Imagine Norway’s breathtakingly fjords, magical mountains, and dramatic waterfalls, and add Highasakite’s ‘arctic’ world music-tinged sound as a backdrop. That would surely make up for a soulful experience.
With a sonic identity fusing electronic landscapes and high-impact cinematic percussions, they’ve created a trademark sound that has drawn accolades on home turf and resulted in high positions on the Norwegian album charts. In February, they released their fifth album Mother, an all-electronic album with a surprising tinge of dancefloor-ready tunes. How it was received? The album claimed third place on the album charts.
However, like most bands the last years, recording an album in hard lockdown wasn’t easy. Being in isolation with no creative input and left to their own imagination, they started a meticulously detailed process to write Mother and spent almost a full year working on the album. And yet again they surprised their audience with a bit of a new sound.
When Highasakite popped by Gothenburg for a gig at Pustervik, we sat down with Ingrid and Trond and chat about the meticulous work with Mother, being too experienced to feel the pressure of previous records, and having a new and efficient touring strategy.
An experimental sound
It must feel great to be able to tour and play shows again after being in lockdown for almost two years. You have always been a touring band and must have missed tour life.
You can’t say no to that. It’s great to be back to some sort of normal touring life again, especially as we’ve done it this time and started in Europe and ending it all on home turf in Norway. But it’s still a bit tricky, people must learn to come out for shows again and stop being afraid of hanging out in a crowd. We’ve had that problem wherever we play and haven’t always sold-out shows at venues we usually sell out quite quickly.
But it’s not only about being worried about covid, the pandemic has also taught people that shows may be canceled with short notice, and you don’t want to buy a ticket that you may not be able to use. We had some really disappointed fans in Germany after having to cancel our tour there earlier this year. And we get it, you may not live close to the venue and have booked hotel rooms and all that sort of things – and then the show is canceled. What we need is a long period without a pandemic to convince people that planned shows will happen.
But being back on stage is just awesome, especially to interact with fans and to see that people still remember us. When we did the Uranium Heart tour in 2019 we just took it for granted that people would turn up at our shows, but you can’t do that anymore after two years in almost complete lockdown.
The first time I ever listened to Highasakite I could hear some references to Bel Canto, the Norwegian band that drew accolades at the beginning of the 90s. They combined Scandinavian folk music – music media even called it arctic music – and electronic music, and at times I get a similar feeling when I listen to your music. How much do you build on the back of the folk music tradition?
We haven’t listened that much on Bel Canto ourselves but we’ve heard that type of reference before, and maybe we have a similar audience. You know, the type of fans that come out for our shows because they have a genuine interest in the craft of music.
Just like Bel Canto, we love to use unusual instruments for being – as many fans see us – an electronic act. It’s exciting to go beyond the ordinary setup of rock/pop instruments and incorporate the unusual, and we have used, among many things, Indian harmoniums, Hardanger fiddles, and steel drums. All that combined create a completely different sound than you’ll get from radio pop music, maybe something similar to world music. Much of it is probably grounded in our music studies. We learned to experiment with sounds during our jazz studies and it is natural for us to continue doing it on our albums.
What you may not know is that we draw on lots of inspiration from Wildbirds & Peacedrums. Aren’t they from Gothenburg [Messed!Up Gbg didn’t know despite its Gothenburg roots]? We have a similar setup, both being two-pieces with one drummer and a second member playing lots of different instruments. We just loved their performances from the first time we were at a show, especially how they could create that massive sound from only being a two-piece. That’s inspiring.
“Our vision was to create a pure electronic record”
At the beginning of February, Highasakite’s fifth album Mother turned up in record stores across the world. After three straight smash hit albums – Silent Treatment, Camp Echo and Uranium Heart – and being awarded a Norwegian Grammy, plus several nominations, and ending up high on the charts in Norway, it may be a maddeningly difficult task to release the next album. However, while many bands fear their ability to replicate or surpass the success of previous albums, the band have their own recipe for continuous success: always make sure that the sound progress in a new direction.
Mother probably contains the most electronic and club-friendly songs that have left Highasakite’s studio, but it was by purpose. It was time for an all-electronic album to mark ten years of record releases.
Your latest album Mother was released in February almost exactly three years after Uranium Heart and with perfect timing – the live scene opened up at the same time. But what impression did the pandemic have on the album? I guess it hasn’t been easy to work on the album due to restrictions, especially in Norway where you’ve been in hard lockdown compared to other Scandinavian countries.
Yeah, February releases are our thing [note: four out of five albums have been released in February] just to be able to do a spring tour and then plan for the festival season. Let’s say it’s a sort of strategy, shall we (laugh).
The first part of the recording process wasn’t easy at all. Norway was in a hard lockdown, and we didn’t meet in the studio at all just to keep a distance from other people and to avoid getting infected. But after a few months, the overall situation improved a lot and we started to write and record songs. Fortunately, we have our own studio and don’t need to worry about having too many people running around there, it’s just us.
But we rather see it as we have benefited from the lockdown because we finally had a chance to spend time to reflect on our music and to work on the detail when we wrote Mother. It was good for us to have time to only work on the album and not have to practice for gigs.
What about the lack of creative input? Usually, you meet up with other artists or watch gigs to find inspiration but this time you have been isolated and in lockdown.
It opened up for us to use our imagination in ways we haven’t allowed before, but not always for the better. You know, you’re completely isolated from the world outside and you start to imagine how awesome your new album is although you don’t have any chance to try out new songs in front of a live audience and get feedback as you usually do, just using your imagination and think “Wow, this is gonna be the most awesome album ever” (laugh). You’re stuck in your own bubble without feedback, and that creates a huge risk if people won’t like it when it’s released. Anyhow, it didn’t happen, it has worked out quite well again, but in our imagination, it was doing way better (laugh).
Mother is a bit more electronic than usual and has a few club pieces on it, like “Autopsy”. Are you moving away from – what you said earlier – the world music sound towards the club floor?
Our vision was to create an all-electronic record this time. But don’t forget our EPs, Bare Romantics 1 and 2, which were released in 2019 and 2020 while we started working on the album. Those EPs have an acoustic sound and lots of these odd instruments we talked about, like the Hardanger fiddle. We just love to go back and forth on a scale between acoustic and electronic music.
But the EPs were more about the creative process and recording whatever turned up when we were in the studio, and that made the sound of the EPs more organic. Mother was a lot about the production process and meticulously working on the details and lots of programming sounds, almost a bit too much. Usually, we go into the studio, record the songs, and that’s it. This time we spent almost a year working on the details of every song because we had lots of time.
We don’t want to become an all-electronic act though; Mother is probably how far we want to go in an electronic direction.
Mother is your fifth album and considering the success of your previous albums, it may be harder to release new albums, at least the latest album will be scrutinized on the back of previous releases. Does it get tougher for every new album?
Yeah, in many interviews recently we have talked about our first and second album and how we evolved over time because we have been around for quite a while by now and never had a break or anything. And we’re proud of it because we have proved to ourselves and the world that we are established, especially in Norway where we have been high up the charts with all our albums.
Like all bands we also want the next album to feel fresh and new with our imprint on it, but Mother may not be what fans would’ve expected. But that’s what makes it all exciting. People don’t know what to expect from us, but by now they know it will be something good coming out of the studio. We’re not saying it to be cocky, it’s just how our fans have responded to every album we have released, and we’re super happy about it. It takes a lot of work to find a bit of a new sound; we could have done it the AC/DC way and released ten similar albums instead (laugh), but it would be boring. It’s really worth the effort when you see the response from fans and music media.
But our goal for releasing music is simple: we want people to come out for our shows. Luckily, we haven’t released a completely crappy record yet and people keep coming out to see us live (laugh).
But you’ve had quite a success in Norway, already from your first album, and maybe you don’t need to worry about losing fans or how media would receive your next album. I mean, Silent Treatment and Camp Echo ended up at number one on the charts, Uranium Heart caught the fourth position and Mother reached the third place on the charts, and on top of that, you won Spellemanprisen [Norwegian Grammy] and have been nominated several times. Does all this enormous success come with pressure when you work on a new album?
No, at least not anymore. There was a lot of pressure when we released our third album, Camp Echo, but when you release your fifth album you have so much experience that you know it will work out. It doesn’t matter if we get Spellemanprisen or not, people come out to watch us play anyway and that’s what matters.
Sure, there’s doubt at times, like “We’re old now, do we sound like an old band?” (laugh). But then you play the new songs for friends and your management and get this awesome response, and you know it will work out this time as well.
After several number ones on the chart and lots of success in Norway, what’s the next step for you? You have quite a fanbase in Scandinavia and it seems like you’re doing well in the UK as well.
We do have a plan (laugh). We know we don’t make music that ends up on radio that often and it makes us dependent on touring to get our music out there, but we love to play live so it’s not really a problem. England has been great for us because we’ve been there quite much, but the next step is to pinpoint places where we have lots of listeners to make touring more efficient.
Don’t get me wrong, it was great to play across the world in 2013 and 2014 when we toured in Australia and the US, but it didn’t really help us to reach out as much as we wanted. Above all, it’s expensive to do that type of tour, and we need to spend lots of time away from home. When you consider that, it’s better for us to tour places where we already have lots of fans, like in Scandinavia, the UK and Germany, and maybe Australia because it works out quite well down there. That’s good enough for us.
We would love to squeeze into the German scene and were about to do an attempt before the pandemic arrived. There was a tour planned but we had to cancel it, and then cancel it again this spring because Germany was still in lockdown when most of Europe had opened up. But that’s our next step.
But you have a few festivals and gigs coming up already this summer and can start on your plan?
Yeah, we’ll play as much as we can and will do something completely different from what people are used to. If you wait, you’ll see (laugh).
It has been quite hard to get festival gigs this summer because all festival slots are booked since 2020 and it means that there are no slots left for bands that release albums in 2022. At least there are no headliner slots left, they’re booked since 2020, and we really want to have a few of those. But at least we can play live again, that’s just awesome.