Q: Hi! How did the two of you, Øyvind Berge from Norway and Ina Verdi-Ruckstuhl from Ireland, come together to form Todd & Karen?
A: We met a few years ago, working at the same workplace. We really got to know each other being members of the social committee at work. To get some enthusiasm going, we started making musical greetings for our colleagues whenever anyone in the staff had a birthday. Usually it would be variations on well known songs, and we’d record little music videos together with the rest of the social committee and email them to the birthday girls and boys. After a year of doing that we started talking about doing something more than this, as it turned out we had a lot of similar tastes and references in music. Through that year the idea of creating a duo or a band of some sort started taking shape…and here we are.
Q: Your song “Norwegian Summer” is about the notoriously short Scandinavian summertime. What inspired you to write about this topic, and how does it relate to your personal experiences?
A: Well, the actual creation of the story was quite incidental. We were recording string overdubs for another song of ours, “Cosmo Crowd”. That song is more of a Beatleesque, ELO- and Oasis-inspired midtempo stomper. We have a thing that we strive to make each single sound quite different from the previous one. So Øyvind (aka Todd) started strumming a quite laidback, easy on the ear chord progression on an acoustic guitar. We looked out the window, it was mid-March or thereabouts, and the snow was finally giving way. So we were just joking around…”Summer’s come to Norway now” etc. And before we knew it, “Norwegian Summer”, the song was born. As for personal experience, people in Norway will spend their summer – even quite pleasant summers – complaining about how horrible the Norwegian summer is. Then again, there’s always the threat of an afternoon shower, no matter how cloudless the rest of the day has been. So it’s a mix…a bit of a dig about the constant nagging about the weather, and a bit of truth about the real Scandinavian summer experience. You never know what might hit you from day to day.
Q: Can you share the story behind the choice of your stage names, Todd & Karen?
A: We went through a few names and quickly settled on not being named Øyvind & Ina. No matter how happy we are with our names, we didn’t feel that would catch on. So for a while we settled on “Quirky Haggis”. We were quite amused by that name, to be honest, but some people close to us felt we were trying a bit to hard. “You might as well call yourself something like Todd & Karen instead”, the person in question said. So we went with that. Todd and Karen are real people and family friends of Øyvind, so it’s a bit of an homage to them, and also we found it interesting and fun to somewhat create a couple of personas to hide behind. It was a perfect fit to our somewhat quirky approach to music in general. You know, one of our favourite band are Belle & Sebastian. We like that kind of band name constellation.
Q: Your music is often described as quirky, ironic, and melodious indie inspired by late 60s/early 70s Britpop. Which artists or bands have had the most significant influence on your sound?
A: Well, like so many others playing this kind of music, The Beatles gets the obvious first place there. We’re obsessed with The Beatles and can’t get enough of it. Every time you listen to them, there’s something new to be heard and inspired by. Other than that, it’s difficult to get away from The Kinks. Ray Davies is a huge inspiration as a songwriter. Similarly the whimsical and quite magical songwriting of Syd Barrett and early Pink Floyd. Later inspiration would come from the Britpop era – Oasis, Blur, Suede, Pulp and, let’s not forget, The Divine Comedy and Belle & Sebastian.
Q: Your debut EP, “Approximately Here For A Bit,” features a mix of country, classic pop, and other influences. How did you develop this unique sound?
A: In addition to the Britpop mentioned above, we bring some of our own background into it. Øyvind used to play in a Norwegian language pop band drawing on traditional Norwegian folk music, and using fiddles and brass instruments in their arrangements. Ina used to play in a classic orchestra. Mix that together with an adoration for American bands like The Byrds and the Beach Boys, and you have “Approximately Here For A Bit”. Our song “L12” is heavily inspired by The Byrds, for example.
Q: In addition to “Norwegian Summer,” you’ve also recorded a song called “Blackpool Lights.” Can you tell us more about this track and the inspiration behind it?
A: This song came about as the pandemic was winding. England was playing Germany in the European Football Championship and beating them. The whole of England seemed to be buzzing with the footy at the time, and it was just inspiring. Not a bad word about Germany, but we’re huge England fans. Somehow, as England was scoring, Øyvind found his way to his piano and just started pounding out these Beatleesque/Kinks-sounding chords. And then the opening lines “Do you know what I’d like to do? I’d like to head up to Blackpool with you” just came and it took shape from there. Adding in the recent gloom of lockdown all over the place and the fallout from that, the whole atmosphere was changing a bit, so we were inspired by that. Without going to deep into a huge analysis, it attempts to send the message that you need to adjust your expectations, be in the moment and thankful for what you have. Everything might not be perfect, but you have a lot to be thankful for. So even if it’s not Las Vegas, Blackpool can be a pretty good time. If you listen to the song, I think the readers get what we’re on about. We are really happy with that track. It felt like we hit the nail on the head, and are very grateful for all the nice feedback we’ve gotten on it.
Q: How do you approach the songwriting process, and do you have any specific rituals or methods that help you create your music?
A: Our songwriting process has no rules or method to it. Whenever the inspiration strikes we attempt to write down keywords, or record quick demos. Typically though, one of us will have a melody line or an idea for a lyric and we’ll share it with the other and spin on it from there. “Norwegian Summer” was a bit of an anomaly though, as we wrote it together and demoed it on the spot. Usually we send each other ideas, in various stages of completion, and then we work on them separately before we meet up to hatch a plan.
Q: How has your background in classical music and experience with various orchestras influenced your work as a duo?
A: It means that we infuse some tricks from classical and traditional folk music into our songs, quite simply. It adds a bit of flavour and originality to it, we think. Having said that, we don’t put strings or folk instruments on it simply because it will be fun. Hopefully it serves the songs and sounds nice. Recently though, we decided against it for an upcoming song. So it’s there as part of the toolbox, quite simply.
Q: What are your future plans for Todd & Karen? Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations that you’re excited about?
A: Yes. We’re currently finishing two new singles. The first one is quite different from “Norwegian Summer”. It’s a more funky, 70s-inspired pop song entitled “Juicy Gossip From The Mothership”. On this one, we’ve been lucky enough to have Braddon Williams mix and master it. He’s worked with some real big names on his CV – Beyoncé, Snoop Dogg, Mark Ronson, Il Divo, Wyclef Jean, Kelly Clarkson, P Diddy and The Script to name but a few. It’s very exciting and a huge honour to have him supervise the mix and master of our next single. We’re very excited about that. Later on, towards the end of the year, we have another single that will be more in the Madness meets “Obladi-Oblada” vein. We’re excited to unleash these new sounds on our audience. As for future plans, we have a huge backlog of tunes we want to bestow upon our audience. Whether it’ll be as singles or we’re going for another EP or even an album, or a combination, remains to be seen. We’re looking into maybe doing a limited edition physical release with exclusive content for the diehards as well. But nothing’s been decided on that yet, so we’ll see if that materializes.
Q: Lastly, what message do you hope listeners take away from your music, and what do you want them to remember about Todd & Karen?
A: We hope they get the message that they should be enjoying life and not take everything so seriously. At the same time, we hope they see that we’re not only quirky. There is some seriousness there too. We’ve always found that our favourite artists manage to balance quirkiness and humour with a more serious side. Hopefully they see that if they play, say “Mr. Beardsley” and “Cosmo Crowd” back to back. “Blackpool Lights” has a quite serious message about being grateful for what you have, but is set to a jolly, celebratory Beatleesque soundscape. What would we like to be remembered for? We hope they remember us as a combo it was enjoyable to listen to, someone who managed to add some sophisticated humour to their songs and someone who wrote strong melodies.