Norwegian female quartet Katzenjammer are a multi-instrumental, multi-genre force of music. Before their latest album “Rockland” is released, Laurence Morgan chatted to singer Anne Marit Bergheim about aims, song intentions and cats.
Hi Anne Marit, how are you?
I’m fine thank you! We just finished loading all our instruments into our van, I don’t know what we were thinking! So many instruments!
Your new album “Rockland” is out on March 2nd, how have you found the writing and recording experience in comparison to previous times?
Well, we’ve been going as a band for about 10 years now, and this time we’ve gone towards something more Western – we’re big fans of American music. It’s interesting that we were so experimental, then we took a break for year, went away and tried our own solo careers. When we came back together, we had very similar ideas about where we wanted to go.
When you read descriptions of you by critics, you find a whole host of genre categories, including country, folk, pop and even Balkan. What would you say you are, or do you not want to define yourselves at all?
No, we don’t want to define ourselves, we like to keep people guessing! I think our German label has the best description of us: “Katzenjammer – Genre: No genre.”
According to an interview, and most press releases, you were brought together by the feeling of being “the outcasts at the school” that you all attended. Do you still feel like outcasts now, or do you feel like you belong musically now?
I don’t think I ever actually thought we were outcasts, but we were all very different! It’s so wonderful to know that people like us, and that we can keep being different. In that sense I definitely think we do belong.
Your first single from the album, “Lady Grey”, is, I believe, written about experiences with Alzheimer’s disease. Does there tend to be a theme when it comes to song subjects, or do you write about many different situations?
We all write songs, and they’re about everything. We don’t write songs together at all, we only arrange them together. I think we do that just to show the 4 separate corners of the band, to show our diversity, so that people can’t pin us down. We definitely write songs about personal experiences though; for example, “Lady Grey” was written by Marianne (Sveen), as she used to be a nurse, and the song documents the first Alheimer’s patient she worked with.
You’re all multi-instrumentalists and singers, does this ever make song-writing trickier, with such an increased amount of musical options?
When we write the song, the song decides what is needed rather than us – it’s very natural. Even if that means buying and learning a new instrument to fit the song, we will do it. Obviously we don’t do that with something like the fiddle, which takes years to master, but with a stringed instrument like the ukulele, we just pick it up and learn it. We’ve done that with lots of instruments, even with a sitar!
“We don’t want to define ourselves, we like to keep people guessing!”
I must ask about the cat-faced contrabass balalaika – has it been a mainstay of the band since the start? Has it always had a cat on it?
Yes, of course! We found him in a shady corner of a German bar about 6 months after we started, and he already had the cat face on him. We assumed correctly that he belonged to someone else, but when we came back a month later he was still in the same place. It took the guy who owned it a lot of persuading, but we managed to get him, and he’s been with us ever since. He’s called Akerø, and we have another bass called Børge – they’re named after a Norwegian TV presenter.
You’re performing in Manchester on May 10th. Given that you write the majority of your songs in English, do you have a particular affinity with England, or did you write the songs in English so that more people would understand?
Originally, we didn’t write the songs, they were written by our friend Mats Rybø. He wrote the songs in English, and we like singing in English. There are quite a few things easy to describe in English, but just not easy to do so in Norwegian. It also means that a lot more people will understand them. We love coming to England though, we were in London recently, and we’ve been to the UK quite a few times!
What are the differences, if any, in performing in places other than Norway?
Every country, every city, has its own vibe, and we like all of them. When we perform in Norway, people tend to be a little bit drunker! When in Germany, however, if our show is meant to start at 8, everyone will arrive at 8 and no later. They’re always so polite, too – if we’re playing a ballad, they sit still and listen. Toward the end of the set, though, that’s when they go crazy.
I read a great Guardian review of your recent gig in London that said at the end “I hope that success doesn’t make them too sensible.” Do you think you’re settling down, or do you want to continue deceiving expectations?
It’s less about us settling down, and more about us just getting older. I don’t think what we write will be as crazy as before, as we’ve matured a little, but we won’t play safe either.