With their silky melodies and soft-as-butter harmonies, Bergen-born Kings of Convenience are just one of those bands that can take a four-year break between records and return to the open arms of fans and critics alike. Perhaps what sets them apart from the masses of Norwegian and Scandinavian pop acts is their charming nature, their desire to write catchy, sweetly pleasing and endearing pop songs, and their ability to finish each other’s sentences.
After nearly four years of working separately, Kings of Convenience’s Erik Glambek Bøe and Erlend Øye joined together once again for their third full-length, Declaration of Dependence. Here, Øye and Bøe discuss what they’ve been working on during their lengthy breaks, their take on music piracy, and why “I Love You” is the ultimate declaration of dependence.
So, together again after, how long’s it been, four years?
Erik Glambek Bøe: Well, we have been seeing each other regularly. So the “again” part doesn’t ring true to my ears.
Erlend Øye: Not really again, but it does feel like that now that we’re doing interviews.
What have you been doing in the years apart?
EGB: One thing I did was get involved in a project in Bergen, our hometown, to fight Clear Channel. They were basically trying to buy up all of the bus shelters in Bergen, like they’ve done in many cities all over the world. What they do is they approach city council and say, “Your bus shelters look really bad and old, and we’re going to give you new ones. And we’re going to put advertisements with lights behind them.” So when you walk in the streets at night the first thing you see is Elizabeth Arden advertisements. I’ve seen that in many cities around the world and when I was in Wales. So I’m involved in this project to stop Clear Channel from taking over the public space of our hometown.
A lot of people ask, “What’s wrong with new bus shelters?” But my feeling is that it’s so great to walk around in the town and not constantly being addressed as a consumer. The feeling of just being a person or a citizen — there’s a big difference between being a citizen and being a consumer. But it’s very easy to change the look of a city into the kind of city that communicates to every person there that you are a consumer, you are here because someone needs your money. The creepy thing about any message is that it shapes you — the way I ask you a question makes you feel differently about yourself. For example, if I said, “Stand up,” I communicate to you that I am somehow above you and that you are my subject, and the feeling of being a subject goes into your subconscious. And you don’t want to be a subject, but I’m making you feel like a subject. And it’s the same in advertising. You can say, “I’m not going to buy that Elizabeth Arden perfume anyway,” but the message of “you are a potential buyer of this product” has still shaped the way about how I feel about myself. The effect of advertising is not only measured in sales, but also in the way people look at themselves.
It definitely plays off of body image.
EO: Yeah. In Indonesia, there is no pornography. And you don’t see naked people anywhere. It’s very old school, like the way it was in the ’30s. You see a little bit of shoulder. When you’re in Indonesia, you just don’t see all of that sexual content on TV or on magazine covers. It’s really nice, because women become so much more sexy. You have secrets, and it’s much more exciting.
Is the everyday woman more or less covered up on the streets in Indonesia?
EO: It’s very moderate. They are, but it’s as though they were conservative Christians, kind of.
EGB: Erlend, by the way, is promoting an Indonesian record label on his hat. They’re really into guitar music, a lot of bands sound like the Cardigans there. I think I saw the woman from the Cardigans two days ago in New York, actually.
I heard that you guys actually met up in Mexico, which provides the backdrop for the Declaration of Dependence album art. I was also impressed with the bossa nova influence on the record. Is there a connection there?
EGB: Well, it’s not like we wrote the bossa nova songs in Mexico. We wrote them in Bergen on rainy days. We were basically in Mexico for one week after playing a show in Mexico City. It was the first time in a long while where we actually had time to hang out together. So the music wasn’t actually created there, but it was where we presented the songs we’d written individually to each other. We started jamming on the songs together. I don’t think the Latin influence has anything to do with that one week in Mexico. But I’ve always loved bossa nova music. I don’t know why.
EO: I think Brazilian music in general is really, really good. I love pop music — not “pop” as in “charts” but as in catchy music. They’re making it because they love pop music as if compressed melodies, but they’re not trying to get famous. The thing about Brazillian pop music is it is pop music but no one ever seemed to get anywhere.
That is exactly how I feel about say, Swedish pop. American pop is very different from European pop or the pop scene in Scandanavia.
EGB: It is funny about Sweden, where there’s so much creativity in the music scene, when you compare it to a country like Denmark. You have Sweden, Denmark and Norway, which are all very similar countries, culturally. But the landscape is different, and there are some parts of culture that are very different. For example, Danish music: There is so much bad music coming from Denmark, or there used to be so much bad music coming from Denmark. Whereas most of the stuff I hear in Sweden sounds intelligent, like the people behind it are smart. The stuff coming from Denmark is totally the opposite, and Norway is somewhere in between. It hasn’t been the best country for music, but it’s not so bad. There are a few good ones between all of the bad ones. And it’s like, Why is that? Why are there such great national differences in three such similar countries?
EO: It’s very different from the United States. There’s a feeling (in Norway) that you are related to everybody. Like anyone on the street knows someone that you know or is related to your family. The feeling you get in the U.S. is that there are one million people around you who are complete aliens; you don’t get that feeling (in Norway).
EGB: For example, the health care system and the social security system in Norway is really good. There is this culture in Norway where people feel responsible for one another. It’s so clear that your system is not working. I saw on your TV: [he raises his voice] “I don’t want my country to turn into Russia!” There are things in between capitalism and extreme communism. Look at Scandinavia.
In the U.S., there’s not a sense that other people are looking out for you. It’s based on hyper-individualism, and if you can’t find health care, then you’re not trying hard enough.
EGB: That’s why we call our record Declaration of Dependence. It’s to give depending on other people a better name.
Is the record at all about your relationship as musicians? About you needing each other?
EGB: A lot of the time, I know that a song was written about some other person, but I feel that we are singing about each other. That’s a smart thing, because the relationship that we are in is very similar to a relationship you’ll have with someone you love, like a girlfriend-boyfriend situation. So, you might be writing about that, but it totally fits with talking about the other person in the band. It’s about the same things.
The most famous declaration of dependence is “I love you,” but we can never say it. Everyone knows the Declaration of Independence, which is maybe the basis for capitalism. “We’re better off without you,” that’s what it’s saying. The great paradox is that we all seem to lead our lives in the direction of finding someone we love. And we use all of this technology — we always find ways to connect with people and be dependant on other people. But we’re saying that we want to be independent. But the truth is that we want to be part of something, that we are important, that someone cares about us, and that someone would be sad if we left.
Hence the rise of the digital social network and related to that, of course, online music trading. On your MySpace page recently, there was a message mentioning your new album. You wrote “No one should be receiving your new album for free unless it’s from you.” Why do you think that?
EO: I have nothing against one person sending a track to another person saying, “Hey, check this track out; it’s great!” That’s like a fan-to-fan thing. But these big websites like Pirate Bay are just another corporation. It’s the future Clear Channel. They have nothing to do with good. They are just evil. It’s the worst. They take our music and put it out for free before we have released it to our record label. There’s no fanfare, there’s nothing, it’s just like “Kings of Convenience: Declaration of Dependence. Click Here.” There’s no sense of jubilation.
EGB: It’s the worst side of consumerism. Consumerism has something good about it, which is the principle of mutual responsibility. Like, I have something you need, and you have something I need. I have money; you have the product I need, then we exchange. There’s a give-and-take relationship in capitalism. But now we come back to this baby state of consumerism, where the consumer expects to have everything for free. It’s like, we’re supposed to work for four years and invest all of our money into making this record and these punks are going to steal it and expect us to be happy that they’re stealing our music. It doesn’t feel like we’re getting anything back from all of the work we’ve done. It makes me really, really angry.
How do you feel about the critics, journalists and authors who have made the claim that free music is the future? The British are using Spotify, which offers free album upon free album for something like $18 a year.
EGB: Spotify is like a temporary state, where they are trying to make people get used to the idea of paying for music on the Internet. So it’s very low-fee at first, but obviously it’s going to turn into something more commercial. That’s the idea.
What about blogs? It’s not unlike Pirate Bay. Everything’s free.
EO: But it’s not like Pirate Bay. You totally get me wrong. Because when someone has a blog while saying, “Here is the music I like,” that’s nice because she’s talking about us and putting one song up, not the entire album. It’s kind of cool. I feel happy when I see that. With Pirate Bay, there is no announcement, there is nothing; you just search for what you want, instantly you get it for free, the entire thing. It’s not selected, it’s not personal, it’s just, “Here it is.” So what I was saying in the MySpace blog was that if someone should give it away for free, it should be us. If we decide to put our album on our MySpace page the for free, that should be our decision. So we are the ones who are noble. We are the ones who are Robin Hood. “Hey, it’s for free! It’s fine! You get it from us because we love you, and it’s free!” But someone else does that.
I’ve been reading that the future is streaming music.
EGB: I’ve been thinking that maybe the direction things could develop in is that every digital file has a watermark. That’s also possible. If you look at the Internet, it’s like early society. And every society has a stage of anarchy and later developed into some kind of system. And maybe that will happen for the Internet, as well. For example, if technology makes it possible to watermark every file. Monitoring the Internet is clearly possible.
Well, they’re already watermarking promo disks. It must cost more money, though. How do you make up for that when people aren’t buying CDs anymore?
EGB: I’ve just realized one thing. Every computer I’ve had in the last six years I’ve lost, it has broken or it has crashed. The iPod only lasts for a few years, and you lose it somewhere or it breaks. You need a backup of your music, and a CD is just the best way to have a backup. Like the CDs in my drawer, I don’t listen to them, but I know I have a backup.
EO: That’s why I think Spotify is so great, because you have all the music without actually having it.
EGB: It’s not super quality.
EO: But that would change. It counts the amount of times you play an artist, and the artists make money that way.