By Vinnie Who, Danish Disco King & Pop Musician
Words by Monique Schröder. Illustration by Sine Jensen.
With "Then I Met You" in 2010 Niels Bagge Hansen aka Vinnie Who became known as the Danish disco prince with a passion for fancy sunglasses. Going from playing at a cellar in a former Copenhagen gay bar to performing at Roskilde Festival the same year, he quickly experienced huge recognition in the Danish music industry. Several sold-out national tours, two nominations to the prestigious P3 Gold Award, being nominated for the Danish Music Awards – and finally opening Roskilde Festival on Orange Stage in 2013 speak for themselves. Five years later, his new album Harmony embraces his progress as a musician with a whole new sound than what he is known for without denying his heritage. We met him in his creative zone on Islands Brygge to find out more about who Vinnie Who stands for, how it is to be your own boss and living the dream.
With the release of your new album you’ve given a lot of interviews. What’s a question people ask you the most?
People usually ask me a lot of questions about the type of music I make and how I write my songs. It is very difficult to answer these questions because it just comes natural to me and I don’t think about it both when I do it and when I don’t do it. Also, people ask me about the choice of my artist name a lot and if I ever considered to call myself “Vinnie The Pooh” instead of Vinnie Who (laughs).
People know you for your disco sound. How did you get into this type of music?
Actually, when I was a teenager I only listened to rock music, mainly Brit-pop like Oasis and Blur. Then I just got tired of it. When I discovered Youtube, I found a lot of music I didn’t know existed. I was tired of concerts just consisting of shoegazing and singers being inside themselves when performing. I wanted to be more out there, also to encourage myself because I am not that kind of person. In the beginning I was very eager to just break through and I thought it might be easier with dance music. It was a big challenge but people seemed to like it. For Harmony, I tried something else. Many people seem to describe it as a 70s inspired psychedelic singer-songwriter pop album but I don’t see it as that psychedelic. I listen to much more psychedelic music than mine. Harmony is very much inspired by one instrument: the guitar. I wrote all the songs on my guitar, which is something I never did on the earlier albums. If you listen carefully, most of the themes and hooks are guitar-based, inspired by one of my big guitar-hero George Harrison. Apart from that, white man’s soul music like David Bowie, Young Americans and even more John Lennon was my main focal point for Harmony.
Photo by Søren Solkær
Are you a different person when you are on stage than in your personal life?
No, I don't think so. I used to say yes but now I grew into it and today Niels is Vinnie Who and vice versa. It was provably different back in High School, when I was the guitarist of a band that made wannabe Brit-pop.
When did you decide to make music on a professional level?
That has always been my biggest dream from when I was a child. Ever since I have just been hunting it. I tried to write sings when I was attending High School, mainly in the later years (laughs). I was the singer of a band and we were making Mogwai-type music. I enjoy the process of writing songs a lot, just being lonely in my studio and only focusing on that. When I am finishing a song I am kind of proud of myself and it makes me feel good because I can see the result instantly. But of course I also like the concerts. I think it’s balanced out very well.
In relation to your personal style and how you dress, do you have any particular influences?
I like David Bowie’s style, even though it can be too much at times, but it fits him very well. I like to wear nice clothes and I think it goes together with listening to good music. I really like sunglasses, I have more than 10 pairs. I also very like hats. I try to incorporate my personal style in my videos but it's very difficult. I always took music videos for granted and I regret that. Back in the days shooting a video always came so sudden because sometimes I was in the middle of finishing up my record and that seemed more important for me then. There were people taking care of everything but now I take the time to come up with good ideas. It’s not easy.
Do you ever think about how your early break-through influences you nowadays?
It is much easier to do the thing you want to do when you have established a name for yourself. People know my name by now and for me it’s a very good situation because I know that they will most likely listen to it, whether on their own choice or on the radio. Now I started to do more mellow music. I could have also shifted towards indie music but I think that will go lost much more easily.
Photo by Rasmus Weng
Do you remember your first concert as Vinnie Who?
Yes! It was in the cellar of legendary Dunkel. It was kind of secret gig at first but it got very hyped. All of our friends came to support us, the cellar was super packed. We took the speakers from our studio and just had a great time. Everything that followed this gig came very quickly. We played at Roskilde Festival the same year, also Vega and Natbar with Djuna Barnes and WhoMadeWho. The scene adopted Vinnie Who very quickly. I was very lucky. Some things have changed from when I started. I used to be on Warner Music, now I’m on Fake Diamond Records. I have never tried to release something on an Indie label before, it is all very new to me. I think back in the days you made more money on your records, now that has changed a bit. The trend of brands wanting to collaborate with artists definitely increased. Otherwise people in Denmark are very sweet, we are all friends. For example, Victor from the new band called Waldo & Marsha is a good friend and helped me mix my records.
Do you like changes?
Right now I do, sometimes I don’t. I am considering moving to California in Winter. To me it’s the place to be when you want to conquer the world (laughs). A few years ago I would be super afraid of that thought, not anymore.
Is there anything people don't know about you?
Lots, maybe I don't even know it myself. My band and my closest friends have this assumption of me being super unorganised and in chaos but in my head I am very organised and I have things under control. Also, Simply Red is my guilty pleasure. Embarrassing (laughs).
Photo by Rasmus Weng
Where do you find yourself at a private party? Since music is a big part of your daily life, do you take over as a DJ a lot?
Yes, all the time! That’s how it is when you have better taste in music (laughs). But I respect music very much, I don’t like when people switch off a song in the middle of it. I will listen to it but afterwards I will change it.
Leaving out the music part, what do you think about a lot lately?
I am trying to learn how to take pictures. I never thought of myself as a photographer. I think I am at the next level now but I am not good at all. That is also not my intention but a month ago I thought about why I was taking such bad pictures and I wanted to change that. Other than that I think about my music a lot.
Photo by Søren Solkær