Fresh outta Paul McCartney’s Institute for Performing Arts, Iselin Solheim is making something of an impact back in her native Norway with recent single ‘The Wizard of Us’.
After coming so far yet failing to cross the finishing line at the penultimate stage of Norway’s version of Idol, Iselin Solheim made a personal decision, there and then, to prove any doubters wrong by taking on board the invaluable advice given by all judges present and use this to launch a comeback of sorts. This regrouping involved a scholarship at Paul McCartney’s LIPA (The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts) for the duration of one year where Solheim passed with flying colours and in the process found the momentum and right direction in terms of the path to travel. While this path may not be paved with gold at the moment, the experience proved a worthwhile excursion because it allowed Solheim the chance to mature and arrive at the stage she now finds herself. With a contract signed with Norway’s Bisi Music, current single ‘The Wizard of Us’ riding high up the NRK P1 Radio Playlist Chart, the lille folk-pop goddess from Naustdal has every reason to feel a little satisfied with the progress to date; something of which the city of Liverpool has more than played its part and definitely recognised by Iselin Solheim herself.
“I don’t know, but there is something electric about the city and just the feeling you get when you walk down streets such as Bold Street in Liverpool,” begins Iselin Solheim. “There were just so many things to see and I love that people are not afraid to be who they are, and I think that was a huge inspiration for me. Even people at LIPA [were inspiring] as there were people from Africa, Asia, USA and many from England, of course, which was just fantastic. All the people were so talented and I think that benefitted me as I was able to learn a lot from other people, and that was amazing!”
Moving at a reasonably young age to such a city in the UK not only steeped in a rich history of musical talent ranging from (almost) everyone’s favourite sons The Beatles to The Teardrop Explodes, Echo & the Bunnymen, The La’s, The Boo Radleys but also a city with a much greater population and most definitely more bustling way of life than the small town Iselin Solheim grew up in on the west coast of Norway, surely such an experience must have been daunting at first?
“Yeah, absolutely!” is the immediate reply. “At first I thought it was, as it is such a huge city, but then I heard that Liverpool is only the seventh biggest city or something like that and I thought ‘What!’ but after six months of living there I thought that it’s not that big after all as the city centre is very compact and a few minutes’ walk from LIPA where I was studying. I never felt scared there as I felt really safe, which was a good thing, whereas here in Oslo, I feel that you have to be a little more careful.”
This musical journey, however, did not begin for Iselin Solheim at LIPA or the aforementioned Idol contest as the urge to forge a career in music was present since the age of fifteen when a family member decided to buy the emerging talent her very own guitar; no doubt on the strength of hearing the golden tonsils being flexed round the family household before coming to this conclusion.
“I started when I was 15 years old as I received my first guitar,” comments Iselin. “The guitar was a present from my aunt. I had started to sing before that but I wanted to write as it felt natural to me, especially when I got the guitar. I just felt that the singer-songwriter style was easier to perform in terms of doing it all myself. Then I decided to attend a school in Sandefjord – Folkehøgskole – for one year to study music and try not think too much about the theory but do all the practical side of it. Also, I had the perfect teacher as she recognised the talent I had and believed in me. It was my teacher who recommended LIPA as they had an audition in Oslo in three months and I decided to apply.”
Having not studied too much in terms of the theoretical side of music, were you not worried that this was probably a prerequisite for acceptance into LIPA?
“I was worried because I had never had theory and expected the worst scenario with a theory test and no points! I went there [Oslo audition] and had a theory test and I couldn’t answer anything!” she continues laughing. “Anyway, I relaxed after that and felt that I didn’t have a chance but I had to wait for a letter from the school that would take three weeks. So I waited and waited and still no letter, but then I started to think that there will be other opportunities in Norway and that I don’t have to go to England – although I wanted to!”
What was the feeling like when that letter finally arrived from LIPA?
“It was the best news ever and I was so happy,” replies a still beaming Iselin Solheim at the recollection of this moment. “I was informed by the school in Sandefjord that I had a letter from LIPA, and that was a month later! I opened it and they mentioned that they could offer me a one year course so that I could learn more theory because I think that they felt that I had the potential but that I wasn’t ready for a degree. So I attended LIPA one year after receiving the letter, and therefore it was two years that meant so much to me as many things happened during this time.”
Having experienced the vibrant and cultural atmosphere of Liverpool, Iselin Solheim found herself once more at the crossroads of life with a few decisions to make. One of those decisions involved a move back to her native homeland after an extremely successful year at Macca’s, as he is affectionately known, Institute for Performing Arts, whereas the other was a chance meeting with a fellow graduate by the name of Phil Cook, who is rather deft when it comes to production duties. Thankfully, for all concerned, Iselin decided to pursue this chance discussion when Cook mentioned that he had a soft spot for one of Solheim’s compositions during their time at LIPA. Such news lifted the burden of decision-making from Solheim’s wee shoulders as the pair struck up a friendship and decamped to the capital in order to work on Solheim’s first imprint on the music world.
“I always wanted to work with Phil Cook because he was the star at the school, but I never asked because I thought he was always busy,” explains Iselin. “At the graduation party, as he was finished with his three years and I was finished with my one year, we started to talk and he mentioned that he had heard my song ‘What’s Happening’, which I had written in Liverpool, and he continued that he’d really like to record it. I was planning to move back to Norway at this point and he was heading back to London. So I decided to go to London for a bit to work with him.”
Was the song released as a single in Norway after working in London?
“The song was released on the record label I have now [Bisi Music] and that was more to try the market here in Norway to see whether people liked it or not,” explains Iselin. “Radio Norge actually nominated it as ‘Song of the Week’ last summer and it actually won [the contest] as there were five songs people could vote for. So they played it for a while and it was a fun experience.”
How do you compare the song in terms of what you’re recording now?
“I can see now that I have developed a lot as it was more of a clean pop sound, but now it’s more folk-pop as I have taken a lot inspiration from the city of Liverpool but also the west of Norway, as I’m from a small town called Naustdal. So I’m used to mountains and trees which is so different from Liverpool and I guess that’s why I ended up with that mix of folk music and more urban [influences].”
There is also another very noticeable influence in terms of the music of Iselin Solheim and that is the vocal, which is not too dissimilar from the recently reunited Cranberries vocalist Dolores O’Riordan as both are blessed with lovely lilting qualities and sounding as if they’re cascading down from the very heavens themselves. The comparison does not end there either, as Iselin Solheim projects a very innocent figure, full of wonder yet burdened with a need for reassurance from time to time; something of which Dolores O’Riordan more than suffered from during the band’s first tentative steps as her only means of performing live was with her back turned towards the audience due to a crippling lack of self-confidence. Throw in the additional small town upbringings with pretty much the countryside as your only companion and no doubt bringing out the ‘folk’ roots, then such comparisons are even more understandable.
“I got some of my inspiration from them [The Cranberries] when I was younger and I think I actually planned to sing ‘Zombie’ at an audition once for Idol but I didn’t in the end,” says Solheim. “I think they’re great [The Cranberries] and people have said to me before that I sound like Dolores O’Riordan and I take that as a compliment because I love her voice and probably because she has that folk influence.”
Was it a conscious decision, therefore, to focus on bringing forth more of a folk influence in your music and fusing that with a pop sound as demonstrated by recent single ‘The Wizard of Us’?
“I decided that I wanted to make a new single, as I have a new producer I’m working with in Oslo and that’s easier to have somebody here to work with rather than having to travel to London all of the time; although I loved working with Phil [Cook] as well,” replies Iselin. “The record label [Bisi Music] really wanted me to work with Jesper Borgen [producer] and I’m so glad that they introduced me because we have a really good connection and I felt that when we first started to work together. He saw some qualities, I guess, and it all took another direction and that folk [sound] mixed with the urban sounds is kinda how I ended up with that genre. So yes, a mix of modern pop and at the same time a little bit influenced by the folk genre as well.”
For any listeners out there who have not had the pleasure of listening to the lush orchestration and folk-pop sounds of ‘The Wizard of Us’ then you’re missing out on something rather special. With the most important ingredient sitting on top of these wondrous sounds being the gorgeous, mellifluous vocals stemming from Iselin herself, it’s hardly surprising that there is a magical reference in the title when the music is so incredibly dreamlike; something of which Solheim is reluctant to disclose when it comes to its secrets.
“When I write I kind of go into my own bubble, my own world. So I guess it’s a little bit hard to define the song [‘The Wizard of Us] in a short sound bite,” she explains while remaining slightly cautious. “I want people, when they listen to my music, to create their own picture of it and I don’t want to help too much as I like to figure out what a song is about. However, I would say that it’s a love song but it’s also about the magical things that can happen.”
Magical things are certainly about to happen for Iselin Solheim in the not-too-distant future as she plans to bring her blend of folk-pop to the masses of Norway for starters with an album loosely pencilled in for later this year and forthcoming live dates. Based on the wonderful delights of ‘The Wizard of Us’, there is only one path Iselin Solheim can now pursue and that is one that is golden.
I want people, when they listen to my music, to create their own picture of it."
FLW - From the Tapes
Iselin Solheim recounts to FLW about the time she decided to audition for Idol.
“I was 16 years old and I was insecure about my abilities in terms of music. I wanted to seek some sort of confirmation from the competition in order to establish my level of ability. I ended up among the top 40 so that was cool, but in the end I felt that I was not mature enough. Also, I freaked out when I realised that there was only 40 [contestants] left and that in order to win I only had to beat the remaining 39! So I was sitting there and just watching everybody around me and thinking 8000 people gone and now there are only 39 left! (FLW struggles to contain its laughter at this point due to Iselin’s humorous recollection of the enormity of the task). I didn’t handle the last challenge well as I thought it was the semi-final but they [the judges] decided to change things with 24 being the final number. At this point I was very tired and it was just too much for me and I couldn’t sleep that weekend and it was three days whereby I was in my own world. They [the judges] told me that they liked me and that they believed in me but they couldn’t take me further in the competition because I was not mature enough. That was not the worst comment because I actually became more motivated and I never thought that I’d get that far anyway. It was a huge thing for me, but I decided to work on my own and if anything it sort of helped me and I’m glad that I didn’t get through the last round as I probably wouldn’t be in the same place as I’m in now.”