Name: Kjetil Mulelid

Nationality: Norwegian
Occupation: Composer, improviser, pianist
Current Release: The new album by the Kjetil Mulelid Trio, Who do love the most? is out via Rune Grammofon. Also, Øra Fonogram just published Ut av det nye, the new full length by his group Wako. This is what Kjetil told us about that release: “The title Ut av det nye translates to "Out of the new". Lately we have been playing this material a lot around the world. In May we did a 6 concert tour in Portugal, and next up will be some more concerts in Norway and Germany before more Europe in 2023. The music is very much fun to play, and I would absolutely recommend checking it out.”
Recommendations: It's hard to just chose a few things - I will sum up some of my absolutely favorite albums, such as Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool and In Rainbows. I love them. And also everything by Nick Drake. That music has meant so much to me since I was only a little kid at junior high school.
Another album I would like to recommend is the new album by a singer from Norway named Selma French, Changes Like the Weather in The Mountains. Here’s a playlist I’m trying to update with some music I like and some of my own.

If you enjoyed this interview with Kjetil Mulelid and would like to stay up to date with his music and his different groups and projects, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram and Facebook.

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I’ve been interested in music since I was a little kid. I’m the youngest of three siblings, and both of the two others were doing a lot of music in their childhood. Guitar, piano, singing, as well as playing trombone and trumpet in a local marching band. I of course got interested in doing the same things. I also used to sit by the stereo in our living room, listening to a lot of classical music and gospel music at the same time as my older brother introduced me to typical old school rock music from the 60s and 70s.

After doing a lot of different music genres while being young, I discovered the opportunity to play by ear and improvise at high school. I was driven by the possibility to play melodies and lines that I found pretty and interesting. That led to a next step where I started to make my own music when I was around 19 years old. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by some friends that wanted to try my songs, and after that I’ve always kept on making melodies and songs. It's something about the process from an idea to a finished song that I find interesting.

My first real band I had was a piano trio named Lauv. We recorded an album and did some tours and concerts around Norway. This was during my time at the University in Trondheim (NTNU) where I studied at the jazz department. At the same time of my life I also started a duo named Kjemilie, and the quartet Wako, followed by my own trio which I also started when the former trio, Lauv, ended.

All of my projects have been important for my playing and for my music. Getting the opportunity to make music, test it at rehearsals and concerts, recording it and releasing it. It has been a very important thing in how I am as a musician, composer and improviser today.

I think the jazz department at NTNU in Trondheim is very good in that way - the teachers really enquire you to start bands, make music and just try to play as much music as possible, and to try to find out who you are as a musician and what your musical personality sounds like. 

It has led me to do a lot of fun things the last few years.

Here's a video from when my trio did a live stream at WeJazz two years ago:

I guess the opportunity to put my own thoughts and ideas into life through music has been the main reason for me making music. But also curiosity about musical structures, ideas and concepts. I’ve always had a strong passion about how my own music should sound like, and how it should not sound like.

I guess that’s why I’m mainly doing my own originals or working in bands where I’m allowed to be myself, since I can sometimes find it a bit tricky to just do what someone else tells me to do in music.

Here's a video where I talk and explain a lot of these things and how I work:

When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?

I mainly get a state of mind. A strong feeling of being alive and emotions. A good feeling I have when listening to music is when it gives me superpowers - the feeling of being invincible. This of course influenced my approach to make music.

I often make music that I want to reflect some kind of a state of mind. For example I released an album in April this year with my piano trio, and on this one specific song I’m trying to make a longing feeling for something dear. Kjetil Mulelid Trio - "Remembering":

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

When I was a student at high school, I had a piano teacher who dared me to improvise melodies and songs based on a story or just a title he gave me. The first 5-10 minutes in every lesson started like this. He thought improvisations should be small stories, a mood, or a scene.

Ever since, I’ve found this approach really interesting - that through my piano playing I’m a storyteller. This has been an important part of my journey and formed both my playing, my compositions and my own personal musical expression. It has been important for me to make my own music to reach the point where I’ve found my own expression.

When composing you have to make concrete choices that should also reflect your personality. Years of doing this has helped me get a better picture of my personal musical voice, and helped me understand who I am and what I want to do musically. I guess you can have the same development by just playing a lot, but personally I find it harder to take the same clear decision in my playing and grow with it when I’m playing other people's music.

Later on, I would maybe say that my solo piano album back in 2021 was an important step for me, that gave me a lot both musically and publicity.

It’s something special when it’s your own name representing every stage on an album, both compositions, playing and artist name.

I guess people can more easily understand your «thing» than when you’re playing with others in a band? At least it felt like that for me after my solo album and after touring with the solo music. It’s been a very nice road for me with almost 40 concerts in the last one and a half year, and a lot of other activities. Here is a solo streaming concert from the Greek festival, reworks connekt last year:

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

I’m a very positive and energetic person that likes to explore life. It’s not unlikely that I will climb a mountain during the daytime and play a concert in the evening and during the small breaks I’m replying to my emails and doing some calls. I think this reflects me very well if I’m with good friends or listening to some good live music.

But I can also be a very quiet person that just wants to observe life and people. I think this state of mind is more reflective of me as a creative person when I’m making music. Then I often sit by myself by the piano and think about life or situations I’ve seen or felt. Either they are positive feelings or feelings that have upset me.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

Having fun and telling some stories I’m finding interesting.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

I would say that I’m in between. I think continuing a tradition is very important, especially knowledge about it - knowing about it and understanding it. If there is no knowledge of history and traditions in music I hear, I think the music often is too weak and without depth. But, I’m probably more into the idea of developing your own musical voice and to try to continue exploring music of the future.

When you think about it, history has happened and most of it is documented, so I think it’s much more interesting to not stop developing our culture and music, but to try to find new and interesting directions. My idea has always been: listen to all kinds of music, steal ideas that I like, try to incorporate what I like to my own playing - in this way I hope to develop music in my personal direction and maybe do something inspiring for the next generation.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to hear Jason Moran solo at Oslo Jazz festival. It was such a good concert, where he took the audience through both the history of piano playing and into the future with his mind-blowing playing. It was without any doubt a mix of his favorite things, and his own personal thoughts - a mix that no-one else is doing except himself. Inspiring.

This song was named "Chopin" when I first made it. I guess the reference is pretty obvious. I later changed the name to “Point of View”. The video is from a live recording I did in the beautiful Vigeland Museum in Oslo:

In September 2022 I was lucky enough to be invited back to the beautiful room to do a solo piano concert with an audience. It got sold out and it was such an amazing experience for me.

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

My piano. Having fun and improvising - trying to find melodies / feelings that give me a story I can work on. I’ve also been working a lot with parameters and improvising based on concrete structures.

[Read our feature on the piano]

For example, improvising with fast melodic lines within a small range, and working my way to the opposite: slow un-melodic lines in a bigger range. Or playing very pianissimo cluster chords and working my way to play fortissimo bigger chords. There's tons of options in this way of working.

I’ve made myself a circle almost like the circle of fifths, where the opposite options are on each side of the circle. Choose a couple of options and start improvising. Maybe it will give you some new ideas, new thoughts in improvising, composing etc.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.

In my daily life I wake up around 7-8 am to make myself coffee and breakfast. Then I like to clear my inbox and send the emails I have in mind, or do the office work that needs to be done. While I’m doing this I’m often listening to some new music, or just something I love.

Then I often go to my rehearsal room around 1pm after lunch to rehearse / compose / improvise. Then I often go home to make dinner around 5pm.

Evenings could be spent at a concert, movie, training, a hike or something fun with friends.

How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?

I must say that before I did not think much of my role in society, but lately as I've grown up I’ve started to think that I’m part of this century's culture story tellers, that in many ways has to either develop or take care of the music history as we talked about earlier. It's a big thought, but I kind of like to think that what we do in life is part of something bigger.

As an artist we either have to please the audience or we have to challenge them. I think people need music that can do both. If you’re only pleasing the audience, it will get very boring in the end I think. As a listener you sometimes just want to listen to some good music that gives you joy and makes you feel good, but sometimes music can challenge you and make you think in new ways and develop our society.

I hope I can make the listeners both relax and think in new ways.