With the release of his first album as well as his shows at Norway’s By:Larm, Larvik-based pop outfit Bellman has already made himself a bit of a name in the Scandinavian indie scene. His second album is due for release this week in the UK – mixing various influences and spreading itself across a variety of genres. I caught up with Arne on a sunny April day in the busy London, in the midst of an acoustic tour, to ask about the Norwegian scene, cover art, and pop music.
Hi Arne.. First off, I’d like to ask about Bellman itself, which started off as a solo project..
Yeah, it did.
But you’ve got a live band as well?
Yes, well we are doing a couple of shows this week in London, just me and my pianist, to promote the album – an acoustic set, just me and my brother.
How did the rest of the band, the musicians that play with you, come together – how did you all meet?
Well I started out on my own actually, then my brother came along, and just… I found out that I needed some more people to really get the sound that I wanted. So I brought in a bass player, a drummer, another guitarist – and this was about three years ago actually. We’ve been together ever since. It’s working out great.
You’re from Larvik, in Norway, if I’m not mistaken..
Yeah, that’s a town about two hours south of Oslo. We have a studio in Oslo, actually.
I’ve lived in Norway for a while and know a couple of musicians there.. I know that the scene in Norway is actually quite small, so I was wondering if you’ve got your own music scene in Larvik or whether you rely a lot on the Oslo scene.
Larvik has a history of producing pretty decent bands; we have a good set-up for bands, rehearsal spaces and so on. So yes, I guess in a way it’s a pretty strong musical history in our town.
If I remember well, you’ve released Mainly Mute in 2009.
Yes, that’s right.
And that was quite well-received in Norway?
It was – we got some great reviews. The second album came out October last year – The Curse – that’s the one that will be released soon in the UK, in summer.
What was the transition between Mainly Mute and The Curse? I find Mainly Mute a very well-held-together album, a little conceptual maybe.. whereas The Curse, I find, seems to jump between very complex string-based pieces and more upbeat songs, with 80′s sounds.. What happened in the past two years for you to make that transition from a conceptual record to one that had a bit of a lighter, more carefree sound?
Well one of the big differences between the two albums is that the first one – Mainly Mute – had songs that were written many years ago, and I had a lot of time to think about the songs that we would use. We spent about two years in the studio, actually. With The Curse, it’s a bit of a different mood – a bit happier maybe. Still I think that even though it is more upbeat, there is a sort of ongoing melancholy to it.
In ancient times, the bellman was the man who would bring the King’s word out to the people – he would ring his bell and go around on the streets, shouting out. I believe that is a name that truly fits the music.
And which are your actual musical influences? You’ve been compared to a lot of 90′s bands, like Mercury Rev or Suede, and more recent ones like Glasvegas and Starsailor. Where do you feel you actually fit in all that?
Maybe on the second album I’ve been listening to more.. well, more pop music maybe [laughs] Ryan Adams, Manic Street Preachers, stuff like that… and that’s probably coloured the way I wrote the songs.
How is your song-writing process?
Usually I come up with a refrain or a verse first. Then it all revolves around the feeling of the song, trying to fit the instrumentals with the mood.
You’ve got a couple of songs on The Curse that have, for example, cello. How do you work with such instruments?
Well, we all came up with the cello and the violin lines together, and worked from there. But we also had to find someone who would write the string arrangements.
Is there a story behind how you came up with your stage name?
I’ve been writing these songs for a long time, and at some point, I had to enter one for a radio competition – NRK Urørt – and I was looking for a name for the project, because I didn’t have one at the time. I was struggling, but then it just came to me, though it sounded a bit strange. To me the bellman is, you know, in a hotel, the man who opens doors for you, who is there for you, that’s one explanation. And in ancient times, the bellman was the man who would bring the King’s word out to the people – he would ring his bell and go around on the streets, shouting out. Kind of random, but I believe that it is a name that truly fits the concept and the music.
It’s funny, I did not think of that at all. I always think of the bell-man as the man on the cover of your Spaceship Move Slow EP [NDLR: released through Lazy Acre Records]. But to go on – you’ve mentioned the NRK competition. I recently talked to a band from Norway about touring and I feel that your country is quite good at funding cultural projects, is that so?
Yeah, I feel that we are quite privileged. I don’t think how it is in other countries, but in Norway you can apply for funding for projects, for tours, and it is all quite well set-up for up-and-coming bands.
What kind of relationship do you have to other musicians within the Norwegian scene? I’ve met Marius (from Team Me), My Little Pony, Uno Møller, and a bunch of others and it just feels like everyone is part of one big family.
Well I’m not exactly acquainted with most of them, but I’ve heard their music – I think they are part of a group, maybe that shares a certain space, are on similar labels and so on, but being in Larvik – and living there – I don’t “fit” in that scene in that sense. Of course I know them and find them amazing. Moddi as well.
Oh, I think he’s great! And do you think that’s it’s easy for musicians in your country to collaborate with each other? Even though Norway is really big, in the end the musicians all find themselves in the same spots…
Yeah! Especially the Oslo music scene, everybody knows everybody. It’s almost impossible not to bump into each other, so of course, it might be easier in that way to end up working together.
And about concerts – which has been your favorite concert experience being on stage?
We’ve done of good shows with good crowds. Of course it’s always fun to play venues with lots of people; we played By:Larm in 2009, in a big hall with close to a thousand people. But shows with a smaller crowd also feel intimate, and that’s a different show, a different atmosphere. We’ve started doing a lot of acoustic shows – with just the strings, the violin, in small cafés, and that’s been amazing too, just being able to play in front of an audience.
And how about the audience in the UK? You had a couple of shows in London, I guess it must be quite different from playing in your hometown…
Well nobody knows me here so yes, it’s quite different; yesterday’s show was a good one, down at a small venue. Let’s see how tomorrow at the Regal Room is!
Well good luck for that then! I have one last question regarding the artwork of “The Curse” – how did that come about? It’s a very strange album cover, surreal and visually interesting. [NDLR: the Norwegian release]
It was made by a good friend of mine, called Håkon Stentsholt. He just listened to the songs and got inspired and came up with that pretty quick; I liked it instantly. I’m very happy with it.
What are your future plans and projects?
Well, the UK tour in July will be with full band, so that’s maybe the one thing to be looking forward to – and of course the album release in the UK.
The Curse can be ordered on bandcamp and was released by Lazy Acre Records on July 4th. Bellman will be on tour in the UK from the 5th to the 9th – check his homepage for more tour information.