Erlend Øye is a musical jack-of-all-trades: a DJ who sings, the head of indie pop band Whitest Boy Alive, the voice for electronic musicians such as Royksopp and one half of acoustic duo Kings Of Convenience. It was as part of the latter that the Norwegian had his breakthrough in 2001. The Kings’ melancholically mellow debut album, Quiet Is The New Loud, sparked a folk revival and influenced later bands from Fleet Foxes to Of Monsters And Men. Øye recorded his latest and second solo album, Legao, with an Icelandic reggae band: 10 pop gems that sound like Paul Simon using The Police as session musicians.
THE RED BULLETIN: A Norwegian who lives in Sicily travels to Iceland to record an album with a local reggae band. The record’s first single has a Portuguese title (Garota, which means ‘girl’) and its music video was shot in South Korea. Would it be fair to say that travelling is a passion of yours?
Erlend Øye: Yes, you could say that. As a child I was obsessed with maps, so it was only natural for me to seek for a career that would allow me to travel a lot. Whenever I have the chance, I move to different places to figure out what’s going on there.
You recently moved to Syracuse, Sicily. Why?
I moved there mainly because of the food. I’m not talking about recipes. I’m talking about groceries. Norway is a strange country when it comes to food. The state has made it very difficult to enjoy food easily.
What do you mean?
We got tricked in the early 1990s to think that a food store that doesn’t need to have a food counter. Today food is just packed on pallets in Norwegian supermarkets. We were told it would be cheaper that way. But we were completely fooled because the prices are now as high as they always were. Unless you want to travel with your car to one of the few specialist stores, it’s very hard to get high quality food in Norway.
That’s surely different in Sicily.
Exactly. If you listen to Sicilians talking, on the bus or on the beach, 50 per cent of the time they are talking about food. I’m not joking. It’s a big thing.
What’s your favourite Sicilian delicacy?
That’s for sure caponata. It’s just several types of vegetables – aubergine, capers and celery – that are cooked in oil separately. It’s incredibly tasty.
How do you enjoy Italian music?
I’m interested in Italian music from the 1960s to 1980s, in this incredibly sweet and melodic song writing that was going on at the time. Now the Italian music scene is not very interesting. Young bands are afraid to embrace what we foreigners love about Italy. They want to sound as if they’re not from there. With one exception: Fitness Forever from Naples. They are the only band embracing their past and not being afraid of sounding Italian.
You recorded your new album with the Icelandic reggae band Hjálmar. How did that come about?
I discovered them in 2010 at a festival in northern Norway called Traena. They’re great musicians and so we started working together. I had a lot of ideas flying around which I wrote with a reggae beat in mind, so I thought: ‘This is great, just bring these ideas to these guys and see where it goes.’
You travelled to Iceland to record the songs with them. Was it an inspiring experience?
We recorded there mainly for organisational reasons, but it was a huge inspiration for me. I had never really been there for longer than a weekend and the guys showed me around. We went to the local fish stores a lot which was fascinating because they are so much better than the ones in Norwegian. In Norway fishermen bring their goods to a central location for food health reasons before the fish is delivered to the stores. In Iceland you still have that direct connection between fishermen and markets, which is great. Also, the guys from the band are amazing chefs.
Your first album with Kings of Convenience was called Quiet Is The New Loud and it seems you’ve stuck to this motto ever since. From the dance tracks of to the new album, your music is melancholic and beautiful, but hardly ever angry or distorted. Why is that?
I’m sure that the vocalist from The Rapture likes introspective music too, but he just happens to be born with a voice that’s really good for screaming. I’m not really screamer, that’s it. I like music that you can listen to many, many times. Basically angry music is not that to me. Angry music is more music for special occasions.
How do you channel anger and frustration then?
I don’t know. I like to think of myself as the least angry person I know. I can be disappointed, but hardly ever angry. But if I am angry, be careful! (laughs)