Interview: Eirik Glambek Bøe (Kings of Convenience)
In the year Norwegians celebrate 100 years of independence, Bergen's Kings of Convenience are set to embark on their first big tour of North America. The trek follows European shows throughout 2004 in support of "Riot On An Empty Street," an album that's earned high marks for successfully blending subtle instrumental and lyrical experimentation with the acoustic-based melodies and haunting harmonies that were the hallmark of the duo's first worldwide release, 2001's "Quiet Is The New Loud."
After "Quiet," the pair (Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe) issued "Versus," a quirky set of remixes and remakes performed by the likes of Ladytron. As Øye moved to Berlin, he further embraced electronic music, releasing both an electronic album ("Unrest") and an entry in the "DJ Kicks" series, showing off his style of singing favorite songs over the records he was spinning.
Bøe, meanwhile, stayed home in Bergen to continue his psychology studies at the university level. Over a six-month period ending in March 2004, the two recorded "Riot" whenever Øye was back in town. The album came out in early summer of last year.
Tracks like "Homesick" and "Cayman Islands" pick up where the group's debut left off, featuring perfectly blended harmonies set against a spare acoustic backdrop. Bossa nova and dance music influences pop up too, and the playful and catchy "I'd Rather Dance With You" nods to Øye's recent dance floor experiences. Canadian singer Leslie Feist (who has worked with Broken Social Scene) contributes some vocals, adding another layer to the stunning "Know-How."
I caught up with Eirik Glambek Bøe by phone from Bergen a few weeks before the start of the Kings' North American tour.
- Matthew W. Smith
MWS: In the advance press for "Riot," a number of articles highlighted the fact that while Erlend was trotting around the globe DJing and recording his solo album, you were in Bergen working on your degree. Did you write any songs in your spare time?
EGB: Yeah. I think most of the songs I wrote for the album were written when I was studying, reading scientific works--that's where I got most of the ideas for the new music. It's kind of interesting, 'cause I think the academic environment is not very creative... but for some reason it seems to make me creative.
MWS: You both sing, you both play guitar, you both play drums, you both play piano and this time you both played the banjo. How you decide who gets to play what on each song?
EGB: When we're writing the songs, whoever gets the guitar, or the banjo, or the drumsticks on that day will get the job. If it doesn't sound right, the other person says, "Hey, you call that drumming? Listen to this." And then I sit down and record the drums again and then hopefully it sounds better.
MWS: So it's an open competition?
EGB: Yeah, exactly. An ongoing competition.
MWS: You're listed as co-writers. How does it usually work? Do you write songs individually and then bring them together to bash them out?
EGB: Typically we write half-songs and then we meet and help each other tweak the songs.
MWS: You've both been writing songs in English for a while. How does that evolve? Does it get much easier as time goes on to write in a second language?
EGB: Yeah, most of the Western world is heavily influenced by English-spoken pop music. It's been a part of my upbringing... it's kind of a natural thing, but then it's not our native language. We approach it in a different way then American and English bands do. I think it can be an advantage because... it's easy to get trapped in your own language. But when you have a second language, you can use it more as a tool. We can play around with words more and with ways of expressing ideas more. It makes us more playful and gives us more freedom. How do you find our lyrics?
MWS: I think they're really good.
EGB: Could they have been written by an American, or an English person?
MWS: I think so. I think there's a difference between this album and "Quiet Is The New Loud." To me it seemed more natural this time.
EGB: Yeah? OK.
MWS: That brings up another question. Do you foresee any Kings of Convenience songs being sung in Norwegian?
EGB: Well, the first years we were playing in a band [Skøg] together, me and Erlend, we were singing in Norwegian. But I think that phase is a thing of the past, not the future. The truth is, my dialect, if I sing in Norwegian, is hard to take in other parts of Norway. People seem to prefer the Oslo/eastern Norway dialect, and my dialect is the Bergen/western Norway dialect. For some reason, people don't like it.
MWS: Did recording in your hometown keep pressure away that might have been there if you'd gone somewhere else to record? Especially in terms of time and deadlines...
EGB: Yeah, I think that's exactly why we decided to stay in Bergen. It took away the pressure because we're so far away from everything else. The deadlines for our record company in London--they don't seem like important things to us when we're sitting in a little wooden studio in Bergen, Norway. The world seems far away, and it makes us relax.
MWS: Do you have a lot of songs left over, or ones you're still working on from those sessions?
EGB: We have a lot of ideas for new material for our next record. When we were in the studio, we played lots of different instruments. It gave us ideas.
MWS: Are there any specific plans for the new record?
EGB: Well, no specific plans. The idea of playing instruments that we don't really know how to play can make interesting things happen. I think we're going to be doing more of that. No banjo, I guess, because I think we've left the banjo stage.
MWS: On the new album, Davide Bertolini was the engineer, co-producer, and even played some bass. What other roles did he play? Did he settle disputes?
EGB: He was very diplomatic. There were a lot of disputes between Erlend and myself, and he was in the middle smiling while we were trying to get really mad at each other. He was keeping the atmosphere calm. Sometimes I would say, "So what do you think, Davide?" if we had an argument, but he would never say his opinion. He was warm and friendly, and made things work. When you're performing in the studio, your nerves are all over the place. You need someone who can bring you down and keep you focused, and Davide is excellent with that.
MWS: The video for "I'd Rather Dance With You" looks like it was a lot of fun to make. Did you shoot it in Bergen?
EGB: Yeah, yeah. It was made by some guy we met, who works as a cameraman for a Norwegian TV station. He was interviewing us in the studio, and by chance he mentioned that he actually wanted to start working with music videos. And we said, "Hey, OK! Try making a video for us." It was a good time.
MWS: You played a few North American shows when the first album come out. With this bigger tour, was there pressure to do more this time, or is it something you and Erlend wanted to do?
EGB: Well, it's kind of a compromise. We were planning to do a few shows in the U.S., like three or four shows. And then our record company in New York, they said, "Come on, you have to come over and do a real tour and play all the major cities." We didn't want to disappoint our record company. Astralwerks has done a great job and we wanted to thank them. And we've gotten a lot of e-mails from people in the U.S. who are asking us to come over and play.
MWS: I have to ask this, based on the new record cover. Which one of you is better at chess?
EGB: Well, the game that you see on the album cover was actually won by Erlend. I lost that game, but most of the time I tend to win. I used to play a lot of chess when I was younger, and I don't think Erlend did a lot of chess playing. He's a smart guy--he gets into things quickly.
MWS: You have a really active forum on your website. Do you check in much to see what your fans are writing about?
EGB: Sometimes. It's interesting to see what kinds of people identify with Kings of Convenience. And sometimes I write in my own forum. It's interesting.
MWS: Well, thank you Eirik. Tusen takk!
EGB: Yeah? Takk. Take care, bye.
Matthew W. Smith is a writer/editor based in Richmond, VA. You can send comments and Norwegian centennial party ideas to