I’m quite aware that it takes for some, glaciers to move off the couch and check out hot spankin’ brand-new music.
(Originally published by Clash Music Wed, 02/11/2011)
I’m equally jaded, sometimes the only thing that’d get me outta the house and sniff out new bands would be if a trail of (imported) salt & vinnie walker crisps led to the venue or a promise of free beer. But at last August’s Oslo Jazz Festival, I stumbled into a concert at Cafe Mono curiously buzzing like a marvellous secret was being held under wraps. I was soon blown away by a symphony of scandic sounds, pure and haunting, electric keys anchored in deep, warm tuba notes; shifting seas of a guitar void with heart-stopping, icy vocals overlaid. Your Headlights Are On are five young, talented graduates from the Conservatory of Improvised Music and the Music Technology department in Trondheim. Their debut “s/t” full-length released this year showcases their mastery of both subtlety and grit. One journalist wrote after the show, “Your Headlights Are On are captivating, skilled and professional and their music will chill you to the bone in a good way (…) If you miss any more shows by YHAO I feel sorry for you. They are Norwegian music history in the shaping.”
So why is it nobody’s heard of them? Internet hype was scarce, a solid biography even more. After a bit of research and shooting e-mails off, I found: the band consists of Ingrid Helene Håvik on vocals; Anja Lauvdal on Wurlitzer and synth; Heida Karine Johannesdottir Mobeck on tuba; Lars Ove Fossheim on guitar; and Hans Hulbækmo on drums. The album itself has significant qualities of being a debut; the tracks could be criticized as inconsistent with the next, but it’s the success in their playfulness with disparate ideas that I think, makes instead of breaks it.
The opening track, “Cold Mountain” creates dark, contemplative territories reminiscent of Neil Young’s guitar-improvisation on the Dead Man soundtrack. Much of the album is instrumental, such as a later track, “Leütenhaven”. When I asked the guitarist about the equipment used for “Cold Mountain”, he responded:
“He he… Pretty standard stuff: I used a MXR Carbon Copy and a Fender Twin Reverb Reissue, totally cranked, and my Vinetto BC-50 telecaster. And no overdubs for those who where wondering… Neil Young is one of my favourite musicians and Jim Jarmusch is a fantastic director, I’ve probably seen Dead Man a dozen times. The soundtrack and film itself is a very clear source of inspiration, and the words are from the ancient poems of Hanshan. Narrowed down both Dead Man and Hanshan deals with solitude and a necessity of escape in some form and that is also the main source of inspiration.”
Tracks like “Diskobar” and “We Real Cool, We” are easy fan favourites– bright pop beats, sung with as cool of a swagger and uniqueness as bossanova goddess Astrud Gilberto. On the other hand, tracks like, “What Are Days For” and “Four Letter Word” weight a different structure, with more melancholic build-ups, soft honey-dripping crooning, and colorful experimentation compared to contemporaries Atlas Sound or Broadcast.
My favorite track on the album however, happens to be the longest. At just over ten minutes is “Drink Gone Dead (Wank-Song)”. “Wank” suggests a self-consciousness of persistent jamming and the free-form nature spiraling within seconds– up, up, upping the stakes to a climactic return of the chorus, bursting with so much affirmation and power that it violently rattles the bones of the sonic dead. I believe the nugget of this band is encapsulated by this song precisely, their gift of catching a groove and running with it uninhibited, whether it’s stripped-down bare or a cacophony.
And for the remaining questions? To know more about YHAO, here they are:
How does the song writing process work for you? Is there one main songwriter or is it a democratic collaboration?
Lars Ove: It is a democratic collaboration. One person has an idea and we start playing and everyone has a saying in the process. Other times we improvise and extract ideas that we like from those sessions. We have a lot of improvisation in our music, not to be confused with jazz, but every band member is pretty free within the structures of the composition. We are five individual instrumentalists with individual voices that fit very well together. Free improvisation as a method for a band (in any genre) can really strengthen the interplay and makes the band look for alternative solutions to a musical idea.
Has YHAO become a central focus for all the members, or like some bands, just one project alongside many others?
It is definitely the band that gets most space in our schedule but we all have several projects or bands on our hands. And YHAO is a band not a project, since a project indicates that it is just for a period of time and a band does not. It is really just a formality but here in Norway many jazz musicians are associated with projects and ad hoc groups that only last a year or two. We are planning on playing for years!
What inspires you as a band, or individually? Maybe it’s a broad question, you can break it down if you’d like. Other bands, moods, films, etc.
Music where the melody lays like an egg in a nest and music with good, clear ideas. The different musicians and bands we play with inspire us all, and of course we inspire each other. We like that we have the opportunity to go different ways with our music, and playing concerts has been a great way for us to try new things. It never stop and we try not to lag.
And of course we come from different backgrounds and bring along our own baggage of inspiration whether it comes from books, films, moods, other bands or art.
Can you recommend some Norwegian bands/artists we might not have heard of?
Jenny Hval, Highasakite, Stina Stjern, Therese Aune, Kobert, Dog & Sky, The Avalanche, Dråpe, Angelicas Elegy, Kim André Rysstad, Sudan Dudan, Slagr, Sommerfuglfisk, Kari Harneshaug
What’s been in rotation on your iTunes this past week?
Lars Ove: Bonnie “Price” Billy – The Wondershow Of The World, John Cale – Sun Blindness Music, Jimmy Giuffre 3 – Fusion, Richard & Linda Thompson – I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight, Fleetwood Mac – Tusk and Talk Talk – Laughing Stock(just the 3 first tracks)
Anja: Kate Bush – Hounds of Love, Tinariwen, Cocteau Twins – Heaven or Las Vegas, The Beatles – Help, Atomic – Happy New Ears, Joanna Newsom – Have One on me.
Heida: Tinariwen, Sudan Dudan, The Police, The Velvet Underground and Nico, Steve Lacy & Roswell Rud – School Days, Radiohead – The King Of Limbs and Hail To The Thief, The Beatles, Don Ellis – Autumn, Andy Irvine/ Paul Brady, Christian Wallumrød.
Hans: Yo la tengo – And then nothing turned itself inside-out, Sudan Dudan – Kari & Ola, Bob Dylan – Bringing it all back home, Skip James – The complete 1931 recordings, Paul Bley – Chaos, Johnny Cash – American V: A hundred highways, Eivind Sigurdsson Berg (old norwegian radio archive recordings), John Coltrane Quartet with Eric Dolphy – Impressions
Ingrid: Panda Bear, Mary Margareth Ohara, Odd Nordstoga and Elton John