Hanne Kolstø has remained something of a buried musical treasure as far as the music scene outside of Norway is concerned. A singer/songwriter with talents as diverse as they are considerable, Kolstø also has an unparalleled diligence when it comes to her pro-active work ethic. She is scheduled to release an instrumental album, her fifth in as few years, later in the Autumn. However, this month will see her put out a collection of acoustically reworked songs, recorded in collaboration with longtime friend and fellow musician, Andreas Stensland Løwe.

Kolstø has an eclectic back-catalogue having fronted several bands with a rainbow of styles from jazz to rock. However, the style on her forthcoming album, entitled, Live at Tøyenkirken, whilst possibly her most pared back, is certainly the most evocative, having reduced several concert audiences to tears. The inspiration for the album came about as a result of Hanne being asked to play a concert at the Henie Onstad art gallery. Realising that such a special venue not only required a more stripped back sound, it also deserved something a bit out of the ordinary. The result was a concert of such exceptional quality and beauty that the memory of it will remain with its audience for some time to come.

Realising the emotional reach of which this stunning arrangement was capable, Kolstø and Løwe decided to rework more songs and compile an album the audience for which was not just limited to those who could fit inside a church. So Live at Tøyenkirken was born, and in advance of its release on 22nd April, The 405 caught up with Hanne Kolstø to find out more about this both charismatic and enigmatic artist, who although a well-known name in her native Norway, has only started to graze the surface of the market outside of its shores.

With that in mind, we started by asking Hanne to give us some background to herself and to put some context to her music and its style...

Well, I think that most artists would say "my music can't be defined".

I've released five records in five years in which I wrote about myself and the things I went through, what I felt and what I saw in people, and how I reacted to everything that happened to me. It was a natural process and not like I wrote the first album and then decided I wanted to release four more. After three records I saw that I had a fourth one coming, so I said: "okay, maybe I am capable of five records in five years." I think of it as a pop diary of five years of my life.

My music has developed all through those albums. I've worked with the same producer, Øyvind Røsrud Gundersen, on all five. We've grown together, trying new thing with each album. Lyrics-wise, I've discovered myself as a poet, which is ironic because in the beginning I hated writing lyrics but now I love writing above all, even above making music.

Kolstø is known for her searingly honest and deeply personal lyrics. In previous interviews, she has said that she always writes about existential topics, so it necessary for her to externalise what's going on inside. Is there a need to liberate what's going on in her head and her heart?

I don't set my mind to writing about existential stuff, it just kind of happens and I quite often don't understand what I'm writing about, but I know that it works. I think that maybe it's the one thing that I'm addicted to. I'm not like a lot of musicians in that I can't be without music, but I think it could be the case that I can't be without words.

I used to think it was music was the thing that was most important to me, but now I see that it was the words that have been most important all along. When I write it's like I'm trying to work through a puzzle in my brain. Things click into place when I write, things move around in my head until I can see the whole picture and get what I'm struggling with thought-wise.

At this point Hanne is laughing, and while it's apparent that her lyrics are hugely important to her, it is also very clear that this is a woman with a fantastically warm, self-deprecating sense of humour. I ask her about the fact that many artists say they couldn't be anything other than musicians. Does she agree?

If music comes out of me, I have to do something with it. Maybe because it's also personal, I feel obligated to try to get it to other people. I think that's kind of like the art thing that makes artists artists. I really feel that it's kind of liberating, that there's no pressure, and if I don't make anything I won't try to force something out of me just because I want to work with music.

If there is something coming out of me, I have to do something about that so that's maybe my problem, that there's always something coming out. I love what I do. I love to do it, but I don't feel I have to.

Last year Hanne Kolstø was asked to perform a one-off concert at the Henie Onstad art gallery. She immediately sought out long-term collaborator and friend Andreas Stensland Løwe. But how did the two originally cross paths?

I got to know Andreas ten years ago at the music school we both went to in Kristiansand. I had a rock band at the time and always wrote the songs on guitar. Then I started writing on the piano, at which I'm not very good. I used to look at Andreas and think "He's so fucking good", hoping that one day I'd get to play with him, but I didn't dare ask! (laughs). So when I started composing on the piano it gave me the excuse to approach him, 'cos I suck at playing the piano. You know how it is, you always think, "Oh, he'd never play with me, he's so good", but then when you finally get around to asking, he's like "You're so good, I've always wanted to play with you!!"

We worked together for a while, as a duo and in the indie-pop band, Post, but when I asked him to play with me for this live album, we hadn't seen or spoken to each other for three or four years. I asked him if he wanted to interpret the songs on the piano and when we did the concert, it was just me and him, totally stripped down.

There are ten previously released tracks on the new live acoustic album. I ask Hanne how she initially went about selecting the songs for the concert and if these were the songs which ultimately ended up on the album?

I wanted to play some of the songs, but the most important thing was that Andreas picked out songs that he felt he could play. We tried some songs that I really wanted to play but it didn't work because they were too difficult to arrange for the piano. All the songs we've recorded for the album are mainly because they worked with piano and vocals, but we have more songs. I've been thinking that we should just perhaps make another album because we have five more songs than are on the album, so we could do one more.

What resonance did that have for you... singing your lyrics in a different soundscape and watching the audience react to that?

I rediscovered my lyrics and my melodies because that was all we had left. It was a strong meeting between myself and my music. It worked very well with the audience. Some were crying and it was kind of like this bizarre but really strong thing that was happening. I didn't think it would end up becoming an album or anything, but we had such a great connection, me and Andreas. He found more songs that he felt that he could interpret on the piano and suddenly there was an album.

How did such an intense reaction to her music make Kolstø feel?

It made me happy that they cried! I felt that the filter was gone from the melodies and the lyrics so in a way, I was very happy. I also discovered myself that the lyrics were really like dark and heavy, heavier than I thought they were when I wrote them.

I also cried, but I was crying for myself, because I discovered my lyrics. It was also really nice to see that the audience also felt the same thing that I felt, that it was an unfiltered, or was just straight from my heart and directly to them. It felt like I spoke very directly even if I sang in English it went straight into the person because they heard the lyrics first I guess.

It's the mood that makes you cry! It's the song you've never heard before. It's not connected to memory or anything. You can listen to any song and start to cry because it's the mood that puts you into such a state to make you cry.

The new album was recorded live in a church just outside of Oslo. I ask Kolstø how that came about and why that particular church?

I grew in a Christian home and spent most of my childhood days in the church. I'm not a Christian now, but I really felt that was a very safe childhood and have only positive memories of being in the church, and being around Christians. I still go to church, maybe three, four times a year. I just like to be there, to be in the church. It makes me look at myself and my life in a new way. Everyone should go to a church and experience the silence and sacred vibe and what it does with us. Just go in and turn off the mobile phone, sit down and be quiet and hear what's going on within.

That's kind of like why I went to the church to record the album. I felt it was a very safe environment for me in which to sing those songs. When they are so stripped down as they are, it was really safe to do it in a church.

We spent two days in the church, recording everything live. It's funny, I don't feel like it's pop anymore. This is just me talking about who I am and what my music is. I'm an artist I make music and lyrics or words that come to me and my project is developing all the time. You could say that I am a pop musician or pop artist, but I never sat down at the piano or with a guitar and thought, "I'm going to make a hit single" or I'm going to do this or that. I just make music.

Your connection with these songs obviously changed as they were being remoulded and opened out. Do you think how you felt about those thoughts in those songs changed in that unfiltered environment?

They are totally different for me in this unfiltered way. There's also that feeling that it's just me, I'm alone, singing the songs straight out of myself directly to people, unlike in a band when you have all these sounds that people have to go through to get to the melody and the lyrics. Playing with a band, you're moulded into this thing together, but here it's stripped down, just me and Andreas, and he's behind a piano, so I almost feel alone. When I'm alone, it's just me and my songs. I just have to withstand myself and what I'm doing. You hear the words so loud in your own ears but it generates such a strong union between artist and audience.

What makes the music of Hanne Kolstø different?

I think the thing that makes music different from one artist to the other is that I am the only one who is Hanne Kolstø. My music is different because I am myself and I am the only one who is myself. Music will always be influenced by others and the things you like and the things you've listened to but if you are true to yourself then your music will be different from others, or at least maybe harder to define.

The photograph on the album sleeve is really serene. It captures a totally peaceful and natural image. Who came up with the idea?

I took the photo. I was sitting in the boat behind being towed by a friend. It was taken in Lofoten where I lived for a year and my friend was an old man who lived in the house next door. It was quite funny because we were out on the open sea when the motor failed, and we had to paddle our way back to the shore. He had broken ribs and I had tendonitis, so it was a bit of a crisis, with neither of our bodies were working properly. But it was such a perfect day - blue skies, calm sea, warm air, me just sitting there and him towing me, well rescuing me. I just love that photo and the feeling it creates. We had all the time in the world.

With another album due out in the Autumn that's yet to be completed and this live album to promote, Hanne Kolstø is going to be a busy gal. Already lined up to play some festivals, I ask if there's also a tour in the offing?

I'm doing just a couple of concerts with a band but for now, the focus is on the duo of myself and Andreas. In the fall, I'll tour a lot in Norway, but I'll only do a few during the aummer as I want to concentrate on my upcoming instrumental record. However, we're doing a release concert for the live album where it was recorded, at the church in Tøyenkirken the week after it goes out. It'll be so nice to go back there.

Live at Tøyenkirken will be released via Jansen Plateproduksjon on 22 April.