Once upon a time, if you had to think about things associated with Norway your mind would most probably conjure up images of Vikings with silly helmets and dodgy football imports. Think music and after A-Ha you’d be struggling.
Not any more. As ridiculous as it may have sounded even 10 years ago, Norway is now a bit of a hotbed of music talent. Even more remarkable is the fact that most of it has emerged from one town – Bergen.
At the forefront of this wave of artists, which includes Lene Marlin, Magnet and electronic leaders Royksopp, are the Kings Of Convenience. Their 2001 debut album, Quiet Is The New Loud, was met with much acclaim and included one of the year’s most memorable singles, Toxic Girl.
Now Eirik Glambek Bøe and Erlend Øye, the New Acoustic Movement flagbearers who started out in a Joy Division cover band and met in a geography contest at school, are back.
“I wish to tell people about our great new record!” proclaims Eirik, talking about Riot On An Empty Street, which is set to hit the shops in June. “We love it, we know it.”
They say that the album promises the same melancholy-saturated tunes that helped them sell over 200,000 copies of the first record. However, it was hard work before they got to the finished article.
“It takes a long time for us to write the songs so that the bad ideas are left behind at the beginning of the process. Once we have finished the song, it is destined for release,” explains Eirik.
“Our criticism within the band is so strong,” Erlend adds. “Basically, if we are happy with the lyrics of the song, it will be released at some point because we know it is only a matter of tossing the melody around and the arrangement around, and it will sound good.”
“Yes we read all of the reviews. I like the ones that are telling me that I am a very talented person.” – Erlend Øye gets his tongue firmly stuck inside his cheek.
The album, which was recorded in their home town of Bergen for “convenience”, also features a guest appearance from hotly tipped Canadian songstress Feist. As Erlend explains, she had a cunning way of persuading them of her talents:
“She’s been a fan of ours for several years, and she’s been writing us letters. And in the third letter she sent us, she included a demo, and we thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty damn good.’ So we invited her to come to Bergen to record. She was pretty happy to do it, but I think we were even more happy to do it,” he admits.
One thing that radiates from the Nordic twosome is their sense of humour and the way they bounce comments off each other. Asked whether they pay much attention to the reviews they receive in the music press, Erlend quips, “Reviews? We’ve been getting reviews – what is a review?”
And like a shot, Eirik has a witty response of his own up his sleeve: “Yes we read all of the reviews. I like the ones that are telling me that I am a very talented person. I also like the ones that tell us that we are terrible because they are really funny.”
At points you have to remind yourself that you’re not speaking to a married couple, because that is just how Eirik and Erlend sound at times. Take, for example, the subject of their current musical favourites.
“I like The Sea And Cake,” says Eirik.
“You always say that to sound cool – you never listened to that record!” retorts Erlend.
“How do you know?” Eirik argues. “I’m the cool guy in this band, so how does this boring guy know bands that are cooler than the bands I like? What can I do to win back the trophy of being the guy with the most interesting music taste and be the most interesting person in the band?”
This is a very good question because since the last Kings album, Eirik has been busy finishing off a psychology degree at home in Norway, whilst it has in fact been Erlend who has been getting himself involved in all kinds of interesting side projects.
The bespectacled Øye ventured into the world of dance music for a solo album called Unrest and even did a stint as a “singing DJ”, which saw him boogying on down, singing over records while playing an acoustic guitar. “I’ve spent most of my time just hanging around, waiting for the right bus,” he says casually.
His voice can also be heard on Royksopp multi-platinum debut album Melody AM. “Royksopp are really talented music-makers,” Erlend says, before bolding stating that “they are probably the best electronic music producers around. No further comment.”
“I thought about it, for about 25 seconds in 1997.” – Eirik Bøe reveals how the Kings Of Convenience almost did Eurovision!
His fellow King is far less enamoured, however, with my suggestion that they could work together with another rising Norwegian star, Magnet. “What a strange idea,” says Eirik. “I would never collaborate with Magnet.”
The duo are also quick to quell any links between some of the downbeat music coming out of Norway and the country having one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
“I don’t think that it has the highest suicide rate,” Erlend states defensively. “You can’t really compare suicide rates between countries. In some countries, suicide is considered to be taboo, so it will never be registered as suicide if somebody committed suicide, so you can’t really compare.”
From suicide the conversation then smoothly moves onto the Eurovision Song Contest. After Norway’s humiliating wooden spoon this year, would the Kings consider giving it a shot themselves?
“No!” says Eirik emphatically. “I have thought about it – for about 25 seconds in 1997. And I thought, ‘No.’ With Pop Idol, the Eurovision Contest is made redundant because World Idol is much better and more interesting. And also – Norway wins!”
But forget World Idol’s Kurt Neilsen – it’s the new album from the Kings of Convenience that promises to be the real winner among serious music fans this year, even if Messrs Bøe and Øye won’t be reading all of the glowing reviews themselves!