Almost twenty years ago RAGZ NORDSET moved to Liverpool from her hometown, the forested village of Hokksund, Norway. First arriving on our radar in 2011, she mentioned how she came to Merseyside to find out what music “was all about”. Since then, she’s grown immensely as an artist, having played alongside Mumford & Sons, Laura Marling and Wild Beasts. To say Ragz has a great voice would be an understatement. Its a combination of soul power and gentle sweetness filtered through her emotional transparency.
Though this time, an embedded connection with music and place continues to influence her writing. “[Liverpool] has always influenced my life and person greatly and by default that is reflected in my writing,” she says. “Not always in a way that is heard in the music, but connecting with this city made me feel a belonging that enabled me to write freely.”
Growing up around a family who created, sang and performed together in bursts of spontaneity, Ragz suspects her father introduced music to her with the best intentions. “He is a bit of a peacock who adds colour and life to any occasion provided,” she says about him. “As a musical soul himself, often bursting into song at the most shocking moments, I suspect he intended on guiding me down a creative path from early on.” Whether he did this knowing she would run with it, Ragz does not know. Music, as far as she can remember has always impacted her vision of the world. Pegging her first CD, Quincy Jones’ “superb sonic soundscape,” [Michael Jackson’s] Off the Wall, “opened my ears and made me want to write songs. Despite having no talent in that genre, I made many rather hysterical attempts,” she recollects of her early years experiencing music. “One song [I wrote], titled World of Technology, featured self-made instrumentation which was meant to make the song sound like outer space, but ended up sounding more like people were being battered to death with pipes in a large bathroom. Still, starting with Quincy, I eventually found my own way of writing and expressing my voice.”
It has been five years since Ragz appeared on stage, she tells us while reminiscing about her May 2015 performance at Leaf on Bold Street. But has this made the heart grow fonder? “I do miss those connected moments,” yes, she admits. “Sometimes however, your platform has to shift. There is nothing else in the world like those extended moments of connection with an audience,” affirms Ragz. “Where you are all simply in the present, feeling the words and notes landing in the room like they belong to us all. Time stops and all sensations are heightened. I think those moments are what music is all about. When we connect and a song becomes a point of recognition: We’ve felt, and we feel the same.”
Her new single Don’t You Forget is a soulful, yet deeply emotional affair, “a slow birth” as she calls it, and one that Ragz reaches deep into her creative soul. “There is deep pain at the core of this song, and it took a long time to find the notes and words that expressed this honestly and without subconsciously hiding how vulnerable I felt in that. Every piece of the song had to be genuine for that raw emotion to surface and sustain.” That unguarded nature is at the essence of Ragz’s poetic lyricism. She focuses on leaving the past behind her and looking forward. “At the time of writing I was leaving Liverpool, and unfortunately, I was also leaving myself. The song is a plea for truth and compassion in the face of deep dishonesty,” she confesses.
The singer changed artistic direction back in 2013 when her release Sleepdancing took a more electronic-influenced direction. “The electronic work with Mario Leal and later with Nu Northern Soul opened a new dimension for me and it’s one that inspires and stimulates me greatly. Though Don’t You Forget is as stripped down as can be, we have further reworks of the electronic kind in the pipeline.”
Drawing inspiration from her own experiences, Ragz also uses passages from books to help motivate her lyrics. “It can be the smallest thing; often – more often than I dare admit – inspiration comes from conversation. Bad and good ones. We often exit conversation with a specific feeling. We don’t always know what the feeling is, but it lingers like the echoes of a dream. When I listen to that echo, it tends to tell me something and these afterthoughts can turn into songs.” She also holds a special place in her heart for the female writers growing out of her homeland. “Through lockdown I’ve been spinning much Emilie Nicolas and Highasakite. They are beautifully emotive writers and lyrically daring. I’m also a bit of a fan of Liverpool band Wave Machines. Listening to them makes me giggle. I’ve put together a playlist for movement in these still times called Pleasure Pulse Playlist, which gives you a little insight into the current pace of my mind.”
While Ragz begins a new chapter of her life working on her PhD, she exclaims how happy she is for Don’t You Forget and the following reworks to take flight. “I am very much still that writer and artist [who first arrived in Liverpool way back when] but, rather than remoulded, I’ve rewired myself. I still have the same need to write, to express and connect through words and sound, but how I get there is different. For me, lockdown manifested as a beautiful dissonance; like everything is too still, and simultaneously wickedly intense. Perhaps a state not too uncommon for most artists.”
Don’t You Forget is released on 29th May through Mellowtone Records.