In the last couple of years there’s been a voice in Norwegian Hip-Hop that has become instantly recognisable for its honesty and ability to take the mundane of everyday living and whip it into an engaging narrative, tackling everything from a day in the sun to the underlying socio-political landscape that lies beyond it. It’s a voice that has a very significant presence in the Mutual Intentions choir, appearing on records from Fredfades and Yogisoul in the past year as well as producing a solo effort in the form of Helping Hands. That voice is Ivan Ave (Eivind Øygarden) and as well as featuring on a few records in 2016 and playing live shows and DJ sets under the Mutual Intentions banner, he’s about to drop his second LP, Every Eye which gave us the pretense to ask the artist to coffee and delve into the identity that informs the music.
The first single from the album “Young Eye” was released recently as another Mutual Intentions concerted effort, replete with a quirky video made by members of the crew. With lyrics that fall somewhere in the abstract void of meaning between seeing something with a fresh outlook and the innocence of adolescence, Ivan sculps a very universal plot while his slothful vocal hook lures you into a dreamy soliloquy.
His distinct voice, an amalgamation of nineties soulful US Hip-Hop, sitting somewhere in the middle between Mos Def and a Tribe Called Quest, flits perfectly between the Jazz instrumentation and gritty MPC beats to create something acknowledging the history of the genre while extending it into the contemporary as something unique and new. There’s an unforced Americanism to his accent that even sticks out during conversation – something I learn might have cemented itself when a young Eivind lived in the US for some time – but it’s only a small part of what informs the artist’s sound however, and it’s something I hope to uncover more when we sit down to talk about his music.
He’s dressed in casual training garb, not in the Bogstadveien workout-chic style, but rather as functional accessory. He’s a part time phys-ed teacher and meets me between that job and a squash session, where I’m eager to find out how a kid from Vinje, Telemark came to Hip Hop and why exactly the current environment for the genre and its extensions in Oslo and Norway is such an inspiring scene.
Why do you think Norwegian Hip-Hop and the scene is so strong today?
I don’t know if I would I agree with that.
It seems that there is a lot going on though and it’s all very good, from the Mutual Intentions crew’s releases, including your own, Rude lead and Adept’s recent release, Nosizwe’s album…
There’s a lot of good people doing their thing. I feel like it’s pretty divided by factions that are super different and almost not even in the same scene or genre. It’s not something I would express myself, that Norwegian Hip-Hop is doing really well. I rarely even think about Norwegian Hip-Hop as a genre anymore, I think it’s just become all these different things that I can’t explain as a scene or a culture anymore.
There are obvious exceptions however with Mutual Intentions particularly creating a little scene around the group?
Do you feel isolated?
Not so much isolated, but more like comfortable in a corner, over here. There’s too much noise to really pay attention to all these different factions. We are definitely very comfortable doing this little thing that we’re doing and trying to build on that. I’m not good at staying up to date on new music and especially local new music, because that’s never really been a source for me. I’m KIND OF a bad patriot. I tend to seek out stuff regardless of where it’s from or how available it is.
So when you were growing up and listening to Hip-Hop there wasn’t much of a Norwegian influence?
Well back then there was more of a central scene and there were a lot more common denominators.
Can you give me some examples?
Because Hip-Hop hadn’t evolved yet into being so many different things, that meant that even if some dude here was west coast inspired and somebody else was east coast inspired they still somehow felt part of the same sound and the same vibe. Whereas now the sounds are so vastly different even within the Urban category. Growing up, there were Tungtvann and the whole Tommy Tee crew, there were definitely a lot of acts that inspired me, but then I found all this other music through Hip Hop, like Jazz and Soul. Gradually I became a music head more than just a Hip Hop head.
What was your entry into Hip Hop?
It was through very select CDs that my sister or my friends would have. Discovering music in the late nineties, especially if you didn’t live in a big city, was very random. I moved to Sandnes in Rogaland when I was ten and there was a little bit of a skate scene and a graffiti scene, some kids were interested in Rap. Moving there and going to Stavanger a lot was kind of an entry way into Hip Hop for me. But it was always there, even if it was just the two or three CDs that were in my village.
When did you realise this was something that you wanted to do seriously?
I didn’t really decide to do it for real until like 6 years ago when I was 21, but I did perform at UKM when I was 17 with my friend Pedro. I had this wish to be in the music, so I wrote his verse and my own verse to put that performance together, that’s how bad I wanted it. I guess from my late teens I felt like rap was just the coolest thing you could do. It wasn’t until I moved to Oslo that I really started pursuing it.
Did you have a natural affinity to lyricism, or is it something that you really had to cultivate?
I think the natural knack for wordplay and painting pictures was always there, but like any writer, there’s a lot of years that go into figuring out what is corny and what is stupid and what resonates with people, and what’s gonna resonate in five years with people. It’s definitely been a long process and I don’t feel like I’m half way there even.
What sort of people inspire you today?
Fredrik Høyer, a slam poet. He’s my current source of inspiration, a local act that I really look up to. There are some older guys, MCs and Hip Hop poets, but I think trying to emulate that is just a dead end, so I try to find inspiration from all types of lyricism. Robert Wyatt from the early soft machine years is one of my favourite lyricists. I get a kick out of writers who are able to create an atmosphere through words, instead of stating “this is this and that’s that” – a lot of rap is concrete like that which is cool and that’s why I fell in love with it – but as you get older you start looking for new ways to use that tool. That’s where I’m at right now.
Does it start with lyrics or with a beat?
It always starts with the beat, although I might have a few bars lying around. I’ll get a beat and if that beat really pulls stuff out of me, that’s really when a song starts to take shape.
Since you’re a DJ, and you have this entire music knowledge of Jazz and Soul behind it, do you make your own beats too?
I just dabble with production, but I’m trying to get more into it and maybe produce more in the future. I think I’ll have one beat on the next record, but the problem is that I just have too many friends that are so good at making beats, and I don’t want to rap over something that’s almost as good as what they make.
Fredfades being a good example of that. What I also find with the MUTUAL INTENTIONS sound, if you can call it that, is that there is this sinuous relationship between the music and the vocal.
I’m glad it sounds like that, but there’s rarely any dialog about how a certain beat should be used. Fred makes a bunch of beats and I pick one and write to it. It’s very free like that.
Maybe it’s just the relationship you have with each other.
All these shared references, interests and tastes, I think that’s why it works so well.
Talking about references, American Hip-Hop has this whole urban ghetto environment from where it gets all its references and Norway seems like a whole world away. What exactly are your references?
I try to keep it very honest and close to home, other than my choice of language. If you can manage to be yourself somehow through your music, rap or otherwise, there’s gonna be some universal truth to it, and people from all walks of life and backgrounds would be able to relate to it. It’s important to me that I’m not some Norwegian dude that’s trying to rap like he is from the Bronx or the south side of Chicago. I just try to be honest when I write.
And you’ve got the new album about to hit the shelves, a follow up to helping hands. Can you tell us a bit about the themes behind the album?
It’s called Every Eye, and the last record was Helping Hands, so I’m very interested in the intersection between our physical selves and our lives in all these less concrete facets, like relationships and political structures. For this album I’m using the eye and the “I” as a starting point. I think there’s something about using a very concrete thing in talking about higher concepts. Like using a hole in a sock to talk about a black hole in the universe, that type of juxtaposition usually makes shit easier for me to comprehend.
Do you rely much on humour in your writing?
I guess that’s a question for my listeners. I rarely try consciously to be funny in my songs, but sometimes life is just fucked-up and funny. There might be moments where we can both laugh, but I’m not trying to be funny in a battle rap way.
Why have you decided to express yourself in English exactly?
I think first and foremost that I learnt about rap through American rap and I’m lucky to have lived in the US for a while. I also watched stupid amounts of TV as a child, and I’ve always had an interest in the English language. In starting to pursue this idea of being an artist, I didn’t even consider confining myself to Norway, because that would just defeat the purpose of the type of music I wanted to make. This particular style of Hip Hop has a small following here, so it only really makes sense for me to travel outside of Norway.
When you say this particular style of Hip Hop, how would you define it?
Oh Shit, I got myself into trouble now. (Laughs) I never have a good answer for that. Hopefully it’s because I deal with my songs on a song to song basis, and I follow my ears, I try to keep it non-political in terms of what is Hip Hop and what isn’t; what’s a trendy style of production, and what isn’t. I try to keep that at arms length, ‘cause I need to be in a zone where I just listen and write. I would say my style of Hip-Hop is pretty free, but I know a lot of people that follow current commercial Rap, might call it nineties-inspired or jazzy hip-hop. There’s a lot of terms you could throw at it, but I don’t have an answer yet. This next album is going to be eclectic.
What sort of references do you have as being influences to your style?
Stones Throw, early Rhymesayers, all of the New York and Philly legends from the nineties. I really fell in love with it through the Roots, De La Soul, the whole Native Tongues movement and the Soulquarians. It’s kind of a standard answer for any person that does music in this lane, whether it be Rap, R&B or Soul. Seems like we’re just never gonna be able to answer anything but Dilla. But if that’s your answer, that’s what brought you into it, I think it’s because those guys had so much other music in their own music. sounds, grooves and tonality from the sixties, seventies and eighties. It feels like a richer format than a lot of other styles of Hip Hop, which is very confined.
Yeah it feels like Hip Hop today is far less digging through the past through samples than it was at the time of Dilla.
There’s actually gonna be no samples in my new album, but it’s still gonna be based in the musicality of samples. It’s not gonna sound too different, but as an idea it’s there to challenge me and make sure that this album has its own vibe. The idea was to stay away from samples to make sure I don’t make the same album twice, but it also helps you sleep at night, because you are not too worried about getting sued.
When you are looking for samples and a sonic aesthetic that they might represent through the records of others, where do you usually dig?
I’m fortunate right now, where I’m in a position to reach out to other producers. That’s usually where I start; this dude is doing something that I think would be good for my next record, let’s talk and see where it goes.
Is it still a record digging thing for you?
Yes, I still go digging, and I might even find a sample and take it to one of my Jazz friends and he might interpret it, and then we sample our own instruments. It’s just a way to always stay inspired, so digging is definitely still part of my process of making music, but not as straightforward as earlier.
You mention politics earlier and I’m wondering how much of that you tend to reference in your music directly and how that informs your lyrics just a social reference coming through?
I think for the most part it’s the latter, but for this next album it’s gonna seep in even further, maybe even get more of a centre stage focus.
Are you very conscious of these things going on around you.
I think I have the same cognitive dissonance that we all have. You look at the world and you go “OK, that’s all fucked up”, but you have to keep living your life, you have to function as a human being. So I read the sport news instead of another article about the war in Syria. We all need those breaks, also I don’t want my music to be a purist political activist thing. Forcing that into my diary-like music, I wouldn’t be true to myself. But I also feel that with gaining a platform, it would be a waste to not speak on some of those issues, that we seem to ignore most of the time.
* Catch Ivan Ave with the rest of the Mutual Intentions crew for Musikkfest 2017.