Interview by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
Very few musicians have stretched themselves or shown such diversity in the space of four albums as Berit Hagen. Already a much-lauded guitarist and singer since the release of her debut, the metal drenched ‘I Am’, she then released ‘2 Guitars: The Classical Crossover Album’, a collaboration with the world-renowned Craig Ogden that made huge waves globally.
More recently she’s recorded ‘Berit: Volume 1’ which sees a more stripped back and quirky singer/songwriter approach and ‘Volume 2’ has just been released, upping the ante yet again.
To go from extreme shredding through to something akin to Kate Bush at her most experimental shows someone truly not scared of trying new things and this has always been the story with Hagen.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnfEzY7WMys&w=560&h=315]
Hitting the tops of polls in both metal and classical charts is a feat that very few attain, all whilst squeezing in shows in such places as California and Frankfurt. If that wasn’t enough, she’s been a coach on ‘Battle of the Stars’, Norway’s answer to ‘The Voice’, and has written and illustrated a children’s book. With such a singularly brilliant talent and a total focus on work, the current pandemic hasn’t slowed her down at all as we found out.
First off, and most importantly: How are you doing?
Hey there! I’m doing pretty well! I’m excited about my new album “Berit, Vol.2,” and I’m also very happy about the fact that I’m back to working full workdays! Unfortunately, I caught a parasite in November 2016, and it has literally taken me three and a half years to fully recover.
So, I’m currently feeling optimistic about the future, but I am of course very scared of getting seriously ill again. I haven’t left the property where I live for four months, since I’m terrified of the Corona Virus. Even if the mortality rate is low, there are plenty of long-term side effects. Look at me; I got a parasite and it has taken me three and a half years to recover. Need I say more?
How have you been keeping yourself busy?
I’m always busy! I’m mainly an online musician but my workflow was negatively affected by the Corona Virus regardless. The same can be said for mobility and having access to where I normally record and shoot music videos.
I had to complete my new album by recording inside my mother’s walk-through closet among other things. So far, we’ve released 3 music videos from “Berit, Vol.2” and they were all shot in our living and dining room.
We just released a music video yesterday for my song: “The Lockdown.” I sent out a mass email to my fans and asked them how they were doing during the Corona Virus Pandemic.
I received a lot of heartbreaking stories from my followers and these inspired me to write the song. I figured that compassion was what everyone needed.
I’ve been through a lot in my life, a lot of tough things actually. I think this is one of the reasons as to why both I and my immediate family adapted so swiftly to the virus threat. I had my own little place that I shared with my brother and we literally packed everything up and got out of there in less than a day. Our move included carrying and moving two reptile tanks down a very steep staircase and a lot of furniture, but we know how to dismantle things and move quickly.
We were very lucky to get stuck in quarantine together and I’m also lucky to have an online based business. Things were delayed as far as the completion of my album was concerned, and the same happened to the duplication of it. We are still sending out people’s orders. So, every link in the chain experienced delays, for which I’m very sorry.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SspDaEfU6DA&w=560&h=315]
Have you been doing any online live shows or seen any good ones?
You know, I’ve been very busy completing my new album “Berit, Vol.2,” so I’ve been staring into my computer for hours since I’m also mixing and mastering these days. In addition, I’ve been setting up my gear and then taking it all down again for each recording session; I couldn’t leave anything up, so moving my gear around the house every day has been pretty time consuming! When I was finally done tracking the album, I desperately needed a screen break. Now my focus is to practice in order to get back into proper guitar virtuoso shape, that also involves a lot of exercising. So no, I haven’t had the time to even think about streaming live, and I’ve certainly not had the time to watch anyone else either! The last week I’ve been busy writing on envelopes and making packages ready to be shipped globally. I’ve also been making artwork since there were people who ordered that during our crowdfunding campaign for “Berit, Vol.2.”
Have you had to change your way of writing material?
No not really! I’m a solo artist and work very closely with my mother who has always represented me as my manager. She is the one who makes my music videos, she is also my vocal coach and she is also the executive producer of my acoustic albums. We have always been a manager artist duo, with session musicians and other people coming and going.
The Commander In Chief is a proper family business. My sister does my hair, my brother helps out with lights, props, you name it. My brother William is even a featured artists on a couple of the songs on my new album. My mom who is a proper opera singer also sang on one of the songs, in addition to everyone else that she does already. So, everyone is involved.
Do you keep in touch with your fellow bandmates / other musicians much?
Nope, since I’m a solo artist I’m good! I have no bandmates. I have been hearing from some musician friends during the lockdown who were clearly bored in quarantine. The friendships that I have with people in the music industry have always been online since everyone are always travelling and are spread around the world.
I bump into people I know at events or trade shows, but mostly I’ve had pen pals. I think that’s how life is generally for most professional artists. When I was working and travelling together with classical guitarist Craig Ogden for an instance, he really enjoyed having a travel buddy since he normally travels alone. This is a very lonely profession for most.
What plans have you had to change this year?
I was planning on getting back to playing live shows and had some pretty awesome ideas for a totally unique concept. This will all have to wait until next year, I guess. I was also planning on travelling this year once I was done with my album recording, but I adapted and just pitched a tent in the garden.
The most important thing is to get a change of scenery when you are in need of a break. There were also some personal investments that I was looking forward to making since I need a new computer among other things. Rather I had to re-direct my income to other essentials due to the lockdown and the virus. This means that I’m still in need of a new computer and a new phone.
What do you think of the social distancing gigs (like the one that happened in Kansas recently – 229 people in a 1,100-seat venue) or the thought of drive-in gigs as has just been announced by Live Nation?
I don’t really know what I think. Personally, as a music fan, I’ve always preferred recordings to live music. I don’t go to gigs much, I listen to music online. For me it would be disastrous if our power grids shut down. I rely completely on Wi-Fi and electricity. So, these two, and having gadgets that work are my main priority and concern. I exist in a digitalised reality.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAQFbuXpwhg&w=560&h=315]
How do you think the music industry will have changed after this period of lockdown?
I’m not too sure. I guess a lot of musicians will try to do what people like me are already doing. I think technology is generally speaking re-shaping the industry anyway. I was reading some very interesting articles breaking down the numbers for some of Norway’s most popular artists.
The greatest expense for female Norwegian solo artists is bringing a backing band along. Feeding, housing, transporting, and paying session musicians is a major expense. I know this as well from my own experience.
It can easily break the bank. So as technology advances and becomes ever more sophisticated it is natural to expect that holograms and computers will replace a great deal of show biz’s workforce.
It is also important to keep an eye on trends. I see all of these super famous gamers who are streaming on Twitch while sitting in their PewDiePie chairs, and all of these online influencers who are scoring big deals with lifestyle brands, etc.; Playing the guitar, writing music and being a traditional musician and/or creative artist will probably become just as niche as reading books in the future. It is a dying craft.
What plans have you got for when the isolation finishes and gigs start back up again?
I plan on doing some multi-genre gigs and go for the kill! The plans we have as far as gigging goes is to make exclusive experiences. We want to create a unique concept that can only be done and executed by an artist such as myself. We like to do things that are new and different.
So, our approach to gigging differs from the Status Quo. We are looking forward to presenting something unusual and edgy to a select audience appreciative and intrigued by such things. Besides from that we will be busy promoting “Berit, Vol.2,” shooting new videos, and launching new products online!
Ever since we started in 2008, we’ve mainly been an online operation and have so far done 10 crowdfunding campaigns by using social media marketing. Staying up-to-date and transitioning with the times is crucial. We always work. Not even a global pandemic managed to shut us down; even though we have experienced some major delays.
How can people support you during this time?
The best way is to purchase physical products from me directly or to subscribe to my PayPal or Patreon. Donations and signed, physical CDs are my main source of income! To pre-order my new album and/or to support me while I’m writing and recording new music, please just go to my website: www.commandermusic.com
A free download of my song “The Lockdown” is currently available to anyone who signs up to my email list right here: www.commandermusic.com/freedownload
This is the best way to follow me, since social media sites come and go! Thanks a lot for your questions and this interview! 🙂