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coverpic flag Norway - Full Moon 74 - 10/21/02

The White Birch
an interview with Ola Fløttum

They call them the Norwegian Sigur Ròs

In their native Norway, Oslo-based band The White Birch have been critically acclaimed since their inception in the 1996. But after two albums, Self Portrayal and People Now Human Beings in 1996 and 1998 respectively, the band had reached a dead end. Now, four years after their last album, mastermind Ola Fløttum and his gang return with a new masterpiece on well-respected german label Glitterhouse Records. Nicknamed "the Norwegian Sigur Ròs" by their record company, they have released an album of rare beauty indeed. Star Is Just A Sun is timeless yet modern, epic but not overblown, quiet but intense as well. Luna Kafé asked Ola what he and his band have been up to in the last four years.

Ola: "I guess we're all very satisfied with finally releasing Star Is Just A Sun. It's been four long years since the last album. Several times we nearly broke up the band, not knowing what direction the music should turn to. It has been a big relief to survive all the dead ends, and not giving up on that good feeling we had, before the songs on the album actually came to us."

LK: What is the biggest difference to say, 1998?
Ola: "A big difference between now and 1998 is that we're much more capable of transforming our ideas into actual music. We know our ways in creating the right sound for each song, since we've been having the possibility to record in our own studio for the last two years. Back in 1998, in the days before People Now Human Beings, we used to end up rehearsing all the time, and not paying enough attention to the sound. It was quite a shock when we recorded that album, understanding how much work we had to do. Helge Steen (a.k.a. Deathprod, known from a lot of bands and projects in Norway, playing as well as producing - editor's note), our producer, managed to hold some crucial songs together, and create the sound that was lacking. These days, like on Star Is Just A Sun, we're much more in control in colouring the songs."

LK: I guess the new album is a departure in sound and approach for you. How did that come about?
Ola: "Due to what was going on throughout the process of making the last album, we wanted to create the songs on the new album in a studio, and not in the rehearsing-room. So I sold my old flat and bought a recording studio along with a somewhat smaller flat. Our keyboard-player, Frode, left the band. We stopped playing concerts, and we shut out the rest of the world and started recording the first fragments of Star Is Just A Sun. I guess this was in late 2000. So the last two years has been a big artistic breakthrough for us. We've basically managed to find a much better way of making music compared to what was going on back in 1998, and the work around People Now Human Beings."

LK: Did any special circumstances have a major impact on these changes?
Ola: "During the making of Star Is Just A Sun I was first married then divorced. I guess this was a big influence on my songwriting. As an idea I had been searching for a more emotional expression. When my marriage fell apart this musical idea became in a way my saviour. It was this crazy mix of, on one hand the optimistic thought of being able to appreciate love and on the other hand love in real life falling apart. In another part of town Ulf got a son. That of course was inspiring. He's actually turning one on the day of our release. We also got a lot of inspiration in using new instruments like the piano and the violin, which has become essential parts in the construction of our new album."

LK: Would it be true to say that the "getting there" during the songwriting and recording process sometimes interest you more than the actual finished piece of work?
Ola: "I think so. One of the most wonderful things about music is that feeling when you know something really good is about to happen. The very birth of a new song or anthem, that will maybe stick with you for a long time. The interesting part is to find the right way to take such musical ideas as far as possible. The actual finished product I can appreciate like other albums I enjoy. It's nice, but it's not the same. Doing the songs live can also be similar to the process and appreciation of "getting there". We've always enjoyed doing different versions live, adding new parts or changing the expression. You can never be finished with a song. At least if it is of some quality. At the same time we're always very focused at the fact that there is a "there" to get to. The reality of a recording is always the actual sound on the tape."

LK: Sometimes I find it difficult to figure out if you are more interested in songs or just atmospheres? Do you have an answer to that?
Ola: "The songs are very important. I think there are too many albums with a good and complex sound, but not that good songs or themes. The interesting part I think is to create a good song, anthem or melody intertwined with a strong atmosphere. I always try to work out the melody first, to avoid getting carried away by a seducing musical landscape."

LK: How important is the audience's reception?
Ola: "We basically make music for ourselves. And if the audience likes it, we're thrilled. We try to focus on what the band appreciates as good music. I think it's important to keep some doors shut towards the rest of the world while you write music, and not try to follow trends or other people's intentions. Glitterhouse for example gives us artistic freedom. I wouldn't have it any other way. It's all about finding an honest expression, and not constructing something that is not yours. This way I think the audience will receive a lot more from us compared to if we tried to adjust our music into what's going on at the moment. I couldn't stand on stage and perform without believing in the music. In that way imagining the audience can be a very good filter."

LK: Was there a special event in your life, a piece of music you heard, that made you decide to become a musician?
Ola: "My dad played the piano a lot when I was a kid. I used to stand beside him and add some notes here and there. I thought it was magic. I remember my parents gave me my first guitar one summer I became too sick to leave the house. From that summer on I just had to make music."

LK: Do you think it's a blessing or a curse that you live in Norway and not New York or London?
Ola: "I don't really think it matters that much. The music scene in Norway has definitely become stronger the last years. But if the music is good, I think you can reach out from anywhere. I like working in Oslo though. It's not important where you live. It's just important to find the place where you enjoy to work. It could be anywhere."

LK: Since you seem to like atmospheric stuff quite a lot, would you be willing an able to recommend five underrated movie soundtracks?
1. Angels of the Universe (Friðriksson, 2000) Music by Sigur Ròs;.
The music is what gives the movie intensity and believability.
2. Dancer in the Dark (von Trier, 2000) Music by Björk.
The contrast between the danceability and the darkness is soulshaking.
3. El Sur (Solana, 1987) Music by Astor Piazolla.
Expressive, beautiful, daring, moving.
4. Dekalog (Kieslowski, 1988) Music by Zbigniew Preisner.
The simplicity required for the theme of religiousness and humanity. And the tenderness.
5. Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (Herzog, 1979) Music by Popol Vuh.
Haunting and mesmerizing.

LK: Silly last question: Any famous last words?
Ola: "Love is so real! (Good questions. Thanks for the interest!)

Copyright © 2002 Carsten Wohlfeld e-mail address

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