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Often described as one of the most talented voices in the country, Bernhoft has built his career step by step. From small roles as a child on stage in the Norwegian Opera, via success with heavy rock and a record deal in Los Angeles, to his first soul influenced solo album, his music style taken many bends and detours. Now it starts to materialise like a long, wide road with a distinctive character which is unique in Norwegian music.
In January 2011 he released his second solo album, ‘Solidarity Breaks’ in Norway, an album which shows the results of many years of hard work in search of his own voice.
For Bernhoft there are no alternatives. Music has always been the most important part of his life. With the band Explicit Lyrics, who later turned into the more successful band Span, he discovered himself as a rock singer and slowly built up a reputation as a voice to be counted in Norwegian rock. When Span seriously took off, also outside Norway, a mini fairytale in Norwegian music history started.
With Bernhoft’s stage performance described as ‘a giraffe high on PCP’ and having once himself been called ‘the thinking man’s The Hives’, there was certainly never any lack of pace and energy. Span were the hardest working band. Intensive touring extensively across Europe led them to a deal with Island Records in London, later with the American label Interscope Records.
When they released the debut album ‘Mass Distraction’, produced by Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters, Echo & The Bunnymen) in 2004, the future seemed bright for this four-headed rock monster. However, Span played their last concert for a sold out Rockefeller venue in Oslo in October 2005. New challenges were waiting.
Bernhoft’s first solo album, ‘Ceramik City Chronicles (Universal 2008) was a shameless soul party. Backed by a star-packed team of Norwegian musicians, the music had its roots in 70’s soul with references to anything from Curtis Mayfield, via Sly & The Family Stone and Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson. It worked like a love-hate homage to his native city Oslo. The album debuted at No.4 in the charts and brought Bernhoft out on the roads in Norway and Europe. That was, until he was hit by a private financial crisis.
“The whole tour after the release of Ceramik City Chronicles started with the idea of recreating the album note by note backed by an eight-piece band. After three concerts, I realised I faced bankruptcy and it was difficult to find venues which could afford us. That’s how my one man band started”, he says.
That wasn’t a bad thing. Slowly the rumours started to spread around the country about a unique and surprising stage show. Bernhoft had cut down to the bone and was all alone on stage. With just a couple of guitars, a Fender Rhodes and some electronic gadgets, he had become a one man band with an incredible presence.
With sold out houses all over the country, he recorded the performance in a packed Rockefeller venue in Oslo and released it as the live album ‘1: Man, 2: Band’ on his own label, Kikitépe Cassette, in January 2010. It seemed as if Bernhoft and the world started to think alike:
“I have actually always regarded records as much as a showcase for my live performances as items for sale. Now, when it’s not possible anymore to earn money from releasing music, it’s more important than ever to get out on the roads. That’s why it feels right to release a live album that hopefully will show good, old fashioned live muscles. I’m actually quite prepared for the changes in the music business”, Bernhoft smiles.
He is not alone. Slowly he has built a reputation as a live performer also outside Norway: in Denmark, the UK and especially in Germany where among many other engagements, he supported the legendary Joe Cocker. With over 100,000 tickets sold, Bernhoft has introduced himself to German audiences – and that as perhaps the world’s most environmentally friendly band.
The album ‘Solidarity Breaks’ is also the result of Bernhoft’s rediscovery of himself as a solo performer. It was recorded in London, produced by Fred Ball (Pleasure, Bertine Zetlitz, Brett Anderson) and has become an organic adventure where Bernhoft admits that being solo has its pros and cons and leaves tracks:
“In a live situation I’m very dogmatic that everything should happen there and then without any pre-programming of any kind. In a studio it’s a little bit silly to tie oneself up too much. But I’m clearly focused on ensuring that this album offers a playfulness that also works on stage”, Bernhoft says.
There are twelve tracks on the album. Most of them are written by Bernhoft and some in collaboration with the producer Fred Ball, one with the renowned artist Ed Harcourt, one with Jimmy Hogarth (Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Beverly Knight) and one with the keyboardist David Wallumrød.
The album is mostly recorded by Bernhoft’ss one man band with guest appearances by among others Knut Reiersrud (for the occasion on harmonica), drummer Torstein Lofthus, David Wallumrød, Ed Harcourt, bass player Audun Erlien and backing singer Kwame Ogoo. It is is mixed by Steve Fitzmaurice who has worked with among others U2, Depeche Mode and Kylie Minogue.
As the title indicates, this time it’s about solidarity:
“With this album I would like to tell many stories, but my main issue is solidarity on both small and larger scales. It’s about everything from solidarity in politics, solidarity with other humans, in society, in relationships - on how difficult it can be to live together both under small and big conditions”, he explains.
When it comes to music, the album is a particular mix of some familiar and less explored directions for him:
“I have among many things listened to a lot of hip hop, the part of pop music I think develops most today. I gather I’m more open today than before, and my shoulders are more relaxed. Jokingly you can say that the album sounds like my former one taking a couple of fish leaps via early Nik Kershaw and The Roots and has landed in 2020”, he laughs.
Album release date was 31 January 2011, but before that the single ‘Choices’ was rushed out to radio and retailers. The tune indicates the sound of the album and Bernhoft’s new direction, a direction with a big range, but which also gives a good impression of what he wants to express right now.
‘Like a pike biding its time in the rushes’, is Bernhoft’s own description of his career, built step by step through a long musical life. Now, it’s time for the big catch.
Since then the album has been released in most European countries. The song Stay With Me’ was voted Best r&b song on iTunes in Germany, whereas in his native Norway he was awarded two Grammies, Best Artist and Best Male Artist of the Year.
Away from the studio, Bernhoft has continued to tour in Germany and Denmark and has also been doing festivals in the UK and USA. As support act for one of the most popular French performers, Ben L’Oncle Soul, he has widened his audiences further in Europe.
On television he has successfully performed on the German Harald Schmidt show, the French Taratata show and received a standing ovation on Ellen de Generes Show in the States.