There are very few iconic figures in Norwegian rock. Sivert Høyem is one of them. Through the hugely successful band Madrugada –whose ten-year career as recording artists was one of the truly luminous stretches in Norwegian rock history– and more recently through his solo records, Sivert has become the male voice of a generation, a voice that one inadvertently listens to in a special way. His third solo outing Moon Landing is his first without the «real» project Madrugada looming in the back. The truth is that it is only now that things have become real; in Sivert’s words Moon Landing is a new beginning and a homecoming.
-Music is about presenting a better version of oneself, says Sivert, which means expressing something that is not fragmented; something whole that is somehow removed from second thoughts. I think of music as a means of structuring my experiences and expressing a sort of condensed, perhaps clarified, position. I often get questions about my life apart from music –about the real me– as if there is some more genuine and grounded mode of being that preconditions my music, but it is not like that at all. Music is not a superstructure or some kind of frosting on the cake, it is what I do and how I have chosen to live. However, this does not mean that I never look beyond music. I do that all the time, in many different directions, but music is the tool that I have for creating a structured whole.
For Sivert there is a great value simply in the fact of having found an expression. In this way, he relates, there are two layers at work in his life with music:
-I believe in the emotional content and power of music, but I also find that I have an emotional response to all this on a different level. Psychologically, the knowledge that I have the music as a means of expression is more important than how I chose to use it. This gives me a great sense of freedom, which is something new. I think it has to do with the fact that for the first time I feel that I have made a conscious personal choice, that this is what I do. A while back I had to ask myself this question, and the answer was yes. From then on it has been whole new beginning.
The notion of a new beginning does beg a question, for Moon Landing is Sivert’s third solo record, and for the outside gaze it might be hard to discern what the new beginning is all about: he has already made two brilliant solo albums, what makes the third a moon landing?
-First of all, no one would call their record that, if there weren’t an element of irony involved. But that being said, it really feels like an audacious new start. I am very proud of my previous solo records, so it is not so much a question of starting something new musically. But I have worked with music my whole life, and all the time it has been in a somewhat strained context, both in terms of dealing with many strong opinions in Madrugada and in terms of the sheer intensity of the schedule. I have worked really hard –it’s kind of dawning on me now just how hard– but always with this sense of not having the time or opportunity to do things the way I really wanted to. So the notion of a new beginning is about having moved beyond that; to a space entirely my own where I have no excuses and nothing to hide behind. Moon Landing is the record that I wanted it to be, I have given it my all, and so psychologically it has felt like having to prove myself all over again, for real this time.
Flying colours would be the appropriate phrase here. Moon Landing has reaped unanimous acclaim, and it seems people have acknowledged the circumstances; that it is not a mere continuation of an already brilliant career in Norwegian rock. Fans of Madrugada have found the ore they have come to love, but new fans have gathered around as well: because there is something lighter and warmer going on, something subtly recognisable as an artist having come to his own.
-What I want is to communicate a subjective truth that also has a positive willingness to attract the listener, says Sivert. I care about the relation between the artist and the audience, meaning that even if the music itself isn’t always sunny, I want to avoid the sense of alienation. I guess I don’t believe in the idea that some people have, that there resides some kind of artistic value in estrangement. In this sense Moon Landing is more focused towards invitation and a kind of warmth perhaps, than anything I have done before.
Yet Sivert is not exactly a proponent of musical intimacy and contrived cosiness. His songs are instead distinguished by a sort of clear-day grandeur; a feeling of perspective, like being transported from the tactical to the strategic plane without losing the beating heart of emotion on the way. It is a view of things affiliated with the north says Sivert, his background from northern Norway constituting an omnipresent part of his nature he acknowledges.
-I want my music to be recognisably Norwegian. And for me that implies a sense of the monumental; something lucid and far-reaching, with big blocks experiential matter that cannot be broken down into details and clever small talk. I don’t want my records to be carefully constructed from a myriad labelled ingredients. I want them to be simpler, bolder and freer than that. Record production is easy as long as the songs have been allowed to find their true, self-reliant form. It does not matter if the snare drum sound has been tinkered with for a fortnight; what matters is that there is this quality of something unequivocal and emotionally sincere.
Sincere song writing is a lonely thing, he relates.
-The moments of inspiration are always solitary, and the creative phase is a very personal kind of experience. The great kick is in the feeling that things come together. It is a way of calibrating the world; finding a vantage point that is right and then just letting things unfold. In this phase the music comes rapidly, and quite effortlessly. Then there is a lot of work with the arrangements of course; giving body and mass to the outline.
It is the dynamic between this solitary aspect and the social nature of performing –including the relation to co-musicians as well as to the live audience, of course– that makes being a musician so rewarding:
–I feel very fortunate that I have a job that combines these two components, says Sivert. The creative and expressive ego gets is fill, on record and on stage, and the social aspect of having the people in my band close around me makes the whole thing a rich and rewarding experience. It is a varied life. I am not the networking kind of type –I feel bonds with individuals much more than with a guild or a way of life– so being able to come and go as I like between the solitary and the social is perfect.
It is old news that Sivert has never embraced the concept of filling a leading role in the musical establishment. He has always been one more comfortable at the fringes, sometimes disappearing from the radar, only to pop up smack in the middle of everything with ideas and energy that often appears to draw from other sources. A life of music entails a love of music of course, but Sivert is conscious of a resonance in himself that goes beyond music.
-I had a go at academia, says Sivert, which was one of the great disappointments of my life. I have an innate love of history and the feeling of being allowed to gaze through time; it is an emotional experience of relating to a horizon that is wide and far. But history classes at the university had the opposite effect, the notion of transcendence was completely absent and it felt like the whole perspective was belittled into some dusty miniature. So I guess I realised that my mind is not really adapted to academic thinking. Fortunately I have other ways of catering to this longing. I love reading and I love finding new access points to the sense of a resonance that lies far back. Music is a great expression of this emotional way of processing the world, that is what I meant when I said that I want my music to be Norwegian, and European; I feel that I get it right when the music has this quality of sweeping through the particularities; a subjective momentum, kind of.
The lyrics have always been important for Sivert. Which makes sense in more ways than one, not least in conjunction with the fact that he has a unique voice:
-I am fortunate in that way. Having a distinctive voice has been a great advantage of course; you feel that people hearken. I put a lot of work into my lyrics, not so much because I have a certain message or particular issues that I want to discuss –that’s not how I work– but because I have an acute sense of getting it right, which means conveying something whole: a subjective truth that is emotionally consistent. The lyrics have to be of such a kind that the full meaning of the words depends on the music, and vice versa: I am very conscious of not belittling the music by easy solutions in terms of the lyrics.
Sivert Høyem’s Moon Landing has been selling more and faster than anyone could have dared expect in times like these. For a celebrated artist who relates that it is the first time he has felt free to do what he really wanted, and has done so a 100%, the feeling must surely be a good one.
-Now there is no limit, says Sivert, because it’s just me now, and my friends. I am done with calculating and trying to achieve conceptual things. Having reached that point gives me a great sense of freedom and newfound, limitless possibility. I think we might use some pyrotechnics for the upcoming tour, why not? Who cares? It’s not about the dressing anyway.
Høyem's 'Moon Landing' video: