Interview Bjørn Klakegg (Needlepoint):
"Our third album Aimless Mary opened the eyes of many lovers of progressive rock"
(October 2018, text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures supplied by the band)
The Norwegian band Needlepoint is rather unknown in the progressive rock scene. They started out in 2010 as a trio releasing the album The Woods Are Not What They Seem. In 2012 keyboardist David Wallumrød joined the band and the CD Outside The Screen appeared in the same year followed by Aimless Mary in 2015. The release of their fourth album The Diary Of Robert Reverie (see review) and this interview I had with guitarist and vocalist Bjørn Klakegg for Background Magazine, might bring them a bit more into the spotlight of our readers.
Why did you choose for the band name Needlepoint and what does it exactly mean?
Bjørn Klakegg: “I have a sheet at home with hundreds of names which is the result of a desperate hunt for a good band name. Eventually I looked at my family name Klakegg, a name from the western part of Norway which means a mountain peak covered with snow. Well, a peak is a point, a pinpoint, to the point, needlepoint... Hmm, I thought maybe that name could also mean something about being focused. But Needlepoint really means embroidery.”
“The band started out as a trio with me and drummer Thomas Strønen. Then we asked bass player Nikolai Hængsle to join us and together we recorded our first album The Woods Are Not What They Seem. It was an instrumental album where I dug up all my old distortion boxes that I had not been used for a while. On that album there's a lot of improvisation. Our second album Outside The Screen was also meant to be instrumental, but when all our material was recorded. While Nikolai and I talked about the result, I wondered why we only make instrumental music while ninety percent of the music I listened to include vocals. Nikolai agreed and he supported me to start singing. Next thing to do was to find room for the vocals in our instrumental music. I had to write lyrics for the first time in my life. On the one hand it was a rather strange and challenging process for me, but on the other hand it was very important, because it changed the music of our band of course. Before the next album Aimless Mary, Thomas left us. Keyboard player David Wallumrød, who contributed on Outside The Screen, joined us and so did drummer Olaf Olsen. Since then Needlepoint feels like home.”
Would you please introduce the current band members?
“Nikolai Hængsle, formerly known as Nikolai Eilertsen, plays the bass guitar, David Wallumrød plays the organ, clavinet and beautiful old synths and Olaf Olsen is our drummer. They all belong to the most wanted musicians in our country. As far as I am concerned, the only thing I can say about them is that I would never replace them again with anyone else.”
|From L to R: Nikolai Hængsle, Bjørn Klakegg, David Wallumrød and Olaf Olsen|
On the information sheet of The Diary Of Robert Reverie I read that the music of Needlepoint is a mixture of pop-like renaissance rock and dreamy jazz prog. What does this characterization exactly mean?
“We invited someone we respect to write the information sheet, so this definition is written by him. The band probably has many influential sources out there. The one who wrote the text has far more knowledge of the history of prog-like music than I have. I guess that my history with jazz, instrumental music and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the favourite band of my youth, form a part of my inspiration for the sound of Needlepoint. The way the musicians play has something to do with that. However, Nikolai is my sidekick all the way. He always listens to my early sketches until I have finished them. He is our producer, so from the moment I have finished my compositions and the written arrangements, he takes the lead.”
It seems to me that The Diary Of Robert Reverie is a concept album inspired by the environment around your dwelling place in Sweden. The main character Robert is a rather dreamy individual. Can you explain why you used a town in Sweden?
“I don't live in Sweden, but my girlfriend and I have a place to live there. It's only one hour and a half from Oslo; we spend a lot of time there. I cannot imagine how I would manage without that beautiful place. So when I think of songs about listening to sounds or about watching clouds, it's definitely about sounds and clouds from there.”
Who is Robert Reverie?
“Robert Reverie is inspired by one of our neighbours that showed us the forest, helped us when there was a layer of snow of almost two meter high outside the house and so on. He loved nature, but it was not always easy for him to deal with people. That side of him is also a part of this song about Robert. I think it's well-known that in small places or villages, where everyone knows each other unfriendliness easily occurs.”
All songs on the new album were written by you. Does any other band member write music?
“I have invited all band members to write songs, but I guess they're pleased with the texture and the lyrics of my songs.”
Your older brother Rune Klakegg illustrated the cover beautifully. What do these illustrations tell us?
“Rune has a very special line in his writing and drawing. He used to illustrate my father's song books for school, but as he decided to have a musical career he sort of stopped drawing. When I saw his drawing of the pig in the bath tub, I was just in the process of making a cover for Aimless Mary. I asked him if I could use that drawing. He agreed and then I asked him to make the rest of the artwork as well. Nowadays his drawings have become part of the way we express ourselves. You see Mary in the sea on the front cover. The drawing of Robert with a cow on the backside is quite like Robert's alter ego in Sweden.”
Why is the album only half an hour long?
“Well, we had one song that we left out because we were not quite pleased with the way it was performed. I guess that Nikolai has no problems with an LP that short. In his living room he has stored a lot of records and most old LPs are rather short as well. As you probably know, I come from the jazz scene and I must admit that I was a bit worried. On the other hand nowadays many CDs last for more than an hour, and sometimes it's really hard for me to keep focused. Most of the time these albums contain 35 minutes of nice songs, but often the rest could have been left out.”
Everything is supervised by producer and bassist Nikolai Haengsle. Apparently you didn't need someone from outside to do this job?
“I never used a producer when I recorded my jazzy albums. I simply couldn't afford it. Neither did we have a producer on Needlepoint's first two albums, so Nikolai played more and more the role of producer. I was very pleased with his taste and knowledge, so I will definitely keep on trusting him! In the mixing process Thomas Glavo and the other band members also participate and have suggestions to improve the music.”
Before The Diary Of Robert Reverie you released three albums. Do you have any idea why they are rather unknown to most people?
“Our third album Aimless Mary opened the eyes of many lovers of progressive rock. I was a bit surprised, but of course also happy for their feedback. Aimless Mary reached a much bigger audience than I was used to. It was the first album on which I really intended to sing since all the songs were meant to be sung. The lyrics were already finished before we started the recording process. It is after that album that I accepted myself for being a singer as well as a guitar player. That was a big step for me because serious singing has been an anxious matter to me all my life!”
To what extent can you compare the music on the first two albums with the music on your latest release?
“As you already said, these two albums are indeed rather unknown. Especially the first one is far from the music we currently record, but on our recent promotional tour many people wanted to complete their collection with the first two albums, which made us very happy of course!”
What are your plans for the future and can we expect Needlepoint touring in the rest of Europe?
“I think you can expect us touring, yes. We had a really beautiful experience playing our music for a live audience during this tour. I have started to check out the possibilities to play in Europe, but we really need help because at the moment we have no manager and I'm a lousy booker. So, for anybody who reads this interview: if you want to help us, please don't hesitate. We would love to come and play for you!”
Thank you Bjørn for answering my questions.
“It was my pleasure, Henri! Cheers and all the best.”
review album 'The Diary Of Robert Reverie'
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