Interview: Melodi Grand Prix’s Atle Pettersen Talks ‘World On Fire’, Musical Inspirations and Eurovision Favourites

We had the pleasure of chatting to Melodi Grand Prix’s Atle Pettersen who will be appearing in the final of the contest with his track World On Fire. Atle chatted about the MGP experience, unexpected technical challenges, his musical influences, and what to expert for his performance in the grand finale.

You can connect with Atle on his Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Stream World On Fire here ahead of the MGP grand finale on Saturday 20th of February. Good luck Atle!

Culture Fix: You’re at Melodi Grand Prix! That’s so exciting. What is it about MGP that appeals to you as an artist?

MGP is the biggest thing you can do – it is like competing in the Olympics with music. I’ve wanted to do it a long time but I haven’t had the courage because it’s big. You have to have a good song, a good performance, and there are a lot of people who are going to have an opinion about it. Also it’s one of the few stages where everything is supposed to be larger than life – there are not many TV shows or places left where you are allowed to do what you want. If you want someone to throw flames, someone will come and throw flames – everything is possible. It’s just so much fun.

Culture Fix: When you enter MGP is that your sole focus or is Eurovision always in the back of your mind?

Kind of both. I wanted to try and create a performance and a song that I think would do well at Eurovision, but for now the main focus is on MGP. Whatever happens happens. I’m just focussing on trying to do the best that I can do and hopefully it will hold up and give me the chance to compete in Eurovision. It would be the biggest honour to represent your country in Eurovision.

Culture Fix: Have you found as your career has progressed nerves about performing have lessened or will that always be part of the job?

Well nerves to me are all about preparation. I like to be as prepared as possible – sometimes maybe overly prepared. Of course you feel excited and you feel the tension but not many nerves. I had some nerves on Saturday because we had some technical difficulties with the mic stand that was going everywhere. Those kind of things make me nervous as they are out of my control. For the singing and dancing I’m pretty calm because I’ve spent so many hours rehearsing. It’s all about preparation if you are well prepared then you are less likely to be nervous.

Culture Fix: What had happened with the mic stand?

It was built with a spring which gets looser and looser so every time I use it acts differently. If I push it wasn’t coming back exactly as I want it to. After the last rehearsals until the live show, they changed the spring so I knew it was going to act differently. Now they’ve built a completely new stand which is more weight based – I tried it for the first time yesterday and it’s so much better, it’s lighter and acting the same all the time. Now I’m just going to rehearse a lot with that and I think it will look better. It will look more effortless.

Photo Credit: NRK

Culture Fix: You had a really productive 2020 releasing and your duet with Linnea and your Christmas album. Did the lack of live performances throughout the year have any effect on your creativity?

Yes in the beginning it did. The lockdown came and everything just went out the window. Last year I was supposed to do Jersey Boys in Norway and a lot of other stuff. The first couple of months felt meaningless going to the studio – as every time you create music it is in the back of your mind that you are going to perform it. You are making music so you can go out and have concerts and play shows. In the beginning it felt like I had lost the creativity – I didn’t want to go to the studio, I didn’t have a reason to do it. After a while I just needed to do something and it started coming back to me so that was a really nice feeling. I started a lot of projects like the Christmas album, and I think I wrote about 22 songs for the MGP. I tried out a lot of these songs and wrote a lot of different stuff then finally found the one.

Culture Fix: Do you think some of these songs will end up on an album?

Definitely. There is a lot of good stuff in there, maybe on my album, but I also write for other artists. When you write a song sometimes it’s a good song but you can’t take it to the next level with your own voice or whatever. It just fits other people, I like to send stuff around as well. Hopefully they will show up somewhere.

Culture Fix: Obviously you’ve worked in different musical genres from pop to metal and even jazz/swing. Can you share some of your musical influences?

Oh wow! Do you have time? It changes all the time for me, I sincerely just love music. I love everything about, every genre. My early years I loved bands like Bon Jovi, KISS and Motley Crew – that eighties glam heavy metal stuff. Last few years I’ve taken real inspiration from Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars – those kinds of more performers. They have great music but they are also awesome performers. It’s all about trying to improve myself and get to that next level – it’s one thing to stand up and sing as well as you can but the minute you put choreography to it and push the limits of what you can do with your body and your mind, that’s what’s exciting to me. These days, I listen to a lot of Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars. Justin Bieber has some great songs out too.

Culture Fix: For those in the international audience that will be introduced to your music for the first time through MGP, how would you describe yourself as an artist?

What should I say? I’m more of an entertainer type guy with a focus on the performance. Making it look effortless. I’m a sucker from great melodies. I’m the showman pop kind of guy!

Culture Fix: World On Fire marks a return to English language music for you. Did you consider recording the track in Norwegian?

For this it was always in English because like everyone else we have Eurovision in the back of our minds. It’s funny as I write very differently when I write in Norwegian compared to English – I have a different approach to it. It always felt like an English song to me.

I think there are some Norwegian entries in the final but I think most will do their English version as they all want to do Eurovision.

Culture Fix: World On Fire feels like it was inspired by the challenges of 2020. Can you elaborate on the themes and message behind the song?

I understand people will think it is about everything that is going on, but it is actually about when things are rough and you are feeling down, finding the relations that matter. It could be your best friend, girlfriend, wife, husband, whatever. I got married two years ago and when I’m with my wife, it’s that special connection, that special someone that I feel safe with. I feel like everything is possible, we could set the world on fire together.

Culture Fix: How does it feel now that the song has finally been released and you’ve performed it?

It’s so scary! I’ve worked so many hours on this song – writing it with a bunch of guys that are my best friends. I actually produced it myself so I’ve been in my studio for weeks just banging out different version and trying to figure out where it is going to go. It’s like your baby, you’ve been nurturing it for months. It’s scary to put it out there, but it is also really good – especially putting the performance on top. This is 100% me. It’s not a song that someone sent me and said “Hey can you sing this?” It’s what I wanted to do and what I felt like doing. The song became what it is and I’ve had a clear vision of how I want the performance to be. It’s 100% me and I’m very proud of it.

Culture Fix: The staging was really impressive with some very clever visual effects. Did you have much input on this?

Of course there is always a lot of anticipation and people expect the best from everyone. I had a clear vision and I saw the mic stand – Justin Timberlake did that a few years ago on the Superbowl and I knew I wanted to do that because I just thought it looked so cool. It all actually came together quite quick – we had the mic stand idea, I had the idea I wanted to be red ‘World On Fire’. All the pieces came together pretty quick.

Culture Fix: Does it make it harder that you were in semi-final four so you have to watch three weeks of performances before you?

Talk about nerves! That’s what makes me nervous. Seeing everyone banging them out and being awesome and singing great. You feel the pressure especially when you are pre-qualified to the final, you know you have to deliver. When I feel that pressure I know what I need to do and that’s preparation. I’m spending at least three hours in the dancing studio every day so that I know that I can do this performance blindfolded. I know every single move. I don’t want it to look choreographed, I don’t want it to look like someone told me what to do. It’s all about getting to that point where it looks effortless – even though every single move is planned.

Culture Fix: Do you have much say in the outfit choices?

Yes, I know the costume designer from way back – we’ve done different shows together. When I heard that he was working with the show I asked if I can work with him. He asked what do you want to do and I said it would be cool to have a completely red outfit because I never wear red. I’m the kind of guy that you look in my closet, everything is black – literally no colours! Maybe a white t-shirt! MGP is all about trying to have an outfit or performance that stands out and is a bit iconic, so I wanted to try to find an outfit that connects with the song.  

Culture Fix: With a week and a half until the grand finale, are there any chances you will be making to your performance of World On Fire?

Well everything can always be better. As for now, there are no big changes. I still want to work a bit on lighting parts and tweak everything to be perfect. I obviously have a new mic stand and I need to check out if I need to change some of the choreography, the angles don’t go as far down as the other one. We did try to do some flames before the last performance but we took them out because we felt like it didn’t fit, but I kind of miss them. Maybe they’ll come back, I don’t know yet. If they come back there has to be a lot of them. It has to be massive. Maybe I’ll save it for the last chorus! As for now though, no big changes, I just want to tweak everything to a bit better.

Culture Fix: We really hope to see you on the Eurovision stage, but thinking of the contest in recent years and its long history, who are some of your all time favourite Eurovision acts?

A lot! I’ve loved Eurovision and MGP for as long as I can remember. I have a clear memory of Denmark winning with The Olsen Brothers with Fly on the Wings of Love. It’s such a great song. I think my all time favourite is Euphoria. That song is just… oh my god, what a song. The performance… this is what I’m trying to do in my performance as well. A lot of the performances are so bright, and that’s what’s so cool about the Euphoria performance that you can almost never see her face. It’s so cool. I think Euphoria is the all time favourite because the song is just amazing!