Sigrid Breaks Down New 'Sucker Punch' Album Track by Track (And Shares Her Most Unlikely Inspirations)

Jenny Regan

Sigrid photographed on Feb. 15, 2019 in New York. 

From George Michael to Studio Ghibli

Earlier this year, one of Sigrid’s biggest fans held a funeral on Instagram.

Not because anyone had died -- but because the Norwegian pop singer had unveiled the track list for her debut album and left off some of the unreleased songs she’d been playing live for months. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I killed my songs!’” Sigrid recalls, laughing. “It’s fine -- I met her at a show later, we’re all good. I said, ‘My condolences to you.’ But it’s so hard.”

Figuring out how to assemble Sucker Punch, out Friday (March 8), has been a chief obsession for the 22-year-old singer, who emerged in early 2017 with the steely mission statement “Don’t Kill My Vibe” and won BBC’s prestigious Sound of 2018 poll on the strength of tracks like the thundering, Robyn-esque “Strangers.” (Past winners have included Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding, Haim and some struggling indie artist named Adele.)

Determined to cap the album at 12 songs, Sigrid faced a number of considerations: How many songs from the two EPs she’s released -- 2017’s Don’t Kill My Vibe and 2018’s Raw -- should she include? What’s the ideal mix of old songs and new songs? How obligated is she to include those fan favorites from her live shows? And how much range and variety can she show before it stops being cohesive?

As her profile grew -- and as her calendar filled up with new tour dates and studio sessions -- Sigrid also had to accept that the album she thought she’d make when she first started was evolving into something that, while just as fulfilling, was a different body of work. 

“When I started writing at 16 years old by myself in my parents’ house in Ålesund in Norway, I was dreaming of making an album, and this is exactly what I was hoping for,” she says. “Maybe in the beginning we thought it would come quicker, but it turns out my schedule was off the hook cuh-raaazy. I was just running around everywhere. I’m also glad that it happened, though, because it gave me all these new songs.” It’s likely that tracks such as “Sight of You” -- about the highs and lows of life on the road -- wouldn’t exist if she had rushed an album for release in early 2017 or early 2018. (And as for the songs that one fan was mourning, Sigrid says, “They’re not killed, they’re alive. Maybe there’s another time for those songs.”)

Below, the singer breaks down each song on Sucker Punch -- what inspired it, how it came together in the studio and why it made the final cut. “Of course it’s a huge deal that it’s my first album,” Sigrid says. “I have no idea what to expect. I hope people like it. I hope it does well. But no matter how this is going to go, I made something I’m extremely proud of, and this is my first album of many. This is not the last one.”

“Sucker Punch”
I was looking for an album title for a long time, and I thought that “Sucker Punch” summarized it best, because all of the songs are a bit of a sucker punch. The whole thing is pretty explosive -- even the ballads, which are really honest and in-your-face. I wrote this song with Emily Warren and Martin Sjølie in Ocean Sound Recordings, which is the studio in my hometown where I recorded my first songs. There were two big pianos, so Martin and I were each sitting at a piano playing over each other, which was really fun. At some point we disappeared into our separate rooms, which is how we often do it: Emily and I will go into one room and work on lyrics, and he’ll be in another doing production. After half an hour, he comes into our world -- "Maybe change that word" -- and we go into his world: "Add some glittery stuff in the verse." It was a very organic, collaborative process. Producers and writers work in different ways, but me, Emily and Martin have just found our way.

“Mine Right Now”
We made this the day after “Sucker Punch” -- we were on a high of, “Holy shit, we made a really cool song, we have to do it again!” We wanted to make something that sounded like a huge live song. I started thinking about performing live and what my dream song to play at a festival would sound like, so I’m really excited to play this one. It’s also a proper happy song. All of my songs seem positive if you listen to them once, but if you start digging more, there’s always a backstory to that happiness -- I don’t think you can get to that point without going through something a bit difficult. This song is about trying not to overthink things -- being in the moment and just enjoying it. 

It’s a very old song. I wrote it with Jonny Lattimer in London three years ago. It started with a piano demo and sat in our album track list folder for so long. My team and I always thought it had potential, but it didn’t have the right production, so we booked Ocean Sound Recordings in the same period that we did “Sucker Punch” and “Mine Right Now.” I was with “Odd Martin” Skålness and Martin Sjølie -- we call them the Martinis -- trying to figure out what we could do with the production to make it special. We came up with this idea of stripping it back and letting people into the studio session and the world of how we write these songs. It can seem really glossy, but it was nice to show the raw material, so that’s how we came up with the guitar breakdown. Martin Sjølie was holding his iPhone and Odd Martin was playing guitar, and I was just singing into phone, no microphone. We put it into the ProTools file, and now it’s probably one of my favorite studio moments ever.

I made “Strangers” with Martin Sjølie, who is one of the first producers I bonded with with, and this was maybe the second or third song we wrote after “Don’t Kill My Vibe.” It was an exciting time, because I felt like we really understood each other. I was always running around the studio making weird noises, like, “Can we make that sound?” And he would translate that into his musical language. With “Strangers,” we were listening to a lot of Robyn -- you can hear the inspiration for sure. The “Dancing on My Own” bass line was on my mind. So I remember Martin made a similar one for “Strangers,” and we just chopped it up. Instead of going “Dudududududududu” it was more like “Dududu! Dududu! Dududu!” That’s how we made it -- me saying it like that, and him translating that into the bass. 

“Don’t Feel Like Crying”
It’s pretty obvious what this song is about -- heartache -- but we were trying to put it in a positive light. I just wanted to have a good time and go out with my friends. There is some sadness in the choppier bit: It hasn’t hit me yet, but I know if I go home I’m gonna get upset. I don’t think they deserve to be called raps, but I do love those choppy vocal hooks -- I do one on “Strangers” too. I thought it was nice to put those lyrics in the part that’s not so easy to hear, to sneak the sad part into something that sounds uplifting. I wrote this with Oscar Holter and Emily Warren in Oslo, and when we started talking about the theme of the song and some references, I played Ariana Grande’s “Bad Decisions,” which is one of my favorite songs, and also Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” with the strings. The disco element just happened naturally. It’s definitely one of the most pop songs I’ve done, but I feel like it perfectly fits in there and is 100 percent me. 

“Level Up”
It’s my ode to video games. When you reach a new level in something like Mario or Donkey Kong, you level up. This is a relationship song about how, when you get through something that’s tough, you also level up in a way. Musically, I remember thinking of Chet Baker, some Neil Young, some Bob Dylan -- the inspiration was just classic tunes. It was a really nice day outside, and it was me, Emily and Odd Martin hanging out in the studio. Usually when I go in, I’m focused and ready to work, but this was more of a chill session. We were sitting in the living room next to the studio’s kitchen. Martin was playing the guitar, and Emily had some lyric ideas. In the original voice memo, when I start singing the chorus, you can hear Emily in the background go, “Oh my God!” I love moments when you create something and get such an immediate reaction.

“Sight of You”
I used ABBA’s “Super Trouper” as a reference in the studio -- this is a song about how touring has been for the past few years, how sometimes the airline loses your luggage and it sucks. One time our luggage was sent to Nairobi, and we’ve never been there. We were in France! It’s always really fun to play shows, but I remember that was really hard, because it was a festival week when we were waking up at 4 a.m. every day. I couldn’t have done that without my band. They’re some of my closest friends, and that’s what “Sight of You” is about: I just need one look from them. It was inspired by a festival we did in Ireland last year called Electric Picnic. We were so tired that day, but the crowd was huge and so into it, so I kept looking back at the band like, “Holy shit! We’re doing this!” I actually started crying on stage, but they were happy tears, and this is about that rush of happiness and adrenaline. 

“In Vain”
The production is very similar to the original demo. I wrote it with Joe Janiak in London two years ago, and it was the same thing: sparse in the beginning, explosive at the end. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to finish the production. I brought in different producers, and each time I thought, “That’s not right for it.” We had been playing it so many times live on tour as a band, so by the end of all that touring last year, I thought, “You know what works? The band’s version -- how they translated Joe’s first demo.” So we brought my band into the studio in Bergen, they did their stuff, we cut it together, and that was it.

“Don’t Kill My Vibe”
I am so proud that this was my first official single. It’s hard to describe how much it means to see young kids sitting on their parents’ shoulders at shows wearing “Don’t Kill My Vibe” shirts. I wrote it with Martin Sjølie about half a year before we released it. It was before I signed label contracts, before anything happened. I remember wondering, “Should we go with something else to build an audience and then release this?” But I’m so happy we went with “Don’t Kill My Vibe” first -- it describes me really well as a person. I’m very opinionated, I know what I’m comfortable with, I know what I’m not comfortable with. The inspiration for the song was another writing session I had been in where someone wasn’t respecting my opinion. Writing this with Martin afterward gave me some authority. When I walked into sessions after that, I was like, “This is how I write, this is how I feel.” Sometimes I put it on as a reminder to myself if I’m pissed off at something: This is why you wrote this song! I know you shouldn’t say that you listen to your own music, but sometimes it’s true.

“Business Dinners”
I was in Stockholm two years ago with Patrik Berger, Noonie Bao and Martin Stilling. I came in with references from Studio Ghibli, the Japanese film company that did Spirited Away. They have a lot of weird soundtracks that are amazing. I’ve always been inspired by that, so I asked Patrik how we could do it, and he got to work making all these weird-ass sounds. I don’t even know how he made that one squiggly synth sound. He’s such a fantastic interesting person -- I was freaking out a bit because he’s done amazing stuff with Robyn and Charli XCX. This song is pretty much the demo production with the original vocals. It’s been polished and mixed, but I didn’t re-record anything, it was all very on the spot. Lyrically, it’s about pressure -- pressure that I put on myself, pressure that comes from elsewhere. I’m so incredibly honored to be doing this job, but sometimes it’s just a lot to take in. I’ve been trying with this whole album to give snapshots of how this whole journey has been, and that includes songs about work.

“Never Mine”
My inspiration for this was the last song when a party is slowly fading and you have that last fist-pump left. I was also imagining driving in a car while listening to it. When I do songs it’s often very up, down, up, down, all over the place, but this time I wanted to try being in a groove and doing something more steady. It’s very ‘80s too -- I was thinking about songs like “Careless Whisper” by George Michael. I remember I sang the verses in way that was very exaggerated and cheesy, just as a joke, and everyone was like, “That’s great, do it that way.” Usually I’m eager to get as many words in as possible and explain the whole story in a song, but this was the first time we had a chorus where I just say the same thing over and over: You were never mine/ Never, never mine! It felt good writing something that wasn’t as wordy. 

This song from the Don’t Kill My Vibe EP is the last song on the album because I wanted to show how people aren’t just one thing. Everyone has different emotions and moods. I’m not just fuck-you “Don’t Kill My Vibe” moments. I also have “Dynamite” moments that are a bit more vulnerable -- though I’ve always thought that chorus is a bit cheesy too. I remember when me and Askjell Solstrand wrote it, we were like, “Can we say this? Is this okay? Is it too cheesy?” But we couldn’t bring ourselves to change it. It’s the way it’s supposed to be written. “Dynamite” has always been what it is, just the piano and the vocals. We talked about whether to add full production to it, but sometimes it’s better to just leave it. It has resonated so much in our live set as a low-key moment. Sometimes you just need to trust your instincts -- and I couldn’t make a debut album without putting “Dynamite” on it.