With every Ex Norwegian release, and Spook du Jour is already the 13th, there are two certainties, namely that (1) you as a listener will hear something different than you expect and (2) that all songs are rock (or: pop) solid.
The person responsible for all this, Roger Houdaille, explains how this is possible.
It seems like you manage to reinvent Ex Norwegian on every record. Or do you think that’s a bit exaggerated?
This is a fair assessment, but it has never been planned that way. Inspirations and musicians come and go. That’s just part of keeping things running despite whatever happens. It was the unprecedented lockdown that led to the collaborative tribute album for unsung Liverpool singer-songwriter Jimmy Campbell. The record we did with singer Lucia Perez called “Wasted Lines” really altered our sound, but it was also unintentional. Ultimately, there is something that makes an Ex Norwegian record an Ex Norwegian record. In one case, I was unable to release a finished album under the name because it just didn’t pass the test.
Did you have to record Spook du Jour differently due to the lockdown situation?
Not 100%. Sure, I would have liked more people to be on Spook Du Jour, but lockdown did make that complicated. But all the recent albums were recorded at home, even before lockdown. It’s mostly a budget issue. Additionally, here in Florida, things were pretty open when the work on this one began. Then there is Fernando Perdomo who helps me out with drumming on it and he’s out in Cali. We’ve been working remotely like that for a long time actually.
The visual aspect also seems important with Ex Norwegian. The cover art is quite different from previous records. What’s the story behind that?
Yes, I agree, it’s very different approach to our other covers. On the previous few albums, illustrators worked on them, and I thought they came out pretty well, but I didn’t see it happening for Spook Du Jour. At the same time, I didn’t have an exact idea, except that I wanted something abstract. I ended up creating the composite cover myself, layering a couple of personal vacation photos. Among them is a spliced up picture of me riding a camel!
There are quite a few style differences between, for example, the opening track Teen Bakery and the album’s closing track Center Mario. Was making an album with an evolving sound a goal in itself or did it just happen?
Originally, the goal was to make an album that was cohesive and accessible, but Spook Du Jour failed to meet this objective! The album took a long time to come together, at least by Ex Norwegian standards. Working on several different ideas at once, I eventually ran out of time, money and patience. The odd songs recorded were originally intended for a deluxe edition or maybe even a totally different project. But soon they outnumbered the poppier material. Then I had a bunch of covers, some intended for a collaborative record. Putting the breaks on, I created a tracklisting from the music that was mixed and ready for use. This resulted in that evolving sound, with one side being more accessible and the other side being more of the tracks I considered the “odd tunes”.
You’ve released quite a few records in the meantime. Is it still important for you to know what people think about it?
Of course. But I’m still very shy about it. When I find out that people are listening to my records it makes me happy. But I don’t really make records with the idea in my head that they’ll actually be listened to. And while I realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I still think the band should have a wider audience. But so far, Ex Norwegian has remained an underground thing. Not a lot of people know about it. When it comes to reading reviews and comments, it’s helpful because, most of the time, it lets me understand the music. I usually work too fast to realize what I’m doing. Until the album is out there in the world, I haven’t listened to it properly. Generally, I am pleased with the results. However, you can imagine how nerve wracking it is putting on the final retail ready record. I usually don’t remember half of what I did!