Dan Swanö Interview

It is published here

One of my best interview experiences ever!


Hoist! Interview

Hoist! Promo photoBy a very lucky accident, the promo version of Hoist!’s ‘Ami Noir’ album fell into my hands and I had a long period of time during which I couldn’t stop listening to the beautiful madness and combinations of jazz and blues with a touch of punk and metal. There’s plenty of genuine stuff emerging from Norwegian musical scene, but for some reason Hoist! was the most fresh, yet full of contrast and managing the hold on to a very old and classic sound at the same time. I guess the easiest to understand what I mean is to try to listen to them for yourselves, either by checking out for their video releases on youtube or visiting one of their official pages: http://www.hoistnorway.com and https://www.facebook.com/hoistnorway
February 2013 means the release date of their first full length album, ‘Ami Noir’, an album magically produced by Oz Fritz, who previously worked with ‘special sounding’ artists, such as Herbie Hancock, Tom Waits, Primus, Ornette Coleman. But until then, I had the chance to sit down for a chat with the two voices of Hoist!, Marita Røstad and Stian Leknes and be introduced to their world full of music and emotions. So many emotions that they get a biker crying and admitting he had the most beautiful piss ever while listening live to one of their songs. Enjoy the lecture!

Me: When did all begin with Hoist!?
Marita: We found out that we wanted to play some of my songs at the rehearsal (we had played together before, in another band) and it worked out quite well. After that we decided to make more songs together, and suddenly we had enough for the album.

Me: Was it just the two of you or all of the band?
Marita: All of us.
Stian: It was actually six of us who did that. Kristoffer came in when we actually had the project started. But more or less all the songs we had from the very beginning ended up on our first album.
Marita: We did a demo in a studio in Trondheim once we had some songs ready, and we contacted Oz Fritz with that demo to ask if he wanted to produce our album.

Me: Why did you choose him?
Marita: We have heard his work on ‘Mule Variations’ by Tom Waits, and we love that sound.
Stian: I guess we were basically listening through different albums, looking at who the producer of the engineer is. ‘Mule Variations’ stood out as one of the best sounds and we saw that Oz Fritz had done that, and he also did Primus and Iggy Pop and lots of other stuff. I called Prairie Sun, where the album is mixed, because we figured out he worked there a lot. He happened to be there that day, he told us to send over some songs for him to check out. We had a new phone call the day after and he told us he loved it. He suggested we worked in France, at ‘La Fabrique’, the studio where we ended up recording the album.

Me: So you all travelled there?
Stian: Yea, all seven of us. And he flew in from the States because since he’s based there.

Me: Wow, quite an international collaboration there.
Stian: I guess so. It’s also mixed in an American studio, so…
Marita: It was certainly the most suitable place to record it.
Stian: The whole experience was really awesome. The building is an old factory for army clothes, for the French army in the 1800 or something like that. The story is that they used to make red uniforms but after a while they figured out that the red colour is not really that good. People can quickly see you and shoot you. So instead or changing to blue or green, they just shut off the whole thing. Typical French.
Marita: Then Herve and Isabelle, a married couple, they bought it and made a studio.
Stian: It’s a huge complex with huge rooms and really great to work in.

Me: So, this style of music is something you did before coming up with the Hoist! idea?
Marita: I write most of the songs and then we all somehow define the direction of the music.
Stian: Actually the band existed already to do ‘The Earth Died Screaming’. a Tom Waits celebration concert. So this probably helped shaping the style of music. This started out at Trondheim Jazz Festival in 2008. We were basically the same people as now, except Kristoffer.
Marita: I guess we wanted to eventually do our own material, and not only the tribute concert, so that’s why we started working on our own songs.

Me: This obviously means Tom Waits is a big inspiration for you. What other names would you think of as inspirations?
Marita: I’m also very influenced by Nick Cave and PJ Harvey.
Stian: There’s way more than that. I don’t think you can label us as strictly a Tom Waits-like sounding band. I guess it’s a big mix, and I guess that’s why it works when there are so many different musicians in the band coming from such different backgrounds – like me and few others coming from metal, a couple of us from the rock scene and the others from the jazz scene. I think this shines through in the music.

Me: Is it only you Marita writing the whole of one song? Or you are responsible for the main idea and then everybody contributes?
Marita: We kinda vary this from song to song. But on most of them, I come with what I have already written, take this to the band and they do what they want to do with the material. There’s some instructions from me as well…But that’s how you end up with some parts that are really grind core and then some of them are pure jazz and so on.
Stian: I think it’s also what Kristoffer said when we were in France – the reason that the music comes out as original as it does is that neither Marita nor anyone else hasn’t put too much lead on anything. Everyone can do what they want.
Marita: We actually want people to do what they like to do, so that we get the music to be kinda special and original.

Me: How did you get the two brothers to split between drumming and percussion?
Stian: That was hard actually. It happened when we played ‘The Earth Died Screaming’. Originally we had another drummer, Stian Lundberg, but he started doing some other stuff, so I called Alessandro to ask if he can do the drums for the concert in Drammen. He was busy that day, so I thought to call his brother. It happened that they were sitting in the same car so I heard Alessandro in the background wondering why I’m calling his brother for. So it was actually a coincidence that Daniel could do it that day.
Marita: He played really well. After the first gig with him, we decided we really wanted him to stay.
Stian: Alessandro was already playing percussion with us, so he just stayed with that and Daniel took over the drums part.
Marita: It works really well now. Everyone got used to it.

Me: I personally love those percussion parts and they fit so well, they are played at such right times.
Marita: Our sound engineer always says that Alessandro is the glue in the band.
Stian: It’s about small things that actually make stuff stand out from the ordinary. He’s not really a percussionist, he’s never done a lot of percussion before.
Marita: But it’s the way he plays the drumkit. It’s kinda percussion like.
Stian: And when he does percussion it really sounds special, so everyone just likes it.


Me: More stuff about the new album…so who is Ami and why is she or he or it black?
Marita: It’s the French for ‘Dark Friend’. We never thought about it as a name actually. We thought about having a French name on the album, since it was recorded there. We had different suggestions and it actually happened while we were recording.
Stian: One day we were sitting on the couch, listening to ‘Dark Friend’, and she asks what dark friend would be in French. And then we had ‘Ami Noir’. So we confirmed with the French guy if it was ok.

Me: Who’s writing the lyrics? Only you?
Marita: No, we both are.

Me: Any particular themes or ideas you try to put in them? Is there a concept in this album?
Marita: It has turned out to be one actually. I hadn’t quite realised how dark the lyrics were until Oz said it.
Stian: When we were talking about the album titles, Oz suggested we’d call it ‘Songs in the key of death’. The opposite of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Songs in the key of life’. He said that all of our songs are basically about death. I guess the theme in the lyrics ended up kinda being death.

Me: There’s certain characters in your songs. Are they based on real ones or mainly imagination? Like Rosemary for example.
Marita: It’s not easy to explain. It’s based on a person, yet it’s not.
Stian: I think that when you write something, you end up putting some influence from a real character or from within yourself. Then you twist that around and do whatever you want with it and end up with fiction based on reality.
Marita: Me and Stian have discussed this and I must say that I kinda want people to read what they want to. I don’t want a special interpretation.
Stian: It can be a long discussion about art, debating if the author should explain anything or leave people the freedom of seeing what they want.

Me: Even if the album is not out yet, you went touring around Norway this year, right? What kind of reactions did you get from the people?
Hoist promo photoMarita: It was quite overwhelming at some places, people started to cry and such. Probably a good emotional reaction.
Stian: Overall, the response was pretty good for the live shows.
Marita: Usually people are reserved at each concert, wondering what kind of music this is, especially when one song starts like one genre, and the next one as another genre and so on. After a while, they start to really get into it.
Stian: We have a good memory from Tromsø. We played at Bastard Bar a couple of times. The first time we played there, there were these two guys from a motorcycle club, as one of the owners is a motorcycle club guy. They came to the door, standing and wondering if they’d come in and pay the entrance fee or not. When they walked in, we were playing something with a jazz touch in it and they decided that “naaah, this is not our thing”. But then we burst out into something else and made them say “oh, but this is punk. We can listen to punk”. A bit later on “No, this is not punk either”. So they thought we just had our thing, our kind of journey in our music.
Marita: One of them actually started to cry.

Me: Wow, you made a biker cry.
Stian: Hehe, yea, that’s pretty good. One of them was also telling us this story. He went into the toilet, right behind the stage. He was standing there pissing listening to our song called ‘Unchained’ and that was the most beautiful piss he ever took. Now that’s a good compliment.

Me: How easy is it to manage seven people on the tour, compared to the usual four, maybe five?
Stian: I guess that’s my task, I’m some sort of administrator. But they’re a good bunch of people and we get along most of the times. There’s, of course, like in every band, some small arguments, but it’s been mostly going smooth. We have all been friends for many years now and that helps. We had some time issues here and there, some like to sleep more than others and such, hehe, you know, it happens with every band.

Me: You earlier said that a couple of people have jazz background, some have metal background and so on. Does it mean you studied together or?
Marita: Me and Kristoffer have studied jazz in Trondheim. Daniel has also studied in Levanger, so now he owns his own music school in Trondheim. Alessandro went to a highschool for music and he studied classical piano actually. And went on to metal drumming after that.

Me: So it’s actually a mix of self-educated musicians and people who did take music lessons?
Stian: Yea, I’m self-educated for example.

Me: Really? You had no training for your singing?
Stian: I am studying now, but I study esthetics related to music.

Me: Does that affect your stage moves in any way?
Marita: Hehe. But that’s also a thing I wanted. To have many different backgrounds.
Stian: I actually think that if everyone has musical education it can be a drawback. Not in all cases, but it can be an advantage to mix various backgrounds.

Me: Out of all the instruments that you are using, is there any that you find harder than the others when it comes to integrating it in the music or so?
Stian: We never particularly struggled with any of the instruments.
Marita: We kind of know now that if you just give it time, things would fall into place. People work at different speeds, like for instance Magnus finds out right away what he wants to play on his bass. But the drummer needs to try out different grooves and different things first, but I think that’s an organic process.

Me: So you don’t find any challenge overall?
Stian: No, not really. Probably the hardest thing at the beginning was to figure out how we’re gonna do it vocally. Who’s gonna sing what. But everything fell into place pretty quickly. And the album is recorded mainly live, or everyone together at once.
Marita: It’s only the choir and the organ sections that were added later.
Stian: We did these in a little church right down the street from the studio. The owner came with his dog and unlocked the church doors for us. We even rang the bells so we have the genuine bell sound for the song ‘Room 123’. It’s a church from the 1500 or something like that.

Me: So far you have a video released online. It is for the song ‘Splinters’. What on Earth is that clip about? How did the idea for it come up?
Marita: Everything is Snorre Hovdal’s (Dispenser Media) idea. He was the director and we never saw the video until it was done.

Me: Do you understand anything out of it?
Stian: I think I understand it. But I think it’s open for interpretation. But it is about deception and mainly self-deception.

Me: But there will be a new video?
Marita: Yes, for ‘Time will come’. It will be out around the release date of the album, now in February.

Me: Any future touring plans?
Stian: We have two release concerts, one on February 7th at Internasjonalen in Oslo and one the next day at Blæst in Trondeim. We are working at the tour right now, so you have to wait a little while before we announce anything. We’d love to play as much as possible. I think in a month or so we will have the touring planned.

Me: I hope you get your music to more and more people, since it’s so beautiful and needs to be heard.

Sunswitch interview

I don’t know how you’d react if the band on the stage in front of you had been composed of a drummer, a bass player and a tuba player, but the first time I saw this trio live I simply couldn’t leave from the spot all the way in front of the stage. It was fascinating to watch, or actually to hear that mean, almost demonic, grooviness of deep sounds. That’s how I first percieved Sunswitch and each listen only intensifies the first impression. The Norwegians have just released their debut album now ion November 2012, album only available on vinyl and for whose promotion they are currently travelling through Norway to either impress or scare people off through their music. When they stopped in Oslo, I sat down with the band and made an attempt at figuring out why they combined these instruments and how come it worked out so incredibly well. Hopefully the text below will help you figure it out.

Me: Sunswitch?
Trond: Why the name or why the band?

Me: Pick one of them.
Trond: Me, Trond, and Thomas started in 2010 as a duo with just bass and drums. We wanted to play something doom like, something slow. We didn’t quite know which way we were going, but he had three different songs and recorded one demo. Those songs are actually on our debut album. It was more of an instrumental punk doom duo.
Kristoffer: I listened to the demos last night actually. They go extremely fast and they do sound indeed more punk.

Me: Then how did you become three? Do you guys work together or did you study together?
Trond: We just started playing and recorded one demo after some rehearsals. We then decided that we needed to add something more to our sound.
Kristoffer: Thomas and I studied together at the Jazz Conservatory in Trondheim and we have a duo together as well.

Me: So there were two duos turning into a trio
Kristoffer: Yea, something like that. They basically asked me to join in for their existing duo and I think that especially Trond didn’t really know what he was getting himself into.

Me: But is your duo drums and tuba?
Kristoffer: Yes, drums and tuba.

Me: Interesting. So, from what I understand, you took the old songs that were initially composed and added the tuba sound to them. This means that you, Kristoffer, brought a change to the band sound
Kristoffer: I don’t know if it was me, but we pretty fast took it to a slower tempo. The tuba isn’t fit to play fast basically. It’s more suitable for a slow and heavy sound. But the record is actually faster than what we play now.
Trond: Yea, it is much faster. We’re just taking it slow and we’re already forward to the next album. Initially, we had no idea how it would work out with these three instruments together. We hoped it would be really heavy and something like the ultimate bass attack. My thought was that maybe it was a bit too much, maybe you can’t separate the sounds. But that combo has worked out really well.

Me: I personally noticed that there’s the classical tuba sound, but you’re messing around with a lot of effects, so I guess that helps in differentiating the sounds?
Kristoffer: Yes, of course.
Trond: The bass guitar is sometimes played like a guitar and other times you get a typical bass guitar sound.

Me: There’s no effects that you’re using on the bass, right?
Trond: Nope, just amps and turning them really loud. I guess neither the tuba nor the bass produce the typical overall sound for the instrument.

Me: That was my next question actually, for Kristoffer. You studied tuba at the Conservatory in Trondheim and how come you didn’t end up in a classical orchestra, but more in a metal project like this one or all the other projects you work with?
Kristoffer: I studied classical tuba and jazz tuba. That’s my education. Besides, I have much more rock and metal CDs than I have of jazz and classical CDs. For my education, I really listened a lot to jazz music, but when I ended my studies, I don’t spend a lot of time hearing that. So it feels more natural with the rock and I was thinking about a way to incorporate my tuba into that music, since that’s the music that I wanna play. Hence, I had started developing my sound in different bands, but joining Sunswitch was basically like the ultimate test. In a way, this is the band that shouldn’t have a tuba, loudness wise and song wise.
Trond: It works out really really great.

Me: How is it for the drummer to play with a tuba? I know that with a bass it’s somehow natural that the two instruments follow each other. How does the relation with the tuba go?
Kristoffer: I think this is his wet dream.
Thomas: This is the ultimate situation for me because I love bass frequencies and I love loud music. And now, as you can see, I am sitting in the middle two between two bass amps. I love it.

Me: Did you have to adjust your playing style or did it go natural to just introduce tuba sounds in the music?
Thomas: I played a couple of years with Kristoffer from before and I played quite loud since before so I don’t feel that they drive me over.

Me: But if you had only started in this project now, as a ‘normal’ drum played, do you think you’d have to adjust a lot if all of a sudden the tuba came in the band?
Thomas: It’s not the tuba per se, it’s the whole sounds and especially the volume that one needs to get used to. It’s like penetrating a wall of bass. It’s two bass instruments crashing with each other , fucking up your drum sound because you can’t hear your drums.
Kristoffer: There’s not much room for the bass drum for instance. You have to hit it really loud to get its sound heard.
Thomas: This is actually how I want to play drums. So this is just the appropriate situation.
Kristoffer: Your wet dream.
Thomas: Yea, coming true!

Me: Let’s go back to the other side of my question. Why Sunswitch as a band name?
Trond: As a band name, well, it’s something that,a s far as we think, suits the music. The name is the result of some brainstorming and it’s a mix inspired by Swedish bands such as Switchblade and Sun O)). When we came up with Sunswitch it sounded like a good idea and it’s very fit for the music.

Me: Your album has just been released and you’ve been touring a little in order to promote it…
Trond: This concerts in Oslo is the third in the tour. We played in Røros and we had a release party in our own town, in Trondheim. After Oslo we’re going to Kristiansand, Stavanger and Porsgrunn. There’s not that many gigs, but I don’t think we’re the easiest band to book.

Me: Because people don’t know you or?
Trond: I guess some promoters would like to see us maybe at some sort of show case before they decide.
Kristoffer: It’s probably also hard to explain what Sunswitch is. Besides, just listening to the record is not enough to get the whole image of how it is live. The physical impact of bass, drum and tuba, just to feel that in your chest is not easy to put in words.
Trond: If you review and album or if you’re a promoter, you most likely need to give the album some time in order to be able to digest it and see what it’s all about. I hope people do that, but I’m not so sure everyone really does it.

Me: What’s the craziest thing you heard from anyone talking about your album?
Trond: We had some great reviews so far and especially in a magazine called Ninehertz. The review can be found here – http://www.ninehertz.co.uk/viewitem/4053 – and we’re quoting “Imagine if you will, three men of the apocalypse, tucked away in a dark Norwegian castle huddled around a melting pot like the witches in Macbeth, throwing in a bit of Sunno)), with a pinch of Neurosis, flavoured by Sleep and for added taste a smattering of Black Sabbath. The pot boils away whilst Kristoffer, Trond and Tomas stir it up slowly waiting for the potion to be completed.
When it’s ready, howls of dark laughter immerse the castle; it is ready my children, ready to be unleashed upon the miserable and unsuspecting public. You can almost imagine the high lord of evil himself sat on his fiery throne, listening to this and acclaiming that his work on earth is now complete. This really is THAT GOOD!”
Kristoffer: It also started with these words: “It’s such a shame didn’t listen to this on the day that I was sent it, which was All Hallow’s Evening, as I could have wired it up to my door bell and scared the crap out of the little buggers that dared to darken my door.”

Me: If someone should present you further to their friends for example, should they go and say it’s a doom band? As people today need to categorise everything..
Trond: Doom is more where the inspiration comes from. Doom and post rock and space rock. I think it’s an easy band where you can name references and that makes it a dream for reviewers. You can write a lot about instruments ‘this is Hawkwind like’, ‘this is an old Sabbath song’.
Kristoffer: But still, it doesn’t sound like anything else alltogether.

Me: What was the most challenging musical thing in your compositions together? Some rhythms or..?
Trond: Some timing stuff that we work with. Sometimes it’s not a beat at all, it’s just free time. We had to work a bit on that. And also the sounds, finding our own pace and getting used to it.

Me: Like which one gets to use the deepest notes?
Kristoffer: Yea, it’s a combination of those.
Thomas: We also had to get comfortable to play as slow as we do sometimes just to get the groove and the point where everybody has the same feeling about time. Making sure that nobody’s rushing nor staying behind too much. At the beginning everybody was having different ‘feelings’, but by now we have found a common ground. It’s really hard, and I’m not sure if this applies mostly to drummers, but generally playing slower is much more difficult than playing fast. That’s the biggest challenge when it comes to performing.

Me: Based on what you just told me, do you think the next album will be a smoother experience since you guys found the same tempo by now?
Trond: Most likely. We have to do something else on the next album. Or well, we could keep the same idea, but try to add new elements. Right now we only have some new ideas for songs but we need to carve them out. Hopefully we’ll have an album out in a year.

Me: You told me that there’s improvised parts in your live performances. Do you have someone in the band leading at those moments, someone who everyone tries to follow or…?
Trond: I guess that when we notice one of us wanting to play something, the rest is just trying to follow and play together with that part. On a song called ‘Imaginary skull’ there’s a part that’s improvised and during which anything can happen. We played it differently for each gig and it will probably be something else tonight as well. It can be very loud and powerful or way softer.
Kristoffer: It gives us a lot of energy as well just knowing that there’s such open parts coming up. We don’t know what will happen, we just find out in that moment and I really like that idea.

Me: How do you know when to stop improvising? I think I heard you saying you could turn a song into a 40 minutes performance.
Thomas: We have some pre defined sort of signals. Like for example, on the song we previously mentioned, Trond is supposed to start a certain riff and then we know that we’re going back to the song. But we don’t know when that will happen, it can be after two or ten minutes. Some evenings we simply notice that it doesn’t work at all, so you’d hear that riff after some 30 seconds.

Me: Why did you stop at a trio and didn’t add more instruments? Was it because of the ‘low sounds’ of the instruments you guys play?
Trond: It’s mainly because of the challenge to get a lot out of three instruments. We like that challenge.

Kristoffer: We really don’t want a guitar players. There’s enough of them in other bands. This way we can be critical among ourselves. Except the drummer. He’s actually starting to get closer to the front of the stage so we have to push him back.

Me: Why did you choose to release this on vinyl only?
Trond: We love the format. I think the vinyl sound and the artwork you can put on it, plus the gatefold, they all suits the music rather well. I think the album really sounds better on vinyl. When people buy CDs today, they RIP the songs on their computers and that’s it. The physical product ends up full of dust in a shelf somewhere.
Kristoffer: We listened to this product ourselves on the computer through mp3s and such. But first time I heard it on vinyl, it simply blew my mind. It was so different.

Me: Then I hope I find someone with a vinyl player so I can have a similar experience.

Kamelot Interview

Kamelot’s tenth album studio, Silverthorn, was just released in October this year and the band embarked on a tour through Europe in order to promote the new material, but also to show the skills of their new singer, Tommy Karevik. The show in Oslo was the last one of the tour, and, despite the accumulated tiredness and probably hundreds of other interviews by this date, the band’s keyboard played, Oliver Palotai, took some time to sit down with me and answer few questions about tour life and Tommy and more. You can find out his answers in the below text.

Me: This is the last show of the European Silverthorn tour. How did it go so far and how does it feel when it’s about to end?
Oliver: It went ok, and when a tour ends, it’s always a mix of feelings. Of course, you’re looking forward to go home after three months on the road. Plus, there’s certain luxuries you are missing on tour. You never have real privacy, or there’s never like a real shower that you don’t have to share with thirty people. I’m especially looking forward to regular work because I’m a studio musician orchestrator and producer. I usually wake up early, I have my regular meals and then I work late. These are some of the things I am missing on tour. But on the other hand, when I come home, after a while I miss the tour as well.
Even if I’m more of a studio person and not so much a ‘live’ one, but it’s always the company of friends that is quickly missed when not touring.
Me: If you’re asked which is the best memory of this tour, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Oliver: It’s always funny, we get a lot of these questions, but in my opinion, a tour is a great tour if it actually runs smoothly. If there’s nothing really out of the ordinary. If something like that happens, then it’s usually not good. We had an accident in France, for example, when a bus tire exploded. If you’re in the bed and that happens, it’s not a very pleasant moment. But besides that, it all went very smooth and that’s the best thing about it.
Me: Do you personally have your own ritual before going on stage?
Oliver: Not at all. I sometimes read a book until five minutes before the show. It’s like a joke in the band. I can even sleep until ten minutes before the show and then just go on stage. it’s because on stage I’m very much in my bubble and it doesn’t matter if I’m in my living room or on stage.
Me: I read that on the latest Kamelot release you actually contributed way more than you did until now. And I know that what happens often with people who compose music is that they constantly want to improve and change things. And now, after you have gotten to play the songs live, would there be things you’d like to change?
Oliver: It’s always when I finish the CD, or well, the master, when I keep thinking that ‘Yea, I could’ve changed this or that to make it become better’. But one of the aspects of my development as a musician, or as a personal evolution let’s say, is also that you accept that you’re never perfect. You always strive for perfection but you will never get to the point where everything is one hundred percent perfect. In the past, it was really bad for me, because I often stopped projects in the middle. I always wanted it to be perfect and sometimes you could already foresee that it will not be perfect. But now, I guess as part of being more experienced and being older, is to accept that there’s no perfection in this world.
Me: You also started working with Tommy Karevik as main singer on this release. How was that as a cooperation? Did that bring many changes in your Kamelot life style or did it go smooth as if he’d always been there?
Oliver: Live, it is as if we’d played for years together and I believe that’s a good thing. Behind the stage, he kinda re energised and refreshed the band a lot. This was one of the funniest or happiest tour since many many years. For example, compared to Roy, Tommy is always around. Roy used to be all day separated. Tommy is always there, joking around, we’re having so many silly shitty things, like making jokes to kill time. He has a very special humor that fits perfectly. He’s a very nice guy and the song writing process was a very creative flow. He is full of ideas. Another good thing about him is that he is very disciplined. He comes from a steady job – fire fighter – and he doesn’t have this thing that, unfortunately, many musicians, especially singers, have and makes it very difficult work with them.
Me: You just told me that for you it’s the same whether you play in your studio or on stage. But is there anything you like in particular about being on stage?
Oliver: Yea, if the audience is full of energy. Which doesn’t mean they have to go crazy. Sometimes, when I’m in the Southern countries, they are almost too crazy. Sometimes I also wish they listened more and wouldn’t clap along all the time. For example, during my keyboard solos I’m totally happy if the audience is quiet. They are not meant for jumping or clapping or starting a mosh pit or so. But, in general, it’s the exchange with the audience which I love.
Me: Do you think a band can survive without touring today?
Oliver: No, not anymore.
Me: If you weren’t a Kamelot savvy and only listened to the album for the first time, what do you think would strike you from the musical content?
Oliver: I had this experience actually. I was asked to join the Black Halo tour ten days before and prior to that I never ever heard about Kamelot. Back then I had to study the songs and such.
Me: And what do you remember making you think ‘wow, this is so cool’?
Oliver: The very unique mixture of style while at the same time being very groovy. I’m coming from a jazz and classical background and what I often don’t like about metal is that it’s almost dead to the point that it’s not grooving. It has no groove. There’s no blues in it, it’s often really really straight. It probably has something to do with the production methods, they quantify it. Kamelot doesn’t do it and that’s what I really liked about it. Besides, there’s orchestration, synthesizers, really rough guitars, it’s like a very unique mixture that I loved right from the start.
Me: You are both a guitar and a keyboards player. When you have to produce new material, what’s your first choice among the two?
Oliver: It totally depends on the style. There’s no rule. Sometimes I start with a guitar riff, other times with the piano melodies.
Me: Do you contribute at all on Kamelot guitars?
Oliver: Yea, when I deliver songs, I record guitars. Then it depends if Thomas is changing the guitars or not. Sometimes he’s thinking that what I did is cool and will just copy it, maybe alternating a bit, other times he doesn’t consider it’s Kamelot style and then he takes my keyboards ideas and records a completely new guitar line. But I don’t record the guitars on the album. Actually, on the Swedish bonus song ‘Welcome Home’ there’s an acoustic guitar which I played.
Me: You have recently toured US as well. Looking at the experiences on the two continents, what makes them different?
Oliver: US is one big country. It might be a little bit of difference between North and South, but Americans are Americans no matter where. They might say it’s different, but coming from Europe it doesn’t feel like that. Even in Germany we have a huge difference between North and South with totally different dialects. It makes me laugh when I hear them saying that there’s a difference between somebody from Seattle or Los Angeles. If there is, it’s very little. But people are very enthusiastic there, all over US. It’s very steady, constantly at a high level, the reception is always great. In Europe, there are major differences between each country we’ve played in.
Me: You told me the European tour went smooth. Do you find the same smoothness in the US experience? Are people there well organised and professional?
Oliver: It’s more chaotic there actually. The venues are often pretty shitty. Especially in smaller and middle size venues there’s no catering in the morning, they don’t even have coffee prepared. It happens often that it is dirty as well.
In some European countries, like Netherlands and Sweden, many venues are supported by the cities so they get some financial help. I don’t know if that happens in US, but it seems it doesn’t. What often goes on my nerves is that it happens often to lack a lot of things. Even showers sometimes. I love the US, don’t get me wrong, it’s just the experience as a musician that makes a big difference. If I come to a venue in the morning and I have a little bit of bread, some cheese and coffee I am happy. And this happens in every European country, no matter the venue, while the situation is not the same in US.
Me: For the future of Kamelot, are you guys only finishing the tour now and there’s no plans for the near future or?
Oliver: We’re working on a second video. We recorded everything and now it’s our Serbian film team supposed to do their job. We are thinking about a new live DVD because the ‘One cold winter’s night’ is quite old by now.
Me: Did you record materials for it on this tour?
Oliver: Nono, it will be a big production like last time, with special guests, special venue, lots of pyros, stage acting and all these things. We want to make a big show out of it. It’s a hard choice about which country we’ll choose to film in. Last time it was here in Norway, so we’ll see where we go next time.
Me: Norway again?
Oliver: It is a country where we are very successful and have a great audience. But besides that, there’s a lot of technique and production stuff that needs to be considered.
We also want to tour a lot or we will tour a lot.
Me: What do you want from Santa?
Oliver: Peace on earth! Yea, that’s a very unique answer. I just want some peaceful days with my family. That’s all, since it happens pretty rare.
Me: I hope you get them and thanks for your time.

Nekromantheon Interview

Playing thrash metal about Greek and Roman mythology, Norway’s Nekromantheon is a relatively young band, established in 2005, but with enough energy and skills to get some good reviews for their 2012 release, ‘Rise, Vulcan Spectre’ and most of all, with a stage presence that makes you go home and give their discs at least a couple of spins. The three band members, Arild (Arse) – Guitar and vocals, Christian (Kick) – Drums and Sindre (Stressminister) – Bass and vocals, are also involved in other projects such as Obliteration and Audiopain, thus contributing to the hugr amount of skills the band has developed in such a short time and has proved through their music. I was very nicely impressed by their live performance at this year Øya festival in Oslo and hence I tried to get to know some more details about the band from Kolbotn. Their bass player and stressminister Sindre took some time to tell me stories from the band’s US tour, to explain why they hate over processed music and how you end up with thrash music lyrics inspired from Homer’s Odyssey. Read below to find out for yourself.

Me: What’s happening in the life of Nekromantheon at the moment?
Sindre: At this very moment we are playing a lot of shows. We were in Holland and Belgium last weekend, two weekends ago in Germany, we have one in Stockholm, with Maim, next weekend, the weekend after that we’ll be in Oslo, then next weekend in another place in Norway, so overall we played a lot in the weekends ever since the album came out. We will probably be finished with the live stuff soon and do some more writing.

Me: But was there any tour to promote the album or mainly single shows?
Sindre: We had a tour in Norway with Aura Noir, but not like a proper one through Europe. We’ve only played at festivals and some shows here or there.

Me: Are you still considering such a tour?
Sindre: If we get a really cool offer, maybe, but it’s been so long since we released the album so I don’t think we’ll work for a proper full tour for now. But we’re always up for single shows if anyone has an interesting offer. We have plans to also go to Finland and Barcelona for example. But like I said, we felt like we played a lot now, so the focus should shift on writing. Besides, me and the guitarist, Arild, we are almost finished writing the next Obliteration album (our other band). So we’re gonna try to focus a lot on that. Besides, our drummer is playing in Audiopain, and even if he hasn’t been on their recordings until now, he is rehearsing with them for a new album. It looks like for a while the other bands will have priority. Everything goes in some sort of circle with all these projects and Nekromantheon will come back in focus when we’re going to write our third album. It will be a bit different, probably not as fast.

Me: Oh, so you already have a vision about it.
Sindre: We have a few parts, it will be a bit more mid paced, maybe like ‘Hell Awaits’ by Slayer. It will be good.

Me: I saw that you got the chance to do a tour in the US. Was that something you organised yourselves? I guess you didn’t have a very big name back then, so how did it happen?
Sindre: Yes, the tour was in 2010. That was a cool tour, with my other band Obliteration. So me and Arild actually played two shows each night. It was trending. How it happened, well, we got booked with my other band, Obliteration, to play at Maryland Deathfest, which is like America’s biggest extreme metal festival and we just got Nekromantheon on the pre-fest, the day before the festival really kicks off. So we thought that since we’re already there to try to book a tour. We got help from our drummer’s girlfriend at that time, who’s now booking cool shows at Revolver, so me and her more or less booked it ourselves. It was a lot of work, we had many days off too, just hanging out in Baltimore after the festival and other cities.

Me: How does the whole US experience feel?
Sindre: It was very good I’d say. People were really into us, especially people who knew Obliteration from before, since the band had just released the ‘Nekropsalms’ album, which was pretty well received. And Nekromantheon just came out with the first album, before the tour so people into the scene had a chance to hear about us. We also had help from friends in the US to spread the word, so overall it was a surprisingly good experience. I recall that we impressed people by how young we were and how we sounded. We also have good memories about meeting our heroes, especially Autopsy that are heroes for my other band, Obliteration. Also, the promoter in Canada was selling some, well, other stuff on the side and he offered lots of that, just the day before we were going back to the States. There was no way we could get that over the border. That was pretty funny. It was also cool in Montreal, when Blacky from Voivod took us to eat Asian food. Another cool experience was to meet the guys from Nature, going to their rehearsals, we played songs for them and them for us. That was really fun.

Me: Any bad memories?
Sindre: When we were in Philadelphia, we stayed at a friend’s house, in the South. A pretty harsh neighborhood. The first night we got there, people were shot and killed like two blocks away. The next day we saw blood on the streets on our way to eat breakfast. On the border control on the way to Canada, we had to get a stamp when we declare our instruments and such. The guy yelled at me like the Vietnam war veteran does ‘you don’t play any of that crap shit about selling drugs and killing babies, are you? If you do, you won’t get into Canada motherfucker’. I was a bit freaked out, but it was fun overall.

Me: I don’t remember who mentioned this to me, but he said that the crowd in the US is somehow more open, they listen and then they judge, while in the Europe they are more judgemental from the very beginning and if you don’t fit some standards, you’re not good. Did you get such a feeling?
Sindre: Maybe. Perhaps they’re open-minded in a way, but, without wanting to be rude, I believe they have more indulgence for lower quality as well. Here in Europe, we have high standards and are more selective, while in the States it felt like they believe so many things are cool. We, of course, met dedicated people and with a wide culture in this field, but the general feeling is that people are there to have fun and listen to whatever thrash concert there is. Probably that’s why they also have so many crappy extreme metal bands, a lot of the young ones, while the scene is flourishing here in Europe with great underground acts. There’s obviously very good bands coming from US as well, like Negative Plane, Nature, Pilgrim, Satan’s Satyrs and stuff like that. I don’t mean this in a band way, though. In the States, probably they’re not so uptight and this is probably not a bad thing. Here in Europe, we’re more tight and not going so much with the flow like they do. There’s pros and cons about both ways, so can’t say which one is right.

Me: If we talk about the thrash scene in Norway. There’s obviously this stereotype by now that Norway produces black metal and well, death metal that comes from the neighbors is another Scandinavia product. But hardly anyone thinks of Norway and of thrash together. How did you end up with this style of music and how much support fo you get from the local musical scene?
Sindre: I’m not exactly sure about the overall thrash metal scene here, I like to see ourselves as part of a cool musical scene in Norway. We are good friends with people who play good black metal, good death metal, punk or doom, we’re all working together and make good music. We feel like we are part of the same small group of people who share the same vision, a scene for alternative and extreme music. I do believe the thrash scene here is getting wider and better, there’s bands like Death Hammer, Condor, Minion’s Hill, Toxic Death, Black Magic and a few more that I consider very good. There’s also bands I dislike, but usually they’re all high quality. Norway has never and still doesn’t have that many bands in the genre, but they’re often of very good quality.

Me: Not being a big scene, how do you find the concert crowds here? Is it easy to get people to come to your shows? Or does it take a huge effort for that?
Sindre: I’d that few years ago it took a lot of effort and it’s probably the same with younger bands starting up now. I heard it many times how hard it is to get a good crowd. Few years ago I used to work at this Club Maiden where we put on a lot of good shows which had crappy turn outs quite often. But now it feels that the metal shows have a much better audience and I even notice it at our shows.

Me: Back to the Nekromantheon related stuff, the band had some split releases. Why and how did you end up doing them?
Sindre: First we actually did an EP and then a split with Abigail from Japan. We like the idea of split seven inches, we think they’re cool. They derive from the punk era which I really like. For this split we were asked by Relapse Records because they did split series with thrash bands, and the same with death bands. So it was a bit lucky. Later on, we did one with Audiopain, a bit older and great Norwegian thrash metal band.

Me: How does it work on a split album? Is it a main band and then you come up with an extra song or is it fifty-fifty?
Sindre: It’s fifty-fifty. On both splits we only did one song each, meaning that the whole thing only has two songs. Personally, I find this a pretty common thing especially in the punk and hardcore scene.

Me: Maybe I am not too familiar with those scenes. I know that bands either make a tribute album and many bands put together cover songs, or sometimes they get guest appearances from other band members…
Sindre: That’s a complete different thing, which I am not that a big fan of. Splits represent more two cool bands coming with a song each and it’s usually limited.

Me: If we’re talking about the latest Nekromantheon album from 2012, how would you describe it to someone who has never heard it?
Sindre: Rough, dark energy, really fast, really intense and slightly hateful thrash metal. It has rough edges, goes fast, but it also has some elements of the classic Iron Maiden and a bit more melody that come up once you have listened to it several times. We are huge fans of organic and raw production, and that’s how it kinda sounds.

Me: Is that your way of describing the ‘old school’?
Sindre: That is the essence of thrash school metal. I just avoided to use that word, because if you present it to people who haven’t listened to thrash metal, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to them. Most definitely we are old school, but we are not trying to copy old stuff. So let’s say we are raw, untamed, non conformist thrash metal.

Me: If you were not playing in the band but listened to this album, what do you think would stand out?
Sindre: I think that I’ll use my diplomacy and say the whole package, because that’s the most important thing, the wholeness of an album. I believe that is very good, thus making it a good album in which everything works well together. I can say that the lead guitars stand out since we deliberately had them louder in the mix. They should be in the center of attention afterall. The vocals are also loud, but everything is well mixed together.

Me: I agree with the compact feeling one gets from listening to the album. Was there anyone in particular who helped you with some good advice in between the two albums so that you evolved to this level with only two releases?
Sindre: It’s just from what we learned, after listening to more music, getting more into the stuff we are doing. It was a natural progression or degression or whatever.

Me: So no producers or anyone involved…
Sindre: Ah, fuck producers, I hate that shit. We record ourselves in our drummer’s parents’ basement, we produce it ourselves, we mix it ourselves. The only stuff we get help with is mastering, since that is pretty expensive equipment. We learned a lot how to get the sound and how to capture the feeling of the music that we play at rehearsals. We spend a lot of energy on that.

Me: Earlier, you mentioned the word hatred when you spoke about the music on the album. What’s the hate addressed to?
Sindre: We dislike and hate a lot of things in the metal or music scene, like the stuff that’s being so over produced and sounds so soulless. The title of the album, ‘Rise, Vulcan Spectre’, is actually a symbol. Vulcan is the Roman God for blacksmiths and volcanoes and sculptures. His Greek counterpart is Hephaestus. To us he symbolyses the old spirit of real metal. We want to make that rise again, since we genuinely hate the new modern metal, over produced, like pop metal that you see on the charts and that they play on MTV and stuff like that. Of course, we need the anger since couldn’t play this style of music if we were fully contempt with the way of life.

Me: Is it a mythological themed album?
Sindre: We’ve always been a bit into Greek mythology so I guess we put our visions and the stuff we want to sing about into the music we play. We often create stories that worship the villain in the ancient Greek and Roman mythologies, that’s kinda been the concept since we started the band.

Me: In my experience so far, when it comes to mythology you either have progressive bands, or some pagan, folk, black metal, but rarely any thrash bands with such themes
Sindre: Perhaps not so much in thrash, but we’re actually reading Homer’s Odyssey and such stuff when we are writing lyrics..

Me: So people who read that stuff, would they find references to it in your lyrics?
Sindre: Hopefully. The drummer writes most of the lyrics. On this album, I only had the concept for ‘Blood wisdom’ after reading a book about the ritual magic, a book that used Homer as reference. Of course, overall the lyrics are not high culture poetry, they’re just a way to express what we feel, adapted to our music, so that the two create a wholeness of our product.

Me: As far as my Greek knowledge goes, Nekroman is related to the dead and teon means temple..
Sindre: It indeed means the temple or the Oracle of the dead. We’ve actually been in the ruins of Nekromantheon, which is on the West coast of Greece I think, in a city called Parga. It was a place where monks communicated with the dead and the spirits of the dead, back in the ancient times. People would also go there to be treated by these monks. I guess they ate a lot of psychedelic shrooms, then went down in the cellars where they’d spend days and communicated with the spirits to grant them wisdom of the future. That’s where the name derives from.

Me: Is it related to the river Styx as well?
Sindre: Yea, actually the place is really close to the Acheron river which we visited the same day. It was both us and Obliteration guys, as we are all close friends, and we went there on vacation before the first Nekromantheon album was out. The title from the first album, ‘Divinity of Death’ comes directly from the information written above the temple. That inspired me to write the lyrics for ‘Divinity of Death’. That’s the essence of nekromantheons, a very ideological point of view I guess.

Me: Are you guys musically educated? Or self taught?
Sindre: Self taught. Our guitar player went one year to NISS, but for learning how to be a sound engineer. Me and him learned how to play guitar when we were kids, but that’s not musical education if you ask me. Actually my mum forced me to learn how play an instrument, so she sent me to piano lessons, but I hated it. My mum talked to Arild’s mother if he wanted to join for guitar lessons and I guess we never looked back ever since.

Me: You are a young band also as age average. How does it feel when you go and play with bands made of much older people. Do you feel nicely treated or are they looking at you ‘from above’?
Sindre: It’s a lot of friendship. We’ve been lucky, we almost always had older people liking our music so we made a lot of friends among them, in the whole music scene in Norway. An example is the legendary old thrash metal band, perhaps Norway’s first thrash metal band in the nineties, Infernö. With Carl-Michael Eide from Aura Noir, and Olav, who plays guitars with us live. On a side note, they did two albums in the nineties and in the two thousands they did a couple of seven inches which are, in my opinion, some of the best thrash metal albums. One of their seven inch album is much better than everything Testament and Exodus did together. Both Infernö and Aura Noir have a bit of a Norwegian edge I think, their stuff doesn’t sound like anything else. Infernö is not doing so much at the moment, Carl-Michael is more focused on Aura Noir and this amazing project, Virus – a band that everyone should check out. But still, Infernö is doing a one time gig in two weeks at ‘Til Dovre Faller’ festival and since Carl-Michael can’t join, they invited Arild from Nekromantheon on stage. That is quite a pleasant mix of old and new and it shows the respect we have gathered.

For more details about the band or to listen to their sounds, visit their facebook page or their bandcamp page.

Grotesque Hysterectomy interview

Not so long ago, in the list of bands that end up more and more often in my musical newsfeed, the name Grotesque Hysterectomy sort of stands out. And it somehow insists, so you end up knowing so much about a band that you haven’t even listened to yet. But in one of those pieces of news they announced the release of an upcoming album, now in the fall, so I thought to maybe find some of the band members and see what’s behind this strange name and the insane music that pours from your speakers once you press play on their tunes. Christopher Konings and Shandy Mckay are the two in the band who sat down with me and walked me through the bizarre world of Grotesque Hysterectomy. The band originates from Norway, can be thought of as death metal (although the below interview both confirms and destroys the myth), it started trying to sound like Metallica or Maiden and it failed so badly that it ended up with a “pile of mistakes, done over and over repeatedly and it’s so beautiful.” (quote from the interview). I personally found it a fun and intriguing chat, pretty much how the guys presented their music.

In the brief description that one can find about the band, you read that Grotesque Hysterectomy was started somewhere in 2002 and then it went through a lot of line up changes, with people coming and leaving and returning, etc. So, who’s the band today..
Christopher Konings: It’s basically me and my brother who started the band in 2001 and like you said, along the years we had so many changes, probably due the fact that it’s not easy to play in a band with two brothers fighting all the time.

But when this band actually started, was it that you two guys played together for a long time or was it some spontaneous decision, a teenage dream?
CK: We started to listen Iron Maiden, Metallica and stuff like that, stuff with brutality and energy. We picked up our instruments and tried to sound like them.

Do you think you succeeded?
CK: No, absolutely not!
Shandy McKay: Which was actually their success

Hehe, so then if you didn’t succeed to sound like those bands, you ended up with your own music and sound?
CK: Yea, it ended up way more brutal. I remember that back then, when I first listened to Cannibal Corpse I was like ‘wtf is this?’, it’s impossible for someone to play like that! At the beginning, we were just making noise. We tried some sort of death metal, but it ended up more like grind core. We didn’t know what we were doing, at all.
SM: We still don’t know what we’re doing, which is great!

Actually that’s what I am trying to figure out. Where would you include your band at the current moment?
CK: It’s hard to tell. Technically, we always try to keep it at a higher level than we all actually are at. We try to keep that punk attitude and always play a bit faster than we really can. That way we will always sound like the dirty band we are.
SM: That’s such a good description. I’m uncomfortable playing their music which is something weird. In all the bands I’ve been with I’ve been comfortable and found it easy to adapt, to do what I do. In this band though, it’s another world. It’s bizarre, and that’s the intrigue. I’m not bored at all, it always keeps me hungry. That’s mainly because of what he (pointing towards Christopher) writes. He writes bizarre shit, and I love it.

That means the writing process is Christopher’s responsibility?
CK: In the first stage, I’m just sitting home, making some pre productions which I then present to the band. My brother, who is the drummer, writes the rhythm and some of the song structures together with me. Now, Shandy is going to start writing some leads.
SM: I polish on top of what they’ve already done. It’s different, as I’m a song writer in everything else I do, but in this band I’m really not. I appreciate that. It’s a totally different dynamic for me. I come in and play what he writes and what he writes it’s so bizarre and well, wrong..

You try to make it right or you keep it as it is then?
SM: Nonono, it’s not that. Ten years ago this wouldn’t have worked for me. I would have simply said ‘Oh Christ, you’re doing this wrong’. But I’ve explored so much music lately, trying to be with more inventive and intriguing bands and that’s why I actually joined these guys. I realised that they’re something that’s completely against the rules, they don’t give a shit about them anyway, they are not trying to be anything, this is simply what and how it’s happening with them. I so love the intrigue of, for example, instead of sitting down and fixing that guitar line, we’d rather make that mistake work. It’s our sound. If you listen to the music, it’s a big pile of mistakes, done over and over repeatedly and it’s so beautiful.

So it’s a music based on mistakes? – some laughter comes along with this dialogue –
SM: I wouldn’t say that. It has a direct intent from his point of view, but through my eyes…I’m clinical, you know…I see things clinically, as I said, ten years I would have thought this is something wrong. Now, I come in to this, and I’m like ‘Wow, you’re doing something that I would want to fight against, but I’m just gonna do it your way’. I have to actually become a better musician. No, a much better musician, in order to be in this band, so…That’s the intrigue I told you about. It’s something we don’t wanna change. I do wanna write a little bit, due my ego, but the most important fact about this band is that he continues to write the music. That’s what makes Grotesque Hysterectomy.

When did you join the band yourself?
SM: Not that long, anywhere between six months and a year ago.

When you first heard them, what other band you might have thought to compare them with?
SM: Well, that’s kinda weird, because I never heard them. My buddy Birger, the other guitarist in the band and with whom I play in other bands together, came to me and said that these guys need a solo and since you play leads. Since I’m always willing to throw myself into something new, I said ‘yea, sure’. I showed up to their rehearsal and as it often happens when you go in a rehearsing room, it all sounded noisy anyway. I couldn’t hear anything, only noise, but just seeing what Chris was trying to do on the guitar and my instincts kicked in saying ‘He’s bending the rules, he’s not playing that right’. But then they actually played two songs and I sat there, thinking ‘Holy shit, they just pulled off a big pile of mess and it sounded so cool’. When they were done I felt like, for example, when you know algebra and how much two plus two is and someone comes up and shows you trigonometry. It’s a bad starting point. Normally, I’d be turned off by that but it had the opposite effect on me. At first I wasn’t sure if they really needed a member or not, but the guys asked me if I come to another rehearsal and then we just all got along very well. Overall, I just kinda fell into the band, I’ve never been asked if I join starting today. I simply started showing up. I still haven’t listened to the whole back catalog, only to the songs I started learning.
I personally play in a lot of bands and this one intrigues me the most. I love all my bands, obviously, but this one is a different kind of fun.

This is less more straight forward?
SM: This has got me captivated in another way. This man has me with a big question mark always on my mind. What will happen next, what’s going on?

What was the most challenging thing for you, guitarwise, when you play or played with Grotesque Hysterectomy?
SM: It’s still the most challenging. All of it. There’s nothing easy about it. It bends the rules. It has very bizarre timings, the closest thing – only from this point of view – might be maybe Virus. Yet, we don’t say we sound like that, it’s just when it comes to timings that bend the rules. You’re expected things to go one way then something else happens, it all goes somewhere else and it hard to accept where it went. You’re so confused. But overall it’s not noise metal, it’s very structured and sounds great.
CK: In my head it sounds right.
SM: Let’s say I start counting to four, a bizarre musician might count to five or something. But this guy here, he starts saying his ABCs backwards. See how confusing that is?

I read that you’re working on a new album…
CK: Yea, so far we had a demo in 2003, a one seven inch releae in 2005 and a twelve inch in 2007. So it’s been a while since we recorded something actually. We stopped for a while, spinning our wheels, trying to reinvent the sound, but I don’t know if we did.
SM: You did, in my opinion. The first material of yours sounds something like kids writing some cool shit, doing what they want without carrying too much. The new material is this guy…I don’t know, I actually don’t even wanna know how he comes up with it. I think if you question things too much and dissect it and discover the actual formula, it looses its fascination. But like this, he’s just writing bizarre shit and it’s so cool. The new shit is a completely different world, it’s on another scale.

Is your writing influenced by listening to other music? Or by any kind of action in particular?
CK: I don’t listen to a lot of music. Probably some classical tunes on the radio. I just walk around, hear this music in my head and it needs to get out. Overall, it’s a long process.

Surprising how many metal musicians I meet and say they actually listen to classical or jazz music, and hardly to any metal. How did your sound ‘evolve’ from the first album to now?
CK: Yea, initially we were trying the Cannibal Corpse in one song and then Deicide in another song. I don’t think we sounded like them, but that’s what we had as direct inspiration. Nowadays, when we make music it’s more like ‘Nah, I heard that before, that riff is good for garbage’. We’re more trying to create our own ‘dialect’.
SM: When I introduce the band to my friends, at first they see the name and they’re like ‘What is this man, are we back in the nineties?’, but then they hear the old material it’s easy for them to pin it to death metal. The new stuff does the same with everyone, though: it brings a big question mark over their head and they go ‘I don’t know what to say about it, but I like it’. It must be the same thing I had: the intrigue. Fully intrigued by what this band is capable of.

So, to draw a conclusion, it’s the kind of music that brings a big question mark over your head.
SM: Yea. First of all, it’s brutal.
CK: That’s why almost everyone is going to hate it.

Why do you think that?
SM: Come on, it’s metal world, everybody’s the most judgemental people there. But leaving joke aside, I don’t really see it brutal. It’s like when you see an image in art. You see a Rembrandt, a Monet or a Van Gogh and, even if they differ in style, they are still beautiful. With this music, I don’t see any beauty. I see the other side, I see that art that you don’t understand when you see it. Like a baby with a gas mask and some puzzle pieces.

SM: That’s exactly what I hear from people listening to this band. This ‘huh’ and a big question mark.

What do you sing about?
CK: That’s personal.

Oh no, so it’s gonna stay secret?
CK: Nah, I just have nothing to do with the lyrics. Now, our new vocalist, Sigve Torland, is responsible for them. He created a theme about a family that abused his son, and the son pays back in a lot of bizarre ways. It’s not very original, but it’s brutal. Overall, it’s not a concept album, but the six songs with six destinies have a concept around them.
SM: There’s no underlying themes in these band, no message about being satanic, religious, anti government or so. It’s just lyrics, stories, like Stephen King writing a book.

Back to the new album that will be released in October, how do you, yourselves, fell about it?
CK: It feels quite scary. I spent four years to gather the material which I think it’s good enough.

Was the material strictly composed for this new album or did you use any left overs from the previous stuff?
CK: No, only new stuff. We spent quite some time trying to figure out what we want to sound like, so we created stuff for this album specifically.

So, what do you sound like then?
SM: Like a baby on a gas mask, with puzzle pieces around. But yea, if we really want to try a categorisation, it’s death metal. No matter what, the fundamental is that it’s an extreme death metal. A bit progressive at times, but not like King Crimson does Cannibal Corpse or something like that. I can say we’re very disharmonic as well.

Will the album be supported by a tour?
SM: Yep, we’re doing a mini tour, in Norway.

Overall, what’s the catch with this new album?
SM: I can try to summarise it, since it’s such a philosophical question, something I think about quite often and I can probably talk for an hour about it. It’s about the individual, that doesn’t exist, in my opinion. You can’t be individualistic, you can’t give up all rules, live far away from everything, far away in the woods, well, there’s already somebody doing exactly the same thing on the other side of the forest for example, therefore you’re no longer THE individual. In my humble opinion is that this music, to me, is the closest to individuality, as far as I heard in metal. It’s unique, it’s heavy, it’s definitely not happy music. It won’t make you smile because of its positivity. It’s gonna make you smile from the deluded side of your mind. it’s heavy bizarre shit, constructed so beautifully. It’s this guy’s mind, I’m telling you. He’s a normal dude, easy to talk to and all that

It’s just his mind that…
Sm: Yea, when he puts his fingers on the fretboard, something happens. In a special and unique way. He’s not trying to emulate, to be someone else and that’s just what he feels, making it all so beautiful. I believe that a lot of us as musicians strive to have that naturally, but we don’t realise that we have these barricades called influences and those things come out a lot of times in what we write. But with Grotesque, it’s kinda hard to put a similarity. You might find some tones or sounds that you think come from here or there, but as the entire project falls out, you’re left with that question mark we talked about.

When you sit down together and rehearse, does it go smooth or and you do full songs or do you really have to insist on certain parts all the time?
SM: We really have to rehearse. For me it’s not easy, but for him, well…
GK: Since we don’t do many concerts, we have to start from scratch more or less every time. And everyone shows up and says ‘Man, I don’t remember’.
SM: It takes a lot to play this material right. It doesn’t take a lot to play the material itself, it’s not like we’re Emperor for example, with all these scales or arpeggios. You can play the chords or notes right, you can be on time but doesn’t mean you’re playing it all right. It has to feel right. There’s a certain feel this guy has when it comes to music…
CK: It’s actually not the notes, but the spaces between them, you have to remember that. A lot of extreme metal bands don’t have space between notes. They don’t seem to know that there are different ways to move from one note to another and that’s something I try to put a lot of accent on.

Why Grotesque?
CK: Why Grotesque or why Hysterectomy?

Well, that would have followed, but not let’s just say why Grotesque Hysterectomy?
CK: To be honest, when we were looking for a band name, my brother just picked up a dictionary searching for strange medical terms. So we found hysterectomy and thought it sounded cool.
SM: It’s cool to spell too.
CK: And it has to be grotesque. We didn’t even know what the word meant. Once we found out what that was, we had to make a concept out of it on our album, Reek. That came with the gadget ‘1,2,3 – Hysterectomy’ Kit. It was a ‘Do it yourself’ kit, with a scalpel and instructional manual and everything on how to do it. In my opinion we have to not only try to make unique music, but to make the concept a little bigger and give a certain dimension to it. To intrigue more people and give them something extra to hear about.

What about live shows? Do they have any concepts?
CK: Nah, we just play our music on stage, nothing else. Nothing funny on stage. But a little bit of humor is ok in the layout and the concept of the band, of course. We even have a new gadget that will come out with the new album. It’s a board game that will follow the lyrics in the songs.

With the abused kid?
CK: Yes, exactly. The kid is killing his own family, step by step. You are the kid in the board game. You listen to our music, play the game and follow our lyrics. I believe there’s actually a problem with metal lyrics. No one really cares. So that’s why I designed the game myself, to make people more aware about the texts. The game comes with two dices, I call them battle dices and they have each six different weapons and values. If you ‘step’ on your mother and you win the battle against her, you may gather her head.
SM: So the main achievement is to get all the heads.

So that’s the perfect score. Since we’re talking about perfection, do you think your music is perfect?
GK: No.
SM: Yes.
GK: Yes. I’m never happy actually. Even if I am the first day when I do something, the day after I keep thinking I could have done it otherwise.

Then how do you end up with a ready release?
SM: You just have to put your foot down and say ‘I’m done now’. I know since I have the same problem. I need to be told by other musicians who work with to simply stop and put things on tape. If I were a painter, I’d still paint my very first painting and it would have a six inches thick layer of paint. But back to the band’s release, we are very excited about it.

You just managed to create such a bizarre image of it to me, and I’m so convinced I’ll feel that question mark. It’s already all over my mind and intrigues me.
SM: I wouldn’t have joined if it hadn’t been for that intrigue. I already had too many things going on, but stepping in into that room I knew this was the band I wanted to be a part of.
GK: You should actually go on our official page on Facebook and check out one song from the upcoming album. It is called ‘Pussy galore’

How is that related in any way with being abused…
GK: Well, it’s just how the kid sees the world. But if you go there and check you might get an idea of what we have talked about until now, and hopefully it will make you want to listen to the rest of the album.

If you’re convinced to check them out, visit their Facebook profile here https://www.facebook.com/grotesquehysterectomy at or listen to the ‘Pussy galore’ song here

Amoral Interview at Tuska Festival 2012

This year at Tuska I got an invitation for an interview with the Finnish melodic hard rock/heavy metal band, who started at the end of the nineties as a technical death metal. This got me pretty curious to learn more about the band, to watch them live at Tuska and, of course, to accept the interview invitation. It turned out that I met a band with a good stage experience from all over the world, interestingly mixed compositions and an awesome promo photo that convinced me they’re a bunch of crazy guys enjoying what they are doing. The result of the interview can be read below, and everything else about the band, plus media streams can be found on their website at http://amoralweb.com/

Who is the band Amoral?
Ben Varon: Amoral was started by me, on guitars and our drummer Juhana Karlsson, back when we were still kids…

Define kids
Ben Varon: Anywhere around fourteen, fifteen, we couldn’t even play the instruments back then. Then we got more and more people around, started recording more proper music, people came and went into and from the band. Me and the drummer were the ones who always stayed though. We did three albums with an old singer, Niko Kalliojärvi, and that was much more of a technical death metal band. All growlings and screaming. He decided to leave around 2007 and we decided to do something more melodic afterwards. That’s when Ari comes along after few discussions, and today, four years and two albums later, he’s still here. Things have been going good.

How comes you decided this switch from death metal to more melodic stuff?
B.V.: We wanted to do something different.

Was it like you changed your music taste, or started listening to something new that brought different influences?
B.V.: It was a bit of a change in the taste, yea. It actually started the other way around. At first it was more melodic stuff, like we are now, then we got into the direction of black and death metal which was at the same time that Amoral started to record demos. Then, when I got older, I started to get bored with that stuff and somehow returned to the same bands I dig now and to the classics of the eighties, nineties and so on. The death metal period was somewhere around ten years ago and then it’s not like I found new inspiration, but more like going back to the roots. Actually, a lot of people say, after listening to our most recent releases ‘oh yea, we can definitely hear where you come from’. We’ve been always talking about, for example, Guns’n’Roses and other hard rock influences, and those could always be heard in the riffs and the solos of our old albums as well. Even if they were more death metal songs. So we never actually lost those influences.

Yea, today after watching you guys live, I can see some obvious differences in songs, as if they come from different music styles.
B.V.: We played indeed one song from our first album, but mostly from our latest two releases.

How comfortable are you to play the new melodies versus the old ones that demand other types of vocals?
Ari Koivunen: Very comfortable. I liked the band before I joined them.

And your voice actually allows you to go in various directions as far as I noticed…
A.K.: Have you seen the movie ‘Rockstar’?

No, not that I can recall.
A.K.: Well, if you watch it, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that I am like Marky Mark.

Hehe, so you’re his version. Why did you guys come up with the name ‘Amoral’?
B.V.: No reason, seriously. It was pretty much the first good idea that we picked. When we went to the studio to record our first demo, we already had been playing together for a couple of years, but we had no name since we had never done any show. We were like ‘guys, we need a name since we have to print something on the cover’. Everybody went home, took a pen and a piece of paper and decided to meet after few days to make a choice from everyone’s suggestions. One of the guys had ‘Amoral’. I thought it’s cool. It was short, as I didn’t want to be something like ‘Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ where nobody bothers to pronounce the whole thing; it started with an ‘A’ so it puts us at the beginning of the alphabet, which can be quite useful; we also googled it or whatever it was back in those days..

B.V.: We yahooed it and didn’t find any band called ‘Amoral’, so we took it.

Fair enough. Are you guys self educated musicians or did any of you do some studies?
B.V.: Some of us do actually have some. Our second guitar player, Masi, is the one with most studies.

What about singing lessons? Did you attend any?
A.K.: Maybe three lessons altogether.
B.V.: The lion’s share of everybody’s talent is actually self taught when it comes to their own instrument. Even our drummer studied music, but guitar, classic guitar, and not drums.
A.K.: For half a year when I was about seven, I studied piano. And then I learned drums, and I’ve been playing drums since. I’ve been singing for about ten years now.

When it comes to the songs that you guys write, who is the main brain? Or is it a collective composition?
B.V.: For the last two albums, I did the lion’s share for them, but now, with Masi, our new guitar player we have such a good thing going on so I think it’s gonna change more towards a collaboration on the upcoming materials. He has a lot of cool ideas.
A.K.: I’m just doing some melodic vocal stuff for it to feel more comfortable for me.
B.V.: But in a music that’s such guitar and riff oriented, it’s only normal that the guitar players are the ones behind the songs.

You do a lot of changes within one song, there was hardly anything constant going on. Is that something you naturally end up with or…?
B.V.: We actually have to force ourselves to stay in one place, cause we get so easily bored. Plus, we all love so different styles of music.

Why force it then?
B.V.: Some people think there’s too much variation on the album. That’s for some people. For us, it’s the most natural thing to go from a death metal song to something much slower, melodic, to acoustic songs and anything in between. I don’t understand how old death metal bands can do it for thirty years, same kind of albums every second years. But I guess it works for them. I would never be able to do that.

I believe that times were a bit different back then, you didn’t have access to everything like you do today, so you had to either be like this or like that.
A.K.: Yea, I think Internet changed this stuff a lot.

When people talk about you guys, what band do they tend to compare you to?
B.V.: We heard everything, I don’t even know which ones are the most common these days.
A.K.: It varies from Skid Row to almost Behemoth.
B.V.: That was fun. Somebody said that our last album sounds like the album Skid Row should have done as their third album. So we get to hear comparisons with everything from hard rock, punk rock to all sorts of metal, Megadeth.
A.K.: Somebody said we’re a good combination of Pantera and Skid Row and that was a cool thing to hear.

What are you singing about?
B.V.: It’s mostly from personal life, experiences, nothing fantasy related, no dragons nor dungeons.

Is it romance, hate, society related?
B.V.: Stuff in between, it doesn’t have to be only happy or sad. What happens to feel when you write the song. For this type of music it comes more natural to write about more sad stuff, rather than ‘woohoo, it’s summer, let’s party!’. We’re not exactly party music in that way.

Lately, your band has been on a tour covering countries on various continents. Like Japan…
B.V.: Yea, we’ve been to Japan, China, USA (even if just one show)

B.V.: We’re going to tour the whole of Europe with Ensiferum in few months.

How did Asia feel compared to playing in Europe?
B.V.: Japan is really cool. People seem to be a bit more enthusiastic about it. Here, a lot of people like to play it cool, if you know what I mean. Only looking at the show, hardly clapping.

So which was the worst live experience then?
B.V.: . In 2006, we were still a death metal band back then. We were not as gay as we are today. We were playing this black metal tour and the Norwegians in Oslo didn’t like our show at all. We were goofing around, having fun and we were not serious enough. They were holding their arms crossed and just staring at us. Not clapping, not laughing.

But that’s the regular way there, they’re like that at every concert.
B.V.: That was weird.
A.K.. We actually did two gigs in Norway and that was much better.
B.V.: We’re gonna go to Oslo again this year and we’re hoping it’s gonna be better this time.

There is a promo photo that you guys took underwater. How was the experience?
B.V.: It was quite THE experience. It was really worth it!

Whose idea was it?
B.V.: It was me and the photographer. We had the album cover for ‘Beneath’ and we decided we have to take pictures underwater. It sounded like a good idea at the time.
A.K.: I didn’t tell them that I can’t swim.
B.V.: We rented a whole swimming pool for the evening. We jumped in the water, one at a time, the photographer was in there in his frog suit, with his underwater camera. It was a lot of work that took us many hours, but it turned out really cool. Something a bit different from standing in front of a place or so.

It is really cool, I hope you guys find more interesting ideas in the future.
B.V.: Yea, maybe we take the next one in the sky. Sky diving.

Any classic musician that’s dead by now, but you would like to revive to tour with?
A.K.: Dimebag Darell.
B.V.: Yea, he would be one of them.
A.K.: And Ronnie James Dio.

Let’s go back to the upcoming tour…
B.V.: The European tour starts September 14th in Germany and all the dates are listed on the website.

Is the band working on anything new or just focusing on touring?
B.V.: We just started working on new songs. We have few songs ready and we’ll try to get them done by the end of the year so we can start recording. I would say that album number six will be out in 2013.

If we make it there.
B.V.: Yea, if the Mayans weren’t right.
Merch dude: One thing, about the Mayans. The Mayan calendar compared to the calendar we are using today, doesn’t have leap years. So, considering this, the end of the world should have already been many many years ago. So, don’t worry about that!

Cool, then we’re going to live to hear the next album!

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Sólstafir Interview at Inferno Festival 2012

With a history going all the way back to ninety-five, Sólstafir is a four piece Icelandic band whose current musical style makes it rather impossible to put them into one category or another. Hence, I tried to get to chat with the band to try to maybe understand better who they are and what their music is about. The band’s drummer, Guðmundur Óli Pálmason, or Gummi, if the previous name seems impossible to decipher, was really nice to sit down with me after their signing session at the Inferno festival 2012 in Oslo, and answer my questions. The result of our talk can be read below, while more info on the band and their music can always be found either on their website – http://solstafir.net/ – or any of the official pages on facebook, myspace, etc. Besides, I personally recommend you give their 2011 album, ‘Svartir sandar’ a try.

You guys just did a European Paganfest tour, with Primordial, Korpiklaani and Negura Bunget among the names on the lineup. How did that go for you, what was the overall experience?
Gummi: I think the band is really growing. We were the opening act so I guess most people were not coming to see us mainly. But we always ended up with a good crowd, since we never played in front of an empty hall. I can only assume that people saw or heard our name somewhere and came to check us due curiosity. Even though this paganmetal thingy is not where we belong, our music is not pagan not viking nor some stupid humpa metal at all. All in all we consider it was a very good experience and we have reached some new crowd and that’s basically the reason we did it.

How did you end up playing Paganfast then?
I think it was actually through Alan from Primordial. He really wanted to have us. I know he’s neither into humpa metal so I guess he wanted some serious pagan metal band.

You just said you’re not pagan metal..
Actually I regret the last affirmation. But let’s say we of course are some sort of pagan metal then. First of all we are heathens, which some take as synonym for pagan. We don’t go around and read certain books every day or shit like that. Besides, being Icelanders, this is something that’s in our blood. Yet, we don’t really sing about it. We’re not singing about the Gods nor vikings going around with swords.

Then what are you singing about, considering not that many people probably manage to fully understand your lyrics?
We sing more about personal stuff. We get inspiration from our own personal lives. People asked us if out last album, ‘Svartir Sandar’, is a concept album and, well, we never thought about it like that but in retrospect it kinda is. It’s kinda about this lost soul wandering in the wilderness of Iceland, the black volcanic deserts and stuff like that.

Yea, I actually got to witness that with my own eyes
You know, that place kinda affects your mentality in a way, especially when you live there. Maybe you don’t think it’s anything special when you grow up there, but once you get to go away to other places, you see how things are totally different. When I was a kid, I thought all sand was supposed to be black. Then I travelled to Europe and I saw brown sand, and I thought ‘What is that? Sand is supposed to be black, not brown’.

What’s the story behind the band’s name?
Well it was either that or Satanic Goat Penis. I’m glad we went with Sólstafir, because Satanic Goat Penis would have limited us in a way. Haha

Let’s look at your last release. Why is it divided in two?
It was too long for one CD. Basically we were writing a lot of material as we took a new approach this time in the way we would write our music. We went into our rehearsal room from nine in the morning and we would just make music until five o’clock in the afternoon when kindergartens close down and some of us have to pick up their kids. We did this like five or six days a week, for about three months. We booked the studio in advance and when we finally got there, we just couldn’t stop writing. So we wrote one song in the studio, which is something we never done before. We really were on a roll.

I guess one can pretty much feel it in the album. It is quite compact.
I think you can actually hear it’s all written in the same period of time and it’s all written before noon, so that’s why it’s so mellow as we didn’t feel like playing fast at that time. When we were done, we told our label we have this much material and we thought they’d gonna ask us to drop one song. But instead, they replied with their French accent ‘Ok, so it’s a double album’ (said with a French accent). We were really surprised they didn’t ask us to take any of the songs away and they were really into the idea of making a double CD. Another surprise, since hardly any label does that today. Basically it was their idea to do it.

Who did the album cover and what is it about?
The cover and all the artwork was painted by a Norwegian artist called Kim Holm. We met him when he came to our gig in Bergen and he asked us if he could paint pictures of us while we played. We’ve been asked by photographers before, but never a painter, haha. A few weeks later we were discussing ideas about the cover and we decided his style would fit the music perfectly. He also painted a picture to each song, based on his own interpretations of the music and the lyrics, as well as hand writing all the lyrics. Basically he did an awesome job!

One of the songs on the album, Stormfari, is ‘spoken’ by a woman’s voice. Is she reading some news or?
Her name is Gerður G. Bjarklind and she is reading the weather forecast. She is the voice of the Icelandic radio and everyone in Iceland recognises that voice. Some of my friends were very surprised when they first heard the song and it felt as if someone turned on the radio. We agreed with her to read this forecast that speaks of upcoming bad weather as it fits really well with the concept of the song.

You released a video as well, for the song Fjara. Was this also made by the label or by yourselves or, what’s the story?
Basically me and our singer had this idea to rip off a movie called Django, a sixties western movie with a guy dragging a coffin through the desert. We thought that would look cool in our video. We know this American director, Bowen Staines, who did a lot of stuff in Iceland and who worked with National Geographic. We just sat down with him and brainstormed the script based on that idea, we also got a little bit of budget from the label so we ended up with everything well planned. It was our first experience with making something visual in a really professional way. I think in the end it really paid off. It was a lot of hard work, we did it ourselves for a small budget. It looks as if it had bigger budget. I even risked my life doing the video.

Oh, what happened?
I don’t know if you noticed, but in the end of the video, the coffin sails over a waterfall. Somebody had to get the fuckin’ coffin out in the river. I am not exaggerating, but the coffin was like seventy kilos heavy. The guy who made it didn’t think of the fact we had to drag it all over so he used some solid wood. So we ended up having to carry seventy kilos up the mountains, down again, then I had to go in the river. The waterfall is something like sixty-five meters tall and the river that leads to it was up to my knees. I was dragging the coffin in the middle of the river all the way to about five meters close to the waterfall. I had some ropes around me, but still, it was one of the most stupid things I’ve done. It was also a lot of fun and we even placed a small camera on the coffin so you could actually see the horizon and then when it goes over and into the waterfall.

Did the girl in the video actually drag that heavy coffin?
Yeah, and she’s about forty-five kilos. She was really struggling, plus it was really cold and she was only wearing this thin white dress. She did a very good job.

Do you think your music is representative for Iceland in any way?
Both yes and no. We don’t sound like a typical Iceland band

What’s a typical Iceland band then? I personally heard such a wide variety of sounds from that country, from Björk to Sigur Rós..
Indeed, and then you got the metal scene today, which is mainly technical death metal. I think we’re probably in the middle. We’re not a metal band, yet we’re not like the bands you named either. We’re this rock band floating in the middle somewhere. People are telling that when they listen to our music they can see the Icelandic landscape. Honestly, this was not what we aimed for as we’re not pretending to have written the music in the nature. We live in the city and write the music there. But if this is the feeling that people are getting out from what we play, then it must be representative in a way.

Do you consider yourselves as an underground band or now do you think you started to go over the ground?
We’ve been an underground band for seventeen years. And now it feels strange to be on the top ten in Iceland for some weeks, top five on some big radio stations and to be number one on a rock’n’roll radio station. People are really starting to know us, even in the streets. We really don’t think much about this aspect, making music is our hobby, like for example other people just collect stamps. We’re obviously underground if you take the scale of U2 or Metallica, hehe

Yea, let’s not go there. Back to my initial question about the tour (since the dialogue flowed differently than the order of my questions). Any funny stories that you can recall now?
Korpiklaani was playing with us every weekend and their singer has the same hair as I do. So people were always coming to me in the weekend asking if I am their singer. Some girl wanted a photo and she kept saying ‘Wow, it was a really good show, can I have a photo please? Can I have a photo?’. I was thinking to myself ‘Oh yeah, I’m a rockstar, you can of course have a photo’. Then, after the photo was taken she walks away and says ‘Korpiklaani’ and all my enthusiasm is gone. Both me and Jonne, their singer, thought this was quite hilarious. We went out in the crowd, found the same girl again, and she still thought I was their singer. This was happening the whole tour. One guy came to me asking ‘Are you the singer of Korpiklaani?’ ‘No, I’m not’ ‘Yes, YOU are!’ ‘No, I’m not’ ‘Yes, you are!!’. He didn’t believe me. At the end he took me to a bar, gave me some drinks. I couldn’t say no, I would have offended him.

Did you get to play many far? Actually, what I’m trying to ask is if you prefer to play festivals or regular tour shows?
It depends. I like being on tour, you know what you have to do every day, you know the people. Festivals can be cool as well, especially if you get a great spot. We played Roskilde festival for about seventy-five minutes and that was one of the most awesome gigs we ever done. Overall I probably don’t see much difference between playing festivals or just concerts. We love playing live and being on stage.

How are things for an artist in Iceland? Do you get any sort of state support? Or community support? Or it’s mainly hard work by yourself and invest all your money into it?
It’s really hard work. We spent so much money on this band. The thing is, it’s also very hard to make it outside Iceland. If you’re, for example, a band in Norway… I remember when we were a black metal band in Iceland in the early nineties. Nobody paid any attention to us, but probably in Norway we would have been signed very quickly. Then, there’s the fact that bands in mainland Europe can just hop in a van and start touring, while we have to take a plane with all our stuff and that is quite expensive. So breaking out of Iceland is really hard. But lately there started to be a bit more support. Iceland Air, for example, is offering special deals for bands and their equipment. I believe such things help the music scene in Iceland overall.

It’s cool to get some ‘fresh air’ from that direction since there’s pretty genuine stuff..
You know, not every band in Iceland is very original though, yet you wouldn’t probably hear about those who aren’t original. Why should you? You already have one hundred bands in your own country that sound the same, so why would you look all the way to Iceland for that? So those who break out it’s only the people who have something new to offer, I think.

So there’s a struggle to go around the main existing patterns..
It is a natural process though. I think that if you’re a band in Iceland you know that you’ll never make a living out of it, you’re never going to sell more than twelve hundred copies, so why should you try to please anyone else than yourself? I believe that kinda of sponsors originality. This doesn’t mean we don’t have non original bands though.

Are you guys happy?
As a band, I think we’re happy with what we have accomplished. Not many bands have stayed together for seventeen years, with the same lineup. I think we’re just too stupid to quit. So if happy is stupid…

That’s the reason?
Yeah, ignorance is bliss, happy is stupid, then we’re probably quite happy because we’re quite stupid.

As long as you make good music, I like that solution. In August this year, you’re going to play in Romania at Dark Bombastic Evening festival – http://www.darkbombasticevening.com. I guess you’ve never been to Romania, what do you know about the country? Or the festival?
Well, everyone heard about Transylvania. I also know that Vlad Tepes was the inspiration for the Dracula thing. Of course he wasn’t a vampire, but he pretty much was an insane tyrant. About the festival, I know that they always had unique lineups. There’s this band, Hexvessel. Their singer used to be the singer of another band called Code, whom we toured with. He’s also the Norwegian black metal band Dødheimsgard (DHG), but anyway, he already played there with Hexvessel and he really really recommended this festival to us. They’re actually playing there agin this year, since he loved it so much. He’s a very good friend of ours, hence we trust his advice. So, even if it’s possible that we are going to lose money at this festival, we decided to do it. But it’s probably one in a lifetime opportunity, so we’re thrilled to take it. It feels like it’s a unique festival and this is the reason we decided to do it.

On your tshirts, you have this text … ‘Anti Christian ‘
‘Anti Christian Icelandic Heathen Bastards’. We had this slogan when we were a black metal band, so to speak. We are all pretty much against organised religion. It’s not just Christianity, but every organised ones.

Is Iceland a religious country?
No, not at all. We actually always think of Norway as religious fanatics, since they actually are more religious than we are. Which is funny. Anyway, we stick to our slogan since that is what we stand for. We are not a political band in any way, we don’t agree with Christianity, nor organised religion, we are heathen and we are fucking bastards, so there you go. And, of course, Icelandic.

I think I’ve been through all my questions, so at the end, any final words for the readers or people who will come to see you live?
We’re the best band in the world, buy our albums, I need money..

Hehe, you have five kids at home..
Yea, five kids, I need to feed them. Hehe.

Oh, and last subject of the interview. What do you think about these scandals nowadays about downloading stuff from the Internet?
I don’t think that’s the problem. My friend was reading a book, by a guy who used to be a CEO of a big record label back in the eighties or nineties. He was saying that even back in the nineties, the record sales were going down, because of the price of the CDs. If the record labels would put their CDs at a reasonable price, the people would still buy them. The Internet is not the cause of the whole problem. It has, of course, changed everything. But we used to have tape trading before as well. But today, the rules that they are trying to pass seem to attempt to ban every kind of user uploaded material. And that’s just censorship in its purest form. I don’t want to go too much into it as I’m really into conspiracy theories, but basically I believe the Internet is the voice of the people, and some people try to take away that voice. They are using the download thingy as an excuse to do that. I think it’s more about taking the power away from the Internet users, since that’s where everyone can state their opinion right now and say things against anything.

In some countries…
Exactly, maybe in few years, you won’t be able to say anything anywhere since there won’t be freedom for user uploaded content. So it goes much much deeper than music or movies.

Well,I guess it’s best to stop here, as we can debate for hours, but tonight is not for thinking, but rather for enjoying good music and the good mood around at the festival.

Interview with Ørkenkjøtt

It’s always such a cool feeling to go to a concert where they’d play a music you never listened to prior to that evening and after five minutes into the concert get completely sold to the sound and the live show on stage. That’s the effect that the release concert of Ørkenkjøtt’s ‘Ønskediktet’ had on me after seeing them live at John Dee. If time allows, you can read the review here. Ever since I started listening to the album on daily basis and as I found it as one of the most interesting releases this year, I tried to get in touch with the band for an interview in which I could discover the origins of such a cool album.
The two guitarists, Simen Munthe-Kaas Rem and Christian Grønli, sat down for a chat with me and introduced me to the band’s concepts, the way they got hooked into the Arabian music and what’s with the piano playing horse on their album cover. Plus some news in the upcoming future of the band, a band that you can follow on their record label’s website or on Facebook.

Let’s hear a bit of band history, how did it all start and how did it evolve or change to get where you are today?
It basically started with the two of us in school, jamming on the corridors or during class. It was the kind of school far up in the mountain, in Telemark, like one and a half hours away from Notodden, a place where everyone was a farmer. And there we were, listening to Immortal, exchanging CDs – Christian was the one who was into Immortal and Simen more into Emperor due the guitar lessons with Ihsahn. And so we started with the jamming. Not many people up there would be into that since every guy’s dream was to be a farmer or or to drive a big truck or so. It’s the kind of place where the same genes go all the way through all generations. They don’t see the difference between the wives and their sheeps, getting people very close to their animals.
(Christian) Simen had also had experience from playing with several bands and so he kinda dragged me into starting a band together. He brought some people from the other bands he was working with, but they’re all gone from the current band.

p style=”margin-left:.3in;text-indent:-.3in;”>So you actually started as a black metal band?
That was our main interest at that time. Black metal band, with Norwegian lyrics and influences from all kind of metal bands. We started late 2005 and did our first gig early February 2006, I think. We didn’t sound at all like today, but we had this spirit that we knew we wanted to develop and there was a good connection between us.
Ever since it’s been almost 100 gigs all over Norway.

So many gigs without actual full releases?
We had two EPs. One recorded 2007 and one late 2008. I’m really glad that we haven’t been a studio band all the time, but rather focused on playing live. That’s a great experience and energy to bring with you in the studio and it also allows songs to develop as you play them live, because we’d always listen back to the recordings of the shows and learn from that. Also live, there’s this energy let’s say, that you can’t offer people on a CD. I’m glad we had all these live shows so far because when we recorded the album we felt like the songs have developed over a long period of time, we saw them evolving into great final results.

How long have you played with the current line up to get this compact band feeling that you have today?
I think that was from our second EP, about 2008, when ‘Skygger og støv’ was first recorded and it turned us into this ‘oriental’ direction. With this lineup, we participated in every competition we could and every gig we could get our hands on. Actually it was from the very beginning that we played any gig we’d get, like weekends in some small youth clubs and such. Then suddenly, in 2007, we won the big rock competition in Telemark so we started getting a lot of festival invites in Telemark and then in other regions in Norway. Oslo, Trondheim, Molde, etc. We even played one gig in Lithuania.

So Norway offers enough support for small startup bands and you’ve been given a chance by the community?
Some people supported us, but in Notodden, the ‘base-city’ for the band, everything the youth does is driving their car up and down, 200 times, on the same street, with high volume music. They pretty much hated us because we wanted something else and didn’t follow the pattern. But the overall government support and funds are helpful as long as they see you want to do something and work hard for it. But after the above mentioned shows, the wheels started spinning faster and faster so we ended up with a gig at the Inferno festival in Oslo in 2009. It was special for us since it got the first real publicity around the band, TV interview, big article in this Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten. A lot of attention for us. We kept on playing a lot live in 2010 and then we came to the point we had to record and album. It had been like five years afterall and after playing so much live and getting better at that, we thought we had this concept ready and it was time to put it on disc.

Speaking of concept, what’s the story behind the album? Did you come up with the songs during all those live performances or was it a matter of sitting down in the rehearsal room and jamming?
The first track, ‘Skygger og Støv’, like I said before, was on our second EP and that, in many ways, defined our sound today. The album kinda spawned from that song.
I also consider that it was some sort of a reaction to the ‘ice cold’ we all got from the existing black metal music. While the desert can be even more colder.
You know, rock music is supposed to be fuckin’ hot and it was much more exotic and exciting to us to think and dig into that world, the darkness that you can find in the Arabic culture, rather than the ice cold mountains. The excitement with the latter is lost by now, since you can just pick up an Immortal album and find that. For us, it was a much bigger creative reward to dig into something else.

Did any of you have any particular interest in the Orient in any way or any special experience with it?
(Simen) I travelled there several times, twice to Egypt and one time to Dubai, but it was a lot of what we’ve seen on television.
We all love Aladdin…
What we find cool is that usually, even in the more happy Arabic stories, there’s some darkness and mysticism around it that we wanted to grab and put it through our music, blend it with our rock’n’roll. And then you get the ørkenrock. Or the desert rock.
It actually came very naturally. I don’t know why, but it just did.
It was never like someone saying ‘We should to this and that, and this would be interesting for other people!’
We never sat down, never planned much, it all just happened naturally.
Most of the songs didn’t even sound as they are today, in the beginning. But then we came up with various ideas, or interesting patterns and we just followed them deeper and deeper. You can visualise Ørkenkjøtt like some dirt into which we planted seeds and the flowers grew out of it, not really sure what they’d be, but once they grow, they stretch really high.

Did you ever listen to a lot of music from that part of the world? Or did the sounds come so natural to you?
Of course there were a lot of film scores, soundtracks that we all knew and liked. But mainly, when we played certain notes, that appealed to something inside us…
It’s like we found a scale and then decided to push it up half a note or so and made it sound more interesting, and giving it an Oriental flavor at the same time. A bit of reinventing the wheel. We had some fun discoveries.

I noticed that few other Norwegian bands who enjoy more and more attention today, use Norwegian as main language for their lyrics. You guys made the same decision. How do you think the people come to love music when they can’t understand a word?
I think it’s because of the overall energy the band brings to the landscape. For us, everything has been about honest expression. Using your mother tongue, it’s more natural. In English, it all feels filtered, it’s not our primal voice. That’s something people can recognise. Besides, the black metal bands from the 90s have done the job for us as they made people study Norwegian, be able to understand a bit, so they prepared the ground for us.

I was reading an article yesterday about the fact that learning Norwegian lowers the chances for dementia…
Hehe. But for example, artists like Björk or Sigur Rós, people don’t stop listening to them just because they can’t understand Icelandic. But it appeals to people. Plus, nowadays you don’t need a three or five years study of some language, you just use Google translate to find out what some lyrics are saying. You won’t get the subtleties between the lines, but you’d get the main idea.
But probably the main meaning would disappear if you translated our lyrics, so maybe sometimes it’s not so useful to know the words to sing along, but not know what it is about and be puzzled when you hear it rearranged live.

Back to the album is a concept. Can we get some hint on what the concept is about?
Actually discovery is part of the concept. But it has some really deep meanings behind. There’s a story, not a very concrete one, more like a philosophical journey inside a person.
You can say we got our own universe and this is like a key for the people to come inside.
Like Simen said, it’s this universe, and the journey I was talking about, it also takes place in this universe. That’s the metaphors you will find both in the lyrics and the music, which will give you the right visuals when you are going to explore the concepts.
Overall, when you listen to this album, it’s not like you have to know anything in advance. Just be open to what you hear and not put any quick solutions to anything, just follow and give your mind to the music. We don’t want to tell people what this or that is, just let them discover and create their own part in that universe. It’s room for everyone in the ‘ørkenland’.

Are you considering bringing certain visuals to your shows as well? So far I’ve seen mainly the singer who wears this like Arabian dress, plus you have carpets on stage and a broken camel.
Yea, we are thinking of something in that direction.
A friend of mine told me something cool the other day. He was listening to our album and said he could really feel the heat in one of our songs.

Actually, if you listen to the song about five suns and you’re outdoors on a warm day, I agree with your friend.
About the visuals, we’re developing that now. A concert is made both of the sound but also what you experience with your eyes. We’re thinking to maybe add some screens or so, but on the other hand we don’t want to take away people’s own imagination. Everyone gets their own picture inside their minds, we maybe can just guide them a little.

When it comes to the instruments used on this album. At basics, you have the classical rock/metal composition, drums, guitars, bass and vocals. But there’s more one can hear on this album. So what did you guys blend with the ‘regular’ instruments?
A lot of exotic drums. Our vocalist has these exotic drums that we used, but if you saw our release concert, Tobias (Leprous drummer) used a lot of percussion stuff, Arabic drums, cowbells, tambourines.
When we recorded, we stood in a circle around the microphone and clapped for one of the songs. We also stepped on the floor in a certain rhythm. Anything that we thought would fit at the moment.
It was important that the sound we made felt right. Even if it was just doing this . If you heard the song ‘Livets frø’, we have a kind of flamenco part there. For that, we used the clams that Mikael brought from a vacation in Spain. We used everything that was fit and would build up around our sound.
Also, Ihsahn and Heidi were really good to keep us on the right track. You can hear there’s some keys, and that’s what Heidi did with an el-piano. They did the organ parts together, we have some classic rock organ every now and then. Ihsahn is a very symphonic dude, so for ‘Fem soler’ he did all the arrangements for the orchestra. But more in an American Western way. Actually that’s one goal we have for one day, to have Ørkenkjøtt doing everything together with an orchestra.

What about the blues part at the end of the ‘Profeten’. Or the sound of the last song, ‘Redneck Randy’…
You know Notodden is the blues capital in Norway. Hehe.
Actually it came naturally like that. We all love classic rock like Zeppelin and such. It was something that felt so cool. We also worked with Morten Omlid who has won several national guitar contests. He’s like the blues guitar king. It was cool to get him to lay down the solo for us. Plus Mikael gets so involved into singing that part, so it was fun to see how he managed it so cool on the record too.
That last song also shows we’re not locked into anything, not even in the Norwegian language. We just use what feels natural at the moment, and that was right at the moment we made the song. It all happened in a hot day in Ihsahn’s studio when we just called Morten, he came with his guitar, plugged it in, jammed a bit and then we just recorded.
He nailed it.
We have it on tape. Or, well, I hope we have it on tape.
That guy lives for guitar. When he plays solos, his face almost melts. It’s a cool experience to see him.
Even if I said that it came naturally, it also surprised us too in the way it ended up. We obviously can’t have any rules or restrictions for our music since we managed something like that. It also surprises people and I love to surprise people, since I love to be surprised myself by new stuff that I hear. It’s a cool feeling.

I actually thought that my music player skipped to another artist when I was hearing the end of the ‘Profeten’ song.
Hehe. About our last song, some people actually misunderstand that. Redneck Randy is also part of that universe. He’s a part of the concept. It’s like a world within a world, a universe within the universe. All the album is like an adventure and then you come to a trip within a trip.
And how can you know that the whole album, prior to the ‘Redneck Randy’ song, is not a concept or a journey happening inside Redneck Randy’s head? And then it takes you to another place because he’s on acid and he starts fighting aliens?

More and more young people are getting self educated into using music programs at home, record by themselves, do the mixing, etc. But you decided to work with Ihsahn’s studio. How much of a difference do you think that makes in the final result? It’s probably a matter of saving money versus working with experienced people..
The difference is quite big. They have like twenty years of experience. It’s great to start and record at such a level.
We believed in our album being good, so it didn’t feel right to make quality compromises. We see it like we have slowly started to rise with our flying carpet, but Ihsahn and Heidi had been flying their carpet in 20 years. So it would have taken a lot for us to get that far, but they invited us on their carpet to fly at the same level. We felt that our music deserved that. They knew how to make the album into a whole, to make the sound through the album compact and complete. We couldn’t get the input and the sound on the album as good in any other way.

You told me you played very often live, but I guess that since you’re not the most famous band out there, you don’t often get to play big stages. You’re a lot of people on stage, with a lot of energy. Do accidents happen often at your shows?
Yea, we fell off the stage quite often. When Redneck Randy enters the stage it’s chaos.
We’re all like characters on stage, Mikael is the prophet for example. He has a heavy job on stage so it’s good for him that at the end of the show Redneck Randy takes over. People also find it cool when a guy from the United States comes in and we can collaborate with folks from outside Norway, like Redneck Randy.

Why is there a horse playing the piano on the album cover? Why not a camel for example?
Aren’t horses and camels related in some way?
I think they are!
It’s the surrealism of the image that really describes the concept.
In our universe, there’s horses too, not only camels..

True, you said there’s room for everybody…
The guy who painted the image on the cover, he’s a good friend of ours – Christian Berg Gravningen – and…
Maybe we should have a horse playing the piano in the opening act?
Yea, in a real western bar style. And at the end, people can come up and kill it. But the piano still continues playing, since it’s not the horse playing it. Back to the story though, Christian Berg got an early mix we had from the studio, plus the lyrics. We told him that this was his key to our universe..
He couldn’t sleep for days. He had this vision of a horse and didn’t know where it came from. He kept listening to the album and he didn’t realise the vision was related to it until he started painting it.
You can say that every person’s experience with the album is of equal worth and that’s one thing that came out from this guy, after listening to the album. That’s what he saw and couldn’t put the vision away until he got to paint it. It’s a big painting, over one meter. We would like to give that to everyone, so now that we got the LPs, that’s the closest way for people to get that image.

That’s why you don’t want to give away the key, since it has such unexpected effects on everybody?
We hope everyone starts visualising things. Would be so cool to get drawings with what effects the album has on people who listen to it.

I guess the logical step is to go touring and promote the album, right?
We already have several offers, some gigs planned later in the year. The upcoming Friday we play the biggest stage in Kristiansand with Blood Red Throne for example. We will actually open the ProgPower festival in Netherlands and it feels great to open for all those people there who seemed so much into music. The festival leader put a link to one of our songs and got so many replies and comments, so we’re excited about playing there. We know we’re going to get so much energy back from the crowd out there.
When we played in Lithuania, like five years ago, it was really crazy. They set up a big stage at the stairs of the city hall. The whole city had gathered on the streets there and they had this fence to protect the stage, but the people started tearing it down. The guards had a lot of work to do. The day before, when we arrived, we learned how cheap the alcohol was down there, so we managed to trash like three hotel rooms, throwing the TV out the window and stuff.
(Christian) I just turned eighteen and was living the rock star dream.
The hotel called the police, who came and surprised us since we are not used with policemen carrying around guns like they did. We suddenly came up with some money and they left us alone.
The story had spread around really fast among the people, so the gig next day was so insane.
But back to what’s in our future plans, we just announced a European tour as support for our friends from Leprous. The tour will start at the end of September in Oslo, Norway and will cover cities from Denmark, Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Spain, Netherlands, UK, Belgium, France and Germany. But there’s more dates to be confirmed in the future, so stay tuned for the cool news.

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