Alexander Rybak : A children’s book author
Published on Eurostory.nl February 10, 2016
Interviewer: Edward Van de Vendel, a Dutch author of children’s books, three of them published in Norway by Cappelen Damm.
Thanks a lot to Remonda Clarijs, Yvette Senden and Niels Peeters for the translation, and Anni Jowett for the English revision.
A record that still has not been broken: 387 points. Alexander Rybak won the Eurovision Song Contest in 2009 with these points. His song, Fairytale, became a big hit. The CDs he released afterwards did pretty well, not only in the country where he grew up (Norway) and the country where he was born (Belarus), but also here with us and in many other countries.
Since then, Rybak has been travelling around the world. To harvest? To sing Fairytale-like song after fairytale-like song? No, that does not fit a singer, composer and violinist who thinks about what is really important to him.
And then he went on a musical adventure (from a CD with Swedish-traditional songs along with the great Mats Paulson to a song with the contemporary hip hop artist Katastrofe), he wrote songs with and for others (from a preliminary round contest-entry song for a Belarusian girl group to a song for a movie by DreamWorks: How to Train your Dragon 2) and returned (2011/2012) to the conservatory to receive his bachelor’s degree, starts acting (on stage, in for example in Fiddler on the roof, and in movies), starts a workshop project for kids all over the world and…writes a book. A children’s book. “Trolle and the Magic Fiddle”. It was released in September 2015 and Eurostory talked to him about this project and how it all came together.
You’ve said somewhere that this book is very important to you, perhaps the most important thing you’ve ever done.
I am always committed to what I do, I mean, during the weeks, the days, the months I spent on the contest, the contest was of course the most important thing for me, and when I worked for DreamWorks, that was the most important. But there will be new contest winners every year, but this Trolle-book is unique, this book remains.
In this project it seems that all comes together.
Yes! I love to tell stories. Even in songs. Behind every song there should be a deeper meaning than just an attempt to score a hit. Sometimes you just rhyme to rhyme, but that is not good, there must always be a meaning behind it. A lot of people, I knew from previous projects, helped me with this book. The narrator on the Trolle CDs is the one I played with in Fiddler on the Roof, Dennis Storhøi. He had the leading role and I played the violin, we were all the time together on stage. And I sang on a CD with children’s songs of the famous Norwegian children’s writer Thorbjørn Egner, and Pernille who I met there, now sings the role of Alva, the girl in the book.
You work a lot with children now.
Yes, I often play with children during seminars. I teach them to have fun with playing their instruments, to try out different styles of music. Children that are only used to pop music get acquainted with classical music, and vice versa.
How often do you do these kind of seminars?
The next one is in two weeks, in Norway. But I have just done one in Texas, a few months ago in Baku, Azerbaijan, I was in Sweden, and there were even more in my own country.
How does it work? You go there and stay a day or two?
Three or four days. I do so because I was tired of arriving somewhere where people have everything prepared and I just have to be the celebrity for a few hours. Now I want to know everyone, like a big family, like a family which I can share the stage with. And not that which happens way too much in this business: people are standing on stage and have no idea who the person next to them is.
But why do you work so much with kids?
It’s just the way it went. After the contest I thought; maybe I will be a teen idol for a while, with beautiful girls and stuff, but it seems I had no clue about my audience. Beautiful girls were after a while replaced with grandparents and their grandchildren, and some of those little children were suddenly playing the violin. We don’t always choose our destiny ourselves. Look, I always like to have a plan, a thoughtful plan, before I do anything, but this time it was just something that happened.
From the many interviews you have given, we get the impression of someone who takes care of his career and makes conscious choices. For example, you could also make a third pop album, with the same kind of pop songs. You did not.
I have said no to a lot of important people in nice suits, and that was because they wanted me to be someone who already existed. Just a copy of some other artists. I do not think that’s very interesting. Look, the core of my job is composing. When I compose music I can explore all genres, all genres that I’ve known since my childhood, but I’ve learned to live with the fact that people get confused as I aspire to different genres. That’s why I occasionally help artists who sing in other genres, with compositions for example, and I do it anonymously. I really like to do it, and I do not need to tell about it.
How difficult was it to write such an extensive story?
It began as a script for a musical. But then I heard from the producers that it would take ten years, or even longer, before the whole project could be carried out. So I started composing, and to develop the characters without thinking too much about in what format it would fit. I then spent two years creating the “musical universe”, and another year meeting with the publishers and record companies.
The record companies said, “Sure, we want to do it, but we do not know how, so you should also talk with other parties.” And almost all publishers said, “Today we can not release books with CD.” But the publisher Cappelen Damm believed that it could be something timeless. That process thus took three, maybe four years.
How did the writing go?
Halfway through 2014 I started. That was fun! I mean, I’ve always written. All teenagers write a diary sometimes. And they think that everything they write is super funny and very original. I was like that too. But ultimately it seemed last year it started to work.
Technically your story is written well: the descriptions are in equilibrium with the action, each chapter ends with a cliffhanger. That’s not easy.
I know! But it differs when you do it from your heart, if it’s a story you really want to tell. At first it was indeed the intention to make a picture book. With CDs. There would be, I thought, about twenty-second text, and then a song. But my editor said, “Fine, we believe in this project, but then you have to write the whole story, you have to give it space. Not only a main line, but also the details of the world in the story. “
And after the first version?
The editor said, Something is missing here, and something has to be added there.” And so it became an increasingly extensive book. It was very special to get the first reactions of children and read the reviews. Actually, I expected that one would find that I had to stick to my profession, the music, but it was not too bad. Now I try to achieve that Trolle will also be released in other languages. Denmark has bought the rights, and hopefully also want a Dutch or Belgian publisher to do the complete project. With good Dutch voices of actors and musicians who are known in Belgium and the Netherlands. *)
And the musical?
We’re working on it. It will be here next year.
You said somewhere that you eventually aiming for a ‘Fredelig liv “a quieter life. Is this a step in the right direction?
Yes it is. Should I get involved in the musical, for example to play Trolle, it will probably be a few weeks in one theatre, in one place. And then I have to travel less. That I would like to combine more and more with writing for others. Now I get , I think, sent about five songs every week by composers who want me to pick their song. But I have my hands full with my own songs! I listen to them all, or at least the first minute, but what I really, really hope is that an artist says to me, ‘Do you have something for me? ” Now I write for others, and therefore it is usually me who takes the initiative. I look forward to the situation that every day emails come in with requests for songs, with music for movies or video games, yes! Yes!
One example of collaboration is the song “Still Here” which Alexander Rybak wrote for the young singer Franklin Calleja, who participated with this song (with a beautiful, sad text) in the preliminary round Malta 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. He finished fifth.
Alexander: “It was unfortunate that Franklin Calleja was not allowed to go to the international festival, but the song still lives on YouTube and stuff. It’s one of my favourite songs because I didn’t only write the melody and text, but also had to understand someone else – and that someone was Franklin. He liked it, so for me the song is a proof that I can sense another musician. I would like to do that for more artists. I mean, I’m very proud of what I’ve done so far, but I am also proud of the things that people don’t get to see. I have sent songs to artists who rejected them, that happens, and that is why I liked it so much that Franklin with his whole heart and with one hundred percent effort went for it. I have thought to record it myself, but no, it’s his. That Franklin wanted to sing it was more than enough. “
About The Common Linnets
“I’m a fan of the Dutch national team, although this is currently not so simple. Arjen Robben is my favorite player. Oh, and Robin van Persie. But – musically – I think The Common Linnets at the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 stood out above all others. Maybe I can even work with them, if they want to. I’d like to do something with them. If they are interested then maybe I can play the violin on one of their tracks. Or some writing together. “
About his fans
Rybak maintains a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and keeps close contact with his fans. And his admirers are faithful: only last Christmas he received around four hundred presents and he is buried throughout the year with letters, texts and drawings. From time to time, Alexander makes videos in which he addresses the questions of fans. In early February, he released a video. Rybak answered questions … singing.
And then, as a bonus, another trip of Rybak, his participation in the programme One to One, the Russian version of Your Face Sounds Familiar, a show in which famous artists imitate other famous artists. And Rybak imitated both Dima Bilan (Eurovision winner 2008) and… Conchita Wurst (winner 2014).
*) For interested publishers there is a test translation available in Dutch of the first chapters of Trolle and the Magic Fiddle by Alexander Rybak at Eurostory. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.