So far, everyone seems fixated on Farao’s voice. And we wouldn’t blame them, or you, because her voice is sublime. The rest are stuck to the icier qualities of her music, the aural essence of the songs, like those celestial synths that she deploys… But for Norwegian singer Kari Jahnsen, (otherwise known as Farao), we’d rather ask about her drums.
“I love playing drums; it’s the most fun instrument for me,” Jahnsen said. “For a while, when I was a teenager, Dave Grohl was like my Justin Bieber! It’s weird how obsessed I was with him. But…yeah, I played drums for several years in this shoegaze band in London called Hella Better Dancer. And so, with this record, I just wanted every song to be recognized by its own drum beat.”
We’ve been listening to the singer’s first full length album, Till It’s All Forgotten, (out last month on Arts & Crafts) and it’s her intricate drum arrangements that keep tugging us closer. Don’t get us wrong, her singing voice is breathtaking and those synthesized strings, cinematic and sweeping as they are, certainly evoke an arctic chill… But maybe some aren’t listening close enough? We don’t want to hear this vibrant new talent being reduced by the blogs as being some mashup blend of Bjork & Sigur Ros…
“Yeah…that makes some sense though,” Jahnsen says, giving us a pass, “because I know that people like to keep things in categories to give some kind of overview… So, sometimes they categorize music by putting it in the same category as another band that just happens to be from the same place. I always get compared to other Norwegian singers or Nordic performers just because…even if the music doesn’t sound similar at all. It’s almost like it’s more important where they’re from? Instead of what the music’s like? At least, sometimes, it seems that way.”
Jahnsen has already released an EP and a slew of singles before this proper debut. With her early songs cinching the beginnings of that signature sound, she’s now proven herself on TIAF as a master of molding a mood, casting and curving the vibe with her meticulous ear for tone, and a knack for knowing just when to bend the notes toward a haunting minor key. And then, of course, there’s her arrangement of vocal harmonies, (multi-tracking her own voice) and her deployment of those nifty drums that blend electronica, synth-pop and even hints of left-field hip-hop.
But if you just tune in to her entrancing chanteuse-style vocals and the wintry accents of those synth tones, then you’ll chock it up to stereotypical Scandinavia. Wrong! Listen…
“Bodies” opens up like a psychedelic space-opera; like Stereolab meets Flying Lotus, or something, with drums just effusively spilling over each other, until it all pares back into a groovy hybrid of soul and baroque-pop. There’s a lot going on in Farao’s head and TIAF is the glorious and graceful translation of it in song-structure form.
Jahnsen has been all over the continent of Europe at this point, so we shouldn’t set her inside such a narrow (i.e. Scandinavian) frame for our profile. The multi-instrumentalist was raised in a small Norwegian village called Ulnes, spent time around Olso as she got older, worked extensively on her music in a studio over in Iceland, lived in London for several years where she was drawn into the shoegaze scene, and, most recently, has spent any of her fleeting downtime in Berlin, her new home. That’s on top of the steady Euro & U.K. touring she’s done. She finally began her first official U.S. tour last month, (not that it’s that big of a deal for her, because she, personally, has spent a lot of time over here in the states).
“When I’m home, writing music, it’s all just for me, just trying to satisfy myself,” Jahnsen said. “But, when I want to go out and play a show, it’s all external and it’s towards someone else. So, writing, recording and then performing, they’re two very different things. But when you play a gig, you need to be satisfying yourself too; otherwise you won’t put on a good show. I’ve loved touring here. People are so hospitable and so nice. Here, you feel very welcomed, it’s incredible. And, the crowds are really attentive. I love it.”
Jahnsen said that TIAF’s most distinguishing quality, compared to past recordings, is the direction in which the songs are sung. “They’re a lot more about me, this time. Although, I probably do make it sound like it’s about someone else.” Several of her latest songs showcase Jahnsen’s abilities as a lyricist, imbuing plenty of substantial commentary and stark consequences into the content of these dazzling pop songs (see: “Warriors,” “Anchor,” and the single, “Bodies.”)
Another new aspect for her concerned the general experience of recording TIAF, way over in Iceland. “The process was a lot more playful than last time. I do take my music seriously, but I try not to take myself too seriously. I just allow myself to have fun in the studio. I’m not the kind of person who goes for the most expensive synths. Even if it’s a $10 synth, I just choose something based on its sound, instead of its cost or quality or how technically good it is…”
When we writers try to tackle Jahnsen’s music, we are very quick to evoke the elements, nature, the outdoors. You could almost make a drinking game out of it, because we’re certain to talk about how “cold” it sounds…
“That’s kind of an impossible thing to answer,” Jahnsen said. “Because you never know exactly what makes music sound the way it is… Like, so I went outside one day and because it was cold I decided to write a guitar part that sounded just as cold? No. It just happened from the way I was feeling. I mean, definitely, it was cold in Iceland, and growing up in Norway I’m very much used to snow and long winters and an isolation caused by the weather…and that weather is so fierce, sometimes. So, I guess it impacted my music but I’m not sure exactly how… But, people keep saying it sounds icy. Which, (chuckles,) I guess is cool!”
And she can say “my” music because, if we haven’t mentioned it yet, Jahnsen wrote these parts and performed nearly every instrument on the record. “When I started recording, I didn’t really have a team around me; I didn’t have management at that point or a label or anything. So, I just wrote it for myself. I think that’s a good thing to do for a first album because doing it for the first time you don’t really know how, yet, and you don’t really know what the results will be, so you only follow your own experiences and no one else’s. It was just to satisfy my own musical needs and no one else’s…”
Jahnsen recently wrapped up some dates in Germany and Norway and will head back out to the UK in November. She hopes to start working on her second record around the turn of the New Year.