2015 was a pretty crazy year for Norwegian band Gold Celeste – changing brand, releasing their highly acclaimed first album, ‘The Glow’, and making their London live-debut. Not to mention dropping what was surely one of THE outstanding tracks of the year, ‘The Wonder of Love’. In the first instalment of an exclusive two part interview, Gold Celeste discuss Folkehogskole, musical blenders, and a myriad influences from Krzysztof Penderecki to Ray Davies.
I meet up with the Oslo based musical triumvirate of Simen Hallset (vocals/bass), Petter Haugen Andersen (drums), and Eirik Fidjeland (everything including the kitchen sink), at the Old Blue Last on a bright December’s afternoon. One of those pared back on-trend hang outs for the modern day “yuppy”, the OBL has fast become the de rigueur place for emerging non-UK acts to be seen and more importantly, heard.
Due on stage a few hours later, these laid back, convivial and highly articulate Norwegians are in high spirits, buoyed by what has thus far been an enjoyable and rewarding sojourn in London. Indicative of the spirit of friendship that is at the very heart of this young band, fellow musician and close friend, Torstein Kvamme Holum, who joins them for their live performances, is included in the interview conversation. In fact, the notion of a close, tightly integrated network of musicians based on friendship and mutual support is something which appears to be a key tenet of the Norwegian music scene.
To get a better understanding of the band and the basis not just for their formation but also for their friendship, I decide to start at the most logical of places – “the beginning”.
“I met Eirik in 2008 at the Folkehogskole high school in Trondheim,” explains frontman Simen Hallset, “and we’ve been making music together ever since. I didn’t meet Petter until 2011. He was already good friends with Torstein by then.”
“Folkehogskole is an optional ‘People High School’ where you can choose to go for one year after you graduate from (ordinary) highschool” interjects Torstein.
The guys explain that the college focus is anything from wildlife to music but that in the main it is an educational-cum-cultural hub where like-minded young people can network in a friendly and relaxed environment. “Yeah” continues Simen, “they had this great recording studio (in Trondheim), one of the only ones in Norway, and we spent a lot of time in there. That’s how we got into the production aspect of creating music.”
I ask what drew them together musically? “We got to know each other through some similar musical preferences” says Simen. “The Norwegian band Motorpsycho, Radiohead, Sigur Rós and then eventually, My Bloody Valentine, Deerhunter and Beach House. We had this post-punk band early on, during the school year. I think that’s where we kind of found each other musically.”
“WE SPENT FIVE YEARS TRYING TO FIND WHAT WE REALLY WANTED TO DO”
So is it because that was the type of music you liked to listen to, that you decided that was what you wanted to play? “You want to play the music you love hearing, knowing, or do something personal with it.” says Petter. “I think that was what brought us together but at the same time we continuously tried to find new music that we got inspired by and that felt fresh. You can try to copy Beach House, or you can try to copy other bands, but that’s not what we wanted to do. We like to jam a lot and try find influences from different kinds of styles and genres, and to make our own sound.”
How then do they define the style of music they play? Do they want to be classified, boxed into “indie-psych-gaze-dream-whatever” I ask?
Simen laughs mockingly and shakes his head, “You know it just sounds ridiculous really, ‘indie-gaze-dream-pop’.” It is ridiculous, I agree. Using several words to describe your style when none of them actually define what I think is your sound, because to me your style isn’t definable. “Yeah,” he nods, “but at the same time, I don’t think it should be up to us to classify. If we had to name our own style I think that would be too pretentious, so I usually just say, psychedelic pop, lo-fi, aesthetic stuff. Something like that. We spent five years trying to find what we really wanted to do and I think ‘The Glow’ is perhaps the first release where we’ve been totally comfortable (with the sound) and now we just want to make new music.”
” ‘The Wonder of Love’ is perhaps the song that is most openly influenced by soul music” he continues, “you know, Curtis Mayfield and the Philadelphia soul bands of the late 60s early 70s, but it’s still very us. So you know, this shoegaze reference is more perhaps how the vocals and all the sounds combine to make the texture. We like this other-wordly feel to the music, but we still try to keep its and our feet on the ground.”
You said in your bio that you were influenced by “soulful dreamers of the 70s”. Who and what do you mean by “the soulful dreamers”. Mayfield? There’s a bit of a free for all Simen/Petter love in at this point, so we’ll just go with the flow …
Petter… “Of course, as mentioned Curtis Mayfield and the other artists who tried to bring a popular method and get people to understand.” Simen … “Social commentary” Petter … “Yeah, to get people to understand that there can be a better tomorrow. David Crosby and all those guys.” Simen … “John Lennon”.
Petter continues,“You can call them naïve hippies or whatever but there is some truth to what they’re saying. You can’t just go to the White House or anyplace and say “Stop war” or “Be nice to each other”, but you should really try (to do something)! Not that it helps 100% to just write a song about it.” At which point Torstein chips in with his tuppence worth … “I’m just a fourth of the live tour, so it is easy for me to have an objective approach or view of it. I really like the kind of ethics that these artists once talked about. The approach that we (as a unit) have is a bit self-ironic. It’s not like this condescending way of talking, like do this and do that. There’s a lighter approach to it, which is a much more appealing way to talk about the issues.”
“WHEN YOU AND I MET YOU WERE A GUITARIST” … “I STILL AM!”
Not only is it apparent at this point that these guys are incredibly comfortable talking about a wide range of topics, it is also extremely obvious that they are immensely at ease in each others company. They talk across, over and through each other quite seamlessly, at some points even finishing each others sentences. I steer the conversation back into the world of musical influences with a nod yet again to their bio and sound …
Miles Davis, John Coltrane and jazz – I hear it a lot in your music, especially in your percussion which seems to be very jazz oriented. How influenced are you by the whole jazz sound and vibe?
Front man Simen takes the lead once again … “I think when you talk about drumming, one important factor in our percussion sounding jazzy is the fact that we spend a lot of time in the studio. We want the drum kit to sound good when you just listen to the drums, you know have this internal volume that it’s just one instrument. It’s like a piano, you have all these timbres, you have all these pieces; the drums are like a piano in that way. When a drummer just bashes away, every drum sounds isolated.
We want the whole thing to just sound like it should and that was what was so important to the great jazz musicians. They were so conscious about their instruments, the timbres, the dynamics, and I think that is one of the most important aspects of how jazz music has influenced us. The way you listen, you try to understand the instruments, don’t just bash away.”
So was it important to put those two jazz instrumentals on the album?
” One track, ‘Pastures’ was actually recorded about three years ago! It was just a sketch, us jamming in the studio.” explains Eirik, who, Petter tells me, played drums on the track. Drums? What will we hear Mr Multi-Instrumentalist play on the next album, the saxophone? Laughing he shakes his head, “Nah.”
Amidst the merriment Petter quips, “I am trying to learn the flute, so hopefully I’ll be playing some flute on the next album.” Will you be throwing your flute up in the air then like your drumsticks? (see ‘The Wonder of Love’ video) “Yeah! (laughs) Of course.”
“AS “NOT-A-DRUMMER”, I REALLY HATE DRUMMERS”
On the subject of jazz percussion Petter continues, “I guess on the drumming part, it’s worth mentioning that I’m actually not a drummer. In Angelica’s Elegy (see next) I played bass in the live band with Simen on piano, but then he decided to go back to playing bass as that’s his main instrument and he’s really good at playing it. Suddenly I was out of a job so I said I could play drums. (Quick on his feet isn’t he!!) I learned most of my drumming in the studio recording the songs. The guys would have a sketch or an idea and I’d have to learn how to play with studio drums or with a three mic set up and make it sound beautiful. And also as “not-a-drummer”, I really hate drummers, (to much raucous laughter) because most of them play like shit. In most rock bands they hit as hard as they can and that just makes the drums sound bad. Cue “trialogue”!
Simen, “You’re a musician, you’re not a drummer.” Thorstein, “When you (Petter) and I met, you were a guitarist.” Petter, “I still am!” (More laughing). Thorstein,“Yeah, you’re still a guitarist (still laughing) but now you also play drums really well. I guess when you play an instrument your whole life you can get really good but it’s also limiting because if you define yourself as an instrumentalist you can function but if you’re a musician then you can have this kind of vision which means that you can think like a musician rather than an instrumentalist.” Simen, “Did this just turn into some kind of ass-kissing situation? (Laughs) We like to share positive and negative comments with each other, it’s how you grow!” I think you’ll agree these Norwegians are refreshingly honest, self-deprecating and lacking in bull!
Speaking of Angelica’s Elegy, why the name change to Gold Celeste?
” I think the answer to your question is threefold” muses Simen. “The first is perhaps that AE was basically a studio project. After we finished Folkehogskole, I started a recording studio with a friend where we, Eirik and I, spent a lot of time creating, writing music, recording, producing, finding sounds, and you know, basically trying to develop some kind of direction.
When we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel with ‘The Glow’, we wanted to start afresh. AE had been myself and Eirik, and I think GC was more me, Eirik and Petter. Also, the band name AE was kind of based on this melancholic concept we had early on, with regards to the kind of pictures we wanted to put into people’s minds with our music. With GC it’s a bit more open, it’s not that loaded, when it comes to it’s dark, or it’s light or it’s positive. You know, it can be a lot of things.”
He smiles broadly and says, “You know, Gold Celeste is also easier to pronounce. You don’t have to say the band name four times, maybe only three, so that’s an improvement.”
I mention the fact that in their bio the one genre not referenced is classical and ask why? (Another question that results in a “group” answer … )
“We listen to classical music too. Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead, he makes fantastic classical music. We also listen to Wagner,” affirms Eirik. “Yeah, Wagner” agrees Hallset. “There’s some seriously beautiful classical music. Penderecki, for instance.” Drummer Petter jumps in, “I don’t listen to that much classical but I love the things that Simen and Eirik put on. But a lot of it is also found in some of the more orchestral jazz things like Ahmad Jamal and all that … David Chesky. So you can also get some of the classical aspects through there.” “We like the timbre of the strings you know” smiles Hallset. “And then there’s Ennio Morricone” offers Fidjeland, to universal approval.
These guys don’t half know their music – throw anything at them, they have an answer, like walking musical encylopediae.
“EVERYTHING’S BEEN DONE, INCLUDING BLENDERS”
You cite Radiohead and Can as influences, I say. Can you see yourselves going down the same route of extreme experimentation? And can you, Simen, see yourself singing your lyrics backwards?
Simen laughs and gives a firm “No! Right now, we like to experiment with the pop format I guess. And in the future, who knows.”
“I think on the one hand it seems like a good idea, it might happen. But we don’t want to experiment just to experiment, to be weird you know” declares Petter.
But where is there left to go? Do you think it’s already been done?
“Well we went to Berlin a month or so ago,”Petter continues, “and this guy played us some weird club music with blender sounds, so I think there is nowhere left to go!” They all explode with laughter – they do this quite frequently! “Everything’s been done,” he concludes, “including blenders.”
All started by Nils Frahm with his toilet brushes I laugh, to which Torstein replies, “I’ve seen Frahm performing that boiler room thing, it’s really cool. (Boiler Room x Dimensions)
To close out discussing their influences, I ask the band to nominate their songwriting heroes …
To my surprise, Eirik nominates Ray Davies, announcing that he really likes The Kinks. Petter then tells us that he’s had the song ‘Waterloo Sunset’ running through his mind these past few days while he’s been in London.
“I liked The Kinks’ songs from the mid-sixties til they get really weird in the seventies. I like the Arthur (1969) record and The Kink Kontroversy. They made some really great songs.”
After much debate, Eirik quietly brings the subject to a close … “There is Mark Linkhous from Sparklehorse as well. And of course there was John Lennon.” He pauses, while the others nod quietly, conscious that the just the day before had been the 35th anniversary of Lennon’s death. “There are just so many to choose from you know!”
In the second part of this extended interview, Gold Celeste discuss the creative process, recording ‘The Glow’, creating change, and being “infinitely loving”. This second instalment will feature in The Monitors later this month. Keep an eye out, you don’t want to miss it!
Take a listen to some of the Gold Celeste tracks mentioned along with a few more on this short playlist …