Get Familiar: Ivan Ave
Interview by Passion Dzenga | Photography by Kim Dürbeck & Mohamed Cahkiri
Get ready to meet Ivan Ave, the Norwegian rapper who's taking the underground hip hop scene by storm! Ivan grew up surrounded by majestic mountains in Telemark, Norway, and his love for RnB music was sparked by his older sisters' records of The Fugees, Janet Jackson, and Raphael Saadiq. He's combined that RnB influence with jazz-fusion heavy, nineties-inspired rap to create his own unique sound. Along with his collaborator Fredfades and a bunch of friends, Ivan started Mutual Intentions, a label and a collective that's helped him work with producers from around the world. We're stoked to have Ivan here for an exclusive chat about his music and his journey so far. Let's get familiar.
What drew you to hip hop, especially in a place like Telemark, Norway?
Probably the same visceral experience that brought a lot of us kids in from the outside. The sound of the drums, the energy of the vocals, and so on. And then you discover this whole lineage of music and easter eggs within the culture. It's remained the centre of my life since then really.
Can you tell us more about your musical influences growing up and how they shape your music today?
We had CDs back when I discovered music, even in Telemark, so on a practical level it was my older sisters and my friend Andy who put me on to their favorite CDs. That's how I was made aware of 90s hip-hop and R&B, and I just never looked back. My sisters also played instruments, and my dad played the trumpet. So music was all around me. I found my own little zone in the styles of music I'm still involved with today.
You've made a name for yourself on the global underground hip hop scene. How has this impacted your music and creative process?
I'm very grateful to be doing it in a time where you can gain an open minded and musically curious following. I feel like my core listeners tag along with me while I discover new ways to use my pen and voice, and they allow for me to be more than one thing. So I want to live up to the space they allow for me. At the same time I know what they might want me to stick to, but that's where my loyalty ends, because I don't want to pander. I would rather take a chance and mess up than stay in a safe spot, and I think they appreciate that in the long run.
Can you talk more about your collaborations with Fredfades and the Mutual Intentions label?
Fred and the rest of Mutual are my friends, inspirations and great supporters to this day. We started out as a crew about eight years ago, and it's crazy to see how well everyone's done in their own lane. Fred obviously also produces on my projects from time to time, and has great success with his and Mest Seff's Tøyen Holding project. I learn a lot when I hear his production, DJ with him etc. So he's remained a mentor to me, in more ways than he knows maybe. If you ever find yourself in Oslo, you should try and make it to a Mutual Intentions club event, they're my favorite kind of club night.
Your music often incorporates jazz-fusion elements. What draws you to this genre, and how do you blend it with hip hop?
A lot of the rap music I grew up on did the same, I think for instance Mndsgn and I have just made the connection more overt in our music, as have a lot of heads from our generation. What draws me to it are the sounds, the instrumentation and progressions of the music, which has always been key elements in my most beloved hip-hop production. ATCQ and Soulquarian stuff etc.
You rap in English, despite being from Norway. Was this a deliberate choice, and if so, why?
Yeah, when I lived in the US in my early 20s, I learned the language to a degree where I felt I could write songs. Very gradually, I was haha. And from there I've obviously traveled a lot for music, so it's been a natural part of my reality since then.
How do you approach writing and creating lyrics for your music?
I like to come up with concepts when hearing the beat, usually without writing too much in terms of actual lyrics. Then I build around that concept, a few bars here, parts of a hook there. I build out from there and fill the gaps, to try and pull it all together as a narrative or a conversation with myself or someone else.
You've described your music as creating a "lyrical universe." Can you tell us more about this universe and how it's developed over time?
Damn, I wish I couldn't be quoted saying stuff like that haha. By universe I guess I just mean that all songwriters have a lyrical universe, a world they build, either consciously or unknowingly. Your habits and tendencies as a songwriter shape your voice as the sayer of the words, and over time you draw up the "rules" of how your songs in particular work. These can be broken, but they can also be seen as your signature and provide the listener with a feeling of belonging in that lyrical world. Mine always borrows from my real world life, but has more dad jokes, an obsession with the weather, the nature of time, togetherness and things like that. So it's not something I set out to do, it developed over time for sure.
What can fans expect from your upcoming projects and releases?
To bob their heads! My new album All Season Gear comes out on Mutual Intentions on March 10th.
Who did you work with on the new record?
To name a few, Sasac, Mndsgn, Like of Pac Div, Fredfades, Kristoffer Eikrem, and members of my favorite Norwegian R&B band Giddy Gang. Also my friends Nedja and Zee, who did a lot of singing with me.
Where will people be able to see you in the near future?
I'm playing Amsterdam on April 23rd, at Paradiso. Also playing Rome, Barcelona, Dublin, London, Helsinki and a lot more cities in Europe that month so I would advise people to check for dates on my socials.
Four albums in, do you feel a lot of pressure/get nervous before playing at these venues?
I do feel a pressure to give them a good show, but not too nervous anymore. I just look forward to celebrating our common love for music.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians, particularly those who come from non-traditional hip-hop backgrounds or locations?
Listen inwards and do exactly your version of the music you love. But to contribute anything, I think you need to study the greats and learn as much as you can about that musical tradition and culture.