This Tina Refsnes article was written by Michael Liggins, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Macon Oxley
Norwegian singer-songwriter Tina Refsnes has just released a debut album of intimate heartbreak, questioning, self-doubt and tranquil beauty. She has been songwriting for many years, with four of those spent studying and performing in Liverpool, waiting for the right moment to put her refined compositions to record. That moment came while listening to an album recorded by Robbie Lackritz (Feist, The Weather Station) inspiring her to leave her home in Oslo, Norway for Toronto, Canada to seek out the producer. Forming and recording the album in a single room over three weeks, ‘No One Knows That You’re Lost’ perfectly captures the performance, as well as the performer. Always fascinated with the use of space in recordings, Tina Refsnes, alongside her producer, has created an album that gives the listener a physical sense of the room in which the album was recorded – a once familiar effect which is becoming scarcer in the compression of contemporary music today.
We asked Tina Refsnes some questions on her journey so far, her future ambitions and her love of the ABC TV series, Nashville.
How different was your musical experience in Liverpool from life in Oslo? Did you play any live shows during your time in Liverpool?
I played loads of live shows in Liverpool! I still play a lot in Oslo, but I guess since there’s generally fewer people in Norway, you have to be a bit careful not to tire your audience and pick your gigs more strategically. In Liverpool I remember there usually being four to five acts on every night, and audiences don’t always have that long of an attention span, so if you were act number four, it could be quite hard to hold their interest. In Norway there’s usually just a main act and then maybe a supporting act.
How long has it taken you from your first show to the release of your debut album? Has it been an easy journey?
I guess I did my first solo show when I was 20, and I’m 29 now. I haven’t always pursued my music as actively as now, but it’s definitely always been my dream to get to do an album. I think regardless of who you ask in music, they’ll tell you that in this business there are ups and downs. I’ve learned to just make sure I always go exactly where I want with my music and to focus on the good stuff so that when there’s something crap I can filter that out. I have so much fun doing it that I’ve decided it out-weighs the boring things.
Your songs have an honest charm about them. What first influenced you to pick up a guitar and start songwriting?
Thank you! I started to play the guitar because some friends and I started a band. Sort of the wrong order to go about it, but we just distributed the instruments between us. And someone had to write songs, so then I tried that as well. This was in my teens, and I think I was 19 when I first wrote a song that I thought could only be sung by me, though, and then took it out of that band constellation. I guess the reason I wanted to write and perform back then was just because I thought it looked really cool to do. Vain teenager there. Today writing and singing has become something I thoroughly enjoy and is such a huge part of me that I can’t imagine being without.
‘No One Knows That You’re Lost’ has a very crisp and intimate production. I like this as I’m especially fond of recordings that capture the sound of the room they were recorded in. Was this a specific effect that you wanted for this album?
That’s so cool that you noticed! When I was looking for a producer and found Robbie Lackritz, his use of space was the main reason for wanting to work with him. Hearing the room in a recording has always been something I love and wanted to achieve for myself, so it’s my favorite thing about this album. I think it makes it more real to me. Hearing the room gives such a sense of that there were actual people playing in it since you can sort of locate where they’re situated.
What would be your ambitions for a second album? As an intimate songwriter is there a limit on the number of instruments that you would allow on a record?
I haven’t really started to think about that yet. Think I need to let this one be out there for a bit first. I wouldn’t give myself restrictions like that, though, but I like to keep as a rule to never put on more than exactly what a record needs. In the heat of the moment it can be easy to get carried away and go all “Let’s put strings on everything!” It’s good to keep that in mind then.
When writing a song are you conscious of how an audience may react to it in a live setting or whether it will hold their attention?
I don’t think so. At least not particularly for a live setting. I do always make them go through a very strict quality control though and try to be very conscious about how an audience in general would like it.
With music now so easily consumed do you feel any pressure as an artist to maintain and grow a fan base, be it through social media or at live shows?
I wish I didn’t, but am afraid the answer is very much so. It’s difficult with so many different platforms you have to master, and I’m not great at the marketing aspect of things, though pretty good at delegating. So, that’s my strategy. Just delegate the crap out of it. Haha! Anyway, I do feel the pressure, but at the same time know that it’s not doing me any good, so I’m working on not worrying about it.
If you weren’t songwriting and performing what would you be doing?
Good question. I’m not sure. Maybe gardening. Can you even do that full time these days? I would have liked that.
Finally, in a recent interview you stated a love of the TV series Nashville. I’m also a big fan. Although they are all pretty crazy, which character do you most relate to? I’ve grown to like Avery, although I would like to hear more of the character’s songs!
I know! Avery is a good one. He started out all jealous and now he’s such a good guy! I have to say my favorite is Rayna, though. I’ve actually caught myself thinking, “what would Rayna James do?” She’s fictional, I know, but someone did write her, and she’s just such a good person who always does the right thing! Awesome character.
‘No One Knows That You’re Lost’ is out now via Vestkyst Records.