The startling timbre and ethereal brooding tones of Norway’s Moddi, have had a profound effect upon myself, and Bill. His new 4-track EP taster, ‘Rubbles’, is an evocative suite of Nico-esque intensity and Scandinavian landscape folk symphonies; sang by a sensitive and majestic soul.
The 23-year old poetic songwriter, Pâl ‘Moddi’ Knutsen, hails from the furthest reaches of the picturesque northern Norwegian coastline, on the island of Senja.
His first songs came to life, as he says, in the school dormitory’s showers, “the only place I could hide away after everyone else had gone to sleep”. At the age of 18, he dusted off his mother’s dormant and forgotten accordion, stole a Russian Mandolin and performed his first ever gig. By 2006 he was invited to record a demo at a friends home studio; this first recording was limited to a 20 copy run, but managed to attract a lot of local attention, ending up on the radio and courting invitations to play live at the by:Larm festival in Oslo.
In 2008 a split 12” vinyl record with fellow compatriot Einar Stray was released, and Moddi moved to the capital, Oslo, to begin work on an album. After spending most of the following year on writing songs for his debut LP, the Icelandic producer Valgeir Sigurdsson (Björk, CocoRosie, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), invited him to his Reykjavik Greenhouse studios to record, what would be, the critically acclaimed ‘Floriography’ – this album is set to be officially released in the UK, sometime in the Spring of next year.
Up until recently, Moddi has remained confined to his native shores – one of Norway’s best-kept secrets. But with the recent applauded ‘Rubbles’ EP, his first release outside Scandinavia, it looks like his cover is about to be blown.
I caught up with the modest and unassuming bard in the middle of his European and British tour.
Can I just begin by thanking you for taking the time out from your tour to speak to us at GIITTV.
How has the tour been received, and are you enjoying being out on the road?
This tour has made me realise that we’re never actually been on a real tour – so far, I can’t do anything but love it. Waking up in a new city every morning, playing in front of an audience that is surprised and amazed to meet us every day, is nothing but a dream coming true.
Angus, Julia and their crew are great, too. I’m enjoying every second, and I‘m starting to feel at home on the road. It’s always a little sad leaving a city, but it feels good knowing that we will probably be back one day.
Your music has a pretty fragile and stirring atmospheric sound, do you prefer to play live in more intimate surroundings?
I started writing songs as lullabies to my friends, so my music is really made to be played live. I enjoy both the one-to-one communication you can get from intimate settings, and the huge sound we can make when we playing bigger stages. As long as I’m standing in front of an audience I feel connected to, the number of listening ears doesn’t really matter.
The audience also has to take part to create the perfect atmosphere, and it’s a magical feeling when many people are doing that all together.
How do you cope with transferring your intense sound to a live setting?
The challenge is actually the opposite; to try to catch the live experience and transfer it into a piece of metal or digits that can be felt through you headphones. When we recorded the album, we turned to live recordings more than often, as a reference. As I said, my music is originally written to be performed, and I feel it is still alive because it gets played live.
With your recently released EP, ‘Rubbles’, you get the feeling that the Norwegian landscape, in which you grew up, plays a most important and integral role in your work. Is this a fair assessment?
I often get that question. My main influence is, naturally, the things
I see around me, but that is not so much the nature as the people in it. The village I grew up in, 120 people, quite and far away from the large cities has certainly influenced the way I write – alone, and diary-like. A landscape wouldn’t be anything without an eye watching it, and when the sun sets for the Dark Age, there are many things happening around you that are more interesting than the mere geographical. Does that make sense?
You care deeply about the environment; didn’t you turn down a nomination for a $100,000 musical scholarship, because the StatOil Company sponsored it?
I did, and I still stand by my choice. If my songs were something that could be bought, adjusted and censored by whoever could offer enough money for it, I’d rather do something completely different with my life.
Returning to your EP, the ‘Rubbles’ and ‘Moonchild’ songs have a haunted hint of the German siren Nico about them; are you a fan of hers?
I haven’t listened any to her, but as more and more people are referring to her in reviews around the world, I should soon give her a try, shouldn’t I?
Where or who do you draw your influences and inspirations from?
For quite a long time, I wasn’t ready to dedicate my time to just music, as my life was filled with politics – especially environmentalism – youth culture, maths, and physics. I think all those things are still with me, only through the music I make.
I read that you often write your songs in the middle of the night, is this just down to insomnia! Or do you generally find something about this late hour that appeals to you creatively?
The answer is quite simple: It’s the only time of the day when I am given enough time, space and undisturbed moments to keep a thought as long as I need to, in order to make it into the music.
I’m easily disturbed, and loose my concentration quite swiftly. To be honest, I have a terrific sleeping heart, pleading me to go to bed as soon as the clock strikes midnight. Keeping awake all through the small hours is a challenge, in other words, but a rewarding one.
Your debut album ‘Floriography’ was released in Norway, earlier this year. You’ve said that the songs on this record, had been hanging around with you for 5-years. Why did it take so long for you to get around to recording them? Did you set out with a specific concept or idea for the sound on the album?
I put a lot of time and energy into making the lyrics, the melodies and the arrangements the way I want them, and cannot stand the thought of having done something halfway. I realised I didn’t know a thing about recording, and wanted to do it all properly on first try. At the same time, I knew I’d have a handful of songs that would stand the test of time. Looking back, not rushing it was probably one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.
You recorded them with the Icelandic producer Valgeir Sigurdsson at his Greenhouse studios. What was it like working with him and how did you initially meet?
Phew! It was a damn challenge, I tell you! To record what felt like a lifetime of songwriting in the course of fourteen days was pretty destabilising for even a well-prepared mind.
Valgeir initially invited us over to Iceland after having heard a bedroom demo of one of my songs from 2006. After the two weeks in Iceland, I spent nearly three months of thinking, rewriting and adding things to the songs before I felt the album was ready for the world. I’m happy I took the time, and I hope I will be able to put as much pride in the next recording as well.
Apart from your album ‘Floriography’, which is being released outside Norway in the New Year. What else can we expect to hear from you in the 2011, any new material?
Since we released the album, life has been a constant series of concerts, more that a hundred so far this year, and I’m a slow and lonesome writer. Some melodies and ideas are buzzing in my head, though, and I know from experience that I don’t realise what I’ve been making before its already there.
We’re already touring with some new material, but I know I won’t push it. The world is so filled up with unnecessary sound; I feel I’m doing both it and myself a favour by not releasing anything that doesn’t offer something new.
Have you any plans to re-visit the UK?
On the few concerts we’ve had in England so far, I have met a very passionate and intense audience. The feedback we got at End of the
Road Festival was just overwhelming. If that is a good measure on the overall audience in the UK, there’s nothing I’d rather do than come back here and share what I do.