Moscow. The end of June. It is + 10 C on the street. Alexander Rybak came to the meeting in a thin T-shirt. “We had snow in Norway two weeks ago, so I am used to the cold”. He has also got used to the constant attention which falls on him after winning the Eurovision Song Contest. Since then five years have passed and Alexander has written a lot of songs and travelled to almost 70 countries. And now he is reaping the benefits of his success – Rybak is the composer of a soundtrack on the popular Hollywood cartoon “How to Train Dragon 2”, and can be proud of it!
Source: OK! Published 03.07.2014 in the issue No. 27 (395)Author: Vadim Vernik. Photo: Vanja Berezkin.
Translation by Valeriya Platonova, Zhanna Sergueeva and Maria Solntseva. English revision by Anni Jowett.
Sasha, how did it happen that you entered into Hollywood so elegantly? Did the producers invite you?
Nobody invited me. I just wrote a song and realised that it is perfect for the animation. I’ve worked on the first and second parts of the animation for Norway (main hero Hiccup speaks with voice of Alexander). At my own expense I rented a studio, recorded the melody and sent it to the company “DreamWorks” although only 2.5 months remained prior to the international release of the animation. I knew that I had little chance, they may not even want to hear my song. Especially the Americans, it means nothing to them. And suddenly the answer is: “Of course, Alexander, we know who you are”. I was delighted, although they also wrote that everything was ready, and there was no need for the song, but they certainly will listen my melody. I decided not to wait for the outcome, I was just happy and considered it like a personal victory – the main thing I took a chance. However, after a week and a half they called me and said that the composition is very nice, and in spite of the late terms, they want to use the song. In the end I felt happy, and my song plays in the final credits of the animation. In some countries it is released on the soundtrack disc. The compositions of John Powell are gathered there, and my song is the last track.
Yes, and even more important, I was asked to make a video based on the movie. I was told: “Find a good location in Norway, make the video and we will give you exclusive material from the animation and help with the installation”.
Overall, a beautiful adventure ended with not less a beautiful victory. And why did you refuse the famous Andrew Lloyd Webber and not take part in his musical “Phantom of the Opera 2” This would be a step forward for you too.
Correct to say not refused, but I was not lucky.
In the first year after Eurovision, I collaborated with the Scandinavian managers who as it turned out, were not competent in what they do. They did not realise with whom it would be worth dealing with. The same story came out for example, with Philip Kirkorov, my favourite. Philip would like to be my producer in Russia, but my managers do not know him at all. If I had understood more then, I would have immediately stopped working with them…
… and have collaborated with Philip.
Yes, the same happened with Webber.
Do your managers don’t know the composer Webber?
There’s another story. I found out later that this cooperation was financially disadvantageous for them. There was another case with the company “Universal Music”, who offered me a contract. But it also didn’t satisfy my agents. So because of them I missed out on a lot of things.
Yes, but I don’t want to regret and complain, I’d rather save the dignity.
Good stance. So you’ve parted with your managers. Is now everything escalating?
I have more freedom in my life. I have manager in Russia and the CIS countries, another manager in Belarus, and then one in Belgium, Serbia, Turkey, Sweden, and Norway. But many deals I do myself. Every day I spend a couple of hours at the computer and answer e-mails. I have 700,000 people on Facebook from around the world, every week I get 100-150 letters.
(Laughing) No, let’s not exaggerate. But these letters are not on e-mail, it’s paper.
Does someone write letters by hand?
They write to me.
This is very exclusive, congratulations! Tell me what do you think of the victory of the bearded woman Conchita Wurst at Eurovision?
I haven’t decided if I like this image or not. But I am all for the unusual. I like that in this world, where we are becoming more similar to each other, Eurovision leaves the possibility to be original. Although it would be very sad if this artist won only because of his fictional image. But still, at Eurovision the music wins.
Anyway, it was the same with you, and all remember your song “Fairytale”. People are waiting it at concerts. Have you become tired of it?
Oh no. The only thing I was tired of repeating to everybody is that I wrote it myself. Everyone asks: Who is the author of the song? They don’t realise that it’s only possible to achieve such sincerity on stage if you do everything yourself from your heart.
Do you mean, if the man himself does not compose, that execution wouldn’t be so truthful and sincere? Curious attitude.
Yes, at least for me personally it would be difficult to sing .. This song is a particular story from my life – a few years ago I was in love with the girl, and the song is about her.
After winning the Eurovision Song Contest there was persistent feeling that you had disappeared, maybe many thanks to your Scandinavian managers.
But I didn’t disappear anywhere! I hope people have noticed that I’ve repeatedly been in Moscow. Seldom, but it happens – I work locally. I love that I have the opportunity to work in several countries and to penetrate into its culture.
And what does mean to work locally?
Rather nationally than locally.
I will explain. Many artists work like this: there’s a new project, and they travel to different countries for two years with it. I’d be depressed to do this.
How do you work?
For example, I have a tour of Sweden with classical music, then a duet with a Romanian artist, in addition I am interested in performing a folk music in Belgium… I always search for myself, try myself in different genres. Different nations like my different projects. And I like the diversity.
But, for example, the Russian audience needs a “diverse” Rybak with the same song that he won Eurovision with.
And I sing it with pleasure when I come to Russia. Returning to “underground”, as you say: actually it’s a fair feeling that after Eurovision an artist appears less than he might. It always was like this and it always will be. The thing is that after a big musical contest where you perform a hit for 150.000 viewers, you won’t find somewhere with such a huge audience again, even if you have a second hit, third, fourth… When I won I said to myself at once: “I don’t think that the audience will increase further but the quality has to increase.”
Tell, have you had other hits after Fairytale?
Yes, although hits of the level compared with Eurovision’s level – probably, no. But I was in charts with the song “I Don’t Believe in Miracles” from the motion picture “Black Lightning” for example – Arkady Oukoupnik wrote it.
So you still perform other composers’ pop music and you can do that sincerely and with your heart.
(Laughing) It turns out – yes. Also I had a hit “Funny Little World”, it was on the top of German and Swedish charts.
You started as a classical musician. How seriously do you deal with classical music today? And what do you perform – Mozart, Beethoven?
Mozart is not interesting for me.
I like to entertain an audience with unaccustomed things. My classic is for example Antonio Bazzini. Stunning, virtuoso pieces.
You are a violinist-virtuoso. Do you have a special relationship with your violin?
I am really grateful to my violin: I achieved many things with its help, in particular I composed the song I won at Eurovision with. And people had seen something original in that. Additionally, for me the contest was like a vacation from the classical music. I knew if I didn’t win I always can say to myself: “So what, I am not a pop singer after all, but a classical violinist…”
You graduated from a Conservatory in Oslo.
And when did you start to compose?
Early. I was 5 years old. I always felt that when you perform classical music you can’t play badly, you can’t disgrace yourself. But pop music is fun first of all. Yes, composing a hit is not easy, but it is still far from the same level as music of Tchaikovsky and Rakhmaninov.
I am pleased, Sasha, that your tastes in classical music are much wider than just compositions of Antonio Bazzini.
Sure, I play varied classical music. Only a few people know that, you know journalists are interested in speaking to me about Eurovision, and about girls, it’s a more commercial topic than Bach and Mendelssohn. And I was a classical violinist before and I continue being him now. I will just say it one more time – I tour around the world as a pop artist. And much more than this I like to make a mix for the audience. My audience are families. I.e. a girl of 14 years old who likes my music invites her grandmother to the concert. And for this audience of various ages I perform classical music first and at the end of the concert I will perform pop music.
I heard you are writing a musical now.
Yes. It’s my most important project to date, but it’s too early to speak about it, because I need half a year or even one year to complete it.
How global is everything!
I’m writing this musical in Norwegian. But selected songs from it have already been played in some countries, and there is an interest to translate the musical into different languages. So I already know that a success is guaranteed.
I see you are a self-confident person.
I don’t assess a success by the number of views on YouTube or by ratings of radio charts. A measure of quality for me is people who hug me after the concert and tell me with the tears in their eyes: “I will invite my friends to your next concert”.
Sasha, you have an image of an eternal boy with a violin. Do you want to grow up in the eyes of the people around you? You are already 28 years old.
But I am still not 40 and even not 30. I don’t know what to answer. When I was 15 I already felt myself grown up, you can say – old. It seemed to me that’s it – my youth is over. After that it was much easier for me to grow up. When I turned 18, 20, 25 I already didn’t feel the importance of maturing. It was just clear for me long time ago that my youth has gone irrevocably.
But what had happened when you were 15, when you became instantly grown up?
Nothing specific, I just decided so myself. I saw that my friends who were 5-6 years older than me always tried to look younger, dressed respectively and so on. And I said: “I don’t want to be like this, I better – bang! – and will grow up now, to not think about it any more.”
But you still look very young. It’s physiological.
Or a mentality. Everything around us tells us to be more closed, to trust less, not to demonstrate what we think and feel. When you grow up your thoughts about what the people around you say about you disappear. You don’t care about it, you are more confident in yourself. At the same time I don’t want to show this experience and this self-confidence externally at all. It’s not very positive. You shouldn’t show that you don’t care about others’ opinion. A cocky person looks repulsive and egoistic. And I want to be as open as I was when I was 10 years old.
And I was always friends with those who were much older than me. And not 5 years older but 30. One of my best friends, my neighbour in my district is a producer of the biggest theatre in Scandinavia. And he is 30 years older than me. He is 55 years old. People of that age might be boring and annoying, but only not him. Thomas is a very bright person. Or I have a female friend, an opera singer, such a primadonna from Bergen. It’s interesting for me to be with her too. At the same time I myself attract people who are younger than me.
“Attract” – what do you mean?
Girls always want to date me, they ask to make a photo with me on the street, then they give me their phone numbers.
But that is okay. You’re a simpatico guy, a famous one. Do you think of settling down?
No. More exactly, I reflect on that trying to understand how artists live touring all the time and seeing their families 2-3 times a year. And every time I realise I don’t need such life. I want either to be a good husband and a father or not to be a husband and a father at all.
Really, it’s not time for you to think of settling down.
I plan, more exactly I dream of that. But now, on the first place there is a wish to become a famous composer. I always was a composer but not many know that so far, therefore they ask who wrote Fairytale.
And why is it so important for you to become a famous composer?
To find work more easily. Now I am invited only as a performer or a classical violinist, they invite me for concerts or festivals. Sure, I don’t complain. And I am interested in travelling while I am not married.
Tell me, did you fall breathtakingly in love, or you don’t have time for that either.
Of course, I did. How could I write Fairytale otherwise? “Eurovision” took place 5 years ago, and I broke up with that girl 10 years ago. Then I suffered for 5 years and as a result I wrote this melody, got into the contest and realised this was my destiny. I didn’t believe in destiny before at all, but then I wrote a song and I have believed in it since.
Have you ever experienced such feelings since that time?
No, once I fell in love, but the girl turned to be not for me at all. Now I understand that amorousness is a bad feeling, because it often transforms into hatred. Friendship is quite another thing, though it isn’t such a strong feeling, but it lasts much longer. Girls confess in their love to me very often, but I don’t think that this is compliment for me or my merit.
Probably, it’s the amorousness in your stage image and this is the power of art.
It’s much more pleasant to hear a compliment about my creativity from girl, than a confession of love. But they say: “I can’t breathe without you!” What nonsense! Of course, you can! Try and you will succeed! She would better have said that I am a good friend and it’s pleasant to talk to me.
I hope you will find true love in future. You were born in Belarus, but at an early age moved to Norway, why did your family move there? It’s not a typical case.
Firstly my dad remained in Norway, after he visited Scandinavian countries with the Minsk Chamber Orchestra, in which he played. In Norway he came across a very wealthy family, who offered him to teach children and give private lessons. I don’t know, how it happened, but those people hid my father and he didn’t return to the Soviet Union. For 2-3 years he was saving money so Mom and I could move to be with him. We moved there when I was five or six.
You must have forgotten the Belarus of your childhood.
I remember at the level of sensations. When I came to Moscow at 18 years old with a classical concert, I felt you myself in familiar surroundings. Everything was like in Minsk of my childhood – the same bus colours, the same fragrances. When I came to Minsk after the Eurovision Song Contest, I immediately felt at home.
Did Norway become your true home?
It’s my home, but however long I live in Norway, I will always be a Belarusian. I like minor, nostalgia. All the songs in Norway are in a major key, but in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia – in a minor key. We can have the best day of our lives, but anyway we are sad and eyebrows slightly shifted.
Do you write minor songs in Norwegian?
Yes, sometimes. Fairytale is in minor key. It’s very Slavonic – song about my going crazy. Catchy melody, but the chords are slightly sad.
Do you know the expression: “At home among strangers, a stranger among his own”?
Yes, I can hear: in Norway “You’re a world artist, but it feels that you’re a bit strange”. They say it with love, but it’s a fact. The same thing about Belarus and Russia. Wherever I come, I’m always like a guest, but I don’t mind, I even like it. Guests are loved and treated well. My suitcase is my home, hotel is my home. I even decorated my apartment like a hotel. So I’m neither Belarusian nor Norwegian, neither A classical musician or a pop one, everything is mixed. Classical violinists say: ”You’re not ours!”, pop colleagues wonder: “Did you record a song? But you’re a classical musician!”.
You are such an elusive character, you have a mystery and it’s attracts. What kind of a child were you? – probably you were diligent, well-studied? You look like an excellent pupil.
My parents always had problems with me, my mother was frustrated with me (Laughs) I studied well, but often vandalised. My friends were hooligans. Everything changed in the 9th grade – I began to behave better, but my marks became worse, in some subjects barely reached “3”.
I liked comparison of your apartment with a hotel room. For how long have you lived independently?
For 5 years. I live in the most beautiful district in Oslo, on the seafront.
Are you doing the housework, cooking?
I’m not very interested in it, but I do everything by myself. I don’t even ask Mom to cook for me. It’s very important for me to be independent. Order in the flat is even more important. The more order in house, the more order is in the head. One interesting moment: when I invite a girl to my flat, I try to entertain her, because I’m an artist. I want her to have an amazing evening, but girls have such an instinct that they come and begin to clean up anything in the wrong place. I have to stop them.
Don’t you have a housemaid?
No, but I have girlfriends (smiles).
You have friends, girlfriend, but I’m sure that you feel comfortable in solitude, because the creation of music is not a public deal. When did realise your vocation is in creativity?
I strongly believed my parents who said that I will become a violinist. However, at one time my mother thought that I would become a pianist, because I played piano very well, I even performed with Oslo chamber orchestra when I was 6.
I believed my parents that I’ll become a violinist, children always believe their parents. If they said that I would become a kangaroo, I’d also believe it. When I went to music school, I saw that not all the children were playing for 2-3 hours a day, I pitied them a lot. They played musical instruments, but dreamed about other professions – they want to become firefighters, policemen. I told them: “You should read books about policemen!” and even filched such a book for one of my friends, but I played the violin and was sure that it’s my future.
You look well. Do you spend much time on sport?
I would not say so. I just keep my posture, try not to slouch and keep myself in a good shape.
Don’t you need a gym?
I go on trainers, but it’s only every third week now, it’s too little. When I performed in Norwegian theatre in the play “Fiddler on the Roof”, each day began with simulators, and then I pumped up my muscles. I have a little rest and a lot of worry. We call it “positive stress” in Norway, so I never forget that my career doesn’t go by itself, it’s necessary to build it. It’s stress, nerves and it’s useful for body.
Norway is a prosperous country and you provoke stress in you contrary to general opinion.
Norway is really very prosperous, in this sense, many people living a measured life experience psychological problems, they feel a lack of shakes. As for me, I don’t need a psychoanalyst. I have no time to be sad and experience melancholy. I have the labour of love, which I am ready to do around the clock!