I have a confession to make. I only discovered Katzenjammer recently, and only because I was purchasing music online by another Scandinavian band – the well know online shop suggested that I might like to look at… I did and I was hooked. But I have yet to see them play live – something I plan to put right when Katzenjammer play at Cambridge Junction on November 16. I interrupted Anna Marit during filming in Oslo recently for a quick chat ahead of the band’s latest UK tour. But first I had to navigate Norwegian voicemail…
The latest Katzenjammer album is Rockland, to me it sounds “softer” than the previous albums. Was that intentional?
The thing with Katzenjammer is that nothing is ever planned. Things just happen, because it is meant to be at that moment. I think Rockland is a result of four women becoming… women. We are ten years older since we first started to play together. I think you can tell that on the record. We’ve been touring a lot, we’ve learned a lot more about ourselves I suppose as human beings and as musicians. And, as well we all participated as songwriters – that’s the first time. I don’t know why the album became a little bit softer, I don’t think that was the intention… our intention was to make it even more authentic to what we are now as a band.
The title track which you and Mats Rybo wrote is a wonderful song, tell me a little about it.
Rockland – yes, Mats wrote the lyrics on this one, he is a huge Alan Ginsberg fan and he read the poem Howl which describes a mental institution called Rockland. After reading that poem Mats kind of saw a resemblance to the world of Katzenjammer! As a mental institution – I don’t know why but… but maybe I can understand it because it is an institution, at least to us, and it can be crazy sometimes. But the thing is that we understand each other and we have been with each other through hard times. And we have been through good times together but always as a team. It’s kinda a story about that: sticking together through thick and thin.
It came across to me as a love song.
Yeah but… maybe it is. Maybe it is a love song to each other.
Is it difficult to write songs in English, I presume English is not your first language?
No, Norwegian of course is that. It’s very normal to write in English here in Norway. I don’t know it is a language that is easy to sing to and we are very familiar to both American and English music. We listen to it a lot here in Norway and if you want to go abroad and become international it is a very smart move to write lyrics in English of course!
Tell us about Katzenjammer in case there are people who have not heard of you yet, let’s start with the name, where does which come from?
The name comes from a comic strip, Katzenjammer Kids from America – it is actually the oldest comic strip in the world. Here in Norway we read that when we were kids, it was really popular then especially during Christmas time – we call it Knoll og Tott here in Norway. The characters in this comic strip, it’s about two rascals and they do pranks to their uncle all the time.
I have heard the band described, and I hope you don’t object to this, but I have heard the Katzenjammer look described as “pirate hookers from a Disney movie gone wrong”!
(Laughs loudly!) In the beginning we might have looked like that. It was very eclectic with a lot of flowers and big dresses and skirts. It was really really important to our identity then. Of course we don’t dress as we did ten years ago but we still have four different characters on stage I would say. As everything in Katzenjammer, nothing is planned, it just becomes natural and right now it is natural to be a little bit more… eh, classy? Yeah, classy I would say. (laughs again!)
You met at a private music school, did you have a plan of where your career was going to go before Katzenjammer “happened”?
Sure, of course we had a lot of ambitions and ideas and dreams of where we could end up and I think, to be completely honest, I think we all saw the possibility to get there because we felt something really really special happened when we got together. But I don’t think you can ever actually imagine this becoming a reality before it actually becomes a reality. Now we play in big venues in Europe, we are coming to England to tour – and I can’t wait to do that. We have been to Cambridge several times – to Cambridge Folk Festival.
How did Cambridge Folk Festival take to the Katzenjammer experience – how was it for you?
Oh – Cambridge Folk Festival… there is something really right with Katzenjammer at Cambridge Folk Festival. I remember the last time we played there… oh my God they blew our minds. They were amazing, we weren’t surprised because the English audience is fantastic especially the further away from London you come. It becomes just better and better – London is good too, bit is just a different vibe of course. Cambridge was just something else, so, so special.
You strike me as four very spontaneous, fun loving women – do your shows change from place to place or night to night?
When it comes to the songs and the set list, the set list is always the same because its a science to put a set list together both for the sake of the crew because they have to adjust to us changing the set, it makes a huge difference to them. And also, we are switching around the instruments so much so we have to play the same set, if we switch around it will just be chaotic while we are switching instruments. But is important to us that we keep a spontaneous feel to it anyway that we can relate to the audience and not make every single show identical, that would be boring for us as well.
Do you travel with a large crew when you tour?
Emmm… not the biggest one! We are really glad to have the crew that we’ve got. We’ve got the best crew in the world – sound, light and monitor, a tour manage and backline technician, so there are five people in addition to the four of us.
Do you encourage your fans to bring Cherry Pies to your shows?
(Laughs!) Actually there was… I think it was in 2011, we got a lot of cherry pies – we decided to stop eating them all because otherwise we would come home like twenty kilos heavier! But they were really really tasty and we were really glad to have them. But we haven’t played Cherry Pie in a while.
Do the four of you see much of each other when you are not touring?
We are touring a lot and working together a lot and I think it is important to the dynamics in the group just to observe a little bit of privacy and distance so that the tours can be more… playful, I think. So we keep a little bit distance in-between the tours – but that might be a couple of weeks and then we are back on tour for six weeks.
Me of course!
Which brings us onto the next one – who is the crazy one?
I think we can all be reasonable and crazy in different situations – it is impossible to just pinpoint one, it varies a lot.
What would you be doing today if you weren’t on the phone talking to journalists like me?
Actually right now I was in an interview, a filmed interview. So I just had to make this phone call with you and then I’m gonna go back.
You play a variety of instruments, do you have a favourite?
Emm… oh, that varies a lot too but… right now I think it has to be… the banjo, maybe. Yeah – the banjo and me we’re a good match… at the moment, yes.
When you were studying music were you also studying a specific instrument?
Yeah I studied vocals and piano and the same goes for Turid and Solveig studied the drums and vocals or.. I’m not really sure, but at least drums. And Marianne she studied vocals too.
Who do you listen to when you are relaxing at home?
Oh – I’ve been listening a lot to Feist, I don’t know if you know her. I’ve been listening to her a lot lately. Other than that I listen to a lot of different stuff, both English and old American music.
And you are a big fan of Bluegrass, yes?
Yeah – that’s me.
Is Bluegrass big in Norway?
It is not that big, but it is getting bigger. I think people feel a resemblance to all sorts of folk music that comes up. Lets face it Irish music and bluegrass, its not that big a difference. I have been watching the Transatlantic Sessions, I absolutely love them and they inspire me a lot. I really like that they are sharing their musical worlds and also that you can see the resemblance in the folk music.
We are coming to the end of our allotted time – I understand that you ladies like to shop in Top Shop and I have done my research and there is a Top Shop in Cambridge two miles from The Junction.
Really? Oh I love that !!! Thank you so much… but I’m not sure if I should thank you, it’s going to be expensive! We love to shop but we are also huge fans of vintage clothes and using old clothes.
Thank you Anna Marit, it has been a pleasure talking to you.
NOV 12 THU Bierkeller Bristol Bristol, GB 19:00
NOV 13 FRI O2 Institute2 Birmingham Birmingham, GB 19:00
NOV 15 SUN Manchester Academy 2 Manchester, GB 19:00
NOV 16 MON Junction, Cambridge Cambridge, GB 19:00
NOV 17 TUE O2 Shepherds Bush Empire London, GB 19:00
NOV 19 THU Queens Hall Edinburgh Edinburgh, GB 19:00