By Philip Cosores

Monica Birkenes, the Norwegian singer that now lives in Los Angeles and records as Mr. Little Jeans, is in the parking lot of the Roxy on Sunset Blvd. She is standing on a milk crate for height, to make a painting on the venue’s wall appear to be behind her, while a photographer for Red Bull snaps away. She makes jokes and laughs about the ridiculousness of the situation, but later notes that she is not a model and feels highly uncomfortable getting her picture taken.

In 2011, her cover of “The Suburbs” made the rounds and only a few weeks ago she offered her debut LP, Pocketknife. As is often the case with album releases, the young artist is now playing shows, and as also has been the case with other pop-centric artists, these are processes that tend to take time.

Monica still seems slightly guarded in conversation, though always sincere and likable. Before the interview ends, she dives in for a hug. I literally can’t remember the last time a musician has hugged me post-interview. It’s all very in line with her personality and character, and this charm comes across in her music. Maybe it has something to do with moving from the snowy north to sunny L.A. that has shaped her, but on album and in person, her secret weapon is warmth.

So, everyone probably asks about the name, which comes from a Rushmore character, right?

And the man who played him, he passed away recently.
Yeah, it’s really sad. I got to meet him twice before he died, though.

Does that spoil the name in any way?
I don’t think so, because I did meet him and I still keep in touch with his son. It keeps his memory alive in some way.

Why did you feel the need to have a name that isn’t your name?
Because I already had recorded under my own name and I didn’t like what I did. So, I wanted to separate myself from that.

You’re from Norway but now live in L.A. Was it just a career move to come out here?
Yeah. It was music. I was in London at the time and musically it just didn’t feel like the right place for me. So, we got in touch with a few producers out here and Tim Anderson was actually one of the first people I worked with over here, and it was the first time I ever felt like it was working out, so that kind of prompted the move.

Did you have any preconceptions of what it would be like?
It was a slow introduction of coming to visit before I moved, so it was easy to acclimate. But I guess early on I thought it would be more like a city, like New York, with Barbie and Ken dolls everywhere, and it isn’t like that at all. I fell in love with it pretty quickly because I was finally making the music I wanted to make here.

You and this sort of Myspace generation of pop music artists that all took a similar route, like Charli XCX and Sky Ferreira, by getting signed young and taking a significant time to actually release an album…
I’m glad it’s not just me.

I loved Myspace. That’s how I got everything done, that’s how I met my manager. That’s how I got my Australian label. That’s how everything happened.

Yeah, it’s kind of a cool thing that is very different than the typical route a singer or band takes to make it.
I loved Myspace. That’s how I got everything done, that’s how I met my manager. That’s how I got my Australian label. That’s how everything happened.

Is it weird to have had such a unique experience to get where you are, like being signed for so long?
It was a long process and part of it was my fault. I’m not very prolific in my writing. I’m in the studio every day for three weeks, and I burn out. So, I prefer to write a song, cool it, then come back and write another song. I like to take my time with it. So part of it was me, part of it was waiting for a visa to come over here and work. That took six months. Then part of it was the label situation, which took a year. So, I’d say a year of it was my fault and some of it was out of my hands.

How long have you been in L.A.?
Three years.

Do you have any sort of a normal life here or is it mostly just geared towards work?
I have a very strange lifestyle. It’s very questionable.

Is it conducive here to fostering creativity?
I think it is good. All I need to work with someone who is inspiring to me, and then to not work with anyone. To have that break to not do anything musical.

Where do the songs come from?
The lyrics are just me and people I know, or just sometimes people I know. It’s just whatever I encounter. It’s real people or my real feelings disguised as weird abstract lyrics.

Your first song you became known for was a cover song. Was there any pressure to follow that up knowing that you had to write a song that lived up to this song that everyone liked.
Maybe for other people but I was always just doing what I was doing and the attention that I got for “The Suburbs” was welcome. It isn’t something I’m in embarrassed about. I like it. Even though stuff I do is just sightly different, I think it brought attention to me in a positive way. So I think it’s all good. A lot of people tell me they like my version better than the original. I think these people are probably not very big Arcade Fire fans. Fans of the original might not like mine as much.

On the album, you recorded “Oh Sailor” with the Silverlake Conservatory Children’s Choir, which I remember from the album they did with Ryan Gosling’s band Dead Man’s Bones. It’s gotta be different kids by now, right?
There are actually quite a few of the same kids.

How did that collaboration come to happen?
Tim Anderson also did that record and I was begging to do it since the beginning but he thought it was too close to something else he had done. But not that many people know about Dead Man’s Bones, so it finally happened.

You get labeled by some as “mysterious,” which seems to be a common angle that is pushed onto artists these days. But having met you, and in your music, you don’t seem mysterious to me. Why do you think that word gets used so often?
I’m not so mysterious. I guess maybe in the beginning the use of “Mr” might have created some mystery. But, I am not trying to be mysterious.

I just got an Instagram and my label has been after me to do it forever. So I guess it is just what I feel comfortable with doing, because I don’t really want to put everything out there.

Is there something attractive about being mysterious to you as an artist?
I don’t know that I want to do everything, like, I just got an Instagram and my label has been after me to do it forever. So I guess it is just what I feel comfortable with doing, because I don’t really want to put everything out there. I guess I don’t really see why people would want to know so much. I’m just doing what feels natural to me. I’ve never done this before, on this scale. I have to get used to it. I think I’m getting the hang of it, and liking it more. Playing shows, and getting a chance to meet my fans, that has really helped, as opposed to just having people writing on our Facebook.