Sahg’s artistic emancipation

Sahg is a tightrope walker. As of today it is evolving at a central point where a spiritual world – just like that of his singer Olav Iversen – meets another world, rather down to earth, where assiduity and hard work pays off. Delusions Of Grandeur, the Norwegian’s new and forth album, is a symbol. Animated by a rich philosophical perception, this opus is also the completion of a personal quest which led Sahg to a synthesis of what it is. Olav Iversen, the band leader, therefore explains that this is just the result of a natural evolution. But hard work is also to be accounted for this new effort. An album which was recorded live in three days only and therefore must have required a consequential upstream preparation.

In the following interview, Olav Iversen tells us about the conception of this opus, its form and substance which both gravitate around a “delusion of grandeurs” concept. He also explains his taste for some major science fiction movie masterpieces and his perception of spirituality and freedom of religion.

« We just weren’t ready to go this far on the first three albums. »

Radio Metal: On the promotional biography for the record, it says: “Present yourself as an homage to those timeless sounds like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and you’ll be dismissed as derivative. Step too far out of the shadow, and you just wouldn’t rock.” Have you tried, during your whole career, to find the perfect balance between paying tribute to those classic sounds and finding your own?

Olav Iversen (singer): Yeah, I guess you can say that, but it’s a matter of development as well because for our first albums, our focus was to stay true to our influences, and to make music that is quite familiar in that regard. But with this new album, we moved further and more in the direction of trying to create our own unique stuff, still based on the same thing but more distantly influenced by these influences that you mentioned. It’s been a natural evolution of the band I guess, where we went from being quite true to our influences to wanting to create a more unique sound for ourselves.

Do you think you’ve managed to find this perfect balance?

I think we are definitely getting there with this album, because we feel like we’ve really broken some kind of a code that we haven’t used on the three first albums. We’ve found a new combination of elements and we’ve put them in our sound, which makes a pretty unique expression I think. At least to Sahg, to us it’s quite new and refreshing. We’re really happy about it, and we’re really excited about the way the things are going now. Again, it’s just the result of a natural development of the band. I guess we just weren’t ready to go this far on the first three albums, and now that’s the time we’re ready for it.

You also declared: “Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin have created some of the darkest atmospheres ever expressed by musicians.” Do you think that no one, even extreme metal bands, achieved to create darker atmospheres? How comes? What would be your definition of dark music?

If you listen to “No Quarter” by Led Zeppelin: to this day, I still haven’t heard any other song that gives me the creeps as much as that song does. If you listen to some Black Sabbath songs as well: there’s some very dark atmospheres on there. And the thing with this is that it’s always more efficient when you do something for the first time. I guess it makes more of an impact: when somebody does something for the first time, it really shocks people, it really makes an impression. Then when somebody else tries to do the same after them, it’s been done before, so I guess that’s the reason why I think Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin have made the darkest atmospheres that have ever been made in music.

« ‘No Quarter’ by Led Zeppelin: to this day, I still haven’t heard any other song that gives me the creeps as much as that song does. »

The recording session only took three days. Did you want to keep it fresh and spontaneous?

Yes, absolutely. Recording live is a matter of keeping the momentum, keeping the energy and just keeping going. If you take long breaks with many days in between without doing anything, it’s easy to lose the momentum, so we just wanted to keep going, and to get as much done as quickly as possible. And we succeeded on that. When you work that way, you kind of get into the flow and the band plays better everyday and recording live is kind of a natural way to do it I guess.

Can you tell us more about this experience of recording live, has it been difficult, technically, to play the songs all together in one shot?

The challenge is in the preparation, really, because you have to prepare even better than usual. When you’re recording live, you have to rehearse songs really really hard because you can’t make any mistake, and the band has to flow and groove together naturally. There’s little room for fixing things after the recording’s done, so it’s a matter of preparing as good as you can. That was the challenge, really. We just needed to spend more time in the rehearsal room before we went into the studio. The main job was rehearsing and pre-producing the songs.

Are some songs of the album first takes?

Yeah! Some are first takes, definitely. Actually, the first song we’ve recorded, “Walls Of Delusion”, is a first take: that was the first one we recorded and the one you hear on the album is actually the first take. We were really excited about that! But after, we needed a few more takes for the other songs. We got back down to Earth pretty quickly I guess. But there are some first takes on there, absolutely, which is always fun, it’s always good for the confidence to nail something on the first take.

« There are some first takes on there […] it’s always good for the confidence to nail something on the first take. »

This is the first time a Sahg album isn’t entitled with a number. Is it because of the concept of the album or did you want to show this is some kind of a new beginning?

It’s both. It’s more natural to have this kind of a title when you actually based the whole album on one concept. Then it comes more naturally in comparison to the previous albums where each song had different subjects and themes. It’s always harder to find a title that kind of sums up the whole album in the same way. So that’s one of the reasons, and the other reason is simply that we wanted to mark this change that we feel that we have made. It’s kind of the start of a new era for us and we also wanted to signal that through the album title.

The album is about “a person, whose delusions of grandeur escalate to the level where they consume him completely.” How did you come up with this theme?

It’s kind of inspired by a lot of things. It’s inspired by a lot of movies and books we’ve read over the years, but also by daily life and by what you see on the news. Delusion of grandeur comes to expression very often through war, and people like dictators trying to manipulate, control, and overpower people, and take over what’s not theirs, basically. If you look at history, you have the big dictators like Hitler, Stalin and all those hardball, historic people who clearly had problems with their delusion of grandeur. Their delusion of grandeur was the reason they did what they did, because they thought of themselves like something bigger than they really were. Look at the way Hitler declined: it was clear that he had some delusion of grandeur that was totally out of proportions, and that, in the end, became his downfall. But also in daily life everywhere around you, you see people trying to control other people, trying to manipulate other people to their advantage… So it’s kind of a theme that affects us all, and that everyone should be kind of reminded of, aware of. That’s the reason why we based the album on this concept.

On the artwork, we can see an astronaut. The space theme is also pictured in the video for “Slip Off The Edge Of The Universe”. Is it just a metaphor, or is it actually a criticism of the space conquest? Do you think that it’s delusional and vain?

It’s not a direct criticism of the space programs, it’s more a metaphor, like you say. But you can think about trying to explore and invade space if you like. You can look upon that as a delusion of grandeur as well. Before it happened, I guess a lot of people were thinking about it as delusions of grandeur: “No, it’s never gonna happen, they will never land on the Moon” and all that, but it happened. That space atmosphere is more a metaphor of the universe that this person we tell the story about ends up in because he kind of drifts off reality, and isolates himself into his own mental universe where he can become the most powerful creature.

« I think every person should have the right – and needs the right – to interpret the spiritual world in their own way. »

This album is inspired by imagery from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Are those movies your favorite and most inspiring movies of all time?

Well, they’re definitely among my favorite movies, not least because of the visual expression. It’s so powerful, so graphic. You don’t even necessarily have to pay attention to the story in the movies which are also good but it’s like they are isolated, you can just look at them as pieces of art, just visually. They’re just beautiful movies to watch, but the story in those movies is also relevant to the concept that we have made, so these two movies have definitely been important influences to this album.

You said in an interview this year that you’re not a religious person but that you find important to be fulfilled spiritually. What do you believe in, then?

Being religious is kind of a matter of definition I guess. I believe in my own religion. I believe in the concept that each person should believe in whatever they want to believe in, and I don’t think it’s possible to make a comment, to make many people believe in God in the same way. I think every person should have the right – and needs the right – to interpret the spiritual world in their own way. That’s what I believe in. I believe in freedom of spirituality, if you like. I believe there is something out there, I believe there’s forces or powers that control my life and other people’s life as well, but whether it’s the same power for every person? I’m not so sure. It’s the big mystery of life I guess!

Interview conducted by phone on October, 30th 2013 by Metal’O Phil.
Transcription: Chloé.
Introduction: Alastor.

Sahg’s official website: www.sahg.no

Album Delusions Of Grandeur, out since October, 25th 2013 via Indie Recordings.

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