Q&A: Pop Songstress Dagny Talks Spice Girls, Living on the Road, and the Future of Pop

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The Troubadour in West Hollywood is an infamous venue when it comes to music, having served an epicenter for folk music in the ‘60s and subsequently for singer-songwriters and rock stars in the decades to come. Inside its hallowed halls, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Carole King, Fleetwood Mac, Guns N’ Roses, and Harry Styles have all delivered career-defining performances. So, as I made my way into this seemingly sacred space, it felt a tad bit like destiny that I was there to talk to and witness rising pop star Dagny deliver what very well may have been a similar pivotal set.

Dagny first burst on to the scene with “Backbeat,” an explosive pop anthem that came seemingly out of nowhere, and has since gone on to tour with fellow Ones To Watch favorite LANY and deliver a host of other forward-looking singles. However, her musical journey started in the city of Tromsø, Norway, a far-cry from the world of pop. Much like the journey of the Troubadour itself, Dagny’s road to pop would span both decades and genres.

 From her upbringing in a jazz household, brief phases as a folk and rock artist, to the Dagny of now–a veritable Norwegian pop songstress. So, as fans eagerly lined up outside for what indeed turned out to be a career-defining set, I spoke with Dagny about a recent obsession with photography, living her life primarily on the road, and what the future of pop looks like through her eyes. 

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OTW: You’ve been in L.A. for a few days now. Have you gotten to do anything fun yet?

Dagny: I’ve been to Levi’s, and got some new clothes. You can see I’m all done up today. I’ve been in sessions. I’ve been at shoots. I’ve had lots of Thai foods. Had some nice banana pancakes. It’s pretty full-on when we’re in Los Angeles. It’s pretty bam, bam, bam, bam, bam.

OTW: You wrapped up a Ones To Watch tour with Lany in November - what was the experience like?

Dagny: It was the most amazing tour I’ve ever done. It was brilliant. It was really living the tour life. We were all in this bus doing 35 shows in 50 days and it was everything I’d hoped my first bus tour would be. And I learned a lot from watching the guys every night and getting to meet the audience and doing such big shows every night. You grow more confident as a performer. I think that a big part of why we can do this tour is because of that tour. It was a real experience.

OTW: This is your first headlining tour in the U.S. How’s it going so far?

Dagny: Good! It’s nice to play shows and people come and they know all your songs. It’s surreal. It’s been really nice. We get to meet so many of the fans every night, both before and after the show. I think it’s been really good. I’m sad that it’s nearly over.

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All performance photos courtesy of Justin Higuchi (@jus10h)

OTW: Any post-tour plans?

Dagny: I think I only have about three weeks before we kick off festival season, so I’m doing a lot of writing and just getting ready for the summer.

OTW: Speaking of festivals, you did 33 festivals last summer. It seems like you’re constantly touring.

Dagny: Yeah, I tour a lot. Every time I tell people that I only have 20 shows they’re like “What?! That’s not only!” But after last year it doesn’t feel like a lot. And then we’re doing a European tour straight after that. There’s a lot of touring, but I love touring and for me, that’s a big motivator of why I want to be a musician. To actually get to see the people who connect with your music every day.

OTW: Do you ever get any downtime?

Dagny: I don’t know what that means, no. I don’t have privacy anymore, because I pretty much live in a house with these guys. But I don’t mind that, not for now.

OTW: “Backbeat” was the first major song of yours to really take off. You said you didn’t really have a plan at the time and you were thinking of going back to school. What’s it like looking back on that now?

Dagny: My sister puts it really well. We talk about the time “before ‘Backbeat’” and we talk about the time “after ‘Backbeat”’ as if they’re two different lives because it really does feel like that. “Backbeat” was kind of something we decided to release without having anyone backing it up, or any plan or anything. I had just decided a month before that after I’d planned to go to school for half a year I just decided not to do it after all. My parents were like “No! Just keep playing music, you’re going to be fine.” And then it all just suddenly changed overnight in a way. And we’d been working for years but it really did change overnight. There’s this whole idea that you have to be a long-term planner always if you’re going to be a success and you know sometimes things happen. Doors open and you’re opened up to opportunities and if you just have an open mind I think things can happen. And it did.

OTW: From “Backbeat” to now, what do you think is the most important thing you’ve learned as an artist?

Dagny: Just to trust my gut. It was hard at times, especially when you have all these big people, labels and lots of people telling you “No, no this is the right thing, this is the right song, this is the right artwork” and you just have to kind of be like “No, I’ve got a gut feeling right now and I’m gonna stick with it.” It just turns out to be right most of the time. They’re my songs, my life, and my musical career so who would know it better? Sometimes it doesn’t go as you planned and sometimes you’re surprised at what happens. You have to like what you do and you have to try to be honest about what you want to do and that’s really all you can do. If you’re trying to be someone else or do what everyone else is doing all the time then I just think you’re gonna get lost. At least I would. Just follow your gut.

OTW: What were you planning to study when you considered going to school?

Dagny: (Laughs) I did actually do a half a year of media design. I think I’m pretty visual, so it was interesting. I got to do some courses in photography and graphic design and it’s really fun actually. I did discover once I opened up to the possibility of going to school there are lots of things I would love to study.

OTW: You come from a very musical family, with both of your parents being jazz musicians. Did you always imagine that you would inevitably get into music?

Dagny: No, it was mostly because it was so there all of the time that it never really hit me that I would be a musician too. I had so many other dreams, like I was going to be a dancer, and a football keeper, and an astronaut. All these different things. So I think for me the dream of being a performing artist came really late. I think I was nearly 17. Compared to most other people, that’s really late.

OTW: You went from growing up in a jazz family, to more of a folksy phase, and now you’re currently doing pop. Can you talk a bit about that journey?

Dagny: Well, it’s weird because obviously I love pop but actually I listen mainly to acoustic or more country and rock. I don’t listen to a lot of chart music. I guess you can hear in my music it’s more influenced by bands from 20 years ago, 90s bands. I obviously grew up in jazz, loved pop music as a kid, then had a phase where I was like hell no I don’t like pop, pop, is stupid. I just wanted to listen to really grungy music and then I think I came over 20 again and I was like pop is the love of my life and I’m gonna stick with that.

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OTW: Were there any pop artists growing up that really stuck with you?

Dagny: It’s kind of a changing thing. Looking back, I listened to Robyn already in the 90s or early 2000s. And I still like her, so she stuck with me. And I think a lot of the more folky artists like Joni Mitchell. Those that I listened to even through my more rocky phase, they stuck with me. I did grow up with the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys being our gods. But I think I am constantly changing and finding new artists that I can be completely and utterly obsessed with until I find someone new. Børns was one of those. Right now it’s Phoebe Bridgers. I go through phases.

OTW: Tough question time. Who was your favorite Spice Girl?

Dagny: Mel B. That was me. She was wild.

OTW: You covered “More, More, More,” Andrea’s True Connection disco hit. What led you to tackle that song?

Dagny: That was actually for a Target commercial and it was a great challenge. It was something I’d never done before. I actually didn’t know the song before or the video, and the video’s amazing. She’s just so boss. So that wasn’t my choice and that release was more about trying to kind of get the sound of Target. So, it didn’t necessarily represent me as an artist, but I think as an artist you’re constantly looking for new challenges and new ways to be creative. And that was just a really fun project to be a part of. There’s a lot of other stuff I would like to cover though.

OTW: What would be the next song or genre you would love to take on?

Dagny: I would love one time in my life to do more of a Joni Mitchell album, more acoustic, more down, more mellow. Not so strict on how the song is built up, and more just telling stories. And I would love to do more of a folk album like that.

OTW: You recently released “Drink About” with Seeb who is also from Norway. How did that collaboration come about?

Dagny: That was just a song that kind of popped up in my inbox and normally with features, if I haven’t written the song, it just doesn’t fit my voice. I wasn’t really thinking too much about it but then my sister kept singing the song. We only heard it once and she just kept singing it over the next few weeks and I was like alright maybe I should give it a go. I went into the studio not thinking we were definitely going to do it but from the moment we met it was just great chemistry and they made me feel really comfortable. The song actually fit my voice, and it was really fun to sing it. I connected with it, so by the end of the day, we were like alright let’s do this. And I’m very happy, it’s a good song.

OTW: Are there any plans for a debut album or any other releases?

Dagny: Definitely more music this year, because there’s been a lot of touring. I think I need to focus a bit more on releasing music. There are a few songs coming over the next few months. And then I’m hoping we’ll do something longer. There’s definitely lots of songs that are waiting to be released.

OTW: What do you hope the future of pop looks like?

Dagny: I think music is all about trying to bring out emotion, and it can say something about the time that you live in, but I also think that music doesn’t necessarily have to be political. It’s about emotions and I hope that people keep telling stories and bringing out emotion. Because for me the best escape that I ever have is listening to a song that I can disappear with. I might’ve had a really stressful day and for ten minutes I’m in an uber and I get to listen to two songs and I can just disappear into my own world with a song. That’s really all I can hope for. I do hope that people don’t stop using real instruments like guitars, and pianos. I don’t think that’s gonna happen, but I just hope that people keep touring with bands and not just computers. It’s a changing business all the time and I just hope that we keep making music that brings out emotions.

OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?

Dagny: Phoebe Bridgers is definitely one. I know that she is doing stuff already, but she just released an album and I’m just like “How the hell is this not fuckin everywhere? I love this album.” Having been so far into touring right now, I actually haven’t been checking out a lot of new stuff recently, so I think she would be my biggest one to watch at the moment.

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