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Escape Velocity

Teenage Kicks: I Was A King Interviewed
Ben Hewitt , December 3rd, 2009 09:18

Ah, Norway. Home to the Vikings, the Northern Lights, Black Metal, and melodic pop titans A-Ha. And now we can add power pop collective I Was A King to that list. The brainchild of Frode Strømstads and built around a cast of revolving guest musicians including Sufjan Stevens and Ladybug Transistor, their second self-titled album is a heady mix of the hazy melodies of West Coast psychedelia and the fuzzy guitars of early Shoegaze.

The Quietus caught up with Frode to discuss Teenage Fanclub, creative exhaustion, and Norway's special drinking water...

Hi Frode. How are you?

Frode Stromstad: I’m fine thanks, just had a great time playing a show at Pure Grooves, a record store in London. People here are super nice, and we’ve had really great experiences over here before, so I’ve been looking forward to this tour for a while now.

What are your earliest memories of music? What was the first song you fell in love with, and what was the first song that made you want to be a songwriter?

FS: My earliest memories of music is some cassettes with kid music that I played to death. After that I think the first artist and music that got me really excited about music was the Bruce Springsteen album Born in the USA. What made me want to become a songwriter was hearing the Pavement EP Watery Domestic. It was supermelodic and noisy.

How did you start I Was A King? Was it your first musical project? And if not, what were some of the previous ones like?

FS: I Was A King started as just a project on my own, just recording stuff on my four track. It was never meant to be a band or a live thing. But I got bored quickly, and ended up including friends and playing shows.

I’ve had a lot of different musical projects over the years, and actually a lot of the songs we play with I Was A king has followed through many of the projects. The changes has mostly been the line up and names. And I guess I’m more confident now as a songwriter than I was 9 years ago.

How did you come up with the name? I’m hoping it’s due to some past-life regression...

FS: It is kind of a boring story. I had just recorded some songs, and I needed to name the project. I was really into the artist Jandek at the time so i took the name from one of his songs. I never gave it much thought when it happened, but I’ve started to like the name better and better.

So, you’re about to release your second album. How did the recording process go? Did you feel any pressure following up your first album, and how do you think I Was A King is different to Losing Something Good For Something Better?

FS: The recording process was kind of similar on both albums. The main difference is that we had a better studio on the last one, and more people were involved. It gave us the chance to use more instruments and more overdubs.

On the first album it was just me and Emil from Serena Maneesh doing everything on his 8 track machine. But both albums was recorded very quick. We only spent a couple of days in the studio, and he was learning the songs as we were moving along.

When most people hear ‘I Was A King’, they may not make the link to Norway. You have a very West Coast sound - gorgeous melodies, hazy guitars etc. What is it about that rich vein of 60s/70s (as well as 90s indie) music which appeals to you?

FS: I really like the strong focus on good melodies and harmonys that a lot of my favorite bands from the 60’s and 70’s had. And when this is combined with more messed up productions, and loud guitars, I’m sold.

There's obviously a classic American sound to the record - there are even songs called ‘California’ and ‘Golden Years’. But did Norwegian music have any influence on the record? Or even Norwegian culture?

FS: Laffen who plays violin on the album, is actually from a traditional Norwegian folkmusic scene. So he added a touch of Norway to the album for sure.

You’ve just released the single ‘Norman Bleik’, which is a tribute to the Teenage Fanclub. What are your favourite Fanclub records?

FS: They are one of the bands I grew up listening to a lot. I've always been blown away by their strong melodies and brilliant vocal harmonies. I’ve been really lucky to see them play in Norway a couple of times, and they are just amazing to see. Hopefully there will be a new album coming out soon.

I guess my favorite Fanclub albums are Grand Prix, Thirteen and Songs from Northern Britain. But there is good stuff on all of their albums!

There’s some impressive levels of Fanclub knowledge on the single - Norman Bleik is a deliberate misspelling which nods its head at the Fanclub song 'Neil Jung'. But Bleik is also a small town in Norway which is a great location to see the Northern Lights from. Have you ever been there to see them? What kind of experience was it?

FS: I have family up north, wich means I go up there a few times every year. Been lucky to see the northern lights a couple of times and it is unbelievable. A fantastic view! I wish everyone could be able to experience it.

There are a lot of guest contributors to I Was A King. What appealed to you about getting so many people in to work with you? Did you ever worry having so many other prominent voices involved might overcrowd you as a musician?

FS: I wanted to bring in people that I knew would contribute with something completely different than I could come up with myself. It's really inspiring to work with people who see and hear things in a different way, and at the same time understands where things are going. And also everyone who has been involved is friends of mine, so it was just as much a good opportunity to get together in a studio and have fun. Also, I wanted the album to be as good as possible, so no concerns about being overcrowded.

Who would your three dream musicians to work with be?

FS: Steven Drozd and Ronald Jones (The Flaming Lips) and Sufjan Stevens.

Speaking of Sufjan, he was one of the contributors to I Was A King. He recently suggested he was suffering from creative exhaustion. Did any of that come through in the studio? And is that creative exhaustion something you’ve ever experienced yourself?

FS: When we recorded, I don’t think anyone felt any kind of pressure. We didn’t know at the time that we were making an album. Everyone's motivation was just to come together and have a good time in the studio.

I do feel some sort of exhaustion some times, but there are always small things happening along the way that make the hard work of doing this worth it. Like now being able to come to UK and play our music, meet new people see new places. It makes me feel really lucky.

ABBA, A-Ha and now I Was A King: What makes Scandinavians so good at writing pop music?

FS: I guess it must be something in our drinking water.

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