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The White Birch

Interview von: Matthias Rauch mit Ulf Rogde, am: 22.03.2003 ]

Die Schlichtheit und Konzentration auf das Wesentliche haben The White Birch aus Norwegen für mich mit ihrer unglaublich atmosphärischen und überaus melancholischen Musik, die sich irgendwo in den Weiten zwischen Savoy Grand, Codeine und Low wiederfindet, perfektioniert. Mit ihrer hervorragenden letzten Platte "Star Is Just A Sun" meldete sich die Band nun nach langer Abwesenheit wieder ganz leise, aber um so eindrucksvoller zurück. Auch live ist die Band mehr als überzeugend und beweist dabei immer wieder aufs Neue, dass wirkliches Zuhören doch noch belohnt wird. Ich sprach mit Bassist Ulf über Norwegen, Sigur Ros und amerikanische Jazzmusiker.


Musicscan: Some of our readers might not be familiar with The White Birch. Please tell me a little bit about who is in the band and what you guys do when you are not involved with the band.

The White Birch: The White Birch is Ola Fløttum, Hans Christian Almendingen and Ulf Rogde which is me. Ola also plays in the instrumental rock band Salvatore and has a solo project called Portrait of David. HC is a multi-media designer and I study psychology.

Musicscan: Some people already call you the Sigur Ros of Norway. Do you like to be compared to Sigur Ros? Where do you see similarities in sound an attitudes and where are the crucial differences in your opinion?

The White Birch: Who likes to be compared? But I can see where it comes from, they too have sort of a sacral atmosphere in their music, and I guess they take it very seriously. We do too. Still, in some ways I see them as more in continuance of a prog-rock attitude, with heavy drums and more majestic soundscapes at times. I really like Agaetis Byrjun, though.

Musicscan: What are your main musical and artistic influences in general?

The White Birch: When we started out, it was obvious that we liked Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, Motorpsycho, that kind of thing. If I was to say what music has influenced the way we have changed since then, I would mention different stuff, like Swans, Portishead, Arvo Pärt and perhaps our producer/mixer, Helge Sten of Supersilent.

Musicscan: You have been around as a band for over 6 years now, but you have just released one full-length album "Star is just a Sun" that is available in Germany. How come? Do you have any other releases out in Norway?

The White Birch: Actually, during our first two years as a band, we released two LPs and an EP, so we where a very efficient band. Then suddenly we had something you might call a creative crisis. We made one song that was better than anything we had ever made (Love Is So Real, on SIJAS), and we really didn't know how. It took 2 years to find out how, and from then we finished the record in a year or so. Our previous album "People Now Human Being" was in fact sold out of stock on our recent tour in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Musicscan: How did you get in touch with Glitterhouse Records and how has your relationship been so far?

The White Birch: When we were completely finished and content with the album, we sent copies to 10-12 international record labels we thought of as interesting. None of the multinational dinosaurs. We had three or four approaches, but Glitterhouse was the fastest, the most persuasive and at the same time, the easiest to talk with. No bullshit, and that was great for us. Since then, they have been terrific for us, they are very professional, and everyone we've met from the company is a fantastic person.

Musicscan: I just had the pleasure of witnessing one of your live shows a few days ago and I have to admit that I was deeply impressed. Very minimalistic on the one hand, but very atmospheric and beautiful on the other hand. Do you always try to have seated shows and does it bother you if people talk during your songs?

The White Birch: Thank you. I must say, the audiences in Germany, Austria and Switzerland were, for us, very special. In Scandinavia we are not used to such a "listening" audience. We thought it was great. When you play as quiet music as we sometimes do, of course talking sometimes shines through. Still, talking in the audience bothers me more when I'm listening than when I'm playing.

Musicscan: How has the response been on your last European Tour (Star Is Just A Sun-Tour)? Did you have any expectations? Is the audience in Germany any different than the Norwegian crowd? If yes, how so?

The White Birch: The welcome we got was really, really good. We hoped a few people would show up, and that most of them would get into the music, but we were very happy with the crowds that came, and particularly that people were as responsive to the music as they were. Sometimes the atmosphere in the room was quite intense.

Musicscan: Most people probably associate the Norwegian landscape and the long, cold winters with your music. Do you think growing up in Norway shaped your music and your perception of it to a certain degree or would you say you'd be doing the same kind of music if you had grown up in the US?

The White Birch: An American jazz musician once said to Norwegian sax player Jan Garbarek: "Norwegian music sounds like you all live alone in each your valley, and when you wanna play, you get up on the nearest mountain top and blow your horn. Then you wait for the echo to carry the sound to the next mountain, and you wait for some sound to return from there, whether it's someone else's horn, or just your own echo." Maybe it's true, it probably would take an outsider to say.

Musicscan: Are you very close to nature, since your lyrics sometimes seem to be a reflection of specific landscapes and feelings and moods associated with it? Would it appeal to you to live in a big city like NYC for example?

The White Birch: We live in the capital of Norway, Oslo, so in a sense we're city slickers. At the same time, in fifteen minutes we can be up in the hills, skiing in the woods, or down by the ocean. I could live in Berlin, but not for the rest of my life.

Musicscan: I remember you saying that you try to create beauty with your music. Do you have a solely positivistic approach to music, meaning that you are only attempting to portray the beautiful and nice sides of life or is there a dark side to the White Birch as well?

The White Birch: The description of our albums ranges from "blissful happiness" to "suicidal serenity". The truth might be that a picture without darkness cannot be beautiful, but I might also be wrong. We are however, far from suicidal, and far from happy stupid.

Musicscan: What can we expect from The White Birch in the near future?

The White Birch: A tour in June, in Germany, Belgium and Holland as it seems. We're playing at the Orange Blossom in Beverungen 7/8th of June, and it sounds like a brilliant festival to start out a tour with!

Musicscan: 3 favorite records, movies and books?

The White Birch: Records: 1. John Coltrane - A Love Supreme, 2. Arvo Pärt - Tabula Rasa, 3. Radiohead - OK Computer. Movies: 1. Dancer In The Dark - Von Trier, 2. Apocalypse Now - Coppola, 3. 2001: A Space Oddyssey - Kubrick. Books: 1. Johan Borgen - Lillelord, 2. Thomas Mann - Dr. Faustus, 3. John Fowles - The Magus.

Musicscan: Any last words or comments?

The White Birch: Love is so real. Thanks for asking. Nice that you enjoyed the concert. Hope to see you again in June!

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