Interview: Small Boy
Photo: Nicolay Woldsdal

Interview: Small Boy

I discovered the Norwegian indie rock band Small Boy one and a half years ago, thanks to my friend Kristoffer Eidsnes who has so far designed all the published artworks. Ever since I listened to Small Boy’s first single, “Bobby Go Home”, this band turned out to be my favorite Norwegian band ever. And my decision still has not changed. The two ensuing singles that were released last year “Doing Alright” and “Mostly Ghosted” also became one of my favorite tracks ever. Those were constantly in the loop.

Finally, after a one-year break, Small Boy is back with a new single called “Wash My Hair” which sounds completely different than the earlier singles. This does not mean anything bad, rather it is very exciting to witness the shift in the band’s soundscape. The earlier singles were more reminiscent of The Smiths’ soundscape, now, we find inspiration from many bands such as Deerhunter, Radiohead, George Jones and Small Boy’s bland of all those inspirations. We hear more synthesizers, still Norwegian melancholy but more synth-popish. This time, there is also a music video that is accompanying the track starred by vocalist Daniel Lien, who is also an actor. The very first element that I loved regarding the single is the back vocals. Both vocals and back vocals contemplate each other perfectly.

Considering the new single as an excuse, I talked to Daniel Lien, vocalist of Small Boy, about the soundscape, the shift in the sound, “Wash My Hair”, and moreover, what is cooking in the studio.

— Hi Daniel! Congratulations on your new single “Wash My Hair” on the upcoming EP which will be released in September. How are you doing? How has the release been for you? I know that you have been playing some gigs in Norway recently. ☺ 

DL: Hi Aleyna! Thank you, I am doing well! Every summer I remember that Norway can actually be a warm place to live, and it’s always a pleasant surprise. The release has been nice, we’ve received a lot of lovely feedback for the music video in particular. And like you said, we’ve had the chance to play a few gigs which we love very much. At the end of the day, that is why we do this, so we can meet and perform for people.

I actually discovered Small Boy thanks to your artwork designer, Kristoffer Eidsnes, while he was designing one of your covers and completely fell in love with Small Boy’s sound. What is the story behind Small Boy? How did you and Daniel Eriksen come together? 

DL: We are very glad you fell in love, and the feeling is mutual! Kristoffer is great. He has made all our artwork to this point, and he always delivers. 11/10 would recommend him for just about anything. The story of Small Boy? Well, I went to Iceland after a long relationship ended, and for whatever reason, I brought my Mac and a tiny keyboard and made some demos with another friend of mine. This roughly coincided with Daniel E’s previous band, Are You Having Fun Yet, going on a hiatus. I showed the demos I made to Daniel E, and he quite liked them I guess! Then he ended up crashing at my place for a week while his flat was getting refurbished, and we made a lot of demos and decided that this partnership might actually work out. We have known each other for a very long time and used to make weird improvised songs whenever we ended up at a party together. I never thought we’d end up making actual songs, but I’m very glad we did. 

— When I listened to the new single “Wash My Hair”, I can definitely hear the change in Small Boy’s sound compared to the first three singles. For instance, synths are playing a big role in the new single. Moreover, I can also hear the similarity to Deerhunter this time. Especially with “I know” back vocals. I honestly haven’t thought of any similarity to Deerhunter before. How do you consider the shift in the sound? Will you include all the singles you have released so far in the EP?

DL: Well, we do love Deerhunter, and are definitely inspired by them. To be perfectly honest, it’s only now that we are starting to consider “our sound”. Up until this point, it’s been whatever gets us excited. Now we are starting to, I guess, consider what direction we might go in, and what part of our identity we want to focus on if that makes sense. We do love quite a bit of the 80s, but we also have strong contemporary influences, and while comparisons to bands from that era that we love are welcome, we also don’t want to be tied down to nostalgia. The only previously released single that features on the EP is “Wash My Hair”. We don’t really want to re-release songs, at least not at the moment. 

— I also realized that you had recently changed your label. Did this have an effect on Small Boy’s soundscape? Most of the time, whenever the label changes, it is kind of easy to see the shift in the sound and music. I wonder how it is working out for Small Boy.

DL: Our label change was fairly recent, and we have not made new material since we signed. Most of the things we are releasing were made quite some time ago, which is a bit strange for us since we feel that we have changed since we started. While the things we work on now are similar to what we have done before, it’s perhaps a bit more focused. While Daniel E certainly had songwriting experience prior to Small Boy, we had to learn how we worked together, so it’s very much been a learning process for us. We also have a full band now that is much more involved in the songwriting, which we consider a very good thing.

— I really liked your earlier biography – I still do like the new one – in which you used keywords such as Yuri Gagarin, social democracy, and unbearable loneliness. How was it for you to pick up themes that you unfold in your songs? 

DL: The Yuri Gagarin thing is from an unreleased demo that I made about the friendship between two Russian cosmonauts, the aforementioned Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov. There is a story about how Komarov insisted on going on a doomed mission to space, just so his friend Gagarin wouldn’t have to. The mission was doomed indeed, and Komarov died. The accuracy of that story, or how truthful it is, is debatable. But the idea of two friends who loved each other so much, that one of them was willing to die in such a spectacular way to save the other? It moved me, and I just had to do something with what it made me feel. And that is usually when the writing works best for me when there is an emotional undercurrent that I have to do justice somehow. At the same time, I also get hung up on how certain words sound, rhythmically or sonically, in combination with other instruments, and can therefore just as easily throw meaning out the window if it sounds good. As long as I keep the emotional connection to the thing as a whole, I believe it works. 

— When I first listened to Small Boy, I indeed felt like I was somewhat listening to the revival of The Smiths. To be honest, I have never listened to The Smiths on the loop. How do you blend your different musical influences? How is the songwriting and production process going for you? 

DL: We listen to a lot of different music between us, but we do love The Smiths. Not just musically, but the uncompromising nature of their collaboration. Morrissey thought it was a good idea to basically yodel the chorus to “The Headmasters Ritual”, and even considering how weird the 80’s got, that’s a choice that takes a bit of courage to go with. I’ve known people in other bands that I felt were very scared of being cheesy, or cringe, or embarrassing, but I just don’t believe you can make good creative choices without risking the pain of sounding stupid. I also think some of the best songs feature something very embarrassing or vulnerable, either in instrumentation or lyrics, like the abrasive drum breaks in Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s “Multi-Love”. I’m not sure that Small Boy necessarily manages to do this well, but it’s an ambition for me at least. We do have a lot of musical influences. I’m gonna walk into the «I listen to everything»-trap here, but I really do if the song has merit. I’ve never ruled out an entire genre, but I’m mostly into neo-soul, alt-rock, electronica, and funk. 

Well, I’m not big on the country to be perfectly honest, which Daniel E loves. But I’m very grateful for that, because the exciting thing about making anything creative, is the assimilation of different things that you might not think would fit together. 

— Could you give us some clues about the upcoming EP? 👀

DL: I think the EP features a lot of different paths we might take in the future. It still sounds like “us”, whatever that might mean. It features songs we recorded in autumn 2021, that were based on demos made in 2019, so it will very much sound like a band trying to find out who they are, I think. But make no mistake, we are very proud of it and looking forward to sharing it with everyone! It will be a time for us to reflect on where we started and where we are going. 

— Thank you very much for talking to Nordik Simit, Daniel! We are so much looking forward to listening to the EP! ☺ 

DL: A pleasure to talk to you guys, Aleyna! We love Nordik Simit and are always happy to have a chat. 🙂

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