Juni Habel - Carvings LP

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"Meet Norway's new pastoral folk voice - guitar lines ripple like Nick Drake strumming for Karen Dalton - think Sibylle Baier or Julie Byrne" Uncut


Push open the door of the old Norwegian school house in the rural hinterland Juni Habel shares with her close-knit family and climb the stairs; you’ll find yourself in a former classroom – the home of her new album Carvings. Crafted 17 years after guitar tuition would try to iron out the creases of her bohemian upbringing, it is asongbook of life’s lessons offering an expansive perspective as it navigates personal shadows between darkness and light.


“I knew I wanted to write from a larger perspective. I wanted to write about the course of nature, and the people in it - life and death, beauty and tragedy.” Junisays, “loss - the search for the dead - grasping to find the words, and liberation of giving that up. I also wanted to explore my own kinship with nature - a sense of belonging, and notice what is around with gratitude and zest for life.”


Just as her more featherweight debut album All Ears would attest, the timelessness of Juni’s music has evolved from her lived experiences. Growing up with six younger siblings alongside horses, hens, sheep and pigs on the family farm, she was a Forest School child with grubby knees from climbing trees, building cabins and playing rugby. Today, between woodland walks neighbouring the tiny village of Rakkestad, tending her kitchen garden and creating plant dye art as a school teacher, little - and a lot - has changed since eschewing the city in favour of koselig-cohabiting with husband Emil, friend Isis, cat Lisa, dog Sajo. Living alongside them is Grandmother Inger, who gave Juni her first guitar aged 10 and has always been a big influence on her life. Look carefully, you will even see her peeking from their home on the album sleeve. “She makes everyone comfortable and welcome. She paints, plays piano, travels, and fights tirelessly to get her message into the world - to recognise people's psychological reactions as logical, rather than sick. We all belong together in a greater unity, which she practises in her own life.”


This unyielding spirit of family and nature is etched into Carvings’ unschooled approach. With beauty in mock-simplicity and radiating humanity like the music of Tia Blake, Julie Byrne or Myriam Gendron, Juni’s songwriting unfolds on her own terms, and is the sound of facing whatever mother nature decides will find its way to the top of the list. After losing her teenage sister in a tragic car accident, music and words limitless in meaning felt incompatible to such extensive emotion. But given time, Juni’s birds-eye approach gracefully navigates the creative process with the bigger-picture perspective of pulling positivity from pain. “Grieving is hard work, like lifting stones - but you’re also driven to make something beautiful in honour of the dead - something lasting. We leave carvings in each other, shaping each other through life. But music is just crumbs. You cannot demand a song to hold everything. It is not meant to. I went in a circle before finally finding my sister, but it was outside of music. I didn’t have to make an album for that to happen.”


Recorded between the classroom (‘big hall’), the hallway on the 2nd floor, and her bedroom with simple gear and vocals laid down in a single take, Juni extended an invitation to her musical family; husband Emil Nøjgaard Petersen (electric guitar), Sofie Mortvedt, Ellen-Martine Gismervik and Håkon Brunborg (strings) Thea Hernæs (drums) and uncle Sverre Thorstensen (double bass). Co-producer, musician and singer Stian Skaaden, became her melodic confidant and experimental co-conspirator halving the burden by building the album’s layers through blowing a pipe, playing bow on the banjo, bottles or glockenspiel. “With this album I wanted to lean deeper into the process. The title Carvings illustrates thoroughness. It was a vulnerable project, to strive for creating something truly beautiful, to pour my soul into it,” she says. Uninhibited by the possibility of ‘mistakes’ and jamming until she struck gold, Juni confidently discovered the truest expression of herself. “It takes courage to do things ‘wrong’ with uncertainty, record lyrics which are strange but feel right, on crappy mics, it can be good to fumble a bit,” Juni says before tellingly, “the joy of playing is quite fragile. I have to protect it. You can't use your head, you have to be inside the song.”


And as she proves so well, Juni has learned one particularly valuable lesson: the power of chord progression. “‘Valiant’ is where I managed to get in touch with my sister. Its melody held the whole universe saying: there’s so much in this world. Love is infinite. It felt like a conclusion - a thank you.” Similarly, ‘Rhythm’s buoyancy confronts feelings of a disconnect from nature after the inspiring words of Henry Thoreau (“A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is the earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depths of his own nature”) provoked a poignant dream. “My mother and I were walking through a dark jungle towards a black lake. The water was warm, everything so vibrantly lush around us; the trees, the water, the sky, we took in all the beauty because we knew it would be for the very last time.” 


As Juni traces family, loss and grief, nature, love and music, be sure to remove your shoes at the door; within each of Carvings’ deepest cuts the warmest welcome awaits. “Music is a job filled with hope for the future… what’s most giving for me, is to be useful in this world.”