Karin Park’s creative capabilities are to be put to the test once more with a new album due later this year.
‘Superworldunknown’ was a fitting description for Karin Park’s first tentative steps in the world of the music industry and the world in general with its endless possibilities when it comes to opportunities. The actual title itself was the name given to the first album from this Swedish born, yet often perceived as Norwegian, singer-songwriter, due to her rise to prominence over the years after a move to the west coast of Norway that saw her reside there for a while before a permanent move back to her homeland.
Such developments in the life and times of Karin Park has seen her grow creatively from indie guitar pop to an altogether darker beast that is obsessed with use of electronica by way of synthesisers and samples and, in the process, has ushered in her best work to date with the album ‘Highwire Poetry’, which has not gone unnoticed by those at the BBC in England and various elements of the music press as well.
Recognition of Karin Park’s songwriting abilities has also been noted by the country which has adopted her, as Norway’s MGP (Eurovision) entrant last year Margaret Berger provided the voice to one of Miss Park’s compositions – ‘I Feed You My Love’.
From offering a song to the above mentioned Margaret Berger, to conjuring up the melodies for the dark synth-pop of albums such as ‘Highwire Poetry’ is definitely reflective of Karin Park’s personality and personal tastes when it comes to music, as the Swedish songstress is equally at home with Depeche Mode and The Flaming Lips, to the gloss and commercial appeal of the 80s with Whitney Houston being one such candidate.
This, dear readers, is all part of the appeal of Karin Park as there is a real sense of unpredictability stemming from her creative musings, that can reveal a number of anxieties (‘Fryngies’) and frustrations (‘Bending Albert’s Law’), but also in terms of her appearance where vibrant colours take turns in duelling with a sombre under layer of nothing but jet-black attire.
“I’m not really a [particular] genre as I’m an artist and I do different things,” is the reply from Karin Park as we sit in a café right in the centre of Oslo and just inches away from the venue where her composition for the MGP finalist went gold. The aforementioned unpredictability is also evident when it comes to Karin’s choice of attire for today’s interview, with a dazzling pink bomber jacket being the only evidence of colour apart from the deep shade of crimson decorating the tips of her fingers. “I’m not going to go into all of the different genres, but it’s not about the label of the music as it’s more what triggers my imagination at the time. I am a songwriter and artist first and foremost rather than a ‘label’ music star. For example, some people produce techno music and that’s it, but I’m not that kind of artist as it’s more about the vibe for me. In terms of my songwriting and sound, I would describe it as being the area between pop music and more experimental stuff and somewhere between the reality and the dream, as that space interests me much more than what kind of sound I’m supposed to have. I mean, the sound of everything changes all of the time, but the vibe that I’ve got in my songwriting is always the same. That’s why I wrote the song and offered it to Margaret Berger for the Eurovision [contest] because a lot of people commented that it sounded like a Karin Park track, and rightly so, because there is something in my songwriting that I think has this sound, but not in the instrumentation necessarily as it could be any kind of production.”
When it comes to recognising the music of Karin Park, it is perhaps her vocal that is instantly recognisable as it has a touch of the Bjorkisms about it, but also it gives the impression that it is trying to consume all that is laid out in its path in a combined effort of passion and over inhalation that really provides a forceful brew, something of which took Karin Park by surprise during those early years as she explains.
“It began when I moved to Stockholm really,” says Karin Park when considering her songwriting and vocal abilities. “I moved to Stockholm when I was fifteen and just about to turn sixteen. Before that, I had never really written any of my own songs as I have always sung other people’s songs and it wasn’t until I started to write my own that I realised my voice was completely different when I sang my own songs and that I couldn’t take after someone else. So that was a really cool discovery for me and that’s when I changed my focus a little bit, as I have always wanted to be a singer, and when I started to write, I realised that I had something unique whereas before, I didn’t really have any personality in my voice. So I took it from there.”
Why did you decide to move from Sweden to Norway considering Sweden’s larger population and bigger music scenes?
“I moved to Norway because I like the dialect,” explains Karin. “I’ve never really had a good strategy in terms of my career moves. I moved here as I wanted to make some money for a few months and I was tired of Stockholm and I realised that Bergen was a lively music city. I had been living on my own in my apartment and the only thing I had was an acoustic guitar, so I wrote my songs on that. When we recorded the album [‘Superworldunknown’] I had made all of my songs on an acoustic guitar, but I had never really taken a conscious choice to be a girl with an acoustic guitar as it just happened.”
It is quite remarkable that you have made a name for yourself in Norway first, rather than in your native Sweden.
“I was completely unknown to everybody when I first moved to Norway,” continues Karin. “I moved here when I was nineteen and I started a band, which was only really for fun because the only thing I wanted was to sing. [At the time] I didn’t realise that I was going to stay in Norway for so long, but everything kind of [progressed] as I played different stage nights, with open mic sessions, and people started to pick up on this. Eventually, I got a manager and started to record and then ended up with a record company. So it all developed in quite a natural way at the time, which made it natural for me to stay. When we released the first album, everything went really quickly from zero to one hundred and I remember thinking that, ‘Ok, this is going well, I’m staying for a bit [laughing]!'”
How do you think your sound differs now from that first album ‘Superworldunknown’?
“The sound is obviously very different because at the time, as I said earlier, I didn’t really make a lot of conscious decisions sound wise as I just wanted to release my songs. However, I think my songwriting is quite similar – it’s better now of course because I’m more experienced – but when I realised that my records did not sound like the kind of music that I like, I decided to change the sound and make something that was more like the records I have in my collection, but I didn’t quite know how to do that as I hadn’t really played a proper analogue synthesiser. So I had to find someone who liked that kind of music, but also understand my new direction as well. I talked with Fredrik [Saroea] in Datarock because we had the same Casio keyboard to begin with, and I thought there must be a little bit of a connection there [laughing]! It turned out that he was a great producer for me and we have become good friends as well. I think I have developed from not knowing much about how to produce music, to becoming better at music programming and doing it myself as I have my own studio. So I’m much more conscious now about how I want it to sound.”
The pendulum of change definitely started to swing in favour of a more electronic sound for Karin Park once she arrived after a period of time with her third album ‘Ashes To Gold’, that really laid the foundations for the mightily impressive ‘Highwire Poetry’ issued in 2010, with such dark revelations as those embedded in ‘Fryngies’ and its nightmarish opening line, “They are eating me up with their big jaws, and there’s a million snakes on the cold floor”.
“At the time when I wrote that song, I felt like everyone was hanging over me and trying to tell me what to do,” recollects Karin regarding the song ‘Fryngies’. “It’s that feeling when you’re trying to get somewhere and you’re trying to do it your own way, but other people or your own demons kind of get in your face. There’s a line [in the song] about snakes all over the floor [see above] because sometimes I dream that I’m trying to get over a big floor and there are just snakes everywhere. So the song is depicting a picture from a dream as a means of trying to describe the way that I felt at the time because it was a bit chaotic when I wrote ‘Highwire Poetry’. Therefore, I wrote ‘Fryngies’ as a way of trying to get that [feeling] off my chest.”
There was another song from ‘Highwire Poetry’ that proved to be a cathartic experience for Karin Park, and that is the intriguingly titled ‘Bending Albert’s Law’; a song that was conceived during a particularly unpleasant stay in a hotel in London which pretty much describes all of the trimmings that accompanied this miserable experience.
“I was in London due to working in the studio and therefore staying in a hotel” says Karin. “There was one particular night when I woke up in this s***** hotel room where you could hear all the other people in the hotel due to such thin walls, and I was missing my boyfriend so much. I wrote the song the next day, despite crying continuously throughout the whole writing experience and for the rest of the day. I basically wrote about everything that was around me – the wafer [thin] walls, curtains, washing machine that was broken in the hotel and even going out to buy a pair of shoes. So I just wrote about exactly what was going on and how I felt. ‘Bending Albert’s Law’ refers to a lot of the discussions we had in the studio regarding scientific stuff and therefore the song title is referring to Albert Einstein and his Theory of Relativity. So I was trying to bend the laws to get my boyfriend to London and therefore the song is about longing.”
Was the song written and recorded in an improvised manner if you were reflecting on the experiences you were going through right there in London?
“Not really, as it was written quite carefully,” suggests Karin after some initial thought. “I just wanted to write about something that was very current to me at the time, so that it can resonate in the song how I actually felt because I felt so strongly about my boyfriend and I was missing him so much, and I couldn’t really think about anything else as I had to write about that and get it all down on paper. In fact, that’s how I make songs most of the time. The shorter the amount of space from the heart to the actual song, the better, because it turns in to a powerful song and one that you can feel that there is something going on there. It can be easier to write about things really far away, but then it’s harder to make it powerful. When you write about something really close to you, it just has to have a nerve. But it [‘Bending Albert’s Law’] was probably the hardest song I have ever written because I was incredibly sad [at the time].”
Having moved on from the emotions of ‘Highwire Poetry’ that are now confined to history, Karin Park is on the next phase of her creative journey as a new album is currently nearing its completion and scheduled for a release later this year. In the meantime, recent single ‘Shine’ has been blaring from the Norwegian airwaves and providing a solid precursor of what’s to come with its indie electro pop that contains, surprisingly, a positive message.
“It’s a song to my friend basically,” responds Karin. “It’s a bit like unconditional love I guess, as it doesn’t matter how f***** up we get as I’m going to be around anyway. So ‘Shine’ is quite a positive song to someone as part of the lyrics suggest – ‘You can be as broke as you want, you can be as drunk as you like’ – but it doesn’t matter as we’re going to hangout no matter what. Actually, we’re releasing another single today (A complete surprise! FLW) ‘Look What You’ve Done’. Both ‘Shine’ and this new song will be on the new album coming in September. We are releasing this single a little bit earlier in Scandinavia, but it will be issued later in April in the UK. So we’re just building up nicely towards the new album.”
What details can you provide about your new album due later this year?
“The album is being produced in my house, which is an old church in Sweden, but I have written some of the songs in Bristol [UK]. I have written more songs than I have ever written before. After the MGP last year, I became really inspired because I could see the impact that one song could have and it was a long time since I had any hit singles. So it can be pretty powerful with a good tune and therefore I was greatly inspired to write a lot. It has been a very exciting period since then, as I’m really looking forward to releasing this album as I have been working so hard. I think there are some really good songs on there and there are a lot of synthesisers again, but there are more live drums and therefore a bit noisier. The new album is not as restrained as the last album because it’s quite frank in places.”
Will the new album be quite dark in tone and therefore similar to ‘Highwire Poetry’?
“I don’t know because when people say ‘dark’, and especially in relation to the recent single ‘Shine’, I don’t really understand it because it’s not really dark at all,” considers Karin. “It depends on what your frame of reference is, as I don’t feel this album is dark as it’s warmer and bluesier. I’ve been fascinated by blues [music] lately, and that’s the opposite of artists such as Fad Gadget, which is very white. At one point, I got a little sick about all that whiteness, as I wanted to get more blues in the music, and I think I have done that but still in a poppy way as it’s not [straight] blues at all.”
During the discussion in Oslo this morning, Karin Park reveals that she has been a frequent flyer to the UK with regular visits to the South West of England and, more specifically, the city of Bristol. The reason for this is due to seeking the help of former Massive Attack producer Dan Brown, who not only struck up a friendship with Karin Park but also contributed to eight new songs, with five of them selected as definite inclusions once the new album is set for release.
Not every visit to the UK has gone quite so swimmingly to plan for Karin Park, however, as one showcase event in London revealed during promotion for ‘Highwire Poetry’ in front of a large number of record company execs and various fractions of the media. The intention was to impress all of the bigwigs present, only Karin Park didn’t bank on her own decision-making being the one thing that would be her undoing. Fear not, however, as the ending contains a happy one as Karin Park explains.
“On the release of the last album we held a show in London at The Scotch. The venue used to be an old brothel and before that you used to have artists such as Jimi Hendrix going there because it used to be a gentlemen’s club and a rock club. Anyway, it’s a really cool place and I wanted to have it in complete darkness to begin with and completely filled with smoke [dry ice]. We had these wristbands with my name on it and special perfume on them, which everyone received and so it smelt of this perfume everywhere inside. When we started, I had this crazy outfit on and it was completely dark and filled with smoke, but the problem was that they hadn’t turned off the fire alarm. So when we started the first track, the fire alarm went off which also meant that the power was cut as well. This obviously didn’t help as we are an electronic band! So nothing was working apart from my microphone and my brother’s acoustic drums. So I thought, ‘F***! This wasn’t meant to happen’, especially with all these important people from the music industry in England present. I decided to take a whisky and then we played the first song with my brother on acoustic drums and me singing. I actually got the audience to help me sing the bass notes so that we could navigate through the song. It actually became this really cool thing with the crowd helping me, which ended up being one of the most amazing and magical things. After doing two songs in this way, the power came back on again, and at the right time, as all the electronic stuff came to life as it triggered all of the samples and everything else. So it turned from complete catastrophe to maybe the best concert we have ever done, which the reviews we received seemed to indicate.”
It's that feeling when you're trying to get somewhere and you're trying to do it your own way, but other people or your own demons kind of get in your face."
FLW - From the Tapes
Karin Park explains her reasons for living in a church in Sweden that is no longer active for religious reasons but definitely active for the purposes of producing and recording music.
“It’s a very simple story as I come from a Christian family and the church you asked about is where I used to go as a kid with my parents. When I moved out, the church wasn’t really active anymore because a lot of people had passed away [in the area] and there was not really any new people going to the church. So they stopped having ceremonies, and the church has been left standing there for fifteen to twenty years. Every time I used to go back to visit my parents, I used to go there [church] at night and play the piano with all the lights off. So, I always loved that place and I suggested to my mum that one day I would buy the church and move there as nobody had thought to do so before. I have been renting it, and now they have decided to sell it to me. We have a [recording] studio there and everything, and it was not a very expensive place for me to buy, so it can actually be done. It’s an amazing place and I’m never going to move away from it.”