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Erlend Øye: “I don't really have social anxieties”

Erlend Øye: “I don't really have social anxieties”

31 March 2014, 11:30

To call Erlend Øye a cult hero would be something of an understatement. For those unaware of his decade-spanning, genre-hopping, ever-growing body of work, we shall endeavor to enlighten you, perhaps while you take a long hard look in the mirror.

Norway-born Øye first came to the attention of UK fans as one half of blissed-out folk duo Kings of Convenience; their 2001 debut Quiet is the New Loud was sung softly to us in church cloisters and festival fields some thirteen years ago. “Europe’s answer to Simon and Garfunkel” some cried out – but what came next was far from that.

The sublime Versus was released six months later, an collection of electronic remixes of their debut. A straight up folk star Øye clearly was not. His first solo album Unrest came in 2003, with each of the ten tracks recorded in a different city and with a different producer – an unmanageable feat for anyone with half of Øye’s energy – but another album followed in less than a year with his own edition of the DJ Kicks series, which cemented him as a leviathan of beat wizardry. It was the next Kings of Convenience album Riot on an Empty Street that confirmed the duo’s place as indie icons and single “I’d Rather Dance with You” launched them to mainstream notoriety and top festival spots around the world, which you think would be enough to keep a man busy, but not our Erlend. The Whitest Boy Alive, Øye’s second band, formed with bass player Marchin Oz, dropped their own self-released debut Dreams in 2006 and a follow up three years later, alongside a third Kings of Convenience record.

Øye’s La Prima Estate - an album of pop songs, written by and sung by Øye in Italian – came last year and the Norwegian is now poised to release his next solo album Legao, recorded with Icelandic reggae band Hjálmar. We spoke to him ahead of a sell-out show this week at Islington Assembly Hall in London.

What can the audience expect from the show? Tracks from your new album Legao? And is that how I say Legao?

“LEEEGOOOWWW”… so you are spending time on the “A” and the “O”. Well they will get to hear the songs from the new album, which will come out in September. So it will be an exclusive chance to hear the songs, but they will be in a different version than there will be on the album. The album is quite full and this is will be just acoustic instruments, without drums or bass. So more like I’m presenting the song writing. For the sound of the record, you will have to wait until the record comes.

Are you bring any of the guys from Hjálmar to perform with you at the show? Again I don’t know how to say Hjálmar!

Yes one of the guys, one of the guys is from Hjálmar yes. We’ve got a lot of difficult stuff to pronounce (laughs). On this tour of acoustic shows we’ve got Ziggy who is the organ player and piano player of the band and a guy called Victor, a Finnish guy, who plays flute and clarinet.

Oh is he the guy who plays flute on La Prima Estate?

“La Prima Estate” there’s a lot of pronunciations here. But yes, he’s the one in the video.

So people will hear an acoustic version of the new album at the show…but have you finished it or are you still mixing and mastering it?

I mean it’s basically done, but we are still nudging you know like the last corners. It’s always like this, the last per cent at the end. But it’s sounding very good.

How do you decide when it’s finished? How do you know?

Well deadlines help but it comes with experience, when you understand, like what it comes down to is you compare the different versions that you have and at some point you understand if you are still improving or if it becomes worse. And of course that takes a lot of time, to be able to judge you have to take a break and then listen back and compare them.

How did you come to work with Hjalmar on this album? Where did you find them?

We met at two festivals on islands. One festival in Holland and one in Norway?

Was that Traena?

Traena, yes . Even more crazy pronunciations… it really is an amazing festival, I think anyone who has the surplus and the adventurism in them to go should really go. The first time I just saw them was at Traena and I really liked what they were doing. But then I saw that we were both playing at this festival in Holland, I asked them before hand if they could play some songs with me because I was just playing by myself, alone acoustic. So we played on the same stage and then we basically in the sound check rehearsed two songs. And since it was so easy to work with them, they were such good musicians, I thought that they would be the right people to record my solo album with.

Were you tempted to move to Reykjavik? You’ve lived in some really cool places and Reykjavik really seems to take the imagination of so many.

Well I’ve been there four times in this last year and I must say I really like it. It is a really good place if you wanted to move somewhere, because it’s very small and very quickly you could meet everybody that you should meet. You find the people that you naturally should meet, easily. For example you could live in London I’m sure, for a life time without understanding really where you should be and what you should do.

Do you mind me asking what brought you to Sicily [Øye currently lives in Siracusa]? I grew up in the Mediterranean and it’s very different from your previous homes in Bergen and Berlin…

Well it’s just that having experienced wooden houses in Bergen and big city Berlin – which basically was a lot of music and meeting a lot of people – it comes to a time in your life where you’re looking for things like gardens and things that grow and being able to follow the moon cycles and stars. Just all those things that you completely neglect when you live in a big city.

So how’s your Italian now? It sounded pretty great on La Prima Estate.

Ummm it’s improving and I’m also writing another album in Italian. I’m learning the language by learning Italian songs.

Do you have any tips for emigrating? I always wanted to live in Berlin but I didn’t know what to do with my records. Do you take your music equipment with you when you move?

No I generally don’t. I don’t take much with me. I’ve never been much of a collector of CDs or books or anything. For me stuff like spotify was just a god-send. Like “great, music is there.” So I mean the thing about storing things is, that’s what parents should be for but if you don’t have parents close to you that sucks.

But top tips for moving? I mean there are a certain places in the world that are easier than others. Everywhere is a little bit difficult but I mean I think Berlin is quite an easy place to go to. It’s a natural place to go to since there’s many people moving there, it’s easier to move there. Because all these people moving there are also looking for friends. But you go to a place like Siracusa where there’s absolutely no one moving there, you’re the only one who’s moved there and you become more exciting for people.

I bet everyone’s noticed the tall Norwegian man walking around town?

Well it was very easy to meet people . The reason why I moved there is that the first people I went there in 2008 we ran in to so many nice people. And it was like “okay this place seems very nice”. And so I just kept on being friends with those people. People I can get along with, there aren’t so many of them but I found them. That’s all you need. You just need a couple of good friends in the place then you’re set.

Yep, there’s only six people in ‘Friends’ – three guys and three girls that’s all you need.

I agree .

Even when you’re releasing solo albums, you always find great musicians to work with….Unrest is a real feat of collaborative achievement. Do you prefer the creative process of bouncing ideas off of other people?

The album I did now in Iceland and the ‘Unrest’ album, there is the thing of bouncing ideas around off people but also bouncing ideas in a different environment. And also it’s very good, back to what we started with, to talk about, deadlines really help. When you’ve organised that you are going somewhere to meet somebody to work on something I mean you obviously sort of get yourself together and come up with something to present.

For example, if I decided to do everything myself and make it on computer programmes and learn how to do everything by myself – which I probably could do – the point is it would just take such a long time to be finished with something or get anywhere, because there’s no deadlines. But once you surround yourself with other people there becomes deadlines, because they can’t just hang out with you forever. You want to get it done and be happy about that. It’s a great way to give yourself an easy frame so that you can work on something, but of course you have to make sure that the ideas are going somewhere.

That makes total sense. I was wondering if it was because you’re a sociable guy.

Sure I am actually . I don’t really have social anxieties. I don’t have that problem.

Do you have a wish list of artists to collaborate with in the future? Your resume of previous collaborators is so strong. I mean Feist and Cornelius. Do you have a hit list?

Well there’s not so many, but I would like to work with vocalists. More like a choir group or songwriters who can also do a lot of singing. To work more on back up singing and stuff like that. So I can do more call and response. Not so much about, I always got collaborators who are about more about production and the instruments and stuff but never really got to work with like a group of vocalists. And also I would really like to work with someone who is English speaking so I can have some help with grammar and diction.

Have you had some Lost in Translation production moments?

No not because of that. It’s just about the fact you can imagine how difficult it was making an album in Italian. I had to use about 10 or 20 consultants about the pronunciation of stuff and how to write correctly. And in English not so much because I am better in English but it still would be great to be surrounded by very good English speakers. Laughs. English speaking choirs get in touch.

I really liked the photo of your and Marcin (Oz – cofounder of Bubbles Records and fellow Whitest Boy Alive member) in the dingy – “The Sicily Office”…

Oh yeah he’s here right now. We’ve just been going through the release plan and you know, how we’re going to do this.

Are you still involved with the day to day running of the label?

Well I mean yes to a certain extent. I don’t do so much of the nitty gritty. But the nitty gritty of a label is to communicate with people, to keep the communication going. But I am definitely involved. It’s very difficult if you leave and if you don’t involve yourself in the release of your music then it’s very hard not to be frustrated because it will mostly likely be done in a way that you are uncomfortable with.

Erlend Øye plays Islington Assembly Hall on 3 April 2014. Legao is released later this year via Bubbles Records.

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