Interview: Hjalte Ross

Hjalte Ross is a Danish singer-song writer who with his debut album Embody – produced in collaboration with the famous British producer John Wood – has won critics’ hearts across the globe, as well as several awards. DANSK sat down with the rising star about his work and the experience of being an artist.

This interview is about emerging artists. What is the next step on your career ladder?
Well, right now I’m working on my next album, so I guess that is my next step. But beyond that, I don’t know. 

Do you find that the internet/social media made it easier for you to emerge as an artist?
I don’t know, I haven’t used the internet very much. I don’t have a Facebook page, for example, not beside my private at least, I figure that doesn’t count? I figured that I wanted the music to reach out to people and live on its own. It don’t want to succeed because of PR. I don’t want to post pictures whenever I’m recording a song or stuffing my car for a concert. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. .

What does make sense to you?
I like music that has something to it, that different people can get different things from it. Like, when a couple has a break-up song, I don’t think that’s stupid or lame, I think its great. I like the idea that a song can mean something to one person and something else to someone else. It is not about reaching out to as many as possible, but if a song reaches out to someone, I think that is really great. I would like my music to be able to that. That would make a lot of sense to me.

Are there some themes that you find yourself returning to?
The album that I’ve just released, “Embody”, is very personal. It is about my own relationships and experiences. I don’t know what else I should write about, I don’t want to be a know-it-all because I don’t.

What do you know?
Well, not much. But it’s all my experiences, so I feel it’s OK for me to comment on it – does that even make sense? I don’t want to comment on other people’s business or on behalf of others. That’s all theirs and I might have an opinion, but I don’t know anything.

It is always easy for the observer and critic to label an artist’s work with a purpose – but, asking you, do your work have a purpose?
Hmm. No. Not any other purpose than the pleasure it gives me. When I made this album, I just wanted to create something that I would want to listen to myself. I realise that that might sound obvious, like, who wants to create something they don’t want to listen to themselves, you know? I want something that I would keep listening to. I didn’t want to make something ‘cool’. I really hate cool, it doesn’t last. It’s only relevant for a short period of time and then it doesn’t matter anymore.

Would you like your music to be timeless?
No, I didn’t try to make it sound timeless. I just tried to make it worth the time it took to listen to it.

Speaking of time, many young people feel that they are under a great pressure. Now that you have created some success, do you still feel this pressure? Did you ever?
I didn’t feel pressure when I made the album. There weren’t really any demands from anyone or any deadlines. I didn’t have anyone to please. Not any other than myself at least. Now it’s out and a lot of the people my age doesn’t really understand it, but I don’t really feel that I have to please them either, so it doesn’t matter.

You are working on your next album. Do you feel any pressure related to that?
[Pauses to think] No, I don’t think so. The other day I read a comment on a Facebook page for vinyl enthusiasts. It is mostly men in the age +60 and my uncle who visit it, but those are primarily the listeners of my music. The comment said that I couldn’t possibly live up to the album I had just realised. I guess that could create some pressure or anxiety, but it kind of had the opposite effect; it was like an assurance that now I can just do what I want, you know? Because no matter what I am going to do I am going disappoint, so why worry about it?

Do you listen to any contemporary music?
I like some electronic music, but I listen to it a bit and then I turn it off. It’s okay, it’s fun, and it doesn’t get bad it just doesn’t get better either. Good songs keep opening up to you. They don’t lay flat down or reveal themselves. They retain some of their mystery. I really like that. Maybe that’s why I don’t want to post a lot on the internet. I don’t want everyone to know everything and I don’t want to know everything about everyone. That’s not very interesting. A lot of the contemporary music is very uninteresting. Like, the other day I was driving my dad to the airport and while doing it we were listening to the radio and it just hit me: it didn’t deal with anything. There was nothing for you to process or consider. Today it’s like the less your music deals with the better are your chances of making it. That sounds arrogant, and I don’t mean to sound arrogant. I don’t want to make negative comments about others.

Does your music keep opening up to you?
Yeah, otherwise I wouldn’t listen to it.

For more information, see Hjalte Ross
Interview by Mathilde Nielsen

Image courtesy of Noisey