Interview: Simon Lynge - singer/songwriter
IT IS LITTLE over a year since Simon Lynge was last in Greenland, yet a couple of hours after our helicopter has landed in his father's hometown Qaqortoq, he is already starting to see why National Geographic recently dubbed the country Ground Zero for global warming.
"Greenland has changed a lot in my lifetime but, according to my dad, the most obvious examples of climate change only really started to kick in over the last couple of years," Lynge explains, absentmindedly strumming his acoustic guitar. We are sitting in the early evening sun at the back of his father's tiny wooden house overlooking the beautiful fjord that stretches out in front of Qaqortoq.
"The icebergs are melting so much faster now. The fjord we are looking out onto would normally be full of icebergs and there would usually be snow on these mountains around us, so there's definitely something going on.
Whether Greenland is going to turn into a tropical island in 100 years, I'm not sure, but whatever is happening here is very worrying indeed.
"This is one of my favourite places on the planet," he continues. "I grew up here, I have a lot of friends and family here, and I also have a lot of history here. It's always very emotional for me to come back... it's really hard to describe, and I don't remember it until I'm actually here.
"It's hard for me to articulate the emotion I feel when I come back here because it's just so unique."
Last month, Lynge became the first Inuit singer-songwriter to release an album worldwide. Entitled The Future, it received favourable reviews and is selling well throughout Europe. In August, Lynge will tour the UK, stopping off at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow on the 26th.
Although there is undoubtedly a palpable sense of positivity and calm running through both the artist and his music, at the same time there is a subtle sense of sadness underpinning many songs.
"I have a great deal of pride in where I'm from, so this place has definitely helped to shape my music. There is a certain peace that I can find here that I cannot find anywhere else on Earth, and I believe I carry that with me and it is reflected in my music.
"As for the sadness in my songs, I think you have to go low to be able to reach high. True positivity comes from an experience of having been deeply depressed, and I have been.
"The reason I have this positivity in my music is not because I'm just a simple, happy-go-lucky guy, it's because I've chosen to see things that way."
With a land area of more than two million square-kilometres, Greenland is the world's largest island. It has a polar climate, with more than 80 per cent of the land covered by permanent ice, and it has no real road system, so you can only reach places such as Qaqortoq by boat or helicopter.
One of the first people to realise the great potential of south Greenland was the Viking Erik The Red who, inspired by the grassy landscapes, gave the country its name. The climate here is mild compared with the interior, so conditions for farming are favourable.
Most of Greenland is characterised by an absence of trees, although some grow in the sheltered valleys of the south. As a result of the lack of local wood, most of Greenland's brightly coloured clapboard homes are built with imported timber.
With a population of nearly 3,500, Qaqortoq is the largest town in its south. At first glance, it appears resolutely old-fashioned, yet it is quickly catching up with the modern world.
"I have a great deal of understanding for people's desire to evolve and move away from the difficulties of a more primitive lifestyle," says Lynge.
"Having said that, if they haven't lived in the modern world, what they don't see is the stress you get from all the bills you have to pay or the fact that you have to show up for work every day.
"Of course, there are other things that you have to deal with when you live in a small village in Greenland, but they are not as abstract as the things you deal with in a big city, where you're worried about how you dress or about saying the right things to certain people. Those are not the things that we worry about here."
Although there is a lot more to Greenland than glaciers and global warming, Lynge insists you would never know it if you only go by the media. "Nobody really knows anything about Greenland, except global warming and the fact that it's a big island with a lot of ice," he says with a wry chuckle. "There are 56,000 people in Greenland, and I think it's very interesting it's the country with the most internet connections per capita in the world. People think of dogsleds and igloos, but there's so much more to this place.
"I've been told that I am the first Eskimo singer to release an album internationally – and I'm very proud of that – but in recent years there's been a huge explosion of young people wanting to go out into the world and give this country a name. There are an amazing number of talented musicians, writers, painters and poets in Greenland. Being in a place like this, it's hard not to want to express yourself in some way."
Simon Overgaard Lynge was born in Denmark and spent much of his childhood in some of the most remote parts of Greenland. He didn't attend "regular school" until he was eight years old, when his parents divorced and he moved back to Denmark with his mother and brother.
"When I was 16 I went back to Greenland to be with my father and reconnect with my native Greenlandic roots," he recalls. "I started working as a delivery boy at the local supermarket in Qaqortoq, and by chance I became friends with a convicted killer and mafia boss, who worked there as well.
"We have open prisons in Greenland because it's really hard to run away since there are no roads or anything connecting the towns and villages here. He was a nice guy, though, and he taught me how to stand up for myself. More importantly, I discovered that you can't judge people until you've got to know them.
"I soon also realised I really wanted to play music rather than work in a supermarket ... or any other kind of job, for that matter. I'd fallen in love with Simon and Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills and Nash, James Taylor and Cat Stevens, and I really felt the need to express myself in that way."
He was eventually offered a place at the Holstebro Music Conservatory in Denmark, where he spent three frustrating years studying opera, drums, piano and music theory. "I suppose I was heading for a conventional conservatory sort of education, but I got a bit disenchanted because the teachers weren't at all encouraging. I became a songwriter in Copenhagen and ended up spending a lot of time in Nashville writing on Music Row before moving to Los Angeles in 2002.
"I've had so many chances to record an album, but I never felt it was the right time and I never felt I had found the right people to work with."
Now living with his wife, Janna, and their young son, Django, in a small town in Jefferson County, 40 miles from Seattle, he has spent the last couple of years working on his debut album with Matt Forger, who made his name as the engineer on Michael Jackson's Thriller.
"I had just arrived in LA and I got invited to play at the Scientology headquarters there," he smiles.
"I'm not a Scientologist, so I didn't know anything about where I was playing – it was just another gig for me.
'Matt Forger happened to be in the audience, and after he came up and asked me to go over to his studio for a chat. I went to see him the next day and we immediately clicked. He loved my music and offered to record my album for free, and it ended up in the hands of Lomax records in London, and they signed me."
Although many teenagers look back fondly on the joys of a misspent youth, growing up in the Inuit tradition in a tiny village in southern Greenland, Lynge's rites of passage were a little different to most.
"When I was 17, I caught my first reindeer," he says casually. "I came right over this little mountaintop and there it was. I shot it, we cut it up then I carried it back to the boat over my shoulder. I was naked from the waist up, so it was kind of a ritual for me to be covered in its blood. We sailed back the next day and my dad announced it over the VHF radio, and everybody was congratulating me and saying, 'Now you're a man.'
• The Future is out now on Lomax Records. Simon Lynge is scheduled to play King Tut's, Glasgow on 26 August
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West