Magnus Kallar’s latest output, Like Bits of Glass in a Kaleidoscope’s general tone of melancholia, despair, and tranquility will attract you and mostly in a good way. The 19 years old, Halden, Norway based artist’s Alaskan Flower project is his whimsical world of tenderness mixed with extensive despondency. We talked to Magnus about his influences, creative process, life during the pandemic and Like Bits of Glass in a Kaleidoscope.
Anuranon Magazine:Hi Magnus, how are you?
Hey, hey! I just wanna start off by thanking you for this. I’ve actually had a pretty good day today (Wednesday the 4th of November, 2020), thanks for asking. I got some revising done for my exam in music history, so that was good. I also turned 19 last week and had a really nice birthday.
Happy 19th Birthday!!Thanks much for the amazing album.. What first got you into music? When did you start writing/producing – and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I’ve been interested in music since I was fairly young. My dad played all his favourite bands like The Beatles, Pink Floyd and, most notably influential on my own taste and interest, punk bands like Green Day, Bad Religion and Nirvana around me, and I quickly showed a lot of interest in it all! My dad has always played in punk rock bands, mostly as a vocalist and often with his brother/my uncle as a guitarist, which only helped fuel my interest in playing in bands and music in general.
My first love were the drums. I vividly remember drumming along with chopsticks on the couch cushions to “The Frog Song” from Paul McCartney’s “Rupert and the Frog Song”. After my dad naturally bought the video game Beatles Rock Band for our Wii, I could finally learn drums somewhat realistically. I got my first drum kit around 5 years later in the summer of 2014. That was at the same time I started the Norwegian equivalent of middle school where we got mandatory guitar lessons for a whole year. For that Christmas, I got my first electric guitar and it has since become what I’d consider my main instrument. I joined my first band called Next Generation Blue around a year later, in late 2015, and has since played, and play, in numerous bands. I currently play guitar, vocals and write songs in an alt punk/shoegaze band called Astronomies which has been going since around September 2016. More recently, last November, I started the band Absent Sky where I write songs and play drums.
I’ll confidently say there are multiple bands and artists I can pick out as inspirations for a lot of my music, past and present. When I first started writing riffs and the like, Nirvana was my favourite bands and I drew a lot of inspiration from them and Sonic Youth inspired a lot of the early Astronomies songs. I feel like as time progresses, the inspirations one has start blending together more and more into something that’s a lot more personal, something that’s more your own. I’d never deny past or present inspirations though. If anyone comes to me and say anything I’ve done has inspired them, that means the world to me, at least.
In 2016 I got hand of an audio interface; the same one I have to my left right now, haha. I quickly became interested in the production and recording aspect of music, which has led to both the Alaskan Flower album and me recently starting studies in musicology with specialization in music production!
How did Alaskan Flower come about? What was the motif behind the band?
The idea of Alaskan Flower simply came about after I made a couple of nice ambient tracks. I got the idea that instead of throwing them away as merely fun sonic experiments, I could try and bring them all together in a more cohesive EP or album! The last songs I made for the album were made with that in mind. The artist name actually came pretty late in the process! Fun fact: I was unsure if should go with flower or flowers, but I ultimately went with the singular version.
I didn’t have any big idea or motif behind the project other than it being a name for these silly ambient songs I was making, but it’s become a project I’m quite proud of and much more than just a simple name behind some songs.
How do you compose a song? When you’re immersed in it, do you know how the song is going to sound? Do you know more or less precisely the form that the song will take, or do you rely on the unexpected and the serendipitous?
There’s really no specific way I go about making a song. Some of them just come about from messing around with various instruments and plugins without any specific direction, but I often get an idea of things and concepts to try out, before I even sit down behind the instruments. That can often lead to full songs.For example: “What if I record a bunch of guitar layers on top of eachother and play them in reverse?” That sort of thing. I very rarely have an idea of how a song is going to sound like in full when I start making it. I usually get an intuition of where I want to go next and what I want to add until I start getting a sense of how the whole track is going to sound. I find it super fun to experience how a song develops and the immersion aspect of it is very nice to me.
What do you usually start with when working on a new piece? do you always work on a new track with an album in mind? Or do you just work on an individual track?
So far, it’s sort of been a combination of both. Like I touched on briefly previously, the first tracks I made for “Like Bits…” weren’t made with an album in mind, but with the later songs I knew they would be on a project together. I’ve always loved the concept of albums as cohesive works, so I knew I wanted to create that experience. Most of the songs were made separately, and don’t really connect in any thematic way, but I tried to make it so all the songs would transition smoothly into each other to connect them in a nice way. There are also the two piano interludes that are connected in both title and sound. I really, really like how those turned out in the context of the rest of the album.
When working on songs, I’ll probably keep my focus on making the individual songs as good as possible, but keeping in mind that they’ll be on an album and maybe figure out cool ways to transition the tracks or connect them in some other way. I find that sort of thing exciting, haha.
You have an incredible memory, it seems, with your ability to pinpoint transformative moments. Which temporal mode do Alaskan Flower live in most: past, present or future?
This is a fun question. Thank you for the compliment, too, haha! I’ve always been quite a nostalgic person. There’s a lot of music that gives me associations to parts of my life, and there’s probably a lot of elements of that experience I’ve subconsciously tried to incorporate into my own music, if that’s even possible. I do also think there’s a present element to a lot of it, a feeling of staying in the moment. In the end I feel like it can sort of be what you want it to be, it can be quite timeless in a sense. You can create your own associations to the sounds you’re hearing, make it your own.
In terms of ambient music, are they what you listen to as well? What do you listen to?
It may come as a surprise,but these days I usually listen to a lot of metalcore (Northlane, Periphery and Thornhill being some favourites!), emo/screamo (Suis La Lune, Old Gray, Algernon Cadwallader etc.) and of course post-rock! I’m listening to my Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven vinyl as I’m typing this. My absolute favourite band of all time is SigurRós, their album Valtari being my favourite time album of all time. My love for them can not be overstated, haha. I listen to a lot of other artists and genres too, of course, some of them with ambient work, but I’d say those are my most rotated genres!
I’ve always liked the ambient soundscapes and effects prevalent in a lot these genres, especially post-rock, and I’d say I take a lot of inspiration from that when making my own songs.
With that being said,Who do you think the most impressive ambient artists are these days?
My absolute favourite ambient album is “Riceboy Sleeps” by Jónsi and Alex. The album’s just incredibly gorgeous and I can recommend it to everyone who hasn’t heard it. The artist Ólafur Arnalds just released an album this Friday (6th of November) and I’ve been listening to it non-stop. I’ve also got some friends who are making some really cool music, and I can’t wait for them to release stuff!
How would you describe your music? What do you label them as?
I simply just call it ambient, really. There’s a few more droney tracks as well, but not all of them. I find the descriptions people give the music a lot more interesting than simply labeling it into one genre. Seeing what sort of associations people get to it is super fun!
Do you associate each song of the album with a memory and/or story?
Not particularly, just a few instances here and there. For example, the title of “Deepwater Dead Zone” came from a documentary I watched on coral reefs and how they’re dying out all around the world. Arguably the only track name with any specific “meaning” behind it. I also remember being in a little bit of a bad mood when I made the piano part for “The Water Was the Crystal Sky…”. I just played some piano to relax and came up with it, it felt quite nice at the time. The last track, “Fields of Aurora”, was sort of made as a last minute addition, but turned into one of my favourite tracks, if not my favourite!
How do you balance the creative side of making a record with the technical side of engineering it?
With Alaskan Flower, I’d say they are extremely connected. There’s obviously the songwriting aspect of it with the actual chords and melodies, but a lot of the parts were made with effects already added or with effects in mind. They become part of the instrument in a sense. The technical side inspires the songwriting side and vice versa. The first song for example, “The Reflecting Pool”, is just simply a 20 second piano loop I experimented on with effects and manipulated, haha.
A thing I found quite interesting in your review, and a little bit funny in a friendly way, is how the album got described as quite synth based, when in there’s actually quite little synth on it, haha. Most of it is guitar, bass guitar and piano tracks with effects on them or manipulated in some other way!There is synth spread out across the entire thing, but the only song that’s purely synth is actually “Fields of Aurora”. That one only features synth work. I also played every single part except for the rain and wind sounds you can sometimes hear. Those sounds are the only sounds I sampled from somewhere else. As someone who’s really into producing, I carry the mentality of the sound of the instrument being really crucial to a production into my other music as well. For example, the way your drums sound can vastly differ the perception a song gives you. I think it’s important to develop of sense of “knowing what you want” when producing any sort of music, really, so you could easier get the right sound you want.
How do you see the relationship between the ‘sound’ aspects of music and the ‘composition’ aspects?
As I touched on in the previous answer, I feel like they’re very connected. You could obviously play the chords and melodies to any of the tracks with simply a piano, but it wouldn’t really give the same effect at all, especially since the compositional elements of a lot of the songs are quite sparse. “Deepwater Dead Zone” is simply built on just an E minor, for example.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you?
I always try to relax, try not to feel like I’m in a hurry. If I don’t make any music for a little while, that’s okay! Sometimes I feel like working on stuff, and sometimes I just feel like watching YouTube or something, haha. There’s no rhyme or reason to when I feel the most inspired or creative, but it often happens if I’ve had a good day, talked to my friends about music or done something else that’s nice, among other things. It’s usually a positive thing for me, I find it hard to be productive or inspired if I’m feeling down, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes music helps to unwind, aswell.
Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music?
No, not necessarily. At least for Alaskan Flower, it’s not something I put a lot of weight on. How it sounds on its own is more important to me than the process behind it, but as a production nerd I also love discussing the way I made the tracks and have no problem sharing anything I did.
Do you like performing to audiences? It feels like your works are very private or personal.
Oh, man, I love performing live and I miss it a lot. I can’t wait to go back to performing with my bands and other people again. I’ve even thought about developing a live show for Alaskan Flower, cause that sounds like a really fun time, but there’s nothing certain there, yet.
As for it being personal and private, I’d definitely say there’s a certain level of that, yeah. I made these songs, they are a reflection of my interests, taste, experiences and the whole album means a lot to me personally. I’m far from hesitant to share these personal expressions, though. Releasing this album has been a great experience and it’s gotten a lot more attention than I ever thought it would! So, I’m really happy about that.
How do you nourish your creative side when you’re not working on music?
I really like photography! I’m not a specifically gifted photographer, but I love that feeling of capturing a moment, and I find it really fun to just take pictures of random things and landscapes I think look cool. I especially love taking pictures of nature, I love nature in general, capturing the colours and the general vibe at the time. I recently got a DSLR camera, and I’d really love to just take more pictures and get more experience with photography in general. The cover of “Like Bits…” was for example taken by me on simply my iPhone 11 at my previous school and made pretty by my good friend BrynjarLeóHreiðarsson. Fun fact 3: For those who don’t know, the flowers are rhododendrons. They exist in Alaska, but the separticular ones are sadly only Norwegian.
Do you think of Alaskan Flower more in the Western/classical tradition, or do you seek to free your music from any connection to the past?
Well, my musical training is definitely based in western tradition, as you’d expect. If we were to distinguish western traditions, I’d say I take more from jazz than classical in terms of how I think about theory. I make no conscious effort to stay within these guidelines, though, it’s just merely the tools I know! I love to learn about how others think about music, and if I find anything I feel like I would like to use or experiment with, I’d be happy to do so!
In your recordings, not only sound, but silence and spaces in between tracks are used so effectively. Is that part of your minimalist beginnings, where the lack of clutter prepares the listener to focus more on what’s left?
I wouldn’t say I made any conscious effort to make these silences particularly special or impactful. I actually rather tried to minimise silences in a way that would make the album flow nicely, but in doing that I feel like when it does quiet down(not that it’s a super intense or loud album to begin with) it really gives these nice little moments. If I’m allowed to say that about my own album, haha. I feel like there were a lot of things that I didn’t directly intend to do, that came out as nice additions to it.
Landscape and environments seem to creep into your work, and then you end up creating mirroring environments with your sounds. How do you do that? Has solitude always been a part of it?
As I mentioned earlier, I love nature. I love the peacefulness, the tranquillity and the beauty of it. Being in nature, it could be as simple as going for a walk, is super calming to me and I do it as much as I can. I love to try and replicate these environments and these feelings different landscapes and environments can bring in music, even if I’m not doing it deliberately, because often I can feel like there’s a clear connection between the two. At least that’s my perception of it, especially with music like this. It’s rarely a conscious effort, but I’m sure it has inspired me in some way and has been translated onto the things I make.
What were the influences/stories behind Like Bits of Glass in a Kaleidoscope? Was there any specific event or set of events in your life that inspired you to make such a record that sounds so personal?
No, not necessarily. As I’ve touched on, there wasn’t any specific moment or moments that inspired to set out to create an album. All of the tracks I was working on more or less accumulated into the final thing. However, the album and its creation will forever remind me of the place I was in at the time. What I was thinking about, the things I were doing, the way I felt, the experiences I had. As with everyone, I’ve had quite an interesting year, but the time when I was making these songs, was a good time. As with photographs, the whole album is sort of a way of capturing a period of my life. Since I lived and breathed these songs as they were being made, I’ll always have these memories attached to it and I find that really lovely.
When are we going to hear something new? Is there anything you are working on right now? What can we expect from Alaskan Flower in 2020 and 2021? Do you have any more projects coming up?
I’m already working on a few new ideas, and I’d love to try and get another project out in not too long! I don’t feel like I’m in any hurry, though. I’ve got a whole bunch of other projects I’m working on, aswell as school work, but I really love to work on songs for Alaskan Flower. It’s a different sort of peace.