Norway’s Highasakite make pop music, but an adventurous brand of indie pop full of contrasts. Their melodies and instrumentation are bold yet sometimes understated, the ebbing of one allowing the other to flourish; whether it’s Ingrid Helene Håvik’s otherworldly vocals or the dynamic combination of synthesizers, brass and percussion. Following on from numerous international festival appearances and the EP In And Out Of Weeks, the quintet release their debut album, Silent Treatment, in 2014.
The origins of the group can be found at the Trondheim Jazz Conservatory, where singer and songwriter Håvik met drummer Trond Bersu and began to write, record and perform together. The pair then took to the studio with Krøyt’s Thomas Dahl as producer but felt that they needed an extra something to give their performances the sound they desired. As a result, Øystein Skar on synthesizers was added, before the more recent arrivals of Marte Eberson, also on synths, and Kristoffer Lo on guitar, flugabone and percussion. All of this has combined to give the band a richer texture and more potent sound.
Encouraged to sing from an early age by her mother, a singing teacher and choir leader, Håvik’s voice has an impressive range and versatility; able to soothe as much as astound. Buried within are unforgettable lyrics; the beguiling words a focal point of Highasakite’s music. It is almost impossible to listen to Silent Treatment for any length of time without noticing and then wondering about the shrouded themes. Though much material on the EP looks at life through the lens of childhood, the subject matter of much of their debut LP is deeper and more mysterious.
Håvik, however, is reluctant to reveal too much about the meanings of the songs – something that only adds to the intrigue. “There are stories behind them [the songs] but I don’t really know if I want to tell them to people. I don’t care about other people when I write them, I write what I think sounds nice and about what creates beautiful images in my mind.”
It is apt, then, that many of the themes on Silent Treatment exist in the realm of relationships behind closed doors. “I think it’s a very romantic album,” Håvik says. “I think it’s a lot about wars in normal homes. When people give you the silent treatment it’s very normal but it’s really awful.”
For all the lyrical depth and layered compositions, the one thing that Highasakite do better than anything is big pop choruses, which instantly take root and resonate, perhaps no more so than in lead single ‘Since Last Wednesday’. Amongst all the textural complexity and density of swirling synths and percussive vigour, Håvik’s versatile vocals are the basis for the melodies; providing one of Highasakite’s biggest draws.
Håvik cites Mary Margaret O’Hara, Fever Ray and Diamanda Galás as among her favourite artists, but other non-musical reference points come from more obscure areas. In earlier performances the band adopted a Native American aesthetic, wearing face paint and headdresses.
The interest was partly spurred by Indian Summer, a Norwegian documentary film that fascinated Håvik. It follows the life of Torstein, a schizophrenic who identifies himself as a Native American. “When I was a kid it was my dream to become a Native American, like Pocahontas,” she says. “It was a really beautiful documentary. He sounds very close to nature,” something Håvik feels she could relate to.
A range of influences and inspirations are present throughout Silent Treatment. These may not be overt, but subtle traces can be found in numerous places. One of the most striking and unusual elements that touched Håvik came from Bulgarian vocal choirs. Håvik says she was “blown away” the first time she heard the album Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices) whilst studying jazz in Trondheim.
“I thought it was really cool and I didn’t understand how they could sound like that,” Håvik says. Though the style was difficult to master, she is willing to experiment as a vocalist. Whilst writing she spent time in Ithaca, upstate New York as well as in Istanbul, and believes that both places have left marks on the music, being particularly inspired by the “beautiful” calls to morning prayers heard in Turkey.
Yet it is Oslo in which the band have settled, a city Håvik has warmed to. The Norwegian capital is a place renowned for its music scene and it is also a creatively fertile environment which has allowed Håvik and Highasakite to prosper. “There are so many people that are musicians and I thought that it was really refreshing to get away from where I studied because I never felt like I could get away from that strict “jazz” way of thinking. When I moved to Oslo there was more freedom to forget about everything I’ve learned and be a grown-up.”