It's impossible to limit Norwegian musician Hanne Hukkelberg to any particular musical world; as a teenager she sang for the metal band Funeral, before graduating from a music academy in Oslo and embarking on a career that has touched on jazz, electronic, and pop music. Along the way she has picked up a Norwegian Grammy and plenty of acclaim for her sophisticated, savvy approach that often includes found sounds alongside more traditional elements.
Birthmark finds Hukkelberg in her experimental pop mode, writing songs that touch on the impersonality of modern interactions (on the song "Don't Dream" she plans to "fiddle while Twitter burns"), the lessons she would impart on her younger self, and a bleak, imagined future for her relationship, which sadly proved true.
Hukkelberg spoke with AllMusic to discuss these new songs, her melancholy nature, and her feelings about her metal past. Birthmark is out now.
AllMusic: Your new record explores how we need to hold onto our humanity as technology continues to take over our lives. Where do you feel that encroachment is the most apparent?
Hanne Hukkelberg: I feel like everything is getting so standardized. With social media, it feels like we're making this mask with how we present our habits, and sometimes that's a nice thing to do, but there's also a side that makes me feel more like a machine or more lonely. There are things that social media can't reflect or communicate, because it's through a machine. There are so many psychological parts of me as a human being that aren't communicated through machines.
AllMusic: On "The Young and Bold I" you face the other side of that, which is our impermanence and aging.
Hukkelberg: That's a song to my younger self, because now I can see that I did not understand how I was going to turn out and what my mindset would be like when I was 40. At the same time I have this wish for 20-year-olds, that they have a little more respect for older people than I had. I don't think I respected older people; if they didn't say anything I just thought they were boring. Now that I'm a 40-year-old, I'm not saying anything because I have so many experiences that make me quiet, there are certain reasons that make me not talk.
So I'm trying to scream back to the past and tell myself that I should have acted more respectful, maybe, towards older people, or people different from myself. It's also a song about being older and being wiser, and it feels really good to be becoming older and having time behind me. Talking about social media and things being standardized, now that I'm 40 I'm more able to be challenging, in a good way, I can have more power to push myself in different ways, it feels like I have the experiences and I'm grounded more, I have more power to be who I am. When I was younger, I didn't dare to be myself, and now I acknowledge that I am more than I thought I was. It's a nice process, to let myself give all that up.
AllMusic: In "Summer Shadows" you sing about feeling sadness where others find joy. Is that a feeling specific to this song or is that something you experience regularly?
Hukkelberg: I'm a very melancholy type of person, I think, and I made this song out of this deep feeling I had when I made it, I was just making up the lyrics, and it was about my boyfriend and I. When I made the song, it was almost a year ago, and the song ends in a very sad way, like he's leaving me, and we'd been together for 17 years. It was a sad song about how our relationship could have ended, and the strange part is that it has ended. That's really strange, because now our relationship is over, and it's strange to see how I saw that happen before I even knew anything about that. So now that song is very special to me, and very personal.
AllMusic: Were you conflicted about sharing something so personal?
Hukkelberg: The strange thing is that I put it on my album even before I knew we were breaking apart. So it has become more and more private with time. Everybody breaks up, that's a normal thing to do, but it's a very emotional song to me right now, but it's also very good to lean on and have there, it feels very personal.
AllMusic: You bring all sorts of sounds from the world into your music. Do you find yourself always listening to things happening around you, and does that get exhausting?
Hukkelberg: I'm so lucky that I'm working full time with music, so to me, it's more annoying if someone interrupts me in listening to my surroundings. That's the part of the day that I really enjoy. Being a musician, an artist, there's so little time to actually do music, so the time that I get to go walk down the street and listen to things and imagine them in music, that's great, that's awesome.
AllMusic: Do your friends know not to distract you when you're focusing on a sound?
Hukkelberg: I hope so. I try to be a standardized person, to look like one, even though I'm not at all, so I try to look to my friends like someone who doesn't get annoyed if they interrupt me, but I do get annoyed.
AllMusic: You sang in a metal band when you were younger; does anything about that world still appeal to you, or is that all in the past?
Hukkelberg: Option B. I'm not a metal kind of person. I happened to be part of a couple of metal bands when I was a teenager, that was a great experience and I was really inspired by it, and the people were great. I was in a band called Funeral, and then half of the band committed suicide, which is so ironic and sad.
The drummer from the band is still living, and the way he was teaching me the vocal lines before recording them was to whistle them to me before I'd sing them into the microphone. I've been musically trained, I went to a music academy, but he had not, and when I told him there was a major chord in one of the songs, he just went mad and said that the major chord had to go away, right away. There were so many funny stories, but it's a kind of musicality that I've never been close to, not before and not after. But it was a very special time in my life that I'll always remember.