Prolific when it comes to songwriting, Halden Electric has released not one but two albums in the form of ‘Women’.
Serendipity can be a wonderful thing, especially when it came to a chance meeting with the music of Halden Electric one autumnal night in the centre of Oslo. Having no knowledge of this Norwegian artist beforehand, the self-penned songs spilling forth during a supporting role alongside Peter Bruntnell (UK) and Tommy Womack (USA) as part of the Triple Troubadours Tour commanded much attention from the off, not only due to the striking vocal delivery but also the personal nature of the lyrics daubed with much heartache. There was simply no question of not throwing the FLW hat into the ring to give ourselves a fighting chance of Q&A session with this undoubted talent otherwise known as Anders Svendsen.
Listening to third album the double offering that is ‘Women’, Halden Electric appears to have undergone a severe bout of heartache and suffering to rival the unrequited outpourings from recently reformed ‘Specials frontman Terry Hall. Surely though, the experiences of grief and suffering found between the covers of this quite magnificent album are not simply deriving from one source considering its mammoth entirety of twenty tracks? There is only one answer to this question and that is to ask the man responsible for such tales of heartbreak himself, Halden Electric.
“I would’ve had a pretty miserable life if my state of being is this record, then I’d be a miserable s**!” laughs Halden Electric loudly. “It’s easier to put down the darker stories and the darker emotions than to sing about a Monday morning and feeling like sunshine. I don’t want to listen to that because that’s boring as hell! I am aware that a lot of people will think this [album] is all about me, and I’m really open to that because if I said no to such a question, then I would be taking something away from the listener. For example, I believe that ‘Blood On The Tracks’ is about Bob Dylan and his divorce. He can deny that as much as he wants, but I would still say it’s about Dylan’s divorce. Therefore, if I said it’s [‘Women’] all fictitious, then I would be lying and I don’t think people need that picture. So it’s about me or at least I am the one telling the story as it still goes through me as I need to digest a story and put words to it before it becomes a song.”
Does it worry you, however, that some people might perceive you as a very lonely or perhaps bitter individual considering the emotions expressed in these songs?
“Not really, as I have many friends who know me outside of these songs,” replies Halden without hesitation. “I’m quite confident in that because I’m not like that all the time. It’s a performance and an act as it’s a story that you want to hear, but you want to step outside of it after you have listened to it. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but that’s why I would call it art rather than entertainment as you have to dare to dive in to this record and listen to it and try to go along with the emotions of these songs, knowing that you can turn it off and step outside. I think it takes a bit from the listener, and I like that, as it challenges the listener in a way.”
Sitting in a café somewhere on the outskirts of town, Halden Electric does not give the impression of a broken individual who has just come straight from a lonely bedsit and carrying the weight of the recently released ‘Women’ on his shoulders. It is quite the opposite in fact, as the mood is quite jovial with occasional critical stabs at his work revealing a dry sense of humour. Such a condition was no doubt required when setting out the task of writing and recording a double album due to the amount of work involved. More intriguingly, however, was the decision to write and record ‘Women’ as a double album due to such a format being a rare commodity in the present climate of the music industry.
“It’s easy to say that it became just like that, but actually we did finish the first album as it is now, the A-side so to speak, during October last year,” explains Halden. “The record company was also ready to release it, and they were asking for a release date. I told them to pick a date as my job was done in a way [recording], and I was happy to go along with whatever they decided. I knew then that it was going to be called ‘Women’ and March 8th was considered an appropriate date to release an album about women. Unfortunately, we didn’t make that date and decided to reschedule for May or June, but by then we had already started recording new songs. So the record company executive took note of the new recordings and I felt he was open to more [new ideas] in terms of where this album was going to take us.”
FLW presumes the newer recordings were the fuller sounding versions found on side two of ‘Women’?
“We started out wanting to make an acoustic album but then, after having done that on and off for about a year, I felt that I really wanted to play electric,” says Halden after completing the first side of ‘Women’. “So it was quite obvious to me after making the more quiet acoustic stuff that I really wanted to make some noise. I had all the songs [ready], and we had recorded a few more, so the amount of songs was never the problem, it was just getting the right people together in order to start playing.”
‘Women’ truly is an album of two halves when it comes to defining its sound. The first instalment is predominantly acoustic based and best experienced by the fragile introduction of ‘Loving Coming To Life’ before pursuing a path that only leads to further misfortunes, despite the musicianship trying its hardest to lift the mood with steel strings (‘Everything You Love’) and more experimental forays with a cappella vocals and samples (‘Light Your Lantern’ and ‘I Don’t Think It’s Funny’). Side two, however, reveals a more aggressive approach with amps nearly set to max during the White Stripes influenced ‘No More Love’ or severely tetchy ‘How Much Attention’, but there is also room for quieter reflection with ‘I Don’t Want To’ that reveals great affection for Neil Young.
By taking on the mantle of writing and recording an album consisting of twenty tracks, such a decision was an extremely bold one for various different reasons whether it is choice of songs to include or exclude or working practices in order to achieve the desired results.
“The second part of the album was quite easy whereas the first was quite difficult,” admits Halden after some considerable thought. “We recorded that [second album] over five days, as it was started on one day and then four days later we were done as it was all recorded live. Most of the acoustic album is also recorded live, but we did experiment a lot more around that because we play most of the instruments ourselves such as the violin, cello, acoustic guitar and the piano. We had to overdub and try some new arrangements, which meant more time was used. For example, ‘Light Your Lantern’ we tried with piano, acoustic guitar, some string arrangements and even a church organ. Therefore, we were experimenting all the time with these different takes of the different songs.”
With the recording of the album mirroring the equivalent timescale often prevalent during the 80s, when it was not uncommon for bands to hibernate for roughly two years at a time in the recording studio before releasing their wares on the public, Halden Electric is the first to admit that such a time duration was a tad too long as song ideas started to become muddled.
“It was quite confusing at times in terms of what we were doing and recording because it’s not that we wanted to make something specifically acoustic,” Halden explains. “However, looking back at it, it’s easy to say here’s a collection of acoustic songs and a collection of electric songs, but at the time it’s not possible to think like that as you don’t have that oversight in terms of how it’s going to be. I think that’s what I like about it, as it was evolving all the time. So it’s good that I have this bag that I can pick songs out of when it comes to variation.”
Judging by the amount of tracks recorded in relation to ‘Women’, the very notion of writer’s block is definitely an alien concept when it comes to Halden Electric and his music. Having received his first guitar at the tender age of fifteen, the writing process also commenced during this period and has shown no signs of fatigue; hence why this songsmith has such strength in depth when it comes to choice of material due to a seemingly bottomless pit of songs to choose from.
“My problem is that I have too many [songs]!” comments Halden. “I still have approximately 250 songs that I haven’t used yet because I have written so much and recorded so much when it comes to demos. When we recorded both albums [‘Women’], we did try at least five or six songs for the acoustic album that we recorded but decided to take out as they didn’t really fit in terms of what we were saying. I had a pile of papers with lyrics and chords and the other guys listened to it and passed judgement on them. I started out with maybe thirty songs for the acoustic album but they [band members] know that they can ask for another song because we have played together for a lot of years and that I’m fine with any criticism. Also, I like that process because if I do fall in love with one of my own songs, then I can bring it back to them half a year later when they have forgotten about it, and suddenly they love it,” he finishes letting his trade secret out of the bag.
Such an experience can also happen to a listener whereby she/he hears a song on the radio and initially not liking it only to hear the same track several months later and their opinion has changed about this song.
“It depends on so many different things,” acknowledges Halden. “There are some songs that I don’t want to give up on just because they [band] didn’t want to play it one afternoon for example. So I will take it back and maybe polish the edges a bit, but it is a privilege to get to try these songs and ask my bandmates if they like them, even if the answer is no [laughing].”
With the title of the album conjuring up a variety of different meanings, some of which could quite easily be misconstrued when listening to a number of the songs, would it be fair to refer to ‘Women’ as a concept album?
“Sometimes I really like the idea of a concept album, but at the same time it scares me as all I know about concept albums is that they are usually s****!” he comments laughing. “So I wouldn’t dare to call it a concept album, even though I have this album with just one word which is meaningful to a lot of people and can mean so many different things. Therefore, I’m not saying it’s called ‘Helsinki 1964’ as it’s not saying these particular stories are taking place in this period of time or whatever, as it’s not necessarily an explanation directly about women because it’s just as much about the kinds of guys some women might meet. I don’t know if that makes sense to somebody else, but to me it’s a 360 degrees look at men and women as I was thinking about naming it ‘Men and Women’ but that sounded too pretentious. Also, there is that Bukowski novel behind it, as I remember receiving a copy of the book when I was about twenty and loving the title as it can mean anything. So I had that idea for approximately fifteen years that I wanted to name an album ‘Women’.”
As mentioned previously, the very title of Halden Electric’s double album projects a plethora of meanings and one that can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Whether ‘Women’ can be viewed from a feminist perspective as somehow a vehicle to promote female independence or one in which the female protagonists at the centre of these songs are portrayed more as perpetrator rather than victim is open to debate. What remains clear, however, is that there is enough sadness at the core of this record to suggest that Halden Electric, in addition to a number of other characters, has been on the receiving end of a few failed relationships.
“I’m not calling this a divorce album like ‘Blood On The Tracks’, but had all of this happened over two weeks with the writing and recording, as opposed to two months, then I think it would have been cathartic,” comments Halden. “However, having spent two years recording it and with the songs being from different periods in my life over such a long time, then it doesn’t really have that function in a way as I see most of them [songs] as telling stories. So it hasn’t really had that cathartic function because it has been over such a long time and it has shaped itself rather than something I needed to get out of my system.”
At the bottom of such despair, however, remains a sense of courage as indicated by one song in particular ‘Trust Your Love’ because no matter how deep the despair there is a willingness to try once more. But there again, courage is something ‘Women’ is not bereft of as the choice of title alone is an audacious decision due to the many different connotations such a word can imply as suggested earlier.
“I was quite aware that it was a chance that I was taking,” reflects Halden before continuing, “especially with a couple of the songs, as I was quite aware that somebody might take this the wrong way. I think that’s where the whole album makes sense, however, as here you have one song with a certain meaning and then three songs later it’s total dedication in terms of being in love and dedicated to a woman. So that’s the whole story and why I love it being a double album with all these [different] emotions. I would be surprised if a woman approached me and said that she was offended by a song because I would explain that there are other examples that are dedicated and loving and passionate in all the right ways. Again, I’m relying on that 360 degrees angle because I’m not always good in terms of being noble at all times. For example, some of my friends have been in relationships where they have ended up hating their female partner. I can understand that and relate to it in terms of being disappointed and let down and having all these emotions. Usually, when someone writes a song, they step out of that moment and then they write the song, which makes it more beautiful in a way because they pulled back on what they would have said two weeks earlier. Therefore, I wanted a couple of songs that actually describes something along the lines of, ‘There’s a barroom in hell where you can go and dance’; in other words a nice way of telling somebody to go to hell but I wanted to keep that in there and not take it out because somebody might be offended.”
So you have not experienced any fans approaching you and confronting you about some of these songs?
“I can honestly say that I haven’t,” replies Halden. “I would say that they’ve [women] been more compassionate about the songs and the stories rather than feeling anger. Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody at some point will say that I’m not representing women in the right way, but I don’t know. I’m ready and prepared for it though. It is a daring thing in a way to say ‘Women’ [as a title for the album] but then again, I insist on not representing everything about [women] as it’s just a contribution to it. This is not the answer, not at all.”
As the conversation begins to drift towards the finer details of the album, FLW picks an opportune moment to point the lamp of interrogation in the direction of Halden Electric in order to determine whether there is a favourite song(s) among the rubble of broken relationships littered throughout ‘Women’.
“That’s interesting as I haven’t really thought about it,” he replies looking deep in thought regarding a favourite song(s) from ‘Women’. “I do know that I really like the last song ‘Trust Your Love’ because it is closer to me and has been all along. I like the message and the emotion and the intent of the song. I like that it is optimistic as well, and it’s willing and open. I think ‘Light Your Lantern’ is quite brave in a way, and I like that as well as the comfort it brings. I think maybe my reasons for saying that or feeling that might come from exhaustion in a way, as it’s quite exhausting to be as negative as a lot of the characters in these songs because it is more exhausting to be negative than to be optimistic. So that might be the reasons why I picked those two songs because they have a message that they want something else and they want something good.”
The exhaustion Halden Electric refers to is prevalent in such songs as ‘I Don’t Think It’s Funny’; a reflection of a time in his own life that was suggestive of a breakdown which, fortunately, a voyage overseas managed to rectify as he explains.
“It’s about having a hard time to smile or laugh and in that sense the song is very personal as there was a period of time where I felt like that because I found it hard to laugh and that’s not me. That was a sign that something was wrong and that I had to do something and take action. Therefore, writing that song might have been a big contribution in terms of taking the required action. There is this element of self-pity in the song because it’s saying that when you get faced to the wall you don’t go with just a half. I think it’s about somebody being in the middle of everywhere; not knowing where to go, not knowing where to turn or where the next step is going to be. When people listen to that song maybe they’ll think that I need to get away from this spot or move to some place away from here because the song is asking questions.”
Were you really fully aware of the fact that you weren’t smiling or very happy at this time in your life?
“Yes, I was, but at the same time I could smile a bit because I made a joke about it when I decided to take a train journey around the United States for three months. I took the money I had and jokingly told friends that I’m looking for the, ‘Searching For A Smile Tour 2011’. I realised that I needed to go back to basics in a way; meeting new people and hear new stories.”
Was your general unhappiness during this time related to a relationship?
“I think so because it was around the time of a seven-year relationship and it was a year after that the song became significant in my life. I’m not sure if it had everything to do with that though, as when I think about it, that first line – ‘It’s going to do me a lot of good to get away from myself’ – is also about the train ride around the States.”
With the general release of ‘Women’ firmly behind him, Halden Electric is already thinking about album number four. Hardly surprising when considering his hard work ethic, coupled with an ever reliable ‘bag’ of songs to fall back on, providing the one constant in his life that brings some form of emotional and creative release whether in relation to past or present episodes in his life or in relation to the lives of others, as there is simply no stopping this prolific songwriter and long may that reign.
“It’s not going to end [songwriting] and maybe that’s the good thing about not having the commercial success or anything like that, as I am just going to keep on doing what I am doing as it’s not for the money or the liquor because this is what I do.”
I'm not calling this a divorce album like 'Blood On The Tracks'..."
FLW - From the Tapes
Halden Electric was part of the recent Triple Troubadours Tour that found itself in Norway for a handful of dates.
“We had a blast!” says Halden excitedly at the memory of this tour. “Maybe it didn’t look like it when we played our songs,” he continues laughing, “but hopefully afterwards people could see that we were alive! It was a lot of fun and a really interesting way to perform by stepping inside the other two writer’s songs and try to contribute. Also, taking a trip to Trondheim [next leg of the tour] for six or seven hours in a car together, talking about music and sharing stories was also very important in terms of that social element. For example, being drunk together, that does a lot!”