Though they might not call it a concept album, Casiokids’ Aabinbaringen Over Aaskammen sure feels like one. If you’re an English speaker, you probably can’t tell what singer Ketil Kinden Endresen is gently crooning about because the lyrics are entirely in Norwegian. But sonically-speaking, the album seems richer and weirder than last year’s Topp Stemning På Lokal Bar, which was a reflection on hanging out at a Bergen bar. The instrumental track “Kaskaden” has a crashing melodic line, a sonic depiction of a waterfall (of central importance to the album, we later find). “‘Kaskaden’ can mean dropping down, but in this case it means a waterfall,” said Endresen recently by phone from Bergen, before the band hit the road for CMJ and a Japanese album release and tour in November. “The song is triumphant and repetitious, so that’s a word I was thinking about.”
As it turns out, there’s more to “Kaskaden” than just repetition. It fits integrally into the overarching theme of Aabinbaringen Over Aaskammen, which translates to The Revelation Over The Mountain, a fictional tale about an explorer in search of a mythical rainforest. “We created a world to put the songs into,” Endresen explained. Of course, the fanciful world of elephants and tropical waterfalls depicted on the album seems far from Norway’s rocky coast and snowcapped mountains. Though the electronic rock melodies may be a product of Norway’s vibrant experimental pop music scene, the album’s images seem to have more in common with Africa, where Endresen lived briefly while researching Afropop for a radio documentary.
We had a few questions for Endresen about African music, elephants, and how the Bergen Wave of the early aughts influenced Casiokids. Aabinbaringen Over Aaskammen is out this week on Polyvinyl.
Aabinbaringen Over Aaskammen seems sonically richer and more conceptual than Casiokids’ first album. How was the band’s approach different for this album?
On this album, we wanted it to be an album with songs that we worked out together during the same period, which we didn’t have time to do the last time. Our last album was more a collection of singles and remixes I did in 2009. This time, we took off some time from touring to only focus on the album.
You sing in Norwegian, although two songs — “Golden Years” and “London Zoo” — have titles in English. What are the songs on this album about?
What we did was we created a world or a setting to put the songs into. It’s like a super-creative idea springing out of the explorer Dr. Tarzan Monsoon discovering an unknown rainforest. We used that setting and story as inspiration for many of the lyrics. A lot of the imagery is inspired by animals and exploring. It’s a bit deeper than the last album, which was more about partying.
How did you decide on that storyline?
It came from us working with a theater group on a kids play in 2010, which was about this hidden rainforest. That was the starting point for thinking we should use this story as a basis for many of the sounds and lyrical ideas. I think that’s what triggered it.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “Elefantenes Hemmelige Gravplass.” Can you translate that and talk about what that song is about?
It translates to “Elephants Secret Graveyard.” It’s an idea I’ve been interested in for a long time: this theory that elephants go to the oasis to die. They go there alone when they feel like the end is drawing near. It’s a theme that’s been in popular culture for films and fairytales because explorers are looking for ivory that’s found in these areas. There’s also a lot of controversy about whether this is really happening. Scientists aren’t sure that this is, in fact, the case. But I like this idea… this theme of the explorer finding the secret graveyard when he comes to the rainforest. I find it a quite beautiful, symbolic act for the elephants.
You spent some time in Nigeria. How did you get interested in African music?
My interest in African music started about ten years ago. I went to the public library and frequently borrowed CDs, which seems now to be a strange thing to do since now you can stream as much music as you want as long as you can spell it. I was systematically going through almost their whole collection and listening to a lot of music I hadn’t been exposed to, that I didn’t have any references to – in particular, electronic music, jazz, and what is clumpily-labeled world music. Feli Kuti was one of the first really big discoveries for me. His spiritual talks and his philosophy and the rhythms and the sounds appealed to me as something I hadn’t heard before and I wanted to explore more. I started a radio show on the student radio in Bergen together with Geir [Svensson] who plays percussion with Casiokids and together we traveled to Nigeria in 2008 to make a radio documentary.
Do you think those African influences have an effect on the music of Casiokids?
I wouldn’t go as far as to say there are African elements in our music, but I’d say that it inspires me. To a certain extant, the rhythms and some of the percussive patterns and sounds. But I don’t really think it comes through in that many of our songs. It’s just one of many influences that we have. We share the writing credits equally so [African influence] ends up being just one of many elements. It’s not like we try to sound like Afrobeat or highlife. It’s more like a general inspiration, not copying a specific rhythm pattern.
How do Casiokids fit into the vibrant Norwegian music scene? The band was coming up around the time that the “Bergen Wave” started gaining international attention.
When Casiokids started in 2000, bands like Datarock and Kings of Convenience were quite well-known international acts. It definitely did inspire and [give us a] confidence boost to create our music and travel around and present it to people. Especially Fredrik Saroea, the singer in Datarock, he did a lot of booking and arranging in Bergen. He used his international contacts to enrich and inspire the new musicians that were coming up in Bergen at the time, including us. I think the first wave really inspired us to take music seriously and find our own style.