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“I get intrusive thoughts like cutting my hands off, like jumping in front of a bus,” Girl In Red — the musical project of Norwegian singer-songwriter Marie Ulven — sings in her latest single, the Finneas O’Connell-produced “Serotonin.” She adds, “I’m running low on serotonin, chemical imbalance got me twisting things, stabilize with medicine, but there’s no depth to these feelings.”
The 22-year-old indie rock/lo-fi pop artist has been open about her life with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and brought her experiences with life, love, and growing up to the forefront for her forthcoming debut album, If I Could Make It Go Quiet, out today (April 30). Produced by herself and Matias Telléz, the LP largely confronts the “mean voices” in her head, while also attempting to accept the ebbs and flows of her maturing mind, body, and soul. (“I hate the way my brain is wired…” she admits on the thumping, choral “Rue.” “I try to get it off my mind, to leave it all behind, don’t wanna make it worse.”) The project’s release date was delayed during the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic, which gave Ulven the chance to dive even deeper to unpack her feelings regarding solitude (the ironically spacious “Apartment 402”), physical love (the painfully honest “Hornylovesickmess”), and mental self-awareness (“Serotonin”).
“I’ve been going through so many different emotional changes within relationships, whether it’s my friends, or how I treat people, and how I am as a person,” she explains over Zoom from Norway of the “emotional recap” If I Could Make It Go Quiet purveys. “I’ve become more self-aware [this year] and realized that I’m full of flaws, and I’m just so many things.”
But don’t get it twisted: this honesty is not new. Ulven amassed a global following after the success of her 2018 breakout single, the guitar-driven and genuine “I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend.” Her candid melodies — which come equipped with vulnerable, straightforward lyricism — are bolstered by captivating instrumentals she often self-produces and arranges. Her words often tackle her journey through growing pains, mental health, and her experiences as a queer person. Girl In Red’s emotional authenticity is likely a byproduct of being a Gen Z’er, where much of her fanbase resides, resulting in supporters who feel seen, heard, and understood by her messages.
As a young millennial (not much older than Ulven, but you know… any age gap is quite the gap), I praise the frankness she and her generation possess, before admitting that I wish I were more open about my emotional needs and struggles while growing up. The difference, she notes? “[You] not having the Internet in those defining years of being a teenager really separates it.” Bingo, Marie.
Uproxx caught up with Ulven for a lovely chat days before the release of her album, where we discussed not only the emotional process of crafting her debut LP, but self-discovery and self-love during quarantine.
Let’s get into If I Could Make It Go Quiet…are you nervous? Because it’s your first, first album. What are some of the reasonings for those nerves, you think?
I’ve never put out an album before, also I sometimes forget that people actually think that I know what I’m doing. When I get reviews from shows and stuff, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know what I’m doing. They’re going to like perceive it as I know what I’m doing…’ Does that even make any sense?
It does. And I think you have every right to be nervous in that way, especially since, you know, we’re all going through something nowadays. And this album confronts a lot of those voices you might have inside your head regarding how you feel about yourself, how you feel about love and life. What do you think has been the biggest emotional change you’ve experienced this year, and how have you been able to really thrust that experience into this project?
Oh, I’ve had so many. But it’s really this weird, overall feeling of coming to terms with being a human has been really hard for me, and learning that I’m just a human and that I have this body that anything can happen to. It’s like ‘Marie’ — like the me, and my body, and my head. And then, this emotional thing of being like… the fact that I’m just going to die. I’ve just been thinking so much and trying to accept the fact that I’m not a mortal, which is really hard to accept for me.
We’re kind of feeling those sorts of things in real-time together, especially during this time. I’m sure it was incredibly cathartic to just let all that out.
It’s really cathartic doing something you really love, and I’ve really loved being in the studio and making music. When you kind of get into that flow and you start feeling really good? I love that. [It’s] a lot of hard work as well. Sometimes, I just had squeeze the words out of me, so it’s definitely been, it’s been a roller coaster. So, when people would be asking me about my process and stuff, I’m like, ‘I’m just vibin’.’ I’m just like, ‘I don’t know how to explain the process, I’m just like ‘hit record and vibe.’
I really hope [this album] matters and that it does something for someone, and that people can apply it to their own lives and take it in. [I hope] they think back in, like, five years time, and be like, ‘Oh, this music was really important to me in this time,’ and that they are taken back to this time of their lives and remember feelings. That’s the best part about music — looking back and seeing what it did for you.
Also on the album, there’s the topic of love: loving somebody, loving yourself. “Serotonin” is incredibly straightforward when it comes to those innermost thoughts [about loving yourself]. And what I appreciate about your music is that it’s honest, there’s no holds barred. Do you ever have a fear about coming forward when it comes to those intrusive thoughts that you have?
For that song particularly, I wrote it and I was like, ’wow, I had a lot of stuff I had to get out…’ So many people have their own perception of what it’s like dealing with different things. I’ve definitely had the thought of people not validating my experiences, or people not seeing this experience as something that’s song-worthy or whatever. I’ve definitely had those doubts, especially for [“Serotonin”]. I’ve never actually felt that way before that song, but you know, most comments have been great. Obviously there are people who are going to be like, ‘yo…this is too straightforward.’ But, I had so many therapists and people who work with OCD patients reach out. It is a very misunderstood disorder, and I’ve had people reach out to me and be like, ‘This is so important that you’re making this.’ I’m really proud, I just pulled through and did it.
As for love, I kind of feel like [the album tackles] a lot of unrequited love, and a lot of misunderstandings, but also very much realizing that I am a lot. It’s not all about what this other person did to me, it’s really about putting myself in other people’s shoes as well. So, “Midnight Love” is me not being someone’s booty call… I’m the booty caller. I’m writing from my booty call’s perspective… Oh my God. (laughs) Anyway, I’m also reflecting on what my actions do. In the song that’s just called “(.)”… it’s just a full stop. I’m heartbroken, but I’m also like ‘I could have done more to actually make this work.’ So, it’s not all about ‘I feel sorry for me,’ it’s also like, ‘I need to speak up about my feelings and I need to be more clear, I need to communicate.’
You’re still growing, still maturing and still trying to understand yourself. Growing pains come with so much nonsense and they hurt terribly sometimes. How do you continue to nurture your emotions and show yourself self-love while you’re on this journey?
That’s been really hard, and I kind of tap into that also on this record. During my song “Body And Mind,” I have lyrics about how “practicing self-love is something I don’t really know… I suppose I cannot live like this anymore,” which is about me realizing that I actually don’t love myself. I’ve loved myself before, but in this last year and a half, I’ve kind of grown to not love myself, and that’s been very painful. I really don’t wish that upon anyone ever, because it’s a very hard feeling to describe. I remember when I was younger, I couldn’t relate to when people said, ‘Oh my God, I hate myself.’ I was like, ‘How is that even possible?’ My friends also don’t understand what I mean when I say it because they’ve never done it, but it’s really painful.
So what I do now is try and do stuff that makes me happy. I hang out with my dog! She makes me happy. I try to shut down my inner voice — I’ve said that the rudest person I’ve ever met is myself. My inner voice is the rudest person I’ve ever talked to. So, I’m just really trying to do stuff that I like, and hang out with people that reinforce good things. And I try not to find stuff that reinforces all the bad stuff I taught myself.
I feel like I’ve kind of tried to do the very same thing on my own journey. I don’t dislike myself — I’ve just disliked the things that I’ve had to go through. They’re all making me a stronger person, but it’s like, ‘why, why, why?’
That’s so hard, too! You can say that to yourself, ‘it’s gonna make me stronger person,’ But it’s so hard to keep reminding yourself of that when you’re in the middle of it all. It’s kinda like when you know that you should be fully honest with someone, but it’s also really hard when you’re standing in front of that person. And then that person is asking you that question, you just don’t want to answer.
Exactly, we just have to stay positive. Plus, the world’s kind of trying to open up a little bit, so that could help. What are some of the plans or hopes that you have for 2021 and beyond as we push towards a little bit more of a brighter future?
I definitely kind of want to catch up on some stuff that I feel like I maybe missed out on last year that I want to do. I got some impulses last year to travel to certain places and go dancing and places, but, you know, I just couldn’t do anything with those impulses. This year — if I can — I wanna be with my friends and I really want to nurture all my friendships. Like, two years ago, I was hella depressed, and I was like, ‘I don’t need any friends. I just need to be making music. And I just need to be creating art all by myself. People who hang out with friends, what are you doing with your time? You need to create art.’ I was literally in this crazy bubble of depression, and just thinking that anything that was fun was bad. But now I’m like, no, fun is iconic. It’s so healthy to have fun! I want to go back on the road. I want to find a way to deal with touring that doesn’t kill me fully. I just want to hug my fans. I just want to be the best I can be. I just want to be warm and welcoming.
If I Could Make It Go Quiet is out now via AWAL. Get it here.