Last weekend saw us back in Bergen for the 2018 edition of Vill Vill Vest, Norway’s primary domestic showcase festival. Which means that we spent the weekend catching up with Norway’s brightest new bands. We saw a lot of great shows (shout out to Birgitta Alida, Jouska, Heartbreak Satellite and more), and we met a lot of new bands. You can read more about that below.
So you’ve only released three songs officially at this point, so Selmer are pretty new. What can you tell us about how the band got started?
Julian Karlsson: I was writing a lot of songs, and I wanted to play them live. So I met some beautiful boys, and we started playing together, and that’s how it started out. We had actually gone to school together.
So it began with you on your own and brining the guys in to make it work as a full band?
Julian: Yeah, I was recording myself for the first single Small. This was before I got the band, and I needed to play it live. So it was supposed to be for one concert in Trondheim, and it just worked so good. Everyone was so good that it became something much bigger than we had planned. And now we have much bigger plans.
So it’s been quiet since March on the release front, so what have you guys been up to, have you just been playing a lot of shows or have you been working on new music?
Julian: We have played a lot of shows, and we have recorded a lot of the new songs in the studio. We played two new songs last night, one that will be a single. So we’re releasing that in October, and after that the EP will come, a product of what we’ve been doing since March. We don’t have so many songs out, so we’re looking forward to getting the EP out so people can really listen to Selmer, other than live. Because we’ve played so many times live, but people can’t listen to the songs anywhere.
As you’ve played live so much this summer, do you feel it’s toughened you up and made Selmer a more complete band? As you said, it started as a solo project, but now that you’ve played live so much together do you feel you’re a more complete band?
Julian: Yeah, I think so. We’ve always been a band, and we work in the same way still. I start the songs then I bring them to the band and it becomes something new. I think we’ve gotten better at that actually, maybe.
Mats Jøger: You have the songs almost complete, and you take them to us and we put on a little spice in some places.
When we premiered the video for Palm Tree in March, the director said your style was old-school yet contemporary. Is that something you’d say is correct when describing Selmer’s vibe?
Julian: Yes, that’s actually what I work for. That’s what we try to achieve. Everyone in the band, especially me I think, only listens to old music from the 60s and 70s. But we try and put on a sound that I think is contemporary. But the songwriting is old-school.
You wouldn’t say your sound is really old school, it sounds really modern. So would you say your goal is to take inspiration from the old-school and modernise it and make it sound fresh.
Julian: Yes, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. And I feel we’re very, very good at it [laughs].
What other bands from the festival’s line-up would you recommend to our readers?
Julian: Mall Girl, who we share a guitarist with. They’re really good. Brenn, we share a rehearsal room with them, a really good band. Margrete, she’s cool.
You debuted this year with the Run Boy, Run album, so how did the band get started?
Hanna Paulsberg: It actually started in Dubin, because I met a guy there and he was really handsome, and I wrote the song about him. Then I had to had to find someone to play that kind of song with, that kind of pop tune, and I asked these guys to join me.
Ellen Andrea Wang: And we’ve been really happy to be a part of Hanna’s lovelife.
You’ve described the band, or at least your press release does, as musical ‘free time or playtime’. So what does that mean for you guys?
Rohey Taalah: It’s about us having fun, onstage and also with the audience, while bringing quality to the table as well. We have other projects, our own and other ones, and this is kind of a project that’s on top of everything.
Hanna: We’re educated as jazz musicians, and jazz can be quite self-serious. In this band we try not to do that, we try to have fun with ourselves. And the music is quite pop, soul-ish, and we do it for fun. We want it to be good of course, but it’s for fun.
Ellen: And it’s not very often that you go to a jazz concert and the audience is able to laugh at your songs. But with this band people can laugh and dance and do what they want.
Listening to the record, it does sound like you flip a lot between a lot of different genres, jazz is obviously the base, but you take that structure and take it a bunch of different places, there’s pop in there, R’n’B, Hip Hop, much more. So what kind of music inspires this project?
Hanna: Everything. It can be everything, pop, soul, hip-hop, folk. It can be Alf Prøysen, a Norwegian poet, there are no boundaries.
Does it feel exciting to be able to use that jazz education and jazz structure and take it to different places?
Ellen: I’m not that fond of the term jazz musician, I like to think more improviser. You have that approach to the music, how to improvise, and I think that’s the most important thing. You can then improvise in different musical styles. And I think that’s what we’re doing here. We have that playfulness, and we like to improvise, and we’re making silly songs about boys. And groove, we’re like a unique instrumentation, with vocals, saxophone, double-bass. It’s fun to make that music together.
So with the album out now, and you wrapping up this tour, what’s next in your plans, are you going to continue working with this project or go back to your other projects?
Rohey: We don’t know.
Hanna: We are planning a tour next winter, mostly in Norway, but with some foreign dates.
Ellen: We love to be here in the now and enjoy what’s happening, we’ve been having some really nice concerts recently, and it’s fascinating to see the audiences’ reactions to this music. It’s not that typical in jazz clubs that people know the tunes and sing along.
How have you felt the audiences’ reactions have been on this tour, when you take this music into traditional jazz clubs like Nefetiti and Fasching [in Gothenburg and Stockholm, which the band played on this tour]?
Rohey: They were very pleased. They sang the lyrics, they clapped at the right spots, laughed at the jokes we had. I think the reason they responded to it so positively is that they can relate to it, it’s relatable. And also I think that the fact that both they and we can laugh at ourselves, it opens a door to people having a more relaxed relationship to being at a concert, to being able to laugh superhard and look at each other, even when surrounded by people you don’t know. You can have a great time, joke and have fun.
Anything else from the line-up you’d like to tip?
Hanna: They’ve already played, Mall Girl, yesterday. With Hannah [Veslemøy Narvesen] on drums, the jazz drummer. They’re a really band.
Rohey: Amalie Holt Kleive.
Ellen: Arthur Kay.
How did you get into making music? For a bedroom pop artist like you, I guess it’s quite a solo process?
Well, I’ve been very interested in music, and I’ve always written music. It was about two years ago that I got in contact with management and labels. I was just a singer then, they didn’t know I could make music. I was quite frustrated back then, as I felt they didn’t really believe in me as an artist or as someone that wanted to create stuff. I felt like when I collaborated with them, it wasn’t going anywhere, so I started doing it myself. But I didn’t have the resources to actually start making music, so I went on Soundcloud and starting getting to know people, and people started sending me beats. So I started in my bedroom, and it was a way for me to channel a lot of difficult feelings.
Do you feel there’s a lot freedom for you working through Soundcloud? Because you can throw up songs whenever you want, you can throw up experiments and stuff, there’s a community there. Do you feel it’s helped you as an artist?
For me I felt that the music industry was so big and scary and cynical. So when I found the Soundcloud community, I was able to search through different genres. For a long time, none of my friends knew I had a Soundcloud account, I just started putting stuff up there, it was like my secret platform. But then I started putting stuff up there, and I started getting listeners, and it was interesting because it wasn’t people from Norway, it was like random people. I think Soundcloud is very forgiving for artists, you can start over if you want, you can privatise songs if you feel they’re not good anymore. I feel like even if you’re good or bad there’ll be someone that likes you, so it’s very forgiving for sub-genres.
For you as an artist, your lyrics are a big part of your appeal and a central part of the art. So was one of the main inspirations to make music to find an outlet for them? And what feeds into your lyrics?
For me, the things I write about are very important. I’ve always been a writer, and ever since I was a child my family have stories of small novels I’ve made. My dream was actually to be a writer. But I also love music. For me, having had a, not difficult youth, because I come from a very privileged home, but difficult in the sense that mentally I’ve had issues and stuff, for me that was a way of getting therapy and processing my emotions growing up. I actually have quite a big vocal range, and you can’t really tell with my music because I just use it to paint a picture, so my voice is not super present. But my texts are, and I just want to give off a vibe and not show off my voice that much. So my texts are really the focus. I know it’s a cliché, but my therapist doesn’t do half as much for me as music does, just as a way of getting rid of tension. When I’m onstage, I feel so much more free when I step off the stage, I feel I’ve shaken off so much tension.
Playing live is still relatively new for this Jez_ebel project. So how does it feel to bring it to life live?
I’ve always performed a lot. I was that annoying kid when I was younger, that applied for every show. That was doing stuff like covers, and I never found it scary, never got stagefright. But now that I’m showing people something that is so me, I have difficulty accepting that, and accepting that not everyone likes my music. It’s difficult when it’s something you’ve made yourself. I’m trying to separate my self-worth from what I make, but it’s difficult when what you make is something so personal.
You’ve only released songs on Soundcloud up to this point, there’s been no official single or whatever. So where do you see Jez_ebel going, what do you want to do with the project?
I like that you say it’s a project, because a lot of people think this is something that’s going to be forever, and I don’t know how long I’ll have this project, or if I’ll change name some day and do something new. At the moment I don’t own 100% of my songs, I only own Garden Hoes, so it’s not easy to put songs on Spotify. But I like that it’s not on Spotify in a way. I’m very into indie culture, and how you always have to strive to be genuine. And I like the idea that people might search around and find me, and then the music is like a treasure for them. I’m like that, I search for hours for new music, and when I find something I’m like ‘oh wow, this is mine and it’s secret and fun’. So I think discovering is a lot of the appeal. Jez_ebel is obviously from the Bible story, and for me it’s a little bit of a rebellion against my Christian upbringing. My parents weren’t strict, but I remember hearing about all these prejudices against me and other girls, and having to work with that every day, and in response being unapologetic or even rude sometimes, because I have a right to be. Jezebel for me was a really strong woman, and that’s what I’m trying to emulate in my songs. I’m not sure if my next project, or even if I make an album, it will be the same [as the Jez_ebel concept].
Do you like the idea that people will find Jez_ebel organically, and you don’t want to go in to say the big leagues of the music industry and have it heavily promo-ed in the traditional way?
Of course I want my music to be promoted, but I think a lot of people in the music industry have an old mentality, and think the way is to push, push, push artists in your face. If you go on Instagram and see a bunch of sponsored ads, it’s really annoying. In the internet culture we have now, there’s a lot of culture around being ‘exposed’, and people suddenly hating you. For me, I want to be promoted, but I want it to be cleverly done.
Not to be forced or over the top?
Yeah, I don’t want it to shoot up all of a sudden. I’m taking it gig by gig. Last year I didn’t even really make music. I started last fall, and I remember working as a volunteer at Vill Vill Vest, and I thought “I really hope I can play here someday”. I had a check list of things I wanted to do, and playing at Vill Vill Vest was one of them.
In terms of the music you’re working on now, what do you see the next release being? Are you working on an album, an EP, more individual tracks, whatever?
I’m not 100% sure, but I have a plan to release more music at the start of 2019. I want to take the same elements I already have, polish it a little bit and make it maybe more genre-specific. Maybe go into more soul and jazzy stuff, because that’s the music I listen to and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. That’s why I want to get a live band and actually work with musicians, as right now I feel quite lonely, and I find it quite hard to connect with other artists and stuff. I’ve felt that a lot at Vill Vill Vest, I’ve listened to a lot of the people and I like them and I wouldn’t say I’m shy. But I’ve been working in my room for two years, so it’s hard to reach out.
Any of the other artists playing here you would recommend?
I would say Derin, as he’s one of my best friends and I was one of the ones that pushed him to actually release his first song. Moyka, she’s really cool. Pen Gutt, he’s really interesting. I think it’s so cool that he’s made a fusion between being very almost abstract, while also keeping the rap image up, it’s very very cool.
The single has now been released official for the first time, what can you tell us about Slay Queen.
Iver Armand Tandsether: Most of our songs, we just jam out the instrumental parts. Then Bethany [Forseth-Reichberg, vocalist] tries out some vocals during the practise, and then goes home and finishes the vocals and the lyrics.
Eskild Myrvoll: So it’s really a collective process. But I think Slay Queen was one of earlier songs we made. We worked at it for a long term, rehearsing, before we worked out how it really should be. So I remember when Iver came with the chorus, that was when the whole thing started to work. Until then we played another version that didn’t work out, but that was when everything fell together.
Do you guys generally work out your songs by jamming together?
Eskild: Yes, generally. We tried working by people bringing in more complete songs, but it doesn’t work in the same way.
Iver: And most of the ideas just happen randomly at practise. I think it’s seldom I’ve come with an idea from home.
Eskild: We’re very attentive of what the others in the band are doing. We jam and then it’s, ‘oh, that part you did there, that was great, we’ll build something around that!’. It also works as a way to get everyone to feel they’re contributing to the product. Instead of one bringing in all the songs.
How and when did you form the band? You’ve been officially active since April right?
Eskild: February, we played the first concert in February.
Iver: Eskild and I went to the same high-school. One day, by coincidence, he asked me if I wanted to jam, fall last year. He said ‘hey, I found a drummer’, and it was a nice vibe. So we jammed instrumentally, and made some song structures, and we thought it would be cool if we had someone to sing. We knew Bethany was a great singer, we asked her to join the band and she said yes, thankfully.
Eskild: The we got booked for our first gig at a jazz festival in Oslo. We had just recorded one song as a demo, we sent it them, got booked to play another show three months afterwards. So we had to write a set’s worth of songs, on a deadline.
Does it feel like it’s gone very fast? Your first official single is only out now, but you’ve played so much this summer.
Eskild: Yes, it does, and we’re super happy and grateful for it.
Iver: Slay Queen was out for a while online as a demo, as we needed to have something online so we could apply for shows. But now it’s mixed and mastered and out properly.
Eskild: It was mixed by the guitar player from Pom Poko [Martin Miguel Tonne]. I think it’s amazing that we’ve been able to play so much, I think we’ve played thirteen shows, in just about a half a year.
Your style is quite similar to bands like Lumikide and Pom Poko. Do you think there’s a wave of bands in Norway like this, with a jazz background coming into indie-pop and art-rock?
Eskild: It might have something to do with the jazz background, but I mostly feel it’s to do with bands being able to experiment inside of a pop framework. So you kind of start as a pop band, but people are willing to draw in more elements and more experimental elements, and draw that into pop music.
Iver: Also, maybe it’s to do with it being Martin [who plays in both Lumikide and Pom Poko] who mixed our song, so he might have had an influence on maybe that single.
How does it feel to have a foot in both the pop and jazz worlds? As your first booking was a jazz festival.
Eskild: I think it’s a nice opportunity to work in both. We feel very pop when we’re at the jazz festivals and very experimental when we’re at the pop gigs.
Moving onto the festival, how did you feel the show when yesterday?
Iver: I think it was really nice. It’s this music-business kind of festival, so it’s not a lot of people jumping around and being crazy. But we got a nice response and people were nice and kind afterwards.
So from the fest of the line-up, which bands would you recommend?
Eskild: Heartbreak Satellite, Brenn who are a great rock band. I also think Margrete, and Selmer. I also think General Post Office, who are kind of free jazz. Super cool booking.
So you said that you tried a bunch of different creative outlets before you settled on music, so why was it music that ended up being what you went with?
Ingri Høyland: The feeling I get when I perform [music], is very unique. The energy is just amazing. It’s a huge contrast to everything else I do, planning and doing a million different things at once. Doing a performance is just being 100% present, and it feels great. Playing live has been a big motivation for me.
So live performance has been the most compelling aspect for you?
Yeah, I think so. I love to write and produce as well, but the big cherry on top is definitely the feeling I get when I’m performing.
You said that for Please, you ended up sending thousands of emails to old records to try and find samples, what can you tell us about that?
It was a crazy process. It took us ten minutes to make the basis of the track, but we used some samples to do so, and they sounded amazing. So then I tried to track down who wrote the song, and it was a Chinese artist. She’s still alive and still playing, and the track was from 1971, so it was still ‘active’ [the copyright]. There was a link to a record label in Malaysia, which I didn’t even know was the right one, but I just started emailing them and I wrote them on Facebook and everything, and I got a phone number and I called. It was a horrible experience! I was trying to tell him I was from Norway and I was trying to make this song, and his English wasn’t so good and I couldn’t hear what he was saying at all. Apparently he was telling me where to email, and I just kept saying ‘Sorry, the connection is bad’. But I had recorded the conversation, as it’s good to have with copyright stuff and I hoped he’s just say ‘Yeah go ahead and use it’, but I figured out what he was saying from the recording. So with the new email a comms girl answered and said it was a really cool project and they would give me the rights. I think the whole process took eight months or something but it was worth it.
Are you that kind of artist that gets super obsessive over music in that way? Like instead of saying ‘ok, we can do without the sample’, you spend eight months trying to source it?
Yes, I’m pretty persistent I would say. If I have a goal I do what I can to make it happen. With this particular sample, we had just fallen in love with the sound of it, and it would be so wrong to change it, so it felt like a mission to make it happen. A lot of people sample without rights, but I’ve always been a, what they call in Danish a tolvtalspige, a straight A girl, I want to do things properly, I wouldn’t dare to use it without permission. Even though they would probably never ever look it up or find it.
Your style of music is most usually described as trip-hop, and you get compared to bands like Portishead, what do you make of that comparison? Do you feel it’s accurate?
Trip hop is a pretty debatable topic. People have so many opinions about the genre! But when we make the music, these are the sounds and moods that come out of me. So to be compared to those bands is of course an honour, and I listened to them a lot years ago. But there’s also an idea that trip-hop belongs to the 90s and it’s site-specific to Bristol, so I’ve actually avoided using the term so as to not get pigeonholed. Seems I have though [laughs]. But I usually just call it electronica so that the music can evolve and move through different genres! Some people have called it Nordic Noir, some said alternative rock, some pop. I think people hear different references and relate the music to different genres and different bands. Trip hop included!
Moving onto the festival, how did you feel the show went yesterday?
I think it went really well. It was a really cool place, Garage and actually it was our first concert in Norway. I am Norwegian, but I haven’t lived here since high school. So I was a little nervous, wondering how people will get it here. But I have a good feeling and we definitely had a great experience onstage!
What’s coming up for you next?
I am releasing an EP, in February. That’s next. And we’re going to Japan, we’re playing three concerts there next month!
What about other artists at the festival? Any personal favourites?
It’s tough, as I’m more familiar with the Danish underground scene, so I’m not such a good scout for music here. But Tobi Duchampe is really interesting and great. I flew in on Friday so I unfortunately missed his show, but I think it’s so cool that he pushes the limits. And for the Norwegian scene, which has a lot of soft pop, it’s really cool that someone is there to challenge things with his performances. I read today that he was eating French fries onstage. I would love to do that! I just had French fries on the way home instead [laughs]. It’s a really interesting project and I hope the industry will embrace it.
If we go back to the beginning, what can you tell us about the start of Ponette, how did you guys form?
Helene Svaland: I think we all went to different schools, but we all knew each other somehow, so there was a link. So we just started playing. It was like we were just suddenly a band, with a sound that had evolved over time. I can’t put an exact start date on it, it just became what it is.
The first release was 2016, so at what point did you start playing together?
Johannes Amble: It was around that time, or a little earlier. We had decided to play music together, and we made that EP, which you refer to. That was kind of the real start of what we are doing now.
You released the I’m Alone EP in 2016, and it’s pretty straightforward dream/indie pop, pretty consistent in its style. But then with the three latest singles they’ve gone in a lot of different directions, and they don’t really sound so much like each other. So why were the styles so different on the new ones? Do you think it’s just the way you developed as a band?
Helene: I think we all had a bigger image of what we wanted to do. We wanted to create a world with our look and our music and everything, and we wanted to be more than one thing. So we’re going more for the vibe in it, rather that exactly how it’s going to sound. A bit dark and catchy, but it could be anything within those frames. We wanted to expand what our world is.
Do you think the fact that you’re moving between so many different styles means that you’re still developing your sound?
Helene: I think that it one way to look at it. But I think it’s also cool for us as a band to be open, and that whatever comes into our heads as we’re writing the song can be what we do. I don’t think any of us want to be tied down by rules or boundaries, we just want to make whatever is cool in the moment. And that is also like a cool thing for a band to do, just be open and make whatever.
Johannes: Often we’re very sure that this is the right thing to do. It’s always different, but we always agree on what we want to represent.
Do you think it’s more an emotional style and aesthetic that you’re going for, rather than a specific musical style?
Helene: Yes, definitely. And you can also see on our Instagram and social media, we want to express that in our images, in how we dress and act, we want everything to be a part of that universe. Everything has to communicate the same feeling.
Speaking of imagery, where did the octopus for the Gun campaign come from?
Johannes: We just wanted to use the aesthetic aspect of it. It’s very direct and has a wow factor, to use in that context.
Helene: We just bought it and didn’t plan anything, and went back to my apartment and recorded everything in the bathroom, everything was very spontaneous and it kind of came together as it went.
Did someone in the band volunteer to have it put on their face? Because in the video, you don’t have it on but someone does.
Johannes: The drummer did. He volunteered actually, it was a bit cold but he was alright.
Helene: He actually had to do it but there was only three of us that day and Johannes was filming so he was the only option.
Ok, EP in 2016, three singles since, where do you see yourselves developing in the future, what are you working towards at the moment?
Johannes: A lot more music, resulting in whatever it turns out to be.
Helene: We really want to make an album at some point, but I think now as we change a lot it’s cooler to make smaller pieces, and then have themes for every release, instead of making a big one. We do want to do that [an album] but not right now.
Moving onto the festival, you guys are playing Hulen tonight, the cave, are you looking forward to it?
Helene: Yes, it’s a really cool place and it’s going to be cool to mix that up with our aesthetics. A kind of a place where they usually play rock. We have elements of that because we have big guitars, live drums and everything. So it’s cool to mix our image with that place, it belongs there.
And recommendations from the rest of the festival?
Johannes: I know Jouska is playing, they are kind of friends of ours, should be checked out. And Bendik HK.
Thanks to Vill Vill Vest festival and Bergen for having us once again.
All photos: Austin Maloney.