So I have been sitting on my "RIITIIR" review for quite some time now: Nuclear Blast asks kindly not to publish it yet, and I shall oblige, as sneaking it out would ultimately mean to disrespect the band. But I am also entirely guilty of holding onto this interview with Ivar for 8 months (!): well our chat was so interesting that I wanted to save it all for a special occasion, and this is definitely it!
In these long 8 months a lot of things happened: Ivar had a lovely daughter; the band toured again (do they ever stop?! thankfully not...), played summer festivals and done a lot of promotion for this new album. It is a SENSATIONAL album, believe me... But for the moment, I shall build up to the publishing of the review on Monday 10th September by giving you Ivar's thoughts on Enslaved, life, art and the new songs in two parts.
Part I is the face to face interview I conducted in December 2011 during "Madrid is the Dark III" fest.
Part II is the one hour long telephone chat we had a couple of days ago.Both turned out to be rather in-depth and very interesting. Hope you enjoy!
ENSLAVED: Interview Part I
Do people celebrate Christmas in Norway?
Yeah, we do actually, just like with Halloween: our lives are getting more and more Americanized…
Exactly! People like to have big light displays in their houses and all the rest. So, yes, it’s a normal Christmas I guess, but more and more people, especially the younger generations, are turning their backs to this phony side of the tradition, going back to just exchanging presents and have a nice day with the family. On the other hand, if you don’t have a family, or if you want to boycott Christmas altogether, you just go to the pub, and there you will find a lot of people who think the same as you. a lot of my friends do that: you just drink and listen to some metal or whatever…
In the UK I used to be bombarded with the Xmas adverts and the whole charade as early as late October, it was awful! Now I live in the south of Spain and, oddly, I don’t even know it’s that time of the year…
Do you have kids Ivar?
Well I am waiting for my first daughter who should arrive very soon actually…
Aw, you must be over the moon! Is she going to be spoilt with presents at Christmas or is she going to be brought up as a rebel?
I guess both: we can spoil her but she can still be a rebel!!!
You have been celebrating your 20 Years in BM, which is fantastic. I bought your split with emperor back in 1993 and I have been following you since, so huge congratulations for what you have achieved.
Oh, really? Well thank you!!!
When we got into Norwegian black metal it all looked so exotic: Norway was not really on the map either as far as music is concerned or even as a tourist hot-spot back then, so we imagined this incredibly cold, unspoilt place full of mystery, and it soon turned into a fascinating mythical place… What was it like to be there at the time? You were so young…
It was a mix of insanely “normal” and very “exotic” as you say. For me it was always just about the music, as I was a bit too young to get into the satanic ideologies and so on. We never got into that, although this side of things was experienced very intensely by some people. I discovered this style in 1989 when I was 12 years old, then I got into the scene by starting the band: all the bands we were friends with were producing this amazing new music… so every week you’d get something through the letter box, like the pre-production Emperor demo-tape, then you’d hear some new music from Dark Throne on cassette, and so on. For me personally, the most important bands were Mayhem and Dark Throne. When I heard their albums it was the same as, I guess, what religious people describe as revelation: I was sitting at home thinking, wow, this is a new world and I was to be part of it. So yes, it was incredibly exciting… but at the same time it was a bit alienating when you started to travel: you know, at the time there was no facebook or stuff like that, so we did not know how much the imagination of our fans abroad had started to create a different level of pathos around our music and out Country. We would travel to Eastern Europe, Southern Europe and even America, and we would hear all these stories and rumors which would actually leave speechless. We know the truth, of course, and there were cases where some people had taken it very far, but when we were hearing it re-told, it was a bit shocking because we knew that in reality the scene was a lot more “normal” than people liked to think. There was often a lot of rational thought behind these events, so some were into Church-burning because of their ideology, but in some cases it was just pure vandalism. It was a mix of the two. The Norwegian media of course wanted to turn it into something else: I do not accept it when they try to label these acts as terrorism because it were not aimed at people but at symbols… It was very strange to be there and it still feels strange today, remembering it.
As you mentioned, you have been traveling so much during these two decades, and have met many bands. What is your perspective on BM today, how do you view the fact that it has become such a multifaceted genre?
I think it is still a very interesting kind of music, but I understand why so many friends, even some guys in the band, have given up on it. There is so much shit around to be honest, and some if it is pure sensationalism. Commercially speaking, today if you put the black metal label onto a product it’s almost like having a tattoo on your face: you want people to be scared of you or whatever, you know? There are too many bands like that around who don’t really have any talent, so they add all this drama… The only difference for me is that up to the early ‘90s, if I got 10 new albums, 8 or 9 were going to be great; now if I get a100, 9 or 10 are going to be great. But I still have a lot of desire to discover good new bands.
You have inspired great bands like Negura Bunget for example, but also you have had the chance to tour with bands like Alcest, which have a different sensibility: do you still take pleasure in watching/listening to other bands?
We toured with Negura Bunget, we enjoyed it very much! And Alcest were actually one of those bands that everybody kept telling me to check out, then one day we got to tour together and the first night I watched them on stage and I was blown away! Now I’ve got all their albums and I am a new fan…
You are still very young, but you have already spawned a lot of “grandchildren” in the BM field!
Well I certainly do not feel like a granddad yet, or even like a young father, because a lot of these guys are actually older than me… It is certainly surprising and a great honor that really good bands mention your name as being an inspiration, like with Negura Bunget, whom I have admired for so long… It still feels incredible that one day I sat making music in my little room, and then you meet someone from the other side of the world who tell you how it really meant something for them.
People respect you and find Enslaved inspirational because you were the first to open up the doors of BM to more progressive influences. You have an experimental outlook in writing music, which means you will not be satisfied with repeating the same formulas: do you have a method in your exploration? Are you able to compose while on tour?
It has happened, of course, but it is not a typical situation. I need to sit down especially to write music, finding myself in a time-space where I can be physically automated; that’s when I can work. I can set aside a week here and another there and just do that. Sometimes I just go away, but I can work in a normal day-to-day situation too, as soon as I can be in the zone where my mind is focused. The tools have been getting better… Before it was pen and paper, then it was with a recorder and now I have a phone with a program where I can write notes on, so actually it is a process that is becoming possible in any situation.
How do you deal with the relationship between technology and the effort of keeping it real and organic, which both are integral parts of Enslaved’s music?
I think we have a healthy relationship with technology: although we like to use it, we are never dependent on it in the sense that anything we do is done through the use of technology, but it can also be done without. We don’t have preconceptions: if we feel that something would sound nice with 10 layers of guitar, we do that. If we want to reproduce that sound on stage it’s not a problem: maybe we can ask a guest to play, or something like that. In the recording studio the use of the computer helps, but I feel that we would still be a very good band even without the aid of the technology.
When you record your music, do you start with a basic idea then keep building on it, or conversely do you start with a grand idea and then you work on weeding it down to make it more orderly?
Good question! It is definitely the first type of process you mention: we have a method in out composing and arrangement that leaves it open to growth. To put it simply: we have the idea, which we build on in our rehearsal space, then we take it further in the recording studio and subsequently live. So the songs, if they do not necessarily reach a higher level, they certainly reach a broader level during the live sets.
Speaking in architectural terms, the idea and rehearsal of a song is like the planning of a house, the recording is the physical house, and the live recording is the home with finally people in it.
What do you listen to and find inspirational?
As well as listening from music form the past, I try to dig out new things all the time. I listen to all kinds of music, anything that is powerful enough to draws me away from that sense of everyday normality. When I discovered that it was not about a certain sound but actually about a certain feeling, it all became much more interesting. so I don’t just listen to prog – every metaller these days listens to that of course – but I also listen to a lot of electronica and classical music (when you go past Wagner and the usual tough guys, you discover there is a lot of great stuff there), anything that can be very emotional. Actually, for me another big discovery was contemporary classical and noise art, like Stockhausen, some Japanese artists and some Norwegian jazz musicians we have worked with… I didn’t really get it until a saw a few concerts. Well, I don’t know whether I got it or not, but at least for me it was an experience: I found it really wild and intense. I imagine that it’s a similar sensation that an admirer of classical painting must feel when faced by abstract painting: it doesn’t look like anything, but it’s so stimulating that you start seeing your own thoughts in it… That’s what happened to me with the noise art: I had no idea of what happened there, by it made me connect with some episodes of my own life and so on. It feels like a really strong mind massage haha…
So what other kinds of art do you enjoy, you mentioned painting…
Oh yeah, I like a lot of the new stuff… Contemporary performance is something I have enjoyed quite a lot. When you realized it is ok to laugh, because it sometimes looks ridiculous, once I got past that I really got into it. It is part of the experience, I guess… you see one guy in a room wearing weird clothes and pissing himself in the midst of a bunch of symbolic artifacts or whatever: if you allow yourself not to think so much of what’s going on but instead you interpret your own senses, new stuff starts to happen. But my absolute favorite is installation art…
Yeah? It’s something I’m very close to myself.
Wow, that’s great! Every time we go to the US, we especially love to visit the Guggenheim. Me and the singer love to spend time in there wandering through the different rooms with different themes… It’s fantastic!!!
Excellent: I have always connected with your music, but now that I’m aware that you see things in such a way, I am really starting to feel Enslaved in a different way… Exploring life, trying to go beyond what we experience on a superficial level is certainly one of the things that makes it worth living. Talking of exploring creatively, Burzum did a controversial re-working of some of his old songs. Do you ever feel the urge to approach some of your old material?
Actually not. I am fond of the old sound: sometimes it’s sloppy or out of tune, but it’s like a tattoo that captures a particular moment and in later years you can look at it and scratch your head, but it is what it is… So I understand why some people do it, but with my own music there is so much time invested in it that I don’t even want to try as I think I’d run the risk to ruin it.
You strike me as people who like to look into the future anyway…
Oh yes, but we are also very proud of our past! We do feel like explorers, but of the kind who like to talk a lot about previous explorations too… You know, around the campfire!
You have collected a series of awards in recent years, and with your popularity ever increasing, you still manage to keep your feet firmly grounded, and your music really reflects the fact that your egos are not inflated… You are normal people who are really excited about life and passionate about music! Do you consciously try not to “compromise” your artistic integrity?
Of course we do, but to be honest it has worked so well for us that we kind of feel it’s our destiny so to speak. We are all rational, scientifically minded people but sometimes, especially talking with so many people into Satanism who feel like some kind of vessel for those forces, well somehow I kind of relate to that. I do enjoy good old stories, but I don’t believe in all that metaphysical stuff about ghosts, but I understand how people might feel as conduits for subconscious energies that are, I guess, archetypes. Psychologically speaking we all deeply relate to mythological archetypes: in different parts of the world everybody would have dragons embedded in their subconscious, in others it would be the sun or the snow monster… So maybe that’s what makes people connect to something I do, and makes them react to it, and that’s fantastic! And I absolutely love the music, so it is a huge compliment that people relate to it, but I still have a sense that the Music was there to begin and a lot of the material has already something embedded in it that I am only a vehicle for.
So realistically it is impossible for enslaved to change even if they end up being even bigger…
Seeing the people that we are, I believe it’s impossible… but then again you might be watching us on MTV in 5 years time and think “Bunch of twats!”… To be honest I think that some people are hit but the “rockstar syndrome” because they are so insecure within themselves that they cannot handle the fact that they have such positive response: they have some self-esteem issues and they feel they have to live up to that by acting like jerks. Or maybe it is us being so full of ourselves that we think we are too great to make fools of ourselves! At the end of the day, we worked hard, we dedicated our lives to this: people like us? Great! It’s really that simple…
That’s a very balanced outlook you have…
Well that seems normal to us. You see, sometimes you meet these famous rockstars and you get talking: once you go past their exterior aura and begin to talk on a personal level they suddenly become very insecure people, so maybe they do not get why they are where they are… there would be 200 people backstage screaming, wanting a piece of them, but they don’t really relate to that… They live a surreal kind of life.
Do you still enjoy touring so much?
Oh yes! I really enjoy the moments before the concerts when I am a nervous wreck: that’s my favourite moment I think… I am really comfortable with being uncomfortable, and being on stage it’s just like the sublimation of that.
The pre-concert moments are very akin to the excitement and anxiety of the explorer about to set for a journey towards the unknown isn’t it?
Yes, and there’s some kind of psychedelic trip going on… the adrenaline is kicking in!
All sorts of natural chemicals flood the brain…
Absolutely! Sometimes it’s like - Are you sure that was two hours? It felt like two minutes! Those are the best ones: it doesn’t matter if you cannot remember them you just know you have been there!
Well, from my point of view, I feel the same whenever the music is capable to transport me to another place: I find it hard to write accurate live reports because it’s almost impossible to remember anything beside the overwhelming feelings… But you have a gig to play in a little while, so I’m letting you go to enjoy the adrenaline surge!