an interview with featured songmaker, Nora Konstanse
When I first heard Nora Konstanse's voice, tears literally streamed down my cheeks. In the midst of a challenging time, her music brought healing and peace. Natural and lighthearted, Nora's songs reach across language barriers and draw the listener right out of her shell, like a cool breeze through an open window. She is that special sort of person whose passion is not to find money and fame, but to connect in a real way with the other. It was truly an honor to interview Nora for Cordella Magazine.
CORDELLA MAGAZINE: David Orr, an American writer and environmentalist, once said, "Landscape creates mindscape." When I first heard your song "Wonder" and watched the beautiful video, this quote immediately came to my mind! I understand that the video for "Wonder" was filmed in your childhood vacation home, in the Norwegian fjords. Could you tell us a bit about the significance of this place for you, and how this gorgeous landscape may have shaped your mind, and influences your songwriting today?
NORA KONSTANSE: Bærøya has a very special place in my life— it has always been the place where I can let myself get knocked out, just from pure fresh air. The island and the little old farmhouse have been in the family for generations. I love how all the old things remind us of life that has passed, and the tiny, abandoned society, far out on the North-Norwegian coast, reminds me of who I am and where I’m from. I think it is good to take a step back from the big city to get a bigger perspective on how fast our community has developed just the last couple of years, and Bærøya is the perfect place for that kind of philosophy. For me the island represents time in a way– it is the place where I can make time fly. Or stop.
When it comes to the beautiful nature I have been spoiled with growing up, I have to ruin the romantic view people may have of a pure childhood at the countryside. I didn’t see how lucky I was before I moved away from it all.
I have always loved to be a part of a small local community, where circumstances and individuals are a bit more transparent. The big and open landscape compared with those small relations has definitely influenced my songwriting and who I am today. Without digging too deep into the philosophy of space and time, I believe that it is the contrasts that have inspired me the most; the space between big and small, good and bad, conscious and unconscious, high mountains and deep fjords.
CM: I love the balance between your voice and the instrumentation in your songs. Your voice is so clear, uplifting, and intimate. When you're working on a song, do you write the arrangements for the musicians you work with?
NK: I am so lucky to have a band helping me out with the arrangements. I always know what I want to communicate with a new song and what feeling I want to provoke or fetch out in the listener. That feeling could, for example, be happy or sad, and then we work out the arrangements together to underpin the original message in the song. Sometimes we end up with an arrangement sounding far off from what I was originally imagining, but I love how a song can develop in a new or different direction whilst working together.
CM: When did you start singing? Did you begin your career as a vocalist?
NK: I’ve always loved music and singing, and that may sound like a cliché. When I started playing soccer at a young age, I put music on the shelf. Playing soccer was much more fulfilling than playing guitar, as I loved the feeling of working as a team towards a common goal. But after a couple of years I understood that I couldn’t build a carrier as a soccer player being afraid of the ball! It was not until I moved to Liverpool to study music at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) that I started my professional career as a musician. I stayed in Liverpool for 4 years and that was not my plan at all. I started LIPA with the approach that I was going to do what I love and play music for a year before doing something “reasonable,” like studying law or medicine, afterwards. During my time in Liverpool I understood that doing what I love would always be the most reasonable thing to do.
CM: When did you begin writing your own songs? How did that feel for you?
NK: I started songwriting when I moved to Liverpool in 2011, so it is all quite new to me. The cultural change, and the fact that I could hide my stories behind the English language, made it easier for me to both write and perform my own songs, stories and thoughts. Being a part of an arts institution has inspired my songwriting a lot. Making a living as a musician is not easy, but my time in Liverpool made me realize that if “he” can do it, I can do it too. I believe that we all have the ability to maximize our skills, and that we are our own worst enemies. At least I am, and this choice of career often frightens me. But then again, I think getting out of our comfort zones is how we all develop, and if I can inspire one person through my music I’ve made it.
CM: What themes do you explore in your songs?
NK: In every song there is a little human being: someone who inspires me, provokes me, or shakes up my feelings in one way or another. These people are often people I know, or knew, but lately I’ve been very inspired by Greek Mythology and the Greek God, Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection. I believe egoism is one of the good natural factors that keep us alive biologically, but in western society today where the spiritual mindset and religion is on its way out of people’s daily lives we seek salvation in something else. I think we often find that “something” within ourselves as we search for a neutral feeling of wellbeing through self-realization (at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs). My mind can fly deep into subjects like this, where I could think for hours and hours and come up with thoughts that no one will ever understand. And on the other end, I can write very concrete stories about a drunken ex-boyfriend showing up at your doorstep in the middle of the night. I try to not frame myself and get lost in a specific pattern or theme. That’s also why I’ve decided to write lyrics in both English and Norwegian. If the idea comes to me in English, it stays in English.
CM: You have been touring a lot over the past few years! What about touring and playing live brings you joy?
NK: What brings me joy is definitely all the lovely people I get to meet and the beautiful places I get to see combined with a pinch of adrenaline from performing. To experience that my music can mean something to others is what drives me forward.
CM: You've recently completed a tour of small, rural towns on the outskirts of Norway, where you "played in rooms where there had never been music" before. As we are also lovers of wild and lonely places, this aspect of your work was especially interesting to us! Could you tell us a bit about that experience?
NK: As a young and unknown singer/songwriter, I’ve experienced that there is a big risk in playing well-established club scenes in the biggest cities. There can be many concerts happening on the same night and people often choose to rush away to hear artists they already know or have heard of. Instead of getting lost in these big cities and masses of people, I’ve found small concerts in the outskirts to be very fulfilling when it comes to inspiration, experience and confidence. I get to communicate with the audience in a completely different way, and when 40 people come and watch me play in a village of only 20 citizens, I know it will be a good concert both for the audience and me.The combination between these rural places, the local people and the music creates a special atmosphere and I can, to a bigger extent, feel that the music is a basic need and not just a luxury.
CM: Bringing music to rural places like these, or into dense urban areas, seems to be a very powerful gesture of healing. Do you experience music as a healing power for communities, and for people on the outskirts?
NK: As I said, music is much more than a luxury. It is identity, stories, memories, culture, a catalyst for change and a language that can express what words can’t. It is definitely powerful. My German music teacher, Dominic Schirmer, always said that music is the combination of tension and release that is created in between the notes. In the same way I believe that the power of music lies somewhere between the performance and the audience, and not in the song itself.
CM: Has music been a source of healing for you in your life?
NK: Absolutely. When I write a song it is often to distance myself from a thought or a feeling. Afterwards I can choose to just put that same feeling in a drawer or use it as a part of a set or song. I also often listen to music to strengthen or change the mood I’m in. Sometimes I can find it healing to jump up and down to a dance-track and sometimes I can listen to Angus and Julia Stone until I fall asleep. I believe both are sources of healing, but most importantly I value complete silence. Silence is the best source of healing for me.
CM: What's coming up for you next?
NK: Next up is a long, quiet Easter break together with my family up north, along with some tour planning for the summer. I’m so happy I get to do what I do, and I almost can’t wait for the summer when I’m going to play some incredible small festivals at tiny islands above the Arctic Circle. Most artists aim for those big festival slots, and I do too, but this year I’m going to stay true to my beautiful outskirts and enjoy my way from village to village. Last week I passed the test and got my certificate of boatmanship, so maybe I’ll sail my next tour.
Nora lovingly put together a mixtape for our readers, perfect for spring. Enjoy, and share the music!