“XXX 88” - by MØ produced by Diplo.
Growing up in the isolated suburbs of Odense, Denmark certainly doesn’t seem to have made Karen Marie Ørsted the shy and retiring type. In February 2014 the new queen of rowdy yet introspective Scandi-tronica releases her debut album No Mythologies To Follow, which comes in the wake of high profile collaborations with everyone from Diplo to Avicii. A teenage tearaway, she might have ditched the pink hair and Black Flag patches—she called time on her cult punk band at 22—but those years have informed her rebellious onstage antics and the magnetic individuality that runs through her music. Still just 25, you can expect MØ, which means ‘virgin’ in Danish, to be the name on everyone’s lips in 2014. Just make sure you can say it right first…
Noisey: So just how do you pronounce your name?
MØ: I think it’s very hard for people not from Scandinavia to say it! But it’s “Mooo.”
Do people get it wrong a lot?
Yeah, but that’s cool! It’s kind of nice in a way. I don’t know why!
Why go under MØ instead of Karen?
I’ve always really liked the idea of an artist name, like a cover-up, even though in my music I’m being very personal in the stuff that I write about. My private name is a different thing.
What was your first ever song like?
The first song I ever wrote was called “Because I Love You.” I was very inspired by the Spice Girls and they were singing about love and stuff and I was seven. I didn’t know anything, but I just made a ton of love songs. I’d never had a boyfriend but it just made sense. You start off at an early age dreaming about love, but you have no idea how it will be.
How long until you realized you were good at writing music?
I still feel sometimes that I’m not good, but then also sometimes I feel like I’m very good. It changes all the time. You always want to be better and then sometimes you can be bummed out, “It’s not good enough, fuck!” When I was nine I made a song and I played it for my best friend. I turned around and she was angry as fuck, because she was the most popular girl in class—she was always being a princess. She was angry because she thought it was so good.
How has your musical taste changed since those Spice Girls years?
I was very much a pop girl but then when I became a teenager everything got turned upside down. It’s so crazy how your life changes because of all of those hormones—you fall in love and you get drunk for the first time. If you ask my mum and dad they would say that I was hard to be around. I was a trouble teenager. I was uncontrollable, but I haven’t done anything that I’m not proud of. I was in this punk band and also in all of these left wing organizations, we were taking over houses that were empty and demonstrating and being drunk and throwing parties in my parents house…”
Sounds like fun!
It was! I think that’s also why I’m so inspired by the teen years when I write music, because everything’s so fucking crazy and amazing, though you’re very self-centered and confused and don’t understand anything going on around you, but anyway…. I started listening to punk music. Sonic Youth were my big love and they are still. They were my teenage soundtrack, and Black Flag I love, Sex Pistols, The Clash. And all the grunge stuff of course, like Smashing Pumpkins.
Tell us about your punk band…
We were like two girls singing. It was very, very political, very, very “Fuck society.” I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world, it was five amazing years. It was called Mor, which means mother in Danish. We weren’t famous, but in the underground we were a known name. We weren’t good, we sounded horrible, but we got a lot of attention, because we were very energetic on stage. The music was very trashy, but in a danceable way. We played every squat and toured Europe and New York. We started the band when we were 18, but we met when I was 14, doing the political, anti-fascist stuff. When I was 20 I fell in love with heavy electronic music and hip-hop, but I was still into punk and I’m still into punk, and that was when I started MØ, on the side. But she’s still my best friend.
What did you wear in your punk phase?
I was very much into crust punk, so it was about a blank tank top and then black trousers with holes all over the place. Then a bum bag [fanny pack], of course, and so much make-up you wouldn’t believe. I never got a piercing. It was toned down. Then a lot of patches. I had dark pink-purple hair. I stopped dying it when I was 19—I thought it would be cooler if it was all white, like totally platinum blonde, so I started doing that instead. I’m still very much into black.
How did you get into the hip-hop stuff?
In Odense the punk environment and the hip-hop environment are very closely connected, because they’re both left. When I was 19, 20, me and my girlfriends started hanging around these graffiti boys and skaters who listened to very cool hip-hop. I thought they were so cool and I started dating one of them. He knew everything about music and he gave me all this hip-hop stuff. I just feel in love, deep and hard with that music: J Dilla, MF Doom, Wu Tang.”
There’s footage online of you stage diving…
That’s my new thing! For a long time I’ve been dreaming about it. In Denmark there’s this band called Reptile Youth where the lead singer is stage diving all the time. I was talking to him and he was like, “Yeah, you should do it!” And so I did it for the first time two months ago, and ever since, I’ve just been like, “Arrrgggh!” if it’s possible. I’ve never hurt myself. The other day I jumped out and they weren’t really ready, but I didn’t hit the ground.”
What’s your favorite thing to wear onstage?
Right now I really like to wear a black crop top and shorts and then a braid, so I’m able to move around. And tights with holes. It’s my normal clothes, but less! I move a lot so I can’t wear long sleeves—I would die. But it’s the same style. I wear gold chains.
Tell us about your famous braid…
I always have it because it’s just so comfortable. I started doing it because of the sweating issue and the dying of heat issue onstage. I started out with having a ponytail, but the hair and the sweat… it was when we started touring at the beginning of the year.
You’ve just been touring with Major Lazer and made a track with Diplo— “XXX 88”—when did you first meet him in the flesh?
That was in April in Amsterdam, just for a short session. He’s just a very, very cool guy. He’s so productive and so creative and it’s so cool that his thing is to take in new artists and support them. It’s all about just making music and supporting each other. Love that fucking guy.
What’s it like recording in the studio with him?
So when I have sessions, it’s more about talking and maybe doing some scratches. But actually I record all of my vocals in my own little vocal box, which is in Odense, in the countryside, because I like to be alone and in my own space when I do that. I record all my vocals in my old childhood room. With a lot of blankets I’ve made this little cozy vocal box. It’s very close to the forest and fields. When I go back there I go for a long run in the forest. I need that to get calm, to have the silence and nature. I think nature can heal anything. You feel stressed when you’re in the city. We’re traveling the big cities all the time and there’s people everywhere, it’s the same flow, every hipster in the world looks the same. There’s nothing better than going home to where you grew up and just being in nature, where no one cares who are you or cares about what you’re doing. You’re just a little piece of a big picture.
You’re singing on Avicii’s single “Dear Boy”—how did that come about?
“That was actually kind of weird. It was a long time ago that I got the first scratch for the song. Normally I’m not really into that kind of music, but I like trying out different stuff. I wasn’t really thinking a lot about it because we were so busy and so I recorded the vocals and suddenly like it was, “This is a big thing, Karen!” I’ve never met him!
If you could steal another musician’s wardrobe, whose would it be?
Oh fuck. I want to say Courtney Love, because I like her grungy style, but I don’t like the slutty stuff and she has a lot of slutty stuff. So Kim Gordon then. She’s so badass. I love her so much. I was playing at this festival in Oslo called by:Larm and I was told that she was there and just for the whole weekend I couldn’t relax, because I was afraid of passing out if I saw her. I’m also a big fan of Cat Power and I met her at Latitude festival [in the UK] and when I saw her I had to grab onto something!
MØ will release her debut album No Mythologies To Follow on 24 February 2014 via Chess Club/RCA Victor
Leonie is a British writer who recently returned to the motherland after two years in sunny LA. She's probably drinking tea right now and she's on Twitter - @leoniecooper.