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A Quietus Interview

Maternity Beat: An Interview With Hedvig Mollestad
Irina Shtreis , November 24th, 2022 10:44

Hedvig Mollestad speaks to Irina Shtreis about her contemporary jazz symphony in nine parts, Maternity Beat, recorded with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra

Photo by Kim Hiorthøy

With each of Hedvig Mollestad’s albums, whether solo or with Hedvig Mollestad Trio, the Norwegian musician takes a slight change of direction. Her new work with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, Maternity Beat, is no exception. Despite its symphonic build-up, the album has a sonic transparency that was often outweighed on her previous, denser records. “Within a band, you have to challenge each other and yourself a little,” she says. “Try to do other stuff that takes you out of the regular and makes you do different things.”

The idea of Maternity Beat wasn’t born overnight, she explains. In 2017, Mollestad applied for a scholarship to write a piece for the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. “That year, I turned 35 [the upper age limit for applicants] and was pregnant with my second child. I had an idea to do a piece for the orchestra.” Although she failed to win the scholarship, “one of the jury members approached me later suggesting that we could do something to implement the idea.”

The breathtaking opening track ‘On The Horizon’ accentuates the thematic undertone suggested by the album’s title. Guest performers Mai Elise Solberg and Ingebjørg Loe Bjørnstad chant in unison accompanied by eerie folk horror strings: “Is there a boat on the horizon? Mothers, fathers, children”. A minor second interval evokes a fight-or-flight response, of alarming news intruding on one’s comfort zone. There is a sense of urgency to the record in general, which Mollestad views as a reaction to contemporary sociopolitical issues such as the migrant crisis that has hit Norway as well as other countries in Europe. “You can see people’s despair,” she says. “Everyone could leave their stuff and help but we don’t do it. Even though it’s so close. That was a kind of contrast to being a mother, taking care of someone who wouldn’t be able to live if you didn't nurture her in all your possible ways. And so many people need to be helped in similar ways”.

For her third solo album she takes advantage of the universal language of music to assign different meanings to the project’s name. Maternity Beat, she explains, “is equally about paternity, it’s about parenting and experiencing responsibility that you feel very strongly towards your closest of course but you kind of feel sorry that you lack it for other people who are in desperate need as well. The duality of that”. The thematic complexity is reflected in the texture of the record. Woven with eclectic elements, it evokes the ethereal prog textures of Bobak, Jons, Malone, the virility of King Crimson and the graceful extravagance of Scandinavian jazz. In parts, as well as on the whole, Maternity Beat is a statement that could only come from an auteur with an undeniably unique sense of music.

Hedvig Mollestad with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra, photo by Veronica Van Groningen

Although it has a lulling pace, the five-minute spoken-word composition ‘Her Own Shape’ has dynamics akin to physical growth. Various similes express the idea of giving support and facilitating freedom for the one you love. “Like a bird, I’ll give her wings, / Like a tree, I’ll give her roots, / Like a mother, I’ll let her grow into her own shape”.

Yet, despite the overarching idea of responsibility and care, Maternity Beat is not entirely a concept album. Originally premiered on Hedvig Mollestad Trio’s album Ding Dong You’re Dead, ‘All Flights Cancelled’ is the most dynamic and straightforward track, a stark contrast with the symphonic texture that defines the rest of the record. Unlike its previous incarnation, the new version features an organ and makes the instant take-off smoother, though Wire-esque bass and guitar riffs still propel it with great drive. “’All Flights Cancelled’ was made during the pandemic, at that time I wrote a lot of different material”, says Hedvig. “I just wrote the music and everything was specified either for the trio or the solo project. It was very nice to check it with the trio. It was nice to play this very structured beat because it’s open, not a four-by-four beat. The composition was very specific to the time it was written so it was very natural for me to use it in two different collaborations”.

In contrast to the alarming beginning, the final track of the album – ‘Maternity Suite’ – sounds celebratory. Its racing uptempo beat transforms into a steady-pace rhythm featuring anthem-like singing that evokes a protest chant. Adventurous musically, it seemingly embraces a bold initiative – to protect those in need as much as you protect your loved ones.

Hedvig Mollestad's Maternity Beat is out now via Rune Grammofon