Red is a strong colour. It can represent intense emotions like passion, aggression, desire and love. The list goes on if it is fuelled by fiery energy. For Norwegian Marie Ulven, the crimson shade symbolises a teenage crush and heartbreak. She adopted her stage moniker, girl in red, by referencing the first girl with whom she fell in love but broke her heart and was wearing red when they first met. Ah, the power of love isn’t to be underestimated. “[She] will forever remain unaware of the tribute. I haven’t told her and I’ve never said her real name anywhere,” Ulven reveals.
The Scandinavian lo-fi singer-songwriter proceeded to pen her 2017 breakout single ‘I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend’ to critical acclaim and established herself as one to watch in the music industry. The song has since been played 80 million times on Spotify. Listeners can identify and see themselves via Ulven’s poetic lyrics, at times hopelessly romantic and painfully direct, that mesh beautifully with the sparse yet captivating arrangements she wrote and produced.
Rather than privately keeping such personal feelings of nursing the emotional wounds of a break-up or the aches of unrequited love, Ulven chose to share her healing process while coming of age through self-written compositions in various EPs and singles with her budding audience.
What followed are deep cuts like ‘We Fell in Love in October’ and ‘Rue’. The latter was placed on the BBC Radio 1 playlist and Ulven was longlisted on BBC Sound of 2021. She also sold out several worldwide shows prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re glad that she picked up the guitar at age 12 and pursued music by studying music production and songwriting at Westerdals Oslo School of Arts, Communication and Technology.
“Every time I left the studio from Bergen, I would listen to hours and hours of my own tracks, and just be like, what can I do better? What can I refine?” she says, recalling her cross-country drives through the Norwegian wilderness to the studio. “Driving is a cathartic thing; it gives this amazing feeling of freedom. I love to talk to myself, so most of the time, if I didn’t listen to my songs, I would just reflect in the car. I read that talking out loud to yourself is healthy, so I’m going to keep doing that. But the drives, they take you out of all the other distractions because you just gotta pay attention to the road. It allows you some headspace,” Ulven shares of her songwriting process.
With her debut album If I Could Make It Go Quiet on the cusp of release, she’s rolled out another single ‘Serotonin’ to introduce it. Co-produced with Grammy-winning producer Finneas, the track sees Ulven shifting into a brooding but beat-driven experimental soundscape that’s progressive compared to her previous releases. “There are things on this album that I haven’t been able to talk about in my songwriting previously,” Ulven says. “‘Serotonin’ is brutally honest, lyrically, especially about having these intrusive thoughts—thoughts of never going to be okay, and thinking my therapist hates me. I stopped going to my therapist because I felt like I was such a big burden for her that she didn’t like me. I’m pretty sure a lot of people have felt that, whether it’s a friend or a family member or a therapist. I’m addressing a lot of things I haven’t been comfortable talking about, or admitting to myself, or even things to tell my closest friends and family.”
If I Could Make It Go Quiet themes range from love, lust and heartbreak to the many sides of Ulven’s mental health. “This album is an attempt to learn what it’s like to be human to deal with the scariest parts of myself to live with the pain of knowing I’m only flesh and bones to be angry, broken and unforgiving yet still able to wear my heart on my sleeve. I’m shedding light on the darkest parts of my mind and I’m letting everyone in. If I Could Make It Go Quiet is me simply trying to understand what the f**k is going on,” Ulven says.
“[It] isn’t an album with a storyline in the traditional sense, but the title opens up space for me to express all the things that are on my mind. There is also a link between the album title [If I Could Make It Go Quiet] and the last track [‘It Would Feel Like This’]. So, it lands at a place of peace, a place without all the mental noise that I have expressed in the album.
"I want my music to make people feel whatever they need to feel.”
If I Could Make It Go Quiet is released on 30 April 2021 and available for purchase and streaming at music sites including Apple Music and Spotify.