Bernhoft Chats New Music, Global Perspective, and Tonight’s Show at The Foundry

Featured Image via Artist Facebook

Philly is known for its soulful music, but tonight some foreign funk is coming to the City of Brotherly Love. Bernhoft, the talented Norwegian musician whose album Islander was nominated for a Grammy last year, is performing at The Foundry TONIGHT (tickets available here)! Bernhoft’s danceable grooves and engaging personality always make for a great show, and his hook-laden songs will have you singing under the city “Streetlights” for the rest of the night. With three full-length studio albums and a brand new EP, he has been touring the world, sharing his unique views of music and society with audiences across the globe. We had the opportunity to chat with Bernhoft about his eclectic music, his rise in notoriety, and what you can expect at tonight’s show.

Rock On Philly: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us! We’ve been huge fans ever since we saw you perform “C’Mon Talk” on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2011. Now you have multiple albums out and are touring the world. To take it back to the beginning, what first inspired you to make music, and more specifically, how did you start looping?

Jarle Bernhoft: Well basically I started music because both of my parents were musicians. I couldn’t really avoid it. The looping thing started because I didn’t want to wake up the other members of my band early in the morning to work on my solo project. I felt like they should be able to sleep when it’s not their album. I had two songs for the solo thing, and suddenly I realized that touring and playing gigs with session musicians was too expensive. I figured that, with two songs, I could double that and then double that again, and then maybe have a whole gig doing solo stuff. That was the beginning of it. Some people can play an acoustic guitar and sing songs for an hour, but I’m not one of them. I found that I needed to up my arsenal a bit and get some tricks.

ROP: We love your music! Part of what we love is that it has such an eclectic feel but is still accessible to blues and triple-A fans. What are your strongest musical influences?

JB: I think you can’t really get away from the whole African American music scene in the 60s and 70s. That was a profound time, not just in America, but also globally in the way that people viewed people of different color and people of difference, you know? At the core of it, I feel that the soul music that came out then not only inspired that, but also shaped the whole world’s awareness of diversity. Bold words, for sure, but it feels that way to me. I think that for me, musically, that is a point in time you can’t get away from.

ROP: As a Norwegian artist, your social media posts and your interviews are written / conducted in multiple languages. Your albums, however, are all performed in English (at least the versions we’ve heard are). What’s it like to write and perform in a different language, and why do you choose to do it?

JB: I know it [English] is a second language, but it feels more like a first language to me, at least when expressing myself. I feel almost more comfortable writing in English than in Norwegian. I’m not sure what it is – it may be the proximity. When you sing in your own language, you get too close to the emotions. Some people might say that; I don’t find that to be the case though. I feel that English is my own language.

ROP: You’re currently on the US portion of your tour. Do you see a difference between the European music scene and the North American music scene?

JB: There is certainly something about the American audience. I love audiences in general. I must admit, I love performing [laughs]. But there’s something about the American audience; they get the style of music. They get it at a very gut level, whereas other audiences, say Norwegian ones, might be much more outside of the whole thing. Playing in New York, I play songs that I made very much inspired by American music. They [the audience] get it, just instantly. It hits them. So I love playing in America. To be honest, playing in America, for me, is a massive deficit. I lose so much money playing here, but there’s spiritual income.

ROP: Your last album, Islander, was nominated for a Grammy, and you’re blowing up in the American music industry. What’s it like performing in America this time around?

JB: Let’s be honest, I’m not “blowing up” at all [laughs]. We played Boston yesterday, the first show of the tour, and 400 people came out. I don’t know 400 people in Boston, so that’s great to me. I feel massively successful when 400 people come out. But I’m still playing around 500 capacity clubs, and “blowing up,” well that entails thousands. I was very flattered by the whole Grammy thing, but I’m not sure how it changes the game. I’m kind of divided. On the one hand, I want to be very independent of acclaim. I want to be free to do whatever I want, consciously trying to not feel any pressure from outside influences. But at the same time, anything that I do now, release wise, will be the follow-up to “the Grammy nominated album.” The key is to let it go to your head in a good way and not to let it inflate it. I’m not sure why I’m scared. I don’t think I’ve ever had a big ego, but at the same time I really don’t want to be like a “blown-up” artist, you know?

ROP: We are loving your new EP, Stop/Shutup/Shout It Out! In interviews, you’ve mentioned how you’re a whimsical person, and that quality definitely comes across with the new cover, which features you spilling milk on a table, and with the last track, which consists of some jamming and talking with a kid. What’s the EP about for you?

JB: I felt like taking a break from writing after Island. Also, I had done three studio albums, and I felt the need to kind of regroup a bit and find out what I wanted to do. After three albums, it felt like a full circle, so I just wrote some songs without thinking what they were going to be a part of. That was the project for me, just to write songs and see what came out. I lived in New York up until June last year, and what happened with the whole Black Lives Matter movement seemed like all of America suddenly understood what the whole thing with race was. That deeply affected me, and I can feel that in my writing. I’ve grown up for a number of years in a world that seems to be coming together – in Europe, with the Schengen stuff, we can travel freely without a passport – stuff like that. But it feels like, in some ways, it’s gone the other way.

ROP: Are you traveling with a band for this tour? Can we expect some looping at Thursday’s show?

JB: Minimal looping going on actually. I’m touring with a band called The Shudderbugs, and it’s a tad different than before. In Boston, I met people who’ve seen me play four or five times, and when they came in the room and saw a drum kit and a bass, they went, “Aw no, no, no. This is not what I paid for.” But the band is so great that they’ll squash every initial disappointment. I will say this though; I’ve been looking forward to swinging an electric guitar around and looking like a million dollars.

ROP: What’s next? A little time off after the tour, more touring, or back to the studio again?

JB: All of the above. There are going to be a couple of days off, then more touring, going back to Europe because festival season will be starting off there, doing both solo shows and shows with the band, and then I also need to write more. I can feel the need to write, write, write, write. Take up the pencil and paper – there’s less chance of editing yourself as you go along then, just free flowing.

What do YOU think of Bernhoft? Tell us in the comments below, and don’t forget to check out his show TONIGHT at The Foundry!

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