FlashBACK to a period not so long ago when Hanne Kolstø was undergoing various misgivings musically that unbeknown to her would eventually work to her advantage. Fast forward to the present, and the past really has been kind as we are now on the cusp of the next instalment in the Kolstø trilogy of solo recordings.
Despite the shocking imagery adorning the front cover of Hanne Kolstø’s ‘Flashblack’ album, it is perhaps the serenity of the facial expression that is most harrowing. In fact, this is something of a recurring theme as previous album ‘Riot Break’ revealed a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ swollen eye suggesting that Hanne Kolstø is definitely made of sterner stuff. Nothing could be closer to the truth as ‘Flashblack’ reveals moments of true defiance, lyrically, only to be undone, now and again, by that thing known as natural human instincts as ‘Flashblack’ contains a vulnerable centre as well.
Such vivid and shocking imagery, coupled with a hardened outer exterior yet softer more vulnerable underside, brings to mind the Manic Street Preachers as FLW is reminded on several occasions of the glorious defiance this band has shown in the face of adversity yet underneath the exterior lies a more sensitive soul. It is the artwork, however, that draws this comparison even closer as both ‘Riot Break’ and ‘Flashblack’ are overtly expressive in their meaning with wounds raw and open for the world to gaze upon as were the Manic’s (as they’re often affectionately referred) ‘The Holy Bible’ and ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’ in their naked self-loathing exteriors.
“It’s a decision I made, but I didn’t think too much around it,” comes the reply. “I just knew that I wanted myself with a blue eye [‘Riot Break’] and I wanted to look calm and happy or at ease with myself – I didn’t want it to be a violent cover but I just had that image in my head that I want a blue eye and I think that’s beautiful as I like bruises and things we can get on the outside of our bodies.”
Was it easy to find the right artist to help translate your ideas and produce the artwork you wanted?
“The art scene is in Kristiansand and it’s a very rich art scene and I knew the artist Erik Pirolt,” replies Hanne Kolstø. “He is also into that kind of imagery with bruises, but he has produced a couple of pictures before with people with one eye out or similar. I knew that I wanted to ask him if he wanted to paint me, but it had been a long time since he had painted as he had done all these installations and stuff. So he thought it was interesting and he was open to different suggestions and I just felt it was the perfect cover for the music. It’s often like that with me as I shouldn’t think too much about things and just follow my instincts because I didn’t plan for it to be called ‘Riot Break’ for example. I didn’t think about that at all [at the time] that the music and artwork may interact with each other, as it was just instincts and the right thing to do.”
Are you suggesting with your two solo albums that you are prone to bouts of self-loathing?
“All of my lyrics are very personal and I was thinking about all of the things you go through in life – whether good or bad,” comments Hanne without any hesitation. “The image of the bruise represents that life is sometimes rough but the bruise is just an outside thing and of course it hurts, but it’s not on the inside as I’m ok on the inside. It was a small link to my lyrics, as the lyrics are a bit dark, as they are on all my records.”
What have the reactions, if at all, been like in terms of the artwork for both of your solo records?
“There have been a lot of responses on the second album because that’s a bit more violent,” responds Hanne. “In terms of the first record, many people failed to see the bruise in the beginning (FLW pleads ‘guilty’ at this juncture) and I really liked that and that people have all kinds of interpretations of what it means. So I usually don’t say much about the covers, as I’ve actually said more than I normally say [laughing] but that’s not a problem as it’s really nice that it gets people thinking. That was the reason why I wanted to work with Øyvind Gundersen [producer] again, as there is going to be a trilogy [albums] as ‘Blue Anger’ is the last of the three records. I really want it to be a package with the lyrics, music, artworks and the titles. I just want it to be something that maybe gets people thinking, which it really has because a lot of people wanted to talk about the cover of ‘Flashblack’. It was a bit of the same where I wanted to appear calm and not [looking] worried or screaming or anything, but there’s something really horrifying happening. It’s a bit like the destructive side [of someone].”
This calm exterior yet suggestive inner turmoil has extended to Kolstø’s decision-making processes as well when it came to her previous musical projects. After a spell of operating in three different bands, the lure of the solo project was too alluring especially after several problems involving former band members and questions concerning ownership of the songs merely quickening the severing of ties.
“The thing was is that I had three bands that had different expressions as I wrote music that fitted in different genres,” explains Hanne regarding her earlier material. “So I chose to try it out in different bands instead of putting all that in one band. So that’s where it started [as a singer-songwriter]. But then I had people asking me to perform gigs and when I asked people in the bands, the response was often no. So I became very frustrated as I wanted to do this full time and people wanted me to do gigs and the people in the bands couldn’t do it. I started to think that maybe I could do this alone, as I play guitar and play the songs that I had in the bands because they were my songs. So I did a couple of gigs by playing a few songs from Love: Fi or from Post, and then the people in the bands started to respond by saying, ‘You can’t play our songs when you play gigs alone because that’s our songs!’ and I thought, ‘F*** you! These are my songs’. But then I thought that I will write some songs that I can play solo so that I don’t have to hear them nag about me playing their songs.”
Do you think you would have become a solo artist if the previously mentioned difficulties hadn’t arisen?
“I didn’t plan to write a solo record or to have a solo career because I didn’t think about that, but I had a friend who suggested recording some of my solo songs to see if we could work it together,” she replies. “Suddenly, there was a solo record and a lot of interest and it received a lot of good reviews in Norway. I wasn’t prepared for that, as I was going to release this record under the table [low-key] and I didn’t think that anybody would pay attention to it. So it was a bit crazy, actually, but I made a decision to put all of my energy into the solo project because I saw that as something that was growing and people seemed to like it.”
The decision to become a fully-fledged solo artist was perhaps always destined for Hanne Kolstø after her admission of being something of a loner whilst at school and only really finding common allies when she entered videregående skole (Sixth Form College). The added isolation of a small town – Sykkylven to be precise – with a population consisting of approximately 7000 people no doubt had a bearing on Kolstø’s outlook on life, but such a serene existence of fresh air, sprawling countryside with mountains to gaze out upon every day also had its advantages and in turn helped inspire the works of ‘Riot Break’ and ‘Flashblack’ as there appeared to be no constraints as far as the creativity was concerned.
“One of my good qualities is that when I’m finished with it, I just let it go. I think that’s why I write a lot of music because I can let go of the songs and move on,” explains Hanne. “It’s something about me and Øyvind Gundersen as we have worked on ‘Flashblack’ and now we’re working on ‘Blue Anger’ and I see how we’ve developed together as a team and how we have gotten better in terms of the technical stuff to the decisions that we make and what kind of instruments we use. So ‘Riot Break’ was ‘our’ debut as a team and as a band because it’s just us playing the songs live most of the time. I think the critics and people liked it [‘Riot Break’] because it was unpretentious as we did it all by ourselves. We didn’t know exactly what we were doing as half of the record was analogue and half digital as we were very intuitive. We just did things such as press record and then had to run over to the mic and do some clapping [laughing]! So it was crazy and really fun to work together with Øyvind and it was sort of like we fell in love in that record!”
It sounds as if you are at ease when recording your music?
“I like it more and more because my past records with POST and Thelma & Clyde was a lot of talking and thinking and everything was going to be perfect and the producer was a perfectionist so the sound had to be really perfect, but working with Øyvind it was, ‘We don’t care!’ as there was a drummer playing in the room next to us while I was singing and we thought, ‘F*** that’s not good, but maybe we won’t hear it in the mix’ [laughing]. So I like to work intuitively and also then the process is often faster but fun and it captures something. When I had recorded some of my songs earlier, I felt that there was something missing because the core of the songs was taken away due to being overproduced. I felt with ‘Riot Break’ that the core was there all of the time and we focused on keeping that core.”
Such spontaneity was an ever constant with the recording of ‘Flashblack’ as Hanne Kolstø and producer Øyvind Gundersen literally had to pack up and abandon ship due to the Sjokoladefabrikken – studio where the recording took place – being one step away from being completely demolished. With time running out, there was only one option remaining, and that was the use of a friend’s front living room to add the final touches to ‘Flashblack’. Milk and two sugars with your tea Miss Kolstø?
“In the middle of the recording process, the studio we were working in was going to be torn down; it was the Sjokoladefabrikken and was originally a chocolate factory. So we were without a place to record. We ended up with the studio being in one of my best friend’s living room, so he just gave up his apartment!” she continues laughing at the memory of this incident. “We put up all of our equipment in this apartment in Oslo, but then, of course, we couldn’t do any more drums, as we play all of the instruments ourselves, but then suddenly you have neighbours who can play the drums! So we managed to record some drums during our time at Sjokoladefabrikken, but the rest won’t have drums because we just thought that’s meant to be.”
What are your abiding memories of the thought processes behind the lyrics in relation to ‘Flashblack’?
“I was really in love for the first half of the record and you can hear that in my lyrics and in the songs as well, but more optimistic despite being dark. However, some of the songs are about when it [relationship] all turned,” comments Hanne looking somewhat sombre at the memory of this. “I’m not always writing songs about love, and I often write in the third person and I’m glad that I write in this way as it seems that people relate to my lyrics.”
It would seem that your music also reflects this diversity in terms of the writing, as there are various influences going on with the most obvious being an 80s indie reference melded with an almost art-pop feel due to your visual imagery.
“I would really like to not call it one thing because with ‘Flashblack’ you have songs that you can dance to and others with just me and my guitar with somebody singing like a choir in the background,” replies Hanne concerning her music. “So it’s a bit hard [to define] as I wanted it to be an open space where I can let out all of my songs even if it’s singer-songwriter, electropop or trip-hop. Some of the songs are definitely electro-pop as I’m always thinking Depeche Mode and Bjørk whereas with the third album we’ve got a feeling for New Order. So the answer is pop music but with a mix of electro and a mix of singer-songwriter.”
With a new album ‘Blue Anger’ due out later this year and the final instalment in the proposed trilogy, there remains one final question to address so that FLW can sleep soundly this evening and that is to ascertain what exactly is the philosophy Hanne Klostø lives by in order to get through the daily grind of each and every day?
“To not think too much and let go,” is the immediate reply, “as I said with the music, when you have done something to let it go. I have something on my arm which is perhaps the philosophy… Fortiden er perfekt (the past is perfect).”
There are many reasons as to why FLW is enamoured with the creative genius that is Hanne Kolstø and the past is definitely one of them.
I didn't want it to be a violent cover but I just had that image in my head that I want a blue eye and I think that's beautiful as I like bruises and things we can get on the outside of our bodies."
FLW - From the Tapes
Hanne Kolstø comes clean about a gig supporting Eric Clapton, but more bizarrely performing as part of his band!
“There was one episode that was really strange and it was a couple of years ago. I did a warm-up gig for Eric Clapton in Bergen and then I played in the band [Clapton’s] and played electric guitar with approximately 25,000 people standing close to the stage and really wanting to see Eric Clapton and his hands whilst he was playing. So I was playing [as well] and I don’t really know what I’m doing when I ‘m playing as I’m just placing my fingers – I don’t know which chord or anything as I’ve never known that. Then they were actually filming my fingers while I was playing the guitar and they were shown on a big screen and I don’t know anything about playing the guitar! So I thought that was really funny!”