America, Meet Tôg. Tôg, Meet America.
Originally published at bestnewbands.com, April 23, 2011 – Read the full text here
Welcome to the horror show, starring seven-piece Norwegian film enthusiasts, Tôg. Fronted by Lars Christian Olsen, the mysterious and enigmatic maestro cites philosophy, as much an inspiration as other music. Moody and infectious with some elements of house, the act will be playing five shows at SXSW in Austin, before playing the Northeast of the U.S.
I talked with Lars about philosophy, music and of course, the challenge of fame (for both of us, of course).
Kristina Villarini: What is the inspiration for Tôg?
KV: When did you begin playing music?
LCO: When I was around 11, I was playing crappy songs on my guitar. When I was 16, I started playing in a tween-pop band, and I started Tôg in 2009, when I was 21. I played guitar in the previous band and sung. Now I mostly sing live, although I play some synth live, and produce the album in the studio.
KV: What would you be doing if you weren’t playing music?
LCO: Either being super pro-bono or working in a business trying to create something. I’d want to be creative in a way that makes the world look a bit different. I’m a fan of deep-ecology philosophy, a philosophy made by Arne Næss, and want to make products that last a lot longer time than normal consumerism in the future, when I’m sick of touring.
KV: Do you think that there are: people who are born to create and people who are born to consume?
LCO: That’s a difficult question. I think some people are more creative than others, but it would be depressing if everyone else just consumed what the creative people made. In some ways, that’s how the world seems. I think everyone has a creative spark in them, we’re forced to be creative everyday in the choices we make. But people lull themselves into the illusion that ‘some people are creative, so I don’t have to be,’ or that ‘I can’t acquire one skill, because another comes easier.’ You have to put your mind into it. Some things don’t come as easy as others. I guess we’re just lazy and don’t want to do anything if it’s too challenging.
KV: Is it difficult to create music without incorporating your values or beliefs? Or do you have to, to a certain extent?
LCO: Your values color the way you see the world, so I think it’s almost impossible if you’re writing from an “I” point of view. Still, if you’re trying to see the world through someone’s eyes, it’s so easy to put your own values into the way you’re looking at the world, through what you think they see.
KV: Is your music an extension of ‘you’ or is it, just one part that you’re able to let go of once it’s released?
LCO: Well, it depends on how you see it. If you’re referring to my music as me playing it or if it’s the music as a piece that anyone can play. If it’s me playing it, everyone would most likely see it as an extension of myself, since it’s my poetry, my arrangements and me performing it, and trying to put the same life and feeling into the piece that I had when I wrote it.
If it’s just my music as a piece, it’s something I have to let go of, but emotionally I’ll always remember what it meant to write it.
KV: How do you hope people receive your music?
LCO: I hope it doesn’t leave them unaffected, at least. I hope it gives them some of the same life it gave me writing it, and that people can feel that it’s a human that lived it, if that doesn’t sound too pompous. But I don’t know. People experience music in so many different ways. Some people just think a song is catchy and that’s that. Others also have that sphere, but try to experience the music in a deeper way.
Like one enjoys a work of art.
KV: Have your experiences with music changed since you began pursuing this as a profession?
LCO: Profession! Well, if I wanted a profession, I would go to college! No. I ,in a way, view it as work, but I wouldn’t be here if I was in it for the cash. To answer your question, my view of music has changed vastly. Before, my main concern was making hit songs. Then I discovered how much lyrics, feel and friction in music can mean for a piece of music. I discover new sides of writing music every day, and learn new things often from people that operate in different genres. Since I started self-recording, I’ve started to care more about sound, as well. How a sound is shaped and altered.
You learn something new every day, and there’s loads to learn. If you become like the people who say: “I’ve been in the music business for 20 years, I know a thing or two,” you’ve lost it. You always have to explore and be humble about the things you know, as well as, learn perspective from others. My view of music has changed vastly since I started touring with my music.
KV: Are there any musicians or albums whose sound you wanted to replicate or at least idolized?
LCO: There definitely are records and artists I have enjoyed a lot lately. Caribou‘s Swim, Pantha Du Prince‘s Black Noise and this local Norwegian folk singer who has these amazing lyrics, called Stein Torleif Bjella. He lost his wife to his best friend and has a way of putting things that just baffle you. He puts his feelings out there in a way that is so beautiful, you’re awestruck and feel like doing the same. But I couldn’t replicate it, and I don’t want to, either. I don’t want to end up as a copy of a band, always throwing one’s self after the latest wave. I want to be in the band that starts the wave and rolls their eyes at the bands that copy them.
KV: How has touring affected you?
LCO: I don’t know. How would it affect you to drive 5-8 hours every day, sleep on couches, be attacked by Norwegian women after shows who wouldn’t give a shit about you if you weren’t on a stage?
LCO: Ha! Just kidding!
KV: I was going to say, since that’s my every day life… It has its downsides, I suppose. [Laughs] I’m secretly terrified that someone will recognize me for something I wrote that they hated. So, does the fan thing freak you out?
LCO: Your questions are great, though. They’re a lot more complex than what I usually hear. But the fan thing freaks me out a bit. I had a while where I was trying to figure out if I was going to play music, at all. So I went on a pilgrimage in France. It was fun, just walking around 8 hours a day, eating and sleeping.
KV: Just being… Average?
KV: Well, there is a lot of drama to your music, so average must have been nice.
KV: Unfortunately, I don’t speak the language, but is your music supposed to tell a story? And if you’re not familiar with the language, is it okay to just enjoy it and dance?
LCO: Yeah, that’s what we’re hoping for in the U.S., in addition to just experiencing the music like you experience a painting where you don’t understand the intention… You just feel it.