Michael Sollien is a talented songwriter and producer from Oslo, Norway. He also sings and plays guitar in the band Firetop Mountain. We caught up with Michael for a chat about his influences, current projects and future. Have a read.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What’s the story behind Michael Sollien – the musician – and how would you describe your sound?
I’m a 30 something music nerd who plays, produce, engineer music and now even run a record label. It’s a bit much but music never feels like work anyway. I grew up a big nerd with Commodore 64 and later Amiga 500 (yeah, I’m showing my age here) so some of my first great experiences with music came from old games. I really got into guitar music in my teens, started playing in bands, and discovered I could sing. I had this one incident when I was about 14 where I had screamed my lungs out on a rehearsal. I lost my voice for a week, but when my voice came back I realized I could reach really high notes.
My solo work started with me discovering Ableton Live. Before that I always thought making electronic music was too cumbersome and unapproachable, but somehow that piece of software and me just clicked. The first ever song I made with Ableton Live actually ended up as City on my Side from my Autumnism EP.
Michael Sollien is just me playing around with music. I’ve never thought out any particular direction for my music, but I find it easier to get things done when I confine my creativity a little, so I came up with an idea to make 4 different releases based on the different seasons. I think I was inspired by Sufjan Steven’s plan to make an album for every State. He made 3 or 4 before he dropped out of that project, but 4 is manageable I think. Autumnism was my first release, followed up by the single Winterdark a few months later. So naturally, there’s gonna be a releases based on spring and summer in the future. The completionist in me can’t have the project just half finished.
What motivates you to write music and inspires it, your aesthetic and vibe?
My motivation has always to do better than last time. Always to improve or do things a little different. What motivated me most is the joy of creating something. It is a wonderful feeling to create something that suddenly is there because of me. Must be something akin to what parents feel but on a smaller scale.
I haven’t really defined what my vibe or aesthetic is. I believe I have a very distinctive voice, and whatever music I put that voice to it’s gonna sound like me. So I figured I could do whichever genre I see fit. I might go folk music on my next release ´cause it would probably still sound like me.
How do you write your songs – what’s your process, organic or do you have a structured approach?
Usually I just sit down with an acoustic guitar, or a synth, and record whatever pops up and ad-lib vocals on top of it. I try to not think about what I’m doing too much as long as I record it and let it just flow. Sometimes I start with the title of the song, and let that inspire the sound or lyrics. Other times I work very structured and do it the ordinary way with the beat first. A good beat can inspire a whole song and I think that’s what I did with this song.
You’re also the vocalist and guitarist in long established melodic indie rock band Firetop Mountain, but your solo work is very different. How do you find working in different genres and keeping the identities of your projects separate?
The band is a whole different beast. I don’t have absolute control there, and I love that. You get stuck when you’re alone in front of the computer and midi keyboard and you really have no one to turn to. When you play in a band there’s always someone who comes up with an idea to push it along.
Firetop Mountain has always been at war with its own identity. There’s always the question if a song is too pop or if it’s too heavy, and we feel uncomfortable when we’ve drifted too far in either direction. So the Michael Sollien project is where I can indulge in being as soft and pop or electronic as I see fit. Most of the time I just try to do the opposite of what I do with my band.
Tell us about your latest release, Winterdark. What’s the inspiration and story behind the track?
It’s a meta-song really. The usual winter depression had hit me real hard and on top of that I just got out of a long relationship. Going to the studio and making this song helped me keep my sanity. So it’s a love letter to making music, or any other creative work, to help you though hard times.
Finally, what does the future have in store for Michael Sollien – gigs, releases, new ventures?
There are some remixes of Winterdark coming soon from some pals of mine, and I hope to release them shortly. As for the 4 seasons project I don’t know if I will finish it this year, but maybe in 2018. I have a few ideas that I want to try out, so there may be a some songs coming later this year, but I think they will be stand-alone so to speak.