A brief encounter
The reason why I’m meeting artist Emilie Nicolas at Delicatessen Majorstua is because she had a good beer there the day before and wanted to try it again. It’s a strange interview setting – I sort of know her, but also don’t know her at all. By that I mean that I’ve known who Emilie is for over a decade now, ever since middle school when I heard rumours about a petite girl from another school with cool curls and the voice of an angel. As we’re both from Bærum, we’ve always had mutual acquaintances and met each other from time to time. Now, we’re sitting across from each other, each with a beer in hand, meeting properly for the first time.
As I struggle a little with the recorder, Emilie shows me how to turn it on.
- When I was in middle school, I had one of those tape recorders. I lost it, and I still don’t know where it is. It bothers me to this day that it just is somewhere. It’s so much crap on it – just think back to the middle school days…
Emilie compares the old recordings to diaries, and tells me that she and her mother recently read through one of her old ones from elementary school:
- We laughed so much we almost peed ourselves! It’s so pathetic, she says, laughing.
- I was writing things like this: Today was sports day. I managed to walk with a bag of peas on my head without dropping it. I did not draw any attention to myself. It was just so sad, haha! I was so nerdy and lame.
Emilie talks about it in a fun and easy way. If a lack of coolness was a problem before, it isn’t anymore. As a teenager, Emilie decided to change schools, take a step back and become herself.
- I felt like I kinda had the potential to become very cool, it was just that no one else knew, haha! I wanted to achieve my coolness.
A part of Emilie’s coolness is definitely her voice, the voice that draws you in and keeps you there, the voice that’s won her two Norwegian Grammys (Spellemanns-priser) and received praise in most of the country’s biggest newspapers.
When was the first time you understood that you had such a voice?
- I told my mom when I was around three years old that I wanted to become a singer, but I can’t recall a specific revelation. I’ve just always done it, I’ve always been singing a lot, but always kept it a bit secret too. I had singing as my specialization in high school, but I still didn’t show my music to anyone, even though I created a lot. I never asked if anyone wanted to start a band with me. I don’t think I dared to ask anyone to make music with me until I was 21 years old. In retrospect, that’s ridiculous, just think about how many bad bands there are in the world... Philip Birkenes, who was in my first band Emnico, is actually joining the concert we’re doing now in November, he’s a fantastic singer and pianist.
On November 23rd, Emilie’s playing her first concert in four years, for a sold out Sentrum Scene – the tickets were flying off the shelf as soon as the concert was announced. Emilie’s life changed drastically in 2014, when her first album Like I’m a warrior became a huge success. The woman who enjoyed her own company and a calm environment, was suddenly out on tour, with a lot of stress, a lot of days on the road and very little sleep. An extreme fear of flying didn’t make things easier, and as a cherry on the sundae, Emilie had an epileptic seizure that lead to the discovery of a congenital tumor that irritated her brain. It all became too much, and she had to take a break from the music scene for a while. With her distinct sound, her absence left a great void, and high expectations built up for her return and her new album; Tranquille Emilie. She didn’t disappoint – again she received great reviews in most newspapers.
It’s been four years since last time – can you tell us a little about the process and how you’re feeling about releasing a new record?
- It feels very right to do it now, when I have the energy and it’s ready. We’ve worked on it for about a year. The music does belong out there, and the best thing about making music is that people get to hear it and create their own relationship with it. I don’t think it’s scary anymore, I feel like it’s relatively safe to release music here in Norway and that no one’s “out to get me.” The first album got good reviews, so I don’t have as much to prove anymore. If some people don’t like it or think it’s boring, that’s fine. I still know that I’m good and that it is of value to someone. But I am strict with myself while we make it, and extremely concerned with it having to be perfect.
How is your process towards creating a song?
- Most songs come to me pretty quickly, then I take it to the band and the producers so we can work on them together. It’s not as rewarding to work on a song if no one on the team digs the idea, even if I absolutely can do that too, if my feelings for the song are strong enough.
What do you mostly write about and why?
- Most of it is about love, fucking love she says, and laughs.
- I like to make songs about ...
Emilie stops and thinks, I can see that she’s holding back. She has often felt that she’s been portrayed as kind of sad in the media, but that she might have encouraged it a bit herself too, by remaining somewhat mysterious and staying out of the spotlight. In real life, she doesn’t seem sad at all, I think she’s holding back because everything she writes is biographical, and therefore very personal.
Are you ever afraid that the person(s) you’re singing about will react negatively?
Emilie’s a bit hesitant before she replies.
- No, because you can’t think of it in the same way as you would if I’d said it directly. There’s a distance to it. But, when I write about a person I’m angry at or sad about, I do sing things I want that person to hear, and that’s probably a bit embarrassing... but I guess I’m a bit distant to that as well.
The way I know you, you share a lot, but when it comes to the media, you’ve made an active decision to not disclose who or what your texts are about. Why?
Emilie starts to laugh:
- I know that you know who and what this album is about, and that you know more than you can write in this interview! As a professional, I choose to not mention it in an interview setting, I’ve never shared much of my personal life in the media. It’s a stupid thing to do, completely idiotic.
What’s been your greatest musical experience?
- My greatest musical experiences are to discover new music I love. I discovered one as recent as last week; it’s a Jamaican-American guy I found through Parkteatret’s Instagram profile. I watched the video for two seconds and liked it right away. I listened to him the rest of the day. Later that day, I’m on the train home, along with Guttorm Raa who works in my management Little Big Sister, and he tells me there’s an artist who would like to meet me … and it turns out to be the Jamaican-American guy! Masego is his name. It’s so funny when things happen that way, when it’s so organic, coincidental, so fucked up and fun at the same time. I think that the coolest thing I know is when artists I look up to or think are good, think that I do a good job too. That someone I like, like what I do. The first time I got a text message from Hanne Hukkelberg, I got so psyched that I had to go home to mom and dad to say “I got a text message from Hanne Hukkelberg!!!!!”
Do you have a specific goal you’re working towards?
- I don’t have any clear goals or dreams that are very specific. I think that I do what I do, and I don’t do particularly much for that to take off right now, but trust that things will happen anyway. And if they don’t, that’s fine too. This time I'll do it at my own pace.
After three beers, we toast one last time and wrap things up. We’re going in separate directions this dark fall evening, so we hug and thank each other for the conversation. I’ve finally met Emilie Nicolas.