I first noticed Norwegian singer Nils Bech in 2006 when my radical lesbian friend showed me this silly gay anthem, Easy, he’d made with synth-pop group, Snuten. Even then, Nils wasn’t just singing the songs he writes, he was performing them. These days, his musical productions veer more toward his classical roots with lots of pop flourish. His show is a slightly camp re-enactment of his latest album, Look Inside, the record that came out of his ‘thirties crisis’ and details a love affair with a handsome stranger he met online. On stage, he sings, sometimes a capella, and improvises with objects, like sheets or ladders or sculptures or the walls. I met Nils in Oslo to take his portrait, and then proceeded to chat his brains out.
Samuel: What do you like to listen to?
Nils: I like Nina Simone, Yoko Ono, Grace Jones, people like Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen. Kind of energetic singers… What is this obsession with Lady GaGa? Anyone can walk around with a piece of meat on their head.
We all know GaGa is just—
Some Ibiza pop singer! It’s much more interesting when a singer can show real emotions without going into character.
Do you like Joni Mitchell?
Yes, I like Joni Mitchell, and Kate Bush. I like Morrissey too. And I listen to a lot of Fleetwood Mac. I love watching American Idol.
Because it’s like watching a train wreck?
No, it’s because, when they are really good, there is nothing that makes me happier than to hear an amazing singer. I actually don’t listen that much to music. If you asked me how many CDs I have, it’s like five, and four of them are classical music. First I wanted to be a violin player so I started taking violin lessons, but I really hated it. And then my grandmother heard me singing and she said, ‘Oh, you have such a beautiful voice. Why don’t you join the boys choir?’ We have a pretty famous one in Norway, but it was two hours each way from home, and my mother was like ‘No way.’ So I started taking singing lessons instead. In Norway, every county has this cultural school. So I went there as a boy soprano and sang classical music until I was twenty.
And then I realized becoming an opera singer was the last thing on earth I wanted to do because you’re always being told how to sing. I got really stressed and stopped enjoying it. I had never used my falsetto, for instance, or had tried to improvise. Then I was asked to be in Snuten. The production is cheesy, but I think it’s a nice song.
So when did you move to Oslo?
I moved to Oslo from the countryside when I was twenty. It’s only about a two-hour drive from here. My village, Vikersund, was just one street with shops.
And what does your family do there?
My mom is an artist and has her studio there, and my father used to be the chief of schools. My uncle is a painter too and he lived across the cornfield. I kind of grew up with a lot of art.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Yes. My father was married before, so I have two older step-sisters and one older brother. I’m the youngest.
No, more like my grandmother’s boy. I only came out the year before she died.
What is the gay scene in Oslo like?
It was like two bars. One just plays this eurotrash music and the other one… What did they play? In the basement, they had a jukebox so you can get some Bruce Springsteen. But everyone is well over fifty… It’s kind of dead.
Could you imagine doing something else besides performing?
I worked in a bookstore for many, many years and I really hated it. I always went into the handicapped toilet in the middle of the day, sang two songs, and then I would be so happy. As a kid, I really wanted to do ballet, but it wasn’t possible in my village. I always had this longing for movement.
I had assumed you were a dancer.
Hmm… If I were to get a choreographer — is that how you say it?
It would be awful.
Yeah, I cannot remember anything. When I went to music college, I had to play the church organ as my second instrument, and I couldn’t even navigate the pedals.
You seem to dance quite well in your music clips.
I never did any training.
Your music is often presented in a fine art context, like a museum or gallery. How did that come about?
I’m this singer that turned performance artist without asking to be. The office of contemporary art in Norway has been really supportive. It’s strange because the art scene has been much more supportive than the music scene.
Why is that?
Maybe it’s that I’m really direct with my lyrics? I don’t understand why you can’t say, ‘I love you. Do you love me?’ Because that’s what I’m thinking about…
And are you also very vocal about what you are thinking about in bed?
It’s funny, my friend Micha and I have this joke where he always says, ‘Well we both know you’re lazy in bed, Nils.’ I think giving head is really boring. And he’s like, ‘The only thing you want to do is fuck.’ And I say, ‘Yeah, and kiss.’
I don’t like getting a blowjobs. At all…
Yeah, it’s kind of boring.
But I like doing it. Are you interested in sucking cock?
Of course, I can do it. But you need to work a bit to get to the finale.
I’m not sure why I get so bored with blowjobs. Maybe it’s because I’m circumcised.
Hmm… In Norway, there are hardly any circumcised guys. Do you think foreskin is a bit disgusting?
No, I’m into it. Maybe I’m just less sensitive. But then again, my nipples can be very sensitive.
Oh yeah, that can be a bit—
Ouch! Some guys want you pull them really hard so they can let out that specific nipple grunt.
Is that a Berlin thing? All those guys have the most humongous nipples.
Nils Bech will be performing songs from Look Inside this Saturday night, 16 March at SculptureCenter at 44-19 Purves Street in Long Island City, New York. For more information, check his website.