Sivert Høyem: Endless Love
In the night, when your ghost comes to call on you
You are right, there ain't so much that you can do
(Ride on Sisters)
Once again, Sivert Høyem´s musical career is disturbed by sudden death. He had just put the finishing touches to Endless Love when Sivert was struck by the death of his personal manager, Per Eirik Johansen, at the age of 54. Endless Love is dedicated to him.
Per Eirik has been there for all of my professional career, explains Høyem. — First as my record company CEO, and later as personal manager. Going on without him is going to feel odd. We had so much in common — we both came from the North of Norway, we shared musical tastes, he felt like family. Per Eirik was remarkable for his enthusiasm and curiousity. He set very high standards for all of us.
Striving for «high standards» might well describe Sivert´s struggle to create the ten songs on Endless Love. He is now 38, the same age at which Bob Dylan released Slow Train Coming. The lyrics explore mature themes, the music more than ever focuses on Sivert´s unique qualities as a singer, as performative artist.
I never applied for a job as a solo artist, he says. — Music was initially a social thing for me, all I ever wanted was to be in a band. In the autumn of 2012 I toured alone with a guitar for the first time, and Endless Love grew out of that experience. By early 2013 I had dissolved my backing band to start from scratch. I started working alone with Swedish producer Ulf Ivarsson (Thåström). Ulf and I hit it off quickly, and he soon got especially interested in the blues and gospel-like qualities in my voice and my material.
My singing is at the center of this album. We didn´t spend remotely as much energy on anything else. This is why we never feared to explore different musical landscapes — from threatening, distorted and semi-electronic moods to dynamic, acoustic ballads.
Speaking of death: do you think Madrugada would still be playing if Robert Burås was alive?
I can´t really answer that. Perhaps. Keeping a band together to everyone´s satisfaction is pretty hard as well.
We must have been better
It must have felt good
I didn't notice at the time
I was too busy feeling misunderstood
(At our Evening Table)
Sivert Høyem was born January 22nd, 1976, and grew up in Bøstrand (pop. 92) near Sortland in Northern Norway. He moved to Oslo in 1995 and read history at the university while trying to make it in the music business. His band Abbey´s Adoption changed their name to Madrugada on the suggestions of Oslo poet Øystein Wingaard Wolf, and they made their album debut with Industrial Silence in 1999. The album went straight to the top of the national charts.
For many years, Madrugada was Norway´s biggest concert attrraction, and they performed to full houses and large festival crowds in other European countries. In 2005, they went to number one in Greece with The Deep End. Continental Europe and the music press usually labeled their music «dark, arctic rock». At home, they in 2005 were awarded three Spellemann (the Norwegian Grammy), among them the prestigious Artist of the Year. Concert album Live at Tralfamadore (named from a fictional planet in the literature of Kurt Vonnegut jr.) went on to sell 180.000 copies, making it the bestselling Norwegian concert album ever.
Madrugada disbanded after a series of farewell concerts following guitarist Robert Burås´ death in 2007. Sivert Høyem had already released two solo albums, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Opposition (2004) and Exiles (2006). His first post-Madrugada solo album named Moon Landing came in 2009, and was rewarded with another Spellemann award. Solo effort #4 was named Long Slow Distance (2011), crowned by the majestic and hypnotic «Give it a Swirl» and live favourite «Blown Away».
Endless Love was recorded in Stockholm and Oslo and produced by Ulf Ivarsson, who also played all bass parts (just listen to «Enigma Machine»!). Høyem has done much of the studio guitar work himself. Pelle Ossler (guitar) and Anders Hernestam (drums) from Joachim Thåström´s regular band perform as backing band, with contributions from Per Viberg (ex-Opeth) on keyboards and Stian Westerhus, guitar. The most prominent guest musician is Høyems long time collaborator Christer Knutsen, on (extraordinary) piano and Hammond B3 organ. Endless Love was mixed by Michael Ilbert (The Cardigans/The Hives), working in the legendary Hansa Studios in Berlin.
Cover art was shot by Morten Andersen, one of the most distinctive rock and art photographers in Norway. Høyem and he has been collaborating since the early 2000s.
There is trouble, trouble ahead
Bring my best wishes to the newlywed
A steady slumber in separate beds
There is trouble, there is trouble ahead
Endless Love is also a motion picture, a teenage love melodrama from 1981 starring Brooke Shields and made by kitschmeister Franco Zeffirelli. Ironically, this garish story of wild and innocent love has been remade for cinema release this spring.
Sivert Høyem´s Endless Loveis not about puppy love at all. The central songs depicts love as viewed by a man soon to be 40, father to his first child. All the roads that once seemed open, no longer are. Happily ever after is just a fairy tale concept. The lyrics are courageously written, and performed with a crass, poetic irony — «Endless love is not enough», as the title track says, against a soundscape reminiscent of Chris Isaak in a European noise rock mood.
The themes recur in «Little Angel» and «At our Evening Table», songs that get their strong, direct poetry from a mature perspective of love and time passed. There are melancholy autumn colors and sharp sarcasm, as if Høyem had visited Stockholm to bring home his Ingmar Bergman album. His sense of humour is not altogether wholesome.
Then there are tunes that break the mood. «Wat Tyler» is a churning, primal blues about the late 1300s English peasant revolt. Partly informed by Høyem the student of history, partly by his frequent visits to Greece in later years, where desperate people are told that their misfortune is of their own making. «Görlitzer Park» is a song about being miserable in Berlin, the vast and cruel city that «has swallowed bigger things than me». Then again, there´s room for an uplifting, pretty song like «Free as a Bird/Chained to the Sky», by Høyem´s standards a happy tune. And finally, in «Ride on Sisters», at least the resemblance of hope.
Sivert Høyem is as much a rock scientist as a medieval scholar. His deep knowledge of the dark strain of western songwriting in his own age, and earlier, is what gives Endless Love its timeless, darkly glistening pulse. Here is stuff that brings to mind the whole canon — Dylan, Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen. And, in the already celebrated «Inner Vision», that fiery poet of the docklands, Jacques Brel. That song is Høyem´s minor-keyed and introvert «My Way», a karaoke favourite turned inside out.
Torgrim Eggen, author