Alexander Rybak the Great – Interview in Dagbladet 20.02.2009

We cheer for Alexander Rybak

This is the most popular thing you have ever done. You can participate in Melodi Grand Prix with this.

Source: Paper issue of Dagbladet’s magazine FREDAG, 20.02.2009. Text by:  Anne Gunn Halvorsen. Photo: Lars Myhren Heland. Place: Vigra. Translated by Jorunn Ekre, revision by Anni Jowett. 

This is what Alexander Rybak (22) was thinking when he was standing on a mountain top outside Ålesund this summer. He brought out his violin to play a bit in the summer weather, and what came out was to become a huge favourite in tomorrow’s Norwegian Melodi Grand Prix final, the song “Fairytale”.

Before this session Alexander had wandered for six hours every day, knocked on doors to strangers and offered to play for them and get accommodation and food in return.

Didn’t you get embarrassed by showing up on people’s doorsteps like that?

-Yes, I didn’t stay there like a proud rooster. I was always very happy when people let me in. Now I have friends for life here, he says.

A horizon fenced in by steep mountains even today. Alexander from Nesodden is back at Vigra in the Giske municipality. He is sitting at a café, he’s been given free dumplings by the owner, he will later drive to the Haahjem family, where the pensioner Bjørn will remind Alexander of how hungry he was when he visited them this summer. Sigurd, the cat, will meow with irritation when Alexander pulls out his violin, while children in the children’s party he visits afterwards will be ready with white pieces papers and pens. At the Rørvik Blindheim family, the mother has made a chocolate cake, the daughter has brought along her girlfriends and the youngest son has made up the guest room in joy over the visit.

After Melodi Grand Prix tomorrow, Alexander Rybak (22) a Russian speaking, squeamish and bullied prodigy, be our new national hero.

On this day Alexander will get over twenty text messages, the phone calls will be about concerts, tomorrows visit at “Grosvold”(Norwegian talk-show)  and that Per Sundnes wonders who he is in love with. Alexander will play on his violin four times, getting interviewed twice by local media, while he continuously taps on his cell phone, searching for people he met this summer and shows an enormous enthusiasm towards everyone who wants to contact him. A normal day at work, which either will lead to conquering the world or getting burned out.

-I answer all phone calls and text messages. I see no reason why I should have  a private number. I handle all of the heavy breathing and harassment. There is very little of it compared to all of the nice comments I get.

-I’m a big fan of Andrea Bocelli, but I don’t get nervous about him the same way as with Glenn Lyse when he joined “Idol”. You feel more towards people who are on their way to something, than those who are already an (established) artist.

Alexander is the answer to what happens when an old fashioned wonder child grows up in a modern media world. The classically educated violinist, born in Belarus in 1986, tried his luck in “Idol” twice, was sent out after one audition to the NRK programme “Kjempesjansen”, before he won the contest in 2006, and joined Melodi Grand Prix three years later.

-Jahn Teigen and Bettan always get jobs and are never forgotten because they dare to compete again and again.

Why do you want to become famous?

-As a public person it’s much easier to get people to collaborate with you on projects. Regardless of what you are famous for. If you’re famous for doing something extremely well, people have faith in your ideas. If you’re famous for making a fool out of yourself, people want to sympathise. I still haven’t experienced anything negative – or….

Alexander ponders. 

Well, I have been beaten and such, now and then. In the street at night people have pushed me, so that I have started to bleed. It was worth it because I only got more sympathy from the girls around me. No point in going into this any further, but it’s people who don’t know me and who don’t understand my ways. They don’t understand why I have to show up on TV.

Alexander the great: If Alexander Rybak (22) wins the Melodi Grand Prix, people may stop beating him in the streets.

When Alexander came home from Ålesund, he was invited to dinner at the Melodi Grand Prix -octopus Per Sundnes. He was served “real tasty gay food” while Per showed him earlier winning entries. All of the songs had a certain rhythm, a rhythm that didn’t exist in Alexander’s song.

-It takes a day to swallow your pride, but soon I thought, no, damn, it is Grand Prix and you have one chance. Of course you should change the song so that it in addition to being popular and nice, also should be danceable. Then the oompah rhythm came into the song.

Are you comfortable with changing your song to the Grand Prix formula?

-As long as it makes the song better. The song wasn’t ruined, it leaked a bit here and there, so I clogged some holes. Many join because they only have a song they want to promote. I have tried to tailor make it. I have watched old Grand Prix entries on YouTube, I have seen what was in last year and what could become in this year. 

What did you get out of the research?

-That people don’t like it when things are forced onto them. I didn’t want the dancers to wear national costumes, the song is enough in itself. If you’re to participate in Grand Prix you have to leave out things you like yourself. You have to see it from the outside and ask yourself if it really is cool or if it’s only you who enjoys it.

If he goes to the final in Moscow, he will be well prepared. Alexander speaks Russian with his parents, who were defectors from Belarus and came to Norway when Alexander was six years old. He had already composed a song three years earlier, and played the violin and the piano for a year.

-As a classical violinist it’s important to begin early. There are some doors in the brain that close after a certain age. I’m glad I began playing the piano and the violin when I was five. I played in a local orchestra here in Oslo, and at the age of six I played a piano concert. I was a wonder child that everyone pushed.

Do you feel that you’ve actively chosen music yourself?

-No you don’t choose anything yourself as a child. I don’t know if I will let my own children do the same, but I’m very happy about my parents pushing me a bit. They managed to brainwash me so that I thought all children practised an hour and a half every day. They had a fine line between letting me be a child and at the same time become good.

Is it anything that is typical Russian about you?

-I think I have the sad part from Russia. All of the songs I write are in a minor key, and when I was little, Mom sang sad lullabies to me, and then we cried till we fell asleep.

Both of his parents are musicians, and his dad was hired as a violin teacher when the family came to Norway. Alexander sees himself living in Norway for the rest of his life.

-I was born to do Norwegian things. The violinist culture is so strong here, and it’s probably destiny that is the reason why I’m here.

When Alexander attended elementary school he practised the violin for 2-3 hours every day, during senior high school four hours. Now he is studying for a bachelor’s degree in violin performance and juggles acting (Soon to be in cinemas as the son of Morten Harket and Aylar Lie in the “Yohan Barnevanderen” this autumn), show and studies. In March he will go on tour with Elisabeth Andreassen. Maybe it is just as well that he has had to sacrifice other things.

-I was very good at playing basketball, but I had to quit because it was downright unhealthy. I am very squeamish of my fingers. I can poke my head into an oven, but I can’t take out a pizza without wearing lots of oven gloves. When I was snowboarding I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I wore wrist protection.

Have you ever wanted to quit playing?

-Yes, I quit playing every other week. Then it’s useful to have the foundation I have, otherwise it wouldn’t have worked.

What have you missed?

-I didn’t get to know about sex until I was 12 years old. That’s one of the things my parents could’ve told me. I remember everyone else laughed at a book the teachers showed us at school, but I didn’t understand one bit.

Was it cool with the violin when you were 13?

-No, there was some bullying because of it. I was an only child and so smug that I didn’t understand I was a victim of bullying until later. I was satisfied with the two, three friends I had and I thought I was king of the hill. That’s how wrong you can be.

The boys danced and the girls cried: Both girls and boys have been charmed by this face. It’s very liberating that gay clubs play my song. I think there are many gays in the Melodi Grand Prix-club, and I’m relieved they like my song.

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