Radio Metal : The name After seems to symbolise a rupture. Is this a way to make it clear that you will never be returning to the past and make another pure black metal record or reform Emperor? What is the statement behind this title?

IHSAHN : It’s not something as concrete as that. I see my three first solo albums as a trilogy and the two first ones, The Adversary and angL, are really two of the same kind. They are very confrontational, direct and in many ways contemporary. After, however, has a much more observational perspective and is an almost post-apocalyptic concept to end this trilogy. For example, I have gone back to doing more landscape descriptions. I feel that it is less human in a way. There is also a personal level about coming to an end with Emperor and yet I was trying not to be so distant from this. There is no message in the trilogy, yet the two previous albums probably had a stronger message about fighting for my individuality. After is a lot more at ease. The last song on the album has a saxophone solo that lasts for over two minutes; I am in a place where it feels right and so I decided to do it. The result created for this album is that I am a lot more relaxed and I no longer over think things so that things can come more naturally now.

Your three solo albums are all named with a single word that begin with an «A», is there a meaning behind this?

It was during the making of the first album that I wanted to make it as a trilogy and so I came up with this idea. By using album titles that start with an “A”, would tie them together. So it was just a way of connecting the three albums.

So will the next album begin with a “B”?

Not necessarily. That is a Morbid Angel thing to do. “Alters of Madness”, “Blessed Are The Sick”, “Covenant”… etc… They are following the alphabet (laughs).

Many songs on After feature Jorgen Munkeby on the Saxophone. It’s a very unusual instrument in the metal genre. How did the idea of using a saxophone come up? Were you convinced from the start that it would fit with your music?

It came from an idea that I have had for many years. There is no practical reason, other than I really like the sound of a saxophone. I also felt that the saxophone’s sound had a solitary feel to it. I’ve always wanted to work with that sound and I felt that this would be the perfect time because it fits so well with the concept of this album. The previous albums had guest stars such as Asgeir Mickelson on the first album and Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth on the second album, so I wanted to continue this tradition in the trilogy. However, given the concept of After, I didn’t want to have any vocals so I thought it would be a good idea to introduce a saxophone. I was hoping that the sound would enhance this solitary and desolate feeling, which I believe the album is very much about. Although I have already implemented samples of other string and brass instruments before, it was a bit of a risk. The saxophone has such a distinctive texture to its sound that the main risk was how it would blend in. In the end, I felt that Jorgen did a fantastic job, both with the notes I wrote but also with his improvisations. I never wanted to use a saxophone simply for the shock effect. There was no way that the saxophone would only be part of one crazy solo in one of the songs. I wanted the instrument to blend in with the rest of the music and I was incredibly pleased with the result.

Will this experience encourage you to use more unusual instruments for your future albums?

It’s not about using unusual instruments. When I was involved in the Hardingrock project, it involved building all of our music around the Harding fiddle. This is a Norwegian national instrument, like a violin with eight strings and it has quite a special sound. The saxophone was used not because it is provocative and unusual but because it would add a layer to the music.

The two extremities of the song « On The Shore » and the middle part of « The Undercurrent » share the same saxophone melody. What is the link between these two songs? Actually, both songs are 10 minutes long and are the longest on the album.

They bind the album together, but the reason that they ended up in those places is purely coincidental. The rhythm section underneath is different despite the fact that the melody line is the same in these songs. Both songs refer to the movements of the sea and the intention is for the listener to hear them. The last words of the album are “These rocky shores are crafted by the pulse of the sea”. The songs are a link to this and to the idea of movement in the waves.

We can easily describe After as a mixture of metal and jazz. What is your level of affinity with Jazz music?

As little as my affinity with prog music. Most people ask me what are my progs influences and even though I know bands like Rush, King Crimson and even Dream Theater, but I would never consider myself part of the progressive scene. It was never my intention to make music more jazzy or proggy. It’s simply the result of what I listen to and trying to make arrangements to make the music more interesting. The prog scene came from rock musicians who wanted to create a more theoretical approach to their music and it is kind of the same for me. I am not trying to be more technical or intricate for the sake of it (laughs). Sometimes things get a bit old. I’ve been playing guitar for twenty years, so I can’t control the groove that my fingers create. When I am writing music, I feel like I am repeating myself, simply because I am watching at my fingers. This is the first album on which I play an eight string guitar and so it makes it more challenging for me. You can’t play the same power cords or metal notes in that register. You need to step back and listen to the music that is being created instead of thinking about it.

The music you’re writing now is softer, more subtle and progressive than what you did in the past with Emperor, does this mean that, as you grew older, you’ve lost your anger?

No not at all. I think that my anger has taken a more refined form. On a more practical level, I hope that everyone aged 34 has a wider perspective on life than when we were sixteen. With this album, I feel that I have come full circle. The inspiration came from more fundamental forces. After I wrote the song “On The Shores”, I realised that the images and feelings in my mind were very similar to those I used when I wrote “With Strength I Burn” from Emperor’s second album (Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk). I think that I am still feeding on the same anger and that my two previous albums were the most aggressive lyrically so far.

How can you explain that so many artists that played black metal in the early and mid 90s have evolved into a more avant-gardist form of music (Mayhem, Ulver, Arcturus…)?

Black metal was so radical at the start and the musicians had a very unconventional approach to music. Also, most of the bands in the mid-90s were just teenagers. I was only 16 when I started playing with Emperor, so I was only interesting in radical forms of music. If you are someone who likes to explore the outer edges of music, then I believe that it is a natural evolution to then because interested in progressive music. Nowadays, people tend to see black metal as a more traditional type of metal because everyone knows what it is about and it is often defined by what it should or should not be. This goes completely against what I always believed black metal to be. For me, black metal always represented the idea of musical freedom. Now that there are so many rules, it is no longer black metal.

You did your first show as a solo artist in 2009, how was your new repertoire welcomed?

It went beyond all expectations and I think it was received very well. It was really cool to do the Emperor reunion shows in 2006 and 2007, but that was a lot easier because the crowd was familiar with Emperor and they got to hear the songs they wanted to hear. When I did my first solo show, it was supporting Opeth, and the Emperor crowd is not the same as the Opeth crowd. So it was strange being a supporting act at a concert full of people who would not usually listen to my music. I felt a lot more energised by this challenge.

« Nowadays, people tend to see black metal as a more traditional type of metal because everyone knows what it is about and it is often defined by what it should or should not be. This goes completely against what I always believed black metal to be. For me, black metal always represented the idea of musical freedom. Now that there are so many rules, it is no longer black metal. »
Have you encountered any difficulties with Emperor fans not accepting the music you make now?

No. But I understand that a lot of people might prefer Empereor to the music that I am doing now. I think that this is normal because people always tend to prefer what was done before. For example, if I listen to metal these days, I tend to go back to Iron Maiden and Judas Priest that I grew up with, but I don’t care about what these artists did after that. It’s a bit like the debate between true black metal versus non true black metal. In order to respect my fans, all that I can do is to continue making the best possible music that I can. If I wanted to please an audience by doing music that they want to hear, it would be the same principle as pop industry by trying to please a high consummation audience (laughs).

Can we expect some kind of tour in support of After in 2010?

Not a full tour but I will be playing quite a few festivals in Europe this summer.

At the beginning of Emperor’s career you guys chose to be named by pseudonyms. I guess Samoth was Tomas inverted… but what about your name, Ihsahn? Where does it come from? What is its meaning?

I think that there are only three people on Earth who know that and I would like to keep it that way. It’s nothing too serious; it’s just that I have kept it as a secret for so many years (laughs).

And who knows the mysterious secret ?

My wife is one of them (laughs).

At the beginning of the black metal scene, even though you weren’t the most extreme of the musicians, how would you have reacted if somebody told you you were gonna do an album with a saxophonist at one point in your career?

I don’t think this would have surprised me very much. The excitement of music has always been very important for me and I have never tried to find a general formula. It isn’t my intention to be arrogant in any way, but with Emperor we started very early with a symphonic sound in the black metal scene. By the time we finished In The Nightside Eclipse, I was already bored of the typical A-choirs and strings. I find that it is a necessity to explore stuff and make the music more challenging.

In a 2006 interview you mentioned that you talked with Rob Halford about doing an album together. Is this something you still have in mind? Has this project progressed?

It occurs to me from time to time. Since we last spoke about it, Rob is back with Judas Priest and so far it has boiled away with time. But if even the opportunity were to arise, I would jump on this chance because I think it would be really cool. Rob is a fantastic guy and also a God of Metal, so who wouldn’t?

Lars K. Norberg and Asgeir Mickelson both from the technical metal band Spiral Architect played on After. Do you have by any chance some information about a possible return of Spiral Architect? They are pretty silent about their band…

There are always rumours that they might be working on something at the moment, but I am sorry, I don’t have any information from the inside. If this is the case, they are probably working on something that requires a lot of time and effort, since their complexities of their kind of music.

Have you ever made an interview in which the name Emperor was not mentioned?

(laughs) I probably have, but they are very few.

Does this bother you ?

Honestly, in the past it has but now I have come to terms with it. It is not something I can escape from. Emperor lives on its own now and it seems that I will be living in the shadow of my own creation in a musical sense. It’s difficult to compete with the phenomenon that Emperor created, regardless of the fact that I played in it. It has become a trademark that people relate too. I don’t really care. What I care about is doing what I can possibly do best now. Although it can be irritating to constantly hear about what you did as a teenager, on the other hand, I’ve had a powerful career for the past twenty years now. Who would have thought that, coming from a black metal band? (laughs).

Interview conducted by phone on january, 2010.

Site de IHSAHN : www.myspace.com/ihsahnmusic[/urlb]

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