Karokh
Photo Rat MIller (Rröödd Vveé)

Norwegian septet, Karokh, are unveiling their new single, ‘Boogies’ here today. 

Inspired by a myriad influences, incorporating multitudinous styles and comprising a diverse membership, Karokh is an eclectic experimental combo creating a rainbow sound unlike anything you’ve heard before.

Jazz Alumni of the famed Norwegian Academy of Music, home of adept musicianship and virtuoso techniques, that imbues its with proteges drive and passion, Karokh is a multi-talented, highly skilled outfit whose musical ingenuity knows no bounds.

Previous single, ‘Poke’ was an experimental journey through the mountains of Norway and the New Orleans delta, ending with a brief sojourn in Ipanema with Ari Up as tour guide.  Their new single ‘Boogies’ is similarly multicultural, taking sounds from Middle England, ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, Norwegian psych and a bicycle bell, topped of with a vocal in the best tradition of renowned poetry “slammer”, the late great Maggie Estepp.

It starts with a trumpet call washed with marimba and jungle beats, moves into some 10cc Mod Caribbean style riffs, and then amid some spacious slide-wonk and electronic interference, comes the “spoken word” style vocal.  The track bursts into a melange of sounds -psych rushes, extended rocky guitar instrumentals, Tubeway Army choruses, and squishy & spiralling synths.  Some repetition of the intro sequence is followed by a fusion of distracted trumpet, insistent drumming, and a very groovy Beatnik bass bring the track to a close.  You can hear what the band have to say about ‘Boogies’ in conversation below, but first, without further ado, here is the new Karokh single, ‘Boogies’, out now via NO FOREVERS.

Karokh is  comprised of musicians from various outfits such as Monkey Plot, Bendik, Girl, and ICH BIN N ! NTENDO, and its roll call looks a bit like this:

Ina Sagstuen – vocals, Thomas Husmo Litleskare – trumpet, Christian Winther – guitar, Jonas Cambien – synthesizers,  Jan K Hovland – synthesizers,  Magnus Skavhaug Nergaard – bass and Jan Martin Gismervik – drums.

Interested to find out what brought this eclectic combo together, how they found their sound, what exactly makes Karokh tick, and most importantly, to get the skinny on new single, ‘Boogies’, and upcoming album, ‘Needle, Thread and Nail Polish’, I put on my investigative journalist hat and got down to shooting the breeze of curiosity with vocalist Ina Sagstuen and trumpeter Thomas Husmo Litleskare, who had kindly agreed to take some time out of their uber hectic schedule to fill in the blanks.  Here’s how the conversation went …

Karokh comprises seven members of four different bands.  Tell me, why did you all decide to come together to form Karokh? Just how and when did that come about?

Thomas: Actually, Karokh came into existence because we were all students in the same year at the jazz/improv department at the Norwegian  Academy of Music. We had ensemble classes together, and found that we came up with interesting stuff as a group. It sounded quite weird at first (at least to us now)… a lot more jazzy weird. But our expression has developed constantly along with our personal musical development.

Ina: My perception is that the surroundings of our existence together,  musically and socially, made it possible for us to experiment without inhibitions and limitations in the rehearsal room. We were with each other all the time, and we also spent a lot of time playing together.  During that time anything was possible.  Everyone was young, dumb, fresh, hungry and without shame, Amen! And I firmly believe that many of the interesting projects that are going on in the underground music scene in Oslo derive from the freedom that we had and used at that time.

I’ve been listening to some of your music and your style is a most unusual one, very like a large musical cocktail, a muddle of many ingredients. Is that just how things worked out or did you deliberately tease out this all inclusive, incredibly diverse sound to accommodate all the individual member contributions?

Thomas: Things have happened as a result of trying out a lot of ideas, making mistakes, finding out what sounds good – and what really doesn’t – as part of the process. I guess what makes the sound so unusual is the fact that we are quite different musicians in many ways: we play in all the different kinds of bands you can imagine. But we still share some important aesthetic values and the appreciation of unconventional solutions. In a way, Karokh has been a sort of sanctuary where we can meet and let out a lot of strange and cool ideas.

Ina: I think the most important thing is to find a good balance between being open-minded and selective. In that way you can find inspiration through anything, not only music, and use the elements that you like to create something new. I think you have to improvise with the tools that you have and the impulses you get, and in this group of people, kind of randomly put together, those impulses derive from everything from classical music, acoustic jazz, pop, contemporary music, noise, experimental rock, punk, new wave and so forth. Somehow all this has been combined in Karokh.

Well it’s evident that with such an eclectic sound there are a myriad influences being brought to the creative process.  I guess the question is how much you have opened up to allowing these divergent inspos to formulate your sound.  After that it’s down to approach and interpretation.

Thomas: This relates to what I was getting into regarding style; our expression has been moulded and shaped through a lot of jamming and experimentation. Most of the tunes on «Needle, thread…» are results of hours of jamming on ideas, digging away and turning every possible stone to see what we can make of the material.

Karokh Press Image1
Photo Morten Espeland

So was your approach to recording more predetermined than organic and freeform? 

Thomas: Studio-wise we had very clear ideas regarding the forms of the songs before we recorded them, and they’re a lot stricter than people seem to think.

Ina: When it comes to recording our material, we try to be strict on the basic structure of the song and the roles of the instruments which is usually predetermined before we start recording. After that we can play around with the material, for example by doing dubs and adds and different little instrumentals.

Ok, so it’s pretty predetermined then, but with a door left open for possible change. Does to the same apply to structuring your songs, do you use a strict formula?

Ina: The base structures of the songs are kind of set and nailed down, but some things may vary. The tempo and the intensity of the songs are different from time to time. In live settings especially, I’ve experienced instruments being “bent” as it were, chords being played with different twists and improv of material to the extent that sometimes there`s three different tunings and an extra bar here and there, a longer solo or out of sync instrumental between two songs.  You just have to listen, make clear statements to lead the way or relax and follow.

You describe your style as “alternative rock” but there are a lot of other rich  sounds and styles in there – from Jazz to Afro-Caribbean to Indie. Do you like the idea of keeping your “style” open to interpretation?

Thomas: Like you say, there are a lot of elements from a lot of different styles in our music. We don’t put it much into consideration, we just play what we think is cool. We had some discussions regarding what genre we should claim to play. We should just name our own genre, basically. Which genre would you say we play?

Haha, I made some notes when I was listening to your music earlier and some of the words I wrote down were, Africa, Jamaica, Middle England, Jazz, Funk, Punk, Wonk and Bicycle Bell.  I think now might be an appropriate time to invent a new genre.  I’m going to christen it #Rainbow. 

Cover Art Ida Kristine Gismervik Hatleskog
Cover Art Ida Kristine Gismervik Hatleskog

Ina, your vocal style is incredibly unique – you’re more like a storyteller or performer than a singer/vocalist, though that’s not to say that you don’t vocalise in the singing sense. Do you see yourself more as performer than vocalist and what led you to adopt this style?

Ina: I think it just derives from a general interest of music. I never looked at my voice as the answer, but more as a tool. If that makes sense. I did some serious studying of my instrument, and the opportunities it has. Touching the extremes of genres, styles, timbers, sounds, effects, lyric and musical languages. It is important for me to be a versatile musician and interaction is central to my artistry. In projects like Karokh, I try to step out of the role as a front figure and use the voice as a worthy instrument, playing on and around the others improvising with words, rhythm and melody. I have  different attitudes towards lyrics. Sometimes it’s the words that matter, other times its just the sound of it or the rhythm of a sentence. In Karokh everything revolves around the sound of our music and the instrumentation.

Aesthetically, I have some problems with expressionism in vocals.  I’m a fan of an unpolished, real and with a «from the gut» sound.  Some sources of inspiration for this have been: Nico, Nick Drake, Beck, Portishead, Arto Lindsay, early RHCP, Jeff Buckley, Nina Simone, Tom Waits, Bon Iver…

Now, to the main event.  What is your new single ‘Boogies’ about and where did the inspo come from?   

Ina: ‘Boogies’ is a drowsy disco song that only God knows where came from, and I can resonate with it.  I think it was made from a jam we did around a sketch one of us played during rehearsal. It was around the time when some of us had watched this documentary «Kill Your Idols» which was about “No Wave” – a short-lived avant-garde music, performance art, video art and contemporary art scene that was going down in New York in the late 70`s. I think some of the “don’t play” but “DO” your instrument kinda performance, punky but funky attitude of that scene probably inspired  «Boogies».

It’s synthesizer weirdness, accompanied by a punk comp, repetitive and driving rhythms, beat song.

What is it about? … Just to embrace your own darkness or brightness and be as young as you feel. Freak out!

Finally, tell me, what exactly do you want your music to convey to the listener – what should they look out for when playing Karokh’s music?

Ina: I want the listener to feel challenged but included, frightened but happy, to feel swallowed by the sound yet want to dance like a ‘high on life’ hippie.

Get your dancin’ shoes on and get ‘high on life’ y’all …

‘Boogies’ is out today via the NO FOREVERS record label, as well as Spotify, Tidal and iTunes (you’ll find the details on the NO FOREVERS FB page).  Karokh’s album, “Needle, Thread and Nail Polish” is due for release on 18th March.  Follow Karokh on Facebook and their official website.  Follow DervSwerve on Facebook.

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