It’s Thursday, and this week I have a treat for you. I had a talk with the wonderful Stian aka. Selsom. Lets jump right in!
What’s your real name?
My real name is Stian Kristoffersen Vedøy
How did you come up with your artist name?
I wanted to use a Norwegian word mainly for sentimental reasons, but also to have something slightly unique and mysterious. I was looking for modern translations for the words beautiful, mysterious, strange and intriguing, but non of the Norwegian words were short, snappy or easily pronounceable enough for an English speaker. After looking through an old dictionary, I came across “Selsom”. It’s a word that didn’t make it further than my grandparents. The literal translation is “strange” or “weird”, but after asking around it is more like “mysteriously peculiar”.
Where are you from? And where do you live?
I was born and raised on a west coast island in Norway called Karmøy. I now live in Bristol, UK.
How long have you been playing the piano, and do you play other instruments as well?
I’ve been playing for 24 years. Playing, definitely not studying or practicing for 24. Haha! Yes, I do play other instruments and sing.
Tell us about how you started playing music.
I was forced by my mum into learning the piano at an age of 6. In retrospect I’m eternally grateful to her for that! No regrets! I picked up the guitar as a 13 year old and started songwriting and producing music during my mid-teens. This lead to studying music production at University level, which brought me to the UK.
How long have you been making piano music?
To be honest, I have piano sketches reaching back to my early teenage years. It only took a world pandemic for me to pull my finger out and actually do something about it.
Tell us something about that moment you realized you could make songs yourself!
Wow… That must have been when I was 13. I bought my first CD using my own money. It was a Norwegian singer/songwriter called Thomas Dybdahl. His voice, songwriting and production style were so incredibly ahead-of-its-time in the now called indie alt folk genre. He basically wrote songs in the style of Bon Iver but more intelligently put together 6 years ahead, back in 2002. This album, That Great October Sound, just sparked something in me that has stuck and are still inspiring me. In terms of instrumental piano music, it wasn’t until I saw Icelandic Olafur Arnalds in concert in 2018, that I realised I needed to create an outlet for my Ambient / Neo Classical work.
What are your favorite artists in this “piano genre”?
I have quite a few. Top five in no particular order are: Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Jon Hopkins, Julien Marchal and Goldmund. There are so many more I would love to put on that list, but these are some of the ones I’ve listened to the most.
Is there one song which you play over and over again as soon as you sit down by a piano? Your own or someone else’s?
I tend to just play freely when I first sit down by the piano. I do weirdly always end up playing the piano part of Beth/Rest by Bon Iver. In terms of my music, I often end up playing the latest tracks that I’m about to record, which makes a lot of sense.
What rules (in making music) needs to be broken?
To be honest, music should’t have rules. Play what makes you and the people around you feel something. If that’s what’s considered to be the clichés, or some obscure chord structure or melody. Go for it! It’s all aloud. However, not everyone is going to love everything.
How do you record your music? Yourself? In a big studio? etc.
I have a Yamaha U1 upright in my living room. Every time I want to record, I bring my iMac and microphones down from my home studio and create a little studio setup right next to the piano. I tend use two cigar condenser microphones on each side for stereo, and a lage diaphragm condenser in the midle. I often end up recording with the practice pedal down. It sounds really mellow and picks up the piano’s mechanism as much as the actual tones, which I really love.
Whats your take on sampled instruments?
I don’t mind it. Everything is aloud. Not everyone can afford a real piano yet alone a whole orchestra/band’s worth of instruments. However, I always try to get hold of a real instrument or instrumentalist for recordings, and definitely prefer the sound of a real instrument.
Anything else you want to share?
Most of my adult live has been dedicated to an indie alt folk project called Firewoodisland. We’ve been going for quite a few years now, and I absolutely love writing and producing music for it. I’m incredibly lucky to be writing, recording and touring together with my wife. It makes everything so much easier, and it is a beautiful part of our journey together.
The last question is asked by my 6 year old son:
Where do all your songs come from?
All my songs come from so many different places. But one thing that most of them have in common is that melodies often come into my head when I least expect it. On the buss, whilst sleeping, at the toilet or in the shower. Sometimes they even come while I’m sat by the piano.
Thank you very much Stian for this wonderful interview!
Today I’m introducing you to the track Jøkul by the two artists Selsom and Walker Combe. Selsom comes from Norway and has played the piano since the age of six. Later he went on to study music production which brought him to the UK. Walter Combe has played the Cello since he was five years old. He gave up music in his early 20s but came back about nine years ago.
The track Jøkul was released as a single on the 26th of June, 2020.
Tell us something about what your plans going forward with your releases!
For Selsom this is part of a yearly project where I compose, produce and release one track a month for a year. This year’s concept is based on the fact that Norway has 100 words related to snow. I will choose 12 of my favourite words. After the 12th release, the plan is to collate them into an album called SNØ meaning snow in Norwegian. It will most likely be released a year from when the concept started in the end of February.
Tell us something about the track Jøkul!
When I started this year long concept album, I really wanted to do it on a real piano. I had saved up for an upright for over a year, and then COVID hit! So I released the 3 first tracks performed on a Nord Stage keyboard, where I recorded the stereo output, but placed a stereo pair of microphones above it to pick up the actual ambiance. 3 months into the pandemic I finally managed to get hold of a beautiful Yamaha U1! As soon as I composed this track, I knew I had to involve Simon. The track was screaming for a cello, and Simon is a fantastic cellist as well as a brilliant recording engineer. Basically, win! After getting the track back from Simon, I had a little moment where I almost cried out of excitement. When picking a snow related name for the track, it had to mirror the atmospheric vastness of the track as well as the slow melancholic pace. Jøkul is one of my favourite snow words. It is an arm or one strand of a glacier, which perfectly fits in with the fact that it’s a collaboration, like a little offshoot from the larger project.
When I got the piano track from Stian there was so much space to explore it. I just sat with it and started hearing these notes with overtones… I explored those and then this beautiful melody hit me in the middle of the piece and I loved it straight away and tracked it immediately without editing. I was recording during the heatwave in May and I had to track it late at night as the birds were making so much noise during the day it was impossible to get a clean take.
Thank you very much for this lovely track!