It sounds suspiciously like Ingrid Helene Håvik is doing the dishes.

The Highasakite vocalist has put the BRAG on speakerphone, and her echoing, muddied voice is only just audible over a barrage of clinking, clattering and the splashing of water – a cascade of noise that doesn’t let up for our ten-minute interview mostly full of questions being only half-answered. Indeed, whatever she’s fiddling around with, dishes or not, it certainly seems to require most of her mental processing power. Even the very first inquiry into how her day has been so far seems to stump her.

“I’ve had…” Håvik says, then stops. “Um… an OK day.” There’s a long silence. Has she been busy, then? “We’ve just been making stuff,” comes her answer after a pregnant pause. “So…” The rattling and splashing continues, but Håvik’s voice does not.

Perhaps the singer can be forgiven for being distracted. She has had a busier 2016 than most, spending the last six months solidly touring the globe with Highasakite, the acclaimed band she has fronted for over five years now. And that’s not to mention their crushing release schedule: despite dropping their second record Camp Echo back in May, the Norwegians somehow found the time to unleash a stripped-back live collection called Acoustic Versions in early December.

The four-track EP, a powerful reminder of Håvik’s spiderweb-thin yet significant vocal chops, has already been eaten up by the band’s numerous fans. Highasakite have worked hard to develop an almost cult-like legion of followers over the years, and those who follow their career treat them with the respect more commonly afforded to bands who have been on the touring circuit for decades.

Acoustic Versions also makes plain the band members’ skills as songwriters. Stripping back a tune like ‘Samurai Swords’, the ballad chosen as one of Camp Echo’s lead singles and released with an odd ‘making of’ video that features the group sitting around looking glum and snapping at one another, goes a long way to revealing its subtler charms. Highasakite aren’t a band that only impress in terms of production – they are, at the heart of it, solid, understated writers with a good ear for nuance.

Håvik makes it clear they work, write and tour simply because they enjoy doing so. Highasakite’s relentless touring schedule comes more from their unceasing desire to create art and less from any grand plan to climb the charts or to achieve commercial success. The frontwoman especially is the kind of artist who tries to work in a vacuum, away from the surface-level concerns that distract others.

“I need to make something very often, or else I feel kind of useless,” she says. “Sometimes I really need to write, sometimes I really want to write. And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Indeed, Håvik’s deliberate, curated ignorance also extends to matters of genre. She has no real interest in musical buzzwords, and finds herself confused by the range of terms and phrases the mainstream press have thrown at Highasakite ever since they burst onto the scene with 2014 single ‘Since Last Wednesday’.

“My songs don’t really have a genre,” she says. “It could be anything. I just have to try and work out along the way what I want it to be. Sometimes [critics] call it indie-pop. I just call it pop music, because I don’t really know what ‘indie’ is. I don’t really care what people call it.”

So what does she care about when she’s writing? What is she thinking about when creating a record like Camp Echo? “I had a very strong vision of what I wanted Camp Echo to sound like,” Håvik says.“I knew what I wanted everything to look like, like what clothes we would wear.”

But every artist eventually has their vision sullied by those who don’t fully understand what they’re trying to do, and so it went for Håvik. “Sometimes you make compromises. And sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad,” she says. “There can be a lot of conflict.”

One imagines such dialogue and compromise about one’s creations would be tricky, given that music can so often bypass language altogether and work on a level more emotive than cerebral. However, Håvik doesn’t agree. “You can easily explain [music] in words because you know exactly what you want to do,” she says. “You just need to learn the language. And do your homework. I don’t know how to explain it. You just have to do your homework.”

Ultimately, as far as Håvik is concerned, the biggest tool a musician can utilise in the studio is language. It is quite easy, she stresses, to explain songs in ways other people can understand. “I try to make myself more and more clear,” she says, as the clattering and now almost totally drowning her out.
“I know what I have to do and say to make it clear for people.”

Acoustic Versions is out now through Propeller/Caroline. Highasakite will be playing with support from Bec Sandridge at Oxford Art Factory on Tuesday January 3. The band will also appear at Field Day 2017, The Domain on Sunday January 1.

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