Casiokids, a group of independent musicians from Norway, have been taking the persistent road to gaining recognition outside of their native country. As covered in the first part of this interview with singer and founding member Ketil Kinden Endresen, the band spent 2010 in 18 different countries, performing over a hundred shows.

Last week, leaning against the bar at the BackBooth, an Orlando Club hosting the band’s debut performance in the city, Endresen spoke about his band’s influences and plans to release an album before year’s end. Casiokids were there as a support act to Portland-based Starfucker, their US labelmates on Polyvinyl Records.

Endresen noted this marked Casiokids’ first visit to the southern states of the US, out of eight times his band had toured in the US. The two bands would later head off to Jacksonville and then to sold out shows in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Philadelphia. Their combined powers also sold out their final tour stop together: New York City’s Bowery Ballroom, which is scheduled for today.

Though partial credit for the sell-out dates is definitely also due to the amazing Starfucker*, this does mark quite an achievement  for a band that features songs sung in their native language of Norwegian. Endresen noted that Casiokids have gained their popularity, though still a bit obscure, while staying faithful to their native language, and they have done well enough that it has become the members’ primary source of income.

Moshi Moshi Records, a UK-based record label, released “Gront lys i alle ledd” b/w “Togens hule” in 2008. “The first single we did was called ‘Gront lys i alle ledd,'” said Endresen, “which means ‘Green Lights On All Levels,’ and it was the first Norwegian language pop single released in the UK.”

Though he is quick to offer translations to his song titles and even some of the band’s lyrics, Endresen said fans should not hold their breath for any lyrics sung in English. Via a follow-up email after our meeting in Orlando, Endresen stated, “We have no plans on recording songs in English for the new album. I still feel that using my Norwegian tongue is the best way of keeping our sound original and personal.”

Research on the band revealed at least one article that noted the band sings with a made-up language, not unlike Sigur Ros. Actually, as Endresen described it, his lyric writing is not quite as elaborate as that. “The lyric is in Norwegian,” he noted, “but seeing as we have so much harmony vocals, what we like to do is just play around using sounds of voices in parts of the song that are more about the melody and not the words, so there will be a lyric to all the songs, but sometimes we do some choruses or some harmonies without the words just because it kind of sounds better sometimes.”

Via email, he noted some songs that are typical examples of such “nonsense” lyrics. “Some songs have parts that are just there for the melodies and harmonies, like the chorus in “Det snurrer” and the end of “Togens hule”, but most of the songs have lyrics to the singing.”

Both songs feature melodic, “ya, ya, ya, ya, yas,” which stand out particularly in “Togens hule,” which is an instrumental save for Endresen singing those ya, yas. With “Det snurrer,” a remake of the Swedish band Familjen’s “Det snurrar i min skalle,” the song actually features some ya, yas that were never in the original song, but added on as an extra layer of melody.

Endresen noted that the music often comes before the lyrics. “We usually very rarely start with the vocals,” he said. “It’s something that comes very much later, so in the beginning you’re bound to play around with the vocals as an instrument, as often a lead instrument, and even when I do the lyrics, I end up keeping parts of the song that maybe I just improvised at the beginning … just because I got the right sound, we got the right harmonies, and then we, instead of removing that, we build on top of that. I find that fun to use— that immediate impulsive experimentation with vocals, as well as using it with words.”

This method shows in the strong melodies within Casiokids’ instrumental songs, such as “Fot i hose,” a piece that actually made the rounds to a variety of countries thanks to its association to Electronic Arts’ FIFA 10 soundtrack and its use as transitional music in the UK sitcom “Friday Night Dinner.” Here’s the band’s video for that track:

In part 1 of this profile, Endresen noted his affection for Krautrock, and he compared some of his style of singing to Can’s early vocalist, Kenji “Damo” Suzuki, whose singing style grooved along with the band’s playing above anything else. “I guess [it’s] the same as Can does,” Endresen said. “This Damo Suzuki, the Japanese vocalist they had for what I think are like the best albums: Future Days and Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi, those three albums. He did the vocals for that, and it’s a mixture of psychedelic words and just playing around, improvising with your voice, and I think that’s the way we make songs.”

Though one might not expect to hear Endresen singing in English anytime soon, he does light up when considering collaborations, especially with African-based musicians. His band can appreciate Anglos mixing it up with African musicians. They did end their concert in Orlando with a recording of a song from Paul Simon’s famed 1986 fusion album of western pop rock with South African pop music, Graceland (it might have been the hit single “You Can Call Me Al,” I can’t recall exactly).

From the mid-eighties, into today, Endresen appreciates that mixture of music. “Damon Albarn, he’s co-writing with Tony Allen [the drummer who worked with Fela and is credited as one of the founders of Afro Beat] and he produced Amadou & Mariam, and I think he did a really tasteful job with those people,” Endresen said.

Endresen truly beams at the idea of collaborating with African musicians, especially after his time spent in Lagos, Nigeria researching the legacy of Fela. “We have considered it,” he said. “Especially after me and Geir’s trip to Lagos to do this documentary. We have contacts with musicians in the scene down there, so it’s definitely been something that’s been on our minds.”

But even in general, Endresen enjoys collaborations, and it shows in last year’s release of their first US release Topp stemning på lokal bar (support the Independent Ethos by buying the vinyl on Amazon through this link). “With this album that is out in the US right now, there are certain collaborations with other musicians like Familjen and with James Yuill. He’s an English artist, and we definitely want to do more of that. I think it’s just an exciting way of bringing our friendship with musicians a step further because when we tour so much we meet the same people, and we play with a lot of the same people in different festivals. It’s just an exciting idea to do more, do more collaborations, and we’re definitely going to do that in the future.”

One group Casiokids have been famous for collaborating with is not a music group at all but a visual one. Digitalteateret are actually behind the video for “Fot i hose” above. They also worked with Casiokids on many live shows featuring shadow puppets and animal costumes. Though it has been several years ago since those shows were a consistent thing for them, those performances went over so well, the band continues to be associated with such theatrics.

Actually, the majority of those shows happened in the band’s native Norway. “Like three years ago, when we didn’t tour so much, and we were also involved in visual projects, we collaborated with a theater group called Digitalteateret or Digital Theater, and they did shadow puppetry and life-size puppets,” said Endresen. “When we did shows with the theater group, they at one point did animal costumes in the show. I remember they once had this massive, six-meter tall orange monster creature that was held up by two people using a parasol.”

“In the tour we are on now, and the last couple of years, we’ve toured so much in very limited spaces,” Endresen continued, “and it’s been difficult both economically and practically to do the visual projects that we had done in the past on our live shows.”

He did clarify that the work with Digitalteateret is far from over, and they have revisited collaborations since the image above was taken in 2008, but this was the early years of the band, and their sound was distinctly different then, with Endresen not even daring to sing. The group’s 2006 debut, Fuck Midi on the Norway-based Karisma Records, featured only one song with properly sung vocals (by a French singer). Otherwise, according to Endresen, the album included sampled conversations the band made of friends talking and some of the melodic, nonsensical singing noted earlier, with the band mostly noodling on Casio keyboards and sometimes augmented by horns.

“We have done it since,” Endresen said of the theatrical performances. “In the beginning our music was very atmospherical and loose and improvised.”

He explained that there is a distinct difference in the music they perform when it comes to the more visual, theatrical shows. “When it became more dancey and direct, we’ve found that it would be better to use the visual elements on like separate projects from playing live shows,” he said.

But then, that also does not mean that dance and visuals are mutually exclusive in their shows. “Only like a month ago we did a dance project in Norway in three electronic festivals there, together with two dancers, and last year we did kid’s theater performance together with Digitalteateret in Norway, and we have done workshops for kids and we are just continually excited to do new projects like that.”

So don’t always expect a fancy, theatrical show when you see Casiokids, though the potential of grander type performances in the future still exists. The momentum behind the band is there as is the infectious quality of the music— even back in the more experimental Fuck Midi. Here’s an early music video from that album for “Bagamoyo,” featuring the shadow puppetry by Digitalteateret:

*A 2-part profile on Starfucker will appear in this blog in a few days, as they continue on their lengthy US tour before heading for a UK tour.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

When Casiokids’ frontman Ketil Kinden Endresen approaches, it feels as if David Bowie walked off the silver screen from the Man Who Fell to Earth. The musician from Bergen, Norway has the tall, slender alien features and wears a slim, pale brown suit that only makes his white skin all the more pallid. Casiokids are new to Florida, and— for now— the furthest south they have travelled is Orlando. They are indeed strangers in a strange land.

Endresen expresses his curiosity for the City of Celebration and how Disney-like it might be. But the last sort of cultural experience he needs is an exploration of suburban artifice and the banal. This is the man who, three years ago, spent a month in Lagos, Nigeria with bandmate Geir Svensson exploring the legacy of Fela Kuti in the country’s current musicians.

Fela, who is often celebrated for bringing African music to London in the early sixties and beyond, is a passion for Endresen and other members of Casiokids. Besides their work with Casio keyboards, the band employees African rhythms. “I really like Afrobeat,” says Endresen, “Fela Kuti, and Ghanaian Highlife, like E.T. Mensah. I really like King Sunny Adé, Amadou & Mariam and some South African music like Kwela music from the sixties and seventies.”

Here’s a tune from Mensah whose rhythm would fit right into a Casiokids song:

Though African rhythms certainly serve as a foundation for Casiokids’ sound (you can download two free tracks from their latest release at the band’s website on Polyvinyl Records), a love of retro keyboards like those manufactured by Casio in the early eighties add the icing on the cake. “I’ve always said that the Casio keyboard is, in a way, the perfect instrument ever made,” Endresen says, “because you have all the different rhythms and all the different instruments there and also a lot of sound effects and colorful buttons,” he adds with a laugh.

He does clarify that the Casio in the group’s sound goes beyond mere gimmickry. “There’s a lot of noise in them, of course,” Endresen says about one of the problems of amping up Casio keyboards on stage. “But we try and use that as an effect.”

The problem with the Casio keyboard for performing artists is the fact that Casio made the bulk of their synthesizers to market for the pleasure of performance in family living rooms, with no need for amplification. With its synthesized keyboard, Casio provided the successor to the home organ. “There’s definitely some particular charm to it when you plug it into amps,” Endresen muses, “and we use a lot of different effects to it, and it’s really fun to play. Some of the songs we do have been really big, and it’s just based around some of these Casio keyboards. They were never really meant to be amped up or anything.”

Though on this night, before Casiokids’ show at the BackBooth, the stage set-up features many more percussion instruments over electronics (read a re-cap of the night’s show here), Endresen says the Casio featured more prominently in the band’s early days. “With me and Fredrik [Ogreid Vogsborg, guitars / keyboards / percussion], we started making things together, and we didn’t have any instruments really, except Casios that we borrowed from friends.”

He says the group really began almost flippantly. “In the beginning, it was just edits of things. We played on top of loops of songs. I remember the first edit we did was New Kids on the Block’s ‘the Right Stuff,’ and we played on top of it with Casios and used parts of the songs in loops and added rhythms. That was the beginning stages, I guess just playing around with it and having fun and being immediate. That’s always been the philosophy of it.”

Between the Casio keyboards and Afrobeat, there is something else at work in the sound of Casiokids. That becomes apparent when Endresen begins talking about collecting records while on his trek in the US. Endresen, who says he “used to work in a vintage vinyl shop in Bergen,” says he has come across some goodies in Austin, Texas and Birmingham, Alabama. “I usually buy jazz or more like electronic things on vinyl.”

When he mentions “electronic things,” he clarifies his passion for the early electronic rock pioneers of the Krautrock scene. “I really love Kraftwerk and Can and Faust,” he says. “These Krautrock bands I really look for because it’s the kind of bands that are really hard to find in vinyl shops.”

Likewise, vinyl is his preferred format for releasing Casiokids’ work, especially when it also accommodates for today’s current technology, like iPods. “We did a release now in the US … that is like double purple vinyl,” he says of Polyvinyl’s limited issuing (only 1,000 manufactured) of Topp stemning på lokal bar (support the Independent Ethos by buying the vinyl on Amazon through this link), whose title, according to the label’s website, loosely translates to “Great vibe at local bar.”

“I think it’s a really nice package because you get downloads for the songs as well,” Endresen continues, “so that package, I think, is the ideal combination because you get something of a very nice item that really gets the most out of the design of the pictures for the release. You also have it both on vinyl, and you can use it for your iPod or your computer.”

He does add that the format he really thinks seems to be dying is one that once sounded the death knell of the vinyl record in the mid-to-late eighties: the compact disc. “Of course, we’ve released CDs as well,” he says, “but what I find these days, whenever I buy CDs… I can’t remember the last time I did that, actually.”

Topp stemning på lokal bar is actually a compilation of songs and extras Casiokids had recorded and released piecemeal over the course of a year, mostly on Moshi Moshi Records, a UK-based record label. A contract with Champaign, IL-based Polyvinyl offered them the chance to gather their recent material into one compilation. “From like, late 2008 till late 2009, we released a lot of singles,” Endresen explains, “and we did collaborations and remixes, and we remixed a lot of people’s songs, so we did a lot of projects and collected them all in this package, this double album.”

Finally, he notes the Polyvinyl deal is much more than an avenue to allow music only released abroad to find a place on US store shelves without the inflated import prices. There are plans for a full-length album of all-new material before year’s end. “We’re working on an album now,” Endresen says, “which I hope we can finish in a month or so.”

He says the main thing that might be in the way of releasing the album any sooner is the band’s tour schedule. “It’s a lot of touring for us always, so it’s hard to find time for us,” says Endresen. “We have our own studio, so it’s flexible for our time, and we did the production ourselves, so we’re currently working towards a release in September of 2011 on Polyvinyl, so I hope that will work out,” he adds with a laugh. “If we don’t tour too much. With Casiokids it’s just an insane amount of touring. Last year we did 117 shows in 18 countries, so it’s been a very intense couple of years for us.”

During 2011’s SXSW, a music festival Endresen says Casiokids has visited three times now, the band premiered one of their new songs. Here is video footage of “Olympiske Leker”:

Endresen spoke much more about Casio keyboards, how the band writes lyrics that are even unintelligible for their countrymen and clarified much hype about some of the theatrical stage shows the blogosphere so promptly… and lazily… associates them with (no, they don’t routinely dress in fuzzy animal suits and have shadow puppet theater at their concerts). More on all that in part 2 of this exclusive feature.

For now, there are a couple dates left in their tour opening for Starfucker (however, the NYC show has sold out):

Mar 31  Philadelphia @ Johnny Brenda’s
Apr 2    New York City @ The Bowery Ballroom
Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)