Good vibrations out of Bergen
Lori Ann Reiinhall
The Norwegian American
For many of us, the time of the pandemic was a time of introspection, a quiet time of reflection. But in the world of music, with performance venues shut down and more time to jam, compose, and produce, it also became a time of creativity. This was the case with Bergen-based musician Hans Petter “HP” Gundersen, and one of the results was his latest album, Modern Nostalgia.
HP Gundersen is nothing less than a living legend in Norway, having been on the music scene for over five decades. A performer and producer, over the years, he has worked with the country’s top artists, including the likes of Sondre Lerche.
But HP’s musical interests and achievements go far beyond Norway’s borders, to the Anglo-American scene. His latest album, Modern Nostalgia, is a reflection of those connections. A mixture of soft rock and Americana with a small psychedelic touch, it is easily accessible, but it also shows the complexity of the legendary Norwegian’s musicianship over the years—and a strong love for music coming from this side of the Atlantic.
When I sat down and talked with HP over Zoom about the new release, I asked him about the title of the album. “Modern nostalgia” is a bit of an oxymoron. Nostalgia implies a look back to the past, while something that’s modern is in the now or in the future. Yet these two concepts converge in the album.
HP talked about the musical scene today.
“The reality today is that the Rolling Stones are still touring,” he said. “The older people today may feel nostalgic when they hear them … People in their 80s want to hear hard rock, Jimi Hendrix ….” But it’s not only nostalgia—it’s happening today.”
In other words, the old music genres are still relevant, but they are being renewed. There is new technology to do that, too—and that is how Modern Nostalgia came to be.
We talked about HP’s evolution as a musician. He first became active in music at age 21, but his love for music goes back to his early childhood. When he was 3 years old, his parents got their first record player. The first song he remembers hearing was “True Love” by Cole Porter sung by the great American crooner Bing Crosby. He fell in love and has been listening to American music ever since.
HP told me how his parents were serious dancers who entered competitions. “They had fantastic taste in music,” he said. “There was so much to take in: gospel great Mahalia Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Brenda Lee, and even some Hawaiian music. And then, 10 years later or so, came the Beatles.”
He also went with his parents to their dance rehearsals and experienced live music in his early years—all very addictive.
Eventually, HP found himself behind a keyboard, and he started playing, arranging, and composing. By his 20s, he was performing. He was in good company in Bergen, where there is a very active musical scene. Norway’s second largest city has long been a hub for both classical music and jazz. In the 1970s, the only country-rock band in Norway, The Flying Norwegians, was based there—and they left their impression, too.
HP continued to take inspiration from Anglo-American musicians, and in Modern Nostalgia, you will hear echoes of several of them: John Barry, Serge Gainsbourg, Marianne Faithfull, Gram Parsons, Gene Clark, and Fleetwood Mac. Notably, HP has traveled back and forth many times between Bergen and Laurel Canyon in California, taking up direct inspiration from the scene there.
Being only a few years younger than HP, I could easily relate to the songs on Modern Nostalgia. The songs’ many layers of instruments give them an almost Beatles-like quality. The band mixes European folk tunes into the melody lines, giving it a modern-nostalgic extra edge. At first listen, the music may sound clear and simple, but as you listen more, there is more complexity. There are both American and Norwegian musicians collaborating on the album, creating a truly cross-cultural, Norwegian-American experience.
HP’s new album creates a feeling of nostalgic comfort that many of are looking for today. Interestingly, my favorite song is “Internet Troll,” which is definitely anchored in the present. The lyrics are the result of a terrible online chat that HP got caught up in—oh, how we at times all long for the kinder days of the past. Cozy and edgy at the same time, Modern Nostalgia is an album that can take us back to a more positive future.
This article originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.