Norwegian Kenneth Ishak spent the better part of the last decade touring the world, both in the band Beesewax and as a solo artist. I spoke with Kenneth about the things he encountered on the road across the globe, and his impressions of the places he’s visited. His new album, Silver Lightning From A Black Sky, is available now in the U.S. and worldwide.
Coolhands Luke: Kenneth, you hail from Norway. Has it been difficult making a namefor yourself being from Scandinavia, which, in the United States at least, is better known for black metal and garage rock than the folk style you are known for?
Kenneth Ishak: I think I would’ve made a bigger name for myself if I was black metal, and I would also have a cooler name so yeah, it’s rough but that’s the punishment for not liking black metal maybe. I am proud of our black metal though.
CL: You’ve written and sang about your multi-ethnic heritage. As a reader of the Guardian, I saw that Barack Obama’s election was big news in the UK. Was this also the case in Norway, and what sort of impact do you think his presidency will have on racial issues in Norway and the rest of the world?
KI: If anything, it can’t hurt. The election was a big deal here yes. I was touring with my backing band in the states on Election Day and went on after Obama’s speech- it was weird, I just felt like drinking. Us Europeans wanted Obama cause he is more like us I think.
CL: You’ve toured throughout Southeast Asia, the US, Japan and Europe. Have you encountered many of the different toilet models on your travels: bidets, squats, and flush toilets? Do you find models that differ from those in Norway, whatever the standard there might be, as strange?
KI: Let me put it this way, the US ones are the weakest. On our tours there we have had so much trouble, leaving places in a hurry because disaster struck in the bathroom.
CL: Japan is a wild place. Did you meet any Gothic Lolita girls in or around Harajuku Station? If not, what was your most interesting experience with Japanese culture?< br>
KI: No, I don’t think so. I would say the most interesting thing is that they don’t touch, anyone – touch is a basic human need I think.
CL: Obviously, a listener can get a good idea of your musical influences from the music itself, but who or what inspired you to pick up a guitar in the first place?
KI: Cream, Jimmy Hendrix-all of my big brothers heroes. I snuck into his room when he was out when I was 6-7, [taught] myself to play and after a while copied al the solos. The motive? To beat my brother at his favorite, eh-game.
CL: You spent a long time in the Norwegian band Beesewax. What prompted the move to solo material, and how is touring with a backing band different from touring as a member of a group?
KI: Beezewax, we [were] childhood friends who just loved to hang out and we did the band for thirteen years, started touring overseas when we were eighteen, and did that for ten years, recorded six albums, but when we sort of lost our innocence it wasn’t that healthy anymore. I started recording solo material years ago. It was never an idea of mine to become a solo artist- just happened, still weird to see my name on an album, etc. Touring with a backing band is kind of different, not as boyish- but the more we tour the more band it becomes, more secrets are revealed, you know what I mean.
CL: What American food do you most look forward to when coming to the United States? Do you have a favorite place here?
KI: We don’t have proper Mexican food in Europe so the Mexican in L.A is what I go for.
CL: If I ever make it to Oslo, where should I go to eat?
KI: Fyret on youngstorget!
CL: Norway is one of the most environmentally responsible countries in the world. Is environmental stewardship something you take part in on a personal level, and what are your impressions of the efforts being made, or lack thereof, in other nations, particularly the United States?
KI: What annoys me always is all the packaging for stuff. Buy a memory card and you get this big box, you can hardly find the thing you know? I try to do the small things, turn the water off, watch what I am buying and so on.
CL: Are you tired yet? Seriously, though, thanks for your time.
KI: I am in bed far away from home in a small town on the west coast of Norway recording with one of my all time heroes, so yeah-it is intense and therefore-I am tired but enjoyed it. Thanks!
– Luke Toney