The journey back north has been a long one for Sigrun Loe Sparboe, but it was a venture worthwhile considering the creative success that is ‘Uten at du vet det’
“I know we’re not in Kansas the sky’s all coloured wrong, I know we’re not in Kansas the days are all too long.” (Stuart Adamson, Big Country)
The Oslo skyline has more than likely been a different shade for Sigrun Loe Sparboe during the past couple of years and one that doesn’t resemble anything close to home. After an eight-year stint living in the capital, the realisation began to dawn for Sparboe that her heart was still firmly rooted in Harstad where she grew up. So without further ado, a decision was made and a return to her hometown seemed to happen overnight without the wind powered assistance of a tornado the one Dorothy famously experienced during a certain film. However, there was one final date to fulfil before bidding farewell to Oslo, and that was the honour of performing at Josefine Vertshus which, in the Norwegian folk music circle is the equivalent to performing at the Grammys.
While this is most definitely not the warmer climate of Kansas, the temperature inside Josefine Vertshus this evening is close to sweltering. The reason for such a rising temperature in the tightly packed confines of this famous folk house in the West End of Oslo is for the much anticipated entrance of Norway’s newish folk sensation Sigrun Loe Sparboe.
Before the main event this evening got underway, however, there was cause for a moment’s contemplation due to the hospitable treatment Famous Last Words (FLW) received from all those responsible for the running of Josefine Vertshus. What transpired was a front row seat with those nearest and dearest to Sigrun Loe Sparboe, after some initial fretting that our allocated slot had already been taken. Most noticeable of all, though, was the difference in ambience of the whole venue, as weaving our way to the reserved seating nearly all those present were sitting down to a three course meal of some description, which gave the feeling of having just crashed an invite only private party.
“Rock ‘n’ roll!” mused FLW as this was definitely one of those moments which, down the line, has seen arms cartwheeling through the air and striking heavily on guitar chords before the very same instrument ending in a crumpled mess and dispatched into a baying crowd, hastily followed by various band members projecting themselves headlong into the same throng of ecstatic people.
Tonight’s performance, however, was a different prospect altogether as the closest experience to a threatening moment was a piano stool that insisted on squeaking at various intervals and much to the chagrin of Sigrun Loe Sparboe who, along with her two bandmates this evening, delivered an inch perfect performance.
With the songs coming from her debut solo album ‘Uten at du vet det’ (‘Without you knowing it’), each and every one was delivered with integrity, as if relaying these narratives for the first time, whether it be the fragile beauty of ‘Unnskyld’ or more playful ‘Ta mæ med’, the latter whipping up a high level of excitement in the seated audience, Sigrun Loe Sparboe and band did not disappoint.
Once the live set had been done and dusted to much rapturous applause, especially after conjuring up two unrehearsed songs due to an unexpected encore, FLW chanced upon Sigrun Loe Sparboe moments after the gig and offered our gratitude for such an outstanding performance that seemed to end all too briefly when, in fact, the band had performed a mammoth seventeen songs. There was, however, one slight irritation and that was after eagerly announcing our love for one out of the two aforementioned songs during tonight’s encore, which was a slight deviation in sound as well due to choosing to take the country route, that FLW was still left clueless after an attempt to prise its name from its originator. If the song in question is a working progress, then FLW is more than content to bide its time until further announcement. Failing that, then hopefully word will come from the north as to the name of this country influenced ditty, because all discussion with Sigrun Loe Sparboe had been conducted the day prior to this monumental occasion at Josefine Vertshus.
Despite revealing much talent and depth in her opening bow as a solo artist with the album ‘Uten at du vet det’, music came reasonably late in the life of Sigrun Loe Sparboe. In fact, it was not until a life-changing decision to move away from her family home in Harstad at the age of eighteen to pursue various academic studies, as well as experiencing in her words “my first really bad heartbreak” that she started to write as a means of dealing with these changes.
Several albums later after stints in Trondheim and then Oslo with The Kitchen Band, Sigrun Loe Sparboe found herself at yet another crossroads once the aforementioned realisation dawned that there really is no place like home. Therefore, life for Sigrun Loe Sparboe really has gone full circle in terms of where she now finds herself.
“I guess I never really felt that Oslo was my home and that I was only visiting for the eight years,” explains Sigrun Loe Sparboe offering one reason as to why she decided to leave the capital. “I moved to Oslo to start a Masters with Special Needs Children, and this is when I first met my band and things started opening for me musically. Since 2006, the music has been my highest priority as we released our first album in 2007. In fact, Oslo has been so good in terms of rehearsing and playing gigs as there are so many more venues and people to meet in the [music] business. However, I always felt that I was going to move back [Harstad] as my heart is up north. I guess it has been down to working full-time as well, in addition to my music projects, because I kinda felt that I was doing more [day job] than my abilities as an artist. For example, when you’re in a job you really need to stay focused as you meet people the whole time and have to stay sharp. Then, when you get home, you have to try and be creative to write songs and use all your weekends and holidays. Of course, I haven’t thought of that as a sacrifice at all, but I was more tired than I thought.”
Despite combining a full-time job with the creative processes that led to Sparboe’s first solo album, there appears to be no sign of fatigue in the end result. However, the decision to move back to Harstad was inevitable considering a growing sense of unease with the general pace of life in Oslo.
“From the release of ‘Uten at du vet det’, it has been going so well with nice reviews and everything,” Sigrun explains. “This has given me a lot of energy, but still, when I first came for two or three weeks north, I felt that the calmness of the environment had been really what I needed. I have moved just outside of the town [Harstad] as it’s quieter and close to the mountains and ocean which, I feel, provides inspiration to write music. I also wanted to say that coming from a small place, the people, media and local radio stations are really sharing my work. You need all the support that you can get in a big city like Oslo, as you can easily become one of many who want to make it. Now, with my Norwegian dialect to music, I think living up there [Harstad] will be inspiring.”
Do you feel that considering the momentum your album has been gathering, the move back to Harstad my slow this process because you are moving away from the capital city?
“I don’t think so,” considers Sigrun before adding, “because I will work less [day job] up there and have more time to write music, and therefore beneficial to the whole process. To get a plane and travel down to Oslo I will still do that, as my band is here and I will still play with them. I have just been in Harstad for two and half weeks, so I really don’t know how it’s actually going to be. I hope that I manage, but I would not have moved back if I had thought that’s the end of my career.”
So the move back north is pretty positive?
“Yeah, as I will be playing in a part of the country where I am from, with the same dialect that I am singing, and I think more venues are interested up there to have my music than maybe in the south, where I don’t have any connection. Of course, I lived in Oslo for a long time and I have all my music contacts here and I hope that venues will still arrange concerts with me even if I’m up there. It’s cheaper for the venues up north to have me perform now because I don’t have to travel from Oslo [laughing]!”
With the previously mentioned Kitchen Band, which came together after a period of time residing in Oslo, Sigrun Loe Sparboe decided to change track musically, after feeling that her songs were veering too much towards an overall pop sound.
“I started off with The Kitchen Band with the first songs, which I had written, but I felt that we were moving in a different direction,” comments Sigrun. “The music has always been pop and folk as reflected by our first album and they’re not that different compared to the new songs that I have [written] apart from that they were in English and these are in Norwegian. So the debut album was pop and up-tempo and I felt like this is not were my heart is at all. Up until the summer of 2012, we had played for almost every month for six years and I had been writing a lot and finding myself writing stuff that my band or other people wanted to hear. Therefore, I felt that I had lost myself in terms of where I had started.”
Is this when the transition in song writing from English to Norwegian took place?
“Yes, as one month later I started to write a song that I hadn’t been meaning to write when, in the middle of the song, I found myself writing in Norwegian and finished it in Norwegian. When we played it a couple of times in Oslo, the first part was in English and the rest in Norwegian, which was quite a weird thing to do, but people cried and we received positive feedback with suggestions that it should all be in Norwegian. I was motivated by this and suddenly it felt natural to do that, as I felt that I had new expressions and new words because it was a new language in terms of the writing. So that was such a good experience, and with all these new words I wanted to write more and more. Therefore, I wrote twenty Norwegian songs in a couple of months.”
The solo pursuit was not a planned excursion, however, as the songs developed organically over a period of time, without any thought regarding a full long player and additional promotion, because these songs were viewed as more of a personal aid than anything else as Sigrun explains.
“I really didn’t plan on making an album when I wrote those songs because, in a way, it was therapy and just for me. For the first time I didn’t think about any release [single or album] or whether there was a pop song in terms of the structure. I wrote some short songs and some lengthy songs and some had choruses and some didn’t. So I wasn’t that hard on myself when it came to the writing because sometimes I can kill an idea before it’s even started! But I didn’t do that this time as I allowed myself to write down all the ideas.”
How does The Kitchen Band feel about this latest development in your music career?
“That’s a good question,” replies Sigrun deep in thought. “The Kitchen Band is my friends and I really know them well. So I got them involved to make a demo for ‘Uten at du vet det’ and we put it out on Soundcloud and emailed to friends and family as well as NRK P1 [Norwegian Radio]. I actually heard from NRK P1 and they really liked it and decided to play it on Norsk på Norsk, which was last January 2013 and therefore not that long ago. It was then that I decided, because I had twenty songs, to make an album. I applied for a grant and was successful and then found two producers who were really good to work with as they challenged me with some of the songs in terms of how to record them.”
Along with all the transitions in her life, Sigrun Loe Sparboe, as mentioned, decided to apply her native language to the songs of ‘Uten at du vet det’. This was an inspired decision because the Norwegian dialect functions perfectly with the musical arrangements but also, by singing in her regional dialect, this has allowed Sparboe to get closer to the narratives and project the emotions held due to a greater understanding of the resources on offer compared to her previous works in English.
“I wanted it [‘Uten at du vet det’] to be organic and I think the soundscape on the album is organic. It’s kind of raw, like a live recording, as I didn’t want it to be too perfect, in a way, as I find it more interesting when it’s not. So I think organic would be the one central word to describe it, but I wanted the lyrics to also be central whereby people could really feel what I was singing about by listening to the sounds and I wanted it to sound as if it was from the north [Norway]. When I wrote earlier, I felt that I had to have some happy songs, up-tempo songs and some sad songs, but I have always been more melancholic when I’ve been happy. So this time, with no rules, I ended up writing more downbeat songs and for the first time I have not been apologising about this at all. This [album] is what it is and we didn’t rush any of the songs for it to compensate, and I’m happy with that.”
Do you think that you will revert to singing in English at some point in the future, especially if you want to entice a broader market of people to your music?
“You can never say never,” replies Sigrun, “but I’m still writing in Norwegian as I only wrote my first Norwegian song fourteen months ago, so it’s still quite new to me. Again though, I feel that there are a lot of different words in English, but I won’t say that I miss that yet, but maybe I will!” she finishes laughing.
Sigrun Loe Sparboe might not be coming to the UK in the near future, but there has been interest from the Faroe Islands, of all places, as she explains.
“One of the national radio stations on the Faroe Islands really liked the song ‘Månekveld i oktober’ and they wanted to play this on their radio station. So the DJ, who was particularly interested in this song, sent an email to the record company to request a copy of the album, which was really cool! So when you mentioned possible coverage of ‘Uten at du vet det’ overseas other than the rest of Scandinavia, then I think that’s the farthest interest to date.”
Are you pleased with the overall outcome of ‘Uten at du vet det’?
“You could always do with more time, but studio time is expensive,” is the immediate reply from Sigrun. “This was the first time that I went into a studio without having the [musical] arrangements done as it was just me and a guitar. With my former albums, I had been rehearsing with my band and it was all ready to press the record button. This time, I didn’t know how it was going to sound. I wanted it to sound like the stuff I was playing of course, but we had to do more of it for the production. After having finished the album and touring, I feel that maybe I should have added some variation here and there, but overall, I am pleased with it as we didn’t have much time and I think the outcome was good.”
Was the recording process a long time if you didn’t have the arrangements in place beforehand?
“We had written one song – ‘Uten at du vet det’ – which was a demo and therefore we knew how to do that,” says Sigrun. “When I arrived at the studio, I had some of my songs recorded on my iPhone and we listened to them and talked about the way forward. The recording took some time, as it was a period of about two months, but we didn’t use every day as it was spread out.”
After a lengthy conversation this afternoon that included a few of the gems littering ‘Uten at du vet det’, as well as current and future plans for this folk songstress, talk turns once more to the prestigious honour of opening night at Josefine Vertshus, which has not happened yet in terms of where we find ourselves at this point in the discussion, because in the world of Sigrun Loe Sparboe this is a major milestone.
“Josefine Vertshus is one of the oldest folk clubs in Norway. All of the big folk stars have performed there. I know that it’s not Oslo Spektrum, but for me it’s a very cool thing to be doing. Back in the Kitchen Band, I tried to get a gig there but that was when our songs were in English and more pop-oriented. This time around, I was asked if we wanted to open the first night of the new season at the club. So for me, this is a milestone because I know that there’s been some really great singers perform there. I haven’t been thinking too much about the genre, but I’m more folk-oriented than I’ve ever been. I really hope to write more folk songs, and manage that way of writing, as I love playing intimate venues and it feels like we have a real communication. There are so many good folk singers in Norway but not too many younger people performing such music.”
Despite all the life-changing experiences and events recently in the life of Sigrun Loe Sparboe, the determination to keep moving forward and progressing creatively looks set to continue especially when considering her final thought of the day.
“Not all who wander are lost.”
I always felt that I was going to move back [Harstad] as my heart is up north."
Sigrun Loe Sparboe
FLW - From the Tapes
Sigrun Loe Sparboe shared not one but two weird and wonderful anecdotes with Famous Last Words.
“There are a lot of stories, especially from when touring, but I think I have two fun and quite weird stories that happened. One of them occurred after we played the first concert of our tour after the [album] release in Volda. We played at the Student House and it was set up as Sigrun Loe Sparboe gig and a wine-tasting fair at the same time! The organisers thought that it was a good idea because there was going to be a lot of people at the concert. I was happy that they wanted to have us there and play, but I had never done anything like that before. The deal was that we were going to perform and the students were going to have the seven best wines during the concert, with one decilitre equalling one bottle each. So they were going to get a glass of red wine and someone would inform them what wine they were drinking, and we were going to play two or three songs. So that was weird and a new experience, but the fun thing was that the students and the people running the Student House were really listening to our songs and that was really great.”