There is something quite charming in how honest Susanne Sundfør allows herself to be.

She laughs, recalling a holiday in Dublin, remembering how one night she felt scared and lonely. She had a drink in her hotel room, reading Hamlet, while working on her lyrics. It's her matter-of-fact attitude that feels refreshing, which without that attitude may have made her new album Music For People In Trouble weighed-down in its own outlook.

Her new work, which she explains, is about the "struggle and strength to face the beast." The themes within have been evidently shaped by her experiences following the release of her fourth album, Ten Love Songs. While the album garnered her the most widely-acclaimed album of her career, it was also the catalyst to the cause of her breakdown. After its release, her internal world became a state of turmoil following changes in personal relationships and the exhaustion that ensued from producing the album on her own. While these issues took their toll, she found no solace in the political and environmental circumstances that were occurring at this time. The emotional and mental distress she experienced provoked her to find a change in herself.

"I wanted to figure out a way of living a life and knowing these horrible things might happen. In some ways, it's an album about sanity and finding a purpose in this world. Being able to live with them. I don't want to look away from the bad news. I feel like I need to face it. I think you need to be a strong person to do those things and not be affected by it."

Music For People In Trouble, as the title suggests, acknowledges adverse personal and political times. While it offers no solution to these problems, her hope is that the music offers a space to breathe and reflect on them. "Even though it's about personal struggle, I wanted to make an album about climate change and the world we're living in today, from an emotional perspective. For me, I needed to figure out a way where I could get up in the morning and say "The Sixth Extinction is on its way, so… I guess I should have my cup of coffee!""

As such, it may not be easiest album to listen to this year, but it is one of the more truthful ones. Speaking to Sundfør in the afternoon following her tribute performance at BBC Proms: The Songs of Scott Walker, she is on a high, citing that it was a joy to perform other people's music "especially when it's that good." It's an appropriate homage since it's the quality of his work and care in songwriting which permeates through her new album. She refers to writers such as Scott Walker, Nick Drake, Miles Davis and Cat Power as touchstones for the record, in which she returns to the singer-songwriter aesthetic of her earliest work. For listeners expecting the big, sweeping pop songs contained on Ten Love Songs, they will not be found on this record. Sundfør has the self-awareness not to repeat herself. If she wanted to reach a new place personally, she had to do something creatively different. The lush, pop-driven productions have been abandoned in favour of songs which predominately focus on guitar, piano and her voice.

"A lot of Ten Love Songs is just MIDI (the digital musical programme). You write the melodies on this computer programme and you run that through the synthesizers so the creative part is making the synth sounds but you're not actually playing it," she confesses. "I was staying in a flat in London where I couldn't fit a piano through the front door. I only had the guitar to play and I hadn't really done that in years. With the things I wanted to say, I needed them to be against the trends in music now. I guess I like to be difficult! I thought it would be an interesting contrast to pop music today. I thought it would also work well with the lyrics and themes. I missed making that type of music because it's the music I started writing when I was a teenager. My first album is a singer-songwriter album, I missed that vibe and performing music like that. I wanted to feel like a musician and to play instruments again."

Her dedication to songwriting and her own muses diffuses any expectations people may have of her new work, as she confidently asserts "I've always being doing my own thing. I need to do it that way. I only need to express what I want to express because that's what will make good music. I'm not good at doing what people tell me to do." Another key reason for her sparse singer-songwriter approach comes from the restrictions she felt while playing the more-produced songs of her records in a live setting.

"I've been doing a lot of shows with my band and what usually happens today in music is that people make big arrangements in the studio and then when they perform them they do not have enough instruments or people to perform all the parts so they bring a computer with backing tracks. When you play on top of the backing tracks, the band is basically following the machine. We played a few songs without the computer and it felt strange and liberating to be following each other. I loved that feeling and wanted to do that more. I missed the human touch."

Although she views Music For People In Trouble in traditional singer-songwriter terms compared to her recent albums, it does not refrain from drawing listeners into the abstract, including the sound of drones buzzing overhead, philosophical spoken-word extracts and the samples of Karlheinz Stockhausen's frenetic electronic piece 'Gesang der Jünglinge'. On the songs on which synthesizers do appear, it is for narrative of the song. "I needed those things to explain what I wanted to express," she notes. "The synthesizers on the album represent the Industrial Age that we're in. We were trying to make the sound of drones – they're machines emulating machines. The synthesizers have a different function on this album."

To write the album, Sundfør decided to travel the world in the breaks between her tour for Ten Love Songs and continued to do so after it was finished. Her search for new experiences and clarity of what was happening in her life brought her to explore the diverse and vibrant surroundings of the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain, Iceland, Nepal, China, North Korea, Colorado, California, Guatemala and an Amazonian jungle in Brazil, explaining that she wanted to visit "places with distinct landscapes that were either weird or very beautiful."

On her travels, she brought a camera with her as she wished to experiment and see what possibilities photography could offer her. "It was a great way of taking a break from my job," she admits. "I didn't have any expectations of myself. I was just exploring the camera and what I could do with it. It was good therapy and another way to approach beauty that is separate to music. I really like to visit new places and I'm curious about other people. It gives me a break from always thinking it's all about myself!" letting out a small playful laugh. "People are amazing all over the planet. That's what I've learned from travelling: we're all the same and we're all awesome."

She views the artwork which accompanies the new album and singles as a photobook of her travels. "I wanted to portray very different cultures, both from where I come from and in themselves," Sundfør observes. "I also took a lot of hotel portraits because I thought it was interesting to contrast the open landscapes that I was capturing with these really claustrophobic rooms. There is no musical link to them. I wanted them to be separate – a visual and a musical take on how to be alive today."

By taking herself out of her normal context and immersing herself in these new and strange environments enabled Susanne to feel something bigger than herself and opened up a new perspective to the anxieties she was experiencing. "I loved travelling because I easily stress about things and I have a strong sense of work ethic. I really love my job and doing shows but it can be a bit too much at times because I always want what I make to reach its full potential. Sometimes that can be really exhausting."

Acknowledging that a latent message of her new songs is how life happens to us in ways which we have no control, our conversation leads on to what worries her today. "I worry about how things are going to be. I worry about angry people. I worry about how easy it is to change what people think and feel, how easy it to manipulate other, how the system does things to people and we forget, how vulnerable democracy and free speech is, how vulnerable empathy is, how easy it is to put people against each other," she encloses. "We've seen it again and again. I worry about how we don't take care of each other and how we continue to let capitalism dictate our lives, how we grow suspicious of each other when things go bad. In economic downturns, people tend to get more aggressive and it's easier to motivate people to do bad things. I worry today because there are so many parallels and patterns that are quite similar to the time before the second World War. I worry about the unpredictable path that we might end on and how ugly it could get."

Music For People In Trouble is a sonic vision of these anxieties and the war she foresees. Instead of sounding like protests to these concerns about the environment and history repeating itself, she has reigned in their vast energy into simple, almost meditative view of the world and where she stands in it. Elsewhere, she sings of distrust and the disappointments of romantic love, which she equates to "an empty cup" or "a frail little dreamcatcher" over the course of the record. "What I was trying to do with this album was create a calm space to be in where you're finding a calmness in all the anxieties in the world today. Honestly, I don't think it's just me thinking about these things," she comforts.

The journeys she has been on, the photographs she has taken and the songs she has written have shaped her new perspective and ability to cope with what is happening in today's world. "I've discovered that I'm worth just as much as everyone else. One way of figuring that out was writing 'Mantra'. For me, it's a very positive song. Other people have heard it and said it was really sad but it was the song that made me start to feel better. I put things in the most extreme perspectives. How can somebody be worth than someone else? It doesn't make sense. There are no measurements!"

As Sundfør utilised a disorientating and self-destructive period of her life to make one of her most poignant records. I wonder what she will take forward to sustain her renewed outlook. "Trying to be grounded makes me happy," she confirms. "Something I learned in therapy is that it's very common for people to tell themselves lies. At some point, something happened to them and they say "that's who I am!" because they didn't manage to do this or someone said that. You go from there, thinking that's the truth about yourself and then you look for confirmation that you were right. It creates a safety and you feel safe when you feel like you've found a truth about yourself. These truths are often negative. Next time you say to yourself you can't do something, ask yourself where does that come from."

Songs For People In Trouble is out on September 8th on Bella Union.