Interviews

Interview with Highasakite

Happy caught up with Ingrid and Marte from Norwegian alternative-indie-pop band, Highasakite, ahead of their sideshows and Laneway performances across Australia, to talk about how they manage to keep grounded from all the fame and how their acclaimed new album, Silent Treatment, came to be.

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Photos by Liam Cameron

Highasakite is made up of Ingrid Helene Håvik ( lead singer), Trond Bersu (drums), Øystein Skar (synthesisers), Marte Eberson (synthesisers) and Kristoffer Lo (guitar, flugabone and percussion). The band has toured Europe, and internationally in Asia with shows in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan, and supported London Grammar on their US tour. Previous releases include their debut album, All That Floats Will Rain (2012) and their breakthrough single, Since Last Wednesday – with the tropical sound of steeldrums, cathartic chant of “ohs”, the vigour of pounding drums, highly melodic synths and immoveable harmonies, it was sure to be a hit. Their cover of Bon Iver’s Heavenly Father on Triple j also grabbed our attention, exposing us to the raw and rare tone of Ingrid’s vocals – deeply soulful at times and soars effortlessly at others.

No matter how many words you attach to Highasakite – lush, grand, cinematic, breathtaking, majestic – they are just one of those bands you have to see live to be immersed in their visceral and sentimental atmosphere. Their use of various instrumentation uncommon in pop music (the flugabone, steeldrum, violin bow on guitar), grants the band this natural euphoria, emitted by their unique and organic texture.

Their live performance presence is simply sublime and explosive. I saw them at the first leg of their Australian tour in Sydney and walked away, imprinted by the following imagery: Clad in a black gown, a fearless wolf with a striking howl emerged from the smoky darkness. Illuminated by backdrops of floodlights, moonlights and the glow of incandescent lights, this tender beast remained torn between salvation and being burdened by the tragedy that filled her tales of woe. Highasakite was phenomenal. There’s something spiritual and animalistic about the band, keeping them grounded behind a façade of elated pop qualities.

HAPPY: Congrats on all the success with the album Silent Treatment, all the tours, winning Best Group of the Year and Best Album of the year for a Norwegian magazine, Gaffa Norge, making NPR’s All Songs Considered Top 10 Albums of 2014, and on winning two Grammys at Norway’s ARIAs!

MARTE: Thank you! After we won the best pop group in Norway at the ARIAs we were like so happy. I’d never seen us so happy before. We were just screaming and jumping on each other, so if we sound cool about it now we weren’t that then (laughs). We were uncool.

HAPPY: Number 77 on Triple j’s Hottest 100. How does it feel to be nominated onto this list?

MARTE: It was cool, but we didn’t know it was that big of a deal.

HAPPY: Well everyone talks about it and it’s pretty good to get on the list since people recognise you, especially as an international act.

INGRID: I think it’s really good, but at the same time we are number 77 (laughs). It’s good to be on the list, we just made it.

HAPPY: Did you guys vote?

MARTE: No, I didn’t know we could vote.

HAPPY: Let’s talk about something quite topical at the moment. Are you aware of the controversy that surrounded Sia’s latest music video for Elastic Heart?

MARTE: Is Sia from Australia?

HAPPY: Yes she is.

MARTE: Ahh, I listen to her a lot and think she is great.

HAPPY: Yeah, so what happen was that heaps of people were accusing her of suggestions of pedophilia. It’s interesting how people are quite quick to divert their attention from the music and negatively focus on other stuff. Has this ever happened to you and how does that make you feel?

INGRID: I sometimes take pictures of the comments that are mean, so that when I feel bad for myself I can just pick them up and think, “Poor me”. But I try not to read them as much. The more we play everywhere, the more people say meaner stuff.

MARTE: It’s very stupid that they have that kind of focus, but there will always be people who don’t like what we are doing. I remember a few years ago we had some feathers on stage and we didn’t dress up like Indians, but we were painted. We thought that this just reminded us of our childhood. When we played in LA we got so many comments that we were being racist and that this was a really bad act from us. We thought about what we did, it wasn’t like we didn’t care.

HAPPY: Yeah it’s not like you intended to do it, but people are very quick to be negative.

INGRID: Yeah, absolutely.

HAPPY: I guess recently, the most negative comment I saw that suggested something was sexualized was on the video for Leaving No Traces. It said: “I just saw a hint of nipple on a woman that I respect. I feel weird about that”. Do you laugh at that stuff or does that make you self-conscious?

INGRID: No it doesn’t make me personally self-conscious, but it kind of annoys me. As a woman even if I was showing a nipple it shouldn’t affect any respect. So when I read that I was kind of provoked to think that I can show everything and still have the same respect.

HAPPY: Does this negativity limit what you do?

INGRID: No it doesn’t limit me but I take offence sometimes. I just have to not read it.

HAPPY: What was it like filming that video?

INGRID: I was really embarrassed the whole time because I had to be naked so much. I had skin coloured underwear but I don’t like to change in the gym so I didn’t really want to do it, but she ( the director) said it would be cool and I trusted her and I think it came out really nice.

HAPPY: It’s a very powerful video and done so well.

HAPPY: As a European band what is the appeal to sing in English?

INGRID: I think it is because I listen to English music my whole life. All the clichés are in English and I haven’t listen to enough Norwegian music to know how to write those clichés, but at the same time the Norwegian language affects the way I write in English.

HAPPY: Who are some of those artists you listened to growing up?

INGRID: It was Mariah Carey, Lauryn Hill, The Carpenters.

MARTE: I was also listening to Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. I wished I could look like Mariah Carey (laughs). I also listened to Fugees a lot and jazz music because my father is a jazz musician. When you sing the Norwegian language, it reminds me of a kind of style, like folk rock Norwegian music. Whenever I hear people singing in Norwegian, it’s so typical. Sometimes its embarrassing when we sing the Highasakite songs in Norwegian and we think “Oh this sounds so stupid and it sounds like this kind of music.”

HAPPY: It’s interesting how language affects how a song actually sounds because certain words flow and others don’t. What’s the kind of atmosphere you try to create with your music? I find indie pop so limiting.

MARTE: I have never thought about it like indie pop, I just have this idea of creating very good music and thinking that we have no limits. Also I want to make art, not like this popular indie music, but this is art and the whole show with lighting, sound and how we look and how we dress is artsy.

HAPPY: When people write about your music they describe you as atmospheric, majestic, mysterious, folksy… are those the sort of things you think about when producing music?

INGRID: No I don’t think we ever told each other that we should make a really ‘atmospheric’ record. I don’t know how we ended up, we just put stuff we thought sounded good and then took away the things that didn’t work.

MARTE: We have a lot of personality in each one of us and I think separately we have our ideas of how it should sound, and when these five ideas are put together it is just like one sound that we couldn’t guess. I know some bands when they are producing and making an album they are like “Oh, now we want it to sound like this album from the 70s or this kind of music,” and I think we tried to say something like that but it didn’t work. It ended up that we were making something new and we didn’t know how it would sound.

INGRID: I really didn’t know either. I just had this feeling in my stomach, “ Is this going to work?”

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HAPPY: What are some of the artists that you are listening to at the moment?

INGRID: Right now I’ve been listening to Nick Drake and I think I’m going to listen to that for a while now.

MARTE: I’m listening to , a Norwegian artist. I hadn’t listen to her before but many Scandinavians have talked a lot about her.

HAPPY: With the album, the main theme is about relationships behind closed doors. What are some other inspirations or experiences, as much as you’re willing to share, that went into producing that album?

INGRID: I listened a lot to interviews with soldiers who had been in Iraq and Afghanistan and just wrote down everything they said. So somehow the album has a few references to war, but at the same time they are love songs – they are not political songs about Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan. So that was the outside, but at the same time I have my own personal stuff that we are not going to talk about.

HAPPY: No worries, I did try…what was it like producing the album?

MARTE: It took some time, we were in the studio over a year, one week here and there. It was a tough time because we didn’t know how to approach the songs, so we had to discuss each song and the sound. We have so many opportunities in our band because there are so many sounds you can choose on your synthesisers, and also on Kristoffer’s guitar and flugabone.

INGRID: I’m glad it turned out the way it did, but it was really weird and scary when we were in the studio and trying to get the sound.

MARTE: We also had this producer that had so many opinions himself, so it was like 6 people that didn’t actually know how this would sound in the end and there was lots of discussion, but we are all happy in the end.

INGRID: When we did the master, I listened through it, burned the CD, and put it in my purse. I felt like I was carrying a million dollars when I walked home. It felt so good!

HAPPY: Any songs that really resonate with you and that you want people to listen carefully to?

MARTE: Science & Blood Tests… I think the lyrics on that are really beautiful and very sad in a way. In Norway, I don’t know if it’s because it’s dark all the time but many people are quite depressed. Even though a blood test says you are fine, that you are not sick,  it’s like “Well, you can be sick,” it doesn’t say anything about how you feel emotionally. But I really like that song, there is a lot of meaning in the song. And I like Lover, Where Do You Live?

HAPPY: And how about you Ingrid?

INGRID: I think I kind of agree, especially Lover, Where Do You Live? I thought it was a really bad song so I didn’t want it on the record, but then Marte changed things and we took out a part that didn’t work and it turned out to be a good song, or I think it’s a good song, it’s my favourite song in the world! (laughs)

HAPPY: Sydney is 10 hours behind Norway. What motivates you to keep going?

MARTE/INGRID: Coffee, coffee!

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HAPPY: It’s one thing to win an award, but for you guys what is the greatest thing you can achieve?

INGRID: I think it’s going home from the studio and feeling like you’ve made something. That’s the most rewarding feeling, that you’ve left something behind that you’re happy with. Maybe that sounds a bit pompous, but I have a little bit of a problem taking in the attention and awards. I got really happy with the Grammy awards but besides that I’ve always been like “Ok,” to that kind of attention. I get happy but not that happy.

MARTE: One time I was actually really happy was at the Grammys. I’m happy of course but this time was so overwhelming. I just felt like we had won something really big. I used to play soccer and I felt like we had won the biggest soccer match ever. I was just like “Oh my god!”

INGRID: And we were together too when it happened. It wasn’t like they wrote an email saying “Just so you know you are going to win that so you should be there.”

MARTE: When other people win the Grammys in Norway they are like Oh cool.” When we won we just stood up and were screaming.

HAPPY: So the greatest achievement is creating music to your satisfaction and being able to share that.

INGRID: Yes, that I’ve made…oh my eyes and my ears just popped…

MARTE: It’s almost the same word! I now pronounce you high as a kite! (laughs).

HAPPY: Is that how the name of the band came to be? Your eyes and ears popped…

MARTE: It’s from an Elton John song, Rocket Man“I wanna be high as a kite.”

INGRID: I didn’t think it had that strong ‘smoking weed’ reference, I thought it was more like flying a kite.

MARTE: It’s quite funny when we started sharing ‘highasakite’ hashtag on Instagram, they’d be some pictures of us and so many that are like “Oh, I’m so highasakite today,” and they are smoking, it looks so weird.

INGRID: And so many animals that went to the vet are so ‘highasakite’.

HAPPY: That’s how you branch out to other audiences! That’s like the band Perfect Pussy, a hardcore punk band…surprisingly no bad photos show up, probably because of all those Internet safety locks.

INGRID: Maybe because it’s called ‘Perfect Pussy’, if it was ‘Nasty Pussy’ then bad pictures would come up. I’m going to see what I find…(laughs)

HAPPY: And then delete your history before anyone screenshots it! Have you had a really strange fan moment?

MARTE: Perhaps in Taipei, Taiwan, we met a guy that was a big fan. He wanted to take selfies all the time. We went to a place not far from the event venue and we were staying there until late. When we came out he was standing there, I don’t know for how many hours. Kristoffer went to the bathroom and he was like “Can I take a picture?” and I was like “Yeah?” and then he was like “Kristoffer, Kristoffer,” and we were like “He’s in the bathroom, sorry.”

INGRID: I actually got a message on my phone the other day where a guy wanted to buy the clothes that I was wearing at the Grammy’s. And then I said “No, they’re borrowed from this designer,” and he said, “Well do you have leather pants I can buy?” That’s really weird.

MARTE: That’s strange. But all of our fans are very nice and we have to say that we are very glad that they are listening to our music.

INGRID: Thank you for listening to us!

MARTE: And that guy in Taipei was very nice as well, it’s just not what we are used to. It doesn’t happen that much so it’s funny when it does.

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HAPPY: Can you name a quirky fact about each other?

MARTE: Ingrid is very jumpy, so I have to really watch out and call out her name quietly. That is the only thing I don’t know how to deal with (laughs). It’s so awful when I am entering the room and I know she will get scared and I feel like this monster coming through.

INGRID: I can’t come up with anything about you like that. Marte often puts on a show in the car with singing. Sometimes I join her but I can’t really keep up that often.

MARTE: It’s very funny, but you keep up often.

INGRID: Thank you.

MARTE: It’s very funny to sit in the car and sing Spice Girls songs in an operatic way…“If you want to be my lover…you have got to give!” Especially singing old rock songs in British, that’s also very funny because British bands don’t sing in British.

HAPPY: Do you guys have any pre-show rituals?

MARTE: 1 minute before we go on stage, all five of us are like “ Yeah, we are going to rock this shit!”

INGRID: And we say “Kowabunga”!

MARTE: It’s kind of ironic in a way because we’re like “Yeah!” and then we have to do something.

HAPPY: It’s like “Yeah, rock on!” and then next minute you’re playing nice and mellow music.

INGRID: It’s so we remember each other because we put on makeup and then go on stage and I’d be like, “Hello guys, I’ve got to talk to you.”

MARTE: Sometimes we are rushing on stage and we are like “Oh, what is happening? Now I’m just standing alone here.”

HAPPY: What can we expect from your Laneway performances and sideshows?

MARTE: We are really looking forward to playing now. We always do, but we haven’t played a concert in a long time, so we are very ready to play now and we will concentrate a lot…I don’t know what to say, “Come and watch us and we will concentrate!” (laughs)

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HAPPY: What’s next for you guys after touring in Australia?

MARTE: We are touring a bit in Norway and then Ingrid is going to make some songs and we are going to find out how to play them and we are going to record them in the fall I think.

HAPPY: Are the instruments of the steeldrum, the zither and the flugabone, a signature to Highasakite’s sound?

INGRID: I don’t use the drum or the zither anymore because I got sick of dragging it around and it wasn’t really that big of a part in the songs. With the flugabone, I don’t know if we are going to use it, we just have to listen to how the song will turn out and we just don’t know anything yet.

HAPPY: One last question, what makes you happy?

MARTE: Warm weather makes me happy and singing makes me happy, laughing a lot and seeing the fun things in everything that happens and not be so serious about myself. Amen!

INGRID: What makes me happy? Marte makes me happy, that’s a lot of fun when she’s around.

MARTE: Same to you my friend.

INGRID: I get happy when I drink coffee, it excites me.

Highasakite’s debut album Silent Treatment is out now on iTunes, released on Propeller Recordings.

After making their debut in September last year, the band return to Australia for Laneway Festival and some sideshows.

Saturday 31st JanuaryLaneway Festival, Brisbane

Sunday 1st FebruaryLaneway Festival, Sydney

Wednesday 4th FebruaryCorner Hotel, Melbourne

w/ Japanese Wallpaper

Friday 6th FebruaryLaneway Festival, Adelaide

Saturday 7th FebruaryLaneway Festival, Melbourne

Sunday 8th FebruaryLaneway Festival, Fremantle

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