In a roundabout way, Hanne Hukkelberg’s new album 'Birthmark' is a breakup album.
In the two years since her last LP dropped, the "Embroidery" songstress has been silently reinventing herself. While 2017's Trust put her onto the map with sprawling tracks that relied almost entirely on tonal changes, pitch transitions, and vocal chops, Birthmark takes a more minimalistic approach to production, allowing Hanne’s voice to take centerstage on all nine songs. It’s ironic, as the Norwegian singer-songwriter was born a maximalist, but this album sees her doing the exact opposite—breaking up with her innate nature and learning to trust the simpler things of her creative process.
Tracks like "Crazy" and "The Young and Bold I" off the record give listeners a taste of what her newfound sense of sonic exploration has done for her stylistically. Using both household items and sampled sounds from everyday life as instrumentation, she introduces us to her world, which invites us to feel, dance, and celebrate.
We caught up with Hanne ahead of Birthmark’s release (August 16), where she talked allowing herself to face vulnerable moments, experimentation-gone-right, and maintaining her artistic integrity.
Check it out below, and make sure to track her on Bandsintown!
This is your second self-produced album. How has the process of bringing it to fruition all by yourself changed the creative process? Do you feel closer to this one at all?
Yes, I feel closer to my own material when I produce it myself. It’s not that I don’t feel close to my material when I haven’t produced it myself, but it’s just a different process. I’m someone who’s most creative, open, and relaxed when I’m either alone or with just one other person. I guess that has also shaped how I make music. After a while, producing with others, I’ve learned so much, and it doesn’t make sense to use energy on another producer when I have the skills, myself. Though I know it’s not easy to see every aspect of myself from the outside. I chose to take the risk and stand by myself – write the music, record, produce, and release, myself.
I think music technology and the music industry has changed. It doesn’t take as much as it used to, in order to be a producer these days. Technology makes having a good idea easier to deliver, and almost anyone can make music at home. Although, not everyone can maintain artistic integrity for over a decade. Endurance matters, as does your creative take and development. And if you want people to know about your music, you’ll need a sizable team to let the world in on it.
So, with the last album, Trust— that was the first one I produced myself, and it allowed me to prove to myself that I was able to produce on a qualified level. On Birthmark, I’ve focused more on what I want to say. The production is scaled down and I’ve put the lyrics and vocal melodies in the foreground of the mix. It’s become (and I never thought I’d say this) one of my most personal albums to date.
It’s been two years since you changed up your sound, returning to electronica on Trust. How have you grown (creatively, personally) since then?
Trust made me…trust myself and my skills, including my abilities as a producer. I found a new musical voice. I had to tell my fans, “I’m not gone, and I’m still here, creating music!" On Birthmark, I have tried to just trust that I’m good enough to say what I want to say, without all the fuss. Then, the music naturally became more transparent, stripped down and minimalistic. And I could then focus on personal growth. I’ve had an exceedingly rough year with a lot of things going on in my private life, which has helped shape the songs. But, I suppose it’s the difficult things in life that make you stronger, and they’ve certainly helped me grow as a person.
I know that a big part of both Trust and Birthmark was using the vocoder box to change your voice: how do you navigate performing this aspect live?
I run my microphone through a Roland VT3 (vocal transformer) on a lot of the songs on Trust. Although, I haven’t utilized this on Birthmark. I’ve only used a flat, clean sound from a fabulous Soyuz microphone! I’m using it a lot, live... I love using the box, but I’m also aware that it can take away from my personal sound at times, which I think is an important distinction to make. Allowing myself to face vulnerable moments with my voice and conveying that to an audience is also important to me, as an artist. So mostly, I’ve clung to the clean-sounding lead vocals on Birthmark, leaving them as they are. It doesn’t sound so perfect, but it sounds real, and I like that!
Birthmark takes a much more minimalist approach than any of your previous albums, but the production quality doesn’t change in the slightest. It feels intimate and lyrical, but also electronically intense. How did you manage to balance sprawling electronic production with more lyrics and vocal-centric themes?
Haha, thank you! I’m very pleased to hear that because that has been a goal for many years— managing to make a minimalist album. I was probably born a maximalist…my childhood bedroom was full of charcoal paper, drawings, old photographs, magazine pages, etc. Little Things, my debut album title, was inspired by my own walls at home, looking like this, and I guess—this is just a part of who I am. My music was like this as well—full of strange, chaotic, sweet and dark details. But one changes, and I have definitely changed over time. I suddenly saw some of the details as a barrier, which was something I had to overcome. Unnecessary difficulties in my music—I may have placed them to confuse and distract myself. Maybe I was afraid of finding out I was more simplistic, or somehow unworthy of making art? But I’ve changed!
Finally, on Birthmark, I have managed to trust that I do not sound simple (not even if I try). Birthmark is an experiment to see what happens if I relax and focus on what I have to say while making music. I don’t feel finished with that experiment...
“Catch Me If You Can”— what is the story behind this one?
Well, to be honest, it’s about hormones! They are teasing me and saying, “Catch me if you can.” I’ve become more and more surprised about how little I have known and still don’t know about my own body. For so many years, I’ve had a challenging relationship with my psyche and I’ve blamed myself so many times, which never led to any good. In recent years, I’ve learned that hormones have a huge impact on my life; when my levels are high, it can go both ways - I can feel fantastic, or I can feel the lowest of the low! I think I've actually written most of my songs whilst being very hormonal... And this one is dedicated to them :-)
I’m not sure the average man or woman knows about how damaging they can truly be. Knowing more about myself helps me take precaution, and live a better life. Although, sometimes I see it differently— what kind of society have we created, when women’s most natural cycle, or hormones in men have been condemned? Or looked upon as if it were some kind of disease? I can’t fathom the weight it bears on countless individuals.