NMR Interview: Gurli Octavia (Denmark) - An Interview in 27 Questions
We were privileged recently – and I use the word advisedly – to be one of the first to review the debut album, ‘I could be blossoming instead’, from Gurli Octavia, one that we had eagerly anticipated for some time. if you haven’t heard it already be prepared to be hooked and having it on repeat for a long time to come. Gurli kindly agreed to take part in a distanced interview comprising both serious and slightly tongue-in-cheek questions. She reveals that she was a late starter to sharing her songs, that she might possibly be revealing some work in another medium shortly, she shares her strong views on education, reveals how she once wanted to be a detective (hasn’t Denmark got enough already?) and that she aspires to buy a van to live in!
David Bentley asked the questions.
NMR: Hi, how are you?
Gurli: “Hi! I’m good thank you! Hope you are as well :) Just a little impatient with the real spring weather to arrive :)”
NMR: What’s the weather like there? It’s been bloody freezing here.
“It’s been quite cold, but it’s getting warmer now, hopefully it will continue to get warmer, and not drop again :)“
NMR: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came into the music business
“I’ve always played music, and started writing songs when I was a teenager. But didn’t do much about the song writing. I was in my mid twenties before I started sharing my songs, and I started by releasing my demos on SoundCloud. Having done that, and playing some gigs here and then, I got signed by a very small indie label, run by the three women from Nelson Can, and it just went on from there.”
NMR: How do most of your songs start life? A chord? Or melody? Lyrically?
“It’s veeeery different. I don’t think I have something I do more than other things. Sometimes I start with a beat I make in Logic, other times I play around on the guitar. Sometimes a melody line pops up in my head, and I go from there. I sometimes start with a lyric idea, but when I think about it, it’s seldom the songs spring from lyrics. But I have a lot of “homeless” sentences and words I often dig into pretty early in the process. So yeah, mostly either a beat, some chords or a melody I’d say :)“
NMR: What is more important to you, the music or the lyrics?
“The combination! I’m very holistic when writing music, and if the sound of a word isn’t how I want it to be, I’d rather change the word. The lyrics have to sound good, that’s just as important to me. Yeah the combination - how they suit each other is really important to me. So I go back and forth when I make songs, the melody and the lyrics are created alongside each other and follow each other’s development.“
NMR: Do you write in any other medium? Poetry? Or prose?
“Yes I do, but I’ve never published anything. Yet! I do have some projects I’m gonna share some news about pretty soon ;)”
NMR: Tell us about your new album, ‘I could be blossoming instead’. How did it come about? Are we to read anything into the title?
“I recorded it with my band, and co-produced most of it with the producer Jeppe Pilgaard. Rest of the songs I produced. We recorded in a vacation house where I’d rented the gear we’d need, and we went two times, and had a lot of fun doing it.
The title is a line from ‘Lilac Rose’ (a track on the album) that I’ve rewritten. It refers to my own reflections on how I often have a choice - to choose good things for myself, and not do the things I know will mess me up.“
NMR: How do you spend your days just now with few or no live shows to play?
“I write a lot of music. Like a loooot of music, and I’m honestly enjoying myself quite a lot. I’ve never had such a long ‘breather’ before. So even though I really miss playing gigs, and I’m really bummed out that my album tour got postponed, I’m also appreciative of suddenly having time to focus. Cause the last 4-5 years have just been massively stressful and I’ve worked way too much. I was also quite busy in 2020, despite the lockdown, but now that my album is finally out, I’m just indulging in making music and doing other projects I’ve been wanting to make for a long time!“
NMR: What is your ultimate ambition, if you have one?
“I actually like to keep my big dreams and ambitions to myself, because it feels quite personal :) But of course I’d love to have a massive breakthrough with my music and tour all over the world, okay tons of festivals and all that :)“
NMR: Have you ever been star-struck?
“I don’t think so, I don’t remember. But yeah probably? I’ve never had like major idols. But I’ve met some people I’ve been really honoured to meet.“
NMR: What’s your favourite book?
“I don’t know actually. I’m so hopeless with having “favourites”. Maybe I’m indecisive; maybe I just really don’t have favourites. But a book that stuck with me, I’ve read it 2-3 times, is Veronica Decides to Die, by Paulo Coelho.“
NMR: What were you like at school?
“My teachers said in every parent/teacher meeting “Gurli has such great potential, she is so intellectual, she just never uses it” and I’d be like “how would you know that I am that, if I never show it??” With a smirk on my face.
I really didn’t like school, I didn’t fit into their systems, and tiny boxes, and it was a real struggle for me. And I really wish and hope that changes will be made in the school systems, so there’s a space for every kid, and not just those who learn best when sitting still on a chair for 8 hours eyes locked on the teacher. We should just embrace the differences and understand that if we nurture the children’s differences, we will have less diagnosis, less kids growing up as “maladapted” and just really independent, beautiful, energetic, creative forces of power that can make great lives for themselves, as well as being ‘assets to society’, which everything seems to be about. What you can offer your society - what your capitalistic value is. Oh, I could go on for hours on this topic, because I’m just infuriated by a lot of things in our systems and society :)“
"We should just embrace the differences and understand that if we nurture the children’s differences, we will have less diagnosis, less kids growing up as “maladapted” and just really independent, beautiful, energetic, creative forces of power that can make great lives for themselves..."
NMR: What’s the music scene like in Denmark right now?
“I’m not that up to date on the Danish scene, to be honest. But I think it’s flourishing, and will continue to be so. Thing is, that it’s not a big market, and it’s really hard to get your music in rotation and on big playlists in DK, so a lot of great music is released, but a lot of it is not heard by as many people as it should be :)
There’s also a lot of movement in the industry right now, due to a lot of musicians trying to change some things that are way overdue to be changed. Really exciting, and I think we’re looking to see a shift in some structures in the Danish industry.“
NMR: What’s the best gig you’ve played so far?
“It has to be Roskilde Festival in 2018. But I also LOVED playing at SoHo House in London, also back in 2018, as part of a Golden Slippers night. That was really amazing, the room, the audience, the organizer. Beautiful experience!“
NMR: What’s your favourite song and album?
“Well we’ve already established that I’m hopeless with favourites. I honestly don’t have an answer, I couldn’t possible pick just one! :)”
NMR: Have you ever yearned to represent Denmark at the Eurovision Song Contest?
“No I haven’t. It doesn’t feel like something for me.”
NMR: Who were your favourite artists growing up?
“I listened to a lot of different stuff; my parents really had a strange collection of music. So it’d be anything from Vaya Con Dios, to Whitney Houston, to Hank Williams, to Bach and Danish singerslike John Mogensen. All sorts of music. When I was a teenager I remember listening to a lot of Kashmir, Dizzy Mizz Lizzy and stuff like that.“
NMR: Who would you want to play you in the film of your life?
“Woah! Good question! It could be Zooey Deschanel. I’ve been compared to her/her character in New Girl a lot, so there’s that. And she sings. And she’s funny, and I think the film should be funny.“
NMR: Vinyl, CD, Download or stream?
“I mostly stream, but I’m buying my first turntable soon. So Vinyl and streaming. I also loved the discman, like hard love, and I dream about getting one quite often actually :)“
NMR: What’s the best cover version you have ever heard?
Mhmmm. Tough one. I just heard a cover of Dancing in the Dark, by Eddie Berman/Laura Marling. That’s quite good. I can’t pick the best one :)
NMR: The Royal Family: should they stay or should they go?
"I think there are so many perspectives around that, and I haven’t researched it, so I don’t have the knowledge to have a decent opinion on the matter atm. But if I were to make a country from scratch, it would be with royalties. In general much more equality and citizen salary :)"
NMR: What are your hopes for 2021?
"On a personal level, I hope that I will continue to succeed in creating the balance in my work life that I’ve managed to finally find. And buying a van to convert and live in full time.
For the world, I hope that we are in the process of reconstructing some structures in our cultures and societies that are not beneficial, and will be continuing that process. Both in regards to systemic racism and misogyny. And other things as well. It’s really really really time for massive changes."
NMR: The environment. Whose viewpoint are you closest to? Donald Trump or Greta Thunberg?
"Greta without a doubt. And she is also a great example on why it is a blessing with kids that are “different” and why we should celebrate and support the young spirits growing up. As well as Billie and Finneas Eilish. Examples on what happens when you let kids blossom instead of trying to homogenize them!"
NMR: Sarah Lund or Saga Norén?
"Saga is so cool!"
NMR: What would be your dream collaboration, if any?
"I have a lot. I’d love to co-produce an album with Paul Epworth. I love the work he has done, like Mumford & Sons, London Grammar and such. And I think he’d be a really good match for my music. I also have a massive producer-crush on Jack Antonoff, which only grew bigger after watching his sessions on Mix with the Masters. Would love to do features/collabs with acts like Kasper Eistrup, The War On Drugs, Stevie Nicks (omg I’m in love with her), Post Malone, and all such different acts. Yeah, again with the choosing :)"
NMR: If you weren’t doing this, what would you like to be?
"I’ve been quite monogamous with music up until now. Thinking that it would have to be everything I did if I wanted a big breakthrough. But I’ve been changing my perspective on a bunch of things this past year. Possibly almost affected by COVID, but mostly due to some spiritual work I’ve been doing and new journeys I’ve embarked on.
I’m really practicing learning to let myself do whatever I want to, and I have so many things I wanna do in this life. If I weren’t ‘doing this’ I’d probably still be doing it, just not “publicly”. Maybe I’d be a painter or a writer instead. But as a kid I’d also dream about being a criminal investigator or a lawyer. But due to movies, and not how that life actually is. I think I’d hate it tbh. Also thought for many years I’d be a therapist or something like that. Who knows, music was just always like a demanding partner wanting my full attention, not wanting to share me with other passions. But as any relationship, sometimes you need to evaluate or sometimes go to couples therapy, and I guess that’s my process right now. Looking at my marriage to music and pondering if it by all means has to be an exclusive deal :)"
NMR: Have you ever played in the UK? When this lunacy is over can we tempt you to come and play here?
"Yes but just the one time I mentioned above. I’d LOVE LOVE LOVE to come back, and as soon as I’m allowed, I’m coming over! No doubt in my mind about that, so I hope you will give me a warm welcome :)"
We'll definitely give you a warm welcome. And thanks for your time today!