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By: Jamie Jones
Last month Norway’s Kitchie Kitchie Ki Me O released their second album, Are You Land or Water, an ambitious, sprawling piece that marked a sharp left turn from the energetic indie rock of their 2011 self-titled début, instead pushing on into more experimental, jam heavy territory. Jamie Jones got in touch with the band’s creative leader Alexander Kloster-Jensen (aka Alex K) about where the band are at now and the journey that led them there.
(((o))): Congratulations on the release of Are you Land or Water, an album that by all accounts very nearly didn’t get made. Can you tell us a bit about how it all came together, and what inspired the change in sound from your début album?
Alex: We recorded the second album in Crystal Canyon, a studio with a very dry sound I wanted the recording to reflect the specific sound of the studio. Dry, and tight. The instrumentals which are jams are not tampered with: all the mistakes and flaws remain intact, and the sound of the room is very well reflected. This is what we did there and then, it’s very honest. We are not better that that. It’s very easy to edit and overproduce things these days and I guess these recordings was an antidote to that… something I think we did on the first album.
The first round with KKKMO was meant to be over the top with dancers, backing singers, sax and everything fun. It was never meant to be something that was going to last. So a change was a natural part of the original idea.
(((o))): Would it be fair to call this a rebirth of KKKMO?
Alex: It is a rebirth, and hopefully the next album will be a rebirth too. I like to explore: I get easily board with a sound or project so I usually change a lot during the process.
(((o))): Were you worried at all about alienating fans of the more traditional song based, vocal led sound of old?
Alex: I never think about the audience when I compose or make the music. It’s only for my own pleasure, and often I like to sabotage myself.
I also tried hard to make the compositions flat… to have no progress, to go nowhere. Which is very hard. You automatically try to make a plot and to make the music develop in some sense. They do evolve over time, but there’s no build up. Not in an obvious way, all the songs stay in the same key with no chord progress etc. It’s folk music and resembles the Armenian old songs of Divjan Gasparajev, which are always very simple, stating the obvious, with titles like The Moon Shines at Night and The Plowman Plows. Parallel to this I have been writing Swedish folk tunes and produced a recording of Schubert’s Winterreise with Norwegian lyrics by Andre Bjerke. These are very strong narrative songs and this managed to sneak into the concept. Winterreise is taking you through Europe and the Barbarossa myth was a picture of how fragile the union is. All these national myths are waiting to be exploited by nationalists and other extremist.
(((o))): Is their a fixed line-up for the band?
Alex: The line up is not fixed, this time around I did most of the recordings by myself, some with Anders [Møller] and Bez [Farazollahi] from the first lineup and some with Erland Dahlen and Jo Berger Myhre from Splashgirl. There was many different sessions with many different musicians and in the end I did a selection and put together what became this album.
(((o))): Related to this, are you planning on touring the record much and, if so, might we see you in the UK at all?
Alex: No touring is planned for this album, but you never know.
(((o))): The album has a strong concept running through it in the Barbarossa sleeping myth. What is it about such legends that inspires you?
Alex: The Barbarossa myth was actually not the trigger; Bill Violas’ exhibition Going Forth by Day was the main inspiration of the album. But for some reason it led to the cave of Barbarossa, it’s the closest cave to Berlin. The experience of seeing the Bill Viola exhibition was very much like being in a cave with pictures coming alive on the wall. I haven’t tried to control the process much, but letting ideas connect to each other and merge with one another.
(((o))): Are You Land or Water is the first release on House of Mythology label. How did that come about?
Alex: I got to know Kris [Kristoffer Rygg – Ulver’s frontman] while working in the studio. Ulver was recording Childhood’s End and at the time and I ended up doing some guitar work on it and also did the concert at Roadburn – which also became a live release. Kris approached me regarding releasing the new KKKMO album on the new label, House of Mythology. I said yes.
(((o))): There are lots of neat little touches on the album – I love that surprise lonely cover of Sam Cooke’s ‘Smoke Rings’ right at the end. What made you hid that away? Were you tempted to include that as a song in it’s own right?<
Alex: ‘Smoke Rings’ is not a hidden track, but a natural end to the album, coming out of ‘Europa’. This was actually Bez’s suggestion, to end with a little bit of hope. But I see it differently… it’s like the band playing as Titanic sinks. It’s pretty gloomy.
Originally the songs had all titles and were separated. But I wanted it to be 6 songs, where every song related to the 6 tableau in Bill Violas exhibition. The songs where therefore merged into 6 titles. 6 acts, like in the theatre.
(((o))): We know all about Ulver (with whom of course you share a collaborator in Anders Møller) here in the UK, but are there any other bands you consider peers active in Norway we should be listening to?
Alex: You should listen to King Midas, my favourite Norwegian band. Rosso is their latest album, a brilliant piece. Splashgirl is another jazz doom band I recorded, which is very good.
(((o))): Finally, if you’ll forgive the obviousness I can’t help but ask: are you land or water?
Alex: Am I land or water? The truth is, we are all both.
Are You Land or Water is out now on House of Mythology.