Perched on a sofa, eyes downcast as she weighs up an answer, RAGZ NORDSET doesn’t appear to be your average musician. The high cheekbones and elfin features hide an inner warmth that shines through on her impressive collection of acoustic ballads, making her one of the most listenable solo performers in the city. As we chat about being pigeonholed and the various homes that have shaped her musical style, it becomes apparent that Ragz isn’t just another girl with a guitar.
With a sound that is influenced by her upbringing in the fairytale wilderness of Norwegian town Hokksund, Ragz sings songs that are steeped in the folklore of the stark world around her. She often seems a melancholy figure, as she charts her life from flying the nest to landing and taking up residence in Liverpool almost a decade ago. Speaking with a hybrid ‘Scousewegian’ accent, Nordset says that she, “came here to figure out what music was all about.” A formidable work ethic and a clutch of well-received EPs suggest that some of the city’s rich musical heritage has rubbed off on her, and she obviously has a passion for creating the kind of music that shapes her emotions, sharp blue eyes frequently flashing with enthusiasm as we touch upon topics of interest.
“There is a lot of alone time in Norway, and people are living so close to nature.” This must be good for inspiration, I say. “Yes, definitely. But this was the place I ran away from as I was bored and unhappy there, so maybe the inspiration comes subliminally.”
Conscious of it or not, the forested environment of her first home ultimately influences, and provides the backdrop to lots of her songs. 2006’s Little Stings EP has flecks of these influences scattered throughout: meandering through the trees with Run, and flitting across the ghostly snow drifts with More, this collection of songs borrows a lot in terms of atmosphere from this mythical setting, sounding naked and hymnal and punctuated by stabs of her enchanting vocals. So, if the origin of the sounds can be traced back to a Nordic wildwood, what of the language? Thus far, the majority of the songs Nordset has written have been in English, which I suggest seems incompatible with where the songs seem to come from. “I think the words come from personal experience rather than a specific place,” she explains. “And I see myself as less developed as a Norwegian speaker than I am as an English speaker now.” Bearing that in mind, writing the EP Tusen Knuter, the first time she had ever attempted writing in her native tongue, was, she admits, “pretty scary!” Drawing on childhood memories and “all the lullabies my Mum used to sing to me,” these songs are softer and barer again, and make for unnerving listening. “It does get a bit darker when I write in Norwegian!” Ragz admits. “There is a slight distance when I’m writing in English. But these songs seem more personal.” Though the words are indecipherable on these tracks (to me anyway), the intense feelings are not, and Ragz’s vocals are as touching as ever.
As a solo acoustic performer with songs informed by nature, she is often described as a folk artist: this doesn’t at first seem to be wide of the mark, but it is not something that Ragz herself agrees with. “I’d like to shake that label,” she confirms. “It’s been put there more as a visual aspect than a musical one. It’s actually quite lazy.” Not that this bracketing has done her any harm, playing support as she has to the modern, hip faces of folk, Laura Marling, Noah And The Whale and Mumford & Sons. And while I agree that her music is not entirely compatible with the folk genre, it certainly does no harm to be included under that umbrella, especially with its current popularity. But, as Nordset says, “it’s about control.”
Fresh from a special night supporting The Christians at Manchester’s Lowry Centre, Ragz is now ready to embark on her own headlining tour. Beginning at Leaf on Bold Street and taking in the ElecroAcoustic Club at the Slaughtered Lamb in London and a selection of other intimate venues across the country, things could be about to escalate. An album of live recordings is to follow later in the year, so there really is no excuse for you not to delve in to her world. It’s not folk though, just so you know.