Vidar Ruud Talked With Famous Last Words About His Decisions To Follow His Dreams As A Singer-Songwriter.
Pursuing one’s dreams is often a courageous decision, especially when the security of full-time employment, and a decent profession to boot, is exchanged for the creative pursuit of a singer-songwriter and the potential pitfalls this may bring.
For Vidar Ruud, there was simply no other option because life as a project manager for Norwegian television network TV2 was cruising in second gear, with no apparent thrill on the horizon to give this burgeoning talent the spark he was craving. Therefore, something had to give which, ironically, TV2 played their part in helping Vidar Ruud reach a decision regarding his future direction.
It is important to add that the timing of such a decision arrived during a cost-cutting exercise at the aforementioned TV2, meaning that either Vidar Ruud’s working conditions were going to be altered as a result of these changes or, to put it frankly, it was time for a complete change as far as his career was concerned.
The decision was therefore a swift one as Vidar Ruud parted on amicable terms with his former employer, who was more than willing to get involved by means of an advertising campaign once the cat was out of the bag that this self-proclaimed perfectionist was pursuing the life of a singer-songwriter.
The reality of this dream began in earnest approximately three and a half years ago with the first shoots of creativity starting to appear for the recently released debut album, ‘Following Dreams’. The road to this eventual realisation of a full-length player has been a long one, but one that has provided many lessons and also achieved the creative results that had been brewing inside the mind-set of Vidar Ruud for some considerable time. In other words, this Norwegian maestro had created an album as close to perfection as one could muster, considering the hours spent honing and crafting various musical segments to the point of frustration for others, whereas for Vidar Ruud it was a case of recreating note for note the songs he was hearing as this was his moment and a chance to fully realise a long-held ambition of becoming a singer-songwriter.
“You encounter challenges all the time,” opens up Vidar Ruud to Famous Last Words at the memory of the working practices for his debut album ‘Following Dreams’. “There have been sleepless nights due to some frustrating times because you want your work to go in certain directions, but then you have others who disagree and say that you have to go on [in the direction it’s going] if you want to finish. I am a stubborn person [laughing] whereby if I have an idea in my head, it has to go that way. I like feedback on things as well, but some of it I listen to and some I don’t.”
Vidar Ruud can be forgiven for driving others to moments of sheer exasperation when writing and recording the songs making up his debut album for reasons such as this being a self-financed operation but, more notably, for the previously mentioned transition in his life of swapping career paths to one that is a lot more daunting when it comes to achieving considerable recognition and long-term success; something of which is not lost on this Norwegian singer-songwriter.
“The truth is that you start to realise that various different things need to be in place if you should have any chance to succeed,” comments Vidar in terms of starting his career in music. “I had to save up quite a bit of money in order to do this, and that’s what’s delayed the whole process as I thought that it would’ve gone much quicker. It has taken me three and a half years since I decided to make an album and up until this release date. So I started to record and pay for everything myself, such as the musicians and studio time and things like that. When it came to the end of the recording, there was someone within the industry who advised me against approaching other [record] companies because I could have my own company and be in control and own all of the rights to the songs if I set up independently.”
Was there ever a moment when you felt that leaving your former job was a tad scary considering the precarious nature of the music industry?
“No, not at all” is the confident reply. “When I sat down and started writing the songs for the album, I felt at home. You’ve got to have a good plan as you can’t jump into it if you don’t have an idea of how you’re going to pay the bills and the rent and things like that, as that will kill the joy of it, and that’s scary. I had a plan where I wrote down a number of goals and put away money to pay the bills and the rent. So, if you’ve got things under control, then it makes for a more joyful ride.”
It must feel satisfying to be in complete control of your own record company?
“It’s lovely to be in control, especially if you’re a complete control freak like me!” says Vidar laughing. “Having said that, I have been very pleased with having some very talented people working with me. I think if you asked one or two of them they would probably say that I’m not the easiest person to work with, but at the same time, they said it was good that I didn’t let things slip by too easily. So it’s taken three and a half years to get everything done, in terms of achieving the right sound and getting the right people around me as well. Also, I have been working one and a half years just to get the distribution and other things right, so it’s been a process.”
Are there big differences in terms of work routines that you experienced in your former profession and the life as a singer-songwriter?
“Actually, the music part is quite different, but in terms of the organisation, it is actually quite similar,” considers Vidar. “So, I’m actually glad that I gained that experience in my former profession at TV2 because such experience has helped immensely in terms of setting up my own record label and organising the album release.”
The route Vidar Ruud is taking in order to realise his dream of becoming a successful artist in his own right is one of a growing trend among new artists as well as established artists who are no longer in the possession of a record deal. Such a trend that has seen a small rise in new independent record labels is nothing new, but it is one that is reacting to the ongoing financial crisis globally, and with major record labels tightening their belts financially, the options are becoming few and far between and therefore leaving those determined for their music to be heard with only one real option of self-financing their own records.
“I would agree,” says Vidar regarding the current trend for more artists releasing records independently. “I think a lot of artists have to now, as the whole music industry has changed. Also, I believe it reflects the community itself. If you look at grocery stores as an example, you could always find small grocery stores with fresh food whereas now, there are three or four big company names and they produce everything, and it’s the same with the music industry. Maybe it will change over time, but if I’m able to succeed because people like it and I keep to a small budget, then I think it’s possible to survive as an independent artist.”
A need for self-control is clear when it comes to the song writing of Vidar Ruud, considering his painstaking methods in order to achieve perfection when trying to recreate the creative ideas into actual songs. It’s also about the atmosphere of each and every song as ‘Following Dreams’ is a record in love with the past and holds a respect for the handful of genuine songwriters who remain today.
“The reason that I started playing guitar was Mark Knopfler, as I’ve always enjoyed his music and way of writing songs,” explains Vidar with much enthusiasm. “I am very fond of the guitarist John Mayer, as he manages to keep that old feeling sound wise and bring it into something new with maybe a more pop sound. That is something which I have been working on because I was not pleased at the start of the recording because it didn’t match the sound that I had in my head. I think there was too much treble in the recordings from before, as I like a lot of warmth to the recordings; the old thing, the old soul, so I wanted it to be a warm sound with that good bass whereby it sounds as if you’re actually standing in someone’s living-room playing to them.”
Did you record straight to analogue tapes in order to achieve that warmer sound you were looking for?
“The album was recorded digitally but in the mixing and mastering processes a lot of analogue equipment was used to get that warmer feeling. It was actually recorded in three different studios, with some of my guitar recorded in my flat and some tracks were recorded at British Grove Studios, which is actually one of the best studios in the world now. A good friend of mine, Guy Fletcher, works at that studio; he’s Mark Knopfler’s keyboard player and has been since 1982, I think, and they were working on his album at the time, but he mentioned to me that he would figure something out in relation to my album. So a lot of the album was actually recorded in Mark’s own studio.”
With Vidar Ruud applying a label of “pop-rock with a touch of country” to his music, the old-time feel applied to his debut record was also realised with a touch of the old guard when it came to a number of guest musicians who have worked with some of the greats ranging from Eric Clapton through to Ringo Starr and Andy Summers (The Police) to name but a few. Such experience also revealed itself by not only the strong work ethic held, but also the play hard spirit once tools were downed at the end of long arduous days in the recording studio, the latter of which the slightly more fresh-faced Vidar struggled to keep up with as he explains.
“I had some guest musicians helping out with the debut album, who’ve played with everyone from Eric Clapton to David Gilmour, and I was really pleased to have these guys working with me as it was so much fun. They were actually working from ten in the morning until twelve at night. I remember one night, however, we had a bit of blow out with all of us ending up quite p*****! We kept this going until six in the morning. These guys are in their fifties and sixties, and I was twenty or thirty years younger than them, but they had real stamina and were first in the studio the next day and I was l left with a bad hangover. So I think I still have a lot to learn!”
Having taken the plunge to pursue a career in music by peddling his brand of “pop-rock with a touch of country” that should translate to the masses if there is any justice in this world, there was only ever going to be one title that would suit such an audacious career move and that was the appropriate ‘Following Dreams’ which, in our humble opinion, is probably a universal feeling if such statistics are possible to gather.
“I hope that’s the case as I want people to interpret my songs with their own versions, so that they identify something in the songs that relates to them,” comments Vidar. “There is a theme to the whole album, but a lot of the songs have different intentions and meanings. For example, ‘No Man’s Land’ was the first song that I wrote and actually became a complete song. I was in my early twenties and watching the programme 60 Minutes, with this being the week just after the United States went into Iraq during 2003. I remember that story regarding the reasons for the United States walking into Iraq and not knowing if they had the weapons [mass destruction] or not. So it’s a song about people entering another country and not coming back.”
It would appear that you have a taste for nostalgia as noted musically, but also when it comes to certain eras in music with the song ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll 50s’.
“That’s just a song about the feelings I experienced when I first moved to Bergen,” responds Vidar to FLWs’ observation of the song ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll 50s’. “There used to be a lot of small places with live music, but over the years it’s become more associated with DJs, and such things, and not many places for live musicians to play. So that’s just a song to get live music back on stages and clubs. When you talk to people, often the comments are of a similar nature with people complaining that the music on the radio today is pretty much the same. I think people want to listen to different music, but it’s difficult to control it. I think the only way is to make music from the heart and then hope that people will like it. Once people hear it and like it, then hopefully this will add pressure to get the message out there, in the sense that different music will be played and heard.”
With the clock ticking and the next train due to arrive at some point mid-August that will transport this dedicated singer-songwriter to various locations in Norway for a tour in support of his debut album, the current plans, in the meantime, involve plugging ‘Following Dreams’ to all with a healthy interest in music in the hope that Vidar Ruud can continue the journey he’s started by establishing his name and music.
“This is what I want to do and I hope it’s going to reach many people so that I am able to live from it and make new music and everything else will be a bonus. So in order to promote my music, we have been filming for a whole month for the music video for the current single and also for a promo that is going to go on TV2 this summer. It will be a TV commercial for the album and is part of the deal when I left TV2. So we agreed on a commercial deal as they wanted to help out and decided to help with the commercial side of things. It will be quite a big campaign this summer. I know how hard things can be though, and that you need to have a lot of luck if you’re going to make it today, but when you get your chance, you have to grasp it and run.”
(Images courtesy of Fred Jonny)
When I sat down and started writing the songs for the album, I felt at home."
FLW - From the Tapes
Interesting choice of artwork for Vidar Ruud’s debut album ‘Following Dreams’ as it looks like a train station somewhere in the heart of London.
“The train station is actually the train station in Bergen. However, I like it very much when people identify their own things whether in images or lyrics and that’s what I like about this album. The photograph has an old-fashioned aspect to it, especially with the clock in the background. I think we had three locations in mind at the time for the front cover. However, there is something with this train and travelling and giving the sense of following dreams. I think with my music, the pop-rock country thing with added blues, there is a connection with the crossroads and things like that, so it seemed natural to build a theme around the train station. When I hear that old blues song ‘Crossroads’, it reminds me of two train tracks crossing each other. If you look at the back of the artwork, there is even a train timetable and you will see a whole connection in terms of the inlay.”