PopWatch’z Adventurz in Cultural Anthropop-logy kicked off two weeks ago when I invited all of you to take a brief survey regarding the relationship between artists, marketing, and television programs. Our test bunny, Norwegian chantoosey Kate Havnevik, came in as a perfect scientific case: She was largely unknown here in the U.S., in heavy rotation on Grey’s Anatomy, and just offbeat enough to prevent the data from being tampered with by record shoppers who buy albums based on their proximity to the Pussycat Dolls or whatever.
The survey results, such as they were, turned out to be interesting. While most of you had never heard of Ms. Havnevik before, a majority said her music sounded familiar, a bigger majority said they “liked” her music, and a large minority said they’d purchase her album simple on the strength of the Grey’s seal of approval. (It was also unanimously declared that I was not getting a pony.) Let’s see how that data compares to Kate’s first-week sales…
Okay, she moved a whopping 1,370 copies. Not exactly Fray numbers there, but considering the reunited Stooges sold like 6,000 copies in their first week, that ain’t bad. And to be fair, she sold about 7,000 digital albums off iTunes before the official release date, and about 60,000 singles. That seems pretty respectable, and certainly at least to some degree TV-show fueled.
But we’re not done yet! Since she’s currently stateside prepping for a tour with Air, I decided the next step in this scientific method should be getting Kate herself on the phone to talk about all this stuff. After the jump, our lovely chat.
EW: One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is that your music has been all over Grey’s, and that’s how people discover new artists now. When they first got in touch with you, were you familiar with the show?
Kate Havnevik: No, I had no idea what it was. I was living in London, but I was told by the people who represent me here that it was a very good and credible show, and it was something great to be a part of. So I kind of just trusted that.
EW: Did you watch an episode before you sent in a song?
KH: No. I did Google it. They requested a song, so I gave them “Unlike Me.” And then I basically just saw the clip of the scene where my song was used just afterwards.
EW: What did you think about how it fit?
KH: It was pretty dramatic, actually.
EW: Do you remember what it was?
KH: Yeah, it’s in series [that’s “season,” Yanks] 2, and it’s just after a bomb has exploded, and somebody has died, and this person, Meredith, she’s covered in blood. And she just kind of walks into a shower, and people wash her, or she’s trying to get the blood off her body. And then there’s also a picture of a black man with a newborn baby, so it’s kind of like good things and bad things. I thought it was very strong, actually. I was impressed how they had put it in the show.
EW: Have you seen a whole episode now?
KH: I’ve had so many songs on that show I’ve started watching the DVDs from the beginning, just to sort of get a grasp on the whole thing, and also listen to all the other songs in the show. It’s great music.
EW: They seem to especially enjoy emotional songs by woman. I know in the first season they used a lot of Rilo Kiley, a lot of Tegan and Sara. It’s almost like the characters’ inner monologue gets reflected in the music.
KH: Yeah yeah yeah. That was quite interesting. I really noticed they used all that Tegan and Sara. I love them, so that was quite cool.
EW: But I don’t know if that turned into huge record sales for them.
KH: Weren’t they already doing pretty well?
EW: Maybe in an indie sort of way, but they won’t be playing the Super Bowl any time soon. Did you have a hope this would increase your sales?
KH: To be honest, when they started using my stuff, I hadn’t finished my record.
EW: But now most of the songs on Melankton have been heard by millions of people.
KH: Half the album.
EW: Does that help?
KH: Yeah, I think it helps. I also think a lot of people who know my music through it don’t know who I am. People are like, Oh, yeah, I’ve heard this song—but they have no idea who sings it. But definitely, it helps. Of course it does. It’s like suddenly your music is in everyone’s living room.
EW: If people know their music but they don’t know you, how do you get them to connect the two?
KH: Well, I’m just starting to do my PR thing, and I think the touring part will be very important for me. I’m going on tour supporting Air now, and I’ll be on the road for like 3 weeks. I want to be established as an artist in my own right, and the album didn’t really have anything to do with Grey’s Anatomy. It wasn’t made for the TV show.
EW: That’s an important distinction. You’re not writing a soundtrack.
KH: No. I would love to do that one day, but that isn’t what I’m doing right now. I’m just writing albums as an artist, and if people can discover it through the TV show that’s great for me, and it’s a way to connect with people. Obviously when the songs are used in very emotional, powerful scenes, maybe the song connects with you even stronger.
EW: Do you feel like you want to tell people the stories of these songs so they can detach them from Grey’s a little bit?
KH: To be honest, I think they will experience the song a bit different when they see me playing it live, but I think it’s just fine if people have different experiences listening to the songs, and even if they experience something that isn’t what I intended. Everybody hears things differently. Even though the song is about something, if they think it’s about something else and they enjoy that, I think that’s fine. The whole point is to give someone an experience, and it’s not like a black and white situation. It can be interpreted in different ways.
EW: The album title means “black rose” — is there a story or overriding theme behind the album?
KH: I think the black rose sounds like the album: it’s supposed to be dark and strange and beautiful. It’s not really like a happy go lucky album.
EW: Who were your big influences? I’m sure you get endless comparisons to Björk.
KH: Yeah, which is kind of sometimes weird, but I can understand it as well.
EW: Why is it weird?
KH: Because I feel like I’m a lot more influenced by other people. [laughs] I think [that comparison] has to do with me being Scandinavian, and the producers I’ve worked with. As a teenager I was more into Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell. And also male artists like Tim Buckley, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Rufus Wainwright, things like that. So that’s the things I would listen to. I also listened to a lot of instrumental music, and I loved the music to the Nightmare Before Christmas, the film.
EW: According to my research it says you also used to be in a punk rock band?
KH: Yeah, I was, when I was about 14.
EW: That’s kind of the opposite of what you’re doing now.
KH: Well, it’s music, isn’t it? It’s songwriting and music — it’s just a different sound. I think that sound was very much my state of mind at that time. You always change what you do, and develop. You get bored with doing the same thing all the time, so you try and do something new.
EW: So you were a little angry as a teenager?
KH: I was a real introvert, and yeah, I guess a little bit angry. Another depressed teenager, you know?
EW: So what does Melankton say about your state of mind now?
KH: I guess it’s calmed down a little bit. And I think the songs show a little bit of searching. I feel like I’m always searching. I haven’t landed one place in my life, I’m still going somewhere, so it’s this feeling of being a little bit on the road all the time. But I think I’ve taken more charge. I’m in the driver’s seat in a way. But still searching.
EW: Given that we Americans do occasionally ignore the fact that Norway and Sweden and Denmark and Iceland are, you know, different countries, what would you like people to know about music in Norway and how you’re a part of that?
KH: I don’t think I’m a part of that, because I’ve lived in England for so long, but I think growing up in Norway I was affected by the Norwegian music scene, especially jazz and contemporary music. But I think the scene in Norway is really blossoming at the moment. There’s especially a lot of cool electronic bands popping up. And there’s some really good players, artists that I feel like are really creating a unique sound. I feel like now when I come back to Norway, everybody’s in a band.
EW: The Swedes still seem to have control, with Peter Bjorn & John and whoever. Do you have like Scandinavian meetings where you plan your takeover of the American music scene?
KH: No. The Swedes are very organized. They definitely really know how to do it. I think they’re the second biggest music exporter in Europe, besides the UK. But you know, the Swedes, they also have the whole Britney [Spears] thing, because a Swedish guy wrote most of her songs. They have the genes in Sweden. They’re much further ahead of Norway.
EW: Are they a little uppity about it?
KH: I don’t think they’re uppity, but it’s hard for Norwegian artists to break in Sweden unless they’ve broken in the rest of Europe first. That’s actually a fact. It’s weird. Last year Norway celebrated their 100 years of independence from Sweden, you know, so there’s a long history.
EW: And are the people in Denmark just useless?
KH: Well, Denmark, you know, they’re very good at making films. The music scene is a little bit of a question mark for me. I don’t know what’s going on over there. I can only think of Mew.
EW: They’re from Denmark? I love them!
KH: Yeah, they’re Danish. That’s the only band I can think of so… good on them? I don’t think they’ve really cracked how to do it, how to bring music outside of Denmark. But you know. They can make films.
EW: As you head out on tour, are there places you’re excited to see in America, places you’ve always wanted to go?
KH: There are lots of places. I look forward to San Francisco, and Las Vegas…
EW: Watch out for Las Vegas.
KH: I know! Las Vegas just seems like this crazy place. I’ve only seen it in films. And I’d really like to go one time to see these big red trees in California.
EW: The redwoods!
KH: Yeah. I’ve seen it in pictures many years ago, but hopefully I’ll be able to do that. There are lots of nature things I would like to see. But maybe I won’t have time on the road. I might have to take a little holiday.
EW: Well, I’d love to check back in with you after your tour and see how it all goes. Deal?