Album: "Skinhorse Playground" 27.10.2017
SOL HEILO – ‘SKINHORSE PLAYGROUND’
There’s comfort in company, but it’s the strength in solitude that saw Sol Heilo truly find her voice. Following a successful career in Norwegian folktet Katzenjammer, Sol found freedom in the fall. She sought resolve, not reinvention, approaching her solo debut with the same wide-eyed wonderment that saw her pick up a guitar (and trumpet, and banjo, and harp, and flute, and accordion, and drums, among others) in the first place.
“I felt really uncertain of what was going to happen, but I liked that,” she says. “I never planned on having a solo career, but it became clear that’s what I had to do. It didn’t feel bold, it felt natural.”
Lone roads led to ‘Skinhorse Playground’ – a fantasy land first envisioned in Sol’s childhood. Perhaps it represents more of a journey than destination, with Sol drifting out and zoning in on her most contemplative cognition. “Dreams have always played a significant part of my life. I tend to solve problems, process daily events and deal with issues more rooted in my system during sleep,” she says. “I channel out my fears, my secrets and I also create.”
A recurring dream – since about age three – details characters ‘Dyn Dyn’ and album namesake ‘Skinhorse’. “I remember them vividly, and I remember trying to analyse them even as a child. Dyn Dyn was an excavator with no driver, but took many different shapes. I quickly found that he represented my fear,” she says.
Skinhorse, on the other hand, represented the fear of others – an external force, though no less consuming. “This creature had a possessive and destructive power,” she recalls. “It appeared very often in my dreams, maybe from the age of ten, and again while I was writing lyrics that shaped the album. My life was its playground, and everybody around me was involved.”
The album was penned during a time of personal unrest that, rather ironically, paralleled the peak of Katzenjammer’s career – a twelve-year pursuit culminating in three albums, hundreds of thousands of sales, tours spanning Austin to Australia, and praise from the likes of The Guardian, The Quietus and BBC Radio 6Music, alongside personal plaudits from David Byrne and Steve Lamacq.
“When you get to that level,” referring to Katzenjammer’s success, “you miss the innocence and excitement of striving for something like that; of entering into something with wide eyes, unaware of the restriction or expectation or consequence,” she says. “These tracks were only ever written for me, because I needed to. Because I needed to channel out my guts, I guess. There was no motive, it all came from a very pure, ‘whatever-will-be’ place.”
Lead single and album opener ‘America’ sets the tone for what is to come – an ode to the unknown, and the promise of new places and faces. It’s indicative of not only the project, but overall process. Rich in wanderlust, the track sees Bærum-born Sol displaced and disoriented on a balmy New Orleans morning, during the peak of a Norwegian winter.
“I woke in a hotel room to the view of sunshine and palm trees waving in the hot wind. Coming from wintery Norway, and having arrived in complete darkness the night before, it all felt so strange and surreal to me,” she says. “I love to get lost in a place I don’t know. To leave my phone and wallet behind, and just follow my feet with no map or anyone to guide me. That’s when the really cool stuff is happening – when you’re totally present and open to adventure, and new experiences.”
On the flipside, ‘London Is Trouble’ trails the downside of life on the road. It took shape at London’s iconic, but now defunct, 12 Bar Club, following a bout of retail therapy on Denmark Street. “I remember I was in the bar and had just bought myself a new guitar – a 1961 Gibson LG-0 – almost to fill my soul with something,” she says. “It’s about how gray and dull London can be when you have no joy in your heart, and the ever-fleeting glow of late nights and early mornings.”
Then you have the one-two punch of ‘The Dream Escapers’ and ‘Killing Karma’ – the former, a scornful “showed-you” to those who dared to doubt, and the latter, a proverbial “stuff-you” to those best not trusted. ‘Closer To The Sky’ contemplates a life cut short, while ‘Walk A Little Further’ urges life among the living.
‘Skinhorse Playground’ owes much of its sound to producer Hasse Rosbach (Moddi, Turbonegro, Team Me), who called in an eclectic mix of jazz composers, punk purists and LA-based session legends – not least of which, Jeff Babko (Neil Young, Beck, Frank Ocean, Jimmy Kimmel Live) – to push Sol even further from her Katzenjammer comforts.
Together with Rosbach, Sol experimented with a wide variety of sounds, recording hundreds of samples from scratch – including Celtic harp, accordion, dulcimer, flutes, fiddles and trumpets – which were later tweaked, combined and programmed into a DIY digital mellotron.
Vocals were meticulously layered and sampled throughout the process, with Sol recording her voice in different pitches, tones and qualities to create a fifty-part “gospel choir” on ‘Killing Karma’.
“Normally I wouldn’t let anyone touch my arrangements, but Hasse is an exception,” she says. “He was doing things I’d never thought of, and things I wouldn’t usually consider. In that sense, this record is a lot braver than anything I’ve done before.”
The album concludes in ‘Happy Song’ – a sonically sparse little ditty, at just over two minutes, that is no less weighted on Sol’s heart. “These songs come from a very personal place, but perhaps this is the expression that comes most natural to me,” she says. “Like a tune that could be played on a shabby guitar around a camp fire with everybody joining in.”
If ever there was a silver lining, this is it. “It’s kind of like a lullaby that sprouted from a pretty dark time,” she says of ‘Happy Song’. I just wanted everything to be normal again, and to get back to my good old, happy-go-lucky self. To laugh, and sing, and experience the pure joy that comes with making music.”
“In the beginning, there are no consequences. You’re unaware of the boundaries, and you have nothing to lose.” In many ways, the album is a chance at just that – a new start, and a renaissance made all the richer for the experiences that shaped a brighter, braver Sol Heilo.
08. Februar 2018, Knust, Hamburg
09. Februar 2018, Kulturzentrum Lagerhaus, Bremen
10. Februar 2018, Gleis 22, Münster
14. Februar 2018, Frannz, Berlin
15. Februar 2018, Faust, Hannover
16. Februar 2018, UT Connewitz, Leipzig
17. Februar 2018, Luxor, Köln
19. Februar 2018, Kulturzentrum Schlachthof e. V., Wiesbaden
21. Februar 2018, Im Wizemann (Halle), Stuttgart
22. Februar 2018, Hansa 39, München
23. Februar 2018, E-Werk, Erlangen
24. Februar 2018, Club 02, Heidelberg
Sol Heilo steht für On Tour Promo zur Verfügung!