Meet Norway’s Strange Hellos, a self-confessed “guilty pleasure band” blending the anthemic psychology of pop greats ABBA and Fleetwood Mac with their own mythical brand of bitter-sweet shoegaze. Hailing from the small city of Bergen, the power-pop quartet join a flurry of fresh-generation Scandi-pop talent making their way across the North Sea, drenching the global industry with some of most wholesome pop around. We spoke to guitarist and singer/songwriter Odd Martin Skålnes on the evening the band finish their debut album at London’s Abbey Road.
From A-ha to ABBA, Scandinavia has been birthing banger-dropping pop bands since far before ‘banger’ was even a useable concept. Reigniting the now-vintage excitement of zestful melodies from the region is Norway, the best kept secret of the music industry, and of the craft beer business, FYI. “There’s a really good music scene in Bergen. A lot of artists we’re working with also come from there, like our friends Sigrid and AURORA,” Skålnes says, who has also played with the latter. “Everyone knows each other, supports each other, and it’s just a really great city to make music in.”
It’s a small native scene, but it’s coming over in tidal waves across our dividing sea. Alt-pop warrior Sigrid is shaking up what it means to be a pop heroine with her youthful, gusty brand of synth pop and ethereal vocal mastery, whilst polemical pop-punk fledgers Sløtface are making statements with their brash, purposeful sonic spirit. Strange Hellos, then, when asked to describe themselves in three words, say “stadium”, “indie” and “shoegaze”.
The impact of popular nineties music in their songs is evident from first spin; Skålnes citing bands such as Teenage Fanclub, Cocteau Twins and Oasis as key influences. Despite being made up from other musical projects (across AURORA, Lumikide, The Megaphonic Thrift, Casiokids and Great News), the band had the feel of Strange Hellos in common from the outset. “Everyone of course has their own way of doing stuff, but we kind of knew where we wanted to go. Everyone’s really important in the band.”
There doesn’t appear to be a grand concept to Strange Hellos, nor their debut album, but this is what makes them so refreshing – they’re unapologetically earworm ‘pop’, and don’t mind you calling their candied love songs a guilty pleasure. “A lot of the songs on the album were made really fast. I suppose they’re all connected in that they are all kind of love songs. There’s happy elements to it and at times it’s bitter sweet; with that kind of summery feeling to it just felt natural to write love songs.”
“We just wanted to make an album!”
We chat as the rest of the band are sound-checking in Brick Lane; they’re about to perform at Sofar Sounds, but this only after they’ve spent the day at Abbey Road, where they mastered and completed their debut album. It seems I caught them on a big day. “It was really fun. It’s always a good feeling to finish something, and of course it’s amazing to do it in a studio like that. It’s an amazing place and there’s amazing people that work there, we’re really happy.”
Having only released a handful of singles, it’s surprising to see that the band have jumped straight to writing an album before dropping so much as a taster EP. But this only goes to prove their drive as musicians, finishing off their debut album after only recently dropping sunshine single ‘Is It Me?’, the western Norwegians’ attempt at West Coast USA.
“We released a lot of songs, so we just wanted to collect it into one record basically. We just wanted to make an album!” It makes sense. “It was kind of the plan all along and it’s been a process – releasing singles were kind of the build-up to recording a full record.”
“We don’t live by the rule of ‘less is more’, more ‘more is more!’”
Shortly before they’re due on in Shoreditch, talks move away from the debut record and onto Strange Hellos as a live band. “It’s a hugely fun band playing live with, but it’s also kind of complicated.” The band are a quartet in the studio but three more join on-stage. “We’re kind of a massive sound. A lot of sound. A lot of drums and a lot of vocals. Everything in one”. Each member is multi-talented, boasting dreamy vocal harmonies, layered production and grungy guitars. “We don’t live by the rule of ‘less is more’, more ‘more is more!’”
Strange Hellos will be heading back to London to play shows after their album drops, along with a tour in Norway, where it’s clear the band’s heart will always remain despite dreams to go global. “Our big aim is to go to Japan”.
There’s nothing hiding here: Strange Hellos are Scandinavia’s latest guilty pop pleasure. Indulge, be merry, watch this space.
Photo: Øystein Grutle Haara