Interview: Erlend Øye on Bergen, Dance Music, and His New Album

The master of delicate melodies and sadly humorous songs tells his tale: from Kings Of Convenience to going solo.

Erlend Øye, Bergen’s purveyor of understated bittersweet folk songs, has blazed a quiet trail across the worlds of folk, anti-folk and subtle electronics in no small measure. Setting the bar high alongside school friend Eirik Glambek Bøe, with their first project Kings Of Convenience and their debut LP Quiet Is the New Loud, Erlend Øye has since continued on his upward trajectory, immediately taking off on his own solo material and collaborations. His first solo record Unrest demonstrated Øye’s widescreen vision. After cementing his reputation as a master of dark humour and delicate riffs with Kings’ follow up Riot On An Empty Street, the now Berlin-based Øye formed The Whitest Boy Alive, and embarked on collaborations (with Feist, Cornelius, and Biz Markie) and solo projects, as he traveled the world doing studio sessions, performing live and even playing the odd DJ set.

Now, after producing albums for fellow Bergen band Kakkmaddafakka, and moving to Sicily after buying a house for his mum, Øye has stepped fully into solo mode with his second solo LP Legao, with plenty of Italian lyrics and Mediterranean sunshine. In this excerpt from his recent RBMA Radio interview, Hanna Bächer talked with Øye about the influence of Bergen on his career, as well as his new album.

How did you meet Eirik?

I met him in 1991 at school. That was the same year that both of us ended up learning how to play guitar, but we didn’t really spend so much time together then. Me and Eirik met because we both enjoyed the band Pink Floyd, and there was a music scene in Bergen, around 1993, it started to really happen, like three of the bands in Bergen started doing well.

In general, music was important in Bergen. You don’t think about it, because you just grow up in one city, and you don’t really get to compare it, but music was obviously very important. It’s a rainy town, so there’s not too much to do. We formed a band together with other people, and Eirik was very much into serious music. I liked to have a bit of humor involved, but he forced me into trying to be serious all the time, which caused a total loss in popularity of our band, but it also meant that we spent a lot of time learning about music.

We came back together again and understood that we didn’t need a band.

Bergen is an exciting town, but in the ’90s, there was a music journalist from Oslo that wrote a column saying that Bergen was traditionally the worst rock town in Norway, and there was a huge outcry about this. He was maybe right at that stage, but he was very soon proven wrong because music in Bergen at the end of the ’90s was really starting to happen. This is because there were certain mentors. There were certain people who had really good tastes, and these people had a huge influence on what people did. There was this one guy, Pedro Carmona. He was originally from Chile. He played in many bands. Now he just writes books, but he was my big mentor, and he taught me a lot of things. If it wasn't for him, I probably maybe wouldn’t have developed part of my tastes, which I’m quite happy about.

The big moment for Kings of Convenience was in 1998 after having had a break from the band. We came back together again and understood that we didn’t need a band. It could just be the two of us. We understood that being different was good, and we started to make music that sounded less like other bands in the world at that moment. At this time, I was going back and forth between England and Bergen with another band because I was convinced that in England I would meet people who actually make our band famous.

You went there with Peach Fuzz, right?

Yes. That band sounded, in the end, too much like English and American music. We weren’t enough Norwegian. We didn’t stand out. We were selling sand to the Sahara.

Was it disappointing?

Well, it’s very difficult for a Norwegian to move to London because the quality of houses are so bad, food is so bad, people are so fucking private. In Norway, we very easily invite people into our homes. In England, that never happened. Whatever, you know? That was not a problem for me. I understood that it was going to be different, so I just had to live with it and figure it out.

Eventually, I figured it out. It was very difficult along the way, and it was very difficult to convince Eirik in Kings of Convenience that we might make music our living. We are quite different people, and we bring different things into the band. When we recorded our album and it became a success, suddenly sat himself down and said, “I can’t do this anymore. I can't go on touring.” He just felt like his whole life was taken away from him, like someone else was ruling his life.

I love having this cycle of staying at home, going on tour, going home, and going on tour.

That’s where I started to do my own things, because I realized if I didn’t have my own musical platform I couldn’t live the life that I wanted, and that means traveling around, playing music, seeing the world through music. It’s always been my dream. It still is. I love it. I love touring. I love having this cycle of staying at home, going on tour, going home, and going on tour. You kind of get addicted to this, to go to a place and eat the local food, meet those people, and feel that kind of feeling that the country gives you. Then go onto another place.

That’s why I did a solo album, working with electronic artists, which was a moderate success, and then I did a DJ Kicks installment, which was really fun, and that led me into DJing a lot around, but unfortunately, this DJing was really so difficult for my ears. It’s so hard on the ears. It’s so loud. You have to listen to a song in your headphones while another is playing in the club, and you have to be away until four or five at night, and you wake up at 11:00 AM in the hotel and breakfast is over. It kind of naturally leads to a very unhealthy life. This – and many other things – made me realize that the sort of indie pop audience I had with Kings of Convenience, that kind of music life, led to what's much more desirable than nightlife.

One thing I really like in life is to make people dance.

Also, in general, that part of the music scene is filled with a lot more friendlier people than the electronic music scene. The electronic music scene is filled with amazing people who have a true love for music, but there's also a lot of people who just want to make a quick buck. There’s a lot of bullshit in the dance music, electronic music world.

If you can choose between playing a concert from 9:30 until 11:00 PM or playing a concert from 3:30 until 5:00 AM, it’s pretty obvious that you choose the first one. But I also realized, for me, one thing I really like in life is to make people dance. I love to be the guy that comes into the party and realizes, “Oh, I think everybody wants to dance but they’re just too shy to dance,” and so I started dancing on the dance floor on my own, and people see that I am having a good time, and they see that I make a fool of myself. After they see me dancing around, it feels much safer for them to go there.

Can you talk about your new solo album?

Sure. It was recorded in Reykjavík in a studio that has been around since 1975, but for the last five years, it has been run by the band Hjálmar. They know how to record themselves in the studio, and they’re completely comfortable, so they didn’t need very much time to get warm. Every day, I would just come and present a song. I would sit in my little booth where I had my guitar, microphone, and lyrics, and they were sitting around me in the big room, and we were playing through the songs while recording. Most of the time, we had the song recorded before lunch, or sometimes we had to record it several times to get it right, but it was a very, very good situation, because you could work for four minutes, and you can go into the control room and realize, “Huh, we’re done. We have it.” It was incredibly painless.

By Hanna Bächer on September 30, 2014

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