With two well-received albums under his belt in the shape of 2010’s Look Back and 2012’s Look Inside, he’s no stranger to analysing a relationship and putting his conclusions on record. His new album, the striking and direct One Year is no different. Lyrically, there are few people as open and honest as Bech, and on this album he takes us through the first year of a relationship. Split into two parts, we experience the rush and excitement of new beginnings, swiftly followed by anger, jealousy and shame as he deals with the aftermath of uttering those fateful three small words: “I love you”.

What’s great about One Year is how accessible the album is; Bech sings of things we’ve all experienced but he doesn’t wallow in misery – this is something of a celebratory record and we get carried along on Nils’ journey.

Bech will be playing the forthcoming Ja Ja Ja festival and ahead of that I spoke to him on the phone from Norway about One Year, his classical background and, ahem, performing with a palm tree…

Hi Nils, you’ve said that this is a record you’re completely happy with – is that really the case for One Year?

Yes, I am! I’ve worked with some of the guys from my last album [some of whom include Ole Henrik Moe, Julian Skar, Martin Horntveth [Jaga Jazzist], Ådne Meisfjord [Serena Maneesh], Ost & Kjex and André Bratten); we felt that we hadn’t done all that we could, so I wanted to work with them again and also try to make an album that was even more direct in the lyrics, without metaphors. When you listen to the songs I want you to get the message straight away….so you’ll not be wondering, you’ll know this song is about shame!

Because you’re singing and writing in such a direct way, it feels quite an inviting record…even conversational. Is that something you’d agree with?

Definitely; in a way I think it’s quite inviting. On the last album it was about a breakup and that’s something people can relate to – but this is about a new affair, a new relationship, things again that are quite common but perhaps create emotions that you weren’t aware of…

There does seem to be some stark references to some emotional states, doesn’t there?

Yes! Like jealousy, or anger, or shame. It’s something that me and my friends talk about but I don’t think it is most people’s topic at the pub! It’s not the first thing you say when you meet however many people…‘so how are you?’ ‘oh I’m so jealous I’m gonna kill someone!’ but after a couple of hours you might say ‘oh I’ve had such a hard day, I’ve just been dumped by my boyfriend’…but you still don’t say you’re so jealous, or shamed in your relationship. It’s something in a way that’s easy to talk about with people you’re close to, but not that easy. You need to trust people before you tell them these things, but I think by me being so direct I hope that listeners can get invited to, as you say, this conversation.

By being so open, did you feel physically or mentally drained by the recording process?

No….most of the time I record stuff that’s happened in the past. To make a song out of it, I have to realise it and then when I get some distance from it I start recording it. When I started to write this record, I wanted it to be about this first year…so, in a way, I looked back and thought ‘okay, what were the issues this year?’ So then I wrote down all these song titles, and these are actually the titles I ended up using for the songs. So there were emotions I was aware of, but it took a year to write and record everything – and it was then I felt completely comfortable with it. 

So you invest less energy in it when you can analyse from a distance?

To perform it would be a different thing, but that’s why I write music about my own life….I think it’s important as a performer, because there are much better singers than me, that I focus on what’s special about me so I can tell an emotion in my way – and that’s when I use a lot of energy, going back into the emotion. That can be quite exhausting, but I’ve come to this place in my career where I can use energy and go into the song but when I’m finished, I’m done – it’s not like earlier when I’d be drained the whole rest of the night, or get shit drunk just to get out of it in a way. But now, it’s like…job done! What’s next?

Are you still with the man who the relationship is about? And what does he think of it?

Yes! I know he thinks it’s a great album. I don’t think he’s….for him, it could have been a different subject - I don’t think he’s that thrilled with me telling everyone! But the thing is, I tell everyone how nuts I was! It was quite clear from the beginning it would be from my point of view, so there’s no song where it’s ‘you said this and that’ or ‘you acted like this’….it’s all from my point of view.

I notice that you don’t really talk about him during the record; it’s all about your behaviour and emotional state…

It’s my story and it’s up to me to tell it; I don’t say things about him – he can’t make a record in answer to my accusations on my album! But…he thinks it’s okay.

Let’s go back to earlier in your career; you used to be a classical/opera singer didn’t you?

Yes. I did classical music from when I was nine until I was twenty-one; then I stopped, so it’s not like I’ve been performing at opera houses. After I stopped, I tried to work out how I could sing without this classical tone…but in a way I still have it. It comes out in my pronunciation a lot; I sing and it comes out when I try to get the high notes…I still have some leftovers I think.

What was it that took you away from that scene? Did you find it restrictive, in a way?

I think I got into it because I started so young, and I really wanted to sing – and it was the only singing lessons I could take in the tiny village where I’m from. And it was natural for me and an easy way to sing and a great way to train my voice….but at some point I started to feel the pressure, and also it started to focus on technique, technique, technique – and I realised that wasn’t what singing was about for me. I didn’t want to be singing in this tradition; I thought about the lyrics, about the emotions…I think it’s amazing.

Do you find the voice and the lyrics of equal importance?

With singing, it’s the only instrument where you can actually tell a story – and there are so many singers now who don’t focus on that at all. Especially on so many pop albums now, there’s so much reverb on the vocals it sounds…grand, and so beautiful, but at the end of the song you have no idea what the song is about! And it’s treated like another instrument and you wonder, well, why didn’t the violin just do that line, if the lyrics aren’t coming through anyway?

Can I ask you about your relationship with Ida Ekblad, the artist who makes an appearance in “I Punish You”? How did you meet?

It comes from the fact we have a really strong friendship; we met when we were both twenty, twenty-one and neither of us had done anything. I hadn’t started my solo project and she wasn’t in the art world. So it was never about us collaborating, we just really liked each other and we started hanging out – and we’ve been extremely close friends for twelve years now. I love what she does, I love her art….we have conversations about being an artist, being a singer…putting yourself out there and how to use your vulnerability to feel really strong. And that’s what I do with this album: I say, I’m vulnerable in these parts of me, but then I put it out there and I feel in control of it, in charge of the emotion.

And you seem to work well together in commissioned or performance pieces…

Since she does these amazing pieces it’s natural for me to ask to use one of her paintings for an album cover; it’s also nice to do something at an opening and because what I’m doing with my singing is becoming more conceptual, it’s more of a performance piece. So it’s natural for her to invite me to her exhibitions.

The video for “I Punish You” looks like great, drunken fun…

We talked about doing a video for about two years but never got to it, so we were at this after party really drunk and I said why don’t we do it now in this beautiful studio? And it finally came to life!

And finally, you’ll be performing at the Ja Ja Ja festival; how will your show translate from a performance/exhibition space to a more conventional stage?

I always do a two part thing; in recent concerts I’ve always used this palm tree, played around with it, cut it down and used it as a prop! I put the emotions of the other person into this plant! But with these songs it’s direct and I don’t need to have another character on stage to be the other person in the song. For me, this time it’s about movement and what you can feel out of anger, or shame or whatever. I don’t think I’ll bring a lot of props, but there will be a lot of movement… it’s all whatever happens in the moment!

Nils plays the Ja Ja Ja Festival this weekend - tickets are available here.