Torgeir Waldemar emerged, as if from nowhere, with his self-titled debut album in 2014. Ten years in the making, and imbued with the spirit of the ‘70s Los Angeles folk scene, it was nominated for two Norwegian Grammy Awards. Now he’s back with ‘No Offending Borders’, which pairs the stark acoustic sound of its predecessor with all-out guitar rock.
Ahead of its UK release, he tells us about starting out in church choirs, the pressure of following up his debut, his love of Neil Young’s ‘Tonight`s The Night’, Norway’s influence on his music, and not letting the fear win.
You started playing in a band when you were 25 – had you been playing music before then?
I started to play the violin at the age of six, and did that until I was about 18 or something. Then I started to play a little piano, and also picked up the guitar for the first time. I used to sing in different church choirs, and played in some amateur symphonic orchestras for youngsters. My dad played the organ, so I used to play in church with him.
You released your first solo album about 10 years after joining that first band. What made you want to go out alone?
I needed to use that amount of time to find my inner voice. It felt natural when I did, and I had worked on it for about 10 years when I finally got the record out. Some part of it was also to find the right people for collaboration.
Your first solo album was, deservedly, very well received in Norway. Did that put any extra pressure on you when you were making ‘No Offending Borders’?
Of course it did. But when we got more and more into the work on the album, we focused on that and how to get it as good as possible. In that way we didn’t take notice of the pressure. But the first album had been in the making for almost 10 years, and with this one everything needed to be done in about a year. And that is a different kind of working progress.
On ‘No Offending Borders’ there are now rock songs alongside the solo acoustic songs. How did you decide which songs you were going to “rock up”?
I usually have an idea of how it should sound when I make a song. But it’s important to have an open mind so the song isn’t locked down to that first idea. But mostly the final result isn’t that far from how I imagined it in the first place.
What songs on ‘No Offending Borders’ best sum up what you’re about?
I think I would say ‘Toulouse’ and ‘Souls On A String’ pretty much capture the diversities of my musical personality.
Your solo music has been compared to the music that came out of Laurel Canyon in the 1970s. Where did that influence come from?
I spend a lot of time listening to Neil Young, Gram Parsons, The Byrds, Carole King, Flying Burritos, Eagles, and so on. But I didn’t discover it until I was 20. I got to know it through friends of mine that said I needed to hear it. And they were right! I haven’t been able to visit LA yet, but someday I have to go there.
Is there any one musician or album that most inspired your solo work?
I have to say Neil Young and the way he doesn’t compromise at all. If I have to pick one particular album, it has to be ‘Tonight`s The Night’.
Do you think growing up and living in Norway has in any way influenced your music?
Of course it has. Playing music is like being a catalyser of yourself and the surroundings, and it’s impossible to separate it from who I am. And I am a Norwegian, so there you go.
The album cover shows the actual chair that Wilhelm II, the Emperor of Germany, was sitting in when he was told that World War I had started. What are you hoping people will take from that imagery and from your lyrics?
What Kaiser Wilhelm II had to deal with was how to respond to the threat of a world war. I think we have to deal with some of the same threats these days. And my point in using that chair was to say: “How would you react to these issues. How would you respond to all this that is going on, both in Europe and the US? Do you want a society that is warm and caretaking or do you just want to blame some innocent refugee that is running from a living hell?” I believe we have to stand up for the good values and not let the fear grab us. If we let the fear win, it will tear us apart. As individuals, but also as nations.
- ‘No Offending Borders’ is released in the UK on 17 March.