursue more in the future.
But for now, in this world, making a slow, stripped-down EP “just made sense.” And “Someone Special,” the EP’s new track, fits perfectly: a mournful, piano-led song about wanting to be with a person who’s far away. Though she first wrote the song in the U.S., her dad plays piano on the track, a callback to when she was young and they would perform together.
In many ways, Believe takes Lotterud back to her roots: low-key, less-produced bedroom-pop that pulses with yearning. “I’ve never been home for so long, I think now it’s been half a year almost,” Lotterud says. “I think maybe I needed it.”