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Photography Luke Abby

Get to know Ydegirl and her haunting chamber pop

The Danish musician’s debut album blends R&B and pop with elements of Nordic baroque to conjure feelings of past, present, and future

Suspended between the past and future, life and death, Ydegirl’s (real name Andrea Novel) eponymous debut takes its cues from a 2,000 year-old body of a girl found in a bog in Yde, the Netherlands. “I was really drawn to the myth of the bog being a place between life and death holding Yde in a limbo state,” she explains. “Very quickly I recognised the many layers of limbo states that Yde was trapped in.”

It’s this image of an “ancient teenager not dead or alive” that informs the Copenhagen-based musician’s approach to music. Elements of R&B and chamber pop are juxtaposed with baroque motifs, while the synthetic hum of synthesisers is offset by sweeping string arrangements and classical instruments such as the clarinet and acoustic guitar. This tension between old and new sounds creates a feeling of being neither here nor there, and sets the stage for Novel’s haunting character studies. The tracks feel gentle and dream-like. They stretch across timelines and space, as if longing for the past, or a future yet to unfurl.

It’s an album that revels in themes of alienation and perspective, from the mind of a thrilling emerging musician. Below, we speak to Novel about the allure of bog bodies, channeling her stories through characters, and pursuing the perfect song.

What attracted you to Ydegirl? What was it about the lore that drew you in?

Ydegirl: I think like a lot of different things. I think one thing is my own imagination related to trying to picture what happened. Also the contemporary lore, like the way history has chosen to write about this person that was sacrificed, presumably. For me, there’s a lot of politics connected to it that’s just interesting. But I also just really like the swampiness of the whole thing. 

What do you like about ‘swampiness’?

Ydegirl: I guess I just like relate to it a lot. With my with my body and soul, I relate to this environment. The thing that struck me was the image of lighting underneath like these layers of peat for thousands of years. When I first got into it, it was a thing that kept on evolving in these limbo states. Or, the fact that putting a person in a swamp is putting someone in a limbo state, which means putting them in between life and death. But when they lie in the bog, they preserve. Their outer skin and inner skin is preserved like leather. Then there’s a core of soft skin in the centre, which is still completely fresh. That was parallel to the limbo state I felt I was in.

How do you feel that translates to the album?

Ydegirl: I still haven’t written the perfect anthem for Yde, like I don’t feel like I’ve wrapped that story in the perfect song yet. It’s been something that's been like ongoing since the project started and I’ve had a couple goes with it, but I’ve yet to come up with the perfect anthem for this figure specifically. Because I cover other characters too.

Do you see Yde as the main character with an evolving narrative?

Ydegirl: Yeah, it’s a village full of figures. They know each other, or sometimes even become friends or date or something. Or turn against each other even!

What are some of the main inspirations behind your debut album?

Ydegirl: Probably my own like experiences, my own life. Also heavily inspired by different figures, real or imagined and historical. Ydegirl is one of them. Lately, Orlando’s coming into it. 

That kind of makes sense with what you’re saying about being stuck in limbo, in the way in which Orlando also rejects binary modes of thinking.

Ydegirl: The same way there's this transformation over a long stretch of time, it’s the same with Yde in that it’s a transformation that happens gradually over centuries. The reason I relate to Yde, same with Orlando, is that feeling of your body being stuck in the past or something. Sometimes you can even tell that a body part has memory from a different time and age that you maybe weren’t there to experience. This feeling of carrying around memories that you haven’t experienced yourself.

What was your life like growing up? Were you in the countryside?

Ydegirl: We actually moved around a lot, but most of the time we were on this countryside island in Denmark. I guess I spent a lot of time alone in my room. I liked growing up in the countryside but I also found it claustrophobic, because I had a hard time like seeing myself anywhere. So I was really happy about moving to Copenhagen and being around more people that I could like see myself relate to. I have this love-hate relationship to the countryside, like it makes me anxious as fuck but I love the ocean and I love the sky.

How did that inform your music?

Ydegirl: I think it gave me a reason to spend a lot of time in my own company. So I guess I’m really good at that. The way I started to make music was in this small scene, so there was a lot of room to try out whatever you wanted even if you didn’t know what you were doing. That informed my music a lot because I learnt as I went along. But I learn something new from every song.

What are some of your first memories of music?

Ydegirl: I have this memory of this composer (Edvard) Grieg, he’s a Norwegian composer and he did this piece called the “March of the Trolls” and it has this very iconic element where the tempo keeps on rising and it starts off with one brass instrument but evolves into an entire orchestra. It’s really climactic. Me and my sister would always walk around the living room table and run faster and faster and then we’d fall over. Oh, and Fantasia too! 

Both of those examples make perfect sense to me, for some reason.

Ydegirl: Fantasia is one of the films that makes me realise that’s how I feel about music. It’s very textured and very visually driven. There’s flavours and colours and stories. I write music by starting with a word or image and create sounds and lyrics around that.

The album has elements of baroque, could you explain your thinking behind this? What attracts you to this sort of sound?

Ydegirl: It started some years back when I was obsessed with this baroque poet and writer and an activist at the Spanish vice court. It was the Mexican court but it was colonised by Spain at the time. She had affairs with several of the vice queens actually. They held hands over her to protect her so that she was able to write and read as a woman, because everybody was trying to make her stop. She ended up going into the monastery and continuing her writing. I wrote several songs basically imagining her. Actually one of the first songs that came out was about imagining her in the garden with the vice queen.

Some of the baroque stuff is kind of bullshit though, because I also just use historical terms loosely. I think history is really important, but I also think she would be very critical towards a lot of history. The history I have access to is not the history I relate to. That’s a way of taking back control of the narrative.

Do you have any projects lined up?

Ydegirl: I’m working on new music. I feel like I have a map of what songs are going to come on the next record already.

Ydegirl is out now