Interview by Miriam Cadoni
I had the lucky opportunity to attend a live gig of Norway’s singer-songwriter Hanne Hukkelberg back in 2017 in Amsterdam. I was literally mesmerized by stage persona and how refined and well-crafted were sounding her songs. Now, after a 2-years-break, she’s back with her sixth new full-length “Birthmark”. This album represents both a fresh start but in some way also a steady continuation in her musical path. I do recommend to carefully ready this nice interview. Enjoy!
Hi Hanne, first of all, how are you and how life is treating you nowadays?
Well, I’m good but I’m having some busy days. There’s a lot to do and it’s a lot to think about because on Wednesday I’m having my first concert on which I’ll play my new material. I’m just rehearsing with the new band and consequently, the pre-production too. Therefore, I’m quite nervous but it’s good I have the possibility to perform my new material in my hometown and in the local venue with nice people that I know, so I’m kinda looking forward to it too.
I still cherish good memories about the gig that I did attend back in 2017 in Amsterdam at de Bitterzoet during the Trust European Tour and I’m so happy to interview you because I was really looking forward to it. But just for introducing the topic, I recently read your announcement about your German and Belgium dates, especially in Antwerpen on the 18th October @ De Roma (infos here) and Kortrijk on the 19th October @ Wilde Westen (infos here). What are your expectations and are you already planning a longer European tour which will feature more countries (including The Netherlands)?
I’m really counting down the days for it and I’ve been working really to put together this tour. Since I didn’t tour Germany the last time when I was visiting you in Amsterdam, I’ve chosen now to prioritize Germany and also, I was quite lucky to have a couple of Belgian dates. I tried really hard to put up a show in Amsterdam as well but I didn’t make it, of course, I’m really sad about it but I really really hope to make it very soon again. The issue is that I don’t have a booking agent there and Belgium since it’s based in Germany so I’m entrusting my fans in The Netherlands that can ask the venues to put up a show because I really really want to come to play once again in The Netherlands, I’d totally love that.
This question about your upcoming tour introduces your imminent full-length which is called “Birthmark” and it will be released on the 16th August. So, it’s the successor of “Trust” and I was really curious to learn more about its general production because we have to consider that “Trust” was published back in 2016 and I think a lot of things have changed for you also, right?
Yes, well I’ve started to produce myself with “Trust”. Of course, I didn’t do it all alone because I had a lot of external help but I was still the main producer. On the other hand, on “Birthmark” I have really produced it all by myself: this means that I was sitting alone there and just one person was involved in the recording process. And, that was my studio neighbor and he has played in the two songs the synthesizers and the keyboards. He owns some cool synths, he has been collaborating with me on patching and making sounds and he also plays in a band. Other than that, I’ve been sitting all alone from January of this year until Easter and setting as a goal the production of my album. I wanted to strip everything down and I wanted to think more minimalist. Also, I want to first express myself and my needs and then the production. That’s why both production and the sound picture is a little bit downsized. I’ve put my vocals and the lyrics in the center, so it feels really good. As I told you earlier, during the process of “Trust”, I was helped out by some collective co-producers but this time I entrusted myself with more because the previous experiences taught me how to basically produce an album and I was able to focus on what I really wanted to say, even though I feel the final product isn’t perfect but it’s kinda a learning process. I think I want to continue with that, it’s really nice to not feel that I had to state anything production-wise and to prove anything to myself. This time I felt I could relax and just be sure that I’m good enough on the production side and solely focus the content. That was really nice.
Let’s say that “Trust” was also your try-out as a producer.
Additionally, I noticed that this time you’ve decided to self-released it through your own imprint called Hukkelberg Music. I was wondering to learn why did you opt for this solution and why not simply continue your cooperation with Propeller Recordings?
Well, my first four albums are still on Propeller Recordings‘ catalog and it was established to release my first album only, however, Propeller Recordings will always be a sort of a family for me. During the years they have grown and they became really big in Norway, so they have a lot to do and I’m still not that kind of commercial artist. I’m more like a creative artist and I’m just continuing being that. I’m not that kind of artist that brings a lot of cash to record companies so, they couldn’t spend a lot of time promoting my material and on the past release, I ended up doing a lot of things all by myself. Consequently, it felt natural to start my own label and self-released it anyway considering what I did the last time for “Trust”. Even though, they always helped, supporting me and vice-versa. Practically, it’s just easier for everybody if I have my own record label for this new release.
As I told before, “Trust” was released back in 2017. In hindsight, If you can compare it to your previous album with “Birthmark”, which kind of artistical improvement can you denote?
Well, I think for me personally and also professionally and artistically, the improvement is that I dared to be more minimalist. For me, it’s a big step because I’ve been always, together with my old team, over-producing my previous albums. In the past, we had a tendency to be maximalist and it was a lot of fun because we did experiment a lot and we’ve tried out a lot of stuff. Of course, we learned a lot but as an artist, I have always wanted to be more daring, more minimalist and more specific on my sound picture. On the whole, this was a big step for me to not being maximalist, to scale things down. Logically, now things are much more transparent now and for me, it was a big victory, of course, because I kinda think that I’ve been exaggerating on the production maybe in order to hide from the fuss and it feels like I’m daring to be more transparent. Concluding, it’s a big step for me and I’ve managed to show what’s really there without trying to hide a lot of details. So, it feels more daring, more transparent and clearer.
I can admit that I totally agree with you because I got the chance to listen to the two singles “Crazy” and “The Young and Bold I” and totally respect what you have previously said about being transparent and clear. I really like the approach you used. So, I was kinda intrigued by the use of kitchen utensils on one of the songs…
Oh yeah, [laughs] that’s true. Well, on “Crazy” I featured a recording from a backstage party that happened during my past Norwegian tour for “Trust”. So, I and my band were having a party after a gig in Gothenburg and in this backstage, there was a microwave oven; we were just playing, singing and having fun and we started playing with it. Consequently, I started recording the “pling” which I used on “Crazy” to set the right atmosphere in the song. You have to interpret its meaning like on its opposite since it’s kind of a sad song but for me, it gives me much more sadness to have a party because it’s once again, it means the opposite which is being sad. So, here’s explained the microwave part.
Instead, if I ask you lyrically wise about your second single “The Young and Bold I”, which insights you can share about it?
Well, it’s about growing older and wiser. I’ve been an artist for 15 years and with this song, I got the chance to see myself how I was when I was younger. I couldn’t really imagine how it is like I’m feeling it right now, it’s really strange to put out a mental picture of myself back when I was 25 years old and now, being 40. Together with each other, there’s a huge difference in who I was and who I become now. I think when I was younger I just didn’t understand that I was going to get wrinkles or get tired. In the end, I just couldn’t imagine how the mind of 40 years old would feel like. I kinda feel that my younger self was a little bit too bold or self-consuming because I never tried to understand older people, so this single is mostly about how to tell to younger people to have more respect for older people. Just to have respect that they lived their lives longer than you and it’s also for myself now, for people that are older than me now. At the end of the day, it’s a song about being respectful to older people.
The new album’s title is “Birthmark” and I mean, it’s quite peculiar as a title and it does transpire from it that for you holds an important meaning. Am I correctly interpreting all this?
Well, I have a big birthmark on my leg near my foot and for many years but I have been thinking to use this a title on an album. And I felt like it was the right time to utilize that on my album because this feels like now it’s my own identity. This is really an album who represents who truly I am now and the person I’ve become now; it feels like I’m changed and I think the album is very much about before and now. In the end, it’s just about my identity and “Birthmark” is certainly a mark on my body and it says a lot about how I’m. Surely, it’s a nice thing and even though, through the years I changed, the birthmark will stay the same. It feels like many parts of me are still changing but my birthmark is still lying and grounding me there like a planet while these changes happen.
On the first instance, I want to sincerely congratulate with for last year’s release of “Røverdatter”. How did happen to be involved in such a musical venture and how your approach differs when you compose for your own material for a soundtrack, like in this case?
I would say that yes. When I composed “Røverdatter” (the English translation is “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”), this was the first score music that I ever made. The film director has literally handpicked me like she was listening to a lot of music and she decided that Hanne Hulkkelberg was going to create her score music, after all, she directly called me asking if was interested in it. I was so flattered and I always wanted to compose music for a film. Even though I was supposed to release my own release that year, I had to do it so as a consequence I pushed further my full-length because it was a lot to do. Mainly, the difference lies in the fact that while I compose for my own album I’ll put my artistical representation instead when I composed the soundtrack for Sofia Aronsen Haugan‘s “Røverdatter” film, I have simply to work for her artistical expression. Of course, this leads to putting my artistical prospective not aside but to prioritizing hers. That also influenced the general musical outcome because it turned out pretty different and I like it a lot, at the end of the day, it’s still me and my musicality. It’s just a different way of thinking and in this case, what is important is that it fits for the film.
So, Hanne, thank you for your time. Please be free to say hi to our readers and your fans. Once again, thank you for all.