Interesting story magnet
Interesting story magnet
IN A SMALL CITY that’s a substantial metropolis for a little country, there sits a moderately sized man wearing a particularly large hat. His soft, once-pained eyes are overshadowed by a bent straw brim, his knees are drawn up to be proper elbow rests, his hands rest somewhere in between, and a pair of shiny leather boots butts out of the holes at the bottom of his blue jeans. Here, in a hilly, green, cobble-stoned port town called Bergen (bent into the shape of a “W” by Nordic fjords and snowy mountains) sits the last cowboy in the kingdom of Norway. In theory, at least. He hasn’t ever roped a steer, isn’t much for gunslinging, doesn’t own a horse, and wouldn’t ever call himself a dude, but hell, the greatest westerns were filmed in Italy by a guy named Sergio.
“There’s a message in those films and it’s all to do with conscience. There’s no law, you’ve only got your own conscience and your own decisions, and you have to stand for the consequences of what you do. That kind of ideology appeals to me. If you do try and live your life well according to your own standards, the law thing isn’t there, it isn’t really necessary—well, apart from the occasional run-in.”
You might assume Even Johansen to be a romantic. You might assume he’s out of sync with the ebb and flow of reality. But he’s a man whose life has always existed two steps into the fantastical, and like any good artist he plays all of the roles: full-time participant, sometime escapist, distanced observer and knowing commentator. As Magnet he makes beautifully rustic music marked by gradual crescendos and a lush desperation. As a husband he devotes himself to “the loveliest girl in the world.” And as a child growing up in a close-knit community of artists in Norway’s second-largest city, he often found himself—like Clint Eastwood—a player in scenes where the background didn’t necessarily match the set.
At age 13, for instance, Even’s father (singer, keyboardist and trumpeter in a New Orleans-via-Norway jazz band) took his son to a witch doctor to cure the boy’s anemia. The medicine man permanently inked a half-dollar sized magnet onto his shoulder (the logical foil to an iron-deficiency), and Even hasn’t had a problem since. Today he makes his living with mostly metal things—his favorite being the lap steel guitar—and the surrealism suits his music, which has drawn comparisons to Ennio Morricone’s slow-rolling sonic take on life on the open (Italian) plain. If Even’s first solo outing (Quiet & Still, recorded under his given name while he was still with his old band Libido) was both dark and optimistic, his debut as Magnet is convoluted in the most interesting of ways.
On Your Side, to be released stateside on Sept. 28 (through Filter US Recordings), is a mélange of strings, keys, skins, air and computers, an album with a unique country grandeur informed by electronica’s urgency. The album is self-produced, but it hardly sounds that way. The songs unfold with a tense grace that brings brightness to the dim corners, while the dusk carried on Even’s words moves in and out of the sound. There are several songs devoted to a suicidal loved one (“You said you’d die for me/So why can’t you live for me…”), songs about friends with destructive dependencies, love songs about losing sight of the world, and songs about loving the loss of your self. But it’s hardly depressing. On the contrary, it’s forward-looking, as if to say, “Yes, these were problems, but I can see the end of them now. Yes, life can be a cold place, but if you step back you’ll see that you can make your own warmth.”
“It’s kind of like an eternal teenage rebellion. Through music, you can pretend that you’re existing on the outside, that the rules and regulations don’t apply. I mean, obviously they do, and I do understand that…but well, in the Spaghetti Western films, the guy that sorts everything out, he’s always nobody.”
And everybody know outlaws aren’t just cowboys either…they’re poets and lovers and painters and musicians and the kind of people who wake up in a cold sweat, scrambling to record the hue of their dreams before the color starts to fade. They’re independents and free-thinkers, and they’re also people who need people at the end of the day. And in any case, it was an aesthetic (more than anything) that Eastwood would come to represent, not a literal representation of life in the 1860s. Even Johansen may not be above the law, but Magnet exists somewhere else, on some unclaimed land where big hats are most definitely the norm.