HM Johnsen is an experimental Indie/Rock Artist from Norway who compels admiration and respect in equal measure. At the tender age of 23 he is already an accomplished guitarist, singer, writer and composer – and has performed all over the world. He released his new single Serenity last month– with an E.P. of the same name to drop later this Summer. We decided to find out more about this prolific musician…
Hi there, how are things back in Norway during this pandemic?
Hello there! Everything is actually very good (in my opinion). I think we are very lucky, especially when watching the news and seeing how other countries are struggling with the pandemic. Norway is almost back to normal…. but I still think there is a risk for a second wave of a covid-19 outbreak. Really looking forward to get the opportunity to start playing live again.
Are you making much music in lockdown?
Well, I would have loved to make more music and to use the situation to write and produce more new music, but for me it’s been very difficult to write and be creative. I am a very social creature, and I get inspired by other people and being around other music and musicians. So, I have been struggling to be creative. I tend to write a lot of new songs when I’m surrounded in music, gigging etc… I think this ‘locked down’ silent, anti-social period has scared away my creative antennas. I have to add that I have been working on some old songs, and tried to maintain my guitar playing!
You have been on quite a journey having been featured on Norwegian TV (whilst recording at London’s Abbey Road Studios, no less!) How did that come about?
Yes, well… I was finishing up my first album (‘Chased’). I had been watching this documentary about a Norwegian cross-country ski star named Petter Northug. Petter Northug has been one of my favourite athletes and an inspiration. His personality has been an inspiration for me in the music business. In the documentary they were showing how a young Petter Northug financed his equipment and career with getting local sponsors to back him up both financially and commercially.
I had an idea with trying the same with my career, but only with a guitar in my hand, and not skis on my feet. I started going around to almost every single business in my area…In the beginning it was very tough and a lot of negative responses, but I started finding my way in and making a lot of sponsor deals. Everything from financial backing of my album to T-shirts that I could sell on my gigs.
After a whole year gathering financial back up, I really wanted this to be noticed. So, I spent my time at school, sitting in the class-room, writing Emails, noting numbers for different contacts within Norwegian TV. After over 100 emails, 40/50 phone calls during my recess I was able to get in touch with a journalist in NRK (The Norwegian BBC.)
He basically told me that I didn’t have a good enough story, and that I didn’t have enough sponsors to make it a story…. so that kind of trigged me. I called him back and said “If I get over 30 Sponsors, over 10 000£ and well…. erm… somehow get to do some work on the album in Abbey Road Studios…. do you think I’d get a story then??”
Well… 4 months later we were in Abbey Road Studios with NRK, and they were filming the release-show and made a story on both the internet and on live TV. I was 19 at the time and tried to absorb eat all the attention I could get! I am a bit more grown up now, and look back on it as an experience, and a good memory of what I spend my time on in my youth .
You recently transitioned in style from rock blues to a more alternative rock style- why was that?
After i was the whole thing with NRK and TV, I started working with my first management. I was signed up for a blues competition, without me knowing about it, and I won the competition.
My dream at that time was just to play and make music, regardless of genre. But, a door opened and I of course took it. After a year with traveling and gigging around on Blues stages and festivals, I was starting to become a “young name” in the Norwegian / Scandinavian Blues Society. Well… long story short, towards the end of the year I was feeling that I was playing and not giving my 100% to the art. This felt very wrong for me… an audience paying to see me and my band, and I wasn’t digging it as much as I used when I was a kid.
Basically, it was because at home I was writing and experimenting with Pop, Jazz, Rock, Indie etc… I was really into trying to write good pop music. I actually got a bit fed up with the blues. Don’t get me wrong, I still love listening to and playing the blues… but I did it every day for a whole year….
So, in 2019 I had to cancel a U.S. Tour that the blues management had booked, because I was afraid of what would happen if I came back as a ‘blues success’ or that I would forever be associated as a Blues Artist. I know it sounds a bit cocky but I did not want to walk into my own self-made trap.
I went to Berlin, and I started writing a lot of new music!
Tell us about your new track ‘Serenity’ – is this a taster of your new music direction? The track ‘Serenity’ is the title track of my new E.P. coming out late this summer! It’s a Pop, Indie, Ambient track about people being more afraid of a bad career, quietness and boredom than dying.
You have an E.P. on the way – tell us more about that
Well, it’s a product that I have been working om for a very long time! The whole E.P. has a meaning and all the songs are linked with the same topic lyrically. It’s about my generalised view over the ‘western’ modern life we are striving for. We often forget to respect our nature and our minds, and we have this strange hunger for a fictional dream of becoming rich, successful and busy! ‘Busy’ has become a compliment… think of that for a second! Many of us are more afraid of being bored and have nothing to do, than to die.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
I’m glad you asked! I am listening a lot to jazz, Prog Metal and pop. Artist’s like: Leprous, Coldplay, The Beatles, David Maxim Micic, Plini, Eivør, Supertramp and John Mayer
What are your plans for the rest of the year and 2021?
This year I only want to get out the new E.P.!! Also, I’m getting married in October! I’m also working on some new pop material. Next year I am hoping that me and my booking agent can book as much as possible! My favourite thing with music is playing live!! Due to corona, 2021 is still very unclear.
How would you sum up HM Johnsen in a few words?
An ambitious and persistent rocker/artist doing what he loves. I’m also a foodie!