Hanne Huckelberg - Interviews - Soundblab

Hanne Huckelberg

by Priscilla Eyles Rating: Release Date:

Hanne Huckelberg's latest critically acclaimed album Featherbrain is a special beast, an idiosyncratic, powerful and epic statement of intent which sounds like a musical exorcisim. It is yet another reason to pay attention to the thriving and creative Norwegian music scene (it's not all doom metal you know). Seeing her live, the experience is truly unforgettable and totally enthralling; one of the best live acts I've seen, her passion is infectious. Huckleberg herself is endearing and modest, constantly apologising for her English and giving her time generously.

Hanne talks to me about her inspirations which range from cutlery to metal bands, the special relationship she has with her producer, the long recording process and that extraordinary voice of hers.

What were your musical influences growing up?

Both my parents are classical musicians, my mother's an incredible piano player and my father plays the church organ. I grew up in a little village in Norway and music was a very big part of my childhood. We were the musical family in our village, making music in people's homes, the local church, at weddings or funerals. So it felt like a very natural thing for me to come to music. And my brother and sisters loved playing music, but I was the most active I really wanted to learn music and to be in as many bands as I could. I always had this urge to explore music, and it was really no choice for me being a musician, it chose me.

Your voice is very wide-ranging. Did studying at the academy help develop it?

Actually, not so many years ago, I didn't have such a wide range. I always sang in classical choirs and had classical training, so I had a very high-tuned soprano voice. I was working every day in the musical academy in Oslo to get a deeper voice, in the end I gave up. I accepted that I didn't have a very deep voice! I was really sad about that because I was singing jazz and rock and you've got to have a deeper voice.

But with the years, the deeper voice suddenly came and it became wider and wider. And in my own music I'm exploring more and more using the whole range of the voice, and before Featherbrain I had never sung loud before so I wanted to be braver with my voice.

Yes, I especially get that sense of exploration with your voice live. It's easier to do because then you're more in touch with the music there and then. When I need to make an album I have to explore how can I recreate this.

How did you come up with the title of the album?

English-speaking people are so curious about this. I thought that it was a very English expression (laughs)! I was reading a dictionary or a book, I read that word and I thought the words represented exactly what I'm doing right now. It describes the brain as very chaotic or thinking many thoughts at the same time which describes the album.

What was it like composing the songs in New York? How did it contribute to the sound?

I always go away when I compose. I recorded sounds from the streets, in the backyard, different sounds that I brought to Oslo and produced to get the sounds I wanted. It was very nice staying in New York but it's a very big city and for me it's not very inspiring, it's more inspiring being in Norway or someplace where you feel the nature or the elements. But I've got a lot of friends and so it was very practical.

Did you record anything-else?

I often record things around me in the room I'm sitting in, like glasses or cutlery, or the table or just something that's different from the musicians you would normally use. I wanted to have a certain energy in my sound from the rhythm or sound, I wanted to not have just a piano there. And my producer Kare [Vestrheim] he was one that helped me make the sound very special.

What was the recording process for this album like? Was it a very long process?

I had a baby while I was recording this album so that's the reason why it took so long. So it was really nice, but I had to give birth and do two things at the same time. But everything went very well because I had a certain time for thinking. It was very slowly made record. I like that, I'm a slow worker and I need some time.

You've worked with producer Kare Vestrheim since the first album. What do like about working with him and how did you meet?

We got to know each-other in my studies. He's a piano-player and he was supposed to my singing accompanist. But I never showed up actually, and he called and he said, "Well I'm getting paid for working with you, and we're not doing anything". So I told him what I really wanted to do, and he said, "We can use my studio, because I'm getting the money anyway". And then we found out that we really wanted to make a record together and we worked really well together. He's a very playful guy, he's very good with compliments and he makes you very aware of what is not working, things I've got that I can use more. It was fun to work together, you couldn't ask for more.

How did you find the musicians who work with you on Featherbrain? How did the collaboration with Erik Vister come about (who sings on 'Erik')?

First of all, Erik is the grandfather of a musician friend of a mine and he's a really nice, warm guy. And when we talked he would often say laughing, "We should work together!" And many years ago we were playing for hours together, and I thought I really want to make that happen again. And I mentioned it to Kare and he said, "Why don't you just call him?" And he didn't have a mobile. I had to find his house number, and he didn't hear too well and I was quite nervous.

But I did it and I understood it was a bit of a hassle for him because he's 88-years-old, and he's not feeling too well. But he really wanted to do it, so he came to our studio and he rehearsed a little and did really well, he's a classically trained singer, used to singing in the Oslo Philharmonic Choir. He didn't do too many takes and he's a really good singer. I am very glad he did it, and now afterwards he is so happy he's finally recorded something.

And I wanted my dad to use the church organ, as it is a very powerful instrument and it has a special atmosphere. And the guitar player Ivar Grydeland, I've known since I was 12 or 13, and he was a friend of my brother and we also played in a band for a long time. So he was a natural choice. Also Mai Elise Solberg was also in my band, so that was also a natural choice.

Did it make a big difference working with them live as well?

Yes, it's really nice we work on everything together. When you're recording, it's a very different energy and you're often making music for yourself. It's really important to me to be grounded and to learn something from others.

Your lyrics are often quite poetical and elliptical is this very deliberate?

Yes, it's important that people can experience them in another way than I. It's not automatic. I'm often inspired by what I'm reading, poetry I've been given by a friend or something I've read in a magazine or newspaper. I remember words more than the actual authors. I like the shape or feeling of a word, and how you can put them together and give them a new meaning. I really admire people who write long poems, or journalism. Because it's really good for me to write short pieces, every word can mean so much to me and I always want to write the best way possible.

Your sound has evolved a lot and your music is quite a combination of styles. Are you always seeking to do something different? How has your background influenced you?

Yeah, it's important for me to develop all the time and not get too comfortable. That's something I tell myself all the time. I want to move out of my normal state. I do similar things in different ways sometimes but I always look forward. It's actually a bit of a fault of mine that I never look back. When I've done something I think I've done everything I needed to do. So it's not difficult for me to do something different, and I always try to be in the moment if possible.

After my studies, and the different bands and music scene, it was inevitable I picked different things up. And at the academy, the teachers were very open to experimentation and polyphonics, and I was very inspired by that to never put any agreement in my music, to do as much as possible, and to explore music in different fields that I had never tried. I always tried to make my voice stronger by singing in different genres like the metal doom band Funeral and the rock bands I was in.

There's something very primal and cathartic in Featherbrain. Did you find it cathartic making this album?

I think that I always wanted to make something bigger. I made the record I wanted to make and I'm very happy about that and I did it better than I think I did it before. So I felt more true to myself this time. I sung with the voice that I've actually got, I'm not doing classical singing anymore. It was the first time that I really felt I was able to really bring something out and stop thinking about the classical singing technique. So that was a real release and a bit more raw.

Are there any type of projects you would most like to work on still or any artists you'd love to work with?

There's a lot of artists. My dream is to be support band for Radiohead (laughs), everyone laughs! And I really love the work of Nigel Godrich. I also really like James Blake. I also like doing music for films, I have done some short films in Norway. I would like to do films for other artists.

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