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Talkback: Mörmaid

Artist & Producer Live Sollid By William Stokes
Published September 2023

TalkbackPhoto: Guro Sommer

Norwegian artist and producer Live Sollid began her musical journey in the world of jazz, but is now exploring the outer reaches of progressive electronica and experimental pop, with a palette of otherworldly vocal manipulations, lush soundscapes and deft experiments with beats in Ableton. For Mörmaid, it’s all part of the same, vibrant ecosystem. “Jazz vocals and improvised music are the base of what I do,” she explains. “It’s always been a part of it, particularly when I talk about production.”

At the moment I can’t stop listening to

This maybe isn’t going to be the most exciting answer: I recently had this long period where I actually didn’t listen to that much music. Instead I’ve listened mostly to podcasts! The stuff that I keep going back to includes people like Jon Hopkins, also Kelly Lee Owens. Her album Inner Song is one of my favourite albums. I’ve got this Spotify playlist where I gather all of my favourite electronic music. Also, lately, I’ve been listening to this band called Giant Swan. I think the two first tracks on their self‑titled album are actually my favourite tracks: ‘55 Year Old Daughter’ and ‘Pandaemonium’. But I also love their latest EP, Fantasy Food.

The project I’m most proud of

I want to say my first EP, which I did all by myself. It was during the first lockdown that I finished it. I recorded, produced and mixed it on my own. And I felt really good about having done all of that myself. I felt like I got the mixes to a really good place. In the beginning, it was really hard to have any motivation at all, to do anything. So I just got into this mindset of, ‘OK, f**k it, I’m gonna do something. I have the songs.’ I just felt, ‘Wow, my ears can do this! I can mix, and it sounds good.’ I was referencing it next to other stuff and I was really happy with it. So that’s something I felt really, really good about.

Also on my recent EP, the track I’m most happy about is a song called ‘Punish’. Because it’s a really simple idea, but it works really well, I think! The song title actually just came from the [Soundtoys] Decapitator plug‑in, which has a ‘Punish’ button! I was like, ‘Punish! Oh, OK, I’m gonna play with that word a bit, and then stick it in a lyric,’ and it is really simple! And of course, all of the stems basically have the Decapitator on them. I use it all the time!

The first thing I look for in a studio

Oh, good question. I think, if there is a synth rack, I like looking at what’s there. I’m really interested in synths and I want to learn more about them, because I feel like I’m just like touching the surface. So I think that’s the first thing. I’m like, ‘Ooh, what’s this? What’s that? What does this thing do?’ I have a [Dave Smith Instruments] Prophet‑12 and a [Teenage Engineering] OP‑1. Those are my two. I feel like I still have a lot to learn, at least about the Prophet because it’s such a huge beast. The OP‑1 is really fun. I feel like it really has a character; you can just hear if someone has used one, even though it has a lot of different sounds, it’s got this kind of wacky character.

The person I would consider my mentor

Well, my mum is definitely my hero! But actually, I’d say two of my singing teachers have both been really important for me. The first one I had in college, when I went to do music there. Her name is Nina Lundberg. She was my singing teacher for the three years I went to college. And I hadn’t really had any singing training before I started with her, so my voice was very unpolished! But she she was so super helpful. Helping me, like, discover my voice and what I could do with it. It really opened up so much. And my voice changed like a lot during those three years. Suddenly I could work across a really big range. Also she made me feel super safe and was a very caring person. Just so generous. I don’t know where I’d be without her, when it comes to singing.

My other singing teacher was very different. I had her when I did my undergrad in jazz vocals. She was the one who introduced me to doing very experimental stuff, or extended vocal techniques. Her name is Sidsel Endresen and she’s a really well‑known, highly respected musician here in Norway. She’s considered a pioneer when it comes to experimental vocals — and also lyrics.

My go‑to reference track or album

I really love SOPHIE. It’s so clean but also so crazy. The way it’s mixed, it’s often just so satisfying to listen to, it’s kind of almost ASMR, you know? Quite bright, but also with this really nice low end to it. So I often use her music as a reference. I would say ‘Faceshopping’ is one of my favourite tracks, also ‘VYZEE’. It’s weird, it’s very dance‑y. It has this pitched‑up voice, kind of speaking or rapping, almost. Which is not SOPHIE herself. It’s almost a bit uncomfortable, but it’s also very comfortable! You get kind of confused listening to it, but I love it. All the elements have their place. Nothing is unnecessary, you know. It’s just really well balanced and well placed in the soundscape.

My top tip for a successful session

When I work by myself, I feel like it’s been a successful session if I’ve discovered a new way to do something, or a new way to use an effect with my vocals. Maybe just something that I haven’t heard before. That’s where I feel I get that kick. So, that’s all what I think constitutes a good session. And it doesn’t even have to be something that sounds catchy or anything. It could just be an interesting sound design thing.

The studio session I wish I’d witnessed

I would have loved to be there when Burial did the song ‘Archangel’. I think that’s so amazing, so beautiful. It would be so cool to be... In Norway we say a ‘fly on the wall’. I don’t know if he just did it himself. I think it was just him, right? I guess that’s why I would have loved to be there! The vocals in it are chopped up in this really cool way. And it is quite mysterious. You don’t feel like you’re getting very close to whoever wrote it, but at the same time it feels very emotional. It’s as if it’s got this veil. I’m actually working on a track now, where I’ve tried to make a garage beat like that. I’m trying to find a cool way to sort of put a little nod to Burial in there.

The producer I’d most like to work with

I would absolutely love to work with Jon Hopkins. I’m a huge fan. There’s a lot of detail, but also it’s very simple. I went to see him play here in Oslo last autumn, and he was mixing up these very dance‑y electronic tracks that he has with his piano pieces and with strings. It was super cool, that contrast. It worked so well. His album with King Creosote is also one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. The first time I listened to it, I was just amazed! I was crying, feeling everything! That’s something I would love to do myself, actually: work with someone whose sound is so different to mine and to make it work so well.

Mörmaid: There’s so much you can do with the voice apart from just singing a melody, and there’s so much textural stuff you can do, so many sounds like that you can create, even without any effects.

The part of music creation I enjoy the most

What I like the most is to just improvise with my voice. All songwriting is a sort of improvising, but in the starting phase it’s about using the stuff that I’ve learned, with a very open space. I’m trying to not be too focused on genre or anything; instead, just seeing what comes out. Of course, it does often end up in this electronic landscape, because those are the tools that I use and that’s also what I really like to use. But yeah, I just really love improvising, and especially with my voice. There’s so much you can do with the voice apart from just singing a melody, and there’s so much textural stuff you can do, so many sounds like that you can create, even without any effects. So I really like to come up with ideas that way, just using the voice.

When I did my jazz education, for the people in my class who played other instruments, there was a focus on learning to sing something before you learned to play it. Of course, I’m a singer, so I would do things with my voice anyway, but if we were learning a chord progression or a bass line or something, we would always sing it first and then move on to the instrument. So there’s something about using the voice as this basis, because it’s so close: it’s in you. When you learn to sing it first, it really stays in your body, you know, and it really becomes a part of you. I think that comes out when you move onto an external instrument as well. It’s very primal, in a way. And it really does something to how you perform. I love using my voice as a tool.

The advice I’d give myself of 10 years ago

Ten years ago, I was 20... being in this jazz community, people felt a lot of pressure to know about all of these obscure things, to know all the names of all the jazz musicians and so on. There was pressure to be able to play very advanced stuff and to be very technical. It obviously wasn’t like that all the time. But it was definitely a part of it, because there is a lot of like, shredding in jazz, you know? So I think I would maybe say, you don’t have to be able to nail those crazy jazz licks. And you don’t have to pretend to like all the jazz musicians. You can just like the music that you like, and do whatever you’re interested in. I remember thinking, ‘OK, I’m a vocalist, but I’m not going to be one of those singers who just does melody and lyrics, I’m going to be an instrumentalist vocalist.’ And that’s something that part of me actually thought was very cool, but I also think I was trying to prove something. Trying to prove that I was not just a singing lady, you know. You don’t have to prove yourself more than, for example, the male jazz musicians. Just do what you’re passionate about, and it’s gonna be great because you’re passionate about it!