September 2014 / Sandra Kolstad / Musician & Artist / Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg

Coco Berliner - Sandra Kolstad - 1

This is quite a busy time for you, right?
To be honest, yes, because my new album will be released on the 6th of October, and it is a lot of preparing and promoting. But right now I'm actually more eager to start my next album. I wrote the next album already. This one took almost two years to make. So for me that is a long period of time to write and make one record. Now I'm really longing all the time to be in the studio with my next stuff which feels a bit weird when I'm suppose to be feeling fresh about this new record right now.

Your family name is Kolstad. Does it have a meaning?
That is a good question. "Stad" is the Norwegian word for "place" and "kol" means "coal" as in coal that you burn. So I guess, it's the place where you make coal, but I have never checked it out. I just take it for granted. It's a bit mysterious where that name came from. It's from my father's side. It's a bit strange that my mother's name is Kolstø because it sounds similar. But the name of my father... we don't know where it came from or anything for generations. It's a bit shady. I will find out. I have to find out.
It's weird because my boyfriend's name – he is Swedish – is Eldh which means "fire". So that was kind of funny like when we met: "coal" and "fire" (laugh).

Were you born and raised in Oslo?
I was born in Oslo and when I was five we moved to a place half an hour outside of Oslo to a posh neighborhood, yet we had no money. My mother was an artist and my father ran a record store in Oslo. I grew up with all these super rich kids...not only but it was normal that there were a lot of millionaires. That was kind of strange and right-wing politically, obviously, as there were many rich people. It was a good thing and a bad thing.

Did you move back to Oslo at a later stage?
I moved away from home when I was 16. And yes, I moved back to Oslo. Then I left Norway again when I was 19. Since then, I have never lived for longer periods in Norway. I have been mostly abroad.

What connects you with Oslo?
To be honest I'm thinking, I don't have this sense of belonging except for my years at Majorstuen in Oslo. It's in the west part of the city. It wasn't as posh as it is today when I was living there. A lot of artists and musicians lived there. It wasn't expensive in that way. That's the only place where I have lived a long time as an adult as well. Now it is really posh unfortunately, because it used to be so nice.

...and all the artists moved to Grünerløkka?
Yes, and further east now.
So I think, what I consider home in Norway is my family's house on the west coast close to Bergen. If I'm gonna stay in Norway for a longer time, that's where I'll stay and find my peace.

And that is the place where you have your roots...
Yes, because I've been there on almost every vacation as long as I have lived. It is so beautiful with our house on the ocean. We almost see no other houses. The only thing I miss in Berlin is the ocean and this wild nature. I mean, Berlin is a green city. That is great... with all the parks and small lakes. But I miss the wild nature.

Have you ever made a trip to Brandenburg?
No, I haven't. Probably soon. I have a good friend who is from Brandenburg. But I went to Rügen once. That was nice. And also I found Grunewald along the river Havel. That is not so far away. I can make it in one day.

I can recommend the Uckermark or Schorfheide north of Berlin. I was surprised that, right when you leave Oslo city, you are in a wild forest.
Yes, the wild nature is closer in Oslo. It's practically outside your door.

...behind your bathroom so to say...
And even more so in Bergen. Have you been to Bergen?

No, I haven't.
Because I recorded in Bergen. So now I'm in Bergen much more than in Oslo. The mountains are the city in a way. The houses are really like growing out of the mountains. And then you have the fjord and that is the city center. All my friends, when they want to go for a walk, they walk over to the mountains. I'm quite jealous about that. But then of course, Bergen does not have all the great things Berlin has and that's why I chose to live here.

...but you can leave Berlin and take some time out...
I feel very privileged being able to do that because I really need those breaks.

I read, for your new album you have worked with a producer for the first time.
To be honest, it's working much better (laughs). I've been working with Yngve Sætre. He is considered to be one of the best producers in Norway now and will be for a long time.

Sometimes it's good to get an outsider perspective...
I think that is super important. I had always done that with my previous records. I would invite people to help mix them and contribute with their featured artists because that is super important and also much more interesting. I do that with professional musicians and with my friends as well. Anyone who happens to be there when I need someone. (laughs)
Yngve had that big, big studio in Bergen. My last record I recorded in Weißensee. I had a studio down in a basement. Super dark, super humid. And we had four synthesizers and three drum machines and that was it. And Yngve has this fantastic light, big studio. So that was a luxury to work under such circumstances for a change.

From your perspective: what are some of the topics in your songs?
I think, I write a lot about freedom... different forms like individual freedom and political as well as economical freedom and everything that are keeping us away from being free which, I find, is a lot of the times because of the poor political structures but also obviously because of all the nasty things that keep us from being free nor happy nor at peace with ourselves.

Do you see yourself as a musician or rather as an artist because you show so much more like dancing, performing arts and fashion at your concerts?
I'm used to being a musician but for me it's interesting to involve other aspects. I'm very happy and I see this as a compliment that people see different aspects of my performances. When I started doing concerts I didn't make any plan for my show's visuals. That is just the way I express my music.

So, it comes naturally...
Totally. For me it is like when you were a child creating a small world inside your living room, taking all these blankets and putting them over chairs. It is like that in a way. The concert situation for me has to be a ritual or ceremony which I find deeply interesting both as a performer myself but also as a spectator at other people's concerts. It is such a strange thing: You have this room and you have this space and then someone is on the stage and the rest of the people are standing and watching you. It's nice but strange. It's important being into that as much as possible. When I go off stage it really meant something to me. It is a bigger whole happening.

What has been the response of the audience? Were they as excited as I was?
When I play concerts I'm really surprised how people get involved in the concerts. People like to be invited to be part of the concert and not just be on the outside looking in on some band performing but they really like being part of a whole happening.

I went to a concert yesterday. It was strange. There was no connection between the singer, her band and the audience. It is not important who she was but this situation...It had nothing to do with the fact that she seemed shy. She was more like 'I don't want to share my feelings with you'. She didn't get any response from the audience. Do you feel this kind of distance?
For me it's so natural being on stage but I have colleagues who are really afraid of being on stage. For them it is terrible. For me, my favorite part is the live job. And for them it's terrible and they drink or taking drugs.

When you see – I go back to my concert yesterday – that she is embarrassed on stage, you, being a part of the audience, can respond to that showing of feeling. But when the singer doesn't show any emotion on stage you get nothing back from the audience and there is no connection, which is a pity, I think.
Showing feelings are what in every kind of art touches us. It can be a bad feeling, can be hate, can be angry or it can be love. The only thing we can feel is what others feel.

Do you do anything if you feel a distance from the audience?
Probably. I mean, every concert is different. Not every concert is where everyone is dancing. It also has to do with the way we are as a band on stage. When we are on tour, we are on stage every night. I am supposed to create something that is like, wow... what kind of job is this... (laugh)...but I really love it. It's a lot of energy that is going into it, but then there is a lot of energy coming out.

Will you be going on tour?
Yes, there will be a tour. We will play 20 gigs in Germany, Norway, Spain and the U.S. actually.

Why did you choose these countries?
Germany because I live here and have kind of a following coming to my shows. The U.S. because my new record is also released with an American label as well as with a Norwegian one. We were in Spain for the first time one and a half years ago. It was quite by coincidence. I don't know why we were invited but we had a lot of nice shows and Spanish audience showed a lot of interest. And Norway as well for the same reasons.

Are you interested in literature?
I'm very interested in literature.

It is a good base for writing lyrics, right?
For a very long time I didn't write, I was playing classical piano instead. When I grew up I started to write, not lyrics, but other things like poems and even a novel. And I was reading all the time. In many ways I come from literature as much as from music. Now in my life I have more strong experiences within literature than within music actually. I find so much inspiration and some kind of peace in books. When I read, the world makes sense. When I read poetry or literature that really kind of gets me.
My biggest experience with a writer and his books was with the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun. Lately I've been reading Jonathan Frantzen. I really enjoyed his book "Freedom". Right now I'm reading a Donna Tartt novel. She is an American. The book is called "The Goldfinch" which is very nice. I just discovered that Cuban poet Dulce María Loynaz. I read a lot of different things. There is also one book which means a lot to me. I even wrote a song for the record, that is coming out now, taking almost word for word from that book. It's Swedish. So I translated it into English. It is a book about Valerie Solanas. Do you know her?

No, I don't.
She wrote the SCUM Manifesto which is about a "Society Cutting Up Men" and she shot Andy Warhol. She was obviously a bit out of balance but also a very interesting, intelligent woman. This Swedish writer, Sara Stridsberg, wrote a book about Solanas called "The faculty of dreams" and it is so beautiful. That is an example how I connect with literature.
When I wrote this song, I never thought of contacting this writer. And after I was interviewed by a Swedish journalist, she wants to introduced me to her. Now I'm a bit excited and want to know what she thinks about it.

Thank you very much for sharing open thoughts. I wish you all the best for the new album and the upcoming tour.

The interview was conducted by Katja Mollenhauer. Photos by Nadja Wehling

Sandra Kolstad was born 1985 in Oslo. She started playing the piano when she was six years old. As a grown up she studied music at the Rud videregående skole in Bærum, a suburb of Oslo. In 2009 she moved to Berlin. Her debut album "Crux" was released in 2011. It got excellent reviews and a lot of publicity. Her second album called "Nothing Lasts" was released in 2012. The music video for the song "The Well" was produced on the island of Rügen. Sandra's mother, a designer, sometimes creates the outfit for a daughter's music videos. Sandra performed well-known festivals including at Roskilde, Øya, Berlin Music Week, Slottsfjell and Ja Ja Ja in London Town. She won the Best European Independent Music Video Award at the European Independent Film Festival 2014. Her latest album "Zero Gravity State of Mind" will be released at 6th of October 2014.

Coco Berliner - Sandra Kolstad - 2