Honningbarna play Whelan’s this Friday, the 8th of June. I wouldn’t normally make a habit of really pushing readers to go to a gig, but having been amongst the one hundred or so who saw them play Whelan’s a couple of months ago, I’d consider this genuinely unmissable. Abrasive, lively, political and in your face, expect most who saw them last time to be back with friends, and total chaos to ensue. This is explosive burst of energy is sure to be one of the gigs of the year
Honningbarna is Norweigan for ‘honey children’. The name belongs to a young five-piece punk band from Kristiansand, close to Norway’s southern tip and a launch pad for the rest of Europe. The ferry south has become ever more prominent for the angsty rockers, who’s boisterous outings have a near-flawless reputation, fronted by cello-yielding front man and Goldenplec interviewee Edvard Valberg. It’s been a remarkable ride in many ways: Valberg is not yet twenty and looks still younger, yet his lyrics are fiercely political and his outlook undeniably angry.
Pushed into improving his English over the past few months for the benefit of an ever more intrigued European media, Valberg sings in Norwegian, but plenty of his messages need little translation. ‘Fri Palestinia’, for example, speaks for itself, as does the Palestine flag that accompanies them to every gig. The stage get up – an Ethiopian football shirt, school boy outfit and green jumpsuit (with orange stripe) amongst the disparate uniform – plays its own role in the band’s poignant message. They’ve every reason to be angry, too: just as Honningbarna seemed to be establishing themselves across Europe, drummer Anders Eikas passed away in a car accident in late January this year. With Honningbarna having made the tough decision to play on, he’s left behind arguably the most vibrant and enticing punk band of a Scandinavian generation, still yet to reach their twenties. Here, Valberg tell us his story:
Let’s go back to your roots and talk about Kristiansand. What’s the music scene like in your city?
Since the 90s it’s actually been quite a black hole. Many artists who toured in Norway just jumped over Kristiansand, as people didn’t go to concerts. Lately it’s progressing very fast actually. Lots of people are not just interested in playing in bands, but also on putting concerts together, managing, so who knows how good it could be. It’s getting much better.
I’ve heard that Norwegian crowds are quite loud and aggressive and get very involved in shows. Are you disappointed when you go elsewhere and things aren’t quite so mad?
It very much depends. I remember the first concert we played at a festival, there were two guys who broke their noses and one broke his arm. We were quite shocked ourselves. But it does depend, there’s a Norwegian music festival that’s just typical industry people. They care more about their Twitter accounts and taking pictures and looking snobby than actually enjoying music. When we played in Scotland last time, though, it was quite different to the Norwegian industry festivals. The leader of the festival was crowd surfing. You never know what’s going to happen outside of Norway either.
Quite a lot of Scandinavian bands do well abroad, but most of them sing in English, not Norwegian or Swedish or Finnish or any other language. Do you think that singing in Norwegian creates any barriers for you?
We discussed that when we were about to go abroad, but it was never option to start it in English. We thought about it, and there’s obviously a language barrier between Norwegian and English for example, but what we lose in words I think we gain in people understanding the rage or the energy. When you see, in other parts of Europe, what’s happening, people losing their jobs, the youth not getting an education and the economy going straight to the bottom, I think people might understand through identifying with the aggression. It’s very understandable.
Something like Fri Palestinia doesn’t need a lot of translating…
No it doesn’t!
I’ve seen you quoted as being quite anti-capitalist in general. Aside from the current problems, do you disagree with the direction of modern society?
Yeah, I do. Yes, we’re a political band, but we’re not in to political parties, and we’re not interested in tying our politics up to a certain ideology or anything. That just separates people, and we have enough of people trying to do that already. We’re tired of people trying to separate themselves. Our political project is maybe the biggest political project in the world. It’s to gather people having fun, experiencing solidarity, feeling the rage and using that to create something. That’s a political thing in itself. And obviously the political content of our songs, as well.
Is the ‘bootlegging’ of your own songs a statement in the same direction?
Yeah, it is. We send them out for free for people to do whatever they want with. We don’t like the modern music industry. We don’t own our music, we play it and sing it with the audience, with the people who turn up at our concerts. We don’t own it more than they do. Music, like other things, like sport, is something that we create together. It’s not just us sitting in a band room. It’s a connection with our fans; it’s so personal, to people who identify with our project. We like to send it physically home with people, and start conversations. That’s very pleasing.
What do the record label make of the uploading?
They can think whatever the fuck they want. We don’t care.
You wear the same outfits on stage at every gig. Is there a thought behind the particular choices?
It’s actually that we started playing together when we met in high school, when we were 17. We were playing at this local ‘rock off’ in town. So we thought we’d grab something to wear. Lars, the guy who plays bass, is an ex farmer [he wears a boiler suit], and Fredrik who plays guitar was just back from Ethiopia [he wears an Ethiopian football shirt] so we just grabbed something. But it’s quite a nice mix between low and high culture in the clothes. It works great actually.
Your energy in particular on stage is mad. Is it important for you to make a visual impact?
Well one reason for it is just fun. Another is that it’s really important to understand the difference between entertainment and art. When there’s art, there’s something frightening or dangerous in the performance that sets people off balance. Anything that hits them with not really wanting to be there. Once they get that, it also becomes art. It’s more than just people watching a band. That comes around when it’s out of balance. The music is, of course, why we do it; it seems natural to go mad to music. People should do it more often.
In Ireland, at least, it seemed like your big break was your set at Eurosonic. Two of Ireland’s biggest music journalists came back talking about how great you are, highlighting you as a festival highlight. Was that important in general?
Sure, it got us the Whelan’s gig, which we’re now returning to. That’s the thing with the music industry festivals. They’re not necessarily fun to play, but they’re clever to play. People like Nialler9, who wrote so nicely about us playing there, see us. It was definitely a big gig, but every gig’s a big gig.
I feel a bit strange asking you about this, but your drummer died back in January in a car accident. Is it difficult carrying on without him?
It’s always difficult when your best friend dies. But three days after the accident we talked, and we all wanted to keep on playing. It’s what he would have wanted as well.
A lot of the time in the modern music industry you have just one track to identify yourself and sell yourself. If you had to pick one track, what would that be?
It’s a difficult question. In the past people would listen to an album as an album. Now, with new technology, people listen to lots of songs from different artists. They don’t like bands, they like songs. It’s actually quite hard to say. We’d like people to listen to the album, really.
What are you like as a touring band? Do things get crazy?
We’re probably the dullest punk band on tour. It’s because we don’t do drugs and we drink very very rarely. We go to bed right after the show, because we couldn’t have done it any other way. We’re so tired after a show; if we go and do the same thing the next day just as well, we just have to get some sleep. We could also start doing cocaine and speed but that would just ruin our message. It’d probably hit our energy, too!
What are your longer term plans?
World domination, and saving the world! The same thing basically!