A CONVERSATION WITH SALVATORE - OSLO, NORWAY

 

Salvatore


Salvatore is from Norway. They play beautiful, open, airy landscapes of music, and their unassuming blend of electronic music into organic Krautrock trances is groundbreaking. Right now they have a record out in the US called Tempo. John McEntire of Tortoise/Stereolab/Sea and Cake fame produced it. I can't stop listening to it. Three Sundays ago I talked to Bjarne Larsen, the guitar and bass player for Salvatore, about the record. Here's how it was.
First there were hellos and kind words spoken. Then these things.

Justin Carter: Where did the band get its name?
Bjarne Larsen: The guy who started the band is John Birger. He started up a one-man-band. He has a typical Norwegian name . . . kind of boring, so he made his name into Italian. John turned out to be Giovanni, and Birger is kind of the Norwegian equivalent to savior, and that is Salvatore. But then [everyone else] joined the band, and the band name was a bit too long, so we shortened it down to Salvatore.

J: Who's playing what instruments in the band? In the liner notes, only your names are listed.
B: Well, there's Jon Selvig, who samples and plays keys. John Birger Wormdahl does programming and more keys. Ola Flottum and I play guitar, and I also play bass. There's the main drum set, which is played by Karim Sayed. And Kjell Olav Jorgensen plays percussion. He used to be the drummer, but he has a fear of flying. So Karim had to go to Chicago to record Tempo. Jon's over it now actually, but we've kept Karim, because we liked him, and he liked the band, so . . . then there were two.

J: How did adding a new drummer change your sound?
B: It's become a bit more rock with the two drummers . . . a little more straightforward. More Can.

J: Speaking of Krautrock, the band is attributed to a Neu! listening session. There's definitely that influence in there, but there's so much more. Who else were you listening to in between when you started and when you did Tempo that you think influenced you to move from that Krautrock thing into what it's become?
B: That's difficult. I'd have to say African music . . . like from Mali and Senegal. And we also really listen to . . . well, being six people there are a lot of influences. One for example . . . Liquid, Liquid from the late 70s and early 80s.

J: Are they Norwegian?
B: No. I think Liquid, Liquid is American, from New York. We really like the New York stuff from the early 80s. The “No Wave” stuff I guess you call it. (chuckles)

J: You guys won what is the equivalent to a Norwegian Grammy.
B: Yeah, we did.

J: And you won it for electronic music, which took me by surprise. When I read the press release, where the blurb about the Grammy is, I asked myself, what's electronic about this music? I had to go back and listen again. How did you end up grouped into the electronic music category?
B: Yeah, it came as a surprise for us as well. I guess they had room for another band in that category, so they called us. But basically it's just a stupid television show, so we don't really care too much about it. There's not much consequence [from winning]. No money, no fame, no nothing, actually. Just a good night out on the town. We got a bottle of champagne.

J: That's all you got was a bottle of champagne?
B: Yeah, at the local pub.

J: Who else was nominated?
B: I don't remember. We were having dinner and watching the TV, and when our category was getting ready to be announced, they stopped the program for a commercial break. So we didn't appear on TV. It was a small category, and they didn't think it was too important.

J: Back to the electronic thing really quickly. How are you using electronics on the album? Is there sampling?
B: Yeah, a little bit. Kind of lo-fi sampling, but it's not a main ingredient in the band. We never start a song off with a sample, we just improvise with guitars and drums and stuff. It's mostly editing actually, because it's treated and distorted, and it comes out different totally than what the sound was. Although on the new album [Luxus, which is not currently available in the US] we have some vocal samples, which are quite authentic. African stuff, mostly West African. They're from a Robert Crumb collection actually, because he was a collector of records.

J: You mean R Crumb? The comic book artist?
B: Yeah.

J: Oh, that's right. There was that movie, American Splendor, where he and Harvey Pekar end up becoming friends when they meet each other at a garage sale shopping for records . . . How did you get access to R Crumb's record collection?
B: It was a record actually, which was released by a small Swiss company. It's just a compilation of his records.

J: Really quickly, one last thing about electronics. I do think it's interesting, even though it's not a fundamental part of the group, that you are using electronics, but you're using them in a way to more blend with the band, so that it's almost hidden.
B: Yeah, yeah. It's almost like another instrument.

J: Do you know of other bands that are doing that, or do you feel like Salvatore is maybe breaking new ground?
B: I don't think that it's a new thing to do . . . I don't really know actually. Most of the techno people use samples as the main instrument, but we, being more of a guitar and drum band with old cheap samplers, can sample only a few seconds, so there's not really much to do with them. It's pretty much just kind of a complicated Dictaphone.

J: What's your process in the studio?
B: For Tempo we improvised all the stuff, not into songs really but into patterns and ideas back home, and then we went into the studio in Chicago. We spent a couple of days being really frustrated, because we really didn't get it together. But then . . .

J: What do you mean you didn't get it together? What happened?
B: There were practical situations, you know, with jet lag and things, but the producer [John McEntire], was really helpful, and he started to kind of arrange our stuff. He really helped us out by saying, “Maybe this part can be connected with that part,” and he made it become how he was discerning the songs. So it was very good, the cooperation with John.

J: So he took a really active role in the production-even to the extent that he was one of the factors in the development of your sound from previous records to Tempo?
B: Oh yeah, he should have credit for that.

J: How did you end up hooking up with him?
B: Well, we listened to Tortoise and all the other bands that he had produced like Stereolab. And we liked his kind of producing, so we sent him a tape some years back, and he sent us an email saying, “Can I help you in any kind of way?” And we said, “Yes. Will you produce us?” So he helped us get some money from the government, a grant so we could fly out there and stay for 14 days.

J: From the US government?
B: No, from Norwegian Cultural Affairs.

J: Wow, the Norwegian government took care of financing the album entirely? Is that something that they do typically?
B: Yeah. Always with Americans, they go, “Wow.” But that's the way it sometimes works here. So yeah, it's good. We couldn't have done it without it. It's one good thing about being a band in Norway.

J: How much do you think you're a product of Norway? Do you think your music has something to do with the fact that you're in Norway, or do you think you could be making this music anywhere?
B: I guess you could make it anywhere. I think it is more a product of what we have been listening to from when we grew up, the record collections we have. Yeah, I don't really see if there's anything Norwegian in it, apart from the fact that we are Norwegian.

J: Well is there a large Norwegian scene? Are you influenced by a lot of other Norwegian acts, or are you more influenced by acts that are outside of your country?
B: Both I guess. The big thing in Norway is, of course, rock and roll of the old. Retro rock and roll. But there's a lot of things happening on the more experimental side of it. We draw a little bit more influence from that kind of movement.

J: I read that you recently did something with Damo Suzuki from Can.
B: Yeah, it was the whole band on stage with Damo and his guitar player from Germany. It was nine people on stage doing a kind of improvised concert for two hours at a small club.

J: Do you think that might become an album one day?
B: Well, we have a recording, but there's still very much to do to get it proper. For the time being, we don't really have the time to do it. Maybe later. We keep in touch with Damo, and we did a tour with him last year in Germany, so maybe.

J: Are you coming stateside soon?
B: We would like to. There are some people planning to take us over on a tour maybe late this year. We have to, of course, settle some things out first like money and visas. It's going to be hard to get the visa because I have a small criminal record. I was in prison for a short amount of time. I didn't really do anything bad, but it might present some kind of problem.

J: What did you do?
B: I didn't do my military service, which is mandatory in Norway, so I spent a couple months in prison for that . . . but it was many years ago, so I hope I can talk to the American Embassy and tell them I'm a nice guy and come over and play some music.

J: How did you end up being able to come over here to record in Chicago then?
B: Well . . . uh . . . that also might turn out to be a problem. You know the card you have to fill out during the flight?

J: Right?
B: So where it asked about a criminal record I said, “no,” where I should have said, “yes.”

J: Hmmm . . . well, I hope they'll overlook it. Is there anything else you want to say . . . to America via zingmagazine?
B: Is it a New York magazine?

J: Yeah.
B: Well, I guess we'd like to say hello to New York, of course. Oh, I must say a hello to Sonic Youth, if you happen to meet them.

J: Oh, sure. I'll pass the word along.
Someone tell Sonic Youth that Salvatore says, “hey.” Thanks.


Justin Carter
NewYork, New York
2004