1000 Conversations With Sunship Balloon
Speaking to us from his studio in Oslo, Norway, Tord Øverland Knudsen sat down with TCI to chat about Sunship Balloon’s latest single, their soon to be released album and what it’s like starting a project alongside The Wombats.
Last year Sunship Balloon grabbed our attention with their debut EP Intergalactic Teacup Travel Center. The EP rightfully drew instant critical acclaim and began our craving for a full length release. This year Sunship Balloon have already treated fans to three stellar singles ahead of their album Everywhen set for release September 18th. Packed full of synth textures, compelling rhythms and melodies you can’t shake, the album is a perfect left-field psychedelic alt-pop gem, not that we would expect anything less from a duo best known as two thirds of The Wombats.
The Creative Issue: This year has been so strange. We’re so glad you’ve still been able to release music. How’ve things been where you are? Has it been difficult to push though and keep things rolling?
Tord Øverland Knudsen: Yeah. The problem has been that me and Dan (Haggis) have been in different countries. So that has made it really difficult in terms of meeting up and making music. Basically Norway closed their borders fully so at least three months you couldn’t go out or in. So then obviously the tour that we had booked in all got cancelled. So there’s been a few things happening. But it’s made us have to reschedule or work in different ways. Creatively you can get by. I mean, we’ve been trying to do things on Zoom calls, or you work remotely and send things over, and then you get something else back, and then you send it back again, you know. It takes a bit longer but it’s definitely possible. It’s kind of fun as well to have a different approach, creatively at least, so there’s pros and cons I guess.
TCI: Everywhen is such a great album I think I really genuinely liked every song. What is your approach to songwriting in Sunship Balloon? Are you and Dan usually together while you’re writing or in different countries? How do you make it work?
TOK: Yeah, well the album, we made that when we were in the same place before Corona. The actual recording of the album happened in 2019. It was November or something like that when we finalised everything. It often starts off with one of us bringing in a song. Even back then, for the album, we had to work remotely because we live in two different cities. So at least the process will start off like that. Maybe I’ll have a backing track, or even pretty much the whole sonic landscape of the album there, but it didn’t have any top lines or any lyrics. Then Dan will just crack on with that and come up with the lyrics and melodies. Sometimes there will be melodies already and other times there will be nothing at all [laughs]. So there’ll be a lot of that. Dan will send it back to me and maybe I’ll work on it a little bit, and I might make some suggestions or maybe change some of the parts. Eventually we will meet up in Oslo and finalise everything and record it properly.
TCI: I love how Sunship Balloon takes rhythms and textures that are quite odd and makes them sound so appealing? There’s so much to listen into on this album. Who are some of your favourite artists/bands? Who were you listening to while writing Everywhen?
TOK: I think basically you’ve got your musical DNA based on everything you’ve been listening to throughout the years. The older you get the more things you hear. I’ve been diving into a lot of older things as well as new things. It’s very difficult to pinpoint one artist. I’ve sort of been revisiting Beck. I’d listened to Beck’s music but I kind of only knew his singles, or his most well-known songs. Then I started to get into his back catalogue and how his music is so diverse. He can do an acoustic album, like a folky singer-songwriter album, and then have a hip-hop album, or more of a rock album [laughs]. His way of combining influences, it could be super odd combinations, it could have a grunge guitar coming in and then a hip-hop beat in the next bar. It’s absolutely mental a lot of the time but it’s super inspiring. I guess we don’t necessarily do that, not so abruptly in one song, but he definitely has elements of genre jumping while making it feel like it fits together and works cohesively. Beck’s done that his whole career and I guess that’s the kind of band I want Sunship Balloon to be, where we can be that free.
TCI: So ‘1000 Conversations’ is out and the album is out September 18th. People will already be able to tell from the singles that the album sounds fantastic. Setting aside the songs themselves for a second, the production sounds so, so good. I think you mentioned it was recorded there in Norway. Who did you work with for the album and how did it all come together?
TOK: Oh yeah thank you, it’s self-produced. I’ve got a pretty nice set up here in Oslo with a lot of analogue synths and vintage gear that we’ve been geeking out with ourselves. It’s basically like, throughout the years we worked with producers for The Wombats and you learn a lot of stuff as you go along. So basically it felt like “ok let’s just do it ourselves.” But obviously they get it that “20 percent better” and get that definition, and get things across, so we got John Congleton to mix it. He’s done St Vincent and he did the latest Bombay Bicycle Club as well I think. He’s a producer as well so he’s not just a mix engineer. So sometimes we can send him stuff and it can come back quite different [laughs]. Other times it’s more like a better version of what we sent him. But he’s definitely had a big impact on how we ended up sounding, and how we brought all of the different tracks together and made them feel like a part of the same unit.
TCI: The music video trilogy for ‘1224 Fantasia’, ‘A4 Life’ and now ‘1000 Conversations’ has been super cool so far. I think I’ve gotten a bit attached to Mushroom Bob. Where did the idea of the trilogy come from and who created the videos?
TOK: [laughs] Well we put out an EP, a year back now I think it was. There’s this website where you can put your song and ask ‘Is there anyone who is up for doing a music video?’ and people start pitching. This girl called Marta Brodacka from Poland had this really cool idea for a kind of papercut-collage looking video for ‘Up On The Moon’, which was the first song that we released from the EP. We really liked the idea that she had and she made the video. From making that video with her we knew we really liked the style, and that it would really fit with how the album was going to sound, and it would be cool to have a cohesive look as well. So that’s why we got in touch with her again. It was like “Ok we’re going to have three songs coming out before the album so we want to do a story line for all three songs where the first video stops where the next one starts and it goes on.” So yeah it’s a little journey with Bob [laughs]. It was basically her idea and concept, and we loved it so we were like “Ok. You just do it.” and then whenever she sent something over we just loved it.
TCI: You’ve done lockdown performances of the first two singles. Will we be lucky enough to get the same for ‘1000 Conversations’?
TOK: Well we haven’t actually done that, but I think we might be doing one for the next song. ‘Hashtag World’ is, I think, going to be the next one. I think that will be great as a live performance because it is more grungy and guitar driven. So that’s the idea but we haven’t actually made it yet [laughs]. It’s difficult to organise, but hopefully that’s what’s going to happen.
TCI: Obviously people might already be familiar with you and Dan as two thirds of The Wombats but your debut EP, and your forthcoming album, are outstanding in their own right. How does it feel for you starting something new after having already achieved so much in another project? Is it a bit of a blessing or do you sometimes wish people wouldn’t mention The Wombats in Sunship Balloon interviews and it would be left as its own entity?
TOK: Oh no, no it’s great. We’re very proud of all that we’ve done with The Wombats and we’ve been doing that for so long, it’s such an integral part of our lives. Obviously that allows us to spend days on days in the studio doing side projects as well. You know, because all we do is make music, and that’s thanks to The Wombats and what we’ve achieved there. So yeah, it’s brilliant [laughs].
TCI: When you launched Sunship Balloon last year you obviously had so much more knowledge and industry experience than when you formed The Wombats. How does releasing your first Sunship Balloon album compare with releasing the first Wombats album with regard to nerves and excitement?
TOK: I think I was definitely more nervous with The Wombats first album because we were all new to the whole industry thing. But I feel like you make something that you’re really proud of anyway. So yeah, you’re a bit nervous in a sense because you want people to like it, but you made something that you are happy with and at the same time you should just be proud of it and feel confident in that. Ultimately if some other people like it then that’s brilliant and if people don’t like it that’s a shame [laughs] but at least you’re happy with what you’ve done yourself. And I can’t really remember, it’s so long ago as well. We were kind of touring at the time. There was all this chaos and there were loads of interviews. There was more TV back then so there were TV performances. It’s obviously a different scale as well because then it was like “Oh where is it going to end up in the charts?” and people talking about that, and I’d never really thought about these things because that’s not why I started making music in the first place. I guess coming back to that with Sunship Balloon, in a way it’s all about having fun making the music and getting to release it. So it’s as simple as that really, or not [laughs].
TCI: When it is possible again, whenever that is, will we get to see Sunship Balloon touring Australia for this album?
TOK: I mean that would be amazing but in the current climate it’s going to be very difficult. Maybe it’s more likely that it will happen on our second album. We’ve already started making the second album, so it all depends. It depends what happens with The Wombats next album as well. We’re going to start recording that before Christmas as well, but we haven’t really got a time schedule on when that’s going to come out. That’s the thing. We need to fit things in between and we disappear into Wombats related stuff as well. So we’ll see, but it would be something that we would really like to do. We were supposed to do an extensive tour in the UK and Ireland just before the lock down happened. So it was definitely something we were doing. We really wanted to go and play live. We had a rehearsal with the guys in the band, and everything is there ready to go, we just need to be able to travel again [laughs]. I guess the only chance is a vaccine really, so we just have to be patient, and when it happens it happens. We’re not in a rush anyway, and there’s a bigger chance the next Sunship Balloon album will be out before we actually get to tour, because it’s probably going to be finished before Christmas now, hopefully [laughs].