When Danish keyboardist Agnes Obel was putting together her third album “Citizen of Glass,” she referenced unusually arcane sources, such as “My Struggle,” the six-volume autobiography by Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgard, which details his humdrum life in excruciating detail. “It’s a new form of literature, with people using more and more of themselves,” she says. “But I think it’s important to be aware that you don’t know everything about yourself, so I wanted to write songs about secrets.”
This album process began with the 2014 death of your father, right? Through which you had to keep touring, contractually?
Yes. I couldn’t cancel the whole thing. And we didn’t know he was going to die, so that was a shock for everyone. We had this tour planned and I just had to go through with it. But I have to say that it was sort of good for me — if had just been sitting at home, I would have been incredibly sad. My dad was also a musician, and he loved that I played. And in a way, it felt like I was playing for him every night.
Death flips an internal switch on your work – you get busy because you realize you don’t have forever.
Yeah. That’s what happened to me. At the end of the tour, everybody else said they were going to go have a relaxing vacation. But I was like, “No. I want to work on my music.” And I worked really intensely on it, but it was actually super boring in Berlin and really, really cold. So I regretted that I didn’t go anywhere, because January in Berlin is very dark and bleak and depressing.
And that’s when you read a newspaper article about “glaserner berger,” the concept of see-through glass people?
Yes. It was around the time my father died when I was reading about surveillance and I came across that term. In many ways, our culture is shaped by the media, and now that it’s accessible, everybody has an audience and a camera and several platforms, and that makes us push the limit all the time of what you can reveal.
At least on “Citizen,” you speak in metaphors that only you can fully understand, like on “Our Love is a Ghost.”
That song is about a secret love. But I wanted to take secret love into this new digital world, where our love life is now taking place online, I thought it would be fun for the “secret love” to sing the chorus, and it would sound all digitized. And you’re right — it’s only making sense to me. I’m sure other people will have their own ideas — or no idea — what I’m singing about.
IF YOU GO
Where: Independent, 628 Divisadero St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. March 22
Tickets: $25 (sold out)
Contact: (415) 771-1421, www.ticketfly.com