The top of Mount Fløyen, just north of central Bergen, on the western coast of Norway, can be a lonely place. While clutches of children chattily grab their parents' coat-tails on the way to a nearby kindergarten (could you get a more picturesque location?), there is almost no other noise: it's a near-silent oasis of almost oppressively quiet contemplation. As the tiny city spreads itself beneath one's feet, oblongs of mist are battered by beams of harsh sunlight. Droplets of water gust in horizontally from the North Sea. There are lots of types of rain here. Heavy rain, light rain, more rain.
Into this steps the sunny disposition of Eirik Glambek Bøe. He is one half of Kings of Convenience, a highly regarded duo of Norwegian musicians who have injected a mite of Scandinavian solace into the lives of those in the busiest corners of SoHo andSoho, not to mention across Italy where they are best-selling artists. Their lyrics discuss the merits of growing up, growing old, travelling and meeting potential life partners at every turn; their sound is often compared to Simon and Garfunkel (it's folky, it's two blokes singing softly) but more subtly reflects the changing interests of Bøe, and his bandmate, Erlend Øye, the better known of the pair, over the last decade.
In that time their stock has risen, then flattened out, as they have grown apart. Bøe has more or less stayed put in his home town, with the same partner, and had a son. Øye has experimented with electronica through his side-project The Whitest Boy Alive, DJ-ed, worked with a raft of producers across Europe and lived everywhere from Berlin to Sao Paulo.
Boe gestures to the mountain and we walk back into central Bergen. As we stroll he discusses his new waterproof coat ("the guy in the shop said it can withstand 10 metres of rain"), critics' opinions of his band's latest album, Declaration of Dependence, especially the Norwegian national press in Oslo ("some of them were really nasty") and his plans to support the construction of an eco-friendly high-speed rail link between Oslo and Bergen. We stop off for a cup of tea at his modest flat, which boasts a pleasant view of Bergen's central harbour. His "studio" is a tiny room secreted at the back, so that he doesn't, he says, disturb his girlfriend, model-turned-doctor Ina Grung, and their son, when the two are sleeping on a tiny mattress at the front of the building.
Later, we meet up with Øye for lunch. He arrives late and angry with Bøe after a misunderstanding relating to the interview location ("I wanted us to be professional, you know"). He'd first appeared the previous evening, warm at first, then slightly awkward and mistrusting. Thankfully, today, he eventually mellows; though there are patent tensions between him and his bandmate, which Øye tries to explain later on, once Bøe has departed to meet his son.
"The story of our band, the main story you need to know about, is that when the first record, Quiet is the New Loud, came out, in 2001... there was this really energetic record company [Astralwerks]," he says. "It was full of young people, who really wanted to do this, and I think Eirik was not at all aware of what putting out a record meant – promotion, playing, there was no end in sight, just releasing more albums and playing live, and it just seemed like he lost control of his life. He was quite enjoying his life here. My dream was to see the world, have a good time, but it wasn't his dream...
"Now it seems to me like he is regretting it wasn't his dream, a little bit. Suddenly Eirik realised, 'wait a second, I actually like this, I like being in a band,'" Øye continues. "He just didn't see it until it was kind of almost gone. That was probably around 2002. And then, you know, I had started doing other things, and these things started rolling, and the cat was out of the bag or whatever, it didn't want to go back in. But then again, I enjoy doing all the things that I've been doing, when it comes to DJ-ing, that was a fun thing to do. But it got old. Making electronic music with other people was really fun for a while, but it got old. It got really old because there is no obvious live brother of the recording. Live music, made with a computer, there is no obvious way to do it. So that wasn't fun at all. But Kings of Convenience doesn't get old. It was old to begin with." He laughs.
Declaration of Dependence is much more pared back than the band's previous efforts. Piano features for a total of 15 seconds across three of the album's 13 tracks. Unsurprisingly for something written by a duo that has spent a lot of time apart (it is their first work in five years), it is relatively easy to deduce who has written what. "Mrs Cold", the story of an insecure woman who masks her frailty through coldness, is the work of the unmarried Øye; "Freedom and its Owner", which discusses how people are the sum of their cultural heritage, wherever they are in the world (and thus explores why the narrator doesn't need his geographic freedom) is by Bøe. The album is also the pair's darkest. There is none of the naive optimism of the first outing.
"In my twenties I had this feeling of being victorious, I could climb any mountain, I felt invincible – in my thirties, I don't feel that, seeing what's happening to people around you, life is taking its toll," says Bøe. "You are basically really, really lucky if you are healthy and things go your way – it's a question of luck, it's not in your character or something to be proud of, it's something you should feel grateful for. I feel more humble, and that affects the songwriting – it's a little bit more melancholic but also a little bit more peaceful, accepting."
Øye agrees. "There are songs that are sad," he says. "Maybe we've reached that age, that point, when we feel we are able to attack those feelings. We have the musicality now, to do sad songs. You have to have lived life. Now we are ready. This is the time to tackle those things." The song "My Ship isn't Pretty", which compares a person to an ailing vessel, is particularly melancholic.
Later on, when we have another coffee and then go for a wander through town, Øye discusses the early days of his band in London, and becomes noticeably happier. That was a good time. Now, he says, he and his fellow Bergen-dwellers, the electronica outfit Röyksopp, no longer talk (the vocals to their 2001 hit "Poor Leno" were provided by Øye after he was randomly invited into their recording studio). Øye hints it might be because they begrudge that album's association with his voice.
Øye points to any number of other local musicians popping up on every Bergen street corner, many of whom now look to him for advice (at one point I notice the lead singer of Casiokids, Ketil Kinden Endresen, bouncing into the distance). Is it likely that Kings of Convenience will do another record, given its members' evolving stances regarding their respective careers?
"Doing this album and the tour is definitely the end of a chapter for me, of these last two years," says Øye. "There are the three Kings of Convenience album, and the other albums I've been making. I feel I've said a lot. It's not the end of the band, but as a recording musician, I would love to take it easy now. I've said a lot of things. I wouldn't want to write anymore after this unless it really came very strongly to me. I don't think I'm going to be looking for it anymore. I guess there is all the other life out there. When you record albums, tour, record albums, tour, it's a constant state of emergency. You are losing out on normal life, on having friendships with people, routines. I guess at my age, either you just continue at a constant state of emergency or you have to really slow the pace down, try to reconnect to normal life, if such a thing exists."
He certainly seems to be at home at the moment; he intends to spend the rest of the week with his family in Bergen before departing on yet another tour. But it's time to say goodbye. He gestures me into a waiting cab; backs away, walking down the street, with his distinctive, Cheshire-Cat smile on his face and his arms briefly fully outstretched. It's almost as if he's making a failed attempt to hug the world around him, simultaneously attempting to draw it close and pace away at speed.
' Declaration of Dependence' is out now on Virgin. See the full transcript of this interview at Robsharp.independentminds.livejournal.com/
BERGEN BEATS: LEADING LIGHTS FROM THE NORWEGIAN CAPITAL OF COOL
Ralph Myerz and the Jack Herren Band
With a name taken from a famously bawdy B-movie director, this electronica outfit opened Glastonbury's Pyramid stage in 2004. They have made four albums, the most recent being "Ralphorama! - Appetite 4 Self-Destruction", which was released last year.
So named because of their predilection for a certain brand of keyboard. Casiokids seek out their market early by sometimes playing to children in kindergartens, augmenting their act with puppet performances. Last year, they claimed to have released the first Norwegian-language record in Britain, the brilliantly-entitled "Gront lys i alle ledd" / "Togens hule".
This upbeat pop princess (right) was billed as a Norwegian version of Kylie when her debut album "Annimal" hit record stores in 2004. It featured her breakthrough hits "Chewing Gum" and "Heartbeat". She followed it up with last year's "Don't Stop". Annie grew up in Bergen and lives in Berlin.
Röyksopp's "Melody A.M." blipped, pinged and washed its way across the British music scene in 2001, featuring none other than fellow Bergen native Erlend Oye on vocals in the single "Poor Leno" (he happened to be hanging around outside the band's studio at the time). Still resident in Bergen, Röyksopp are set to release another album, "Senior", later this year.