Hans Mortensen, For Akia, and the Feeling of Greenland
His friends from the music scene in Greenland speak of him as the greatest international talent to have ever come out of Greenland, but they also mention, that he is himself the biggest threat to his own musical potential. Hans Mortensen is a complex person, but with his new band For Akia this complexity seems to have reached a tense state of stability in-between emotional oppositions. On June 10th, the band’s new EP “Get Forward” was released through a small newcomer in the Danish music industry A:2 Music. But Hans Mortensen actually has a history of getting signed and then dumped by major international record companies. However, his history as a musician begins in Greenland. On an afternoon in Greenland’s international airport, during a wait between flights, Hans Mortensen explained what this background has to do with the band’s name:
“It all started when I wrote a song called For Akia. Akia is an island I could see from my childhood home in Qaqortoq. And back then, that island… I didn’t even notice it. And now it represents the timelessness in Greenland, and the extreme warmth and embrace by nature, which I didn’t understand back then. That’s what the song is about. And love. All the things that are plentiful in Greenland. That the country is almost flooded with. Also, ‘Akia’ means ‘the land on the other side’. So it was like my song for the land on the other side.”
Hans Mortensen moved with his parents from Denmark to Qaqortoq in Southern Greenland, when he was just four years old. Despite this upbringing on the frontier of the civilized world, Hans Mortensen’s way into music is practically the story of an entire generation of rock musicians. It started when his older sister gave him a tape with Nirvana’s album “Nevermind”.
“I recall that from a very early stage. The completely insane reaction it caused inside of me, when I heard that album for the first time. Especially “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Then the path was set for me, really.”
Qaqortoq was however not an easy place for Hans Mortensen to live out his ambitions as a musician. Thus he moved to Denmark in 2002. But the move happened simultaneously with him entering a major life crisis.
“I moved with my dad to a small house in Northern Jutland. He had just been divorced from my mother and I was having a really hard time as well. I did not know who I was and what I was going to do. And then, six months after I had lived through a pretty insane depression, I started writing songs. For the first time in my life, it became a kind of therapy for me to write.”
Hans Mortensen recorded a demo with 20 of his songs, that reached Greenland’s largest record company Atlantic Music. Shortly after, Hans Mortensen started recording his first album “The Fall”, under the band-name Alter Me, in Atlantic Music’s studio in Denmark.
“It was a crazy journey making that album. Because I was so screwed in my head. I did not know what I wanted and constantly came up with new ideas.”
“The Fall” was released on April 8th, 2008, after which two very unusual things for a Greenlandic release happened. The (back then) major record company EMI signed a contract for an international release of the album. Simultaneously the album’s single “You can’t” was played heavily on Danish radio.
“We were on a roll at that point, but the album never really became a hit.”
EMI managed to release “The Fall” in Germany, and Alter Me was about to go touring south of the Danish border, but then Hans Mortensen got a letter from the record company.
“We were fired by EMI. It must have been just about a year after the album had come out in Denmark. And I was super relieved, I’ll have to admit. Cause I did not feel well. I felt like everything was just so God damn difficult. And then that letter came, and I was like “Alright! Now I can move on”.”
Hans Mortensen jumped right into another project called White Elephants, but when recording an album with this band dragged out for two years, he gave up on it and started a different band called Hans and the White Elephants. This band quickly managed to enter a big talent show on Danish radio, but was defeated at the finale.
“That really ruined me mentally again. I couldn’t stand the defeat and just felt like it was just building up for me. At that point I mainly wanted to completely give up on music.”
But there was a bright spot in all of this. Hans Mortensen was finally beginning to find his niche as a musician and songwriter.
“I was beginning to have some pretty clear ideas about what I wanted to do musically. Like mix something very melancholy with something more danceable. Really pumping up the extremes.”
Teaming up with bass player Jesper Van, who had played in both Alter Me and White Elephants, Hans Mortensen started For Akia in a basement during the summer 2013. Within a week they had recorded an EP.
“And then we released it. It was like an obsession for us to hurry things, because things had been stalling for us for so long”.
After the release, the band needed a drummer, and their attention was drawn towards local bucket-banger Jakob Høg, who quickly became an integrated part of the band. Shortly thereafter, For Akia was admitted in the same talent show on Danish radio, which Hans Mortensen had formerly lost.
“It came like a chock to me. It was like getting the chance for a rematch. ‘Now I was going to show them!’ But at the same time… What if we failed? If we lost again, what would then happen to this project?”
For Akia made it to the finale, which took place as a concert at a large festival in Denmark. Only eight bands were still in the contest at that point.
“The atmosphere was just so great. Much better than we had thought prior to the concert. We had discussed how we should focus on doing a good technical performance and not just run amok on stage. Because we have a tendency to overdo it a bit… Or, I have. And then it was just so much wilder. I couldn’t control it at all. The audience just carried us forward. It was so great!”
The next day it was announced that For Akia was among the three winners of the contest. The prize included money, that For Akia used for recording their new EP in cooperation with producer Ronni Vindahl, who has worked with world famous artists like Kendrick Lamar and MØ. For Akia also signed with Sony Music prior to releasing the first single from their forthcoming EP. This single “Recognizer” was played heavily on Danish radio.
This could have been the band’s straight way to grandeur. But it wouldn’t be true to Hans Mortensen’s history, if the process went smoothly.
“We thought we were going to be gigantic. Then a major label signed us, and we thought we would be even bigger. Then our single got played (…) Then we were 100% sure we were going to be gigantic. But then our plans completely dissolved at the end of it.”
For Akia got dumped by Sony Music before the new EP ever came out, but in contrast to earlier, this has not made Hans Mortensen give up on the band. Rather they are working their way into the world at a slower but steady pace.
It does however seem like there is quite some distance between Hans Mortensen’s childhood in Southern Greenland and the effect-blended danceable sounds of For Akia. The man himself nonetheless insist on the connection.
“Greenland is my home and Denmark is also my home. And that friction. That duality. Which is really a blessing in many ways, because you can see things from both sides. Then there is the not so good side, which is, that it is difficult to find your identity when you have two. Which one is the right one? That has had a major effect on my songwriting. I’ve written a lot about identity crisis and a restlessness I’ve had all of my life and still have, but to a lesser extent. There are some things up here that I am having a hard time living without. That I miss every day. It will always be like that for me. Because you just can’t be two places at once. That’s just the way it is. But then I’ve tried to get it out there by writing songs about Greenland and my family and friends in Greenland. It is not particular explicit, more like in metaphors. Like the feeling… The feeling of Greenland.”
For Akia’s EP “Get Forward” is available here.