Flunk is a Norwegian electronic band made up of producer and vocalist Ulf Nygaard, guitarist Jo Bakke, drummer Erik Ruud, and vocalist Anja Oyen Vister. Flunk is when talented people meet each other and create something they really love. TheFishh had a chance to talk with producer and vocalist Ulf Nygaard about the future, “booty” songs, and a bit more.
Flunk was founded almost 15 years ago. What’s your favorite year in the band’s history so far?
We have had ups all the time, but our favorite year is probably the first. When we were hot in the UK, hooked up with a US label, played festivals and everything was generally new and innocent.
Did you have any luck during your career? Or is everything you have because of your talent and hard work?
You always have to have luck in this business, any business, probably. It’s not enough being good. Being very good at what you do is not enough, you have to be interesting, you have to move souls, have edge, you have to hit out at the guts and hearts, not brains. So yes, we had luck being played at BBC legend John Peel’s show before our first single was out, and we have had luck with people in positions to put our music on movies and stuff. So all counts: talent, hard work and definitely luck.
There are a lot of very popular indie, deep, electronic music bands from Norway, Sweden, and Finland. What’s the secret of Scandinavian music?
Scandinavia is slightly off route, and this is probably part of the reason. Lots of talent, but not continental, which might explain the twist. Sweden is by far the best country for both alternative and pop. Small countries have a desire to make an impression. Also, we have the darkest and coldest winters in the world, which obviously does something to our minds.
Do you see any difference between Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish music?
Sweden is impressive. Norway and Finland are kind of similar, and have always been Sweden’s baby sister or brother. Norway has a tradition of jazz, and this scene has delivered a lot of great music. Sweden has a tradition of popular music, and obviously has brought us a lot of acts. Finland is probably more off, which every now and then creates something odd and different.
What’s your secret to a great song?
I guess what we often try to do is make a tune which is very pop, but with a twist or with a chord that goes somewhere different than ‘very pop’. We like nice chords, so the challenge is to create edge to the songs. And we like ‘democratic’ lyrics. I think REM is an example of ‘democratic’ lyrics, where you can put meaning into the words yourself, make your own context. We are not at all focused on making a chorus, it’s almost a problem. But it’s just not us…
Are you going on tour in the near future?
Well, it’s complicated. We have never done touring, meaning weeks and weeks. I get impressive (and envious) of people like Angus and Julia Stone, who do massive playing. For us, it has always been the fans and their support which keep us going, and we really, really love it. Everywhere we go, we go because we are wanted. Almost everybody knows our lyrics, every single line, actually. So we are privileged. But we all have 9 to 5’ish jobs and we all have kids, so we do what we can manage and what we really want to do. So no tours in the near future, but hopefully when we get a new album finished.
Is it hard to get into the American market?
Not really. Haha… Of course, it is. It’s almost impossible. But when we first came out, Röyksopp was on top of the world, which helped. And we were lucky, we got connected with people in the US who did have connections and credibility at the time. We were never big, but we are probably one of the best selling Norwegian acts in the States ever. When we did the West Coast tour ten years ago, we had a meeting with a ‘big shot’ management dude in LA. He took us to a burger joint, and was really interested and had great plans. Then, by dessert, he asked: ‘So when will you move here?’. We just looked at each other, and said sorry, we won’t move here. So it never happened. So I guess this explains how to break into the American market: You have to sacrifice whatever you have to get into there.
Once you said: “There’s no point in making music when you’re happy…”. Don’t you believe in “happy” music?
When you’re happy, you don’t want to sit in Leonard Cohen’s ‘tower of song’ and bend your brain and heart to create music, you want to go out and have a drink and watch beautiful people. Happy music like… Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ is probably not something we would do, because it would probably be out of character. But I think we make music that makes people happy and uplifted. However, I don’t like what we make when we are happy. It comes out kind of ‘overstimulated’.
Can you name one song that you heard for the first time and said “Wow”?
Happens almost every time I hear a new Burial track. I think I thought ‘wow’ when I heard ‘Depreston’ by Courtney Barnett, probably last time it happened!
Some artists are chasing after the idea of commercial music. Unfortunately, thousands of best selling songs are songs about “Booty” and “Sex”. How do you keep a balance between the music you believe in and the music which brings you money?
Another really good question. This is something which makes or breaks bands. And I think almost every band is arm wrestling this issue. We have a strong belief that you have to make the music you believe in, and the value if it’s best selling is big. We are experienced and quite mature people, and we don’t want ‘that’ hit. We want ‘that’ hit if a lot of people like a song which we make our own way. So almost every song we have made is not trying to make a hit. ‘On My Balcony’ is one of our songs closest to a hit, but we only made it because we wanted to make a ‘bright side’ track. The last year we didn’t even play it live. We find it hard to put into the set, because it ‘sounds like a hit’. Yeah, we’re complicated.
Would you agree that it is not fair when some “superficial” songs are commercially successful while some artists that follow their hearts and talent to create more “meaningful” music are not as profitable?
Yes, but no but… Again a very good question. You need luck. The term ‘fair’ does not exist in art. To succeed you need to be creative, talented and good, but if you don’t have luck, you have to be good at networking. It’s not fair, but it’s the way it is. I used to be a music journalist, once I reviewed an album and the next day the artist called me (I totally did not like the album) and said: ‘Do you KNOW how much time we spent on making this album?”… But sorry, it’s not about the time. It’s not about being the best instrumentalist ever. It’s not about being the most clever poet. It’s not about doing everything right and being best. It’s about creating something that hits the heart and the stomach. And popular music is such an industry thing. Rihanna is an industry thing, and some of her stuff is fantastic, because it’s tailored to make you feel good in the car or anywhere. And it works. But it’s not going to take you anywhere, it will only contain your happiness. Or love sickness or whatever. So, no, nothing is fair. Because it is not. Art is meaningful, and if you hit big time, it’s probably luck. It’s OK, it’s the way it is.
Cover photo by Roberto Di Trani