Name: Kate Havnevik
Occupation: Composer, singer, songwriter, producer
Current release: Kate Havnevik's Lightship is out via Continentica.
If you enjoyed this interview with Kate Havnevik and would like to stay up to date on her activities, head over to her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you?
It just comes from within, wanting to create something, anytime, anywhere really.
What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
I do get inspired by my dreams, I dream a lot and remember most of them. I also get inspired by people, and films. I don’t write much about politics, I think other people do that much better than I would. I get inspired by words, I can just look in a dictionary and get ideas. Also from picking up and improvising on an instrument.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work?
No I don’t need the finished visualisation. I think the visualisation gets created in my mind and heart as I am in the process which could take a few hours or a few months.
Sometimes I can relate better to a song I wrote, long after I wrote it. When I am in a position to gather all the pieces to the puzzle I am creating. The more pieces I have the better for me to see the full picture, the end result.
What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I’m terrible at planning so there is most likely a bad balance. I could do with some more balance actually.
But I am mostly driven by ideas and creativity, spontaneity, and an urge to wanting and needing to create.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
Like I said I’m pretty bad at planning, but it does help to clean up a bit in the studio before I start a new project. Maybe change a few things, to feel like I’m starting something new and to appear like I have some kind of plan, an overview over what I’m doing. (laughs)
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
The only stimulant I really need is sugar. I have a very sweet tooth, so a sweet snack, some tea will make me happy. I am half-English after all!
I also need to do some stretching exercises to make sure my body feels good and doesn’t become painful after a few hours. But I often don't feel like I have the time to do it and go straight into a work session.
I’m terrible at taking breaks, and pretty much only take breaks when my cats want food.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I just start playing something and sing to it. Starting something is the easiest part. Finishing the lyrics is often the hardest for me.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
There is no one way I do it, but more often the melody comes first, then the lyrics. Unless they both come along at the same time which is a blessing.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
Once I’ve started a song I just develop the structure and chord progression. And as it takes shape it will more likely be obvious if it needs extra music, middle 8 or something more.
Like a sculptor, I look at the song and decide if it needs a different shaped nose or bigger ears.
Many writers have claimed that as soon as they enter into the process, certain aspects of the narrative are out of their hands. Do you like to keep strict control over the process or is there a sense of following things where they lead you?
I always follow my ideas to where they lead me. Unless I‘m writing a filmscore or a song to a film where I have to express a certain sentiment or feeling. Then I consciously work towards that feeling and keep working till I hit the target.
I wrote ‘GRACE’ for Grey’s Anatomy and the brief was to write a song about devastating loss, so that’s what I did. Initially the lyrics were even sadder, I went full-on sad, to the deepest depths! But they wanted me to cheer it up a bit … (laughs)
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
There are many types of creative states for me. I can get into deep concentration and forget to eat, I can keep on working for hours like this. I’m terrible at meditation though, my mind often wonders if I purposely try and meditate. But when I sit and improvise on my guitar it sometimes becomes like meditation, you know when you suddenly think - I’m not thinking about anything, just the guitar, me and the sounds ...
I miss playing music just to play, I must do more of that, just jam.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I’m very deadline driven actually. And the work often doesn’t finish until I have a deadline and then it finished right before that.
A piece of music and songs will let you know when they are finished, because if you keep on after that, they take a turn for the worse …
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practise?
I’m not so interested in evaluating my music. I‘m more interested in making more new music. I always know if it’s good or just ok.
My listeners all have different favourites so there is something for everyone. I rarely listen to my own music.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I produce all of my filmscores myself, programme, orchestrate, record etc. I have produced lots of songs on my own records, mostly on Melankton, but I do work with Guy Sigsworth who is an amazing producer so I think it’s great to let him do what he is really good at.
[Read our Guy Sigsworth interview]
I think the production and mixing is really important. I never mix my albums myself, I like having someone who is exactly really good at that, mixing.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
Well, I think at least this time the release of the new album Lightship stretched over such a long time that I’m already working on new projects. Being in a pandemic for two years made it pretty normal to spend a lot of time at home. So there is less of an emptiness and more of a let’s-do-more feeling.
I already have a short film to finish the score for, and another album to finish. Plus planning for live shows coming up. The emptiness is much stronger for me after finishing a tour because after spending so much time with the same group of people for a length of time, suddenly I am not seeing them everyday anymore.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I agree, creativity is all around us. For me personally my music is more creative than my coffee making, but coffee making is art for someone else. I think that's great.
I do feel very creative when baking or making confectionaries, I take pride in the result both visually and taste wise, but I do think I express a wider spectrum of emotions and beauty through music than when I am making marzipan. However tasty it is!