Pål Moddi Knutsen (born February 18, 1987) is a Norwegian musician. Moddi is self-taught, counting accordion and guitar as his main instruments. His music has been described as a blend of folk music and pop, although he refers to himself as a songwriter and storyteller. Moddi received the Norwegian Spellemann award for 'folk album of the year 2014'.
Moddi is widely recognised for his social and political activism, rejecting a grant of €100 000 from Norwegian oil company Statoil in 2010 on environmental grounds and cancelling his scheduled Tel Aviv concert in 2014 in protest against the occupation of the West Bank.
Pål Knutsen grew up in a musical family on the island Senja in Northern Norway. He debuted 5 years old on the local radio station, singing a traditional sea shanty. During his early youth, the young Knutsen played classical piano, the cornet in the school's marching band, bass guitar in various rock bands and also performed as a rapper. At 18, he adopted the old family name Moddi and started writing his own songs under that name. After finishing school, the 20 year old Moddi decided to live for a year without a home and "travel, play concerts and have fun until I had spent all my money".
Moddi's debut release, Random Skywriting EP, was recorded in the bedroom studio of a friend and distributed in only 20 home-made copies. NRK Urørt, a Norwegian emerging artists radio show, picked up the EP and put it in heavy rotation on Norwegian radio channel P3. The following year saw performances by the young Moddi on festivals like by:Larm and Øyafestivalen, where he received praise from among others the internet magazine Pitchfork.
Moddi's official debut Rubato EP was released on Playground Recordings in August 2008, as a split vinyl collaboration with Einar Stray. Moddi and Stray have been featuring regularly in each other's bands since then.
In 2009, Moddi announced that he would record his debut album in Greenhouse Studio in Reykjavik, along with producer Valgeir Sigurðsson. When Floriography was released on Propeller Recordings on the 8th of February 2010, it immedeately hit the Norwegian album top 10. On its subsequent international release, Q magazine described the album as "irrevocably a heart-warming and beautifully constructed piece of melancholic folk-pop",the Quietus called it "simple, intrinsic beauty" and the 405 hailed Moddi as "a sound and voice impossible to ignore".Although never released as a radio single, the song Smoke gained huge popularity especially within Arab countries and Turkey. Floriography was nominated for two Spellemann awards in the categories "Newcomer of the Year" and "Male Artist of the Year".
Later that year, Moddi received the A-ha Grant of €120 000 and toured as support for Angus and Julia Stone on their European tour, as well as releasing the Norwegian single Togsang, a re-writing of British folk singer Vashti Bunyans popular Train Song. Bunyan later commented that Moddi's was her favourite cover version of any of her songs. In December 2011, Moddi announced that he would take a year off from music. More than 250 concerts in under two years had made him tired.
Set the House on Fire:
3 January 2013 Moddi announced that the new album called Set The House On Fire was ready for release and presented the first single from the album, House By The Sea. On the new album, Moddi for the first time uses electric instruments, writes in both English and Norwegian, allows his live band to take part in the songwriting process and sings duets with both Einar Stray and with Kari Kamrud Jahnsen of Farao. The song Silhouette was not supposed to be on the album, but was recorded by the band members while Moddi was sleeping between the recording sessions.
Set the House on Fire was released worldwide on 8 March 2013, accompanied by a social media contest to win the release concert, which was eventually held in the mining village of Banská Štiavnica in Slovakia.
Kæm va du?:
Whilst touring with Set the House on Fire, Moddi recorded another album to be called Kæm va du?. The new album was released on October 11, only half a year after Set the House on Fire. Kæm va du? (meaning 'who were you?') differs from the previous albums in being sung entirely in Norwegian, and with lyrics borrowed from the North Norwegian poets Arvid Hanssen, Helge Stangnes and Ola Bremnes.Set the House on Fire and Kæm va du? were nominated for altogether four Spellemann awards in 2014, making Moddi the first artist in history to be nominated for two albums in two categories each. Kæm va du? won the award for "Folk Album of the Year".
Live at Jakob Church of Culture:
In 2014, Moddi released a stripped-down EP with previously released songs, performed live by him and cellist Katrine Schiøtt in Jakob Church of Culture in Oslo. The EP contains a new version of the single House by the Sea, as well as the opening track Rubbles from Floriography.
Moddi is widely known for his political activism. He explicitly started his music career "because we needed songs" in the local division of environmentalist group Natur og Ungdom. In 2010, he refused nomination for the €100 000 Statoil grant on environmental grounds, commenting that "I don't want Statoil for a friend. Who on earth accepts a friendship just because you get a million for it?". Moddi has also participated on several albums, protests and festivals against the entrance of oil companies into Northern Norway and the Arctic.
The song En sang om fly on the album Kæm va du? directly addresses the dilemma of harming the climate through travelling to spread a message to save it. In 2014, Moddi organised "The Train Tour" through Europe in collaboration with InterRail, a two-week tour entirely on rails. The tour went through France, Germany and the Czech Republic.
In January 2014 Moddi announced that he would be cancelling his scheduled concert in Tel Aviv, Israel, on the grounds that he would not be taken to support the Israeli expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Although using the word "boycott", he did not officially endorse any organised appeal, stating that "the debate is already way too black and white". Following the cancellation, he released the single Eli Geva, a song about the Israeli officer who refused to lead his forces into battle in 1982.
Moddi is part of the community around the culture centre Kråkeslottet in Senja, where he is booking the annual Kråkeslottfestivalen. Moddi is currently doing a master's degree at Centre for the Environment and Development (SUM) and the University of Oslo.
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