Øystein Skar’s musical journey, which began with tuition on the piano at a young age, has taken him to the Norwegian Academy of Music, and to many festivals in Norway and all over the world. His collaborations look like a who’s who of the Norwegian and international music scene and include the Peer Gynt Chamber Orchestra. (He was born in the town in which the model for the character Peer Gynt in Ibsen’s play lived and there is a Peer Gynt Festival there every year). When he isn’t writing and performing he works at a renowned private Music Institute which has the motto “From music kindergarten to concert podium.”
And that’s not to mention the five years or so he spent as an integral part of Highasakite, at that time the biggest band in Norway.
Latterly he has been involved with another upcoming band, LÖV, while ploughing his own furrow with a new solo project, SkarWorX, which has released one EP – ‘SEED-X, Volume 1’, with a second volume of three in total currently under production.
NMC caught up with Øystein recently to get the lowdown on his musical upbringing, his journey to date and how he sees the future unfolding.
In a candid interview Øystein reveals how he wrote an album in just two months early in the pandemic, how his next album will be more ‘club-ish’, how visual art is a big part of his projects, and how a future “SkarWorX live show” could include both dancing and visual art, in addition to the music.
NMC: Øystein, thanks for joining us from your busy schedule. I’ll start by asking, how did you become a professional musician? Was it something you always wanted to do or did you just ‘fall into it,’ or somewhere in between?
ØS: I have been playing the piano since I was 6 years old, so becoming a professional musician has always been both a dream and a big personal goal for me.
I was a very ambitious and dedicated child, and I actually had several piano lectures every week, with different teachers, because just one teacher didn’t have enough time… haha. But I have to point out that it was always about pleasure for me, not about stress or fear.
How did you deal with the pandemic, lockdowns and all?
It’s hard to say because I feel that we somehow still are in the pandemic, at least here in Norway, but it was a massive emotional rollercoaster ride. In the beginning, I was very motivated and composed a lot of music, a whole album in just two months actually.
But as time flew by, and the virus was still here, stagnation and resignation came, both for me and many others. And then you have to try to motivate yourself again and keep going, but it was very hard, I have to say.
I think my experience is very similar to other artists’ experiences. You get all this “free time”, which gives you the opportunity to produce a lot of art, but then you realise that it’s not so fun making art, at least for me, if there is no audience.
It’s also difficult when you don’t have any timeframe; everything is somehow in “limbo”.
You have a background in classical piano, modern jazz, improvisation, avant-garde and experimental music, and electronic music composed on analogue synths. I read recently that your favourite instrument is the piano, having spent “years of banging my head against the wall… trying to find my way around this instrument”? Why was that so hard?
After exploring synths and studio gear for such a long time I felt that I had drifted away from the piano, and I was also confused after performing a lot of different styles of music.
In addition to all this, I also had spent most of the last 10 years playing in different bands, so when I sat down with the piano, my head was both empty and full at the same time, very annoying and frustrating. Where to go, what to play, and what does “Øystein by the piano sound like”?
I made so many sketches in the beginning for the SkarWorX-project that went in the bin, but when I found the musical expression it was tremendously rewarding. Before finding “my sound” I remember also feeling a little bit embarrassed…how can you play piano for such a long time, in addition, to studying it, and still don’t know what to play on the instrument? It’s a little bit of a hate-love relationship.
There are many experimental electronic composers in Norway, probably more, per capita, than in most other countries. Is there a ‘traditional’ Norwegian electronic sound developing or do you try to distance yourself from the others to produce a clearly definable sound of your own?
Hard to say, there are many really, great electronic composers and performers here yes, and I have listened to many of them. It is a very inspiring environment to be a part of. At the same time, I try to distance myself, just to be able to go my own way.
I’ve described some of the sounds you create on your synthesisers as “like a Norwegian bonfire night” owing to the various crackling, hissing, tearing and explosive electronic sounds that you make, many of which I’ve never heard anywhere else. How do you manage to do that?
For the last five years, I have been exploring and studying different types of sound design, and I like to incorporate them into my music, at least at this point. At the moment I am working on the fourth album, and I think there will be fewer of those kinds of sounds on this album. Not because I don’t like it anymore, but on the fourth album I want a much cleaner sound, more club-ish, with fewer details, or maybe a different approach when it comes to the sound design part. But we will see…
Another tendency I’ve noticed (I think) is for your compositions to build up to a climax mid-song or three quarters of the way through and then to ease off towards the end. Is it just my imagination is that a ‘party piece’ so to speak?
That’s right, at least for the first album SEED – X album. The first three songs on that album had that specific form on the compositions, and after that, it sort of became a mental concept.
I really like to work with concepts, I have a lot of those actually, there are for instance six songs on all three albums, which make up the “SEED – X” trilogy.
Some of the same sounds also occur on all three albums, but in different shapes, you may not even notice them. And on the first album, the compositions had the same development, yes.
Few of your songs released under your ‘SkarWorX’ solo banner so far have included lyrics. Is that because you don’t see yourself as a lyricist or because you feel you an express yourself better through your instrumentation, or is there another reason?
I hate writing lyrics, I am just not good at it, and I am always becoming frustrated trying. But I want to collaborate with singers for the SkarWorX-project, but then the lyrics have to be written by someone with more skills than me.
What sort of specific audience are you targeting with your music, if there is a specific audience? The erudite, sophisticated set; the classicists; those with an ear for the unusual; or just anyone who likes to listen to good music? Are you seeking primarily to inspire, or just to entertain?
Both inspiring and entertaining, hopefully. My audience is usually art-interested people between the ages of 18 and 45, but at the same time, I often experience that people outside of those boxes also like my music, so I am not sure. The music has a tendency to find its own way and to surprise. I try not to think too much about these kinds of things when composing. That’s both frustrating and exciting at the same time with music.
Are you writing, or have you written, any cinematic or TV show scores, or would you like to do that?
Yes, I have written a lot for TV shows and commercials throughout the years. I really enjoy that. I also compose “in pictures inside my head”. It’s kind of hard to explain but I am very visual in my composing, which is not so unusual. Visual art is a huge part of this project, and my dream is to bring projectors and screens with me live since it’s such an integrated part of the project.
How about advertisements? Have you any interest in ever doing something like that? You’ve done a deal to collaborate with Sizzer Music Agency, which is based in Amsterdam and whose strapline is “A place for the best minds in music.” If I understand it they commission music appropriate to the brands they represent to enhance the marketing of their products? What was your objective in doing that? You said on social media that “Starting up a new project can be rough, so it is always encouraging to collaborate with dedicated and kind people like these.”
Absolutely, I like to work in different fields, as long it’s about music and art. Sizzer in Amsterdam is such a great agency. They are super sweet and work on a really high artistic level.
You seem to have engaged in several collaborations recently, for example a live performance at Kulturkirken JAKOB with the cellist Dorran Alibaud, and violinist Ingrid Berg Mehuson. And you seem to have a history with a visual artist, Patrick Huse, going back over several years, and with whose current project you are working. Years ago you did a live improvisation with a dancer, Sudesh Adhana – and you have stated that you have wanted to collaborate with him ever since. The music video for the first single from your second EP has been nominated for “best music video”, at The Norwegian Short Film Festival and it does include Sudesh Adhana. That’s a lot of collaborating. Do you see it as a critical future direction and is there any intention to delve deeper into multimedia?
Yes, I really like blending different art forms, and hopefully in the future, a “SkarWorX live show” will include both dancing and visual art, in addition to the music. Working with dancers like Sudesh or cellists like Dorran is always very inspiring, and it gives me a lot of energy. Having a solo project can be lonely so it’s always nice to get feedback from outside your own head.
When you released the second single from SEED-X Vol 2 you wrote that it was partly composed in Oslo, and partly at a hut. I know of many musicians who yearn for that degree of isolation – the hut in the woods, near the lake, possibly to combat writers block. What do you get out of it?
Personally, I get a sense of calmness and focus. I like to change my surroundings because it’s an easy way for me at least, to get new inspiration. It’s, of course, a huge cliché, but it’s easier to focus inward, on internal processes, when it’s fewer distractions around you. Especially in the digital age.
Some musicians see colours when they are writing (Synesthesia). Have you ever experienced anything like that? When you chose five favourite songs for a feature in Nordic Music Central last year you selected one from Jon Hopkins, saying “When I listen to this I imagine skiing really fast down a mountain.” Does that sort of visual image come easily to you, and the ability to incorporate it into music?
I don’t see colours, but I visualise short films or situations all the time when composing. I am generally doing a lot of visualisation in everyday life, daydreaming!
What is happening with the band LÖV now? Will there be any new material coming from them this year, any touring?
We will soon play concerts again. Norway is slowly coming back to life and I am really looking forward to playing with Marte (Eberson) and Martin (Halla) again! We did some shows during corona, but it was for smaller crowds and was a little strange (but nice) at the same time. Hopefully, things will be normal this summer.
Do you think Covid changed anything in the Music business? I’m thinking for example that having multiple interests, to keep some money coming in, perhaps became the ‘norm’ so that just being in one band, or being a solo artist, will cease to be the case for most people?
It’s hard to say, at least in Norway things are just now, slowly coming back to normal, if normal still exists? So it’s really hard to predict. I hope that things haven’t changed too much at least.
How do you spend your time when you are not working?
I hang out with friends and my girlfriend. I try to exercise a lot because it’s not good for anybody to spend so much time sitting on a chair, focusing on inner mental processes. I also enjoy going to theatres, concerts, and cinemas for inspiration. Besides exercising I also meditate. I am not good at it, and I don’t have much knowledge about it, but I find it important to create “silent zones” in my life, especially after Social Media and smart phones came along. I am unfortunately a little addicted to my phone, like a lot of other people are… it’s a struggle to create peace and emptiness in these times.
If you have ambitions at this moment, what are they?
I have several ambitions. At the moment it is to get better at composing and producing and to establish SkarWorX as a sustainable project, so I can tour and show the music to people.
If you got the ‘opportunity’ to write a song to represent Norway at the Eurovision Song Contest would you take it?
Haha. No, I don’t think I would do a very good job in that situation!
What’s your favourite venue in Norway/The World?
I really like Kulturkirken Jakop, Parkteateret and Sentrum Scene in Oslo. There are in general a lot of great venues and festivals in Norway and Oslo, so it’s hard to pick any favourites, Playing at the Trænafestival in north Norway is really special, it’s an island far out in the sea, and is really, really beautiful. I also played in the O2 arenas in the UK, on a tour Highasakite did with Of Monsters and Men, which was really nice.
Which performance, either solo or in a band, gave you the greatest satisfaction?
Playing Oslo Spektrum with Highasakite! That was a cool and satisfying experience.
What do you think you’ll be doing 10 years from now, or are you the type that takes it ‘one day at a time’?
I have never taken “one day at a time”! 10 years from now, I will be playing full-time with SkarWorX, in addition to playing with LÖV and other collaborations.
Will there be any opportunity to see you playing in the UK in the future?
I really hope so! At the moment I am working on establishing a team around SkarWorX, and UK is an interesting market for me. A lot of my musical inspiration comes from the UK, like Floating Points, Four Tet and Jon Hopkins.
Øystein has just released the third and final single from ‘SEED-X Vol 2’, a track called ‘Years to come.’
Enjoy it here: https://open.spotify.com/track/0HF3KxpfRiWLu6g9aDwstC?si=d8dff6ec37d04953
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