March INTERVIEW with artist, singer, songwriter, & music producer Thor Simonsen.
Good morning Thor, Deb Draper here from The Wire Megazine. I hope this finds you safe, healthy, and keeping the faith. I am stoked to sit down with you today as I am a huge fan of your stupendous creativity.
Thor Simonsen is a Danish-Canadian rapper, singer, songwriter, and music producer born in 1987 in the Faroe Islands (Denmark), and raised in Iqaluit, Nunavut (Canada). You are the son of a Jazz and classical musician and since childhood at the age of 11, you began making beats and compositions on the computer. By the age of 14, in 2001, you learned to record and produced friend’s full-length pop, rock, and hip-hop albums. At the same time, you began making music videos, doing graphic design, and writing grant proposals. WOW! this is mind-blowing. At the age of 17, (2004) after growing up in the Inuit culture, you returned to your native Faroe Islands to learn the Faroese language and strengthen your own culture. During this time, you released your first solo album, International, which was nominated for a Planet Award in 2006. The album received mixed reviews, but it led to you becoming a songwriter and guest rapper in the pop group FAROE5. At 25, in 2012, you returned to Nunavut and began producing artists and gearing up for a professional career in music. You truly have made a huge impact in the lives of many through your in-depth contribution to the Canadian music scene. Contrary to popular belief, making it in the art of music isn’t merely a game of luck and requires talent, strategy, and determination based on visions and goals. You are known for your mentoring, shaping, directing the minds and careers of the youth, training in cultural reclamation, allowing others to believe dreams can come true, regarding their interest in Indigenous arts. You have helped them realize their full potential through reaching their goals and sustaining careers in the arts inside Nunavummiut. You are truly a rare and inspirational entity and it is my pleasure to forward you some of my questions today.
Some of the most hysterically revered music has always played a deep role in the transformation of society and some consider how their art relates to current social-political landscapes or how their music can address these themes. DEB: Did your upbringing prompt specific reference points inside your music making it unique and does your original music touch on social and political issues? THOR: As a music producer, my role is to help the artists express themselves fully. Much of the music coming out of Nunavut today is necessarily political and talks about the very real social issues facing Nunavummiut. As an artist, my own, original music is not political but instead tries to speak to people on a level deeper than most political differences. I think both explicit and implicit political music has the potential to create positive changes in our society.
DEB: Have you noticed a huge shift in music today (before Covid-19) compared to when your music career started over a decade and a half ago, at such a young age? THOR: I’ve definitely noticed a big change. First of all, it’s gone 100% global. When I started out in the Faroese music industry, we thought about the Danish and British markets. Today, there’s nothing other than the global market. When I was coming up, Napster and CD piracy was still a thing, too. Today, music almost feels like it plays second fiddle to influence. Instead of music leading listeners to great artists (influencers), great artists (influencers) use music as one of their tools to communicate with their fans (followers). People listen to music very differently, and the industry has necessarily changed.
THOR: The album Territorial was a collection of songs that I’d been writing for over a decade. It was an incredibly cathartic experience to release them on an album. In a way, that album set me free from my past work and own self-imposed limitations. Each of the songs has very specific personal meanings, and most of them have to do with relationships. “Traintracks” was about missing someone while traveling. “Alaskan Daisy” and ‘I’m On Your Side” were about appreciating and caring for your partner. “Friends Are Free (feat. Kelly Fraser)” came to me in a dream in which I woke up in Beijing without any money, but I felt safe because I knew that I would survive thanks to the kindness of people. “Calling 867” was actually a cover song of a Danish hit song called “8-6-6-0” – both versions are love songs about missing someone and bringing them back to one’s hometown. “Tell Me Now” is a remix of a ballad I used to perform with FAROE5 – the song is purely fictional, albeit loosely based on my own checkered relationship past. “Home Forever (feat. Ajungi)” was written on assignment during my time at the Danish Rhythmic School – the song is about feeling safe knowing that we’re all going to end up in a good place after death. “Home Forever” was the first song that I wrote that made me cry. “The Matchmakers” is based on a true story where I curated an experience for a friend and purposefully manipulated her emotions to give her an experience she would never forget. I used to plan a lot of elaborate events in order to learn more about human behavior.
DEB: Who would you say has influenced you the most musically now and then? THOR: My first musical love was Michael Jackson and The Beatles. As a teenager, it was definitely Eminem, Dr. Dre, and Coldplay. In my 20s, it was artists like Drake, Lil Wayne, and The Game. Nowadays, I listen to very random music and a lot of audiobooks.
DEB: What was the most valuable advice you were given when you started your career? THOR: An artist manager I once had taught me a lot of important lessons, including managing my expectations, take all the opportunities I can find (at least in the beginning of my career), and always be humble and willing to learn. Ironically, after a few years in the music business, I began to listening too much to other people’s advice, and I forgot to take everything I heard with a grain of salt, and never forget to keep in touch with my own beliefs.
Contrary to popular belief, ‘making it’ in the art of music isn’t merely a game of luck. It requires talent, strategic, and determined effort based on your vision, and goals. You have discovered and produced albums for upcoming Inuit artists like Assiva, Angela Amarualik, the pop collective, Ajungi, at the same time you created Hitmakerz a record label dedicated to developing Nunavit artists, creating world-class pop music, and putting Canada with its cool northern sound back on the musical world map. DEB: What does success mean to you, and what is the secret to musical longevity? THOR: Success in music is being able to make enough money to live comfortably and continue to enjoy the work. Longevity is being able to continue doing what you enjoy until you don’t want to anymore. I think mismanaged expectations and stress are the biggest obstacles to both. You don’t “do” music, you “play” music – if it becomes too serious, then you’re no longer an artist.
DEB: Which is more of a challenge, creating your own art or producing other artists’ material? THOR: I definitely think that producing other artists has become easier for me. I don’t personally have that much left to express, but I love helping others express themselves. However, this, too, has become challenging in the last years, since I’ve let myself get very involved in the business side of things, and I now see the creative process almost as a chore. I find a lot of creative flow in the business of music, but I need to find more time in order to get back to playing music just for the fun of it.
DEB: If you can share with your fans any accolades you have received. As well, which award means the most to you and why? THOR: The Junos and Indigenous Music Awards that my artist have won (and been nominated for) mean a lot to me. I appreciate the validation from peers, and I know that those awards help the artists gain new fans and credibility in the industry. But while those wins are fun, the happiness (or “high”) they create doesn’t last very long. I think the best accolades come from the struggle of doing the actual work. It comes from putting your heart into something, overcoming challenges, watching it become real, and seeing how fans respond. It’s a pretty great feeling when people in remote Nunavut communities telling you that a song you produced helped them get through tough times, or changed their life for the better.
DEB: When you first started in the music business, did you ever believe that your career would have unfolded the way it has? THOR: After my experiences as a touring artist, I tried really hard to avoid working in music industry. I wanted to be safe by working in marketing and government, but I think I’m too ADD to be a good employee. Luckily, music, marketing, and governments are quite interlinked in the music industry (at least in Canada and Denmark), and my skills have been complementary. Honestly, I kinda just thought I would end up as a graphic designer.
THOR: My best memories with Kelly were right after we recorded her sophomore album “Sedna” in a hotel room in Merritt, BC. Kelly had been apprehensive about doing another album, but once we got started, it was magic. After recording the album’s title track, we drove around town in her beat-up old car all night, listening to the song. Those were fun times.
DEB: What was it like working with the young mind of artic indie rocker, and award-winning singer-songwriter Joey Nowyk from Pangnirtung Nunavut? THOR: Working with Joey is great. He’s a natural artist and performer, and he’s also very chill and easy to work with. I think his future is extremely promising.
DEB; Some artists seem reluctant to speak of just how frustrating and baffling the whole experience of navigating the general music realm is let alone add in Covid-19, or how hard they try to still be ambitious about getting their artwork seen or sold. Explain briefly how you are currently pursuing your careers as a performer, and as a producer? As well, what are some of the ways you’ve chosen lately to engage with your legions of fans, whether that’s within the top echelon of international art circles or based on your involvement with your local community despite the challenges musicians face trying to bring your art to the new formatted audiences at home, thanks to the Corona Virus? THOR: The majority of my time is definitely spent as a producer and label executive. As an artist, I’ve decided to hold off on releasing new music for a while in order to further develop my business skills. That being said, I think the universe is working on a third Thor Simonsen album, and I’ll share it with the world once I find the time to record it.
DEB: Share with your fans where they can stay in tune with you upon your social platforms? THOR: You can find me at www.thorsimonsen.com or learn more about the label and artists at www.hitmakerz.com.
Thanks so much for your time Thor, I look forward to sharing! Stay safe, and keep the musical faith!