Needlepoint interview: Bjørn Klakegg

By: Alex Driessen 

A few months ago I received a copy of the new album from Norwegian outfit Needlepoint, "The Diary of Robert Reverie", for a review and I quite liked what I heard: strongly referring to the '70s Canterbury scene, with a psychedelic touch and played by competent musicians with a jazz background. Sufficient reason to get in touch  with founder/composer/frontman Bjørn Klakegg and ask him some questions. 

First of all, congratulations on the new album, it gets a reasonable amount of exposure over here and critics are favourable. Thanks for allowing me some time to discuss some of the topics that surround the band and its music. 

The obvious question is of course: how does a jazz oriented group of musicians from Norway end up with playing 70s Canterbury scene prog music? Your singing voice has an uncanny resemblance to that of Caravan vocalist/guitarist Pye Hastings, a very distinctive sound, people must have mentioned this before. 

Bjørn: The first time I heard about the Canterbury scene was after “Aimless Mary” was released and I had never heard of or listened to for example Pye Hastings. My favourite band, before jazz took me away from rock music in my youth, was Emerson, Lake and Palmer and I loved the voice of Greg Lake, but that was more than 40 years before I dared to open my mouth and sing from a stage! Then I was carried off by the jazz-scene, Wes Montgomery and Keith Jarret, Gary Burton and Pat Metheny… and all I listened to for years was jazz music. And Joni Mitchell. 

Could you please take me through the process of writing and recording your music 

Bjørn: I have this place in Sweden, just one and a half hour from Oslo, and mornings are perfect spots for me to write. But I’m not really writing. When I wake up I’m alone cause I’m the early-bird in the house, and sit down outside (if it’s warm enough) with a cup of coffee, using my phone as a recorder.. grabbing a guitar and start singing before having said a word to anyone. The lyrics doesn’t make sense, but it’s a kind of English… and often the music doesn’t make sense either. But sometimes hole songs show up, and I discover them maybe half a year later listening to a lot of rubbish from my phone while I take the dishes… and after 10 dishes some of them might seep into my mind, turning to a piece of music inside. Then I’ll write down the chords and the melody, and take a walk up to Nikolai’s (note: producer and bass player Nikolai Hængsle) place to play my new songs for him! A scary process, but also a very nice one. Nikolai then will tell me which songs he likes the most.. he will also tell me if there are some parts I should drop.. and he will also pick out an LP from those very solid shelves and give me references to my songs to inspire me to continue working with the songs. Needlepoint would absolutely not have been Needlepoint without that guy! 

I read somewhere that your lyrics and topics are based on real people in the village that you live in, is that correct? 

Bjørn: Robert was a name that came out of nowhere at one of those moments of composing, singing nonsense lyrics. When I was about to start finding something to write about that would suite this song, I thought: I will use the name Robert somewhere in the lyrics; and so I did. But who is Robert? In this little place we had a neighbour that was a little bit special.. in both ways.. and the text is absolutely inspired by him. Even the drawings are a bit alike him. He died just before the album was finished, but I don’t think he would have liked the music…even though he loved dancing. But the sounds I write about and the clouds are observed by me just some 100 meters from where he lived, so I guess when I wrote texts he heard the same sounds and watched the same clouds  as I did…. 

I really like the album but I also have some critical points mainly relating to the total playing time, quite short I would say, and the fact that some of the songs seem to hold an unfulfilled promise and maybe could do with a little more work. What's your comment on that? 

Bjørn: We had one more song meant to be the 10th song of the album, but we were not really pleased with how it sounded. So our album turned out to be a little short, maybe. But Nikolai, who is our producer and bass player had a lot of old albums just as short as ours, so I just relaxed about it, even I, being a former jazz musician were used to albums more than 60 minutes long! (far too long I think…) 

About the songs you feel are unfulfilled: when we start recording I have written the songs, melody and lyrics.. just like a singsong-writer maybe.. plus the obvious written melodic passages between some parts of the songs. Then it’s time for me to lean back, and Nikolai takes the lead in the recording process. (plus the musicians of course) In this process things are being changed.. also arranging. His work has a great influence on how our music ends up sounding. He is a real music-lover with a living room filled with wonderful music! LP’s! When people ask me about which bands influenced Needlepoint I can answer a few bands, while he seem to have listened to every band worth listening to in the world!

I can imagine maybe two songs that you feel are somewhat unfulfilled: Grasshoppers…here the recorder just clicked in the middle of our improvisation, so that song was supposed to last longer, yes. But we decided to just leave the brutal stop as it is was!! Maybe Shadow in the Corner is one of the songs you feel a bit “unfulfilled” too? I just think Nikolai loves fades like that and has heard a lot of old music with such fades.. so I guess we have no excuses.. we did it on purpose. 

What would be your main influences in terms of music and lyrics? 

Bjørn: As I mentioned Emerson, Lake and Palmer was by far my favourite band as young. Of jazz musicians Keith Jarret was a clear favourite. Both as a composer and as a piano player. Pat Metheny was a hero, Gary Burton, Jan Garbarek too. But another side of me also listened to Ry Cooder and after years of thinking Dolly Parton was a bad musician, I understood how wrong we (the jazz-scene I knew) all had been, and when I heard her version on “Deportees” I was sold. It doesn’t mean I listen a lot to her, but I respect her a lot. And I love Paul Simon!! But I have only once tried to sit down and write like others. As a little frustrated young jazz musician I once tried to write like Joe Zawinul and Weather Report…but I faaaailed. 

With lyrics I would like to answer Joni Mitchell, Townes Van Zandt or Cornelis Vreeswijk, but the truth is that I used to be lousy at listening to the texts of songs! When I had to start writing lyrics, just because I started to sing, I was wondering what the hell I was going to write about?? I had no bad youth to write of, no depressions, and I didn’t feel like writing “I love you mummy” and “I loved you dad”! I did not check out any poets or sing song-writers work.. I just bought a note book that I brought with me everywhere.. just like I used to do with my camera when I was an eager photographer. In My Field of View I wrote in the middle of the process ending up with Trump as president, when I went for a long walk to get away from television and that crazy scene. Grasshoppers while sitting outside with my mother in law. In a long moment of quietness between us I said: Closing eyes listening to sounds is also a kind of view…..and then the lyrics got legs to walk on. 

Norwegian band, you live in Sweden if I understand correctly, how does that work? 

Bjørn: Our Swedish place is not my home.. but maybe I’ll move there some day! It’s only 100 km from Oslo! But it’s where I make 90% of my music. Inspiration comes easy there!! 

What does the contemporary music scene in Norway look like, is there a prog scene? 

Bjørn: There is a prog scene that I knew very little of, unfortunately. But now I start getting to know it because a lot of people define our music as prog rock. I never really meant it to be prog rock.. but I understand why people consider it being prog. I was a jazz musician who started to sing melodic songs I made myself. Then I mixed them with instrumental parts that I was used to from jazz music. Nikolai gave me all the music of ELP in my writing process that ended with Aimless Mary.. and in the middle of those records I found myself weeping, brought back to my youth.. my boys room…my old Telecaster that disappeared into the arms of a musician and a bandit.. my girlfriend…and I understood that a great part of my musicality belonged to that part of my life. But again, Nikolai’s touch absolutely brought our music closer to that time…and also his touch in the mixing studio has to do with it….

But back to the prog rock scene. I know there are guys out there who consciously writes prog music. I do not, and our next album might be a disappointment to our prog-devoted listeners? I hope not, but I let music end up where it’s natural for it to end up, in a way. 

I have personally reviewed quite some new(ish) bands from Norway lately like Tiebreaker and Shaman Elephant, not all could be qualified as prog but really excellent quality. Is there some sort of a new wave taking place or is this just a coincidence? 

Bjørn: I’m sorry to tell you I don’t know about those bands! I’m not proud of it, but it is unfortunately the truth. But I will check it out now. It’s like all the guys I seem to be inspired of but have never listened to. I’ll listen to them when I hear about them. 

Any upcoming projects or recording plans that you want to share with us? 

Bjørn: I have a new band with younger musicians.. one of them an earlier pupil of mine who turned out to be a close friend to both my girlfriend and me. We’ll record late September this year and it’s not prog, for sure. But we also have plans for a new album with Needlepoint! I look forward to that! 

Do you have plans for touring outside Scandinavia? 

Bjørn: I’m a lousy booker and we have no manager! I would love to play with Needlepoint. Those guys are just incredible musicians and human beings! So if someone in your country will help us playing we’ll come!! 

To round off this brief interview, would you like to say something to the readers and visitors of the TVRDO website? 

Bjørn: I will say I’m so happy there are listeners loving prog music out there, and that they consider us a prog band, cause without them I guess our music would not have been brought around the same way. And I hope whatever genre our next album will turn out to belong to, you will listen to it anyway! And consider it prog. 

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about yourself, the band and your music. It's been very interesting, look forward to seeing you play live in a venue in Holland. Good luck with the music, my regards to the boys in the band. 

Bjørn:  The pleasure is mine and ours! I will give them your regards, absolutely!