Kate Havnevik – Black Rose
Interview by Lauren Adams
Charming, unique, and utterly lovely, Norwegian-born songstress Kate Havnevik has made quite an impression “particularly on the producers of Grey’s Anatomy who can’t get enough of her beautifully and haunting melodies. Recorded in her bedroom closet, Melankton is her alluring first album set to release in the U.S. this spring. In the middle of the day on a Wednesday, Kate answers the phone with a cheerful “Hello” and we get to chatting.
So when I met you at your gig, you were meeting someone from your new label for the first time. Who did you sign with?
I have signed a deal with Universal Republic in New York for North America. It just means that I get a proper release of my album in April, I think. Because America is so big, it’s harder for me to do it all myself through my own label, so I’m really happy.
So you and your husband/manager Gotti have your own label?
It’s called Continentica Records. We’ve had it for about a year and half. We put it up because I decided to just make this album myself. And then we decided even though I was going to work with other labels, we’ll use our label as the main rights owner and I’ll only license it away for other labels.
So how long have you and Gotti Sigurdarson been married? I’m so bummed I didn’t get to see your wedding pictures! You two are so sweet.
(She laughs.) For two years! I know, I know! I’ll have to send them to you if you promise not to print them. I’m glad we got to meet! Even though we didn’t get to do the interview face-to-face, we at least got to meet and have a little chat. It was so much fun because it was Halloween and it was crazy. I loved that night!
Yeah, I’m happy I met you at a show because I had the opportunity to see you interact with your fans. I remember you turned to me after talking to some excited girls and said, “All just for music from a little bedroom recording studio.”
It was lovely. It was really nice that people came especially to see me. And yeah, (she laughs) I’m in here right now! It’s all just a matter of having space to have equipment and a studio, and I haven’t really had the money to have a studio anywhere else so basically the bedroom was the only place really where I could be left alone to do my work. I am a very sort of homey person though, so I don’t mind working from home. The only way to really do it without getting the noise from outside, because there’s a busy road out here, was basically to do it in my closet where I put some foam on the closet doors and I put duvets up.
Do you still keep your clothes in the closet?
Yeah, I do because they make it padded. So it’s kinda perfect to have all the clothes there; they really absorb the sound.
I read somewhere that you had once been specifically asked to write a song about devastating lossâ€¦
Yeah that was for Grey’s Anatomy. It was a song called “Grace”, it’s on the Grey’s Anatomy Soundtrack Vol. 2. Basically the producers of the show had already used two of my songs “Unlike Me” and “Nowhere Warm“ and then I got this special request asking if I wanted to write a song for the last episode of the season. Obviously this was a big opportunity, so of course I said yes and then I thought, “OK, how shall I do this?” The melodic idea actually came first and the chorus “Nothing comes easily/ Turn my grief to grace” was my focus point, and then I wrote everything else around that. But the funny thing is that I was asked to write this song about devastating loss and then, in the scene it’s in, the main characters are actually making out. It’s so funny! It’s been really extraordinary for me because I had three songs on there before I had even released an album, so to get exposure was just amazing.
What is the meaning behind your album title?
“Melankton” is actually a name. It means “black rose”. I found the name in a Norwegian book I read, and it stuck with me. I thought it was really suitable for the music because I really wanted it to be dark and beautiful.
What’s your favorite Norwegian word?
Oh, that’s really hard! I think, “kjœ lighet”. It means love.
Did you grow up speaking English?
Well, this is actually a funny question because my dad is English, but I never lived with him so I never spoke English with him. I grew up with my mom and my brothers so only spoke Norwegian, and I learned English in school. Everyone starts learning English when they’re pretty young. And then I moved to Liverpool to study and I’ve lived here ever since.
Is it true you sang backup vocals on a Britney Spears song?
Yeah. It’s kind of an odd story because I’ve never really sung backing vocals for anyone, and then I’ve done it suddenly for Britney! It’s because my friend Guy Sigsworth, who produced four songs on my album, was producing a Britney song called “Somewhere” or something like that. I don’t even remember the name of the song! He’s been so kind tome, so if I can do him a favor then I’m happy to do it. And if I was to do backing vocals for anyone, it may as well be her. It’s a bit funny because her music is a different world than mine.
So I read that you changed your name briefly because you were concerned about people being able to pronounce Havnevik.
It was basically one gig in London where I used my greatgrandmother’s name. It was just suddenly this thing about maybe this sounds nicer, so I had a fling with a different name! The thing is, my greatgrandmother’s name is very cool. Every time I went to see my grandmother’s gravestone on Christmas, I always read my great grandmother’s name and thought, “Wow, Kate Kobro that sounds really cool!” So as a child, I thought, “OK, if I ever work in the circus, I can call myself Kate Kobro”. But I never worked in the circus! And it just didn’t feel right. I just feel like Havnevik is me, and if people can pronounce Imbruglia and Aguilera then they can pronounce Havnevik, I think.
Did you really want to be in the circus as a kid?
I wanted to be so many things! Yeah, I wanted to be a performer and I wanted to be a dancer. I started quite early. At first I did some classical ballet, and I didn’t like my teacher so I quit. And when I was ten I did my own solo performance in school and I think I had a blackout when I did the dance. Iâ€™ve always been one of these performers that I don’t make such a big deal out of myself but I love being on stage. I just went up there and did it, and then I couldn’t even remember what I had done. It was kind of weird. It’s so funny we’re talking about dance because I’ve done a lot of dancing. I’ve done modern, flamenco, and a lot of tap dancing. I had this idea that I was going to tap dance in the middle of a song as a drum in a way. I love all that stuff. And I love stretching! I’m addicted to stretching!
So I promised a friend of mine who is a big fan of yours that I would ask you a question for him: if you could be any animal what would you be?
I think I would be a cat. I would be probably a black cat or a stripy cat because I love cats. You’ll have to tell him that. I love all animals in the cat family : panthers and tigers and lions. But I think a black cat would be good.
What’s something you’ve never shared in another interview?
Ooh! That’s tough. Let’s see… Well, I really like to bake cakes! (She laughs.) I have some specialties. They are Norwegian cakes. I’m not really so fond of cooking, but I like baking. Thankfully, Gotti’s a good cook! I like to make things. I used to make a lot of jewelry. I actually learned when I was studying in Liverpool from an American friend of mine. In the summertime, I went to Norway and I picked up this tiny little table in the countryside close to my mother’s cottage in this market and I actually sold all of it. It was great. It’s a similar feeling to making music and somebody’s buying your CDs, something you’ve made, and it feels great. And nobody can really take that away from you because you’ve made it.
First published in movmnt magazine “Out of Line” Spring 2007 issue