First things first, it's pronounced "Hav-ne-veek".
Second things second, you’d really like Kate Havnevik.
She smiles a lot,– and she won’t get cross when you struggle with your “Hav-ne-veeks.”
Third things third, she’s really rather good.
Kate’s debut album is called Melankton, which means "black rose." (The name is taken from a character, "a crazy uncle who lives by the sea,” in Norwegian writer Jan Kjaerstad's 1999 novel Oppdageren, which translates to The Discoverer.)
Kate Havnevik was always going to make music since she joined the world in Oslo, the daughter of Andrew Cunningham from Faversham, England and his Norwegian wife, Lotte. The classical flute players divorced when little Kate was just one year old. "My mother's maiden name is Havnevik, she brought me up in Oslo and she's a very strong woman so I took her maiden name."
Kate’s creative genes were not to be wasted. She played the piano (hey, it was expected), the flute (hey, her school's marching band had a nice uniform), and the guitar (hey, she wanted to be as cool as her big brother). By the time she was 13, she was composing piano pieces and her family would hum her melodies around the house. At 14, she joined an all-female punk band as a guitar player. They rehearsed in an illegally occupied house called BLITZ in Oslo. “I was the youngest and instantly became the little mascot of the band, not even old enough to join them in the pub after rehearsal,” she says laughing. Later on, having seen some of the world and being influenced by all the Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell records she "borrowed" from the Oslo record shop where she worked, our heroine began writing proper songs.
By 1999, after a three-year stint in Liverpool, she was living in London and destined – or so it seemed - for pop stardom. "I felt quite pushed into commercial pop by everyone around me,” she says. “Everyone was just thinking about ‘the hit,’” she confesses of her brief dabble with the overtly commercial side.
All was not lost, although a brief stint as an usherette-ice-cream girl at the Albery theatre might have suggested otherwise. ("Don't knock it until you've tried it! It was a great job, although really badly paid, but I was a very good ice-cream girl," she trills). Less great were her experiences as a telemarketer in Richmond, England. “You just get shouted at all day, every day. Mind you, a couple of guys did ask me out.”
“Did you go?”
For once Kate Havnevik is silent. “Hmmmm,” She grins.
Hmmmm indeed. After a gig in LA’s Viper Room that landed her a publishing deal, Kate spent all her money recording songs that the would-be pop puppet-masters had deemed too weird (or, as we might say, "too interesting") and set off down the solo road, armed with a stint as Royksopp's singer and co-writer on their second album, The Understanding, and being featured on two other records the same year: Cranberries-guitarist Noel Hogan’s Mono Band, where she wrote and performed the song “Crazy,” and producer/mixer Carmen Rizzo’s record The Lost Art Of The Idle Moment for which she wrote and performed 2 songs…. and oh yes, some backing vocals for Britney Spears, to which she admits, ” I was very broke…” as an explanation.
With a little help from her friend and main collaborator, Guy Sigsworth ("Sometimes he'd have to cancel me for Madonna. That was really weird," she laughs), Kate set about creating her debut album, Melankton. It could hardly have been a more solo effort. She sat up her own label, Continentica Records; She wrote all the songs, and recorded most of it in her homemade vocal booth in the bedroom (“I made my closet into the vocal booth. I must have looked ridiculous”); She designed the artwork and arranged the strings of the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra. The results are nothing short of stunning. "I know I shouldn't say this, but I'm ever so proud of it. And, as much as I'd rather sell a million copies of the album, I'd be just as proud if nobody bought it." That hardly seems likely. Already, she’s become the darling of the Music Supervisor community with songs featured on the West Wing, The OC, Commander in Chief, Windfall, In Justice and Grey’s Anatomy which has featured six of Kate’s songs on the past 10 months. The Grey’s Anatomy producers were so happy with their new discovery that they commissioned Kate to write the song for the closing scene of the second season finale, in addition to placing it on that season’s soundtrack.
And with good reason. With its twists and turns, its nods to Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush and the "strong females" she so admires, and its accessible adventurousness, Melankton will surprise, delight and intrigue. "When people meet me, I can be very talkative and very lively, but my lyrics are on the dark side," she admits. Hence, Unlike Me ("about being trapped in yourself, envying people who are free and comfortable with themselves.") and Not Fair ("you know when you take someone into your life, they lead you on and then they fuck up everything and leave you in a mess") and the all-out melancholy of I Don't Know You.
"That's me being Scandinavian, you see," she chuckles, far from melancholic. "But whilst I'm Norwegian and I speak Norwegian with my father, I'm still half-British, I have always had a British Passport, and as a little girl, my dad would bring me Marmite and Weetabix. When I first came to England, I went to visit my grandmother in South Harrow, but even though I've lived in London for ages and it has become my home, I still feel Norwegian."
This year, Kate did her first Melankton live show, a support gig for Sigur Ros in Oslo. “I had 5 string players with white masks, bass, electronics, and I got to borrow Sigur Ros brass quartet for two songs, so at the most I had 12 people on stage!!! Maybe it was a bit much but it was fun and I got a great response!”
There's more. Soon, she'll take the whole extravaganza on the road. "Sometimes I feel really invisible, but I never feel invisible onstage, so it won't be a mere gig," she promises. "I want the gigs to be very visual, I want it to be a happening rather than just a gig." Rather like Kate Havnevik herself.