It would appear that the eagle has most definitely landed in relation to the song writing skills of Sigrun Loe Sparboe, and second solo album Vindfang.
“Now there’s a big eagle right outside this window, it’s very cool, it’s very nice. I’ve been here for one and a half years now, and I’m still thrilled about the nature and the view.” So begins Sigrun Loe Sparboe back in her native north and loving every moment of its picturesque scenery and chance encounters with nature.
The occurrence of the said bird of prey creates a brief distraction and sense of wonderment before the question and answer session commences with Famous Last Words (FLW). Such moments of magic appear to be happening more frequently for this Norwegian folk artist since the now, well-documented decision to move from Norway’s capital city to the remote town of Harstad where she grew up. From the opening round with ‘Uten at du vet det’ that was described in these very pages as being as close to perfection as one could hope for, to the second, and recent instalment, ‘Vindfang’, raising the bar further, the move back home for Sigrun Loe Sparboe has definitely been a positive experience as far as her musical progression is concerned as these two albums are filled with moments of great beauty, heartfelt sentiments and a deep melancholy that is nothing short of stirring.
The initial foundations for the debut solo record, ‘Uten at du vet det’, had started in earnest some years before the aforementioned move back north, but there is no doubting the change of scenery and far less polluted environment have provided a strong sense of inspiration and generated much energy to write the songs for second album ‘Vindfang’, and fulfil the promise of her debut record as well as taking this latest effort a step further.
“I started writing those new songs right after talking to you last time, as I had just moved up north,” says Sigrun Loe Sparboe in relation to the songs making up her new album ‘Vindfang’. “I feel like I have found much comfort being in the northern part of Norway, and to finally be home again. So I think that at least a couple of the songs on the record [‘Vindfang’] reflects a homecoming, and to find this peace and ease again.”
The moments of magic, as mentioned earlier, continued to blossom once the camp had been set up back in Harstad as the debut album went from strength to strength in terms of critical praise and sales figures, in addition to Sigrun Loe Sparboe performing to packed audiences throughout Norway. All of this attention did not go unnoticed as Grappa Records were waiting in the wings with a contract offer, which has seen Sigrun Loe Sparboe transform her status from independent artist to major label artist; something of which has not affected her creative processes when it comes to the song writing as she explains:
“When I signed with Grappa, I was finished with all the songs for ‘Vindfang’. The songs are [therefore] not affected by that signing. I’ve had total freedom in my creative processes. They [Grappa] liked what I did with ‘Uten at du vet det’, and I used the same producers and many of the same musicians in terms of ‘Vindfang’. I think they [Grappa] felt that I was on the right track and had been listening [to my new songs] during the prerecording process and had given me the thumbs up all the way. So that’s been very nice to lean on them and just feel that, ok, we’re on the right track.”
Not too bad then, considering you shifted your musical base a long way from the capital city of Oslo where pretty much anything to do with the music industry is happening, would you agree?
“The moving for me was not easy because I really left a lot behind and many people, especially the ones in the [music] business who were surprised because down here [Oslo] is where everything happens,” responds Sigrun. “However, to see that the move was a good move, and to feel that, in a way, I was brave and did something that many people said that I shouldn’t be doing was motivational for what I do. Also, people up here [Harstad] have been very embracing and are very happy that I am back and are giving me several opportunities to play my music.”
In what ways, if at all, do you feel the move back north has helped your song writing?
“I think that I’m becoming more genuine in my dialect and what I’m doing because I’m where I want to be. But, of course, I write when I’m not 100% happy [laughs], so I hope that I still get inspiration, and I know that I do, as all these new songs are taken from the life that I have been living the past years as well as the present too. Earlier in my song writing, I mainly wrote about things that were hard on me, but what I found with this new record is that I managed to write a couple of songs that were funny observations, such as the song ‘Som Fortjent’ where you get what you deserve when you take things for granted. I have felt that hundreds of times, but it’s not like a heartache or something, but an observation I have been thinking about and to put that in to a song.”
Funny observations, as mentioned by Sigrun Loe Sparboe, can also be translated as significant developments in her creative endeavours with new album ‘Vindfang’, for there are noticeable differences between this latest album and previous effort ‘Uten at du vet det’. The differences swing between subtle changes to kneejerk reactions encapsulating pop and broader cultural references than the traditional folk and Norwegian sources of the aforementioned debut solo record.
“I think that there are differences,” agrees Sigrun in relation to FLWs’ observations regarding ‘Vindfang’. “This time I was more determined in a way. I’m still humble, but I felt like I was more prepared and that my songs were more complete, even if I didn’t use that much time to write these songs. It was ten songs this time, compared to fourteen last time, because I’ve been strict with my time. I feel that this album has more variation to it. Also, some of the songs are more arranged and they’re bigger, and I think that’s because I had a little bit more confidence that I dared myself more this time, and maybe matured a little bit as well. Last time, when the record ‘Uten at du vet det’ was out, I remember thinking that I’d wished that I’d had more time on that song or that I should have recorded that thing or done that again. However, this time, even though the record was finished in March, I still felt that there was nothing that I would have changed and that this is my sound in 2015. I feel that I hadn’t made these changes from last time because [assumes an exaggerated, self-mocking voice] ‘I’m so much more confident now’, but it’s because it’s where I wanted to go and I think there are many tracks that could have easily have fitted on ‘Uten at du vet det’ as well.”
Picking out one of your comments regarding ‘Vindfang’, the songs definitely sound fuller than previous album ‘Uten at du vet det’ but only marginally so, which is meant as a positive because too great a change from a creative formula that worked first time out may, in some people’s eyes, be viewed as a disastrous tactic.
“I want to be a songwriter who writes songs where the listener doesn’t just listen to the songs once and think, I’ve heard this before. I wanted it [‘Vindfang’] to be new songs that people can chew on, in the sense of taking their time. To me, this was a more interesting way to write these songs. I really wanted it [album] to not be songs that you become bored of hearing after ten times for example, but that they grow on you and that you can hear new details and [other] cool stuff.”
How long did it take to write all of the songs for ‘Vindfang’ and put the album together?
“I started writing these songs in February last year. I wrote them between February and October I guess. The songs for ‘Uten at du vet det’ I had carried some of the melodies for many years, so I think the process went pretty well and fast, in a way, this time around. Also, I wanted to use the same producers as last time as I felt that we found something genuine together. For example, the producers like these special chords and sounds that are not all traditionally done, as it could be a lot more simple arrangements and production, but they like the cool details and that’s what I really like about them. In addition, I like the fact that they listen to me and want to find my voice and my sound. We had been working where we left off with ‘Uten at du vet det’, as some of the arrangements and productions are bigger for some of the tracks on the album, which I really wanted. Therefore, when I wrote the songs [for ‘Vindfang’], I felt that these needed more powerful arrangements and productions. We recorded the album at the beginning of this year in Oslo, and used the same studio, Malabar, where we produced ‘Uten at du vet det’.”
Considering the choice of title for Sigrun Loe Sparboe’s current album being of foreign description when it comes to the English vocabulary, FLW was curious to find out its direct translation, but also to learn of the reason(s) for deciding upon this particular title.
“I’m glad that you asked and wondered if you had an English word for it, but I will explain as it’s not like a word where I’ve suddenly thought of it and would like to use it. I had been thinking about it for a long time because I remembered that I’d like to make a record one day called ‘Vindfang’ as I really like the word. Vindfang is the name of the first room when you step into a house. In a way it’s a hall, the first hall, but in old houses where it’s a small hall before you come into the bigger hall and the rest of the house. It was maybe colder in the older houses, but it [vindfang] gave you shelter from the storm and a little warmth at least. So what I want to communicate or symbolise is that it’s the first room that you step into in a house to get shelter from the weather, but also, in terms of my songs, the same idea where the listener steps into my house or my universe, but I don’t want them to feel that it’s too private because I’m very personal as I’m letting them into my house, but not in my bedroom or [to sit on] the couch [laughing]!”
It must be difficult sometimes when writing lyrics of a personal nature, to avoid certain references that are obvious in terms of their meanings to those who best know you?
“When you write very personal lyrics, I think what you can easily do is to write in the manner of a diary, but I’ve been thinking that I don’t want people to think that this is a bit too much or too private,” Sigrun explains. “I want my lyrics to be poetic in a way, and not in the way of a diary. Also, vindfang, apart from being a word that means the first room of a house, we don’t often use it anymore in our language because the new houses are well insulated and you don’t need that first little room. The other thing about vindfang is that I love how it is put together by two words that are so different. For example, you have wind at the beginning that represents the weather and movement and restlessness in a way, and fang means a lap and the things that you have in your lap like your lover’s head or a baby and therefore very intimate. So lap is the opposite of wind, but I think these two words are representative of the record. I sing in my dialect, and take a lot from the raw nature here in the north and incorporate that into my songs. On the other hand, I’m personal and want to shelter and that people feel the warmth of these songs.”
Returning to a previous observation regarding Sigrun Loe Sparboe’s ‘Vindfang’, there are some songs that standout from the rest of the pack due to adopting a few surprising influences that suggests possible future directions on the creative front. It is the song, ‘Som Fortjent, however, that really creates the biggest impression when it comes to variation from what has gone before, and the tracks being presented right now, as there is a definite French flavour attached to this number, and a pop influence running through its centre.
“You do! Oh my, you’re good!” fires Sigrun the swift reply regarding FLWs’ observations of ‘Som Fortjent’. “When I first wrote it, the producers thought it was cool but asked what I was playing on the guitar because it sounded more like a punk song (Fret not fans of folk music as there’s not going to be a sudden change to punk rock, FLW). It was the chords that I was playing, as I wanted to be a little bit punchy, but I obviously couldn’t play it the way I wanted it to sound. I sent them [producers] some French inspirations from artists and movies that had these different sounds. They listened to that and Jørgen Smådal Larsen who is one of the producers, but also a very good drummer, bassist and guitarist, came up with this beat, which was the same for ’12 Spor’ [also on ‘Vindfang’] in terms of its beginning with the piano.”
For completely different reasons, another song, ‘Andres Klær’ from ‘Vindfang’, also creates a stir due to lyrics that appear to reflect on a deeply personal relationship that could quite easily have severed its ties only yesterday, or could just as easily be referring to a distant memory that causes a reminder every now and again. Either way, it’s one of the definite highlights from the new album, and one that will live long in the memory once the dust has settled on ‘Vindfang’.
“It’s about coming through the other side after going through some tough times,” begins Sigrun regarding the song ‘Andres Klær’. “For example, to find the new situation very different and new and not what you’re used to, and that’s fine, but it’s weird because it’s a new life and a new feeling. Also, I have been fascinated with the aspect of other people’s clothes when you put them on. I remember my first memory of that when I was eight or nine and had to borrow a friend’s sweater. I had the same sweater at home, but I remember that I put the sweater on and it smelt and felt different, despite being the same and the same size as well. I don’t know if others think the same, but I’ve always had that with other clothes whether borrowing someone’s jacket, which feels nice, but different in a way. So that’s why it’s called ‘Andres Klær’, which I also sing during the second verse. However, during the end of the song, it’s more direct by referring to [loosely translates to English], ‘Your hands were home once and the words you spoke I knew them so well, but now it’s too long ago to almost remember it.'”
So you’re not talking in the third person when it comes to ‘Andres Klær’?
“No, it’s very personal and it’s very short too. I like the fact that it hasn’t the typical verse – chorus – verse in terms of the song’s structure. It’s one of my favourites, and a new tune that I hadn’t heard before.”
Speaking of personal, do you have a favourite song from the new album ‘Vindfang’?
“It’s a different song every week and I don’t know what the reason is for that,” she considers before continuing, “but it’s currently the song ‘Et Støkke På Vei’. It was the first song I wrote for the new album, written in February last year, and I just love how the arrangement is, and how the production reflects what I wanted to tell with the lyrics because it’s a way of waking up from the dead again, and to start living again. It’s a very optimistic song, but it’s still melancholic as I am, and most of my songs are in a way. But then you have ‘Som Fortjent’ and ’12 Spor’ and other songs that aren’t melancholic, which is maybe good to have those songs to make the melancholic songs even better on the record because you have the variation.”
By the time this interview reaches publication, Sigrun Loe Sparboe should be on the final leg of a tour in order to promote latest album, ‘Vindfang’, that will see her start with a full band during its opening night, before reverting to a pared back version including trusty stalwarts Sverre Tollefsen Laupstad (piano) and Mattias Krohn Nielsen (guitar). Such decisions are largely down to economics, but there are also positives to be gained as Sigrun Loe Sparboe explains:
“The release concert will be with a full band in Harstad, but I have to be honest, it’s a question of economics as we still can’t afford to travel together on the whole tour. I wish that we could, but I still play in venues that are small, or it depends where I’m playing as when I’m playing in Oslo or playing in Harstad it gets bigger and better. I think what drives me are the lyrics, and to tell these stories of mine in a good way to the audiences, and that’s what’s important to me. Therefore, with less people on stage, I think the vocals and the lyrics transmits further than when I have a big band in a small venue.”
With the second solo album well and truly in place, all there is left for Sigrun Loe Sparboe to do is sit back and wait for the critical responses the new album will receive over the coming months.
“I’m curious about the response in terms of the album, and in terms of the concerts on the tour because I know that some people really liked ‘Uten at du vet det’ and what I did on that album. I feel that this [new] record is just as much me as it was the other one, but it’s different and not the same record. Therefore, I’m very curious to see if the same people who liked the first album, like this one, and maybe some new people will like the new record who haven’t heard ‘Uten at du vet det’ yet.”
(Photography courtesy of Kjell Ruben Strøm)
I feel that this [new] record is just as much me as it was the other one, but it's different and not the same record. "
Sigrun Loe Sparboe
FLW - From the Tapes
Long hours recording in the studio can take their toll as Sigrun Loe Sparboe found out when recording new album ‘Vindfang’.
“I was in Oslo to record the new album, and we worked long hours. My producer would find it very funny to record when I wasn’t ready, or when I just f***** up in the middle of a song, so it was like bloopers. He liked to cut the mistakes into the mix, not the final production, to surprise me with some of these terrible mistakes of mine. One of the songs on the album, ‘De Som Frosten Tok’ is a very powerful song, and a very sad song in a way. I think it’s a good title as I had that in my head for some months before I brought the song [to the studio]. It’s about four people I have met and that I care about and who’d lost their spark. When the producer wanted to hear the songs for the first time, I texted the song titles to him. It turned out that I had written ‘De Som Frosten Tok’ as ‘De Som Frosken Tok’ [‘The Ones Who The Frog Took’]! So that’s been a very funny joke as the sentence takes on a whole other meaning. As a result of this, I see this picture in my head a lot; a guy running after a frog! In a way, I really want to tell that story at one of my concerts, but that song deserves a serious intro, and I don’t know where to include that story as I don’t want the audience to laugh before I sing that song.”