Interview with Hoist!

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Hoist! Promo photo
Photo: Hoist!

By a very lucky accident, the promo version of Hoist!'s 'Ami Noir' album fell into my hands and I had a long period of time during which I couldn't stop listening to the beautiful madness and combinations of jazz and blues with a touch of punk and metal. There's plenty of genuine stuff emerging from Norwegian musical scene, but for some reason Hoist! was the most fresh, yet full of contrast and managing the hold on to a very old and classic sound at the same time. I guess the easiest to understand what I mean is to try to listen to them for yourselves, either by checking out for their video releases on youtube or visiting one of their official pages: http://www.hoistnorway.com and https://www.facebook.com/hoistnorway February 2013 means the release date of their first full length album, 'Ami Noir', an album magically produced by Oz Fritz, who previously worked with 'special sounding' artists, such as Herbie Hancock, Tom Waits, Primus, Ornette Coleman. But until then, I had the chance to sit down for a chat with the two voices of Hoist!, Marita Røstad and Stian Leknes and be introduced to their world full of music and emotions. So many emotions that they get a biker crying and admitting he had the most beautiful piss ever while listening live to one of their songs. Enjoy the lecture!

Me: When did all begin with Hoist!?
Marita: We found out that we wanted to play some of my songs at the rehearsal (we had played together before, in another band) and it worked out quite well. After that we decided to make more songs together, and suddenly we had enough for the album.

Me: Was it just the two of you or all of the band?
Marita: All of us.
Stian: It was actually six of us who did that. Kristoffer came in when we actually had the project started. But more or less all the songs we had from the very beginning ended up on our first album.
Marita: We did a demo in a studio in Trondheim once we had some songs ready, and we contacted Oz Fritz with that demo to ask if he wanted to produce our album.

Me: Why did you choose him?
Marita: We have heard his work on 'Mule Variations' by Tom Waits, and we love that sound.
Stian: I guess we were basically listening through different albums, looking at who the producer of the engineer is. 'Mule Variations' stood out as one of the best sounds and we saw that Oz Fritz had done that, and he also did Primus and Iggy Pop and lots of other stuff. I called Prairie Sun, where the album is mixed, because we figured out he worked there a lot. He happened to be there that day, he told us to send over some songs for him to check out. We had a new phone call the day after and he told us he loved it. He suggested we worked in France, at 'La Fabrique', the studio where we ended up recording the album.

Me: So you all travelled there?
Stian: Yea, all seven of us. And he flew in from the States because since he's based there.

Me: Wow, quite an international collaboration there.
Stian: I guess so. It's also mixed in an American studio, so…
Marita: It was certainly the most suitable place to record it.
Stian: The whole experience was really awesome. The building is an old factory for army clothes, for the French army in the 1800 or something like that. The story is that they used to make red uniforms but after a while they figured out that the red colour is not really that good. People can quickly see you and shoot you. So instead or changing to blue or green, they just shut off the whole thing. Typical French.
Marita: Then Herve and Isabelle le Guille, a married couple, they bought it and made a studio.
Stian: It's a huge complex with huge rooms and really great to work in.

Me: So, this style of music is something you did before coming up with the Hoist! idea?
Marita: I write most of the songs and then we all somehow define the direction of the music.
Stian: Actually the band existed already to do 'The Earth Died Screaming'. a Tom Waits celebration concert. So this probably helped shaping the style of music. This started out at Trondheim Jazz Festival in 2008. We were basically the same people as now, except Kristoffer.
Marita: I guess we wanted to eventually do our own material, and not only the tribute concert, so that's why we started working on our own songs.

Me: This obviously means Tom Waits is a big inspiration for you. What other names would you think of as inspirations?
Marita: I'm also very influenced by Nick Cave and PJ Harvey.
Stian: There's way more than that. I don't think you can label us as strictly a Tom Waits-like sounding band. I guess it's a big mix, and I guess that's why it works when there are so many different musicians in the band coming from such different backgrounds - like me and few others coming from metal, a couple of us from the rock scene and the others from the jazz scene. I think this shines through in the music.

Me: Is it only you Marita writing the whole of one song? Or you are responsible for the main idea and then everybody contributes?
Marita: We kinda vary this from song to song. But on most of them, I come with what I have already written, take this to the band and they do what they want to do with the material. There's some instructions from me as well…But that's how you end up with some parts that are really grind core and then some of them are pure jazz and so on.
Stian: I think it's also what Kristoffer said when we were in France - the reason that the music comes out as original as it does is that neither Marita nor anyone else hasn't put too much lead on anything. Everyone can do what they want.
Marita: We actually want people to do what they like to do, so that we get the music to be special and original.

Me: How did you get the two brothers to split between drumming and percussion?
Stian: That was hard actually. It happened when we played 'The Earth Died Screaming'. Originally we had another drummer, Stian Lundberg, but he started doing some other stuff, so I called Alessandro to ask if he can do the drums for the concert in Drammen. He was busy that day, so I thought to call his brother. It happened that they were sitting in the same car so I heard Alessandro in the background wondering why I'm calling his brother for. So it was actually a coincidence that Daniel could do it that day.
Marita: He played really well. After the first gig with him, we decided we really wanted him to stay.
Stian: Alessandro was already playing percussion with us, so he just stayed with that and Daniel took over the drums part.
Marita: It works really well now. Everyone got used to it.

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Hoist! album cover for Ami Noir
Photo: Hoist!

Me: I personally love those percussion parts and they fit so well, they are played at such right times.
Marita: Our sound engineer always says that Alessandro is the glue in the band.
Stian: It's about small things that actually make stuff stand out from the ordinary. He's not really a percussionist, he's never done a lot of percussion before.
Marita: But it's the way he plays the drumkit. It's kinda percussion like.
Stian: And when he does percussion it really sounds special, so everyone just likes it.

Me: More stuff about the new album…so who is Ami and why is she or he or it black?
Marita: It's the French for 'Dark Friend'. We never thought about it as a name actually. We thought about having a French name on the album, since it was recorded there. We had different suggestions and it actually happened while we were recording.
Stian: One day we were sitting on the couch, listening to 'Dark Friend', and she asks what dark friend would be in French. And then we had 'Ami Noir'. So we confirmed with the French guy if it was ok.

Me: Who's writing the lyrics? Only you?
Marita: No, we both are.

Me: Any particular themes or ideas you try to put in them? Is there a concept in this album?
Marita: It has turned out to be one actually. I hadn't quite realised how dark the lyrics were until Oz said it.
Stian: When we were talking about the album titles, Oz suggested we'd call it 'Songs in the key of death'. The opposite of Stevie Wonder's 'Songs in the key of life'. He said that all of our songs are basically about death. I guess the theme in the lyrics ended up kinda being death.

Me: There's certain characters in your songs. Are they based on real ones or mainly imagination? Like Rosemary for example.
Marita: It's not easy to explain. It's based on a person, yet it's not.
Stian: I think that when you write something, you end up putting some influence from a real character or from within yourself. Then you twist that around and do whatever you want with it and end up with fiction based on reality.
Marita: Me and Stian have discussed this and I must say that I kinda want people to read what they want to. I don't want a special interpretation.
Stian: It can be a long discussion about art, debating if the author should explain anything or leave people the freedom of seeing what they want.

Me: Even if the album is not out yet, you went touring around Norway this year, right? What kind of reactions did you get from the people?
Marita: It was quite overwhelming at some places, people started to cry and such. Probably a good emotional reaction.
Stian: Overall, the response was pretty good for the live shows.
Marita: Usually people are reserved in the beginning of each concert, wondering what kind of music this is, especially when one song starts like one genre, and the next one as another genre and so on. After a while, they start to really get into it.
Stian: We have a good memory from Tromsø. We played at Bastard Bar a couple of times. The first time we played there, there were these two guys from a motorcycle club, as one of the owners is a motorcycle club guy. They came to the door, standing and wondering if they'd come in and pay the entrance fee or not. When they walked in, we were playing something with a jazz touch in it and they decided that “naaah, this is not our thing”. But then we burst out into something else and made them say “oh, but this is punk. We can listen to punk”. A bit later on “No, this is not punk either”. So they thought we just had our thing, our kind of journey in our music.
Marita: One of them actually started to cry.

Me: Wow, you made a biker cry.
Stian: Hehe, yea, that's pretty good. One of them was also telling us this story. He went into the toilet, right behind the stage. He was standing there pissing listening to our song called 'Unchained' and that was the most beautiful piss he ever took. Now that's a good compliment.

Me: How easy is it to manage seven people on the tour, compared to the usual four, maybe five?
Stian: I guess that's my task, I'm some sort of administrator. But they're a good bunch of people and we get along most of the times. There's, of course, like in every band, some small arguments, but it's been mostly going smooth. We have all been friends for many years now and that helps. We had some time issues here and there, some like to sleep more than others and such, hehe, you know, it happens with every band.

Me: You earlier said that a couple of people have jazz background, some have metal background and so on. Does it mean you studied together or?
Marita: Me and Kristoffer have studied jazz in Trondheim. Daniel has also studied in Levanger, so now he owns his own music school in Trondheim. Alessandro went to a highschool for music and he studied classical piano actually. And went on to metal drumming after that.

Me: So it's actually a mix of self-educated musicians and people who did take music lessons?
Stian: Yea, I'm self-educated for example.

Me: Really? You had no training for your singing?
Stian: I am studying now, but I study esthetics related to music.

Me: Does that affect your stage moves in any way?
Marita: Hehe. But that's also a thing I wanted. To have many different backgrounds.
Stian: I actually think that if everyone has musical education it can be a drawback. Not in all cases, but it can be an advantage to mix various backgrounds.

Me: Out of all the instruments that you are using, is there any that you find harder than the others when it comes to integrating it in the music or so?
Stian: We never particularly struggled with any of the instruments.
Marita: We kind of know now that if you just give it time, things would fall into place. People work at different speeds, like for instance Magnus finds out right away what he wants to play on his bass. But the drummer needs to try out different grooves and different things first, but I think that's an organic process.

Me: So you don't find any challenge overall?
Stian: No, not really. Probably the hardest thing at the beginning was to figure out how we're gonna do it vocally. Who's gonna sing what. But everything fell into place pretty quickly. And the album is recorded mainly live, or everyone together at once.
Marita: It's only the choir and the organ sections that were added later.
Stian: We did these in a little church right down the street from the studio. The owner came with his dog and unlocked the church doors for us. We even rang the bells so we have the genuine bell sound for the song 'Room 123'. It's a church from the 1500 or something like that.

Me: So far you have a video released online. It is for the song 'Splinters'. What on Earth is that clip about? How did the idea for it come up?
Marita: Everything is Snorre Hovdal's (Dispenser Media) idea. He was the director and we never saw the video until it was done.

Me: Do you understand anything out of it?
Stian: I think I understand it. But I think it's open for interpretation. But it is about deception and mainly self-deception.

Me: But there will be a new video?
Marita: Yes, for 'Time will come'. It will be out around the release date of the album, now in February.

Me: Any future touring plans?
Stian: We have two release concerts, one on February 7th at Internasjonalen in Oslo and one the next day at Blæst in Trondeim. We are working at the tour right now, so you have to wait a little while before we announce anything. We’d love to play as much as possible. I think in a month or so we will have the touring planned.

Me: I hope you get your music to more and more people, since it's so beautiful and needs to be heard.

Splinters video: