THE ORIGINAL: NORWEGIAN BLACK METAL

By Kaycee Boe and Rachel Levy

For many people, black metal is as synonymous with Norway as snow and fjords. Imagery of young men with dark painted faces burning down churches and causing trouble in the grey Norwegian winters often comes to mind. The legacy of black metal draws fans from all over the world, who hope to learn more about the history and find out if the music they love still exists in Norway today.

Many are interested to find that black metal only existed in a small community throughout the 1990’s, and may not be as prominent today as they hoped.

Anders Odden, 44, has been around the black metal community since the genre was born. He was drawn into the black metal world when he was only 13. Living on a farm created an isolated universe for him that drove him to create.

“You basically don’t have any friends around so you can turn to music or something else to get busy or get inspired,” Odden said. “That was my case, and the case for many others actually.”

In 1988 Odden formed Cadaver, which he says was the first death metal band in Norway and first band to sign with a label in the U.K. Now, Odden plays guitar and bass in multiple metal bands, including influential and major label black metal band Satyricon. He has watched black metal grow and evolve from its inception.

The black metal community was small throughout the 1990s. According to Grete Joanne Neseblod, co-owner of Norway’s black metal music shop and museum Neseblod, most of the culture was centered around 15-20 key people. Bands such as Odden’s communicated by meeting in each other’s rehearsal rooms and trading tapes.

“I got like 10 letters a day from people everyday at the peak of it – magazines and tapes and demos and contacts around the world,” Odden said. “It was inspiring to be a part of a world movement that was very unique and that nobody knew about.”

As with many extreme music genres, black metal was never meant to blow up. It was born in Norway’s underground, and according to Odden, it wasn’t supposed to leave the underground.

“Back then, nobody cared really,” Odden said. “That’s the thing that people don’t understand, it didn’t get any attention in music magazines. At the time, most people were into grunge or more polished American stuff.”

It was anti-establishment attitudes and authenticity that drove the genre forward.

“These were just young people who were 16 to 17 years old who just wanted to do something really new,” Grete Joanne said. “They had these guts because in the beginning, people thought that it was weird and strange.”

The brutality that is often associated with black metal came later, when Varg Vikernes of fellow black metal band Burzum attracted media attention through what Odden refers to as publicity stunts such as the burning of churches. Odden believes that artists like Vikernes hurt the genre musically.

“People doing this were really looked upon as animals in society for a really long time,” he says.

While black metal may have been known for being filled with tales of arson and murder, that is no longer the case. According to Odden, the legacy of the genre is much more prominent than the scene ever was. This is a common perspective on black metal culture in Norway.

“I think the history of it draws people in,” Kenneth Neseblod, owner of Neseblod records, said. “The murder and all the mystique around it. They want to see how dark and evil it all is, but it was more back then than it is now. It is not so dark and evil anymore.”

Peter Beste, who has been studying black metal for years and published a book on the subject, notes that many artists no longer stand by the aspects of black metal that made it so brutal.

“It’s part of the sensationalistic story of it,” Beste said, “but it isn’t really the essence of it.”

Through exposure and developments in production, black metal has transitioned to a more mainstream genre.

“Black metal is more clean, it’s not so underground now,” Kenneth said. “But you have some of the same people who still play in the bands and are pretty dark.”

Fans and those who have followed black metal notice this as well.

“I think the best Norwegian bands are, like, Mayhem and Emperor,” says Sanvik, a young member of the black metal community.

As for Odden, he is currently touring internationally with Satyricon. However, while they may be touring at a more professional level, Odden notes that there is still an edge to their music. For them, their music has changed, but it still fits their definition of black metal.

“For us, it’s about the vibe and how we think it should be, not how others define it,” Odden said. “We are defining what black metal is to us, and we never care for other people’s definitions.”

As for the fans, most will agree that the black metal and metal communities are very tight knit.

“They like to wear the clothes and the patches to show that they are outside of society,” says Grete Joanne, “but also that they are a part of something.”

For young fans Emilie Sandal and Jone Hoftun, who sit on a hillside at Tons of Rock Festival clothed in band t-shirts and high tops, the metal community in Norway could be described as united and also surprisingly, friendly.

From an onstage perspective, Odden says that black metal fans are generally quite mellow. “Metal fans never approach you like a crazy person,” Odden said. “If they recognize you from a band they approach you very politely. They just want to talk to you about music.”

People still come from all over the world to Norway to see where black metal started even though the genre has moved more towards other countries. Black packers, as they are called, travel to Norway to visit many of the spots where black metal formed.

Up until 2012, Odden conducted a black metal tour during Inferno Festival, a black metal festival held during Easter each year. Black packers would take a bus to Neseblod Records, a record store once owned by Mayhem’s Euronymous, then to Holmekkon to see the church burnt down by Varg Vikernes.

“I think it’s strange for them to come here to realize it’s quite normal people doing this,” Odden said. “I don’t know what they think, that people live in cages or in caves or in castles, people have all kinds of weird expectations, so it says more about them than the reality.”

Kenneth also notes that some black packers may be disappointed to see that the people of Norway aren’t actually walking the streets in corpse paint.

People from all over the world heard about everything black metal bands did in the 1990’s and believe that all black metal bands were alike. According to Odden, the point of the tours were to teach people about the background of black metal and what really went on during that time, how it was not all church burnings and satanism.

“They are really interested in that,” Odden said. “Somehow they were caught up in the myth of it so if you try to tell them how it really was, you can’t really get their heads around it, so I stopped doing it.”

While to outsiders, it may seem that black metal is still an integral part of Norwegian culture, the general consensus is that the genre lives mainly in its legacy.

“The people that are in the original bands are still making new music,” Odden said. “We’re just going to continue on our paths regardless of what’s going on.”

Kenneth Neseblod agrees. “A lot of the music was invented in Norway by black metal bands,” he said. “They were the first to start black metal, but there’s not so many people who are very black metal anymore.”

INTERNATIONAL DJ RETURNS TO FARGO

BY KAITLYN HUSS

Twenty years ago, Fargo and surrounding communities had become one of the Midwest’s most noted rave hotspots. Local artists such as DJ Sol and venues like Johnson’s Barn helped the scene to flourish. Brainerd, Minnesota native Kristina Dunn, a frequent attendee, found freedom in this space. The sounds of international performers like Bjørk, Kraftwerk and Orbital, Kristina’s favorites of the time, provided the soundtrack to raves across the Midwest. Little did she know that twenty years later, she would provide the same atmosphere for the next generation of electronic music lovers.

Kristina found her way to Fargo by 1996. While in the Midwest, Kristina studied Liberal Arts and Fashion at Minnesota State University of Moorhead, but left in 1999 for Los Angeles to chase bigger dreams. “When I was there, there was a lot of punk rock going on. It was kind of like the ska-punk scene together, I don’t really know what to call it, but all these really cool indie bands were playing in basements and houses in North Fargo. So it was pretty cool.”

In Fargo she fell in love with the rave scene and the people that came with it. During this time Kristina and friends regularly danced at Johnson’s Barn as well as different venues and various house parties around the Fargo-Moorhead area. “We had huge names (DJs) coming from San Francisco and Canada and Chicago, and then we used to go down to Minneapolis where all the huge raves were, like DBS1 parties,” she said.

Once in LA, Kristina continued to be active in the electronic music scene. She attended clubs and warehouse parties there and fed her craving to dance. American artists, Mark Farina and DJ Heather inspired Kristina to become a DJ, and with a friend’s urging, she purchased a turntable in 2002. DJ Della was born.

Love took DJ Della to Norway three years later, and she has been there ever since working on her craft. Now a full time DJ, she is a resident at the clubs Dattera til Hagen and Jæger. She describes Oslo’s rave scene as, “very strong” but “more of a controlled club environment.” Until recently, raves were commonly held outside. When a few young party-goers overdosed on club drugs, all of that changed. Now the parties are monitored and held inside. Fortunately, Della believes Oslo has two of the best clubs in the world; The Villa and Jæger. Where she once found freedom dancing, Della now takes great pride in conducting the dance floor as a maestro would her orchestra.

Della was selected to kick off a new series just launched at Jæger on Saturday, June 4, dubbed “Jæger Mix” and was intended to showcase resident artists in Oslo. There she accompanied De Fantaskitske To, and mesmerized throngs of people with her vocal stylings.

This summer DJ Della is set to tour in the United States, beginning in Chicago, Illinois at Gramaphone Records on June 11th. After kicking off her tour in Illinois, Della will hit up Milwaukee and a few places in Minnesota and California. DJ Della hasn’t set a date in Fargo but plans to in early July.

Reflecting on her time in Fargo and looking ahead to her trip to the States, she remarked, “Fargo had a really big stamp on electronic music and dance music and rave culture in the Midwest for sure. I don’t know if it’s really credited for that, but I know that it was like something incredibly special and everyone was very dedicated to what used to go on there. And it’s developed me into the DJ I am today. And now I’m doing this full time. It’s like the love of my life.”

Della still keeps in contact with many old friends from the scene. “It’s pretty awesome and, you know, if it wasn’t for Fargo and those amazing people that [I was] surrounded by, I wouldn’t be here today. There’s something really special about Fargo”.

WASN’T IT GOOD, NORWEGIAN WOOD

BY LOGAN HARLE AND ANGIE PEREZ

The festival market in Norway has increased tremendously in the past 20 years, so much that 40 percent of the population attended a festival in 2014, according to the Norwegian Knowledge Centre for Cultural Industries.

One of those festivals is the annual and iconic Norwegian Wood Festival, which is usually a three-day-long festival that’s had an estimated eight to nine thousand people in attendance per day last year, according to one of the original founders, Joergen Roll. This year, however, Norwegian Wood shrunk to one day with three acts including Israel Nash, BIGBANG, and Wilco.

The downgrade in size is said to be due to competition with new and upcoming festivals and limited dates in Norway’s prime festival season in June. Every festival tries to avoid dates in July because that is the time of the year everyone goes on vacation. Festivals try to book in June as that is when people are in town and are willing to spend money on festivals.

Roll said Norwegian Wood missed out on a possible 25 headliners because of competition with other festivals. But Roll believes that this year’s reduction in artists is due to “bad luck”.

“Every year you have bad luck with some but not like 20 different artists,” Roll said. “So it’s been a very special year.”

According to the Cultural Editor of Dagsavisen, Oslo’s daily newspaper, Mode Steinjker, the festival market in Oslo has been collapsing more or less because of the big festivals that have been in Oslo for a long time and up and coming festivals that more exciting than the older ones.

“It won’t be the same this year because it’s not a progressive festival like how it use to be,” Steinkjer said.

Film Institution blaaa and former press officer of Norwegian Wood, Jacob Berg, said the problem with Norwegian Wood is that the festival has a broad profile, where they try to reach all types of audience members. In today’s market newer festivals try to reach a specific audience, booking artist according to genre. This is the reason why the festival ended up with only three artists, because of issues booking bands needed to fit their profile, according to Berg.

“It’s due to competition and the lack of relevant artists,” Berg said. “It doesn’t have the same profile. It used to have a niche that is gone now.”

In past years Norwegian Wood has always been capable of booking so many great artists, although they didn’t manage to do that early enough this year, according to Berg.

Even though the festival didn’t live up to their standards of previous years, Israel Nash Gripka, the lead vocalist and guitarist from American band Israel Nash, said he is proud to be a part of Norwegian Wood.

“I think we’re honored to be a part of this festival, despite how massive Norwegian Wood was last year and the years before,” said Gripka. “The fact that it’s paired down to three people and we’re a part of that, when there could’ve been so many other artists to do it, is great.”

According to Steinkjer, the lack of performances, attendance and ticket sales, could lead to Norwegian Wood’s last year.

“I want to see what is left of Norwegian Wood,” said Steinkjer. “I think I will be surprised if they manage to raise money for next year’s festival.”

Despite what critics say, Roll said that next year’s 25th anniversary of Norwegian Wood will be back to three days. Roll said that they will be starting to book artists earlier, the day after Norwegian wood this year, to be exact.

“Why shouldn’t we have high hopes for next year? We’ve had almost a million people for shows before,” Roll said.

2016 Festival Overview

BY LOGAN HARLE

Norway is home to a myriad of music festivals covering all genres, from Norway’s notorious black metal scene, to pop, folk, electronic, jazz, hip hop and many more.

Norway has one of the highest amounts of attendance of music festivals in the world, with over 1.8 million people who attended a festival in 2014, which accounts for nearly 40% of the population, according to musicnorway.no

The report also showed that a total of 4,470 concerts and events drew an audience of more than 2.2 million, which equaled to residents attending 2.5 shows per day. As well as over 200,000 artists held concerts or took part in a performance, with 31% of those concerts being of the rock/pop genre.

During the month of June, the Ieimedia Oslo Rocks’ group covered six music festivals, including Musikkfest Oslo, Miniøya, Norwegian Wood, Bergen Fest, Over Oslo and Tons of Rock. Each festival covered a wide variety of genres of music for all age groups.

Musikkfest Oslo is held on Norway’s national music day and according MusikkFest press contact, Astrid Fuglevaag, this year it held over 450 artists perform across forty venues and drew in an estimated 100,000 patrons for its 25th anniversary. Musikkfest Oslo is a way for patrons to listen to new artists of any genre.

“We have a lot of subcultures in the city,” Tage Bratud, a long-time festival-goer and Oslo resident, said. “So it is good to have a day to showcase all of the bands that are around. You can find hip-hop, rock, metal, basically everything.”

There’s even a music festival for children, Miniøya, which is a “mini” version of one of Oslo’s biggest music festivals, Øya Fest. Miniøya is held for families to enjoy the music and arts culture with their kids.

Oslo’s second-largest music festival is Norwegian Wood, which is usually held over three days in June at Frogner Park. This year was an exception (see Norwegian Wood story).

On the west coast of Norway, is Norway’s second largest city to Oslo, Bergen, which host’s Bergen Fest which average’s in attendance between 35,000 to 40,000 per year, according to BergenFest.no.

Located at a venue looking over the city of Oslo, OverOslo, which is a five day music festival, featured international acts like Tom Jones and Travis, and many other international and Norwegian folk artists.

Unlike the majority of music festivals that hold a variety of genres, Tons of Rock is three days of straight rock n’ roll. Tons Of Rock is a camping festival held at Fredriksten Fortress and on just it’s second year, the festival hosted popular artists such as Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper.

“I like a real metal festival because it is not a festival filled with so many people to see different genres of music,” two-time festival-goer Glenn Gabrielsen said. “Here, it is all metal people and that is what is fantastic about Tons of Rock.

If you are looking for an international adventure in music, Oslo and southern-Norway is filled with non-stop music for all tastes.

METAL FALLS INTO THE SHADOW OF DARKNESS

by Angie Perez

Black Metal in Norway as we know it is strongly associated with Satanism, occult, violence, burning down of Christian churches and men wearing all black attire looking like they just stepped out of hell. In today’s metal scene some will argue that the genre has fallen into the shadows of pop and alternative music.

The five member Norwegian Metal band, Shot At Dawn, has decided to break up after 11 years of making music. The band performed their last gig at Aye Aye Club for Oslo’s annual Musikkfest, “It’s just time, we worked our asses off last year and couldn’t really get anywhere,” guitarist Alexander Klæboe said. “I think our name is getting a little worn out … so we’ve had a hard time getting response anywhere. Right now it’s just not worth the effort.”

As an unsigned band, Shot At Dawn has been in charge of booking their own shows. Despite the decline of interest in the genre they successfully played in 21 concerts in 2015.

This was the band’s third time playing at Oslo’s Musikkfest, drummer Aki Viitala said. The bass player, Espen Hagas, and guitarist, Christopher Marchand, are original band members since. Viitala joined in 2010, both Klaeboe and lead vocalist Martin Bråthen joined in 2014.

“It’s so great that they have this stage just for Metal music because it is a genre that for the last five years it’s been in the shadows,” Bråthen said.

Overall music sales and radio airplay have decreased, as music genres like pop and alternative rock have increased and are dominating the charts.

Metal’s revenue and concert attendance has shrunk in Scandinavia, and that could be in part because the genre is veering away from its origins – transforming into a modern and less angry beast. Or the transformation could be a side effect of waning interest in metal.

“We want to make people smile we don’t want to make people angry and hurt each other,” Bråthen said.

Shot At Dawn’s objective is to empower their listeners and make music that people can listen to when they’re going through a hard time, feeling sad, happy or just want to party. “We want to make a song for every emotion. Even if it’s metal we want to cover all shades it’s not just black or white,” Bråthen said.

In March, the City of Oslo hosted a big music event where not a single Metal act was booked. “That’s pretty crazy because they had like a 150 bands and not one was metal,” Bråthen said.

Viitala said that it was depressing to see because the genre has been around since the late 70’s, and during the mid 2000’s they noticed a decrease in interest.

A few legendary Metal artists have already expressed the disinterest in metal: Brent Hinds told GuitarPlayer that he doesn’t like to play heavy metal; and in an interview with the Observer, Dani Filth said that there is a noticeable difference between being a Metal artist then to now because it is getting harder and harder to make a living.

Despite the gradual loss of interest, Bråthen said that recently people are starting to implement guitars again because concert goers enjoy a show where the music is created on stage. “There’s no backing tracks, we create the music on stage with our guitar, bass guitar, drums and vocals, that’s it. It’s just us making a bunch of noise. There is something organic about it, something real that comes from the heart.”

Shot At Dawn does not categorize themselves as Black Metal but “white-trash metal,” which they described as full of good party vibes with simple lyrics made for the common man. Instead of giving a dark and aggressive show they want to bring joy to the crowd.

“It’s about being yourself,” said Bråthen. “F*** everybody, I don’t like your s***, living life to the fullest, and party hard.”

Getting off the stage Saturday night the band members felt a mix of emotion. Marchand solemnly said he felt sad, Klæboe said he felt the band’s state of oblivion. “During the last song I had tears in my eyes,” said Viitala. “Now we have to put our energy in new projects we’re all going to play in some new band.”

The bands differentiates their style from Black metal because they don’t go on stage trying to look angry but instead like to smile and show happiness, Viitala said.

Last year the band performed at a Finnish festival. On the first night all the other bands were dressed hardcore, black metal style. Bråthen said the second night they played they saw those same bands were wearing Shot at Dawn’s merch (hats and t-shirts) and smiling on stage. “They told us you guys taught us that we don’t have to be angry on stage, even if the music is aggressive, we don’t have to be….I feel like we are pioneers of some sort,” he said.

The main concern for the newer bands is the lack of revenue coming in for metal artist. It’s not that Metal is dead but it has a broader spectrum of subgenres that have steered away from the black metal traditions.

“I think people remember having fun more than a watching a bunch of guys worship satan. When you go to a show and you see a metal concert the music is brutal and it hits you right in the face, but still we are having a good time,” Bråthen said.

INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVALS REACT TO MANCHESTER ATTACK

As music festivals in Norway grow, the danger of attending a concert also rises. The Manchester bomb attack following an Ariana Grande concert killed 23 attendees and wounded many more. Festival and concert organizers in the U.K., the U.S., and Norway, which has one of the highest per capita music event attendance rates in the world, are keenly aware of security concerns.

The repercussions of the UK attack can be seen in the U.S. as additional security precautions are adopted. Several major concert venues have already heightened their security measures, including Madison Square Garden in New York City. MSG sent out a memo on May 23 detailing the venue’s commitment to “increased diligence in screening” and “greater on-site police presence.” Many other American venue managers have taken similar actions.

Norwegian venue organizers have also taken precautions in the wake of Manchester.

Oslo Musikkfest, held on June 3, 2017, is the largest annual one-day music festival in the country with venues spread throughout the Norwegian capital. This year saw 50 venues hosting over 450 bands, which is an increase from 2016, which had 38 stages and about 300 bands. All performances were free of charge and nearly all music genres were represented.

The free festival draws in tens of thousands of attendees every year. “It’s absolutely possible that it was about 50,000 to 100,000 attendees,” Mina Evenrud, director of Musikkfest, said.

A report by the National Knowledge Center for Cultural Industries showed that over 1.8 million people attended a festival in Norway in 2014, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of the country’s population.

With such a high level of festival attendance, threats toward the crowd’s well-being are a key concern for organizers.

“We have good and ongoing communication with the Oslo police,” Evenrud said. “We want people to feel safe at Musikkfest.”

After the Manchester attack, the Norwegian Police Security Service determined that the threat level in Norway had not risen.

The level of security at each of the given stages was left up to the venue promoter. Evenrud encouraged both the audience and local promoters to call the police if they noticed any suspicious activity.

With an event that is outdoors, without closed-off areas and open to the public, it is difficult to implement any comprehensive security precautions. When asked about implementing security precautions, Evenrud was intent on remaining strong and steadfast against any threat that may arise.

However, applying too many security measures may not be the best solution. “But then we give in to what the terrorists want,” Evenrud said, “to scare people from living normal lives. And is that what we want, to have armed police on every corner. Will you then feel safe or would you feel monitored?”

Evenrud continued to say that it is a very complex situation. The issue of security will continue to be an ongoing topic of discussion for future years of Musikkfest as well as other festivals and concert venues around the world.

Similar conversations regarding security were also held by BergenFest organizers, the largest festival on Norway’s west coast and one of the leading music festivals in Norway. BergenFest was held June 14 to 17, 2017, at Bergenhus Castle in Bergen, Norway.

“We spend a lot of time planning for our events to be safe,” Ole Morten Algerøy, BergenFest press manager, said. “We feel that we have taken precautions.”

Prior to the beginning Bergenfest, a post on its website explained the venue ensures the audience is as safe as can be. The post detailed how to best move around the venue, how to pack and what security measures have been put in place.

“In times like this, it is even more important to make people come together and appreciate each other and appreciate the music,” Algerøy said.

As music festival culture continues to grow and expand, an ongoing topic of conversation will detail what actions need to be taken in order to provide a secure environment for people to enjoy art and music.

NORWEGIAN CONCERT PLANNING ORGANIZATION GIVES KIDS POWER

Rockslo, a concert association in Norway’s capital city of Oslo, introduces youth to music by immersing them in the process of planning and executing concerts.

Since 2013, Rockslo has been a place for young people to work behind the scenes in the music industry. From booking to marketing to technical work to production, youth under the age of 20 learn the ins and outs of what goes into planning shows, by fully planning concerts with the guidance of adult volunteers.

Erik Fosland said the process begins with the youth coming together to select and book popular artists. Right now, the organization books Norwegian acts, but it is Fosland’s dream to be able to afford international acts.

Fosland’s role with Rockslo translates to CEO, though he said that title is too formal and prefers to be referred to as a leader of the organization.

The youth also book the venues for the concerts, ensure the bands have all equipment they need, promote the shows and decorate the venues.

“Primarily, Rockslo wants them [youth] to do everything because they want them to learn everything from the beginning to the end,” Sahil Singh said.

Singh, 18, has been with the organization for two years. He usually takes photos and videos at Rockslo-produced events, though he has helped with booking when needed.

“We’re allowed to do anything if we really want to. If I say I want to be responsible for this band when they come to the concert, I’m allowed to do that,” he said. Because of the work experience he gained through Rockslo, Singh recently got a paid job with another festival.

Rockslo typically hosts four to six shows a year. Two years ago, the organization hosted its own music festival, a weekend event that Fosland would like to be hosted every other year.

Fosland said that the shows include a well-known act, an up-and-coming act and an unknown smaller act to give those artists the chance to play and learn from other musicians while talking to members they may have grown up listening to.

He believes it’s important that the youth involved in the organization, as well as the bands brought in, are able to learn.

While “rock” is in the name, the organization hosts events with whatever music young people are listening to at the time. Many of the events last year featured hip-hop artists, while this year has been focused more on rock and pop.

“It’s just music, what the kids want to hear,” Fosland said.

The volunteer-based organization receives funding support from the government to help pay for the events hosted. Since venues won’t usually make money from events that don’t serve alcohol, Fosland said venues will often donate space for shows or charge a small fee.

In addition to planning concerts, Rockslo hosts social events and collaborates with other festivals and events, including Miniøya, a music festival focused on children that Rockslo members did the booking for this summer.

HPR EXCLUSIVE: A Q&A WITH AURORA

(Originally published in the High Plains Reader on August 2, 2017.)

http://hpr1.com/index.php/feature/hpr-abroad/hpr-exclusive-a-qa-with-aurora/

Norwegian native Aurora has achieved international recognition in her genre and has followings in the United States and Canada. Aurora is relatively new to the music scene, putting out her first studio album in 2016. This interview took place at OverOslo, the annual music festival on a hill overlooking the Oslo harbor.

Her first album: “All my Demons Greeting me as a Friend” (2016)

High Plains Reader: You’re from a pretty small place in Norway, what was that like growing up?

Aurora: I quite liked it. You really get to know the people in your town, and your neighbors, and the guy working at the one shop we had near by — which is 40 minutes if you had to walk. It’s a long walk just to buy some eggs, but it’s really nice. I think it is always going to be a goal for where I live, that I need to be able to walk around my garden naked without anyone noticing. Then you can be completely free. And I like that about my childhood house. It was a place where you could do anything you want, and it was very free.

HPR: How do you think being from Norway has affected your music, both lyrically and the sounds behind the lyrics?

Aurora: I’m very inspired by nature and the forest and especially the wild kind of nature that you can find here. And it’s kind of brutal in a way sometimes. Very steep hills, falling rock, and it’s ice cold and the trees are very dark, and they stand through the winter. It’s quite a brutal nature, if that makes sense. It’s dramatic, which I really like, and most often it can be mysterious and foggy, which is inspiring. It feels like it’s just nothing. It’s grey and it’s empty and it doesn’t affect you to be in any mood, it just lets you be, which I really like. I’m very inspired. Especially by the sound that wraps the soul of a song, the “bodies” around the songs are very inspired by this kind of nature. I think it has affected me a lot.

HPR: Has travelling to places that are different and that are loud and busy changed your music at all?

Aurora: It changes the way I write when I’m in a big city with noise. It’s different sound waves there, with the way sound moves. There’s a different kind of space, and there is no space sometimes. You can feel trapped. Because here, you can always see some kind of mountain far away. You can feel a sense of freedom because you know that you can leave here and walk over there and you can see that it’s an exit, an emergency exit, which calms me down. But in cities there are buildings and it can be hard to see that.

HPR: It can be kind of claustrophobic.

Aurora: Right, and it affects the music. But it’s exciting, and it smells different. It smells like people and not natural smells and food and it’s nice, too. I write quicker songs when I’m on tour, when everything is moving all the time. It demands something of you all the time, a city. You need to be aware of your surroundings, which is the biggest difference from being here.

HPR: Is it different for you performing somewhere in Canada or the U.S. in comparison to here?

Aurora: The best thing about my fans or my listeners is that I get reminded of how people are just people and we need the same things and we feel the same things and most of us experience the same things. I see people from the age of 11 to the age of 80 at my shows which I really like. It’s good to see how different they all look but how similar they all react to each song, which is beautiful. It’s so uniting, which is a really important thing, to see how united we are and can be, especially through music. But at the same time, it is different from place to place. I can’t really explain it. It’s something with the sound, or the volume, or the way people are dancing. It’s very special.

HPR: Is there a reason that you choose to sing in English as opposed to Norwegian?

Aurora: Well, it feels nice pushing the songs a bit further away from my heart. I feel like it is a wall between me and AURORA. Like this Aurora and the AURORA that lets the world know her. I need to have a slight difference between those two so I can keep me, the other Aurora, a bit hidden and grounded. It helps to do that by singing in English, because I sound different when I sing and speak in English, and my voice acts differently, so I feel like it’s a bit more safe. I feel like if people don’t like it then it doesn’t hurt because it’s not completely me.

And of course, English is a really poetic language. It feels nice not keeping it for myself and only people that can speak Norwegian. Music is so needed. You can’t put it in a cage or in a box. It’s a free thing, like the wind, and it deserves to be understood by all of us, at least insofar as I can try to make most people understand. I think it is important that it is for everyone.

HPR: Everyone needs music for something different, and you never know who needs your songs.

Aurora: Yeah, it’s important to have a song that can be a friend when you need it. Sometimes people can’t understand, and sometimes people don’t want to bother people with our issues and our thoughts. It’s nice then to have a song which can help you with an escape, and explain what you are going through without you having to think much about it yourself. It’s nice to just have a friend in a song or in a book. That is what I really like. Becoming friends with a song when I need it, and then to kind of say goodbye, and go to another album, a new artist and to always keep moving. You need different friends all the time in music and books.

HPR: Before I came here, I was told that Norwegian people are quite reserved. Do you find that that is true, or maybe more of a stereotype?

Aurora: It’s kind of a stereotype, and it’s kind of true as well. I guess that’s what happens when it rains so much, and when it’s cold, and when we don’t get a lot of sun. Maybe it’s just the way that mother nature acts around us and the way it has been for a thousand years in this country. But I think we are open, too. We don’t sprinkle things to be prettier and better than they are. It’s a very honest people, which I really like.

HPR: Is it scary putting yourself out there the way you do, with your music being so vulnerable and intimate?

Aurora: Well, I don’t know, I’m not afraid of being intimate and vulnerable with the world. I feel quite comfortable with it and it’s a beautiful thing with humans when I see people around me being vulnerable and intimate with the world. It’s such a sign of trust, if you like. It is a very beautiful thing.

HPR: Do you have anything coming up in the future?

Aurora: Yes. Not soon, but in less than like a year from now. And I will try my best to release like a single or an EP, if I can, before that. I can’t wait to release more music. It’s so weird to have moved on and become not different but maybe better at what you are doing. I’m so excited to share my new music.

I’ve realized what I need even more, and maybe what songs I need now. It’s so frustrating to keep them to myself, because I’ve already written many of them.

SERIAL CROSSOVER ARTIST: SONDRE LERCHE INTERVIEW

(Originally published in the High Plains Reader on August 2, 2017. http://hpr1.com/index.php/feature/hpr-abroad/serial-crossover-artist-sondre-lerche-interview/)

Sondre Lerche was born in Bergen on the west coast, the second largest city in Norway. He has just released his eighth album, “Pleasure” (2017). This interview took place at OverOslo, the annual music festival on a hill overlooking the Oslo harbor.

HPR: How has being from Norway affected your music both when you started and now? 

Sondre Lerche: It’s always hard to say because it’s all I know, but when you are young growing up here, you listen to mainly music from other places, like the big music cities. I listened to a lot of Brazilian music, but it’s always from far away.

Being Norwegian, it’s not your identity to be at the centre of attention. Geographically we are just way up here, you know? We are just a little country with this story to tell. So maybe that affects your view. You have a sort of privilege coming from Norway that you may or may not know you have, but at the same time you see yourself as quite small. Maybe you have a sort of weird view of things…you can sample the best from all cultures and just quietly cultivate your own brand of it. I like that. But I’ve lived in New York for so many years and I try and think about how that affected me, but that is hard too because it’s all I know. New York is full of people coming from all over the world to live and be a part of it for a second.

HPR: Were there any challenges with moving from here to there? 

SL: I think it’s challenging…I did it because I had been touring so much and I was like it’s going to be so fun to move somewhere else, I’m gonna be so inspired and then you do it and you’ve put so much pressure on this experience that you are going to be inspired and the first couple of months I was not inspired at all, I was just tired. And then you think “Oh shit! This was a terrible mistake” and I was still quite young so I didn’t really know how things go. Oh my god I almost had like a little meltdown. You just expect that you are going to move to New York and continue to be brilliant, and I had to start from the bottom, in a sense, and really get to the inspiration.

HPR: Is it different for you performing here than in the US and Canada? 

SL: It is a little different. In Norway everyone knows who I am but they don’t necessarily relate to my music or know my music. In most other places, people don’t know who I am, but the people who do, know all my music. It’s this very bizzaro world. It is very different. The essentials are the same, it’s just making people happy and groovy with music. I’m playing the same music and I’m essentially the same guy. It’s sometimes liberating getting to speak English in between my songs because it appeals to this entertainer side that I have. That is a little harder in Norway with my own people. You don’t have that sort of character to play around with.

HPR: Do you prefer to sing in English? 

SL: I prefer it. I’ve tried sometimes to write in Norwegian. I don’t like it at all. This is going to sound strange, but I find it limiting because there are more words in English and they are more specific, and most of the music I’ve listened to was in English. It feels culturally like it’s where the expression belongs. There are a lot of good artists singing in Norwegian, but I’m not one of them.

HPR: Do you think it distances you from your fans in Norway? 

SL: By now they know what to expect, but there has been a shift now where a lot of pop artists who sing in English have started singing in Norwegian. Of course the feel of a lot of it is that it’s more intimate to sing to your own people in your own language, but I’ve communicated with people outside of Norway since the start, so it seems like this valuable dialogue and I would hate to just end it. It would almost feel rude, like if we were in a conversation right now and I just randomly started speaking Norwegian. I definitely feel better being able to communicate, and that is one of the great things I experienced the first time I went to America to play, was that people actually listen to the words. That was really special. It made me want to work harder to write better.

HPR: When you write, do your words come first or the melodies? 

SL: It varies. Very often the music comes first because the music gives shape and I can realize what i need. I write down words all the time without any thought of the music. So I have two different buckets to draw from. But very often I’ll have a piece of music and I’m just trying to give it life, and the words are the life. That’s what drives it and what motivates me to sing it. It’s only a song if I can give the melody words that motivate me to stand up in front of one person or millions or people and sing it. I have to feel that this is something I have to share, even if nobody wants to hear it.

HPR: You are known for constantly reinventing your sound. How do you go about taking your fan base with you? 

SL: Oh boy, I don’t know. I’ve probably lost a lot of people in different stages of my career because I’m selfish in that sense. When I’m writing and recording I only really care about what I feel and think. If I’m playing it for someone else, it’s just to see how I feel playing it for them, because that reveals a lot. It isn’t necessarily because I want them to say ‘oh cool snare drum sound,’ it’s to see if I play it for them, I’ll hear what bothers me and fix that. So really, I’ve probably alienated a lot of people who maybe like one record and then came to the next and were like “what?” And then maybe some people return. They fall off and then they come back.

HPR: What about new fans? 

SL: All the time! There are so many people who come to me and say they thought I was some new guy. If I’m new to them, I am a new guy, but it’s really fun for me after all these years to put out so much music and still have people discover what I do and think “Pleasure” is the first album of some guy. That idea is so exciting to me. I’ve been blessed with a core fan group of adventurous, tolerant music fans who really want to go on this ride with me, and without them I couldn’t do any of this at this level. If people do fall off, that’s not a big deal. I have that same relationship with many artists where I like this record but maybe couldn’t tune into that one. It’s not necessarily supposed to be for everyone all the time.

HPR: Do your folk roots from the start still reside with you at all? 

SL: Yeah, I feel very connected to just the format of a guy playing guitar and writing songs on a guitar. That’s the core of what I do and I feel like at any moment I could strip everything I do down to that. I’d be happy to perform solo shows almost anywhere and meet the audience that way, and take songs back to where they came from. So I feel connected to that format. I don’t necessarily want to explore that so much in the studio, but I always can in the live format. I like the flexibility where if I write songs that are good enough to be dressed up and dressed down. Then I feel like I’ve done my job, so I like to do that.

HPR: Where do you see your music going in the future? 

SL: I tend to feel like when I’ve done something, it’s like you’ve had a big meal of pasta and you want something else. I’ve recorded a bunch that overlapped with this record but was decidedly something else and are very different. They move very slowly and have a lot of room for thoughts. I don’t necessarily think the next thing is going to be all that similar to “Pleasure.” But it’s going to take a little time, so anything can happen.

Radio pros at Bergenfest

By Billy Ray Malone

NRK P1 music reporter Hilde Zahl scanned the crowd at Bergenfest – the annual music festival in Bergen, Norway – and spotted a woman wearing a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds tee shirt. Zahl walked right up to the woman, crossed her ankles, dipped into a curtsy and, without skipping a beat, extended her phone to record the interview and began to ask questions

young man stands in front of a tent filled with radio equipment and reporters
Billy Ray Malone poses in front of the press tent NRK P1 set up at Bergenfest in Bergen, Norway. The radio station produced a two-and-a-half-hour show at the five-day festival. Photo by Tom Grant.

Watching this, I whispered my thanks to the universe for leading me to the NRK P1 press tent and talking my way into shadowing Zahl for the day. NRK is Norway’s government run public broadcasting company. P1 is one of several radio stations, each with its own focus. The U.S. has nothing comparable: our National Public Radio (NPR) is funded through listener donations and commercial radio is funded by advertising. When you flip through the channels of Norwegian digital radio, you’ll find that there aren’t any commercials because it is funded through a special tax on televisions.

During the first week of a journalism study abroad program in Norway, I took a Norwegian language class. The instructor cautioned the American students in the class that walking up to Norwegians and talking to them can be awkward. The American tendency to smile at strangers on the streets makes Norwegians uncomfortable. I recalled my instructor’s words when Zahl asked that I stand away from the interviews so I wouldn’t scare people away.

Zahl’s trademark pre-interview curtsy and bubbly personality helped break the ice and disarm her interview subjects. She said using a phone bothers people less than a microphone in their face.

NRK P1 covers Bergenfest and similar festivals to expose listeners to acts such as Sparks and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Zahl said 40% of the country tunes in for their 6:30 to 9 p.m. show every night.

Nick Cave refused doing any interviews with press, as he has been known to do in the past. “If the musician won’t talk to me, I will build my story by talking to the fans,” Zahl said. After a dozen interviews with Nick Cave fans,  Zahl had everything she needed to prepare her four-minute package. She went back to the press tent and quickly prepared the package.

Before heading out for more interviews, Zahl prepared for an upcoming interview with the band Sparks, whose frontmen Ron and Russel Mael are happy to talk with reporters.

Sparks manager Sue Harris had warned Zahl that reporters in the past have frustrated the Mael brothers by having little to no knowledge about their band. With extra zeal, she plunged into her research, listening to Sparks albums and becoming something of an expert about the band in less than two hours.

Due to my lack of a backstage press pass I couldn’t sit in on Zahl’s interview. But I watched when she returned to the tent and efficiently pieced together the package in time to air on the show.

NRK P1 team takes a group photo underneath the sign at Bergenfest in Bergen, Norway. Photo by Tom Grant
As the reporter photographed the NRK P1 team with their camera, another Oslo Rocks! staffer got a shot of the group gathered under the Bergenfest entrance in Bergen, Norway. Photo by Tom Grant

At the end of the two-hour show, the P1 team smiled as they packed up their gear.  They huddled together under the Bergenfest sign for a group photo. One of the producers handed me a Canon 35mm camera, a camera with which I am not familiar and asked me to take their picture. The pressure was intense as I aimed the lens at six professional journalists/photographers who, I was convinced, were silently judging my skills. Perhaps because I am still a journalism student and rookie photographer, they politely suggested I take more than one shot. I didn’t capture the full sign in my second picture, so I was sent back to try again.  After successfully taking their picture with the full sign in the background, one of the reporters said, “the third time is the charm!”