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Photography Hans Olav Settem

You need to hear Jouska, the artist making intensely personal alt-pop

Fresh off the release of her new record, the Norwegian singer and producer talks musical heroes, conspiracy theories and why her music ‘sounds really British’

It wasn’t until the age of 20 that Marit Ohilie Thorvik began making music. Although her broad tastes were met by a desire to create, it was the lack of classical training that stopped her from taking the plunge. “I always wanted to make my own music, but I just found it so difficult because I really haven’t played any instruments”, she tells me in a conversation over Zoom. That all changed when she exited her teenage years and into a music degree at one of Oslo’s leading art schools. “That's when I started writing my first songs and just playing in the studio”, says Thorvik, now making music under the name Jouska. “That’s the first memory of going my own way.”

The release of Jouska’s second album, Suddenly My Mind Is Blank, is yet another instance of Thorvik going her own way. Originally formed as a duo with creative partner Hans Olav Settem, Jouska released their first album Everything is Good in 2020. After an amicable parting of ways, the outfit now returns as a solo project, with Thorvik taking full creative control. When asked for her thoughts on continuing independently, she’s initially apprehensive, but once the album had dropped, it’s clear her dedication has paid off.

Suddenly takes the synth-pop sound of Everything is Good and lathers it across a spectrum, its genre-spanning sound emulating the way that we humans distract from mental anguish with sensory overload. The dreamy guitar line of “Fragrance” exists to conceal the track’s more sinister themes of emotional paralysis, while the bassline of “Unexpected Turmoil” creeps into your speakers and rattles their cones as a diversion tactic. Suddenly finds its success in these subtle distractions, a deeply sensitive journal of thought masquerading as a pop vocal record.

Below, Jouska talks us through the making of the album, revealing her funeral song, ghost outfit and number one enemy along the way.

Congrats on the release of Suddenly My Mind Is Blank. Can you talk to me a bit about inspirations for this album?

Jouska: A lot of it just comes from my personal life, like with most people, I guess. Childhood and just emotional stuff. I’m really quite a neurotic person, so I take a lot of inspiration from that. It’s a way of finding relief – putting my emotions into music. That’s the main thematic inspiration.

I find inspiration in a lot of different genres and eras. Someone told me the other day that my music sounds really British. I don’t know what that means! But I guess it makes sense because I’ve listened to a lot of British artists throughout my life, like Radiohead and Sugababes. On this album, the most obvious references would probably be Gorillaz, [Norwegian electronic duo] Smerz, Caroline Polachek and The Radio Dept. When I listen to the album, I can hear very obvious references like that.

Were you apprehensive about continuing Jouska as a solo project?

Jouska: Yes, super nervous. But it’s also really great to challenge myself and become a better producer. Before we made a lot of the music together, but Hans Olav was mostly producing and mixing, but now it’s me taking control.

I feel more confident. I become more confident every day, just gaining more and more experience. It’s been really challenging with this album, because I’ve always had a hang-up, that I want to make albums, you know? It’s really stupid to try to force an album to life, especially when you're not as experienced – or as neurotic – as me. I’m really impatient. It’s been hard to get to what it sounds like in my head, but that gets easier and easier, and it feels really good.

How would you say the sound has progressed from the first Jouska album?

Jouska: I think it’s maybe more mature, in a way, and that it’s more consistent. The lyrics and themes are a lot more personal now than on the previous album. Sometimes I regret being that personal. When people ask me about it I'm like, “Oh my God, I should have never written that song!” Like “Fragrance”. It’s super personal and friends ask me about it like, “Oh! What's this song about? Are you okay?” I just choke up. It’s really hard because I don’t talk much about that stuff with people. It’s easier to put into music.

Would you say there’s not much of a scene in Oslo?

Jouska: Oslo has a big and diverse music scene, and there’s a lot of cool stuff going on in cities like Bergen and Trondheim as well. Overall I think Norwegian music tends to be more polished and safe, and the market for alternative music is not that great. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of cool, alternative acts coming out of Norway, but it’s a small country and it’s hard to stand out when you make music like I do. You don’t really have that much of an audience.

Please share the most recent note from your Notes app.

Jouska: It’s a phone number. I was at a concert on Saturday and my card got declined when I was paying for some beers, and this girl came up to me and said “you can just send me the money afterwards.” So it’s her phone number and the amount… I should send her the money.

What’s the last text you sent?

Jouska: I was wishing my mother a happy Mother’s Day. It was Mother’s Day in Norway yesterday.

What’s your ghost outfit?

Jouska: I think I want to be naked. Is that allowed?

The worst advice you’ve ever been given?

Jouska: That I should dance more on stage. It makes me really uncomfortable. It’s like trauma! Just thinking about concerts where I’ve really tried to put in an effort dancing... it just looks really stupid. That’s the worst thing I’ve done.

What’s your weirdest internet obsession?

Jouska: It’s not that weird, but looking at used furniture. I never buy it, though. Also looking at houses, I do that a lot.

What’s your star sign and are you a typical one of that star sign?

Jouska: Sagittarius. I don’t really believe in astrology, but I read about Sagittarius online and I’m nothing like that! So, no.

What conspiracy theory are you actually quite into?

Jouska: That Joe Biden is dead and Jim Carrey is dressing up as him. I saw an interview with a random Trump supporter on the street [who said it]. It’s insane. I really like that one.

What would be your funeral song?

Jouska: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John. I think it’s amazing. I cry every time I hear it.

Who is your nemesis?

Jouska: Probably myself.

If you could only listen to one musician for the rest of your life who would it be?

Jouska: Paul Simon would be a good choice. He has something for every mood.

What do you put on your rider?

Jouska: I don’t really put anything on there! A couple of beers, maybe a bottle of wine. I want to become more of a diva. It would be really cool to be like Mariah Carey one day… I’m a future diva.

Suddenly My Mind Is Blank is out now on Norwegian label Koke Plate.

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