Interview – Farao

Jackson Caines 13 May 2013

Farao is the pseudonym of London-based Norwegian singer-songwriter Kari Jahnsen who, over the last few months, has been beguiling listeners with her beautifully crafted melodies and haunting vocals. She has quickly attracted the attention of music blogs and has recorded a video session with The Line of Best Fit, as well as releasing a striking black and white video to accompany her debut single, ‘Skin’. Jackson Caines finds out more about this new talent.

How long did you live in Norway for? What music did you listen to growing up?

I moved to England when I was 19 to study music, so I’ve been in London for two years now. I listened to quite a lot of Icelandic music and some Norwegian bands you probably wouldn’t have heard about! But my main music taste is English and American-based, which is kind of why I moved because I wanted to live where the music that I love comes from. I used to be a really big Radiohead fan, but now it’s more … Do you know Polica? They’re an amazing band from America.

You’re a multi-instrumentalist, aren’t you?

Well, I play drums and bass and a bit of piano – I guess you might call that multi-instrumentalist. I started playing guitar when I was 16. Guitar and vocals are definitely my main instruments. I played drums in a band when I was 18, so that’s when that started, maybe two years ago I think. I think the more instruments you know the easier it is to learn.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a singer-songwriter?

I guess when I was doing a diploma course in Norway, because, after that, I had to decide whether I wanted to do a boring degree – something useful – or music. I chose music! I wrote my first song when I was 18, I think, when I was listening to a lot of Sigur Ros. I still play a couple of old songs; the oldest one I play now is maybe three years old.

When did you become Farao? How did you choose that name?

That project was launched in January. I chose that name because I used to have a different name that sounded like a band and people often thought ‘oh, that’s a band’, so I wanted an ‘artist’ name, and Farao refers to one person. In Norwegian it means ‘pharaoh’, like it sounds in English.

What’s happened since January? You seem to have found some success quite quickly.

Yes, well I got a manager in October so we kind of planned everything since then and launched it in January. I went to Iceland to record the first EP in February, and we recorded and mixed it in ten days – everything was very efficient. We released the first single a couple of weeks ago.

Why did you go to Iceland to record the EP? What was the process like?

I went to Iceland because my manager is friends with the guy that I recorded with, a guy from the experimental folk rock band Tunng. We just asked if he wanted to do it and he said ‘yeah’ so I booked the flights. The recording process was amazing. I actually slept in the studio as well so I was there twenty four hours a day for ten days. It was really intense but I was very focused because I was so far away from home and I didn’t know anyone so there were no distractions, which was really good.

How do you approach the song-writing process?

I don’t really consciously think about stuff like structure that much – I just write it, and then I try to listen back to it as if I didn’t write it, and if I think ‘oh, that verse isn’t really necessary’ I’ll take it away. If I think ‘oh, it really needs something else there’ I will write something new. I try to listen to my own songs as if they were not mine, as if I were hearing them for the first time.

What about lyrics? What topics do you like to write about?

Things that I want and often don’t have – in all kinds of ways. I really like the lyrics on the Polica album. The whole album is about her splitting up with her husband. All of the songs sort of fit together – it’s one long story, and it’s really good. So I was quite inspired by that when I wrote the EP.

How do you balance your Farao gigs with your other bands? Run us through all the groups you’re in.

Well, I play bass in two other bands. And I drum with Hella Better Dancer, who have a second drummer as well. But my main band is Farao, so that’s my priority. I do have a full band in London that I play with live. I live with two of them, and the drummer and bass player are friends of mine, so it was quite simple to assemble.

Are you gigging most of the time?

Yeah. I like it though, I don’t need a night off. I’ve been on a European tour for two and a half weeks. I had a week’s break and now I’m back, I was just playing in Copenhagen last night and Hamburg today. It’s a lot of fun. Quite tiring, but it’s worth it. If I had a night off I’d probably go to a gig!

Music’s obviously your main passion. What else are you interested in?

I love cooking; that’s my second interest. I like everything, though I don’t really cook Norwegian food that much.  If I don’t like something I’ll eat it until I like it – that’s my philosophy!

Have you got any recommendations of new music you’ve been listening to recently?

The new James Blake album is really good. I’ve heard the new Kurt Vile album but I prefer his previous one – I find this one a bit boring. It’s good cooking music, though, very relaxing.

What’s the plan from now onwards?

Well I have a UK tour coming up in mid-May for two weeks, then Great Escape and some festivals this summer like Secret Garden Party. And then the EP comes out in September and then I guess touring for the rest of the year – and also finishing songs for the album. I’d love to record in Iceland again for the album. You’re so much more focused when you’re away in the studio with nothing else distracting you.

Do you like the fact that you can upload a track and everyone can hear it for free, or would you prefer to be playing in the days when people still bought music?

I think I prefer now. You get to hear so much more. People in Australia can sit and listen to my music right now… So I prefer now definitely!

Farao is playing at the Cambridge Junction on 16 May, supporting Paper Aeroplanes.

Jackson Caines