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Kings of Convenience
an interview with Erlend Oye by James Hindle / pictures by Ben Graville

Kings of Convenience by Ben GravilleIt has been quite a year for the two young chaps who call themselves the Kings of Convenience; their journey from relative obscurity to top 40 'stars' being one of the more reassuring and satisfying rags-to-riches tales in recent years. Just when we're thinking young European muso types listened to and regurgitated nothing but Jeff Buckley, along comes the unassuming and subtly brilliant debut album, Quiet is the New Loud - two guitars, two voices and a truckload of beautiful tunes.

Hailing from Norway, the two unlikely, affable guys in question, Erlend Oye and Eirik Glambek resemble the duos of the early sixties - Chad and Jeremy, and especially Peter and Gordon. Having cut their teeth in dodgy indie bands in London in the mid nineties (the highlight of which being a split single with Stereolab for Erlend's combo), they retreated back to Norway where they swapped fuzz for pluck and proceeded to write what was to become their first two EPs, released in Norway on the tiny Elk label. Following a brief relationship with US label Kindercore, which saw the release of their self titled EP compilation (featuring by then 3 EPs), they were considering signing with Damon Gough and Andy Votel's Twisted Nerve label. Though their sojourn to Manchester proved to be somewhat of a dead end, it gave them more quality time and freedom to write. The fruits of which saw them finally inking a worldwide deal with hip French label source.

We met up with a sleepy Erlend at their recent Sunday matinee show at the Soho Curzon to find out to chat about their unusual choice of cover version, Athens GA and how two guys from Norway ended up creating 2001's first classic album. We started off talking about the lack of scene in London.

London...always seemed to me the place to go. I'd read the NME and several other English publications and it seemed like everything was happening here but it's also a city that's really let me down because you believe it's going to be fantastic. But it's really hard to find - where is the scene? Where are all the people that make this music that I like? It's impossible, it takes ages.

It's too big. Somewhere like Bergen or Leeds, there are enough people doing similar things - you end up knowing everyone.
That was my experience when I moved to Manchester. It was so different; you so quickly got to know everyone. And people were so interested - 'oh, someone new?' [Whereas] here it's like 'yawn, another new person.'

How do you find other aspects of the cities London, Bergen...other than music?
The thing [is] - England, compared to Norway, becomes [in terms of] quality of life, like, I don't know, Manchester United versus Hull. In Norway the air is great, the water is great, food is great, people work less, houses are really warm [laughs] even without heating because they are insulated. There are all these things that make life a very nice affair. Here it's like, you get something else; you get the music and you get the chance to get somewhere, which is why I am here, but you really struggle to be comfortable.

That presumably is what the song English House is about.
I lived for six weeks in Hornsey Lane, Highgate, Archway. One of those houses where you have central heating that is put on between 8 and 9, and 6 for the evening. So, if you don't have a day job, you're gonna freeze [laughs].

Do you think it's important to have an understanding of British attitudes and sense of humour?
Well, yeah. I mean, I've got to say that when I first came here; you think you're bringing something that's gonna get you a record deal and get [records] released, but looking back; I've learned English, been inspired by things and also things to sing about. To make English lyrics you have to live in an English country.

Have you written in your native tongue?
I used to. But it's very limiting because it's not a great tradition; it's a very naff tradition in Norway, to sing in Norwegian. You have to strive too much to make it happen.

So, how did two guys from Norway end up putting out records for hip US indie labels like Kindercore?
I went to Bowlie [Weekender] and on the train down I met this American girl, and we hung out the whole festival and we fell in love. I saw Ladybug Transistor there and then I went to see her in New York and she introduced me to her friends at Kindercore. And we went to this great Ladybug Transistor party in Brooklyn and I [laughs] managed to go down to their basement and start a jam - they don't really jam, they're a bit stiff - ...I went up to rejoin the party and, three hours later, I went down and they were still going. And that's how I met the people at Kindercore and I gave them the few demos we had. At that time we were going to sign with Twisted Nerve records and that's why we [went] to Manchester, to make that happen. Eventually I realised that Twisted Nerve sounds better than it really is. It's Badly Drawn Boy and Andy Votel's label and when do you think they have time to do their label? I realised it was just going to get worse, they weren't able to give us time. A worldwide deal with Twisted Nerve? ...So we went with Kindercore, a one album deal for America.

I presume there's no bad feeling with Twisted Nerve as your new single features a Badly Drawn Boy cover and the previous one featured an Andy Votel remix.
Yes, of course. I think they realised it was quite sensible

Are you still with Kindercore in the US?
No, but I still talk with them a lot. I keep trying to get time to go to Athens to hang out. That is just really the [place] - I just want to say that if you are eighteen or nineteen and making music and you live in a shit town where nothing happens - move to Athens, Georgia. People move there for that reason, to meet other people and make music. There are no stockbrokers there.

The choice of covers you do - that Aha song is everyone's favourite. Did you do it straight, or with irony? Do you really like the song?
Oh yeah, I really like the song. I always thought it had a really beautiful part but it's got that rock bit, so it deserved to have a quiet version. That's the whole idea of our covers, to take a very produced song and show that, no matter what the production, this song would have shone anyway. Same thing with Once Around The Block, it's a very produced song. And fine, I can really see Damon's ambition since he'd done so many lo-fi things.

And is Tom Petty's Freefallin' the next one? And have you learned the rest of the lyrics now?
Yes, we're on to the second verse now. We're getting there.

That was a great show with Low, when I first heard that. Even with the crowd, which, I think, was your biggest audience up to that point, you seemed amazingly relaxed.
You know, it's - weird doing music where we're just being ourselves. We don't have a stage thing - we just do what's natural for us and we take the time we need between songs and we talk. We've played these songs for a long time and as long as we see people are actually listening. Two years ago when we hadn't released an album was much worse. People were like - 'shall I give this band my attention?' I'll give them five minutes and we don't have that anymore. People have decided they like the record, maybe - that's what we think anyway, and they just want to see us live - there's nothing to be nervous about.

This is an unusual choice of gig and venue - was it your choice to play a cinema?
Originally the cinema thing was our idea but we don't do it anymore because we don't need to. It's something you need to do before you are known, people come to see the film anyway - 'oh, we might as well watch the band.' But it was the Curzon people who thought it would be a good thing to do, as a double feature thing. It's a great place. What I don't like about doing the cinema thing is that we play and then people see a movie - you get people in a mood and then they're thrown out of it. I think that what I really hope to achieve with our band is to play a one and a half hour set with piano and we tell all the stories about what's happened in our last week and just make people relax, y'know? You're there watching a band and - it used to be a very normal thing - people go to see entertainment, not just one thing. I would like people not to leave. That - s another thing with England is that people always leave because the venue closes. I'd love to play somewhere where you do the gig and there's an area where you can just move on and have drinks. Not loud music, just keep the mood. I think we create a mood that's far away from the alienation a city can give you - a sophisticated feeling of togetherness. Like people who go to a football stadium and yell and scream and have a sense of togetherness because they hate the other team.

As with all bands you draw comparisons to others. Which of those artists you've been compared to do you approve of?
I really approve of that 'Nick Drake meets Stereolab' - that's my favourite. That is the nature of music journalism and two poor guys from Bulgaria in a years time will be called 'the new Kings of Convenience.'

What about this horrible New Acoustic Movement that the NME has been harping on about? You seem the be the only acoustic band involved in the 'scene'
I'm actually quite happy about that whole thing, apart from the name which is really bad and, of course, they stole our slogan - because it's actually vaguely eloquent ...But what I do think is an interesting thing is that Badly Drawn Boy, I Am Kloot, us, are very songwriting based. I am particularly fond of I Am Kloot, not just fond - they are the band who are closest to doing what we are doing. They have drums and bass and stuff and they're from Manchester and they come from a completely different life and you can hear it. They're a trashy version of Kings of Convenience. The song is over; there is no solo, the song ends. It's the same thing; the instruments are the vehicle of the song. It's the anti-genre thing.

CWAS #8 - Summer 2001