Rising Stars: HM JOHNSEN

In 2017 HM Johnsen released his debut album ‘Chased’, then in 2018 he was awarded the title “Norwegian Blues Union Artist” and now he has a new single Walk This Road out now. We caught up with HM Johnsen to ask about his career to date, the Norwegian music scene and his new single…

What is the music scene like in your native Norway?  It seems the rock scene in Scandinavia is general is quite vibrant?

The music scene in Norway has never been at this level before. Especially pop/indie music. Norwegian rappers who rap in Norwegian, international pop singers, writers and producers are continuing to grow. AURORA, Kygo, Alan Walker and SIGRID all comes from the same town as me. They are even the same age. AURORA grew up in my grandparents neighbourhood, and so it is very strange that some people from this small town, In this small country, in just a couple of years become international stars. I would say that the mixture between Indie and Pop is the most popular genre in Norway these days.

Huge festivals continue to appear in all different places around Norway. Everything from festivals in the mountain hills to big city festivals. We see that the festivals are booking more and more Norwegian artists than international artists. I think that’s a good thing. As for the rock scene, it’s a bit smaller. There are loads of great Norwegian rock bands. But unlike other countries, rock is neither enough urban or hip here In Norway. I have probably played almost every small club scene or rock/blues place. Well, if you play In Germany, it’s another story. Norway is the birth and homeplace of Black Metal. And Norwegian Black Metal bands like Enslaved can walk the streets in Norway with nobody noticing, but need bodyguards in Chile!

What made you move to Berlin while working on your new EP, did you enjoy being in this city?

I was at a dinner party with my family. The conversations jumped between finance, cars, tools, IKEA, furniture, houses, in general materialistic things. Hidden behind words, everyone tries to make others think that they are doing well financially and that they buy safe and important stuff all the time. Excuses to spend money, and at the same time try to convince others that they are saving money. Well, the only thing I hear when people are having these discussions/interests, is « I hope that one day I can tell my grandchildren that I have owned this, and that, and that I made more money than my neighbour» I usually end up feeling sorry for these people. I wish that more people would have a different view on life. I said to my girlfriend: «If anyone mentions one more thing about IKEA furniture, we go!» someone did, and we said we had to go.

In the car we agreed that we had to get away for a while to concentrate on only doing what we want. We found a cheap studio and a cheap Airbnb apartment and we went away for a month. I was writing my new EP, while she was working on her own music and painting. It was fantastic! We spent the days just doing what we wanted. Spent hours in the studio recording, and then went out on different concerts and jams around the city. And of course I got a lot of inspiration being there, and meeting other musicians.

Who or what are your biggest musical influences and non-musical influences?

My biggest musical influences are, without doubt IRON MAIDEN! They are the reason I started playing guitar and started listening to music. My greatest guitar-hero is Eric Johnson, and at the moment my biggest musical influences are The Beatles! Just incredible, fantastic, intelligent song-writing and composing! The greatest musical power on earth’s history!

My biggest non-musical influence is Norwegian cross country skiing world champion Petter Northug! I am inspired by his level of commitment, and how he went from a lonely farmer kid to the world’s fastest cross country skier. He gives me motivation to never give up, and that if you believe in yourself, the only thing that’s left is hard work!

How did your album, funded by the local community come about? Did if feel surreal to have your album mastered at the legendary Abbey Road Studios?

I started writing the album when I was 17, I lived In a caravan at the time. So I had time on my hands. I started to practise writing and singing. I played guitar every single day, I can still hear the result of all the rehearsals when I listen to the guitar parts on the album. I had no money to finance the making of the album… or a band. I was watching a documentary about Petter Northug, and how he got his sponsors to support him. (Like most athletes do). I thought to myself, why isn’t anybody sponsoring musicians? I started writing emails to different businesses – in the classroom at school, so I wouldn’t waste precious rehearsal time when I got home. I remember sending about 200 different emails. I think I got around 30 replies, 3 of them were positive. One of the replies was from a journalist (Roy Hilmar) from NRK (Norway’s biggest TV Channel.) He told me that they could MAYBE do a story on me. But they needed some more stuff to write about. A lot of young people want to be on TV he said! I called him up and said, «if I Get over 30 sponsors, and let’s say… eeeh we go to Abbey Road Studios and master the record. Will you then do a story and follow me to Abbey Road?» He said: «well, do your best».

I used NRK as a sales argument when I went asking sponsors! «If you sponsor me, I will visit your business with NRK, and that’s promo for free» I called everything from carpentry businesses to the fish-industry. Sometimes I just walked in the door to a company and asked for the boss. ( I did the research upfront, so I knew the name of the manager in most cases). I told them about my dream and that I needed support to reach it. After a year I gathered a total 36 sponsors, with 13,000 Krone to spend on the album.

NRK made a story about the whole progress. From local businesses to rehearsals to Abbey Road In London. I made the news, and a story online. The day after it was aired, people started calling. I ended up signing with a blues associated management. Long story short, the management was shit. And I am now an independent artist!

At Abbey Road – I remember walking in the hallways, looking at pictures of the Beatles and Pink Floyd recording in the old days. We got a small tour before me and my producer Alvin met our master-technician. The old lady in the cafeteria was serving us coffee, just as she had served coffee to David Bowie 20 years ago. It was very strange, and at least very surreal.

When we walked In Studio 2 where all the greats recorded, I thought to myself: «Just smell the studio, and remember it» I like to say that I remember the smell of Pink Floyd’s recording session, of  Dark Side Of The Moon. We got a great master-technician whom I don’t recall his name. Most likely because I was star-struck being the building. He had done the main master for Ed Sheeran’s latest single at that time, so I trusted his judgement and work. The whole thing felt like it lasted for 8 minutes. But we were there for 7 hours. The people who work there were so great to us, we felt welcomed and appreciated. I will never forget that day.

In 2018 you were awarded the title “Norwegian Blues Union Artist” of the year, how did that make you feel?

Well, we were playing with the band on Notodden Bluesfestival. I was just glad that I had some gigs that year. My manager at the time signed me up for a blues competition, which I didn’t know about. He knew that I was against music competitions at the time. So he had to convince me to play. He said that it’s just an opportunity to show myself, and to play more at the festival. We played some blues inspired self-written songs at the contest. Just having a good time being on stage and doing what we love.

After the show, we had packed our bags and was ready to go home. I almost choked when I heard the judges calling me up on stage as the winner of 2018 Union Blues Challenge. I was to represent Norway in the blues genre around the whole country, and also internationally. Over 40 gigs, sessions, studio-time with Mr Little Stevens. Germany and a US Tour. I was just….. without words. I remember thinking to myself, «but I’m not a blues musician» . That year we gave the Norwegian blues audience a different but interesting take on blues. It was a fantastic year, and my hunger for playing live just kept growing, and I am still the same 9 year old KID who wants nothing more In the world than to be a rock star.

Your music has a mature sound, can you tell us a bit about the latest single, Walk This Road?

My latest single Walk This Road was written a night after I had been over at a friend’s party. They were talking about how much they were happy that my friend couldn’t make it. I’m usually in my own world when I’m in Social situations. I just smile, but on another planet in my head.

Musical ideas, and lyrics passes by as cars on a highway. I had this melody in my head… C major.. badambdamm… Why walk this road for you my friend, I know… A minor with a pull off on the B-string. My friend has had some tough years lately, and chosen some bad paths. The song is about me trying to help out, and wishing him the best. I wrote about me hoping he would find his purpose In life and that he will find his way home.

https://www.hmjohnsen.com/

LISTEN TO THE SINGLE ON YOUTUBE - https://youtu.be/XoplaLyTIL8


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