Paal Flaata was once famously described early in his career by Mojo magazine as "having a distinct advantage over his contemporary US heroes in that, with a voice that makes Scott Waker sound like Little Jimmy Osmond, he can sing them all into a cocked Stetson.."

Flaata is the former frontman with Midnight Choir, one of the very few musical acts from Norway to break out into the international arena.

Little known in Britain, but popular in the rest of Europe, and achieving almost iconic status back home, Midnight Choir recorded five albums, 'Midnight Choir' (1994), 'Olson's Lot' (1996), 'Amsterdam Stranded' (1998), 'Unsung Heroine' (2000), and 'Waiting for the Bricks to Fall' (2002), in a career which ran for over a decade and before breaking up in April 2004.

The group, a three piece, which consisted of Flaata (vocal, guitar) ; Al Deloner (guitar, organ, piano, clarinet, melodica) and Ron Olsen (double bass, fender bass and vibes), first formed in the early 90's in Skein, which is 100 kilometres South West of Oslo and was also the birthplace of the playwright Henrik Ibsen. Inspired initially by 50's rock 'n' roll and Americana, Midnight Choir began life as an alt. country group, recording their eponymous debut album in Texas. After becoming involved with Chris Eckman, the frontman with the seminal Seattle-based group the Walkabouts, who was the producer of all their albums after 'Olson's Lot', Midnight Choir changed direction. Their music became increasingly layered and they became renowned for their masterly heartwrenching torch songs, melancholic chamber pop sound and above all Flaata's soaring, honeyed vocals.

Flaata released a debut solo album, 'In Demand', a collection of covers before Midnight Choir broke up in 2002, and spent most of last year after the bands's demise working on a second solo offering, 'Rain', which consists almost entirely of original material.

'Rain' , which came out in late June, finds Flaata returning to his roots and, his most diverse album to date, incorporates together elements of rock ''n' roll, country, blues and folk as well as features several ballads.

'All Tomorrow's Tears', a 28 track Midnight Choir double CD and 'Best of' compilation which has several previously unreleased tracks,came out in June in Norway on Stockholm-based label Home of the Hits. It will be given its worldwide release in August by the German label Glitterhouse, which outside Scandinavia has also released 'Rain' and all the other Midnight Choir albums.

Pennyblackmusic spoke to Paal Flaata in late June, just after the 'All Tomorrow's Tears' had entered the Norwegian charts at number 11.

PB : Many of Midnight Choir and your own solo influences seem to come from America. Did you grow up listening to primarily American acts ?

PF : We raised ourselves on the blues and early rock ‘n’ roll. We liked a lot of 50’s stuff. A lot of our idols were from back then. Elvis was a big inspiration, as were old blues acts like Muddy Waters and BB King. Early English rock 'n' roll was another big influence.

PB : Did you any have interest at all in Norwegian music when you were growing up, or were your influences entirely American and British ?

PF : It was mostly English and American. We all did like some Norwegian music, but any interest in that came much later.

PB : You have always sung and composed in English rather than in Norwegian. Why was that ? Was that just because of what you were listening to ?

PF : That was because of our influences definitely, but also also because of the pop market. Norway's music industry is very small. Our ambition from the outset was to tour foreign countries.

PB : Which certainly happened ! Your very first album, ‘Midnight Choir’, was recorded far away from Norway in Texas. How did you end up over there ?

PF : The American musician Tom Russell was one of our contacts. We met through him Andrew Hardin, who had played guitar for him and lived there, and who had produced other bands with Norwegian roots. We thought that it would be a cool idea to start up with him.

PB : How long had the band been together at that stage ?

PF : We had been together about a couple of years I would guess.

PB :On that first abum it seems that you were still really finding your way as musicians and as you were recording it. Would you agree with that ?

PF : I would say that we were a little bit more developed by the second album because we had changed towards a more international sound. We had become much more European in tone..

PB : Your second album, ‘Olson’s Lot’, was recorded in Seattle. It was the start of a very long collaboration with the Walkabouts' Chris Eckman who went on to produce all four of Midnight Choir's other albums. How did you become involved with him ?

PF : We contacted him right before ‘Olson’s Lot’. The Walkabouts were playing in Oslo. We went backstage and gave him our first album and liked us and wanted to produce it. He was interested in working with acts in Europe, so we found ourselves going back to America and to Seattle where he was then living to work on the album.

PB : The album also featured Carla Torgerson and Glenn Slater from the Walkabouts as well as Chris. How did you enjoy working with them?

PF : They're a cool gang. It’s not that often that we met them as a whole band. It was just on a couple of occasions, but it was great.

PB : The sleeve of ‘Olson’s Lot’ shows a graveyard. Is there a real life Olson’s Lot ?

PF : Yeah, but it is actually a furniture shop in Seattle rather than a cemetery (Laughs !).

PB : So why did you stick a picture of a cemetery on the cover instead of a furniture shop ?

PF : The album was pretty dark, so it kind of fitted. The graveyard on the sleeve is actually a graveyard from New Orleans.

PB : And then having recorded those two albums in Texas and Seattle you then went on to record your third album, ‘Amsterdam Stranded;’, in Lisbon. How did you end up there ?

PF : It was because of equipment. We recorded all our albums on old tape. We felt that it gave our music a better sound. The kind of studio which was able to do that was beginning to be hard to find even at that point.It was also cheaper to record there.

PB : That seems to be an album primarily about religious and personal conflicts. Was the band in particular emotional turmoil at the time ?

PF : Yeah, we very close to falling apart, but we finally got together again for the ‘Unsung Heroine’ album.

PB : ‘Unsung Heroine’ was recorded in Slovenia. Chris Eckman now lives there. Did you go there because he was there ?

PF : Yeah, he is married to a Slovenian woman and had moved over there. He had started to make some contacts out there. It seemed like a good idea. It was once again a good price compared to what we would have paid for a similar studio in Norway.

PB : That album featured a guest appearance from the former Pretenders’ guitarist Robbie McIntosh. How did he become involved ?

PF : We were doing some final overdubs in London and mixing it at the same time. Phil Brown, our technician, comes from England and has a lot of contacts. He suggested at the last minute that we might want to use Robbie as a guest and we thought “Well, great.” He fitted in well. He’s a very cool guy and a nice man.

PB : The last Midnight Choir album, ‘Waiting for the Bricks to Fall’, features a logo on the sleeve “some of the emotions shown on this recording may not be suitable for everyone”. Why did you put that on ?

PF : That whole album is pretty dark and scary. We thought that it was appropriate (Laughs).

PB : You split very shortly afterwards. That album involved a lot of very talented people. Chris Eckman was involved. Tim Freise-Greene and Lee Harris who had been in Talk Talk played on it. Phil Brown, who had worked with both Talk Talk and Roxy Music was involved again.The album also featured 21 players from Prague orchestras. Did you split because you just felt that you had gone as far as you could ?

PF : We split a year or so after that. We did a tour with Lee Harris, and then that was it. There was a lot of personal stuff going on between all three of us. The situation was complicated, but we couldn’t work together anymore.

PB : Most of that album was recorded in Prague. Why did you go there ? Was it just because it was cheap again ?

PF : We had found a good studio there which also had the sort of old equipment we liked.The price was also good.

PB : Your new album, ‘Rain’, is the first album of all your own material to be recorded in Norway. Did it feel strange recording it in Norway at last , having recorded with Midnight Choir all over the world ?

PF : Yeah ! It did (Laughs).I wanted to work with some other Norwegian musicians, and it was more practical to do it over here.

PB : A lot of the songs on the album were written by Ben Lorentzon and Christian Nystrom, both of whom play in your new band. Who are they ?

PF : They're not well known at all, but they have their own band and they write their own tunes and were trying to get into the business. They’re very productive. They’ve got a lot of good stuff going on. I thought that it would be very interesting to meet new people and see how that resolved.

PB : How did you meet them ?

PF : I met them here in Oslo. They were playing here on tour, and I went along to see them.

PB : Al Deloner wrote all the songs in Midnight Choir, but you share songwriting credits on four of the songs on the album with them. What were your contributions ? Were you writing lyrics or was it music ?

PF : It was mainly music.

PB : Why did you decide to call the album ‘Rain’ ?

PF : It was the working title of the album at the beginning. It was because we were going to put a rain sound onto one of the tracks, but we moved away from that idea in the end. We kept the name though. We thought ‘Rain’ was a good title.

PB : One of the tracks on it, ‘Right Next to Nothing’, features joint vocals with Alexandra Braton. Who is she ?

PF : No, she is with a band called Nice. They are going to release an album which Chris Eckman has also produced in the Fall. She’s a completely new name.

PB : Your first solo album, 'In Demand', consisted entirely of cover songs and there is another cover song at the end of ‘Rain’, ‘Bless Us All’ by Mickey Newbury. You have done a lot of cover songs in the past. What is the appeal to you of doing cover songs ?

PF : You can somehow turn them into your own. If it is a good song, you can always do something different with it.

PB : And why did you decide to put ‘Bless Us All’ on the album, particulary right at the end of it ?

PF : I think that it fits the whole thing. I also have a tradition of closing each of albums with a gospel song.I used to do that with Midnight Choir too.

PB : It is a very electic album and it more versatile in its tone than the Midnight Choir albums. Would you agree with that ?

PF : Yeah, definitely. That was always the intention. I needed to do something else.

PB : The album was produced by Thomas A. Anderson. Who is he ?

PF : He is also a new guy (Laughs). We met in a studio and became friends become friends and we thought “Yeah, let’s do an album.”

PB : ‘All Tomorrow's Tears’ has just gone in at Number 11 in the Norwegian charts. Have you been surprised at the continued success of the band at home as well as abroad ?

PF : Yeah, it does seem strange that we have split, but are still remembered. I think that this compilation will be the last Midnight Choir release though.

PB : Will you be touring ‘Rain’at all ? Do you plan to take your new band out on the road with ‘it?

PF : Yeah ! We’ll be touring in Norway over the summer.

PB : Will you take it in to Europe ?

PF : We are planning to do Germany in August. We haven’t planned anything else so far, but we will tour.

PB : What other plans do you have for the future ?

PF : For now it’s the touring and the promotional stuff, but we will eventually do some new recordings in the Fall.

PB : Do you know which direction those new recordings will take yet?

PF :No, but I would imagine that it is going to be in the same vein as ‘Rain.’

PB : Thank you

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