Black Debbath : stone cold crazy rock from Norway

Black Debbath has been one of your servant’s favorite bands ever since he listened to Welcome To Norway, a weird musical tourist guide to Norway.

This group of jolly fellows associates inspired, quality stoner, a healthy dose of humor and unusual, often political subjects. Never heard of them? No wonder: the official information regarding the band is almost entirely in Norwegian. So are most of their lyrics and the cities the band plays in. After fourteen years, and despite a remarkable discography and a nice reputation in their own country, Black Debbath deserve all our attention for their undeniable talent and extraordinary personality.

To celebrate the release of their new album, Nei, Nå Får Det Faen Meg Være Rock! Akademisk Stoner-Rock (bless you!), we simply had to try and interrogate of these oddballs. Getting your hands on some of their albums in France can be difficult (it turned out to be a nightmare for your servant), but contacting the band was a piece of cake. The highly pleasant and eccentric Egil Hegerberg (bassist, guitarist, vocalist and co-founder of the band with his mates from Duplex Records, and member of a bunch of other surprising, crazy combos) picked up his phone to answer our questions.

To tell the truth, we were not disappointed, and we’re ready to bet that this introduction to the world of Black Debbath will titillate your curiosity.

« I guess you could take a course in Norwegian, learn the language and then appreciate what the band is really all about! If you can’t understand the lyrics, you only get half the experience. »

Radio Metal: The title of your latest album can be translated as “Now leave me alone, this is rock! Academic stoner rock”. What does that refer to?

Egil Hegerberg (bass): I’d rather translate it into: “Now is the time for rock”. We’ve had a time with too many other kinds of music. We need to go back to basics, to good old 70’s rock’n’roll with a political background and political lyrics.

The first single from this album is about a forest where trees are cut down to turn it into a statue park. Why do you feel so concerned about this subject?

It’s a local thing: an extremely rich person has taken it upon himself to take a nice public wood in the city of Oslo and turn it into a park to celebrate himself with a lot of really vulgar sculptures of naked women. It’s an old wood, full of archeological sites, and it’s been preserved so the people of Oslo can have a place to relax and go for walks. We don’t like the way this person has just seized control of it and will do what he wants to do with it.

Since all the songs are in Norwegian, and I have no idea what they’re about, can you give us a quick overview of the rest of the album?

Black Debbath has been in existence for like 13 years, I think. This is our sixth album. On all our albums, we’ve always tried to combine 70’s metal music with political comments and a little bit of humor. The first song on this album is called “Slaves to humor”. It tries to say that we’ve been slaves to humor before, but now we’re really back to playing rock’n’roll and we mean what we say this time around. That’s the point of the whole album: it says farewell to the old Black Debbath, and hello to the new one. There’s more actual political meaning. Then we’ve got our first single, which is called… I don’t remember the name of our first single, that’s hard! Then we’ve got a song called “Clean out in space”: astronauts and cosmonauts leave all their junk in orbit, so we kindly ask them to take a bag out there and bring back the leftovers. If they have a picnic, for example, they should bring the leftovers back. We can’t just have it circling around Earth, you know! That’s no good! So that’s “Rydd rommet”, “clean space”. What else do we have? We have a song called “Bytt kjøkkenklut oftere!”, that tells people to change their dish towel. That thing has to be washed more often than people think, up to four times a week, actually. There are a lot of important things to say!

On your third album, there’s a song called “What the previous song was about”. Was this because too many people were asking you what your songs were about – because they couldn’t understand a word?

Our second album was in English. It was tourist guide to Norway, called Welcome To Norway. On the third album, we went back to Norwegian. We felt we owed it to the audience abroad to explain some of what we were doing, so the first song was translated into the second. For this album, we forgot about our foreign audience, and I’m really sorry about that. But I guess you could take a course in Norwegian, learn the language and then appreciate what the band is really all about! If you can’t understand the lyrics, you only get half the experience, I guess.

Black Debbath’s albums sometimes have an overall theme, like “Welcome To Norway”, which was, as you just said, a tourist guide. Your previous album was like a celebration of women. Is there a guideline between the songs on this new album?

There are two things underlying this album, I guess. There are the political songs, and then there are more informational songs, like the one about the kitchen cloth. We’ve also got a song about FAFO, a scientific organization. The political songs are the one about the park and “Gjør norsk utenrikstjeneste nok for eventyrere og kriminelle nordmenn i utlandet”, which roughly translates as: “Do the Norwegian foreign services do enough for Norwegian adventurers and criminals abroad?”

« We think it’s extremely funny to sing about subjects that don’t fit the music at all. […] Some [people] say our music is too good to be wasted on such silly lyrics. But we like what we do, so we don’t give a damn. »

Is it an explicit choice on your part to talk about subjects most metal bands don’t usually talk about?

Yes, I guess so. We think it’s extremely funny to sing about subjects that don’t fit the music at all. Our first song was called “Problemer Innad I Høyre”, which means “internal problems in the conservative party”. That really hit something with the Norwegian audience, they really liked that kind of theme for an old school metal song. Since then, we haven’t really looked back. We like to combine those two things. Some people don’t get it, they think it doesn’t fit the music. Some say our music is too good to be wasted on such silly lyrics. But we like what we do, so we don’t give a damn.

The booklet is quite elaborate. What’s the idea behind this booklet and the band photos? We can actually see a naked woman in there. Is there a link with your previous album?

The artwork of this album is a bit in an academic style. We’ve got lots of cut-outs from books, and of course we’re sacrificing a beautiful naked woman, because that’s what rockers do! We do that in an academic context, with a lot of books. That’s what we tried to accomplish here: a combination of good old rock’n’roll clichés and an academic approach.

Do you actually like rock clichés?

Rock clichés containing naked women, yes! You can’t go wrong with a naked woman on a table!

The music on the previous album broadened Black Debbath’s stoner sound. There was some more atmospheric stuff on it – even trumpet on one song. Is this something you wanted to keep on this new album: more open stoner rock?

Yes, I guess so. We always try to go as far as possible in that direction. The last album had a funkier tune, with trumpets and saxophones. I think this album is a bit purer regarding the rock’n’roll aesthetics, but it’s also very diverse. There are a lot of things going on, especially in the drums department, with lots of stuff going on all the time. I think this new album is absolutely our best so far, both in terms of songwriting and production. So we’ll go forward in the same direction. We’ve actually already started working on our next album, so it shouldn’t be long. My guess is sometimes next year. We don’t work very fast, but we have really good wind in our sails. We hope to be back with a new album next year, or maybe in 2015.

What will it sound like?

I don’t know yet. We’ve just started working on songs, we had leftovers from this album. The last album was five or six years ago, but I can tell it won’t take that long for us to come up with a new one. That’s for sure.

Your songs are almost exclusively in Norwegian. So are the band’s webpage, and any information we can find on the band. Plus, your albums are not easy to find outside of Norway. It looks like you don’t want to get your music out of Norway! Why is that?

We sing in Norwegian because that’s the language we know. We could sing in English, but we’re not that good with the language. Actually, we haven’t given that too much thought! We’ve been happy playing in Norway, and we haven’t really thought that people outside of Norway would care much for what we’re doing. Maybe now we’ll try to make a website in foreign languages – French or English, perhaps. Esperanto or Mandarin could work, too! It would get more people to follow our music! But we’re not very smart, or very ambitious, and we are a bit lazy. We like to be at home. We like to go out to play, but not for very long periods of time! (laughs) Europe is far away from Norway, you know, so we can’t go there all the time. We haven’t got the time for that! But now we’re all grown up, we’re in our forties, so maybe we’ll have more time to play outside of Norway. I’m not sure.

« You can’t go wrong with a naked woman on a table! »

It looks like you’re really not the typical rock or metal band, that loves to travel six months a year and visit different countries!

We’re not a typical band, I guess. When we started this band, most of us had small kids. It wasn’t easy to travel for extended periods of time. But now our kids are growing up, so perhaps we can do it! But we’re also getting too old to party hard!

You seem very attached to the Norwegian culture, and even released that “tourist guide” we’ve already talked about, Welcome To Norway. Is putting this culture forward important for you?

We make our music for a Norwegian audience, so I guess that’s the real reason. We don’t really consider the outside world as our primary audience. So that’s our main reason. But if we can be ambassadors for the Norwegian culture, it’s fine by us. Maybe we should try to expand our interests for the next album, and write something meaningful about the world outside. That’s a good idea.

Like any other country, Norway must have changed since the release of Welcome To Norway, over ten years ago. Have you thought about updating the guide, or making a second edition?

No, we haven’t thought about that. It’s a good idea! (laughs) Travel guides get updated from time to time. Yeah, we’ll definitely think about that! Maybe we’ll make a new version, or an extended version. It’s only been released on CD, so we might want to make a vinyl version of it. Maybe we’ll think about making a second edition at the same time. We’ll definitely talk about that, it’s a good idea! Even a French edition would be something to consider, but we don’t speak French, so it would be hard work to do that! But we could try!

Have you thought about making two versions of your albums – one in the original Norwegian, and one with English lyrics? Swedish band Sabaton did this last year.

We have actually never thought about that, either. A lot of Norwegian and Swedish have tried that over the years, bands that were huge in Scandinavia in their native language and tried to reach out to other countries. It has very rarely succeeded. It’s kind of a hard thing to do, to translate a song and get it to work with the same meaning in another language. So much of a song lies in the words, in how they sound. Finding a combination of words that sounds the same in another language and roughly means the same thing is kind of hard. But of course, if more people outside of Norway are interested in Black Debbath, maybe we should try to make more songs in English. Or we’ll just try to explain what the songs are about. I know some Norwegian bands have managed that. I don’t know if you’ve heard about Kvelertak. They travel around the continent, singing in Norwegian, so it’s not necessarily a problem.

You play stoner rock. Nowadays, this genre is greatly linked to the hot, desert regions of the United States, while you come from the cold plains of Norway. Do you think it’s a misconception to see stoner rock as a southern kind of music?

(long hesitation) I don’t know. I think there are probably people who like stoner rock all over the world. I wouldn’t link it to something geographical. You’ll find people who like every kinds of music everywhere, I guess.

In the past, you’ve called your music “heavy politically incorrect humor rock”. Does the fact that you sometimes mix politics and humor mean that you see politics as a circus and politicians as clowns?

Well… (laughs, then long hesitation) If that’s the case, I guess it means we’re in the same circus. We’re like the trained horses, or something. Politicians do what they have to do, and sometimes they are sitting ducks waiting to be made fun of. As for us, we do what we do because it’s an easy way for us to comment on things. I guess one of the things we try to do is to create another kind of language for rock. I don’t see why rock couldn’t be used to tell all kinds of stories, and sing all kinds of songs.

(About Hurra Torpedo) « Unfortunately, after playing kitchen appliances for so long, Kristopher injured his arm. That’s what happens when you open a fridge for 20 years. »

With humorous bands, the humor tends to overshadow the music. This is not the case for Black Debbath, where the music is really inspired. Is it important to maintain that balance between humor and well-thought rock music?

The bands I consider as comedy acts often use cover songs, while me make original music. And we try to make it as good as humanly possible. Then we add a bit of humor. We try to maintain a sort of balance. For us, the music is the most important bit, but for our audience, it’s the other way around. Although I guess you can’t appreciate Black Debbath without enjoying the music. For us, the music is always more important. For the Norwegian audience, it might be the other way around, but for you international listeners, of course the music comes first, because you can’t understand the humor in Norwegian.

Black Debbath was created by four of the core members of Duplex Records. What is the story behind Duplex Records?

It’s something we started in the mid-80s. When I went to school, I met a few like-minded people, and we started a band together. We started Duplex Records to record tapes with that band. Then it slowly developed into something bigger. We got bigger and bigger, and it multiplied into a lot of bands and solo projects. Me and two other guys started Hurra Torpedo, we play on kitchen appliances. After a while, we started Black Debbath and a lot of other bands under the same umbrella. Duplex Records has nearly always tried to combine humor and music in different forms. To various extents, we have been successful in Norway. The band Hurra Torpedo, with myself and Aslag from Black Debbath, has had the bigger success internationally. We had two big American tours, and I guess we’ve played a couple of towns in France. So that’s the biggest success story till now, but I have a feeling Black Debbath is going to overshadow that, with all the reactions we’re getting from all over the world.

How the hell did you come up with the idea of kitchen appliances for Hurra Torpedo?

That was back in the early 90s, when we were facing crisis in most of the world. Kristopher [Schau], who now plays drums and percussions in the band, lived in a run-down part of Oslo. It was kind of a slum. People had moved out, there were buildings waiting to be torn down. There were appliances lying all over the place, because there wasn’t any recycling stuff going on back then. The band was actually a three-piece with drums, bass and guitar at the beginning, but after a gig, the drummer was left behind at the venue and they never spoke to him again. When they got a new gig, they needed a drummer, but they didn’t have drums. They looked out into the backyard and saw all the appliances lying there. They thought they could start making rhythm out of those. That’s when they recruited me. Kristopher, who was playing bass in the beginning, switched to kitchen appliances, and I started to play bass. That was back in 1993. We found out pretty quickly that kitchen appliances sound way better than any drums. It was very quickly a huge success story in Norway. With Internet and YouTube, the videos spread all over the world, so we started playing in other parts of the world as well. Unfortunately, after playing kitchen appliances for so long, Kristopher injured his arm. That’s what happens when you open a fridge for 20 years. His bones ruptured and his arm was kind of destroyed. He’s lost the use of his arm, so we can’t do it anymore.

You also play in a one-man band called Bare Egil Band. What is the concept of this band?

It’s a solo singer/songwriter concept. “Bare Egil Band” means “only Egil band”: a band consisting of only me! I also have another version of that band, Ikke Bare Bare Egil Band Band, which means “not only only Egil band band”. For that one, I have a group of backing musicians with me. We do most of the songs in a band version, and we also do cover songs. Actually, I have extremely talented musicians with me, so when we do shows, the promoter gets to choose any song he wants. Then they all rehearse it during the soundcheck and play it during the gig, whatever it is. If you look for Bare Egil Band on YouTube, you’ll find cover versions of songs like “Umbrella”, by Rihanna. That’s the result of such an occasion.

What can you tell us about your other other band, Thulsa Doom?

I played in that from 1999 to 2005. It was founded by El Doom, who also plays drums in Black Debbath. He played the guitar in Thulsa Doom and wrote part of the songs. He also has his own band now, called El Doom & The Born Electric. They released their debut album last year. Thulsa Doom was in the same musical style as Black Debbath, with perhaps a bit more swing to it. It was in English, with quite humorous lyrics sometimes, but it was not a comedy band specifically. Musically, that’s the band I’m most proud I have been a part of. The second album, …And Then Take You To A Place Where Jars Are Kept, is one of my top ten albums.

« Perhaps it was a stupid thing to call our band, but we have to stick with it now, after so many years! »

Do people sometimes confuse Black Debbath and Black Sabbath? I’m asking because, earlier this year, we announced the release of your new album, and one reader thought we were talking about the new Black Sabbath album.

Yeah, people make that mistake sometimes. But sometimes they even make the mistake the other way around, and that’s even funnier! For instance, they say Black Debbath had this big show in Birmingham. Then we feel really proud! (laughs) Of course the names are very similar. Perhaps it was a stupid thing to call our band, but we have to stick with it now, after so many years!

Wouldn’t it be cool to do a show with Black Sabbath?

It could be cool. But last year, we opened for Ozzy in Norway. That was cool enough, I guess!

As a Black Sabbath fan, what do you think of the band’s reunion?

I don’t have high hopes. The choice of drummer doesn’t seem too promising. Of course I’ll check it out, but my guess is that their best work is way behind them. It’s been a long time since I heard something interesting come out of Ozzy’s mouth. I’ll check it out, but they’ll have to work hard to convince me it’s worthwhile. I’m not too optimistic. I saw them fifteen years ago at a festival in Denmark, and that was really great. They might have something in them still, but I would like to see Bill Ward on drums again.

That’s it for us, thank you. You know, I’d like to see you live, because I’m a big fan of yours!

You should come to Norway, then! (laughs) At the moment we’re very busy touring in Norway. We’re doing a lot of festivals here this summer. Our plans don’t go too far, but I think we will eventually leave Norway a bit more and try to play other places. I’m not sure how many people in France know about us. The venues won’t be packed, I guess. Do you have a feeling a lot of people know about us?

Not that many, no. But we’ll change that!

You have to work really hard, and then we’ll come, absolutely!

You have to do more promotion!

We’re trying to make the album known outside of Norway. We haven’t done a lot of work in that direction in the last 12 years or so. We should definitely work on our promotion outside of Norway, I agree!

Interview conducted by phone on January 31st 2013
Transcription: Saff’

Black Debbath’s official website (Duplex Records): www.duplexrecords.no

Album Nå får det faen meg være rock! Akademisk stoner-rock, out since January 11th 2013 via Duplex Records

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