Our readers in the U.S. might not have heard of Norwegian singer/songwriter Bellman yet, but in some parts of the world he is a very big deal. He released his critically acclaimed debut album, Mainly Mute, in 2009 and had his first big hit single with an uplifting song called, “Spaceship Move Slow” and it’s all been gravy since then with the release of two more studio albums, The Curse (2010) and Melopiia (2013), and a live album called Live At Sliperiet (2009). His exquisitely-produced diamond of a new single, “Colored By You,” is one of the most upbeat and irresistible songs I’ve heard all year, a perfect blend of his acoustic/folk leanings of the past and modern electro-pop. In fact, it’s what you might get if Sigur Ró or Radiohead did an accessible pop song. I, for one, can’t wait to hear his forthcoming album and I have a feeling it’ll only take one listen to “Colored By You” for you to want to hear it, too. In the meantime, get to know the man himself.
MM: You’ve released three studio albums since 2009 in addition to a live album and some singles. How do you stay so prolific?
B: I do always write, but I have periods that is more creative than others. I find that the flow of ideas is constant, but when it comes to putting the ideas together, I really need to make time for it. That is when the real work begins, and the magic comes together.
MM: Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so, what do you do to combat it?
B: I often do, and when that happens I just have to do something completely different. Like watch a movie, read a book or best of all, take a trip. Traveling is my best remedie for a block.
MM: How do you approach writing a song? Do you start with lyrics, music, a beat…?
B: 90% of the time I start with a melody, a verse or a chorus. Just the music. After that I usually hear the beat in my head, and get a general idea of how the song will be like in the end. The last thing I add is the lyrics. The poetic prosess is either very slow or very fast. Sometimes the words come to me in an instant, other times it takes months.
MM: When you write songs are they always about your personal feelings and experiences or do you ever write them from the perspective of characters like when a novelist writes a book in first person?
B: It’s often a drop of personal experience in my writings, but usually buried deep down. I sometimes write about people around me, but I like to have a personal involvement in the story somehow.
MM: What instruments do you play? Did you ever take lessons? If so, how old were you? Did you want to take lessons or was it a situation where your parents told you that you had to?
B: I belive I can handle a lot of different instruments, but I guess it’s guitar and piano I’m most comfortable with. I did take piano lessons when I was 12, but it was my own decision, and not my parents. My father did teach me my first chords on the guitar, but after my request. I grew up in a music loving family, and spent my childhood years listening to my parents record collection from the 60s. I‘m sure that this formed my music taste and my own songwriting.
MM: Is your new single, “Colored By You,” the first from a new full-length album or is it a stand alone single?
B: This is actually my second single from the upcoming release. The first one was dropped late last year and is called WE ARE THE GUNS. COLORED BY YOU is the second single, and they will both be included on the new album.
MM: If it’s from a forthcoming album, could you tell us the title of the albumand/or some of the other song titles?
B: The new album will be called MORPHOLOGY. Some of the other songs are called CAN YOU FEEL IT? and YOUR EYES. I’m still working in the studio finishing the last songs, so the final track list is not final.
MM: A lot of your previous music has been organic sounding/acoustic-based, but “Colored By You” has massive production with pop hooks and electronic elements. What prompted this change in direction? Were you getting bored with your previous sound?
B: It breaks down to a will to evolve I guess. Experimenting with new sounds and directions. It’s a constant prosess and I’m trying not to stagnate. With that said, I still think that the new material include many of the elements from my previous albums, but I have tried to incorporate some new sounds as well. When exploring the world of electronic music I found inspiration to merge the two worlds on my new album. Hopefully my fans will like it.
MM: Who produced “Colored By You”? Did they produce your whole next album or just the single?
B: The song is produced by my good friend Jonas Rohde-Moe, which also plays guitar in my regular band. He will produce the whole album. It’s been a inspiring prosess to record the album, and we are now in the final stages of completion.
MM: Who are some of the producers you’ve worked with in the past? How many producers typically worked on your albums? For example, was Mainly Mute produced by one producer or did a bunch of different producers work on it?
B: I use to have one producer on each album. I think this secures a wholeness to the album. I have actually had different producers on all of my albums (except on MELOPOIÏA which I produced myself), and they all have supplied the production with their personal touch. On Mainly Mute I worked with the late Lars Klokkerhaug which was a great experience.
MM: Was the sound of “Colored By You” inspired by any particular artists? It especially reminds me of M83. Are they an influence?
B: M83 has been a great inspiration for me for many years for sure. Especially the album Saturdays = Youth has followed me since it was release in 2008.
MM: Who are your influences in general?
B: Sigur Ró, Radiohead, Mew, Mercury Rev, but also classic bands such as The Beach Boys and The Beatles has been a great influence.
MM: What was the first album you ever bought with your own money? Are you still a fan of it today?
B: It was actually a CD by Johann Sebastian Bach. It is still with me to this day, and I listen to it from time to time.
MM: Name three artists people might be surprised to know that you like?
B: I listen to a lot of different music, and have never been ashamed of my very diverse music taste. My personal playlist is kind of schizophrenic to say the least. To name a few artists/bands that might surprise you: Taylor Swift, Shania Twain and Metric
MM: I understand that you’re from Larvik, a town just south of Oslo. How old were you when you left there? What was the town like? Was it very small?
B: I left Larvik when I was 21. I was accepted into an art school in a town that is actually called Moss. Larvik is a small sleepy town with only 40k residents, and it’s beautifully situated in the end of a small fjord.
MM: Where do you live today?
B: After I finished art school, I decided to move back to my home town to work. I had studied sculpture and started a small gallery to exhibit and hopefully sell my art. It was around that time I also seriously started working on my music. Long story short; My music became a bigger and bigger part of my life, and the rest is history.
MM: Of all the cities you’ve ever visited on tour, etc, what is your favorite? Would you like to live there someday?
B: I have never toured there, but I once spent four months backpacking my way through India, and came across a beautiful little town called Pushkar, situated in the heart of the state Rajasthan. Such a great atmosphere, and I have honestly never been so relaxed in my life. Although it might have something to do with the “special cookies” that was available everywhere..
MM: Have you ever toured the U.S.? If not, will you do so in support of your next album?
B: There are no immediate plans to tour the States at this point, but hopefully the new album will make things happen over there as well.
MM: Aside from Norway, what other countries have you been most successful in?
B: I have done quite well in South Korea, Japan and China, as well as the UK, and have conducted many tours in these regions during the last years.
MM: I understand that all of your albums have been hugely successful. Have you had any go gold or platinum?
B: I started my recording career in a time where CD sales started to plummet, so I have not yet received any such reward. But my albums has taken me to so many beautiful places and made it possible for me to meet so many amazing people in far away countries, which, for me, is the most important goal.
MM: “Colored By You” is being released on NO FOREVERS Records. Have you been on this label your whole career? How did you first connect with the label?
B: My first three albums where released on a label called Frode Records. They have now more or less left the business, so for my next release I approached NO FOREVERS Records, which was eager to collaborate with me.
MM: One of my favorite songs you’ve done is “Sleep Forever.” Do you recall who played the wonderful strings on that one? Was it a single?
B: Sleep Forever, from the album Mainly Mute was never released as a single, but it’s actually one of the songs that most people mention when they are to pick a favourite. The string arrangements where played by Elisa Herbig (Cello) and Karolin Rosalie Broosch (violin).
MM: Do you write the cello and violin parts for your songs or do you bring in the musicians and play them the songs and then they write their own parts?
B: On Mainly Mute and Melopoiï, the musicians were very much involved in the writing, together with me and my producer. On The Curse the producer wrote most of it, and on my next album, me and my producer wrote it all. I have to say that I really like it when the musicians gets involved in the writing of their own parts. It often gives it more of a authentic sound. But sometimes I have a clear idea of what to do, so it’s pretty much for the musicians to come in and lay it down. This process goes for most of the elements in my music.
MM: You did a live album following Mainly Mute called Live at Sliperiet, but you didn’t do live albums following your other records. Do you think you’ll do another one after your next album?
B: There is no immediate plans for that, but you never know.
MM: I read that your brother is your piano player. Is that still the case? Has he performed on your albums or is he just your live pianist? Does he ever write songs with you?
B: My brother På-Andréhas been with me on this musical adventure since the very beginning. Both on all albums and live. He is still my trusted keyboardist, and it’s good to have someone close to bounce ideas off. He sometimes also have som inputs on my writing, and helps out when I’m stuck.
MM: At the end of our interviews we always ask some random questions. Here are yours:
What song is stuck in your head right now? Is it a song you like?
B: Got To My Head by Waters
MM: How frequently are you recognized in public?
B: In my home town, all the time. But out in the world, sometimes, but not very often. It’s nice when it happens though.
MM: What’s the strangest gift that you’ve ever received from a fan?
B: When touring in Asia, it’s quite common to receive gifts from your fans. I think it’s so nice, and are always struck by how much time and effort some put into the gift. Some of the things I have received is: A lot of cakes, rings, pictures (1x1meter), knitted hats, framed CDs etc.
MM: Who is your favorite Star Wars character?
MM: If you could have any person alive today come to one of your shows, who would it be?
B: Thom Yorke
MM: What’s the most awkard exchange you’ve ever had with a fellow musician?
B: I once got into a fist fight with Pete Doherty at an afterparty. That was pretty awkward.. for him 😉
Special thanks to Bellman for taking the time to do this and to Robin Dallison of Vision Music Promotion for arranging it!