When the members of Norwegian indie-rock band 120 Days left their hometowns of Kristiansund and Frei five years ago for the big city - Oslo - the goal, according to bassist Jonas H. Dahl, was to make some noise, literally as well as figuratively.
“When we started out our sound was much more common,” says Dahl. “We played a drum-and-guitar-based indie-pop-rock style (influenced by) bands like Pavement and the Velvet Underground. When we moved to Oslo and began making music without our parents or people we knew listening to us, we decided to go for a different style. So we bought some synthesizers and some Kraftwerk records.”
“At that time we really were lousy instrumentalists,” adds frontman Adne Meisfjord, who sings and plays guitar and keyboards. “We could barely hold our gear. The Velvet Underground, my favorite band of all time, and American indie acts, the ones with a lo-fi style of doing things, are easy to get into when you’re 17 and don’t know how to play.”
Over the next few years, with persistent practice and hard work, school chums Dahl, Meisfjord, Arne Stoy Kvalvik (drum machine and effects) and Kjetil Ovesen (synthesizers) crafted an unusually involving brand of experimental space rock, artfully embedding melodies in the spacious synth landscapes. The result can be heard on “120 Days,” which was released last October, but is just now starting to get traction in the U.S.
120 Days did a brief North American club tour a few months ago, playing cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. Now the band is back for a headlining tour.
Asked his impression of the United States, Dahl answers, “It’s huge. Being from Norway, we’re not used to large, open landscapes.” Says Meisfjord: “When you come from Norway, everything seems so flat. Norway is all fjords and mountains, so wide-open spaces kind of freak us out.”
“And the people are so different,” adds Dahl. “Americans like their own voice. They say what you want to hear, so you have to put on your filter. In Europe people are more honest.”
By honest, does Dahl mean more direct?
“No,” he says. “Just honest.”
According to Dahl, the sonic turning point for 120 Days came when Kvalvik acquired a drum machine a few months after the move to Oslo. “We had to decide between buying this really huge bass drum or a drum machine,” says Dahl. “By that time we had discovered Kraftwerk, so it was natural to take the drum machine. We bought it used on eBay for 2,000 kroners (about $325). ... We’re now on our third or fourth machine. When you drop them on the floor as we often do, things happen.”
Another important purchase was Ovesen’s acquisition of a vintage Roland S8000, the first mass-produced analog synthesizer. “He just used the noise button on the synthesizer the entire first rehearsal he had it,” Dahl laughs.
How did 120 Days afford the instruments?
“We didn’t earn any money playing,” Dahl admits. “But we have nice parents. Their names should be on our posters.”
Were band members’ parents always supportive?
“They were happy when we were first (written up) in the newspaper,” says Dahl. “The whole town was saying to them, `Your son is so good.’ The week before, it was, `Is your son doing drugs?’”
120 Days began making a name in Oslo by winning the three-round Zoom competition in 2003. In the time before the first and final rounds, 120 Days rehearsed every day for three months. “People didn’t believe it was the same band,” says Dahl. “We wrote a lot of new songs.”
The band toured Norway extensively and cut a couple of couple EPs. But when 120 Days began recording its debut album in 2005, the band chose not to include any of the EP tracks, but create nine new songs. “We had the time to practice every day and jam together,” says Dahl.
Among the standout tracks is the opener, the almost nine-minute “Come Out, Come Down, Fade Out, Be Gone.” “It’s about living your life turned upside down,” says Dahl. “Musicians are not like regular people. We often work at night and get up when people are getting to bed. You feel like zombie.”
“C-Musik,” whose title is a nod to one of 120 Days influences, the 1970s German electronic group Neu!, which recorded a song called “E-Musik,” “is about modern-day life,” Meisfjord says. “You meet people and get close to them, but never get the time to do it right. Nothing really lasts.”
“I Lost My Vision” is “very much a tribute to old Krautrock songs that went on forever on just one chord,” he points out.
“Get Away,” which echoes Joy Division, is about a relationship Meisfjord was involved in that “died out” a year ago. “There was some excess, and it ended in kind of a bad way,” he says.
Though Meisfjord writes the lyrics, he does not consider them of paramount importance. “Usually, they are the last thing that gets done,” he says. “They finish off the product. ... I listen to the (music) track and figure out `What does the song need to push it over the edge?’”