Kings of Convenience :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe are exhausted. Before getting on a Zoom call with AD from their respective homes in Italy and Norway, the singer/songwriters behind the project Kings of Convenience had been through a gauntlet of other interviews, starting early in their morning to speak with publications from Asia and finishing the day talking with journalists from North America.

Such is the excitement surrounding the release of the duo’s latest album Peace Or Love. This collection features the first new music from Kings of Convenience in over 11 years and they pick up right where they left off with 2009’s Declaration of Dependence. The cozy harmonies and guitar melodies are still as lush and inviting as ever, and pleasantly augmented by touches of violin, keyboards, and a light smattering of percussion. They also welcome back Leslie Feist, the Canadian artist who first collaborated with the pair on their second album, 2004’s Riot on an Empty Street. She adds a jetstream of warmth to two songs on Peace Or Love with a few well-placed vocal turns.

While Øye and Bøe slip back into their duo mode with apparent ease, the journey to a finished album was thorny. The two men made several good faith efforts over the course of five years to record these songs, but were either interrupted by other projects and familial responsibilities or were halted due to them being unhappy with how it was all sounding. Hence, Peace Or Love only truly came together in a small burst of activity at the end of these elongated sessions. Yet, somehow they still managed to make it all sound as effortless and breezy as a summer’s walk through Bryggen in their native Bergen. | r ham

Aquarium Drunkard: Erlend, how are you?

Erlend Øye: It’s been a long day of interviews. My ears are quite tired.

AD: This has to be a little challenging for you, especially, as you have developed some pretty awful tinnitus over the last few years. So, to begin, you and Eirik did a tour in Norway recently. The first tour you’ve done in some
time. How did it go?

Erlend Øye: It went well. People were seated. They were far away from each other. The halls we were playing were for 1,000 people and there were maybe 100 there. So the atmosphere was a bit muted. But, as you can imagine, everyone knew why it was like this. There was nothing weird about that. And since we had a new album that we wanted to play, they were going to be mainly listening anyway.

AD: How was it simply being back onstage with Eirik and playing songs again?

Erlend Øye: The tour was great. We had been working a lot with the music but we hadn’t performed it for anybody. The hardest thing when you’re making an album that takes such a long time is that there is no applause. At the end of the day, there is only doubt.

AD: That leads well into a question I had about the fact that it took some time for this record to be completed. You were working on it for a number of years and reworking and rerecording songs along the way. Did that give you too much time to worry about the material and whether it was good enough? Would you rather have had a hard deadline in place to make you stop working?

Eirik Glambek Bøe: I think we cherish ignorance and not being masters of our trade. We somehow feel that we don’t know what we’re doing and that ignorance is a key to creating something that is greater than ourselves. It’s this sense of not really knowing what we’re trying to achieve that is very important in order to be able to sometimes stumble upon something that’s a little bit magic or special.

In this recording process, we got a little bit stuck on the idea that we need to play everything perfect. We need to have the rhythm right and perfect tuning on the guitars and we need to sing perfect harmonies. All those ideas of perfection led us to create something that didn’t feel amazing. And at that point, we gave up on it. That’s when Erlend lost hope and gave up and left. I didn’t see him again for a year. Then when we started rewinding and going back to work on the material we had. I had been given great advice by Davide Bertolini, who was the producer on our second and third album. He heard all the material we had recorded and he said, “You need to look for magical moments in your recordings. I’m not hearing the special little magical things that make me, as a listener, moved by this. I don’t hear the special, chaotic, interesting, weird things that make me intrigued.” When he said that, I realized we have to go back and look for moments of magic instead of looking for the perfect takes. Then we had kind of new map to go into this unknown territory and get to the point where we felt we have a record that we are really ready to give to the world.

AD: Does that track with your experience, Erlend?

Erlend Øye: I think this record was a lot about before and after the break. Doing a lot of stuff, recording a lot of things, trying a lot of different approaches, taking a long break, and then understanding, “Okay, what actually means something? What does the music world not need?” We have a lot of people to help us actually. And the question is: When would they enter into the process? Early or late? Because you need new people. As the years pass, you go down your line of helpers like, “Hello, how’s it going? Can I send you 11 songs and see what you think about them?”

AD: It’s interesting that you say that because you leaned on Davide Bertolini for his advice and then, on this album, you have some songs featuring vocals from Feist who you have worked with in the past. Is it better to lean on these trusted people rather than going outside your circle and drawing in folks who might shake things up even more?

Eirik Glambek Bøe: Feist was very crucial in the place where we were trying to regain hope and confidence. She came into the studio at the late stage, in 2019, and was genuinely excited about what we had made. Her excitement meant that we could let go of our doubt. It was definitely a moment where things started to consolidate. Thanks to Leslie Feist. She gave us that feeling of confidence that what we’re doing is actually pretty good.

AD: Have you had any thoughts about releasing some of the earlier versions of the material so fans can hear how the songs evolved?

Erlend Øye: We could do that but at the same time, a very important part of what an artist does is compress your output. A painter should, of course, paint a lot of stuff and release what they really like. Not just say, “Oh yeah, I’ll just let you see all of it, so you tell me what’s good.” If you ask for people’s attention, you have to respect them and their time and tell them, “Now I have something which deserves your attention.” There are some of those versions that are kind of cool, but the versions of the songs that are quite different. It’s tempting in the future to put that out. But for now, we were just trying so hard to decide on one version of every song. So it’s not the first thing that comes to mind.

AD: I was just thinking of the recent announcement of the All Things Must Pass reissue with all these extra demos and rehearsal tapes, or the deluxe versions of albums that come out four months after the original one does.

Erlend Øye: I can see an Onion article about that. “Area Man Actually Listens To Every Outtake From New George Harrison Version of the Old Record.” I think it’s okay that George Harrison’s people decided to release everything he has done for the few people who care. But we’re not there yet.

AD: Maybe 50 years down the road, the boxed set version of this album will come out and have everything. Is it good for your relationship as friends and creative partners to have the breaks that you have had between albums and tours to go off and do your own projects? Does that make you appreciate Kings of Convenience more when you get back together?

Eirik Glambek Bøe: Yeah, definitely. I think that freedom that we both have is a key to why we’ve stuck together for so long. Whenever we play together, it’s something that we had the chance to miss. I think it would have been very difficult if we were in a band that rehearsed every day and didn’t play in other projects.

Erlend Øye: I would say if you look at the last 24 years, we’ve done Kings of Convenience three months of the year, and we’re still around. Take a band like, say, The Smiths. It’s a shame that I cannot go and see them. But they did a lot of music in a very short period of time and toured a lot and probably got to hate each other because they were together 10 months of the year. For music fans, it’s nicer to know that your band enjoy being in the band. I think a lot of American and English music managers are to blame for this. They want to have a paycheck within one and a half years of them starting to work with an artist. We’ve always felt like, once in the future, we’re going to buy a house. It was never going to be about buying a house next year. Just whenever it happens. The most important thing is enjoying it while you are doing it.

Eirik Glambek Bøe: I think that’s one of the reasons why, from the year 2004, we didn’t have a manager anymore. We had a manager up until then, but it was quite clear that his intentions or ambitions were totally different from mine. He wanted us to be successful and making money within 12 months. For me, I wanted it to be enjoyable and healthy for as long as I could enjoy it. I think any manager would hate being our manager because we will say no to 80% of the requests that come in.

And we would be very slow in replying to any email that came in. But to me, it’s an important factor in keeping my joy and my love for what I do.

AD: When it comes to the actual songwriting process, have you always been very comfortable rejecting each other’s ideas? Do either of you push for things or is there a good give-and-take between you two?

Eirik Glambek Bøe: I think what happens is, whenever one of us presents an idea to the other person, which then the other person gets excited about, that’s the birth of a Kings of Convenience song. Obviously, we’ve played each other a lot of ideas that didn’t make the other person excited. Those songs died there and then.

Erlend Øye: Oh, I disagree with you, Eirik. I think half of the time… [Erlend’s Zoom connection dropped at this point.]

Eirik Glambek Bøe: I think we lost Erlend. And I was so excited to hear what he was going to say!

AD: Well, since I still have you, Eirik. There’s a lot of chatter in the bio for this record about the fact that Erlend is the nomad of the group, traveling around all the time, and you’re the one who stays put. Is that still the case?

Eirik Glambek Bøe: Yeah, I mean… I have three kids. I have my home. I have obligations in my life here in Bergen. So the description of me and Erlend living two different lives is still very much true. At the same time, our musical ideas are quite similar. I think whenever I love something, Erlend will tend to like it, too. And if I’ve written a song and I asked him to come up with a solo guitar part for the middle section or the ends, I kind of sense what he’s going to do. We’ve played together for so many years, I know how he thinks and how he conceives of music. We’re kind of like two legs of the same person. Which is kind of weird because we argue so much. On so many things. But when you look at our behavior, like what we actually do, it’s very harmonious.

AD: This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Quiet Is The New Loud, the first Kings of Convenience record. When you think back on that time, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Eirik Glambek Bøe: I was in shock at that time that our music could have such a big impact. That this tiny little project of ours—this thing we’ve done in my mom’s living room on our couch, these two guitars and these little songs—could have such a massive, international impact. Because it really spread all over the world.

I think we were lucky in many ways with the zeitgeist of that time. At that time, globalization was creating this global audience. So not only did we reach people in Sweden, Germany, and the United States, but it was happening in Argentina and in Indonesia and in Taiwan and in the Philippines and in Mongolia. Suddenly there was this global audience that was brought up drinking the same cultural milk. We met people all over the world who connected with and understood what we were doing.

AD: Do you still feel that sense of surprise that people are excited to hear new music from the band and folks like me are beating down your doors for an interview?

Eirik Glambek Bøe: Yeah, I’m still surprised. And I still don’t quite understand it. Why aren’t there more bands like Kings Of Convenience? When you think of it, it’s the most basic things: two guys, two guitars. There should be at least 50 Kings of Conveniences on the scene. We’re like the only ones doing it.

AD: Maybe with this new album, you can inspire a new wave of bands to follow your lead.

Eirik Glambek Bøe: You don’t need a studio. You don’t need a rehearsal space. You need your living room with a sofa. [He starts spinning around in his chair to show off the instruments in his living room using his cameraphone.] You need this guitar and now this guitar here. This guitar. Here’s another guitar. A little piano here. That’s all you need.

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