UND Today

University of North Dakota’s Official News Source

Q&A with Hilarie Sidney Bratset, UND Norwegian alum and musician

A song Bratset wrote for one of her Norwegian courses six years ago is now the title track in her band’s latest album

Courtesy of Hilarie Bratset.

What was a final project for one of Norwegian Professor Melissa Gjellstad’s courses became the opening song in Hilarie Sidney Bratset’s latest album with her band, The High Water Marks.

Titled Ode to Lieutenant Glahn, the song chronicles the love story of Thomas Glahn and Edvarda, the main characters in Norwegian author Knut Hamsun’s 1894 novel “Pan.” About 6 years ago, Bratset penned the lyrics as a creative assignment in a Norwegian literature class Gjellstad taught.

In late 2020, Ode to Lieutenant Glahn became the title track in Ecstasy Rhymes, a 12-song album that is the first record Bratset and her husband, Per Ole Bratset, have released in roughly a decade.

“I was really excited to tell Melissa when the record came out,” said Bratset, who lives in Norway with her spouse and two children.

“SO FABULOUS,” Gjellstad, who also leads UND’s Norwegian program, wrote in an email to UND Today last November. “I’m busting my buttons and just had to share, for as I’ve said to my students so many times, watching their creativity blossom is the best part of this assignment.”

Bratset enrolled in UND’s Norwegian program in 2012, while she lived and worked in Kentucky. With the assistance and mentorship of Gjellstad, she earned her bachelor’s degree online and won the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study abroad at the University of Oslo.

In her scholarship application, Bratset wrote about being a musician (she was a founding member of The Apples in Stereo prior to The High Water Marks), a working mom, an adult learner and a lover of Norwegian culture.

Upon receiving the scholarship in 2014, Bratset and her husband, who is from Norway, decided to move from Kentucky to the Scandinavian country. Today, they live in Sunndalsøra, about 300 miles north of the capital Oslo and near a fjord. Aside from making music, Bratset works as a support staff in the local elementary school, where she is also a substitute teacher.

Recently, UND Today caught up with Bratset to learn about her music and life in Norway.

The below conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Ecstasy Rhymes album cover. Image courtesy of Hilarie Bratset.

The Norwegian program at UND is delivered in-person on campus but you studied online, right? How were you able to do this?

I did the whole thing online. Melissa Gjellstad was willing to work with me. She arranged with the dean for me to be able to be in classes via Skype and to meet with my teachers via Skype. They were all willing to do that. There were a lot of prerequisite classes that I needed that were already available online. UND was a little bit ahead of its time with that because there were a lot of options for people who were adult learners, which is really great. I actually worked at a university at the same time, but I didn’t want to go to school there because they didn’t have the same opportunities.

How was it working and going to school online?

It was intense. Sometimes, I look back and I don’t know how I did all that because I have two kids and I was working 32 hours a week plus mostly going to school full-time. It was really hard but, I guess, I had a little more energy then. Or, maybe I just really was motivated.

Why did you want to study Norwegian language and culture?

I’ve always really liked languages. On my own, I tried to learn Dutch. I like less common languages. I think they’re really interesting. When I met my husband, it was both interesting and practical to learn it because my in-laws don’t speak much English. Living here now, too, it’s given me an advantage. I’ve been able to get a job easier because I can speak Norwegian.

You are one of the guitar players and the main songwriter for The High Water Marks. Your husband is also a part of the band. How is this working out?

It’s really awesome actually. Surprisingly, we get along really well. I know a lot of couples need a lot of separate things and space, but we’re really good at being alone together, if that makes any sense, and also at collaborating on things. He’s easy to work with.

When you moved to Norway, did you experience any culture shock?

There are a lot of cultural differences that were a little hard to get used to. People are not as open here. In general, people are more guarded. Not that they’re cold, because when you get to know people, they’re really nice. But you know how in the U.S., when you walk down the street, you smile and say, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ You can strike up a conversation. I learned very quickly here that if you meet somebody and then you see them in the grocery store the next day, don’t wave at them because they’ll think you’re crazy.

Moreover, the relationship with the outdoors here is really important. I’m a city girl and, so, that’s been really hard for me to adapt to. The answer to all problems is to go outside and take a walk. And sometimes, I find that hard or maybe a little bit annoying. Overall, though, it’s really a great place.

Last November, you released Ecstasy Rhymes. Tell us a little about the album?

We worked on it for a little over a year. Our bass player lives in Kentucky and our drummer lives here. It was a little bit difficult because we started the record in Kentucky, and we had planned to all get back together and finish it. But then the pandemic hit. And so we ended up sending things back and forth and recording from a distance. And, that actually worked out really well. We’ve actually started a new one doing the same thing.

How did you become interested in music and songwriting?

I became really interested in it when I was like 19 or 20 years old. I was really into music. I learned that you didn’t have to be a super great musician to make music. There was a whole scene, especially in the late 80s and early 90s, with people making amazing music who weren’t actually amazing musicians. They made really inspiring songs. There was a lot of punk that was really inclusive to women. It was a fun time to start up.

And, it also is really fun because you can make music and you find people who like it. We’re perfectly happy being a small band that gets played on college radio. We play in small clubs and we’re really happy with that.

What makes you proud?

I’m really proud of all the work that I’ve done as a musician. I think we started The Apples in Stereo in 1992 or 1993. We ended up touring all over the place. We got to be semi-big in the college music scene. We played in Japan and all over Europe. I’ve been in every state except for Hawaii and Alaska, and that’s because of touring.

I’m actually really proud of my kids and just everything that they do. I’m proud that I finished my degree after all those years, because, you know, I was in my 40s when I finished.