Artist Spotlight: Mall Girl

    Mall Girl is a Norwegian trio composed of vocalist Bethany Forseth-Reichberg, guitarist Iver Armand Tandsether, and drummer Veslemøy Narvesen, who bring together elements of indie pop, jazz, Midwest emo, and math rock. Their debut album, 2022’s wildly eclectic Superstar, juxtaposed its frenetic energy with moments of gentle vulnerability, which is the mode they mostly operate in on its follow-up, Pure Love. Yet the new record still feels like a tight balancing act: though the range of influences is apparent – there’s a song called ‘Emo Shred’ – Mall Girl’s commitment to tweaking and combining disparate ideas keeps the sound refreshing, all while staying true to the emotional core of the music. Pure Love is intimate, pensive, and endearing, its softness is never undermined by the at times angular, off-kilter instrumentation. It’s an approach that matches Forseth-Reichberg’s lyrics, presenting their subject matter as a jumble of experiences where past and present become blurred; a journey that’s all the more relatable for how unpredictable it is.

    We caught up with Mall Girl’s Bethany Forseth-Reichberg and Veslemøy Narvesenl for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about their journey as a band, their collaborative process, Pure Love, and more.

    How did you start playing together, and what has your journey as a band been like?

    Veslemøy Narvesen: Wet met in Oslo in 2017 when we were studying music at the Norwegian Academy of Music. We were students there, me and Bethany and the former bass player, Eskild [Myrvoll]. Iver was a friend of Esklid’s from high school, and we put together a jam session, me, Eskild, and Iver. We started making instrumental, indie rock-inspired music, really guitar-based. Eskild is really good at making things happen, so he was having an idea of maybe putting another element into the band – we were thinking about either saxophone or vocals. We had a rehearsal with Bethany, and she started making lyrics to the tunes right away. It feels super nostalgic to think back – I haven’t thought about it in a long time. But it just felt like a really good fit. We immediately got a really good connection with each other, and the music we made was also very interesting for all of us, I think.

    It was pretty clear we wanted to make pop music with a twist, in a way that could have influences from other genres. We were doing a jazz program, so obviously we were into those kinds of aesthetics, and more experimental pop music of the Norwegian scene. Eskild has a pretty deep background in rock music, and he has a really special way of playing guitar, influenced a lot from classical music. All of those elements put together into wanting to make pop music, and Bethany’s angelic voice on the top, made the foundation of the band. The first songs we made were pretty cute, I think, and it evolved into more and more rock-based. I think it was primarily Eskild who was pushing it in that direction, and then Eskild quit the band about a year ago. Bethany and Iver had started making the second album, the lyrics and everything, while I was living here in Solheim, and I think we naturally gravitated back to a more soft expression.

    Bethany, do you feel a similar sense of nostalgia for those early days?

    Bethany Forseth-Reichberg: Yeah, I’m a very nostalgic person. I love looking through albums and listening to old demos, so I can be nostalgic looking back at it. It’s fun to see how the band evolves through six years – in 2017, I was 21 years old, so you change a lot as a person also. It’s fun to link certain life events to certain songs, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot about being in a band – this is the band I’ve had for the longest and learned the most from. It’s fun how your bandmates can become some of your best friends, and still you’re able to work with the same people. This band encompasses more than just music, we can share big life events together.

    As your sound and interests as a band changed over time, did you feel your dynamic and the way you worked together shifted, too?

    BF-R: When we were younger and studying, we had so much time to just jam all the time. We would play every week, but now we live in cities and don’t have the same time, so things change. You just have to think of new ways to make things happen.

    VN: When COVID hit, I was living in Solheim, so we weren’t able to meet, and we made a lot of songs over the internet together, sending each other demos and then adding stuff. A lot of the songs from Superstar were made like that. I also thought a lot about the fact that we have played in a band for so many years, we have obviously gone through a lot of changes together, which is a really beautiful thing because we know each other so well now and we’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst. It sort of becomes like family, playing in a band, and even though we don’t meet every week anymore, the connection is really strong.

    BF: It’s like no other work environment, which is funny. The lines are blurred.

    Going from the first record to the second record, did you have more conversations as a group about how you wanted to move forward?

    BF-R: The process of making this album was very different from the first one. With the first album, it resulted in a more eclectic, almost collage-like collection of many ideas. But this time, I think we were more on the same page on what sound we wanted earlier and the theme was kind of in our minds before we started making it.

    VN: It used to be four people having a lot of opinions about everything, but you and Iver sort of took care of the music. And of course, I was involved, but I let go a little bit of being deeply into the process because I was here and doing a lot of other things. I knew that if we were going to make another album, they would have to be in charge of it in a way, and I would come and do my part as a drummer.

    BF-R: We needed that. It would have been me and Iver’s album, we didn’t want that.

    VN: It was actually a really nice way to do it, because I don’t think we would have come through with it if I was very included in the making of the songs. Iver made a lot of drum tracks, and then I listened to them and did my own thing around them, but it’s really their work. It’s just cool to have different processes.

    BF-R: This is something we talked about: We’re gonna make an album now, and this is gonna be one version of Mall Girl. And then the next time we can make another album, that’s another version. But just to keep the wheel going and not stop the process. That was kind of freeing, and being in a band sometimes means letting people explore their flow or their current obsession in terms of sound.

    Bethany, did you find that that freedom affected your writing process with Iver as well?

    BF-R: Iver and I make music together in other projects also, so we’re used to just being very effective together. We always had this mindset that it’s a one-take project: If it’s an idea that works, let’s go. We met up and we made three demos in a day. He would start normally from sending – I think he made a list of 15 guitar riffs and he would send it to me, because he listened to a lot of YouTube videos of people shredding on guitar at that time, being extremely intricate and playing fast. So he had that reference, and I’d been really into Big Thief – their last album has been a really important album for me. I feel like that combination was what sparked the sound. A lot of my ideas, lyrically, are based on where I was in life when we wrote the music, being heartbroken and just confused.

    Was it challenging to find ways to inject the kind of intricate, frenetic energy of your debut into the softer, more intimate songs on Pure Love, especially the run from ‘Energy Lights’ to ‘Glu Myself to You’?

    BF-R: Veslemøy, I feel like you helped us to push some of the things you felt when we were sometimes a little bit too easy, or the easy way out of certain songs. You’d be like, “We need some spice on this.” I feel like it was good to have your outside perspective on things, and that actually made us be more true to our original sound.

    VN: Some of the songs you mentioned, and also ‘Emo Shred’, we had had this demo version that we put out that’s guitar-driven and sort of cute, and when we were making the album versions, we needed to bring some Mall Girl into it – the contrast between the soft parts and the energetic crazy parts. I think the drums play a huge part in that. Also, when we were doing the production with Marcus [Elfstedt], we had that in mind, that we needed to make these songs suitable for Mall Girl.

    BF-R: And he produced the old album in the same studio, so there are many similar constants in the process.

    Of all the songs on the record, the opener, ‘Inzane’, is the most ambitious in how it combines different styles. How do you go about taking an idea that may seem awkward or strange in theory and making it work in practice? Do you have a philosophy as a band about which risks are worth taking?

    BF-R: When we practice, if someone has an idea, you’re not allowed to say no. If someone says something, it’s like, “OK, we’ll try. I don’t necessarily agree in my head right now, but it’s worth trying it.” I feel like that’s a general thing we already have in our heads, and sometimes it’s just fun making songs that are eclectic and all over the place. For me, it’s almost like a rock musical.

    When it came to exploring feelings of heartbreak and love, do you feel like making the album shed light on the journey you went through?

    BF-R: That’s one of the things I love about albums, the connection with one’s own life. For me, it was part of a journey of figuring out who I was, at least lyric-wise. The year we recorded the album, I ended up dating someone – I feel like I found pure love – so for me, it’s like this journey of bridging the old and the new. That in-between stage, when you’re alone and single and you have to deal with maybe a breakup, is a really weird stage of grieving something, but you know you have to move on. It’s this weird limbo, and I found that really intriguing to write about. It’s not heartbreak, but it’s not like “I’m in love” all the time.

    Do you mind sharing something that inspires you about each other, and about Iver, personally or musically?

    BF-R: I love how Veslemøy puts her everything into music. Music is her life, and I find that so inspiring. You come into a project, whatever it is, you bring your all. Some people might just brush it off and be like, “Oh, whatever,” but you take it seriously. And you’re a good friend – you’re good at lighting up a party when we hang out.

    VN: Bethany has seen me through thick and thin. She’s a really good friend, and she’s always someone I can count on no matter what. I can always talk to her, and I usually talk to her about everything. She’s very open and very supportive and a really good person to talk to. Also, she’s really good at what she does. She has the business mind and the entrepreneur mind, which is lucky for us as a band because I don’t know where in the world we would be without her. We recently stopped working with our booking management and she’s been doing all of the work for this release tour, which is incredible. She’s one of the best people I know.

    BF-R: Likewise. We should say something about Iver – Iver has so much passion, and he gives his all also. He’s an extremely good listener and friend.

    VN: He’s super smart and talented.

    BF-R: He is really smart, and he’s like a rock. I never get bored of him.

    VN: He’s very funny.

    BF-R: He’s one of the people I can be on tour with forever and not be bored.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Mall Girl’s Pure Love is out now via Jansen Records.

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