On first listen, Thea & The Wild’s sophomore album, Ikaros (Propeller Recordings), released in February 2018, pulls you in with its artful take on pop hooks and melodies. But further inspection reveals that Thea Glenton Raknes, the 31-year-old musician behind those synth-y songs, has the sensibility of singer-songwriter. (The title Ikaros is, after all, a reference to the Greek myth in which Icarus, in an act of hubris, flies too close to the Sun and falls to Earth.) Thea touches upon everything from falling in and out of love (“When a Kiss Becomes a Habit”) to issues like access to freedom (“City of Gold”) in the guise of seemingly straightforward music—an approach that’s equally suited for mainstream success and artistic introspection.
Here, the Oslo, Norway-based musician walks us through growing up, becoming a mother, and making music. She plans to put pen to page to write her third album soon.
On coming of age: I was born in a small, quiet coastal village in the south of Norway, but moved to Oslo at the age of 4 when my mother finished studying. We moved into a big colorful flat in the eastern part of Oslo; it was super cheap there then but the area has of course become gentrified now. It was a cool place, mum and I lived there with a couple of her friends and they all helped look after me. There was a lot of music, art, good food, and laughs, and I remember one of our flatmates doing yoga and giving me Mate tea and Kinder eggs, and another used to play the didgeridoo. [laughs] There were fun people visiting all the time and just a nice big family vibe, really. Things were never boring or conventional but I always felt safe and loved.
On going solo: I started playing music in an all-girl rock band in college, and we did covers of French punk bands, Fleetwood Mac, and Blondie. That’s when I started making my own proper songs, and they were pop songs performed with a rock setup. When the other girls decided to do other stuff, I was suddenly a bit lost not having a band to write and play with anymore, so I started making simple demos at home with guitar, keyboard, and percussion with stuff I found around the house. Gradually I was becoming a solo artist, although I didn’t really know how to move on from there. My downstairs neighbors were musicians and heard me through the floor, so they made me show them my new ideas and go into the studio. Making the actual songs by myself first and then steering towards the sound I wanted in the studio with co-producers, rather than the democracy of a band in a rehearsal room, was pretty liberating and let me develop my own sound more. I’m all for democracy, just not when being creative.
On her influences: Patti Smith is a big shining star for me, being so human and kind yet supernatural and strong in her music and poetry. I often think of her when I doubt myself, and listening to her music gives me a new spirit. I finally saw her live on stage at Øya Festival this summer, and she reminded me yet again why I want to make music and perform on stage. I just stood there in awe, singing along, crying and laughing and smiling until my face was all tired. The book Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. by Viv Albertine also inspired me a lot; it’s so honest and funny and touching about the music business and about being a woman in it.
On shaping her sound: I guess I’m just a product of everything I’ve been exposed to, really, like my mum playing her great ’80s records at home, my uncle giving me a Roy Orbison album as a kid, going with my father to rock n’ roll and blues concerts in Sweden during every summer holiday, and of course being a teenager in the ’90s and early 2000s listening to R&B and wonderfully cheesy pop hits. A good rhythm is always very important to me, and I like classic songwriter songs with a strong chorus.
On her life as of late: I became a mother four months ago, so for a while now I’ve only been making silly songs on the go about nappies, baby love, and farts. [laughs] But a few weeks ago, I found myself recording bits and bobs on my phone again, and now I’m writing down pieces of text all over the place when I have a spare moment. So I’m heading into my next album writing process pretty soon.
On her process: I normally start by playing some random chords on my acoustic guitar, playing around until I find some rhythm or feeling I like, and then humming along with a few words that describe a feeling, among a lot of gibberish. Then I normally record it on my laptop and add some more instruments, percussion, and backing vocals, just to get the right feeling together. This part is all done pretty fast normally; I’m not very patient so I never practice for very long before I record a demo. The rest of the lyrics might come dripping in later, although once in a while I’ll have the whole thing with lyrics, pre-chorus, and chorus done in a couple of hours. A song is never really finished, since you can work on it and change it forever, but I like moving on and making new ones instead of lingering and dangerously picking stuff apart. The instant feeling of a song is some of the charm to me, and just getting whatever I want to say out there.
On her home country: Living in Norway and being surrounded by Norwegian music and culture, I guess I am by default influenced by it, but maybe I’m even more influenced by our nature and weather, as we notice the changing of seasons a lot. We have long, dark, freezing winters that can bring me into this darkness which often colors my lyrics. Then summer comes and everything is sunny and warm and you feel like wrapping those lyrics in a crisp power-pop dress.
On her music being out in the wild: I’m very happy if my music can accompany people’s lives, their good days, bad days, through sorrows and parties. One couple recently wrote to me saying one of my songs was “their song” and that he proposed to her whilst playing that song. I forget that the songs I’ve released are just out there now and forever, being listened to by people and meaning something to people I don’t know. That’s extremely cool. I also feel like writing lyrics is my opportunity to be politically active and give the listener something to think about if they are open to that.
On what the future holds: I want to make hits and have people propose to them all over the place! [laughs] I’ll keep on making songs, recording them, and playing them live. It’s what I’m good at and what I love. I also want to play more outside of Norway, travel with my live band and meet new audiences, so we are applying for some different showcase festivals these days and looking for booking and publishing outside of Norway. At the same time, I have become more aware of how lucky I am to be safe and sound in my little corner of the world, free to express myself and take care of my loved ones. That’s why I think it’s important that my music stays political and meaningful in more ways than just entertainment.
For more on Thea & The Wild, visit her website.