At 27, Rysstad is one of the bright new names in the sphere of Norwegian traditional music. And within this category he belongs to the traditionalists, emphasizing on the heritage of his home realm and unbroken musical lines that run far back in time.
We had a talk with Rysstad prior to his performance at Folkelarm, reaching him while teaching at the Ole Bull Academy in Voss.
-The students are really excited about the course I’m giving, says Rysstad, which I think is a good indication of the renewed interest in traditional music in Norway. So far, these students know folk music mostly in its popularized version. But they are eager and excited about stev, the traditional vocal technique I am teaching, which is a fairly narrow field.
Rysstad completed his bachelor degree at the same Ole Bull Academy this spring. He has now embarked on a master degree at HiT in Rauland, which will result in a thesis that examines old note sheets from his native Setesdalen in Telemark.
-Hopefully the project will also result in a concert and maybe a record, says Rysstad, but not until 2010.
His debut record, entitled Tak hardt uti hand, was released last year and received fine reviews. It was described as a different and long-sought release that truly manages to convey the deep emotions and subtle beauty of the stev tradition, which is a characteristic vocal expression. Critics find that Kim André Rysstad’s voice, his choice of tunes and his powerful presentation together open up an enchanting and timeless musical dimension.
Most of the songs on Tak hardt uti hand are taken from Rysstad’s birthplace Setesdalen, which is one of the strongholds of traditional music in Norway.
-My focus will always be on the music of my home place and of my forefathers, says Rysstad, who hails from a family of singers, musicians and poets.
-But of course I am inspired and influenced by other kinds of music too. I draw on many sources, and the main thing for me is always to sing stuff that I really enjoy. I’m very much into classical music and pop as well. And I think it is important to be musically diverse.
Many Norwegian folk musicians and singers have blazed new musical trails in the form of crossover expressions and different contemporary interpretations of the traditional tunes. Rysstad, on the other hand, is particular about keeping his musical interests and idioms apart.
-I think it is very fascinating, and not least a lot of fun, to mix genres and explore new ways of approaching the heritage. I really enjoy the freedom to use the full spectre of my voice that crossover projects allow for. However, I want to focus on one genre at a time, and I believe in staying true to the tunes in their original form. So instead of a crossover approach, I try to broaden my horizon in terms of original tunes and expressions. I learn new songs all the time, and I am constantly expanding and changing my repertoire. In addition to traditional music I also sing a lot of classical and pop music. For me it’s a necessity, I would get fed up with folk if I kept a one track mind. I’ve sung a lot of Grieg and regarding pop my big inspiration is Whitney Houston, and Dolly Parton of course…
At Folkelarm Kim André will perform a purely vocal set; some songs from Tak hardt uti hand and a few new things.
Folkelarm has become an important festival, and its booming development, from a niche gathering to an international happening, is a good indication of the present standing of traditional music in Norway. Many think it is currently the most exciting and progressive genre of all.
-I think that the new interest in traditional music will continue, and grow, says Rysstad.
-People used to think of us as backward-looking weirdoes dressed in traditional garments, but now it is becoming apparent to all that we are just as professional as the classical- or jazz musicians, and that our music is very vital and fresh. People in the cities are really discovering the power and beauty of the ancient expressions, and I think we’ve only seen the start of a general revival.
Kim André Rysstad's MySpace site
ta:lik (Record Companies)
Kim André Rysstad, Artist, Singer songwriter