Bellman, or Arne Johan Rauan as he is really called, takes the time to talk to MIC between soundcheck and the release concert in conjunction with his record debut Mainly Mute.
-The soundcheck was perfect; I think it will be a great concert. I’m really dying to play in front of the audience later on. We have been waiting a long time for this.
In addition to Bellman himself on acoustic guitar and vocal the band consists of six people; the regular bass, drums, guitar and keys line-up augmented with strings. But the strings are not just brought in for the release show; they are an integral part of the music.
-To a large degree the songs were written with strings in mind, says Bellman. Sometimes we play in a smaller format, but the formula we’ve found includes strings as an essential part of the sound. Many facets and layers, and a potential for richness, allows us to hold back and achieve the restrained expression we’re after.
Hearing Bellman’s music one can readily understand his own description of standing in the middle of a tune and forming it by positioning the different elements around him, letting the sound subtly grow into a sculpture, an aural figure distinguished by understatement and allusion rather than bold definition.
The notion of the understated and keeping a lid on the musical forces at play seems to be an essential trait of your music. Is this a general aesthetic or something particular to this record?
-I believe in the understated and the controlled in all circumstances really, says Bellman. I just find it more interesting to outline potential than to fully realize and exhaust it. I cherish the feeling that something is unrealized, and the tension generated when something is smouldering rather than burning. Sometimes we get pretty close to some kind of climax in our songs, but mostly we only hint at it and we try to let this smouldering expectancy and the sort of projection that an outline implies remain a kind of hidden force in our music.
So this principle is the explanation of the album title then, Mainly Mute referring to a reservoir; something not unfolded and unleashed?
-You could say that, even if the title is not meant to explain anything. But it is inspired by the same general idea; the unpronounced, which is controlled and smouldering.
How does this stance manifest in the relation between playing live and working in the studio?
-Right now I’m just thrilled to be able to play live. Like I said I really think we have found the perfect formula and putting it to work live is really a wonderful experience. Our time in the studio was long and arduous. We had a lot of fun, but there were setbacks underway and it took a lot longer than I expected. I think the process was ultimately necessary and fruitful though. It simply took a long time to find the right sound and the right way of piloting the songs so to speak. But now that we’re past that I just feel great relief and joy about moving onto the stage and making it all work in front of an audience.
The most conspicuous part of your sound, or the musical sculpture of your songs, as it were, is your voice. The high almost angelic tone of it has caused many people to compare you to Thom Yorke or Anthony Hogarty. Have you always been conscious of your voice as such a characteristic instrument? Is it something you have developed intentionally?
-In previous projects I used my voice in a different way. Changing the way I sing was never an issue in its own right, it had more to do with the music. These songs seemed to ask for a high and gentle voice, so it was a kind of symbiosis I guess, something that grew forth naturally, not as a fixed idea. But I was surprised that singing so high came quite effortlessly. It just suits me.
What about the lyrics; do you feel that a conspicuous voice puts more focus on the words? How important are the lyrics to the entirety?
I always start with the music. An atmosphere will develop and then I find that the words have a tendency to lend themselves naturally. I’m not a storyteller really; I like the lyrical content to be a little veiled. There is always a story in the background somewhere, but I guess I prefer disguising it so that people can ponder themselves.
Bellman admits that all the comparisons to other singers with similar voices often seem a little simplistic.
-It’s understandable of course, but not always so enlightening. Similar voices do not entail similar artistic objectives. For me other artistic expressions than music mean just as much in terms of inspiration. I draw on film and art and I really enjoy the contrast between physical expressions, like sculpture, and music. I think I will always want to work with physical expressions in addition to music; to me at least this combination and contrast is very fruitful.
After the release in Oslo a tour of Norway awaits later in the winter. And then the record will be released in Denmark in March.
-We’ve said from the start that we wanted to have explore opportunities outside Norway, and Denmark is a good place to start I think. Now everything works so well, and the whole apparatus around us is just right, everyone is singing in unison. So I’m looking forward to busy times.