‘HEX’: Ina Wroldsen, Songwriter for All Your Faves, Uses Folklore & Fear to Feel Something

After penning songs for dozens of top pop superstars, Ina Wroldsen goes home and finds inspiration in folklore…and fear.

You know her as the voice on Jax Jones‘ “Breathe.” And Calvin Harris‘ “How Deep Is Your Love.” (Uncredited, annoyingly.) And Martin Solveig‘s “Places.”

And, if you’ve dug a little deeper in doing your pop homework, you also know her as the unofficial sixth member of The Saturdays, having scribed everything from “Ego” to “Higher” to “Notorious.” But that’s not even getting into her myriad writing credits for the past decade: from Shontelle‘s “Impossible,” to Britney‘s “He About To Lose Me,” to Clean Bandit‘s “Symphony” with Zara Larsson to Steps, Inna, Little Mix – the list stretches far and wide.

But now, Ina Wroldsen is doing things for herself after a decade. And she’s got some stories to tell.

Following a stint as a duo with Arnþór Birgisson as Ask Embla (their 2013 album Northern Lights remains great), Ina’s delivered a solo EP called HEX, released on Friday (June 29).

The 5-track collection is inspired primarily by fear and Scandinavian folklore, leaning left-of-center in terms of lyrical content and production, while still held together with solid, tight hooks crafted by someone who’s already spent a decade crafting massive pop tunes. (Her emotional, earnest voice is also what’s sold me as a fan for years already.)

“I understand what the radio wants and everything but I want the people interested in my music to know there’s a story behind everything,” she told The Line of Best Fit.

Indeed, you’ll want to perk your ears up throughout: these songs are personal, based on characters from folklore and focused on fears about failure across all facets of life, from career to monogamy to parenthood.

I spent so long looking for a way / I could be a part of another home / I tried so hard blocking out the waves / But my ocean heart never let it go…

“‘Sea’, for instance, I wrote up here one night. I looked out there [Wroldsen points to the beautiful fjords and the hills which surround Sandefjord] and thought there’s something about that water….it’s almost scary how attracted I feel to it. It’s like a love. Everyone talks about love like it’s free. You’re not free when you love…and I love that. Then I thought why do I love it? I started thinking about the folklore, so every song has a character from Scandinavian folklore.” (I recommend reading the full interview for further insight.)

There’s the soldiering and seductive “Mine,” which is actually not about an affair…with a person, anyway.

“I wrote the song about London and me. If you listen to the song again you’ll hear it, it’s got references to big buses [‘now the monster wheels on her bus / are gonna hit us baby‘] and football and these things that he [Wroldsen’s husband, Mark] loves. Two years ago he was struggling. He didn’t wanna move to Norway but I was dying to get home. We’d been together a long time, eight years in London, but I wanted to go home. So we came back and found this home, but he was struggling, we were struggling. I was like, ‘are you London’s or are you mine? Tell me, are you hers or are you mine?’ ‘I bet she lets you have it hard‘ isn’t about sex, it’s about how much fun he has in London, compared to here, hahaha.”

Musically, there is a “Chandelier”/1000 Forms Of Fear storytelling quality to some of the work like “Remember Me,” and in the “Cheap Thrills”-esque tropical pulsations of the raw, self-empowering “Strongest” – one of the top songs of last year.

That inspiration, or at least awareness, is evident: “Last week I had Jesse Shatkin [co-writer with Sia of ‘Chandelier’, among other massive hits] here. He’s one of my heroes, I think ‘Chandelier’ is an opus. I know ‘Cheap Thrills’ did better but I remember where I was the first time I heard ‘Chandelier’. It opened up so much, that song. It allowed for songs again, in a way,” she explained.

At the risk of doing too much comparing, I’d also consider iamamiwhoami‘s odd, nature-meets-electronic brand of Scandi-pop as belonging somewhere in the same family. And also the eerie, damning sound of BANKS.

Perhaps nothing provides more of a lump-in-throat moment than “Mother,” a soulful ballad that finds the songwriter breaking down in London amid the bright lights: “I’ve been chasing dreams and stars / Along the way I lost my heart, she confesses.

For anyone who’s ever felt hopelessly adrift, yearning for some stability or assurance or, I don’t know, something, the track ought to hit as hard as did for me while driving aimlessly around my hometown tonight, passing the places I used to spend my childhood, searching for some sort of ghost to point me in the direction of where to go next.

Tell me I will be okay / I wanna come home…

Ina’s recorded a podcast along with the release, which is a highly recommended listen for a deeper dive into the tales behind the songwriting, the mythology that inspired the music, plus some life lessons along the way about fear, love and everything else that drives us as human beings.

“We are afraid of falling in love, and falling out of love. When we’re happy, we’re afraid something bad will happen, and when we’re sad, we’re afraid it will never get better than this…we’re afraid to fail, and we’re absolutely terrified of dying. Fear is, in my opinion, the base coat of every human emotion. That’s why I like fear so much,” she explained during the podcast’s intro. (Really, give it a listen.)

“The goal isn’t a Grammy, the goal is to make people feel something,” Ina concludes at the end of her interview with The Line of Best Fit.

As someone constantly seeking to learn something, connect to something, feel something, I feel nourished by the HEX experience. Hopefully, you’ll feel something too.

HEX was released on June 29. (iTunes)

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