Lyric Contest Spotlight: Writing From Norway

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Despite its name, the American Songwriter Lyric Contest reaches beyond our shores into Europe and beyond. So we thought it would be fun to pick the brain of one of these Trans-Atlantic scribes. We talked to Glenn Hammerstad, a Norwegian songwriter with an affinity for Johnny Cash, about writing in English versus his native tongue, the state of Americana music in Norway, and his musical influences. Check out his lyrics for “Gospel Of A Fool” below.

How did you find out about American Songwriter magazine and the lyric contest?

I searched the net for songwriting tips, discussions and contests and the American Songwriter web page caught my attention.  As all songwriting amateurs tend to do, I dove in eyes open.

What is it like writing in a second language? Do the words come to you naturally or do you have to translate as you go along?

As silly as it probably sounds, I always found it somewhat natural to write in English. Why? One big reason is probably that most of the music and lyrics I have found inspiring throughout my life have been in English. The words I write, poor as they may be, come naturally to me. Norwegian and English have a different flow to them, so translating word by word would basically kill the energy in the lyrics. So I do as I only know how, I go with the flow.

Do you also write lyrics in your native tongue? If so, which is easier for you, writing lyrics in your native language or in English? Which do you enjoy more?

No, I do not write in my native tongue (Norwegian). Somehow, I do not manage to get across my thoughts and emotions as sincerely as I do in English. Maybe I am kidding myself, but that is how it is. English is a richer language so I try to eat of its crumbles.

Norway is best known for its Black Metal. How does Americana and singer-songwriter music fit into Norway’s music scene?

Internationally, Norway is recognized for our Black Metal. Nevertheless, even though we go back to the bloodthirsty Vikings, we have grown rather friendly over the years. Though Black Metal draws inspiration from Viking mythology, my guess is that a very small minority of Norwegians would try to qualify to make it to hell. On a serious note, the Norwegian Black Metal scene is far greater abroad then it actually is within our borders. We also, like you, have folk music with traditional guitars, violins, harmonicas and so forth. Actually, I think our musical heritage has much more in common than many Americans probably would think. Check out, for instance, the artist Odd Nordstoga and the album Luring and you will be positively surprised.

How did you personally get into country music and singer-songwriters? Who are some of the songwriters that heavily influenced you?

I write only what comes natural to me, regardless of genre. If it fits the country genre, great. Maybe some other lyrics of mine fit a different genre, i.e. pop-rock.  I go where the words take me. Could be it leaves me stranded but, hey, so be it.

Some artists have truly touched me. Not that you’ll find any traces of their genius in my lyrics but I will let you in on some of my sources of inspiration. To mention a few: Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Johnny Cash, Paul Simon. Hail to all of you.

“Gospel Of A Fool”
by Glenn Hammerstad

I don’t wanna fall like soldiers
Don’t wanna be something in the news
I wanna play like careless children
Like I used to do with you

I wanna sleep beneath the willows
And focus on something good
Only wanna bridge the distance
That lingers between me and you

It’s been said before but I say it again;
Silence can be venom or a friend

See them bullets fly like words
Words that hold no meaning
Words that bear no truth
Words that break all rules
Like a gospel of a fool

Don’t wanna be just a shadow
Wanna be strong, free and true
Can’t stand to see us lose all meaning
Like everyone else seems to do

It’s been said before but I say it again;
Same beginnings can have different ends

See them bullets fly like words
Words that hold no meaning
Words that bear no truth
Words that break all rules
Like a gospel of a fool

If we could see we’re pieces
of the same puzzle
Where everyone belongs
We’d find smoother ways
to reach each other
Like rhymes in a song

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