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Absent Elk

In Grimstad, on the southern coast of Norway, there wasn’t much local music to interest Kjetil Morland. As a teenager his eyes and ears were set southwestwards, towards Britain. And like Grimstad’s other famous teenage resident – playwright Henrik Ibsen – Morland began to write his way out of the small town confines. He channelled The Beatles and Blur, The Clash and Nick Drake. As soon as he could leave, he would.

In Shoreham-By-Sea, on the southern English coast, for as long as they can remember the only thing school friends Ross Martin (guitar, piano/keyboards), Mik ...read more

In Grimstad, on the southern coast of Norway, there wasn’t much local music to interest Kjetil Morland. As a teenager his eyes and ears were set southwestwards, towards Britain. And like Grimstad’s other famous teenage resident – playwright Henrik Ibsen – Morland began to write his way out of the small town confines. He channelled The Beatles and Blur, The Clash and Nick Drake. As soon as he could leave, he would.

In Shoreham-By-Sea, on the southern English coast, for as long as they can remember the only thing school friends Ross Martin (guitar, piano/keyboards), Mike Hillman (guitar), James Penhallow (bass) and Ric Wilson (drums) wanted to do was write music. They gigged relentlessly around Brighton and London. They worked on their songs, and their live shows. Several singers came and went. As soon as they could give up their day jobs, they would.

By 2005, Morland was studying Graphic Design at Kingston University in London. He gigged around the capital’s dive-bars and grot-clubs, a fresh-faced troubadour with a great line in stunning melodies. But there were a lot of singer-songwriters in Pete Doherty trilbies cluttering the London scene. Plus, Morland had written a lot of his ideas with whole band arrangements in mind. As it happened, Morland’s girlfriend was from Shoreham. She knew Martin, Hillman, Wilson and Penhallow had just lost a frontman. The timing was perfect. Introductions were made at a beer festival in Shoreham.

‘As soon as we met him we decided to go off and rehearse together, see what happened’, recalls Martin. The Shoreham boys had a bunch of instrumental pieces they’d written – could this Norwegian come up with some melodies? Equally, would these English strangers be able to help Kjetil’s ‘folky’ compositions burst into colourful, clattering, noisy life.

Wilson still remembers Morland’s first song that day. ‘He sat down and you’d think he might have been nervous, playing in front of four strangers. But he sat down and sang this song he’d written, an early version of ‘That’s All’. I got goosebumps. I filmed it on my phone and kept playing it..

Band had found accomplished frontman; singer/songwriter had found young-but-seasoned musicians and writers. ‘It was almost a merging process,’ says Morland. ‘Acoustic artist and a writing band coming together.’ ‘We had to take each other out of our comfort zones,’ adds Martin.

Within a matter of weeks the newly-formed five-piece had found a name – ‘it’s a nod to the Scandinavian influence,’ says Morland. ‘The elk is the king of the forest in Norway…. And they’d written an entire set. A melodic gold-standard was set early on, with Change My World, a beautiful, sweeping, momentous epic.

Absent Elk spent two years writing, gigging around the UK, and creating their own DIY buzz.

The industry attention they soon attracted, meant they could get stuck into what they’d been dreaming of, in Grimstad and Shoreham, for as long as they could remember: writing, recording and performing their songs for a living.

Absent Elk were invited on a huge UK arena tour by the UK’s biggest pop act ‘Girls Aloud’, after their tongue-in-cheek, homemade cover of ‘The Loving Kind’ went to number one on youtube worldwide …with over 50,000 plays in just a few days. Their live home-recorded cover of Lady GaGa’s ‘Pokerface’ was equally successful. They have also been the support band of choice for multi-platinum artists like The Script, The Hoosiers and Keane …Quite a CV for a band who are yet to release any music of their own.

Working with producer Toby Smith, Absent Elk have now crafted their debut album, which will be on the shelves this Autumn. ‘Emily’, addressed to Morland’s three-year-old niece ten years in the future, began as an angular choppy guitar riff but has now burst into a jump-around live monster, suffused in layers of soaring backing vocals. First Guitar has a muscular reggae bounce (imagine The Police’s Walking On The Moon rebooted for the noughties) that, on paper, sounds improbable but, in reality, works brilliantly. Martin: ‘That’s one good thing about the way we work, a song can come from anywhere: and we’re all pulling in different directions, so you get a dynamic album, full of contrast..

Most glorious of all is Sun And Water. Absent Elk endured a baptism of fire by supporting established mainstream acts on big sell-out tours, and they had to prove themselves fast. Sun And Water was an instant hit in huge venues across the country (with Arena capacities of up to 22,000 people), the strings and brass giving what Wilson calls this ‘big, dramatic James Bond soundtrack feel’. With the rousing, climactic ‘Nothing I Can Do’ closing their sets nightly, it was no wonder Absent Elk’s myspace profile went through the roof after those tours. ‘We got mobbed after our first big show’ (supporting The Hoosiers at Grimsby Auditorium), remembers Wilson. ‘A bizarre experience.

The camaraderie that comes of five best mates who’ve come together with a shared, intense enthusiasm for their music is immediately apparent. ‘We’re all from seaside towns on southern coasts,’ notes Morland in his impeccable English. ‘I feel we’re all kinda similar personalities, and that’s one of the reasons we clicked.’

That, and a gift for supremely catchy songs. As Martin puts it, ‘we’ve come a long way together, but we like to think this is only the start…’ « hide


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