In Harry’s Playground

Pushing the creative envelope once more, Hege Byrnildsen is poised to release a new album in a language that is mostly definitely not her own.

Never one to take the easy route when it comes to laying down the melodies residing inside her creative mind, Norwegian singer-songwriter Hege Brynildsen, after some initial struggle, decided to record her forthcoming second long player in, you guessed it, Swedish!  A bold move without any doubt but one, after hearing a select number of songs, that sounds most at ease with the often piano led and late-night tone of imminent second album ‘Till Harry’ to the point that the language is of no concern.

The fact that the language becomes of no concern is due to its similarities with Norwegian language, but also full credit must go to the Norwegian from Halden because it is the insightfulness of Hege Brynildsen when setting out the structure for ‘Till Harry’, coupled with a knack for writing strong melodies, that really grabs the headlines and rightfully so.

Reasons for this decision though, to sing an entire album in Swedish are varied when speaking to Hege Brynildsen, but the most obvious one was the fact that her melodies were most at home when given a Swedish outlook after several attempts writing in English that led to nothing but dead-ends.

Till Harry

“I started out writing the album in English, as I thought that I should do that,” explains Hege Brynildsen, “but the language didn’t work with the melodies. So I put the melodies to one side for a bit and decided to rest for a while. I thought that maybe I needed to read more English literature [laughing] as I didn’t know what to do. The melodies, however, came back and wouldn’t let me be, and when I started humming them again, I got this a-ha moment (Not that a-ha with this being Norway, FLW) and thought that these songs are Swedish! Therefore, I identify them as Swedish music – old Swedish music – and then I had to write them in Swedish, and that’s how it all came together.”

By writing an entire album that is not in her native language, let alone secondary language of English when it comes to Scandinavian artists, Hege Brynildsen’s decision to go to third base and select a near neighbour in terms of Swedish is definitely a brave decision, especially when you have a loyal following of supporters to think about. Therefore, it is wise at this juncture to establish whether Hege Brynildsen has any concerns that her forthcoming album could alienate a few people once the cat is out of the bag regarding its Swedish tendencies.

“Not me personally, but it depends…” Hege pauses for a moment before regrouping. “I think it will come down to how open people are to the new album with its Swedish lyrics, as for some people this might be seen as limiting and for others it’s not. So it has to be like it is, and people have to decide if they’re open or not, and that’s a free choice, and I think that’s ok. Of course, the album is in Swedish and therefore a lot of people in the United States, for example, won’t understand the lyrics, but then again there are a lot of people in the US who do understand Norwegian and Swedish as well, so I don’t know, we’ll see.”

Did you live in Sweden for a while considering your understanding of the Swedish language?

“No, but I do understand Swedish and I read a lot of Swedish fashion magazines,” explains Hege laughing. “I think one of the reasons is that Halden is very close to Sweden and I’ve been to Sweden a lot, especially with those ‘Harry’ shopping tours. So maybe that has something to do with it, but I don’t know for sure. Even though I understand Swedish, it’s very easy to make mistakes because Swedish is so close to the Norwegian language with a lot of the words being the same, as well as a lot not being the same. However, when I’m writing songs, the language comes with the melody, and then the melody decides which way I am going to go.”

Hege Brynildsen (37)

With a passion for languages providing a source of inspiration for Hege Brynildsen and her creative song writing talents, another source of inspiration came in the form of her since departed grandfather, Harry. By dedicating the title of her new album to his memory and one song in particular ‘Två Fåglar’, which is the current single in fact, it is safe to presume that Harry was a big influence on the life of Hege Byrnildsen as she explains.

“I guess I wanted to tell a story about my grandfather in terms of the person that he was. Harry was my hero as a child as he was Halden’s answer to Johnny Cash in my opinion. For example, he was tall, strong and spoke his mind. He was tough and honest and possessed a heart of gold. Kind to the kind, mean to the mean. He was very good at playing poker too. Also, he had a real love of vintage American cars as he drove Thunderbirds, Lincolns and Cadillac’s in Halden.”

The chosen moniker for Hege Brynildsen’s second album is also a cultural reference and one that is used in a negative manner to basically describe a person or place as being on the wrong side of cool.

“As mentioned, the title of my next album is largely about my grandfather, but it also refers to an expression used in Norway,” continues Hege on the title of her second album. “For example, I’m from Halden and people often call you ‘Harry’ because Norwegians often go to Sweden [Halden lies close to the Swedish border] on ‘Harryhandel’ in order to shop huge amounts of food as it is much cheaper. Therefore, ‘Harry’ is often used to describe something in a bad way. If you’re ‘Harry’ you’re the opposite of cool. But to me, ‘Harry’ is also a person and a name, and that being my grandfather.”

Speaking of the town of Halden in Norway, there seems to be something in the water when considering the town’s creative output, due to an endless stream of musical talent stemming from its centre. There also appears to be a strong affinity with country and roots music that tips into parts of Sweden and therefore suggesting a little Nashville of their own.

 “There is a big music scene in Halden, but the town itself is very small but it’s very potent when it comes to culture and music,” acknowledges Hege regarding the high level of musical talent residing in her home town. “Halden has been like that for many years in terms of its creative talent, despite spending a few years in the doldrums, but now it’s blooming again and probably more than ever and I hope it continues.”

Is country music the main interest for a lot of artists living in Halden or do you think there are other genres of music that are more predominant?

“I think there are a lot of other styles other than country music,” replies Hege. “For example, there is a lot of punk rock in Halden and a lot of interest in classical music. Of course, country and Americana is popular but not the only interest as there are a lot of different things when considering music tastes in Halden.”

Hege Brynildsen (12)

When listening to Hege Brynildsen’s debut album simply titled – ‘Hege’ – not only is there warmth to several of the tracks on offer, but also an uncanny vocal delivery that is more Austin, Texas than Halden, Norway. Any suggestion, however, of this ‘unique for its region’ vocal being contrived, then think again as Hege Brynildsen sings the only way she knows how and that is with honesty.

“I think my sound is honest,” considers Hege. “What I mean by that is that it’s just what it is whereby I’m not trying to do anything forced. I’m just happy to sing a song and I’m so happy that I’m able to make songs and that’s where it’s at for me.”

The American influence in the music of Hege Brynildsen’s is less surprising after hearing about the steady diet of country and rock ‘n’ roll blaring from her parent’s record collection during her adolescence as she freely admits, “I’ve had a very good musical upbringing as they [parents] have always played a lot of records at home with a lot of country music and rock ‘n’ roll with Kris Kristofferson, Elvis Presley and all the best music,” but they are influences that Hege refuses to be shackled by as well as she informed FLW.

Hege Brynildsen (31)

“I like a lot of music as I’m very open minded, and I think if there’s a song I like, then I like the song no matter the genre because that is something that doesn’t influence my choices. Of course, this might be rock ‘n’ roll or it might be jazz or it might be other categories that we put songs in, but in my opinion it doesn’t matter – if a song is good, it’s good.”

Such honesty when explaining any decisions regarding her music – “It started a few years ago as I haven’t been writing songs all my life, so it’s pretty new to me,” and various tastes in music reveals much of Hege Brynildsen’s own personality, which is free of any pretence and that is something to be admired especially when trying to convince others that your songs contain real emotions. No wonder this country-songstress from Halden sounds like she has just stepped from any country music scene located in the States, such is the authentic delivery and choice of subject matter when singing her own compositions, coupled with the odd cover version, as Hege Brynildsen seems to be following a similar path to the often used topics in country music involving religion and alcohol. But never one to shift from her true personality, Hege Brynildsen confesses that she was unaware of the similarities between her own songs and those trends set in country music.

“I wasn’t aware of it at the time when I was writing my first album but people have told me this later on,” responds Hege regarding the choice of material of her own songs and the similarities with American country music. “I guess it’s intuition or something like that, as I am mainly interested in whether a song is good or not, in my opinion, and then the words formulate and I use those which seem most natural to me. For example, the cover song ‘Bad Bad Whiskey’ I have never personally tasted whiskey; it was my boyfriend who introduced the song when we were in Austin, Texas a few years back and I just fell in love with it as it’s such a great song and that’s enough for me and why it was on the record.”

Are you a religious person, therefore, considering the religious aspect of ‘Healing Hands’ which, again, is one of the key song writing ingredients of country music?

“I’m not really a religious person, but I guess in country [music] it’s a tradition, especially if you consider that song by Kris Kristofferson ‘Why Me’ as a lot of those great singer-songwriters have a lot of religious aspects to their songs. I think it’s powerful and I think it’s beautiful in songs and it doesn’t have anything to do with me or my preferences, but the words came as they did for ‘Healing Hands’ and I used them.”

With early signs revealing a toning down of the immediate country styling of first album ‘Hege’ in relation to its follow up ‘Till Harry’, that is a much more subtle affair altogether, the creative works that is dedicated to grandfather Harry – wonderfully described as “Halden’s answer to Johnny Cash” – as well as the creative musical hub that is Halden itself, despite its supposed negative connotations through the eyes of others, Hege Brynildsen is not one to dwell on things, especially when the recordings for ‘Till Harry’ reached their conclusion.

Hege Brynildsen (24)

“It’s very different, especially when you hear it for the first time but, at the same time, it’s probably not that much different either,” comments Hege on ‘Till Harry’. “Of course, there are different songs and different instruments, so it’s both very different and still maybe saying a lot of the same things but using a different angle. It was recorded in Halden at the Athletic Sound with Gøran Grini and Kai Andersen producing the record. I have had great musicians with me on this album too, as I did with the first one, and I think everyone who was involved with it is happy with the result. I think at one point, however, you have to let it go because you’re never satisfied. Now that I have let it go, there is nothing that I would change because when you’re done, you’re done.”

Hege Brynildsen’s second album ‘Till Harry’ is available from 26th March on

FLW - From the Tapes

Hege Brynildsen on her favourite song from the forthcoming ‘Till Harry’ album, as well as two other songs that particularly provoke the senses.

“I really like the last song on the album ‘Lyckliga stunder’. The reason for that is that we were supposed to have two cover songs, but the second cover didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. I made a decision in the studio, as sometimes you have to kill your darlings [laughing], because the producer wanted another song as we only had nine songs. I didn’t have any more songs, but I had to try and figure something out. I remember thinking about whether I should spend time looking for another cover song or spend time trying to write a new song by myself. Looking back, I’m glad that I decided to go with the latter idea because that is what I did.”

‘När Jag Blickar Ut i Världen’: this song is about how humans destroy nature. It makes me really sad. It’s hurtful to see nature and it’s animals, trees and flowers die because of human behaviour.

‘Flickan i Havanna’: this one is not written by me. It’s by Evert Taube, one of the greatest songwriters in Sweden. He is dead now. It’s about prostitution. It’s a really great song, and so well done. I love it. I think it’s genius.

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