Interview by Michael McCarthy
I do so many interviews that I sometimes forget who I’ve interviewed already. This has a lot to do with my memory problem, but the fact that I’ve interviewed at least 100 people in my life doesn’t help me keep things straight. Likewise, most of the people I interview do so many interviews that they can’t recall who they’ve spoken with. That’s why I don’t even bother to tell people I’ve already interviewed them half the time when I speak with them again. When I do tell them, I always feel slightly embarrassed when they don’t remember me.
In any case, I recently happened across Bellman’s album Morphology and immediately fell in love with his elaborate and intelligent pop songs. I praised the album on Twitter and he replied and thanked me and asked if I could review the album. I explained, as I’m always telling publicists, that I don’t really do reviews anymore, but asked if he’d be interested in doing an interview and he replied yes. (Well, I do song of the day reviews, but those are more like blurbs than album reviews.) When I sat down to write questions I had a sneaking suspicion that I’d made one of his songs a song of the day before. So, I searched for him here on the site and, much to my surprise, I discovered that I had also interviewed him last April in 2016. As it turns out, he’d totally forgotten about it, too! Now some writers might have turned around and said it was too soon to do another interview, but I’m always up for questioning artists and Bellman’s brilliant album Morphology has since been released – he was just promoting a single back then – so it wasn’t hard coming up with new questions. So, that’s what I did. In addition to asking about the album, I had several questions that I’d wanted to ask after reading his responses to the previous interview, so it worked out well that I was finally able to ask those. (These interviews were done via E-mail, since Bellman resides in Norway, which is where he’s from.) I’m sure you will find the following interesting whether you read the previous interview or not; Bellman is as fascinating as his music, which you should obviously stream while reading. That said, I hope you will enjoy the tunes and the interview.
Note: – Bellman put a dash at the beginning of his answers, so I simply left it like that instead of replacing them all with his initials.
MM: We interviewed you last year when “Colored By You” was your current single, which followed “We Are the Guns” from 2015. It seems like it took you longer than usual to get the full length album out. Were you just taking your time getting the songs right or did you have writer’s block or some other obstacle? If you had writer’s block, how did you get past it?
– All of the songs for the album were all written up front, so I guess it was a combination of finding the time for both me and my producer to meet in the studio, and my urge to get the album exactly as I wanted it to be.
MM: Your new album is called Morphology, which I think is a great title. Do you feel like you morphed into someone different while making this album?
– I always strive to find a slightly new direction on each new album, and on this one I wanted to, and had the opportunity to explore the the possibilities of the studio. I was also eager to dip into the electronic side of music production, and try to combine it with my songs. In that sense you can say that I morphed my sound into a bit more electro-pop, but I still think that I’ve managed to keep my Bellmanian sound through it as well.
MM: The songs on Morphology sound like they have dozens of layers to them. How many tracks would you say the average song is?
– Yeah, it’s a mixers nightmare.. I believe the songs has an average track count of something between 50 and 60. Of course that includes overdubs and so on, but I guess I like the thick carpet of layers and the big sounds.
MM: Is it difficult for you to determine when a song is finished? In other words, do you find yourself wanting to add more and more layers to them and have to pry yourself away from it and say that it’s finished at some point or is it easy for you to tell when you’re done making a song?
– It’s almost impossible for me to determine when a song is finished. I think I can honestly say that I have never got a recorded song a 100% right, when I compare it to how I hear it in my head. But on this album, I I’m rather close. And that is mainly thanks to my producer, which understood what I was reaching for in my songs.
MM: You produced the album with your friend Jonas Rohde-Moe. What software/programs/equipment did you use to program the beats and mix the songs? Were there certain elements of the production that he did and others that you did or did you both have your hands involved in everything?
– Jonas did all of the actual programming in Ableton Live, and also had many ideas on how to implement all of the electronic bits and pieces into my somewhat acoustic songs. We were usually in the studio together working out ideas, and sometime Jonas came up with something cool, and sometimes I did. It was a very long and tedious process, but we had so much fun!
MM: Your new song “The Best of Me” is about two people who become sweethearts when they’re both young and they get married and wind up divorced and wondering if they wasted the best years of their lives together. Is this based on personal experience or is it just a story you see unfolding in the lives of so many people in general?
– I guess it’s the latter, as I have never been married. But of course this can also refer to relationships in general, and I believe the song describes a feeling I think many of us can relate to.
MM: Your song “We Are The Guns” has a nice message about choosing the pen over the sword. Could you tell our readers about it? Do you feel like writing Morphology was your own way of picking up the pen in this manner?
– I wrote this song in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris which I felt was an attack on free speech. I wanted to write a homage to the people that stand up for what they believe in, but with pen and ink instead of guns and bullets. Tragically enough, when we were shooting parts of the video for the song, many months later in Paris, another attack took place. It was November 13th, the day of the devastating event which ended with the Bataclan tragedy. So yes, I believe the album is my way to “pick up the pen”.
MM: Could you tell us the stories behind a couple of your other new songs? [Editor’s note: You should be listening to the album on Spotify or your streaming service of choice right now. Or, be nice and buy the album and play it now if you didn’t start it when you began reading this.] – I will give you a brief insight on what the rest of the songs are about:
COLORED BY YOU:
The song is about how we are being affected by the people around us, both good and bad. The choices we make are often colored by the one you choose to associate with, so pick your friends carefully.
A celebration of these destructive friendships that although they’re no good for you, they’re still the ones you will remember for the rest of your life.
It’s about how little we really know about how the world works. It’s easy to get caught up in details, thus losing sight of the big picture.
Can You Feel It?:
This song is about lost love that some of us never get over. Desperately hoping she will change her mind.
A homage to the ever so close friendship between two brothers. A topic I personally can relate to.
This song is about hidden love. The kind of love that is to be kept a secret, and can never be anything else.
MM: Last time when we talked about your influences you mentioned The Beach Boys, which I’m a big fan of. So, I’m curious – what’s your favourite one of their albums? (I know most people say this, but mine is Pet Sounds, largely because I think “God Only Knows” is one of the best songs ever written.)
– I got to say, I’v been a fan of The Beach Boys since I started listening to my parents vinyl collection back in the days. I’ve also been fortunate to see them live many times including Brian Wilsons and co. last the Pet Sound tour. I had goosebumps from start to the end. It’s impossible to explain the complexity of the songs and the genius that is Brian Wilson, but I agree that Pet Sounds stands out as their best album. Although one of my all time favourite song (besides of course God Only Knows) is Together, immortalised by the late Dennis Wilson on the album Sunflower (1970).
MM: You told us that the first album you ever bought was by Bach. Did you go through a big classical music phase or was it just a fluke that that was the first album you bought?
– I did go through a classical phase in my teenage years, and I still enjoy putting it on from time to time. I find it very inspiring.
MM: You mentioned that you studied sculpture and opened a small gallery to sell your work. Do you still own the gallery today?
– I do, but it’s not open every day. I find myself too busy to manage the gallery on a daily basis.
MM: Do you still do any sculpting? What are some of the things or people you’ve made sculptures of over the years? What is your favourite material to sculpt?
– I also like to express myself in physically form, and I try to do some sculpting in my free time. My material is iron, which I heat up and mold into different shapes. Often they turns out as fantasy-figures, or mythological creatures. I guess that I’m inspired by Alberto Giacometti.
MM: I know you were living in Larvik last year. Is that still the case right now? Do you prefer living in a smaller town or is it simply less expensive than it would be to live in a big city like Oslo?
– I enjoy Larvik because it’s a quiet sleepy town, and it’s close to Oslo. I do like big cities, but it’s good to be able to retreat back to the noise-less beauty of Larvik, especially when I write music.
MM: What’s the music scene like in Oslo right now? Are there any artists from Norway that we should know about?
– Actually the music scene in Oslo and Norway is thriving at the moment! I would like to recommend a few of my friends bands. Disaster of the Universe, Mats Wawa and Pelicat. Worth checking out.
MM: Are you able to support yourself with your music at this point or do you still have a day job? If you’re living off of your music, how long has that been the case? If you still have a day job, what do you do?
– I am the proud 4th-generation owner of a metal work shop in Larvik, which you can say it’s my day job. And to be self-employed gives me a certain freedom to choose when to work on my music, and when to work in the shop. It’s a perfect set up for me.
MM: Do you generally prefer the writing songs and the studio or performing live?
– For me the three things have their own special beauty, and it’s impossible to choose a favourite. I absolutely love playing live and interact with the audience, but I also enjoy being in the studio or/and writing songs.
MM: Where will you be touring the promote Morphology?
– I will do a few shows here in Norway during spring and summer, and in May we are going to Russia for a showcase, that I’m very stoked about. Hopefully we will also manage to set up an Asia tour in the fall.
MM: What is your setlist like? Do you do songs from every album or just focus on the last two, for example? Do you do any covers live? If so, what?
– I usually pick songs from all my releases when I play live. For this years shows, I obviously will focus more on my latest album, but I will definitely include some songs from all my previous albums.
MM: Could you tell us who the musicians who performed on Morphology are? If there are too many to list, perhaps you could just tell us the primary ones? Did your brother På-André play keyboards on the album again?
– On this album I had a few amazing musicians contributing. Some of them have been playing with me from the beginning of my career, and some are new to the Bellman game. It goes as follows:
Pål-André Rauan – Keys
Eirik Vigeland – Bass
Jonas Rohde-Moe – Guitar
Trym Gjermundbo – Drums
Tobias Ørnes Andersen – Drums
Elisa Herbig – Cello
Lotte Hellstrøm Hestad – Violin
MM: Did you ever sing karaoke before you got serious about making your own music? Do you ever sing karaoke today? If so, are there certain go to songs that you usually do?
– I rarely sing karaoke, so I can’t say I have any favourite, but thats probably because it’s not many karaoke bars here in Norway. But when touring in Japan I have been introduced to this fine art, and it’s always more fun that you expect it to be.
MM: Did you sing in high school musicals or anything like that growing up?
– I did sing in one musical in my school days, but it was just in the back-choir, and sadly not really my cup of tea.
MM: I know your albums are on streaming services – do you get decent royalty checks from them or do they tend to be insulting like the payments many artists I’ve interviewed have received? What are your thoughts on streaming in general?
– I can’t say that I have received a decent royalty payment from any streaming services. It tends to result in pennies. It’s a shame because I’m generally a big fan of music streaming as a consumer, but as an artist, it’s just another way to promote the music. Which is fine, but I wish that the distribution of the generated royalties would be a little more fair to the hard working artists around the world.
MM: At the same time streaming is becoming more and more popular all the time, vinyl has become hugely popular again here in the States. Is vinyl making a comeback in Norway? Are you a vinyl fan?
– I am a big vinyl fan, and I’m happy to see that vinyl is coming back in style. Last year vinyl accounted for 33% of all physical sale in Norway, which is up a whooping 43% from last year. It makes me so happy!
MM: Will Morphology be released on vinyl?
– Manufacturing vinyl is rather expensive compared to CD, so it’s something we are considering as we go. I notice that there is a demand, so we have to crunch the numbers, and hopefully it will happen later this year.
MM: Since it has its own unique sound, I was wondering if your influences when you were making Morphology differed from your influences on your previous albums?
– I think that my influences is more or less the same, but working with a different producer sometimes inspire to explore new directions. I believe this was the case on Morphology.
MM: Have you thought about having a remix contest to promote the new album? The way they usually work is that you release the vocal stems for one of your songs and people remix it and send you their creations then you pick a favourite and post it on your Soundcloud page. They seem like a great way to get exposure and engage your fans, who can vote on their favourites. Just an idea!
– I have heard of this, and I think it’s a very good idea. I did something similar thing on my debut album Mainly Mute, when I got 16 of the hottest remixers in Norway to make their version of a selected song from the album. It turned into a beautiful 2xCD compilation called Mainly Mute Remixed.
MM: Last time you told us you got into a fight with Pete Doherty at an afterparty. What was the fight about?
– I was minding my own business at the afterparty, having a pleasant passiar with Alex Paul Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand, when Pete surprisingly stretched out his hand to greet me as I stood by his table. When I reach out to shake his hand, he pulling it so I stumble over his and his friends table with the beer my hand. The beer spurts everywhere, and I was so taken aback that I yell at him and pushes him over, which then turnes into a minor rumble. Had it not been for the people that separated us, it could have been very ugly, for him..
MM: What is your biggest pet peeve?
– Loud chewing, or people chewing with their mouths open. I have to leave the room!
MM: What is your favourite holiday and why?
– I’m not a big fan of the heat nor the cold, so holidays in the fall is my favourite.
MM: How many times a day would you say you typically text?
– Hmm, maybe 20-25 times a day?
MM: If you could have one artist cover one of your songs, who would you like to cover you, and what song would you like them to do?
– Actually I would love for Neil Young to cover “Andrew” from Mainly Mute.
MM: What was the first concert you attended? How old were you?
– I can’t remember how old I was, but I remember seing Nirvana at a festival in Norway in the early 90s. I’m actually quite proud of that.
MM: What was the last concert you attended?
– I believe it was Brian Wilson in Oslo a few months back. I actually don’t attend as many concerts as I wish I did.
Special thanks for Bellman for taking the time to answer our questions (again)!