It's fair to say that Norway isn't exactly famous for turning out visionary hip-hop artists, but Eivind Øygarden is doing his best to change that. The rapper/producer better known as Ivan Ave has been perfecting his craft since his 2015 collaboration with fellow Norwegian crate-digger Fredfades caught the attention of indie hip-hop fans worldwide.
Since then, he's recorded three more albums, culminating in 2020's excellent Double Goodbyes, an ambitious affair that sees Ivan alternately rapping and crooning over beats that channel smoked-out R&B, woozy funk and softly psychedelic soul.
Ivan's style shares a blueprint with that of L.A.-based label and collective Stones Throw Records, so it's no surprise that his latest single features co-production from Stones Throw affiliate MNDSGN, who underpins Ivan's lyrical observations with loose, soul-inflected grooves bearing the signature grit and gravitas of an MPC's circuitry.
We caught up with Ivan Ave to talk through his path to music-making and the significance of crate-digging in his creative process, and he was kind enough to drop three hip-hop production tips for good measure.
When did you start making music, and how did you first get started?
“I owned an MPC 2000XL about 12 years ago, but never really got too far with it. I think I was too busy trying to learn how to rap to spend the hours necessary to get a work flow going on the machine.
“I was definitely trying to make Pete Rock beats, and believed that the MPC would magically do this for me. Fredfades broke down record digging for me, and since then I have viewed digging as an integral part of the creative process of beatmaking. In a way, I feel like I really started making music when I learned how to crate-dig better, about 10 years ago.”
Tell us about your studio/set-up.
“I have a home studio set-up, but at the moment I’m also renting a space at my drummer Bendik HK’s studio. My lab at home is an integrated part of my living room, where bookshelves, plants and hardware all intertwine. This setup is mainly analog, but I utilise plugins a lot also. No shame in the game, no dogmas, just tools for whatever the mind and body may crave.
“I like having hardware drum machines, synths and processing racks within reach at home though. The tactile experience of turning ‘real’ knobs and hitting ancient buttons makes for a more playful starting point, when developing sketches and ideas. I use my guy Bendik’s more professional studio space mainly for recording vocals or having musicians over to help me execute the final product.”
What DAW (or DAWs) do you use, and why did you choose it?
“I am Ableton Live-based. I think it provides enough flexibility for you to settle into your own habits and needs. I honestly still think it’s underrated. But sometimes I wish I had learned that MPC right away. [laughs] There is something to be said for limitations when creating, which DAWs barely have these days. I also would love not to be on a laptop all day, but here we are.”
What one piece of gear in your studio could you not do without, and why?
“I love my TR-606 to death. It’s the Quicksilver mod version, so it gives me a lot of fun playability and just sounds better than any other drum machine I’ve owned. I used it on a track called Triple Double Love, for reference. But I use it on a bunch of demos, in the early stages, just for exploring different rhythm patterns. It has a lot of soul and character, and somehow sounds primitive in a sophisticated way.”
What's the latest addition to your studio?
“I recently bought the Arturia Beatstep, mainly as a way to MIDI-connect my Roland SH-09 with Ableton. It works perfectly well as a MIDI-to-CV converter, while serving as a MIDI controller at the same time. Highly recommended if you need to connect a modern DAW with 30+ year old gear.”
What dream bit of gear would you love to have in your studio?
“I love how the Korg Mono/Poly sounds, especially when arpeggiated. It would be cool if I had the space to own one myself, but I also like reminding myself that my musical output does not come from the sound of any particular piece of gear. It comes from me being surrounded by opportunities and tools that are fun to use. So I try not to over-romanticise gear, although like anyone, I too dream about sharing a house with a real TR-808.”
When approaching a new track or project, where do you start?
“I start new ideas mainly at home, by listening to or sampling records. Being a songwriter-turned-production-novice, I usually start with looking for loops that help me write. Sometimes I try to follow an idea through to the end myself, other times I send it to a producer who I feel would execute it better. That was the case with my latest single What a Day!!!, which MNDSGN absolutely bodied.”
What other artists do you look up to for inspiration?
“I look up to my friends who never stop broadening their musical horizons, like Fredfades and MNDSGN. I also really love the latest work from DJ Harrison, Jay Daniel and Little Dragon.”
If you had to pick one track that’s been most influential on your work, what would it be?
“One that comes to mind is a Madlib beat called “Pyramids (Changes)”. It embodies what I look for in hip-hop production, and illustrates the boundlessness of sampling and blending from different sources. He sampled three of my favourite artists for that piece, so it makes sense that I still love that beat.”
What do you think makes you unique as a producer and musician?
“My ear. And feeling incomplete without new sounds in the works, to identify by.”
What are you currently working on? (Any current or upcoming projects you're able to tell us about?)
“I am currently working on a series of EPs, and an album. These projects go under the working title Season Series. The first instalment is called Mid Season, a four track EP dropping in February.”
Ivan Ave's three beatmaking tips
1. Know when to let go
“If a sketch or demo never seems to land right, forcing you to keep swapping out elements to make it stick, simply let go and move on. It probably taught you something, and maybe was only meant to make you ready for the next joint.”
2. Don't clean up too well
“Sometimes the flaws are the juice, when it comes to mixing. The number of mixing and mastering decisions I wish I could unmake... Trust the funk, even when more professional ears help guide you to a finished product.”
3. Trust the moment of creation
“I tend to spend a lot of time with an idea, from its conception to a fully written song. This usually means I am tired of the idea before it sees completion. I then have to trust the past me, who liked it initially.”