Pete Hughes sat down to tea with Katzenjammer before their gig at Scala.
Recently Katzenjammer posted on facebook: “How did you discover Katzenjammer?” and serendipity seemed to play a large role in many of the 750 responses. Cheryl Natter said: “About a month ago I misdialled a phone number and got Solveig. She said look her up on Facebook and YouTube and here I am. Best wrong number EVER” And bizarrely, she’s not even the only person to have discovered them that way. Sandra Diane Jäger said: “My boyfriend saw your concert posters when you first came to Germany and said to me: Look at this - they look like you might like them.” What a tactful boyfriend! My personal favourite was Vegard Stensby: “I was googling for bars in Amsterdam..”
I discovered Katzenjammer when I heard ‘Tea with Cinnamon’ in the changing room of TopShop, buying my first suit. However, three Katzenjammer koncerts later and I still haven’t seen a live performance of the song.
Solveig Heilo (who sings lead vocals and plays trumpet on ‘A Bar in Amsterdam’) explained: “Sometimes you play a song too much, and we just needed to rest it for a while. We’ll probably pick it up again.”
Marianne Sveen (the tiny sassy one with the enormous afro who sings the treacly lead vocals on ‘Demon Kitty Rag’) added: “We weren’t tired of it but we had a long process with that song because the arrangement from the beginning was completely different from what we ended up with. I think when you have a song and you really can’t make it work and then you do, you use some of that energy that would go into the live performance.”
And to be fair ‘Tea with Cinnamon’ was one of the first songs they ever played, at pubs and bars in their hometown in Norway. They grew up together, went to school together and studied pop music together at university. Anne Marit Bergheim (who plays the accordion, harmonica and xylophone at the same time on ‘I Will Dance’) said: “I knew what Turid [Jorgensen] liked and how she played and what she was capable of, and she knew the same about everyone else, and we got together through common references.”
Marianne: “Our friend Mats wrote a lot of songs and had a few spare ones, so Turid said “Can I just borrow one for a while? And make a band?”
Mats Rybø takes the writing credits for about half the band’s songs, so I was interested to know what their relationship was exactly.
Marianne: “He started the whole thing.”
Anne Marit: “We grew up together in Oslo and he’s a very dear friend of everyone. He is very good at finding ideas and finding topics for lyrics that aren’t that typical and he can present us a very easy sketch, some chords and some of the lyrics, and then we arrange it all into something completely different: it’s beautiful that we can complete his song.”
Marianne: “Being four girls it’s really good to have a male writer collaborating because it injects a little testosterone. His lyrics are really dark and weird, what he’s got in his head is really weird.”
Is ‘Tea with cinnamon’ about mental illness?
Marianne: “In a way it is.”
Anne-Marit: “He really hates ‘Tea with Cinnamon’ a lot.”
Last summer they spent 10 days in a house in Nashville writing songs.
Marianne: “We were in the music quarter and several times every day we had these amazing song writers coming in. We wrote a lot but at least for now we’ve decided the key is maybe for everybody to go to their little corner and create some little sketches and then come together and figure it out. In Nashville we wrote a lot of songs and we ended up using just one of them.”
That one was ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’, a foot-stompin’ Dixie Chicks-style anthem. Other songs on their latest album A Kiss Before You Go range from Gospel-style hymns (‘God’s Great Dust Storm’) to Balkan Polka (‘Soviet Trumpeter’). The album was aesthetical inspired by the French film La Cite des Enfants Perdu, a darkly comic science-fiction fantasy adventure.
Anne-Marit: “It has many layers.”
Marianne: “...and that’s a good reflection of the album. The sound of the movie is a really good reflection of our universe: it’s both very colourful and very soft and harmonic but it’s still a bit edgy and a bit lonely and a bit cold.”
Turid: (who brought the members of the band together initially, and sings lead vocals on ‘Mother Superior’) “-but it’s nothing we planned to do. We just like to make music in a lot of genres, that’s just what we are.”
I guess it’s a children’s movie...
Anne-Marit: “No, it’s not. It’s so dark, if I saw that movie when I was 10-“
Marianne: “You would be fucked up.”
Anne-Marit: “Especially the scene with the twins and the music box-” Anne-Marit starts singing the haunting melody whilst miming an organ grinder and they all join in, swaying to the eerie melody. “This is very surreal” I say, and Marianne starts cackling maniacally.
Do you know the film Belleville rendezvous?
Anne-Marit: “Yes! No! Yeah, it’s great. That’s very katzenjammerish as well; very much our style.”
Yes, like using the bike wheel as percussion, like you guys use a dustbin...
Anne-Marit: “Yes, we used to have cookie jars as well but they smashed.”
Who was hitting them too hard?
Anne-Marit: “All of us.” Turid and Sol point to Marianne.
“I have very, very short arms but there is a lot of power in them”
Solveig: “I wouldn’t fight her”
Marianne: “Short arms and short legs.” And then for some reason I’ll never know they all chant “short arms and short legs” like a mantra and start laughing.
Despite (or perhaps because of) inhabiting their own slightly terrifying universe, they have won a dedicated cult following around the world, not least in the UK. They have played at Dingwalls, Barfly, Club 100, not to mention numerous music festivals including Glastonbury, and the JaJaJa Scandinavian music festival at the Lexington (if you’re interested in Scandinavian music, Katzenjammer recommend Hanne Hukkleberg, First Aid Kit and Serena Maneesh).What do they like about the UK?
Marianne: “The sense of humour.”
Turid: “And the people are very polite.”
Anne-Marit: “I love the bar culture you’ve got here. Here in the UK you use the bar as a second sitting room, they don’t do that in Norway.”
Turid: “We don’t go out like you and have a couple of beers, when we go out, we go out and get really, really drunk.”
Solveig: “The cool thing about the pubs here is they can be just a bar. In Norway there’s something distinct and cool about each bar, and you feel like you have to match the seat you’re sitting in. Whereas here there are just loads of brown bars, and you can just say: let’s go to that brown bar.”
Marianne: “The way you say darling and love and sweetheart after each sentence it’s adorable-” Marianne puts on her best east London accent “How you doin’ love? You want milk in that darlin’? It makes you feel very welcome.” (Two days previous a message popped up on their facebook saying “Hello London, lovely day innit!”)
Anne Marit: “Can we ask you one question? Why do you guys wear less clothes than most people? People here go outside in really chilly weather with no clothes on!”
Turid: “Last week it was colder than now and we saw people go out in their underpants! Is it that people are so happy to see the sun finally?”
No, we’re all just slags. So what do you like about performing in the UK, if anything?
Anne Marit: “It’s a very honest audience, if they don’t like it they will show that as well. Then you know exactly where you are.”
What is the best show you’ve played here?
Marianne: “Club 100, the room was boiling with the energy, and we had to go back on, and on...”
Anne Marit: “We also did a folk festival in Cambridge and the whole day was perfect, it was sunny and warm and the people were in a very chilled mood.”
The reciprocated dedication of their UK fans is demonstrated at the gig in the evening. When Marianne announces that it is Anne Marit’s birthday a huge cheer goes up, and a row of fans hold up posters spelling out Happy Birthday and starts singing. Anne Marit looks overwhelmed.
Anne Marit: “I’ve actually had two proposals, one in a letter and one in an email.”
Solveig: “I had someone proposed to me from the audience with a poster, but I couldn’t see the guy just the poster.”
Anne Marit: “A friend of mine years ago, her girlfriend always wanted to get married. All of them came to a Katzenjammer show, and right before we played her favourite song, ‘Wading in Deeper’, I said “Benedicta there is some here to ask you a very special question.” But we don’t normally do that!”
Solveig: “I actually had a request from someone yesterday on facebook, who wanted to propose to her girlfriend.”
Marianne: “It’s all about the lesbians!”
Marianne reinforces this point by introducing the song ‘Cherry Pie’ with a lengthy story about a particularly nice piece of ass she saw earlier in the day, involving detailed descriptions of the posterior in question:
“It was just one of those asses you just want to grab. The point being it looked like she had been eating a lot of cherry pie.”
But thankfully the Katz appreciate beauty regardless of gender, and there can be only one final question: what is your favourite beard and why?
Marianne: “I’d say the alpha male caveman beard: my boyfriend has a really good beard, it’s a regular caveman beard. It has to be full and thick and without a doubt a beard. You should be able to grab it like this.”
Solveig: “In the book ‘Cardamom town’ there is a weather guy living in this big tower and his beard is long and white like a wizard, and it represents wisdom and knowledge, that’s my favourite type of beard.”
Anne Marit: “My favourite type of beard is the ZZ Top. The story behind it is that the band had a break and they moved to different parts of the world, and they didn’t speak for a long time, and when they got together again it turned out two of the guys had not shaved since they last saw each other, and they both had long white beards. They didn’t plan it but they looked exactly the same.”
Turid: “My favourite beard has to go to a man in my little home town. There are about 4,000 people living there, and you can walk through in 5 minutes. The beard belongs to a man called Henning Doose [Turid pronounces it in a heavy Norwegian accent which I guess is meant to imply he’s very colloquial. I’m imagining the English equivalent would be an ancient farmer living in your town who put on fantastic bands. Like Michael Eavis). He’s a city original, and he owns two pubs. For the first two years we were a band we played for him several times. And he has a moustache which he never cuts: it started like this-” Turid indicates reasonably majestic curls, “and now it’s like this [a 10-inch long extravaganza], and he’s driving an old American car and in the summer he driving along like this [leaning back looking very cool] “Hello girls!” He’s a real character.”
Wow. There’s a natural pause.
Anne Marit: And it’s my birthday today.
A Kiss Before You Go is out now. You can see Katzenjammer at XOYO on May 23
Posted: Tue 10 April 2012