On the phone with Girl in Red: Marie Ulven on her upcoming debut album, being TikTok’s “LGBTQ+ icon”, and more
Do you listen to Girl in Red?
Earlier this week, I (Red) got on the phone with Norwegian indie darling, Girl in Red (no relation), to talk about her upcoming album, her growing interest in art, and her growth as both a musician and a producer. Along the way, we touched on her status as the LGBTQ+ icon of your dreams, sneaky TikTok vernacular and, of course, approaching the ever-looming oblivion on the horizon.
Even after a gruelling day of back-to-back interviews, Ulven is still chipper and talkative, and the enthusiasm she has for her art is practically palpable through the phone. The conversation is easy, and she is disarmingly candid—perhaps, even, a little too candid at times—but it all adds to her charm. Overall, as a fan of her music, it's pretty much a dream interaction.
Ahead, find our chat in full:
Red (BURO): Firstly, I just want to thank you for ‘Summer Depression’. That song was my personal breakup anthem of 2018.
Girl in Red: No problem! I’m happy that I could be in your ears while you were heartbroken.
Red (BURO): It was good stuff. Really cathartic! On that note, would you consider your music to be largely autobiographical?
Girl in Red: Yeah, a lot of it is stuff that is coming from me, but sometimes I also take inspiration from people around me and think about how their experiences have been similar to mine. I’d say that it’s mostly auto-auto-autobio—Oh! That’s a hard word.”
Red (BURO): (laughs) Was the goal always to create music that could be used as a vehicle for people like me to express themselves?
Girl in Red: Not really! I kind of just started just for fun, and because I was like “oh, this makes me feel good” and I was really excited by the fact that I had made something that sounded great. I do feel like that is the coolest bonus that could have ever happened, though—that people take my songs and apply them to their lives and find some comfort in them.
Red (BURO): What can you tell us about your new album, If I Could Make It Go Quiet? What are you trying to silence?
Girl in Red: If I Could Make It Go Quiet is the best music I’ve made so far. It feels like a real step-up; it feels like “girl in red 2.0”. The album title is an outtake from some lyrics in one of my songs off the new record, ‘Body and Mind’. I wanna make the loud sh*t that goes on in my head quiet.
Red (BURO): You’re one of the very few female producers in the game (I think the statistic is something ridiculous like 98 per cent of producers are male). Do you have any advice for other women looking to get into production?
Girl in Red: Keep on making music, and take your time to figure out who you are as a producer. I was producing for three years before I was like “I can work with someone else”, and even after I started working with another dude I was like “I’m a producer, and I don’t need to sit in the back and let you do sh*t for me. I will tell you what to do.” You’ve got to set the bar, you’ve got to have boundaries and you’ve got to be strict. For anyone making music, they’ve got to get to know themselves and hold on to who they are.
Red (BURO): I’d say that you have a pretty distinct voice as an artist. When I hear your music, I can tell it's you—
Girl in Red: —oh my god, that’s so cool!
Red (BURO): No, you’re cool. Sorry—back to the question. How did you find your sound in terms of both songwriting and production?
Girl in Red: (laughs) Sorry. I don’t know! That’s really interesting because that’s something I really want—I want to have that distinct voice. If I have it, I think it’s probably because I’m still so hands-on with all my ideas and all my lyrics. I say ‘still’ because I think a lot of people delegate more when they get more work. The more you grow as an artist, the more you have to do, you know? But for me, I’m always going to put the music first. That’s really good because it’s like Taylor Swift! She can make any song and it’s still going to sound like her, and I think that’s so special! You can’t get that any way other than being yourself.”
Red (BURO): Funny that you should mention Taylor Swift—that brings us to the next question. Who are some artists you look up to or who inspire you?
Girl in Red: I love Taylor because I admire her very strong identity in her songs, but I honestly don’t really know who I look up to when it comes to artists. At least not anymore. Like, when I was younger, I used to look up to The Smiths, but I feel like I’ve grown into another person now, so I don’t look up to them the way I did when I was younger. Now, I’m really just all about cool sounds. Honestly, anyone who does their own thing—that inspires me. That, and seeing my own friends making their music, putting it out there, and growing as artists.”
Red (BURO): You’re going on tour soon! That’s huge. What are you most looking forward to on the road?
Girl in Red: Oh, I think it’s a no-brainer that I’m most looking forward to seeing my fans again. I feel really far away from my fans. I’ve felt really disconnected in the real-life sense this past year. None of this feels real without seeing my fans and seeing that [my music] actually means something to people in person. I just want to make people happy and play shows.”
Red (BURO): Speaking of feeling disconnected, you’re really active on social media (which I’m sure a lot of your fans appreciate). How has living your life and working exclusively through social media been?
Girl in Red: I think it’s just a lot. There’s so much online and nothing really sticks in my brain anymore. I feel like everything is surface-level. I haven’t been given a proper psychoanalysis yet of what it has done to me, but I’m pretty sure that it must have f*cked me up in some way.
Red (BURO): I get you—I’m easily overwhelmed by the internet void. That’s why I just log off. Moving on, what is your earliest musical memory?
Girl in Red: The earliest, earliest memory is probably whenever my mum would sing me to sleep. She would make her own songs and she would insert my name in them and I’d be like “oh my god, there’s a song about me”, totally not realising that my mum was making them up. After that, it’s probably just listening to music in the car with my mum.
Red (BURO): Interesting—so the musical bone runs in the family. How long have you actually been playing music?
Girl in Red: I guess it’s kind of recent. I was 14 years old so… how old am I now? It’s around eight years ago now. That time flew by. Actually, no—it didn’t actually fly by very fast. I bet the next ten years are going to fly by faster than those eight years did. You know, time just moves faster, dude. We’re just moving faster and faster towards oblivion. Anyways, it’s kind of new but I’ve just been working ever since. Music just captivated me and I’ve just been obsessed, really.
Red (BURO): What instruments do you play?
Girl in Red: I play a little bit of bass, a little bit of guitar, a little bit of piano, and obviously the computer stuff for production. I have a cello! I’m not very good at that. And I have a sax, but I’m not very good at the sax, either. I don’t think I’m good at any instrument, but I’m definitely… uh...
Red (BURO): A jack of all trades?
Girl in Red: Yeah! It all ends up sounding good when I record it, so that’s all I need.
Red (BURO): By now, I’m sure you’re aware that "do you listen to girl in red?" has become TikTok speak for “are you gay?”. You’ve kind of been placed on a pedestal as an LGBTQ+ icon—do you feel any pressure to fill this role?
Girl in Red: I think it’s really fun that this has become a TikTok thing. It’s really cool to have that level of cultural impact where people actually incorporate it into their lives. I don’t feel any pressure, because I also don’t know what that pressure is, or where it would come from. I’m just a 22-year-old figuring out what she’s doing. I feel like I’m in the same emotional boat as everyone else my age—maybe not career-wise because I am deeply sucked into this music thing and a lot of my friends are studying and stuff—but I don’t feel like I really know what it means to be this person that people look up to yet. I don’t know! It’s weird!
Red (BURO): Just on the note of your friends studying in college—is that an avenue you’re planning on going down?
Girl in Red: I did start at music college when I moved to Oslo, but then I dropped out because they wouldn’t let me take a year of absence when I had to start touring. Suckers! (laughs) Bet they wish they’d kept me there now (laughs). I think I would like to study something down the road, though. Maybe philosophy or art history would be fun. I’ll probably be doing something like that when I’m 30.
Red (BURO): Interesting that you’d bring up art history. Your album cover is the work of the Norwegian painter Fredrik Wiig Sørensen. Are you generally a bit of an art nerd, or is it just a casual hobby?
Girl in Red: I found the artwork at his exhibition and I was like “holy crap, this is so cool and it looks like me but it’s not me!”. Also, he captured the headspace of If I Could Make It Go Quiet, so I bought the painting too! I have it hung up in my hallway. That makes it sound like I have a really big hallway—I don’t. It’s really dark, and there’s no natural light. I’m not sure if I would call myself an art nerd, but this past year, I’ve really been getting into art a lot more. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s just because I’m growing up. I’ve got a bunch of paintings hanging in my room right now and it’s great! I love paintings. I surround myself with them.
Red (BURO): I think you’ve grown quite a lot as an artist in your own right, and you’ve said that you’ve experienced a lot of growth personally too. Where do you think you’re going from here?
Girl in Red: I’m going straight to Madison Square Garden! I’m manifesting it.
Red (BURO): That’s the spirit! You heard it here first, folks.
Girl in Red: Yeah! I also just really want to keep making great music. But, I also think that my music can go on to live in places that it hasn’t lived in before. I just really want the entire world to hear my music. I know that’s ambitious and sounds kind of crazy, but a girl’s got to dream!
Red (BURO): It must be insane to be sat here chatting with me about songs you wrote in your bedroom in Norway while I’m halfway across the world.
Girl in Red: It is! I was thinking this earlier—I was like “this is my life right now”. I think I did 15 interviews yesterday and I was like “Wow! So strange.” It’s probably going to be more insane when I go on the road again. Usually, I have these moments of realisation on the road, where mid-way through a show I’m just like: “This is actually my job. Holy crap.”
Red (BURO): Any plans to come to Malaysia anytime soon? Hint-hint.
Girl in Red: Yes! I will take that hint and put it right into the plane... ticket-buying... site. I will go to Malaysia. Obviously, I’ve just got to figure out logistics and sh*t, but when it’s the right time I’m definitely there. That would be sick.
Red (BURO): Amazing. I will be there, too.
Girl in Red: First row, my dude.
Red (BURO): See you there, man.
Girl in Red: It’s going to be lit. We’ll fire up all the fireworks. I don’t know if that’s legal.
Red (BURO): Pyrotechnics indoors? Maybe not. I like your spirit though.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Girl in Red’s new album, ‘If I Could Make It Go Quiet’, is out on April 30th. Listen to the newest single, 'You Stupid B*tch', here:
Find more music stories like this here.