By: Chris Pacifico
Siblings Emil and Hilma Nikolaisen of Serena Maneesh spent their childhood in Norway growing up in a musically aware family. From the time they were kids, they were exposed to old spirituals, folk, medieval music, and classical. Emil discovered AC/DC at the tender age of six before eventually delving into bossa nova, jazz, blues, and the rougher terrain like The Stooges and Ramones. However, it wasn't until middle school that his true musical awakening occurred. Emil's teachers frequently played music in the background for their students. Most of it was "bullshit music" until one day when he heard "Heroin" by the Velvet Underground for the first time.
Serena Maneesh by Christie Harrison
"I was in like the sixth or seventh grade when that song was played. I remembered the name Lou Reed in my head. When I heard all those sounds in that song I was really scared to death. I remember riding my bike around the schoolyard and was totally frightened because something hit me that was so real," he reminisces. "I had heard so much shitty stuff at the time but this was real in a new way to me. And, it has always followed me ever since."
Serena Maneesh is the hottest thing to come out of the frost-bitten land of Norway in quite some time. Released last summer, their self titled debut is a whirling, kaleidoscope array of fuzzy guitars, haphazard drums, lilting, angelic harmonies and plain ol' beautiful raw noise.
Throughout time, a musician's geographical surroundings have played some part in their musical makeup. Black Sabbath managed to capture the essence of their bleak, industrial hometown of Birmingham, England, just as the MC5 evoked the dirty, oil-stained garages of Detroit, while the Black Keys stir up the working class, rubber scented air of Akron, Ohio, the tire capital of the world. The list goes on and on but for now let's focus on Serena Maneesh.
The band formed in Kristiansand, one of the most cultured cities in Europe, before eventually relocating to Oslo where their revolving lineup is currently based. Tunes off their debut like "Drain Cosmetics" and "Sapphire Eyes" send a gusty chill down the listener's spine. Balancing some of the heavier aspects we find Sufjan Stevens on "Candlelighted." Emil used to be in Stevens' touring band and chuckles, "I played guitar with him before he was famous."
Serena Maneesh by villageindian.com
"During certain parts of the year in Norway you don't see any daylight, and you also have the opposite times where daylight is the only thing you see" says Emil. These natural phenomena, known as Polar Night and Midnight Sun, go on for days and even weeks in certain places inside the Arctic Circle, and can toy with people's moods and minds, leading some to a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD).
"There are people freaking out. There's a lot of alcoholism, suicides and other intense stuff. The city of Bergen gets a lot of rain each year, which is why some people think that a lot of sad music comes out of there. Norway has a lot of music and you can find some extremes but I think it has to do more with [individual] personalities interpreting their own sound. In a way though, it's a little bit more complex than that. We love our country - the valleys, the mountains, the fjords and everything. It's just like Iceland or Finland or Sweden. The physical place affects the music, the mood and the general spiritual attitude. It's just like anywhere else, especially the United States, because you do still get a general sound depending on what [region] it's coming from," says Emil.
Hilma observes, "It's kind of hard to compare us to other bands in Norway right now because we're doing kind of a different thing." Serena Maneesh's leggy bassist has piercing, sky blue eyes, blonde hair and a face like a princess from some centuries old Norse tribe. "To make it easy, I would say that we play psychedelic rock because there is a lot of psychedelia in our music. But, I would definitely not say 'shoegazer,' which is how a lot of people describe us."