Name: Hilma Nikolaisen
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Current Release: Hilma Nikolaisen's new single "One Two Three Four" is out via Fysisk Format.
If you enjoyed this interview with Hilma Nikolaisen and would like to keep up to date with her work, visit her on Instagram, Facebook, twitter, and Soundcloud for updates and information.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
That impulse would come from different places, I guess it depends on what kind of project I’m into at the moment.
My previous project Heritage was an acoustic project, and I wanted to make it an honest and hardcore-fragile kind of business, expressing something very personally, emotionally important. That stripped down set-up felt like a hazardous way of doing my music, I had not done anything like that before. It was challenging and very exciting, but I’ve been longing to move on with another project, and step away from that tense emotional level.
In my current project Social Works, I guess I’m still driven by emotional impulses, but on the other side of the spectrum, so to speak. I am trying to push everything to the edge, in a not so fragile anti-acoustic way. (laughs)
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
In this new Social Works project it usually starts with a drum machine beat. I play with the beat and explore it before I move on. The bass line will most likely follow up after that and I’ll get a feeling if this song is supposed to have a strict verse-bridge-chorus structure or if it’s going to stay more open and experimental.
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'?
At the moment I am trying not to overthink things. The main idea of Social Works is to be spontaneous and put it out there, immediately, before I get the chance to regret it, trying to preserve the rough core idea of the tune, even if it might come out as primitive.
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?
I write pretty much all the time and everywhere, really.
But these days, I’ve started a decision-making routine of evaluating ideas, lyrics or demo sketches — at a time of the day or the week when I’ve had a few glasses of wine or so, to effectively spot what really works and what’s to be deleted. Clear minded and effective decision making.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
A few lines and hooks will usually come up rather immediately, when the first beat, baseline or guitar riff is settled. Those lines will usually decide what the song is supposed to evolve around.
If it doesn’t make sense — if the meaning of the lyrics don’t match that original first text hook, I often have no other option than to leave the song, at least for a while, to make it stay «true».
No matter how stupid the message might be, it feels perfectly sound when the words and music fit like they’re meant to be.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
I think it’s easy to spot if lyrics are genuinely heartfelt or not. At least for me it’s impossible to write something that I cannot stand for. I need to believe in what is said or sung, at least in its intentions.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
I am trying to go all in with whatever the new idea brings, I’ll investigate it thoroughly, but at the moment I’m trying to make decisions at an early stage, to avoid getting lost in all the directions which are possible.
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?
In Social Works I am trying to be free to write whatever feels genuine, go with the flow and stay on the edge of it. If it feels right and if it makes sense to me, whatever can be just right.
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?
Absolutely, music is a spiritual and meditative business.
I grew up with music being the way to connect with the Higher Powers, so it’s the only way to go for me. Even in the primitive punk outset, it’s all spiritual.
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?
At the moment I am trying to make the process more strict than in earlier projects, in the sense not adding anything extra. I try to keep it rough and simple, as an important concept value.
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 practice?
As mentioned, I am now, in contrast to earlier, trying to wrap up a piece at an early stage when I am all into it. I would never go for anything half-assed, though, but if everything fits right away, I could write and record it immediately.
It will usually take a couple of weeks or so, the most important thing for me is trying not to overanalyze it. Trust your instincts!
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?
So far, I’ve been very much involved in the whole process.
I have very clear ideas from the beginning. Before mixing, I’d always have a rough mix quite close to the final outcome. Still, I don’t want to be too rigid. In future projects I want to be more open-minded, and one day have someone mix things in directions that might surprise me.
So far it has all been more predestined, and it’s been a core value to protect the original ideas.
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?
In some ways I can relate to that, yes. But finishing and releasing work is also a great relief. I find it energizing to be able to leave it, and wholeheartedly move on to the next thing waiting.
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?
There are so many aspects to writing music — words, voices, harmonies, the use of instruments and so on, all those direct and indirect ways of expressing moods and messages. There are really no limits to what that writing can contain. From my point of view it is hard to compare it to other ways of expression.