An evening with the Einar Stray Orchestra

Einar Stray Orchestra are a group of young, talented musicians from Norway. While they are still not very well-known in their country, they are considered a big name in Germany. They are currently on their European tour and headlining for the first time in London at The Islington. Their performances are raw—no synthetics, no backing tracks—just five singers and musicians, accompanied by their instruments. 

What’s so special about them is how comfortable they are on stage. Most of the band performs with their shoes off, sitting barefoot, while playing beautiful music. Unlike other artists, their music sounds exactly the same live as it does in the album—maybe even better— and they care about giving their audience a performance that showcases their skills and what they’ve worked so hard to accomplish. If you’re not familiar with their music, it’s about time you check them out.

Before their performance, I sat down at the pub to chat with three out of five members of the band—Ofelia Østrem Ossum (cello/vocals), Simen Aasen (bass guitar/vocals), and front man Einar Stray (piano/guitar/vocals). Their new album, Politricks, came out in the UK on the same day as the gig. While the album features beautifully performed songs, they discuss harsh topics such as the loss of innocence, war, and the challenges of religion.

Stray says, “I think the first thing that came to our mind when we were going to record a new album now was that we wanted to do something more personal and something more direct. That was the first thing that came to our heads. We have no clue what we were trying to make, but at least that [we] have to be more personal and more direct.”

Aasen adds, “I think everyone is going through that phase called ‘finding themselves’ or trying to find themselves and growing up. It’s going to be kind of the same experience no matter where you are in the world. It’s a universal topic, okay. It’s going to be in something that people think about everywhere. It’s something that we can all relate to, in the band. We’re the same age, and since we are from the same country and the same, basically the same place, we might feel similar about it.”

While they have common experiences, they hope the album themes resonate with fans from all over the world. Stray explains, “At least we hope that it’s universal. We also think so. I would say the album is about—at least for us, coming from Norwegian Christian homes. That’s at least our cue into this. It’s about not taking everything you’ve been taught by your parents as the truth, but you also have to find your own truth. That is, for sure, universal, I think, for everyone.”

The band also recorded a documentary—accompanying their new album— about their views on religion, war, and the society they grew up in. When asked if they felt that anyone would disagree, Stray said, “I think we don’t really care too much about what other people think anymore. We did struggle with that for a good period… I don’t think we care anymore, how people are taking, how people are viewing us.”

Ossum elaborates,“I think we just make music we want, and I think, since we are just completely sincere and always honest about the music we are making, we are not—we don’t feel like we’re trying to make ‘really big music.’ That just happens, and then the listener also sort of accepts that. I think we get good feedback from it. People are not saying that we are trying to be pretentious just because we—it’s very ominous, what you’re doing, and I think it’s trying to do in a way.”

They also discussed how they have used the opportunity to write a more personal album as a way to openly talk about how they feel about certain things in their country and in their lives. While they’re mostly from the same part of Norway—Skandvika, which is southwest and only 15 minutes from Oslo—they do have different ways and opinions about their society. Aasen’s take on it is that, “For me, personally, [it] was just good to clarify, now I have a chance to say, ‘Okay, I mean this.’ This is what I stand for, in this album. It’s out there. You don’t feel like you have to stand; you can just say your meaning. Some are very helpful with this documentary. I hope everyone in the band had an opportunity to talk a little bit about how they felt about it.” Stray agrees and adds, “Because we’re quite different people. It’s kind of difficult, actually, to have a common collective kind of message. It’s really good for us to find that a little bit better. We wanted to make that and meant to just to get people to know us a little bit more so that they can see that this is a bunch of different people musically and personally [although we have a common message].”

Although the Einar Stray Orchestra has been performing as a band for four years, they started performing as “Einar Stray.” The reason for the name is because Stray is the brainchild of the band. He started as a solo artists in the “Myspace days” and then decided to have Ossum and the rest join him to create the band. Einar tells me that it is “like a democracy now” because they are called Einar Stray Orchestra instead of it being considered a solo artist with a backup band. While they added “Orchestra” to the name, it still has Einar Stray’s name in it. Ossum explains, “We felt like we still needed to keep his name there because the people should know that we are still the same people, still the same band, but we entered the orchestra just to make more including in a way. To not make the most drastic name change, we decided to still keep it. He started it, after all.”

The band had been on tour for 18 days by this point. They all connect so well with one another that they don’t find it very challenging be on tour with each other for so long. This marks their first headlining gig in London. “We’re very excited about that.”

They discussed how touring allows them to meet new people, bond with each other, and expand their fanbase. Aasen recounts a memorable fan encounter during one of their recent gigs from this tour. “When we play there this time, now, there was a family there that had been driving that was from Slovakia. They have been driving 6 hours so that they could go to Prague to hear us… the mom, dad, and a kid. I think he was around 8 or 9 or something. We talked to them after the show. That really doesn’t happen often. That’s something…. It was amazing. Those things really mean more than you can imagine. That they’ll take so much time coming here, so that leaves a friend.”

He then tells me that this all happened the night before his flu started. Despite having a very bad flu for a whopping two weeks, he’s performed every night with his bandmates and wouldn’t have done it any other way. He puts on a Texan accent and says, “You got to follow through it, man. You got to do it. The audience is still there. I give it all I got.” To which Ossum adds, “And for the kids!”

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