Monday, 22 August 2011

Interview with Nordagust

In what may qualify as the most detailed interview yet seen on this site, Norwegian proggers Nordagust sat down for hours in front of their laptops, and with loving care and attention to my questions will now entertain us all with an in-depth insight into their music making and more. Enjoy!

Roger: Thanks for emerging from the dark woods of Norway for this chat! For those unfamiliar with the band, tell us a bit about your musical backgrounds and how and when the band first started.

Ketil: Thank you very much for your interest.

I grew up in a musical family - 3 generations in the same house. My grandmother was singing hymns and old traditional songs, my grandfather played harmonica, my father played accordion, my mother played acoustic guitar and upright bass. My 11 years older brother is playing guitar and kantele.

I began playing accordion at 10 years age  – with my father as a teacher. Spontaneously – my brother bought a vintage John Grey drum kit in 1978. It looked and sounded very interesting, but with both parents and grandparents living under the same roof - I was soon to be banished from the house. Next stop was the storehouse. It was very, very cold inside, and during the Norwegian winters - from November to March - I wasn`t able to practice at all.

From the age of 18, I have been involved in various bands, playing bluesrock, jazzrock, even countryrock. From 1994 to 1998 I played together with Daniel, Knud and two other guys, in a symphonic prog-act named “Ocean”. We made one album: “Newborn Ground” in 1997, and released it on our own label. We were also represented on two compilations named “Revenge Of The Orange” (1996) and “The good, the bad, and the orange” (1997). Both released on Briskeby records. This was two compilations (out of four) with Scandinavian progressive rock – that is quite hard to find for sale these days. They were all printed in a very low number of copies.

Anyway; Musea wanted us to sign a contract with them, but we never got that far. The members of Ocean were searching in different musical directions; therefore we disbanded – and Daniel, Knud and I formed Nordagust in 1999.

Daniel: As long as I remember I’ve been composing music in my head, but I didn’t play any instrument before I was a teenager, because we had no instruments at my home. But when I started to earn my own money, it didn’t take long before the house was full of various instruments. I have been playing a lot of various folk music, heavy rock, symphonic rock, progressive rock, heavy metal, classical music, some blues, all the way trying to find my own style.

Knud Jarle: Got my first bass at 13. Played in various local bands, and formed Ocean with Daniel in 1991.

Jostein: I got my first guitar when I was nine. A local musician, Stian Carstensen in Farmers Market helped me get it and taught me some basic guitar techniques and scales. After that I played with friends basically, and got back to Stian at age 15 to learn more. In 2002 I formed my first band called Freebird. A pop/rock band, and from there on I`ve played in different bands writing my own material. And I started to play the piano and keyboard as well. I recorded a lot of my material in Daniel Solheim`s studio, and after working together for some years we found out that we had a lot in common and pretty much the same view on music. So in 2008 I joined Nordagust.

Guro: I started to play the violin at the age of 6, but I quit and changed to the keyboards when I turned 9 (after seeing an incredible keyboard solo by Rick Wakeman on TV!). Then at the age of 13 the guitar conquered my life (together with the keyboards of course!) And It’s more or less thanks to Metallica's "Nothing else matters". And also by that time of my life Slash was one of my biggest inspirations , so I ended up buying a Les Paul as my first guitar! I joined Nordagust in 2010.

Roger: I have been listening to your powerfully evocative album In The Mist Of Morning. The album draws on Norwegian folk music, (although it is not "folky" in the slightest!) so could you tell those of us unfamiliar with Norwegian folk legend and folk music something about Norway's folk tradition?

Ketil and Daniel: Folk music is a musical tradition that has developed through being passed on directly by ear. The most important factors that shape the tradition are: Continuity - which binds the past to the present and variation - which arises from creative impulse.
The oldest Norwegian song traditions we know have their origins on the old mountain farms. For communicating with other people (or calling in their animals), over long distances, it was necessary to sing/shout the message in odd rhythmic and melodic patterns. Other instruments associated with older folk music, including voice, willow flute (sallow flute) , neverlur (horn covered with birch bark) and ram`s horn, have been less widespread due to their original functions as work implements. Many additional wind instruments existed that are not very common today; in earlier times, they were primarily sheperds´instruments. They include bone flute, neverlapp (lit. piece of birch bark), tungehorn (lit. tounge horn) and various variations of home made “clarinets”. Harp and lute instruments also have a long tradition in Norway, but fell into disuse long ago.

Norwegian and Swedish folk music is unusual in European music culture because they developed mainly among small farmers and cotters, and have remained nearly independent of influences from newer musical fashions in Europe. The music and dance have strong ties to one another; they are based on an older tonality, melodic structure, and rhythm patterns. The music is tied to certain instruments: Hardanger fiddle, ordinary fiddle, Jew`s harp and langeleik (a dulcimer relative). Music based on traditional Norwegian form usually includes minor scales (sometimes mixed with major scales), making a sober and haunting sound. Pure major key dance music forms also exist.

The old tonality with variable intervals and natural scales has been retained until the present time. Gradually, as the tempered scale we know from classical music and newer musical fashions becomes more and more common in our daily musical experience, the old tonality and rhythm patterns will be in constant danger of disappearing…

Roger: The album was given its official release last year on Karisma Records, but your website discography lists a number of demos (which I'd love to hear by the way!) so how long did the album take from recording the first demo version to the released version?

Ketil: Daniel presented his first sketches of this album in 1998, and we were finished with the recordings around 2003. I remember we had a discussion about whether we should sample the sound of a stone that was thrown into the water. Then we asked ourselves the question: “What type of stone will sound most natural?” Then we realized that the album was finished. Maybe we could have done something more “perfect” today, but that`s not the point. In that case I am afraid the original force more or less would have faded away. That said: We appreciate quality, and I don`t dare to think of how many hours Daniel has spent on this album.

The lack of response from record companies, and a hard drive crash delayed the progress. We have been involved in several other time-consuming projects, so for a couple of years we met maybe once a month – if not less. Ten years is a long time, but we also have composed and arranged some hours of music for Nordagust, that hopefully will be recorded and released some time in the future.

Roger: Daniel, Ketil and Knud have adopted the names "Solur", "Bergur" and "Strandur" on the album credits. What is the significance of these names, something to do with folklore perhaps?

Ketil: We have known each other for a long time, and our communication often becomes  a litte progressive, too . New Norwegian, Old Norwegian, different dialects, Icelandic, Swedish…. I think the nicknames were meant as a practical joke; a self-ironic Viking-view on ourselves, while recording songs for our demo-CD “Naudr”..

Roger: There is a vast array of instruments listed on the album. Was it a deliberate intention to include so many sounds or did this organically evolve during the recording process? What is a "Swallowflute" by the way?

Ketil and Daniel: You are definitely not the first to mention it. It`s some kind of misunderstanding printed in the press releases here: We delivered two CD`s to Karisma Records; “In the mist of…” and “Naudr”, which is mentioned above.. On the last mentioned, we used the instruments you refer to , but on “In the mist…” the most unusual instrument you will find, is the kantele (in the woods) – the Finnish national instrument…

The”sallow flute”, also known as willow flute (Norwegian: seljefløyte, Swedish: sälgflöjt or sälgpipa, Finnish: pitkähuilu or pajupilli), is a Scandinavian folk flute, or whistle consisting of a simple tube with a transverse fipple mouthpiece and no finger holes. The mouthpiece is typically constructed by inserting a grooved plug into one end of the tube, and cutting an edged opening in the tube a short distance away from the plug.

Similar, however not the same instruments were made by peasants in Poland, usually using a different method described in sources as "kręcenie" (that nowadays means literally "rolling", at that time possibly also "drilling-gouging"), "ukręcanie", "ulinianie" (nowadays literally meaning: "making moulted"). Such instruments are mentioned in folk poems or songs.

The sallow flute is a type of overtone flute. It is played by varying the force of the air blown into the mouthpiece, with the end of the tube being covered by the finger or left open. The tones produced are based on the harmonic series. Playing the instrument with the end of the tube covered produces one fundamental and its overtones, playing it with the end of the tube left open produces another fundamental and series of overtones. sallow flutes cannot be tuned to an equal tempered scale.

Roger: Who are the main songwriters in the band, and did you go into the recording sessions with the songs fully formed, or did they evolve in the studio?

Ketil: Essentially, Daniel is the creative force. He has - more or less - all the music and the lyrics in his head. And if not, he will have a basic idea about how it should be. Some parts of a few songs are a result of jamming – but that’s just a few bits in the puzzle.

Roger: The music comes across as having a definite structure, as it would have to do on a studio album, but do you stretch things out a bit when playing live?

Ketil: Until last year we were absolutely sure of one thing; we would never be able to do "In The Mist..." live. It seemed hopeless, so we gave it a try! It's now nine months since we played the material live for the first time, and it worked better than we could imagine. It's not our intention to stretch the songs out..with..endless solos, but we all have changing moods and the songs will be coloured differently each time we play them.

Roger: What influences do each band member bring to bear on the sound? Daniel's guitar sound reminds me of very early Steve Hackett, and there is a definite and obviously inevitable Scandinavian feel to the music, Landberk, Änglagård, Anekdoten in particular, although the end result is certainly Nordagust!

Ketil: If I had to mention just one influence: John Bonham. That said: The drummers in Landberk, Änglagård and Anekdoten have all been great inspirators, with their different expressions. Sweden has raised a lot of good drummers; Morgan Ågren is fantastic – especially on Fredrik Thordendal`s solo-project: “Sol Niger Within”. Highly recommended!

I tune the toms quite low – and often use the floor tom instead of the snare. This reminds me of more “primitime” drums. (I also play a field drum; an exact copy of a military drum from 1808). To match the dramatic Nordagust sound, I want the floor tom to sound – sometimes – like a kettle drum. I try to colour the massive mellotron-eruptions with syncopes (?), not unlike the way Peter Nordins of Anekdoten are thinking…..I think. On “in the mist...” I use dark, heavy cymbals and a sharp, crispy hi-hat as contrasts. My best friend is a vintage 22” Zildjian ride cymbal with a million overtones. I use it as a ride, a heavy crash, and a gong. All parts of the drum-kit are dynamic instruments, and they should make a physical experience. I want the drums to communicate something more than just timekeeping.

Daniel: I love to hear you say that the end result is certainly Nordagust!

Since you mentioned Steve Hackett; yes, I have listened a lot to him (and Genesis), and especially “Spectral Mornings” was inspiring, and (of course) also “Firth of Fifth”. A lot of other guitarists have inspired me as well; John Lees, Andy Latimer, Mike Oldfield, Ritchie Blackmore and Terje Rypdal. Of younger guitarists I have to mention Reine Fiske.

Another thing; I have also listened to violinists in folk music and classical music, and this may be the reason I love the sound of mellotron-strings and vibrato sologuitar played together.

My way of singing is surely influenced by Mike Scott, Ian Anderson, Steve Walsh, Roger Hodgson and Roger Waters, together with some folk-music singers.

I remember one sentence I heard long ago by one of my favourite singers; “You have to sing from the bottom of your soul, then you will find your own voice, your own expression”. I followed that advice.

When it comes to the sound of the whole band; we all want it to sound organic. I remember one sentence said by Ketil; ”we should try to sound like the Norwegian nature”. And I asked myself this question at the early days of Nordagust; “what would it sound like if Edward Grieg and Pink Floyd composed music together”?

Knud Jarle: My biggest inspiration is the German band Eloy, and groups like The Beatles, Rush, The Who, Yes, Marillion etc. My favourite bassplayer is Klaus Peter Matziol from Eloy.

Jostein: Elvis and The Beatles were responsible for my first musical awakening. After that I`ve been listening to all kinds of music, Some of my favorites are; Grieg, Mozart, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Gary Moore, Led Zeppelin, Arnold Schoenberg, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, John Coltrane, Paul McCartney, Stian Carstensen, Jimmy Rosenberg, and Ole Bull.

Guro: I have a very special bond with the album "Dream" by Kitaro, it was the first album my parents ever played for me (or so I have been told) and I have listened to it ever since. I feel like it has shaped much of my life and the person I am today. Together with Kitaro I have grown up with listening to "Ocean" and the work of Daniel, so the tones and melodies of Nordagust comes very natural and nice for me.

Today I listen to bands like Rhapsody, Machine Head, Marillion etc etc.( very mixed!) I like melodic music with soul, and it got to have a real and honest expression/message, whether it is anger, melancholy etc.

Roger: Anybody in particular you're into at the moment?

Ketil: Future Kings of England, Sky Architect and Devin Townshend.

Daniel: Some music of Future Kings of England is certainly one of the most interesting things I’ve heard in a while, especially “Mustard Men” . ”Celestial Ghost” by Nicklas Barker is also a lovely piece of music. And I like the guitar-sound and some of the symphonic guitar-parts on “ 360 degrees of Wonder”, the latest album of Pluto and the Planets. I also listened a lot to “We’re Here Because We’re Here”  for a while after it was released, and I think it is the best Anathema album in a long while, but not as good as the brilliant “Judgement”(one of my favourite albums the latest decade).

And I just discovered a band called Eleven (some of their music is heavily inspired by Led Zeppelin, reminds me of The Tea Party.)

Knud Jarle: I’m stuck in the seventies.

Jostein: I recently borrowed Eloy's Ocean from Knud Jarle, a nice and atmospheric album. Beside of that my favourite progrock bands at the moment are; Emerson Lake and Palmer, Genesis and ....Nordagust of course :)

Guro: Within Temptation.

Roger: The album is very visual, conjuring dark and mysterious images of ancient woodland. Do you use film in your stage act? I can almost see it in my head!

Ketil: You do? We have been discussing it, and have some ideas. We will get back to that!

Daniel: I really like your description of the album, because that is just how I wanted it to be. :)

Roger: Have you played many shows outside Norway?

Ketil: No, none to be exact. Progheads from many countries have shown interest, but we need someone to put a tour together, without ruining us.

Roger: What's happening now with the band? Any gigs or more recording planned?

Ketil: We are playing Oslo, Begen and Trondheim later this autumn. Then I suppose it's time to boil our heads, and start recording again. 

Roger: What do you like to do after a show to relax? You can be as honest as you like!

Ketil: A beer and a pipe of good tobacco would be fine, thank you…

Daniel: Yes; cold beer and tobacco…. But I also want to get some feedback about the gig.

Knud Jarle: After the show I like to relax with a beer and a cigarette, talking with the fans and the rest of the band, and try to evaluate the show....

Jostein: After the show I like to be social, meet new people with a good pipe of something.

Guro: After a show I’m usually full of energy and run out and get some fresh air, and maybe if we are playing with other bands, I like to meet the other musicians and/or look at the rest of the show.

Roger: That was great - thanks for your time guys!


Nordagust are...

Daniel "Solur" Solheim - Vocal, Guitar, Keyboard, Samples, Kantele, Dulcimer, Mandolin, Sallowflute, Mouthharp, Conch, Axe and Hammer.

Ketil Armand "Bergur" Berg - Drums, Percussion, Kantele, Saw, Accordion, Hammer, Bells, Voices, Grindstone, Kettles and Barrels.

Knud Jarle "Strandur" Strand - Bass and Business.

Jostein Aksel Skjønberg - Keyboard, Voice, Flute

Guro Elvik Strand - Guitar, Keyboards

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