Busy recording in a hideaway somewhere in the cold climate of Norway, Linda Kvam is gearing up for a busy year with follow-up album to ‘Anything for Love’.
“I don’t buy any records, and I never have,” is the surprising reply. “I told you about my nerves and everything, and I also cry very easily. So when things are beautiful or I hear a good song, I just can’t listen to it! I have brought some albums home such as Brad Paisley’s but many of his songs I can’t listen to – ‘Whiskey Lullaby’ I just can’t listen to because I cry and get so depressed, I mean rock bottom and I’m just…” trails off looking somewhat mournful. “So, when I’m in that mood I don’t want to even talk to people. I don’t want to even go out, and it lasts for days. I think that’s sad and sad that I can’t go to concerts. I try if I’m with some good friends of mine, who can comfort me in a way, but [without them] I just collapse. It’s crazy. I’m just so emotional in every way.”
It’s not easy being Linda Kvam. On the one hand, a talented singer-songwriter capable of churning out clever country/bluegrass-tinged ditties within four minutes or on the other hand, a talented singer-songwriter gripped by the inner turmoil of a turbulent past creating nothing but anxieties and fears and a headache of missed opportunities. Unfortunately, such inner demons continue to raise their collective heads above the parapet but perversely these same bugbears are the very essence which helped shape the album ‘Anything for Love’, and currently providing the inspiration and creative juices for Kvam’s soon-to-be third outing, ‘Run’. However, one can only empathise with this Norwegian chantress as the likes of Brad Paisley has had FLW blowing into their hankies in a state of collective sobbing due to being country music of the highest order. But honestly though, never bought a single record! This requires further investigation.
“I grew up listening to them on a jukebox in a pub following my mother. I used to get money for a soda and the jukebox. So it was just me standing there playing the old country hits,” admits Kvam. “In terms of music now, though, I love the Hellbilllies – they’re a Norwegian band. I have loved them since their first album and that’s because they’re similar to me in that they just want to be out there performing and they give it their all every time. I sense that I can feel what they’re thinking, it’s like I know what they’re thinking and I know what they feel [in terms of their music]. So even if they play a happy song I cry! We performed with them at a festival a few weeks ago and I was crying! Oh it’s tiring!” she finishes laughing.
This self-awareness is evident throughout our interview but there is also a very dry sense of humour present, which suggests that Kvam doesn’t take herself too seriously either. Such qualities helped shape the aforementioned ‘Anything for Love’ as songs range from the self-knowing, ‘Hard to Handle’; emotionally charged, ‘Leave Me’; tribute song, ‘Revolution Baby’, and the lyrically despairing yet musically upbeat, ‘Bored Beyond Belief’ reflecting a characteristic trait of this genre and something of which has helped create many a classic country record.
“It’s interesting that you mentioned that song [‘Bored Beyond Belief’] because when I received the reviews for ‘Anything for Love’, some of the journalists pointed that song out and said, ‘That was weird! You shouldn’t be singing that kind of song. We didn’t like that song.’ So that was funny that you mentioned it as ‘Bored Beyond Belief’ is a bit older than the rest of them, and I felt that it was so important to have it on [the album] just to show all aspects in terms of the writing because it’s a bit different than the rest of the songs. I’ve got a couple of those for the new album!” finishes Kvam with a knowing smile.
‘Bored Beyond Belief’ is one of those songs reminiscent of the way in which Paul Heaton, formerly of the Beautiful South and now parading his talents as a solo artist, crafts a pop song chock-full of catchy hooks yet sneering beneath the jaunty layers of music exists a darker underbelly of social commentary. In fact, look no further than the Boo Radley’s ‘Wake Up Boo!’ for a prime example of a double-edged song with its rallying call for help coupled with happy-go-lucky musical bounce and you are somewhere near Kvam’s despairing vision of the deathly gallows of boredom itself.
“Yes, I think so,” responds Kvam to FLW’s notion of ‘Bored Beyond Belief’ being reflective of her surroundings. “As I mentioned earlier, I have written in that way for my new album.” Linda treats the ears of FLW to a brief rendition of one of her new songs to illustrate as an example. “If you can’t beat them, join them, if you can’t beat them, join them,” before continuing, “You know, it’s kind of sad because if you can follow up, then just follow along, you know? That is sad, but if you listen to the music it’s upbeat but you have to listen to the words to grasp that it is melancholic as well. I didn’t notice [at the time] that ‘Anything for Love’ is full of love in every way, whereas the new album is full of ‘run’. For example, one of the songs is called ‘Another Story’, which is about when people try to approach you and get to know you, but you’re just afraid to get to know people and to love somebody and trust somebody so you just run. When things are good, you think to yourself that this can’t last, and then you run.”
Such insecurities, as mentioned previously, have definitely plagued Linda Kvam throughout her recorded output to date. But there remains a steely determination to succeed in a challenging environment, especially one involving country music which has been known to incite howls of derision in some quarters, as this singer knows everything about putting in a shift or two when it comes to self-promotion and genuine hard labour. In fact, Linda Kvam Band, as she often refers to throughout our discussion, resembles a cottage industry ploughing its own furrow whereby everything is produced inhouse with only a smattering of help from outside sources.
“I do everything myself,” is the immediate response. “It ended up with me creating my own record label in relation to my last album. So I make the calls and phone up everybody to get the gigs sorted out. For example, if the bass player can’t show up on a particular date or the guitar player, then I have to call somebody. Therefore, I have three or four options if they can’t make it. So, Linda Kvam Band just moves on, and I don’t announce [at gigs] which musicians are going to perform on the night. We are a five-piece band though, two guitar players – one of them plays a lot of slide [guitar] and the other a washboard and plays more country licks – a trumpet player and drummer. So they compliment each other and they can all sing.”
Being at the heart of any band’s self-promotion is no doubt an absorbing and incredibly gruelling task but somehow Linda Kvam Band manages to triumph in the face of much adversary (i.e. Kvam was recently hospitalised due to a viral infection which caused an inflammation of the brain as a result of various circumstances of playing at festivals this summer. This meant that any form of light or bodily movement caused severe distress to the point whereby Kvam’s eyes had to be covered in complete darkness). Surely, the lure of a wealthy benefactor, in order to ease the burden of self-promotion, is too hard to resist even for the self-determined Kvam?
“I have talked to some guys,” responds Kvam to the notion of major record label support, “but I don’t know if I want to name names?!” she adds laughing nervously. FLW reassures Kvam that such details are not required. ”The Head manager at one of the biggest record companies [Norway] was very fond of the first four songs that we sent him. But I got a feeling of what he would like me to do more of musically. So I started to send more songs but it didn’t go the way he wanted it. So he asked me, ‘Can you change or make this a little bit different because then I can do your album?’ But I said, ‘No, as this is me. I want these 12 songs like this.’ We were turned down as a result.”
Do you not feel though, with a lack of music industry muscle that your efforts are confined to the shadows of public attention?
“No because as soon as a [record] label or a company owns you, then they have something they want you to do or to look like, and I don’t know if I want that to be honest,” says Kvam.
But if you were signed to a major record label, then surely that would help to promote your music more widely?
“I haven’t done anything other than travelling and playing and doing things my own way. I like that I get to meet people in terms of where they live, as I don’t mind travelling and even at this age…it sounds like I’m 70!” laughing loudly. “I just like to be me, visiting some place where people can have a good time with us. I like it when people say, ‘You should have a record deal’. Great! I like to be an outsider. I have always heard that if you want to be in this business you have to stick to one genre i.e. rock, pop or country. I am a bit of everything as I think it is interesting performing blues, soul, jazz, pop or rock as I find everything fulfilling if I can set my sound to it. I love to do more than one thing, and that excludes me from some parts of the industry because people aren’t sure where I fit in. But I think that when people go to a Linda Kvam concert, then they will see who I am.”
Things are becoming much clearer now in terms of where Kvam finds herself in the Norwegian music industry. The thought of being signed to a major record label is perhaps not the most comfortable scenario due to the autonomy she has gained by way of producing and touring her own music since the age of seventeen. Any notion of trying to shackle and control this artistic freedom would undoubtedly lead to a downturn in fortunes. However, there remains a small beacon of light as this country and bluegrass songstress is preparing to offer new material, which FLW has been informed is more ‘country-rock’, in the hope that someone within the music industry will be able to identify with, and inform the masses if so required.
“This album I am going to produce myself, and it’s going to be country-rock,” admits Kvam concerning the imminent recording sessions for the forthcoming album, ‘RUN’. “However, I think that the guy, as mentioned previously, in this big [record] company is going to be the first one to hear the new songs, as he has been very loyal and always been a good guy. So I would like him to hear what I have now, as I think it is more of what he wants. I haven’t made it like he wants it, but I have used more electric guitars and you can dance more to it as there is more rhythm. But if he doesn’t want the new songs, then I have one or two options with smaller companies. If they’re not interested either, then I shall do it on my own again.”
Such drive and determination has paid dividends so far for Kvam as ‘Anything for Love’ demonstrated a full-length offering which does not outstay its welcome due to its concise songs of love and regret, but also for its varied tones in terms of country, country-rock and bluegrass. This vision is evolving once more as the forthcoming album ‘RUN’ (Kvam and her resident band are due to start recording this October) will contain similar sounds yet introduce new ideas by means of brass instruments and contain more of a ‘live’ feel which, no doubt, Kvam’s raw vocal intensity will be able to provide in droves.
“I listen to music which has a vocalist that works,” explains Kvam. “It doesn’t have to be pretty, like flawless, I just like to hear [vocals] when they’re working and different techniques and giving it everything. It’s got to combine with the music. In terms of the trumpet player, he doesn’t play the trumpet in the normal manner as he uses the vocal mic or plugs it into the regular guitar amp and it sounds greasy, angry and really cool!” enthuses Kvam. “It’s like he has no fear and he is kind of like me, as a vocalist, whereby I have no fear [to experiment with music] as I am just going to go up there and hit that note. Also, it never becomes the same as we never rehearse or practice together. I just think of a song and it’s going to go in ‘G’, for example, and we just start and it’s never the same arrangements. But they’re all very competent musicians as they are used to playing live together. So everybody is on the same page, and it’s a great way to work.”
With a more country-rock approach to the new recordings that will incorporate use of slide guitars and the aforementioned brass instrumentation, everything seems primed for another set of compelling songs. But in order to meet such requirements, a certain ingredient has to be in place and that is one which does not involve a state of happiness as Kvam explains.
“These days I write all of the time, and that’s not usual for me. I have had a two-year period with not a sound in my head, it was just quiet and I kind of panicked and thought this is my career and now it’s gone and I don’t have any more! But that is a mental thing, in the sense that I can’t have it too good. I have to have some sort of problems or be in some kind of environment to get in that state.”
This may be business as usual for Kvam and those closest to her, but it is not difficult to comprehend such emotions being key to the songwriting process as anyone who has taken the trouble to listen to, ‘Anything for Love’ and in particular closing number, ‘Leave Me’ with its heartwrenching realisations and preferred state of silence that brings to mind Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ in more ways than one, any notion of a respite from the troubles of everyday life is one which is not quite welcomed just for the moment.
“I’ve had a lot of anxiety and being scared in terms of offers I’ve had from the music industry,” says Kvam shuffling awkwardly in her seat. “For example, I have had to turn down offers from America because of my anxiety. It was offers to get over there and live for a while and write songs with various people, but I had to say no. I have a hard time doing TV shows. When we’re touring, I don’t like being in my hotel room by myself. So I have to have the TV and lights on or take the covers and sleep in someone else’s room. That is something I have to live with, and I’ve used so many years just to try and hide it from the music industry or my colleagues or friends. But it is not so many years ago that I just felt that this is choking me, I have to tell somebody because I can’t hide it any more. So, when I was about to do an interview with somebody, we were driving to meet them for lunch, and I got this…” she trails off before resuming. “I almost fainted in the car and I had to get out. I managed to go to the restaurant but I couldn’t breathe and talk and eat at the same time because everything just shutdown. It ended up with me leaving the room and just running out,” she concludes laughing at the memory of this.
With sixteen songs currently under consideration for the new album ‘RUN’, Linda Kvam is definitely prepared, once more, for the rollercoaster ride of emotions that this album will no doubt bring. One thing is for certain though, no matter the outcome of any future music industry support, Linda Kvam is not ready to turn and run (sorry) and leave her music behind, as this is one constant in her life which has created stability and comfort to an otherwise troubled soul.
“I would like to say believe in yourself, but on the other hand I don’t always follow through because I’m scared of everything and in doubt all the time,” says Kvam laughing. “I feel like I’m a split personality and I often get depressed with things. So I can’t really say, ‘hang in there’,” she continues still laughing. “My regular life is so different from what I do when I am out singing. I hope that I’m still singing when I’m really old as that’s the meaning of life because nothing else gives me that satisfaction or comfort.”
...he doesn’t play the trumpet in the normal manner as he uses the vocal mic or plugs it into the regular guitar amp and it sounds greasy, angry and really cool!”