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Interviews   

SHEEPS ARE NEVER FULL OF THEMSELVES FOR TOO LONG. MAYBE BECAUSE THEY DON’T LIVE LONG


Ivar Bjornson (Enslaved) : « You know, it’s impossible to catch a sheep that doesn’t want to be caught when it’s free in the moutains.»

Do we really need to say more to make you want to read this interview?

(Note : about Motörhead) « They are the reference, the travelers of the metal world. They show that the live thing is what really drives a band. And they represent continuation: they were there when we were kids, and they’re still there now.« 

Radio Metal : On this new album, Enslaved is very progressive, as usual. But there’s also a real desire to catch the listener’s attention, thanks to some of the riffs and the rhythm section. “Raidho” or “The Beacon” are nearly straightforward songs. The track-by-track you put on your MySpace shows a certain enthusiasm from your side, especially on these more accessible and simple aspects. Are you missing your beginnings?

Ivar Bjørnson (guitar) : I’m not missing it, but I would say we’re inspired by it. We’ve been in activity for such a long time, we’re starting to gain a sort of distance and to be inspired by our own work. It’s pretty fantastic, because the influence is very close, since it’s our own; but at the same time, it’s also distant enough for us to be objective. I would say it’s a natural, cyclic thing after twenty years. We can go back and focus a little bit, and not simply try and move forward.

The progressive black metal scene has a very serious, intelligent image, which can put some people off. Did you want to get rid of this image through this catchy side?

As persons, we don’t have a problem with it. We have some distance with it, and there’s a little bit of humor in the band. But that’s not the case with the music. That’s something serious and important for us. We try to keep the jokes backstage, and not make them on the stage! At the same time, I would say that despite the progressive aspect, the rock’n’roll side has always been really important as well, from the demos and early albums on. Our music is a mixture of straightforwardness and more experimental, strange things. All through Enslaved’s career, we’ve been searching for that balance point. It’s moving all the time, because we developed as musicians, we were influenced by other music, we changed as persons… On one album, the balance point can lean more towards the extreme, and on the next, it can be progressive. The whole thing is dynamic, it’s changing. And right now, the reason we’re so happy with the album is that we’ve come even closer to that balancing point, I think. It’s the same thing as in a live situation: we have some very atmospheric elements, and at the same time, there’s also a very heavy, rock’n’roll kind of attitude to the whole thing. We want to connect with the audience, put a lot of energy into it. It’s also the same thing with the music we listen to: one day we listen to King Crimson or Led Zeppelin, and the next day it’s Bathory or Motörhead. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, I think.

On the album’s second and last songs, there’s a drum rhythm that’s really close to Motörhead. On Enslaved’s MySpace, you declared that you could feel close to them because they’re travelling a lot. Was this musical nod to this band deliberate?

On a subconscious level, maybe! We didn’t sit down and write it to be a tribute to Motörhead. But when we heard it, we heard the same thing you just said: “OK, this sounds a lot like Motörhead”. But then, I think it sounds good. They are the reference, the travelers of the metal world. They show that the live thing is what really drives a band. And they represent continuation: they were there when we were kids, and they’re still there now. So when it happened, we thought it was the proper thing to do.

Apparently, you come from a family who’s used to travelling. In a way, did you become a musician to be able to travel like your family did?

Maybe! When I was really young, I was thinking about what I wanted to do, and one of the things that really appealed to me about being in a band was the possibility of seeing new places and to take my work and passion out in the world. When it was still legal, my family did a lot of whale-hunting. When it became illegal, they continued to sail on trade ships and stuff. We have moved a lot and still like to go to different places. It’s kind of in the blood. I love to come home after a tour, but we’re going to start touring in a few weeks now, and I’m really looking forward to that: wake up in new towns, and all that. It’s in the genes!

« When I was really young, I was thinking about what I wanted to do, and one of the things that really appealed to me about being in a band was the possibility of seeing new places […] When it was still legal, my family did a lot of whale-hunting. When it became illegal, they continued to sail on trade ships and stuff. We have moved a lot and still like to go to different places. It’s kind of in the blood. « 

Why did you record the album in three different studios? Was it premeditated, or did you have a particular artistic aim in doing so?

The main thing was for the instruments to sound as close to the live experience as possible to convey the energy we needed. With the previous albums, I think the final result lacked energy. So we wanted to use our own studios, especially Earshot. But the problem was that we couldn’t do the drums there, because we had a really big drum set. So we needed to go to a studio with a bigger recording room. We did the drums in one studio, and all the guitars, bass and vocals in another one. Sounds and effects and stuff like that, that’s the kind of things I do in my studio. It was the optimal environment for each part. We’ve also used different studios before, but if don’t have a producer, it’s easy to lose focus. This time, we really tried to remember the focus every time we changed the studio.

The “Axioma” interlude has a central position on the album; it’s is also part of the album title. It seems this track is linked to the album concept. What is the story behind this song?

It’s hard to describe where it comes from in the musical sense. It’s probably the most abstract song, both in terms of lyrics and music. It’s a natural separation between the more straightforward song that precedes it and the more proggy, melodic song that comes after. It’s almost ritualistic, in a sense. That’s all I can manage to put into words! It’s very hard to describe. I don’t know where it actually came from, but when it came, it really needed to be part of the album.

Why give this song a name that was part of the album’s title?

It was just natural. When the song came, it was the right title for it. An axiom is a singular truth – a universal, scientific sort of truth. It’s just something about the whole concept of the synthesizer: this song doesn’t use modern keyboards or samples, but old synthesizers from the 70s. To me, it symbolizes a sort of man-meets-the-universe kind of thing. It’s really crude in a sense, it’s not perfect, it’s shaking and a little bit out of tune. But for me, the music from the 70s is really spiritual in a sense. At this time people were trying to reproduce the most elemental sounds; they actually reproduced music using electrical stuff. That’s the basic principle of the synthesizer: it’s just amplifying the sounds of electricity and turning it into something dreamy and cosmic, in a sense. That’s the associations I get from that kind of music. Therefore this song got a very central position.

Is that the meaning of the artwork: man meeting the universe?

If you take the whole title, you have “Axioma” on one side, which kind of represents the ethics of nature, with the natural laws, and so on. The other part, “Ethica Odini”, is the book of Odin’s law, from the Norse mythology, in the Latin translation. It’s not exactly the opposite, but some people believe it to be the man-made, or god-made truth. That’s what the title means: it’s the contrast between the axiom, the ethics of universe itself, and the ethics of man, or god, as some people like to believe it. It’s exploring what ethics are, in a sense. It’s the meeting point between order and chaos, the compromise between desire and rationality, between freedom and discipline, all these things that complement each other. Some of that is in the cover artwork. Just like I’m talking to you now, we had a discussion with the painter. We talked about the lyrics, the title, all these associations, the contrast between these opposing elements. The cover is his interpretation of this discussion.

Just to finish with “Axioma”, I couldn’t help thinking of Twin Peaks’ original soundtrack when I heard this song. Am I wrong, or I am on to something?

I wouldn’t say it was a direct influence, but Twin Peaks’ soundtrack is one of my all-time favorites. But the atmosphere is definitely inspired by it. I’m going to listen to it afterwards to see if I ripped it off completely!

(Note : About Truls Espedal) « Some bands receive an idea from an artist, and then tell him to add more green here, that kind of thing. With us it’s a little bit of a gambling: we talk about it, and then he finishes it. He’s quite a renowned artist in Norway, so he’s not the kind of guy that you can go find to ask him to do change that face or do this or that differently. […] To sum it up, the strong point of this collaboration is mutual trust. « 

For this album, you worked once again with Truls Espedal, who’s been doing all of your artworks since 2001. What is the strong point of this collaboration?

The strong point is a sort of flexibility in the dynamics of the collaboration. It’s the beauty of the working process. He comes to Bergen, to our rehearsal room or whatever, we spend the day together, discussing the lyrics, listening to the music. As we speak with him, he makes some sketches. Sometimes what he does is a bit too far off, and sometimes it really resonates. When we come to a point where we feel we have the same understanding of what we’re talking about, he goes home and spends some weeks painting. Then he shows us the final result. Some bands receive an idea from an artist, and then tell him to add more green here, that kind of thing. With us it’s a little bit of a gambling: we talk about it, and then he finishes it. He’s quite a renowned artist in Norway, so he’s not the kind of guy that you can go find to ask him to do change that face or do this or that differently. But we just completely trust him. Every artwork he’s delivered so far has been a really pleasant surprise. To sum it up, the strong point of this collaboration is mutual trust. We trust one another 100%, which is kind of rare, I think.

Could we say he’s an integral part of the band?

Absolutely. He’s part of the extended Enslaved band.

« …we like to talk to people and hear their impressions and experiences with albums or concerts, or whatever. […] One of the guys had a brewery, so he brewed a special Enslaved beer. People bring food to the concerts, so we can have little dinners. We get invited to people’s homes… With some people, we discuss more about the philosophy behind it, and that’s mind-expanding. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be on that level. We respect those who are only into the music as much as those who spend a lot of time interpreting the lyrics. »

Let’s talk about this video contest that allows Internet users to send you their own videos for the song “Ethica Odini”. The winner will have their video broadcast as a backdrop during the shows. Is it a means to save money on the video?!

Not really! A lot of the backdrops we have used during our concerts had been made by ourselves. We’ve worked quite a bit with graphics, and also with our lightning engineer, who likes to play with graphics. The label calls it a contest, but to me it sounds a bit cheesy. I would like to call it an experiment, to see what associations people who’ve been following Enslaved for a long time can make with our music, and with this particular song. The inspiration came from YouTube. Sometimes when you look for a song, you find fantastic videos that are not official. Someone just used an open source video software, took a lot of different stuff and put it together. Some of these things are really beautiful. We wanted to encourage people to do that. We hope we found an incentive to encourage people to show their ideas. Not everybody’s gonna like it, but it’s a way of expressing yourself, which is always an interesting thing to do.

What I meant was to ask if you were bored and just wanted the fans to do the video for you!

Yeah, I understand you were joking. But again, it’s a bit of a gamble, it’s a big experiment. However, I do really think that there’s a lot of hidden talents out there. It will be really cool to see what they can do.

Apparently, you do trust your fans to understand your musical world and symbolism. Where does that come from? What kind of relationship do you have with your fans? Are you used to exchanging ideas with them?

When it comes to conceptual things, we are more interested in hearing their interpretations. That’s how we do it ourselves: we’ve never discussed things in absolute details within the band. Lyrics to a song are a piece of art, and they should be interpreted by everybody. We don’t have discussions about concrete meanings. But we have a lot of respect for our fans. When we’re on tour, we like to talk to people and hear their impressions and experiences with albums or concerts, or whatever. I think our fans appreciate the fact that we have a direct contact with them. The last time we were in France, some people came to the show with a special, limited edition beer. One of the guys had a brewery, so he brewed a special Enslaved beer. People bring food to the concerts, so we can have little dinners. We get invited to people’s homes… It’s just a big collection of people who’re interesting in the same thing, and that’s music. With some people, we discuss more about the philosophy behind it, and that’s mind-expanding. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be on that level. We respect those who are only into the music as much as those who spend a lot of time interpreting the lyrics. It has to be up to each and every one.

Do you have any particular idea as to what you would want for this video? Or do you want to be surprised?

Yes, we want to be surprised. That’s why we’ve had a discussion: should we provide some elements that we want in the video? But then we decided not to. We decided to give out the lyrics and see what people would come up with. It would be interesting to see if someone makes something without even looking at the lyrics. We’re definitely hoping to be surprised.

The time has come to ask the stupid question of the interview: have you kept in touch with the sheep you spent an entire day with a few years ago? How does it live its celebrity, and did it get too full of itself?

No, I think it’s probably been slaughtered already! It was a very young sheep, very nice. One of the big problems was that it’s impossible to catch a sheep like that, up in the mountains. The whole thing was a bit of a fake, we had to sort of stage its capture. You can ask any farmer: it’s impossible to catch a sheep that doesn’t want to be caught when it’s free in the mountains. But I think the sheep really liked us, so afterwards it was very hard to get it to run away! It just wanted to follow us around. It was a bit sad to leave at the end of the day.

So you think it’s dead now?

Probably. They don’t get to live very long, and it was a big guy, very healthy. So it’s probably been selected for Christmas food a year or two ago!

Interview conducted in September, 2010, by phone.
MySpace Enslaved : http://www.myspace.com/enslaved

Transcription : Saff’



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