The man who would be king is Rudyard Kipling’s story of a man who is brought down by his megalomania. From Norway comes an opposite story: I was a king is a band that demonstrates just how brilliant music can be made if one is a little easygoing about it. The band’s eponymous long-play debut is this winter’s most anticipated and hyped release. Judging by the critics the album is no less than a pop miracle. Out now (12. Jan) the record is already characterised as one of 2009’s milestones. We had a talk with Frode Strømstad about the making of the 31-minute miracle.
|Listen to and download I Was A King's debut album here|
-I would like to be able to write longer songs, says Frode Strømstad, chief songwriter of I was a king. -And I will in the future, but this time around the songs just came out short by themselves. We never had any self-imposed restrictions in terms of length; it was just the nature of the songs and project as a whole.
I was a king is a loose constellation that morphs with situation and makes use of the generous family-mentality of the international indie milieu. However the core of the band is a fixed unit, made up by Strømstad and Anne Lise Frøkedal. The latter, known from Harry’s Gym (ex Dharma), was recently characterised as the most interesting Norwegian indie personae to look out for in 2009. In I was a king, she plays guitar and contributes to the song writing. The live line-up includes Håvard Krogedal on bass and Kristoffer Solvang on drums. But the making of the band’s eponymous long play debut, was based on a different constellation:
-Anne Lise, Emil Nikolaisen from Serena Maneesh and I went over to New York in May for a short session. We were only expecting to record two or three songs for a single but after three days we had eleven songs, and an album (The album actually features fifteen tracks, ed.) The session took place in Ladybug Transistor’s studio Marlboro Farms, with Ladybug’s Gary Olson at the helm.
Does that mean it was a largely improvised session? How ready were the songs?
-Some of the songs were actually written on the plane, the words anyway. But in outline they were more or less ready. The idea was to present sketches and let everyone involved in the session take part and develop the songs with their own contributions. We had invited some friends from the indie music scene, people with very specific musical signatures, and the record is based on letting these signatures shine through. I think that is why the record sounds saturated and concise.
In addition to producer Gary Olsen the sessions included Sufjan Stevens and Daniel Smith, people Strømstad knows from his long-time involvement with international indie scene, and through Emil Nikolaisen, Norway’s indie chieftain.
-Emil and I have worked with music together for a long time on and off, says Strømstad, but this time I really wanted him onboard for real. And like I said, our notion was to simply invite a few friends, and rely on the musical chemistry we knew would be there. The whole indie scene is very open and transparent, so doing something together is not a big deal that has to be planned in detail.
A long-time pillar of the christian indie milieu of his hometown Egersund, Strømstad has been an auxiliary for countless projects, records and concerts. For a long time he seemingly lived just for the sake of letting other people play. He founded and ran the label Hype City and he set up the website Bulgarian Disco. Yet he also played himself all along, notably in the band Animal Town and for a short time with Silver.
Critics seem to suggest that this record is a testament to many years of working with music 24-7, that you are a kind of filter; a purifier and unconscious refiner of all the music you’ve listened to; indie, psychedelia and quintessential pop. Can you relate to descriptions like these, that your music is effortless, something that just had to be released?
-Well, I’ve been playing and making music all along, so it is not just some side-project that I found the time to. On the contrary, I decided that it was time to get serious about my own music and step down the other activities. Now I only do festival booking, and we’ve enrolled some more people at the label, so there is time to focus on I was a king. It is true however that music is my great inspiration, and I find that the easygoing and open nature of the indie scene makes it natural to switch roles and just make a record without to much ado.
Your first outing, the 2007 EP Losing something good for something better was extremely well received, at home and in Britain, earning descriptions like «Ramshackle rock squeezed through a dreampop filter» the Guardian (UK), «Royally Brilliant» (NME) and «An aural sugar rush» (Sunday Times). How is this year’s album different, and can you trace a line of development?
-In 2007 we did everything on an 8-track, so it was a very minimalist. This time around we had all the facilities and opportunities of a full studio. So it is a much larger production, even though we did it in three days.
But your longing to do longer songs could not be met this time?
-Well, it is not something I’ve tried and failed at. It is more of a desire that has been awoken in the process of working with short, dense tunes like we have now.
Does that mean that the next outing will take a different form?
-I have plans, and I would like to do things differently the next time. I’m not going to reveal anything, except that I think there is little point in just repeating oneself.
So what are the plans for this album in terms of foreign releases and touring?
-The album will be released in Denmark in March and in the US in April, and we are working with other countries too. Our tour of Norway starts in late March and then we’re planning a three-week tour of the US in June, prior to the festival season.
America is a notoriously difficult market for European bands; will things be facilitated by all your influential friends and contacts?
-Well, the label was unknown to me before they contacted us. It’s run by people outside the indie family. But they are very enthusiastic and hard working, and the signals are very positive, that’s all I can say.
Norwegian critics say of I was a king that they make the familiar motifs of indie rock appear anew, as epiphanies. Fifteen songs in 31 minutes says a lot about the album; it travels fast, like news of a gold rush (or an aural sugar rush as it were) and it will make you push the repeat button at once.
Listen to I Was A King tracks on their MySpace site.