My coincidental proliferation of Norway-related content in recent months paid off back in March, when a member of Flight Mode reached out to me about the trio's forthcoming TX, '98 EP. Inspired by songwriter Sjur Lyseid's 1998 experience as an exchange student in suburban Houston, TX, the group cites such references as Braid, The Get Up Kids, and the Deep Elm roster—funnily enough, three examples of the genre that I personally was never all that drawn to.
Given the band's collective résumé (involvement with acts like Monzano, Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson, Dråpe, and numerous others), however, I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised that the four-song, 16-minute EP offers nothing short of absolutely superb emo/indie that does indeed capture the aesthetic of that heralded era. Generally soft and somber, a little jangly and droney, yet with plenty of energy and emotion—and without venturing toward any of the genre's "poppier" characteristics. It's just high-quality, memorable songwriting with a proper dash of the wistful nostalgia that goes along with the inspiration behind the compositions.
Out June 25 through Sound as Language (pre-order now on Bandcamp, or follow Flight Mode on Spotify), check out TX, '98's zestful opening track, "Sixteen," below; followed by an interview with the band:
This is a really interesting theme for a project, dating back to your experiences spending a high school exchange student year in Texas in 1998. Talk about how that all came about. What part of Texas were you in, and—of all places—why Texas!?
Sjur: I was in a suburb to Houston called The Woodlands (the Dallas reference [in the lyrics of "Fossil Fuel"] was just down to the rhyme scheme). One of those suburbs that looks like mostly any other suburb: cul-de-sacs, driveways, and golf courses. Lots of oil money. A little like home, but yet so very different.
I really don't know how I ended up in Texas, it seems it was mostly down to chance. I think I got the call a couple of weeks before, in what was somewhat of a take-it-or-leave-it situation.
Of all places... yeah, that's something that definitely went through my mind quite a bit when I was there. Houston wasn't at the time—and will probably never be—the epicenter of cool. At the same time, I came to a really nice family, where especially the daughter in the house—who was my age—was such a big part of both my cultural and political "awakening," I think. So, it just goes to show: it's not about the place so much as about the people in that place.
Recorded almost 20 years later, when was this material composed, and—especially since you seem to have a complex relationship with nostalgia—at the time that you were writing, where had the surge of reflective inspiration come from to revisit that particular experience back in 1998?
Sjur: As far as I can remember, all of the songs had been written just before the recording session, and quite quickly. The theme arose more out of consequence from how these songs sounded, or how I wanted them to sound. I was revisiting a musical aesthetic that had been very prevalent in a specific period of my life, but also an aesthetic that I had largely left behind in my musical endeavors since then. So, writing specifically about that period seemed like a logical thing to me. I think I'm also someone who's quite drawn to conceptualizations—like the concept of youth, coming of age, and our nostalgia toward it. At the same time, I've always been the better lyricist when I'm almost novelistic and particular, rather than conceptual. So, each of the songs is hopefully more of a snippet of human experience, rather than shoving the concept down people's throats.
That age is also such a transformative and emotionally intense period for most people, and even more magnified when you've moved halfway across the world, away from everything you've known so far in your life. So, it made it really easy to write out stories from that period and make them seem real.
Have you played the tracks for any of your Houston friends—or the daughter from your host family—yet? If so, how did they react, in general?
Sjur: No, I haven't played it for them. Sadly, we haven't really been in touch for the past few years, which is admittedly my fault. I think I'm generally not that great at maintaining friendships, at least over long distances. I also tend to keep my musical output really close to my chest until it's out in the world. Maybe it has something to do with me not wanting the actual real world interfering with the stories in my head, which aren't always accurate.
How did Anders [Blom, guitars] and Eirik [Kirkemyr; drums, bass] become involved?
Sjur: I'd been working with them both in various other bands and projects (my "day job" is a record producer/mixer). I knew they were both a lot more passionate and well-versed than me in the emo rock genre, so their preferences and tastes were really important in realizing the project. Along with being great musicians with the right sensibilities, they're also good people to be around and whom I consider my friends.
Anders and Eirik, what was the experience of performing and adding to these compositions like for you?
Eirik: This was a very fun and joyful experience! I feel we've been connected with Sjur over some time, as a friend and a professional producer in other musical projects. So, it made very much sense to tag along and create some music with him!
Anders: The first time I met Sjur was in the spring of 2007, when he played a solo show at the legendary tiny Oslo bar Paragrafen. I vividly remember already being in an unusually good mood before the show, as I had finally decided to drop out of law school earlier that same day. Seeing Sjur play live for the first time—I had had his band Monzano in my MySpace "Top 8" for a while, but had never seen him "IRL" before—made the night just perfect. After the show, our mutual friend Morten [Samdal] (the drummer of Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson and Monzano's label manager [at How is Annie Records] at the time) introduced us. Of course, our conversation soon revolved around our mutual love for the emotional punk and indie rock of the previous decade. When Sjur, as we ate our kebabs at the end of the night, told a story about this one time he saw The Appleseed Cast—my favorite band at the time—play a basement show in a punk house in Texas in 1998, I knew I had found a new friend.
In the years that followed, I had quite a bit to do with Sjur musically. He engineered and produced my bands' records, I handled the mailorder for his bands' records, we did a lot of split gigs together, and I frequently made him play at the D.I.Y. shows and festivals I put on. But we never actually played together until one weekend in June of 2017, almost exactly 10 years after we first met, when he invited Eirik and me over to his studio to record these four songs he had been working on.
We didn't rehearse at all before the recording session, we just played through the songs a couple of times in the studio until we almost knew them, and then hit "Record." It was a really fun experience, and it felt so great to get to play with Sjur, whom I consider to be one of the greatest songwriters in the country. That the songs turned out to all be inspired—both musically and lyrically—by his experiences as an exchange student in Texas in 1998—the very time of his life that he was reminiscing about when we ate those late-night kebabs the first time we met 10 years prior—made perfect sense. It's like our 10 years of friendship had been leading up to making this EP.
I can't wait to show the world these songs, and I would definitely love to do something like this with Sjur and Eirik again very soon.
It seems like it wasn't planned to sit on the songs for four years before releasing them, and you've pointed out that now there's even some degree of nostalgia about these recordings given that years have passed. What made now the right time?
Sjur: No, that wasn't the plan. I guess life got in the way (it usually does). I think it was always the plan that people should hear them, I rarely treat stuff as personal documents. What made now the right time? I really have no idea, I just rediscovered these songs and thought they were a bit too good to keep in a drawer. Maybe the boredom and monotony of the pandemic made me want to revisit a brighter time, who knows?
Given the specifically intentioned inspiration behind this EP, I'd tend to guess that Flight Mode will likely be a one-off project. However, the songs are just so damn good that I can't help but ask: is there any potential future for Flight Mode, even as a nontraditional "band" that only congretates when there's some particular artistic purpose in mind?
Sjur: First of all, thanks so much! It really does feel like a great band, a lot due to the awesome musicianship of Eirik's drumming and Anders' guitar playing. If it's well-received (it's not like writers are immune to that, no matter how hard they resist it), that would of course play a role in us going back to the drawing board and spending another weekend recording in the not-too-distant future. Ideas for concepts are welcomed!