PILLARS OF THE 90S: VICOTNIK TALKS VED BUENS ENDE'S WRITTEN IN WATERS
[This is the fourth installment of the Pillars interview series. You can check out the rest here]
Artist: Ved Buens Ende
Album: Written in Waters
Label: Misanthropy Records
Favorite Song: "Carrier of Wounds"
The Bare Bones: Written in Waters is the sole full-length by Norwegian avant-garde black metal Ved Buens Ende, comprised of Yusaf "Vicotnik" Parvez (Dødheimsgard, Strid, Dold Vorde Ens Navn), Carl-Michael "Aggressor" Eide (Virus, Aura Noir), and Hugh "Skoll" Mingay (Ulver, Arcturus).
The Beating Heart: Some albums seem to stand both in their own time as well as out of time. In its own time Written in Waters belonged to the rapidly growing and distinctly idiosyncratic Oslo black metal scene, a unique album from a unique time. And it revealed some of those black metal tendencies in its moments of melancholic ferocity and unadorned earnestness. But Written in Waters, while entirely embedded in that scene, time, and flavor very quickly launched itself to a position outside the orbit of its own time and place, serving for decades as one of the most – if not the most – iconic example of the black metal avant-garde, exemplified in its ability to be both direct and mysterious, confounding and crystal clear. The unrepeatable combination of Parvez's vocal and sonic violence, Eide's majestic meanderings and poetic expressions, and Mingay's impeccable atmosphere created a timeless artistic object. Timeless not in its frozen stability, or in a kind of monolithic immensity, but for its ability, like a tree in the wind, to always change, always shift, as if it was, magically, a living thing.
It is this intangible energy, both aloof or estranged and deeply personal, that has made Written in Waters a landmark release of 90s black metal. As such it remains a deeply influential text, de-facto serving as the very foundation of what left-field black metal both then and today. Which is, of course, the reason I had the privilege to discuss the album, its making, and the future of Ved Buens Ende with Vicotnik himself.
What is Pillars? Before I get to my talk with Yusaf, a few words about what this all is, and what I hope to achieve in an investigation of the great albums of the 1990s. I feel like what happened, inadvertently with the Albums of the Decade project was a documentation and to an extent consolidation of what it is that I have loved an admired about the music of the past 10 years or so. I began writing this blog as a way back into music and heavy music after something of a hiatus from metal in the early 2000s and it was for me an investigation not only of what I love but also why I love it. And those interviews were instrumental in my own understanding of my appreciation of music and, really of art more generally. However, having gone through that series as long as I have has also pitted me face to face with the understanding that the wellspring of my own musical inspiration as well as that of many of the artists I admire today – that weird, unique confluence of inspirations that made up the musical scene of the 1990s – had to be tackled in some way.
So, if any of that pseudo-intellectual mumbo jumbo speaks to your soul, and if you haven't already, please follow follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and support whatever it is that we do on Patreon, and check out our kinda-sorta podcast, MATEKHET (YouTube, Spotify and all that). On to my conversation with the great Vicotnik.
Do you remember a moment you had, perhaps as a younger person, with a song or an album or a show, that really changed what you thought about music or made you want to participate in making music yourself? Obviously musicians and artists have more than a few of those moments, but any one instance that sticks out.
I think something like that sticks out differently in the different parts of your life. My first band was Kiss, I was just struck by the fanfare and the flair. But that was something more like pop, they were really big here in Norway – either ABBA or Kiss, those would have probably been the only two choices you had. But those had more to do with advertising, to TV and all that, there really isn’t anything personal about it. But it does mark the path for you, and my path was from that kind of artist, something like Kiss that piqued my curiosity, toward heavier stuff. So I moved on to Iron Maiden and Metallica, but it was still on a level of me admiring those artists so I never saw myself in or that I would be doing myself. I guess the biggest way the music that I liked in the old days related to the music I made myself was when black metal came along. Death metal, black metal, demo tapes, tape trading and all that stuff, I just felt close to it by proximity and that was the big difference because I really was at the epicenter of where it happened pertaining to black metal. I also grew up in Stockholm so I was around the boom of the death metal scene. So I guess in being around it I wasn’t just the teenager, 14 years old liking Nirvana who were from Seattle, I was a a13-, 14-year old living in Stockholm and in Oslo liking bands such as Mayhem and Entombed, who were basically my next-door neighbors. That was a big turning point in how I saw my own relation to it, whereas when I was listening to Metallica I felt I was listening to something other-earthly, they were a talented bunch of people but I could never approach them whereas the sensation of being close to the art itself and to musical expression – through clothing, through passing demo tapes – made a bigger impression than a certain record or a certain album cover or a certain concert.
I didn’t really intend to go down that path yet, but it’s something that I think about quite a bit as I grow older. There are a lot of bands that you like, even as a teenager with a more, say, “established” taste, because there’s almost something impressive about them. It seems inhuman, larger than life, and so you worship at the altar of something that’s unachievable. But, in my experience, the bands that stuck with me aren’t those bands, they’re usually bands that, while as talented, make music that invites you to think that you could do that too. So, does any of that have anything to do with it? Other than the fact that you were close to it, was there something about the music that made you feel like you could do it too?
Yeah, I guess it suddenly became interesting to put your own spin on it. We didn’t really try to copy all the bands that were starting to make demo tapes back then, we weren't trying to copy the established bands in look, content, lyrics or anything. And I think you can’t forget that we were a part of something as it was happening instead of, say, when I bought The Number of the Beast that was several years after it was released so you’re kind of coming to the party late. It’s still a great party, but you’re a late attendant. And also things start happening – you meet other people that are getting the same satisfaction and feel the same fascination with what’s going on, and you see bands forming and suddenly everything is ever closer than it was before because now your actual next-door neighbor is in a band and they’re releasing a demo next week. So it’s moving closer and closer into your proximity, and suddenly it’s in your own room, on your walls with the demos and vinyls you stick up there and you’re not going to the commercial shops to buy a t-shirt you’re buying it from your friend who has a band. And that grows into a magnificent tree of people living in Norway, living in Sweden, living in Mexico or Colombia, that are tape trading. And that was a fascinating thing as well, you could get a hold of obscure music that somebody in Mexico didn’t have and wouldn’t have a chance to get but you had it and if you got in touch you could get something from him that was unattainable here. I’ve always said that the tape-trading business of the early 90s – I got into it in ‘91 so I guess it had existed for several years prior – that’s what turned into the bands, the labels, the magazines, the fanzines and all that, it grew out of people just connecting. And it was something that felt a little forbidden as well, the social acceptance for that music wasn’t there yet so that made it more alluring as well. You could buy an album, listen to that album, and perhaps gain a glimpse into what that artist really thought about something, and how it really is, instead of buying a commercial record where it’s just something that was put together – a big band, big management, and you can’t do certain things because they could be portrayed in certain ways. And suddenly there’s an industry right where you were that was totally unfiltered.
It’s interesting because this series is basically about the 90s and over at the American side, at least in terms of the bands that I have found interesting, like Neurosis or Botch, one of the major developments for those bands was punk and hardcore. And one reason it was such an important development was that, similarly to what you’re describing in terms of black metal, punk and hardcore were accessible, it felt doable, it felt DIY, it felt like a community and so relatively easily you could, at a very young age, be sucked into a scene and into making music and then at some point finding yourself in the midst of an active scene. But one of the things that happens there – again, with the bands that I find interesting – is that very soon they find out that the scene and them aren’t as compatible as they thought. And so the beginning is being punk or being hardcore but some acts find themselves at odds with that same scene. Would you say that that was your experience? That at some point you felt like you had to diverge from the scene?
I never like I had to, it was just inevitable. In the sense that when you’re a part of something it’s basically there only for a certain amount of time. Even if the framework it creates still endures many years later and you can still say what’s related to, for example, black metal as a genre, how it typically sounds and stuff like that, it all relates to a certain phase in time. So as you move away from that place in time you better also move along as well, because the essentials of what was there back then are basically gone and it was all tied to that era. So it’s like punk rock in that way as well – you have 16-year-olds making punk now and they can do it, going through the motions of being a punk-rock band except they can’t be a real punk-rock band from the 70. So for me going around pretending I’m still my 16-year-old self, black metal person, playing quite primitive stuff with bad production, it wouldn’t have the same kind of standing or meaning it would just be a ridiculous endeavor – I already did that! And in that way I’m also paying homage to your previous craft or musical endeavor in that you never try to achieve a cheap version of that since you can never be that 16-year-old in a true sense anymore. I would have to pretend to be him.
What seems interesting about you specifically in this narrative and Ved Buens Ende specifically is that Those Who Caress the Pale and Written in Waters, you were very young. Everyone in the band was very young but you specifically were even younger…
Sixteen, I think.
Yeah. So, when you speak of the “16-year-old me” I think it’s safe to say that a 16-year-old Yusaf Parvez is not the most typical black metal 16 year old.
I should have said “13-year-old me.”
[Laughs] Yeah, but you get my point. That things became out there and strange at a very young age for you.
Yeah, but there are certain things that you don’t think about back then when you’re so awestruck by your fascination with something, such as that your psychology, your background, your upbringing all play a part in what you do as an artist eventually. Not necessarily at first glance, maybe. But I didn’t have a very typical Norwegian-black-metal-guy background, and I think that also played a part in some things and very much so in my musical approach because I was already different from the get go and I wasn’t really accepted in the black metal scene because that scene hadn’t yet decided its racial stance: “Did we like foreigners or not?” and stuff like that. So I wasn’t the guy people went to to befriend and that also forced me to approach this in a personal way, because I didn’t really have a choice. I was put in this kind of outcast role. It wasn’t only me, there were other people as well, I guess all of us had a different approach to it later on, when we matured a bit as musicians.
I’m getting wildly ahead of myself but let’s see how it goes. One of the things that struck me about Written in Waters has to do with the fact also with the fact that the band has recently, relatively speaking, been kicking back into action and also strangely enough, with Dødheimsgard’s most recent album, A Umbra Omega. And the reason I’m bringing all of these together is that it seems to me, as a kind of bystander, that the musical trajectory that you have gone through as a musician, which is obviously wide ranging and includes many different projects and styles, if feels almost there’s something about A Umbra Omega that’s like a homecoming. That the kind of general vibe and songwriting that initiated Written in Waters is something that may be coming back to haunt you or that you’re revisiting. So I guess the first question would be to ask whether there’s something to that?
Yes, there is. But when I talk with different people they point to other Dødheimsgard albums or to albums by other projects as that in which that happens. So I would say you’re all right in the sense that I went back to everything that I did before. It was an album that I wanted to have sections from everything that I did, there are even parts there that stem from the Kronet til konge era of Dødheimsgard. I think that because I spend such a long time between albums that this is just something that came out of it. Because I had an album finished after Supervillain Outcast that was quite similar to that era of the band – very straightforward songs in the sense, at least when it comes to structure, quite heavy, fast, and brutal. But it just didn’t sit right. And as I was making more and more music I started revisiting all these era and, you’re right, Written in Waters and Ved Buens Ende as well, just thinking how can I piece all of this together as a summation of where I am based on everything that I have done. That became the idea that developed quite organically.
Prior to that we were a band that was touring, we had some pretty good success with Supervillain Outcast – we got a lot of touring deals and festivals, and we received high praise from the big metal media, we were also in the biggest newspapers here in Norway. And that kind of fucks with your mind a little bit, something like: “Yeah, now we’ve found the recipe, the way how to do this.” So as I went further into those thoughts, that this was our breaking point, I felt more and more detached from the reason I did all of this to begin with. It should be a struggle, it shouldn’t be a recipe, you know? So I felt more and more disheartened by what I was doing and so what developed naturally was me revisiting all these eras, and it’s the same with the lyrics – a tormented person looking back who’s in three places at the same time, in his past, his present, and contemplating what the future will bring. And at the point A Umbra Omega was written and released I wasn’t really sure what that future was, and so it felt right for me to summarize all the albums because I wasn't sure there would be another album.
This is all very much to the point, but the reason why I asked whether or not there was a connection between those two albums was to ask….. I mean, I don’t know you but I do know how art feels when the artist seems to be looking for the struggle as opposed to the recipe, if I may use your terms. And to me once art is done that way then a lot of knowledge is gained regarding every point of creation – you create something, you look back at it, learn about it, find something else that’s interesting, and so on. And thinking that this might be the case for you, I was wondering whether or not all of the things that you said before that made you into a different 16 year old than the rest of the Norwegian black metal scene – your biography, your name, your upbringing, whatever it was that made you stand out – do you have an appreciation now of how that translate into music?
Yeah. When you’re an outcast you learn to love it, so you find the strength in it, and suddenly your weaknesses become your assets. And I guess that’s clearer when you’re a grownup as opposed to just a kid struggling. I’m glad I have this narrative now, form the early 90s with my first demo tapes to my latest albums. It’s kind of all documented, I can always go back. That’s why all these albums are more than just music, it’s smells, it’s experiences, they’re all these time machines. And I think that in making them different they all pertain to a certain time instead of just being albums.
Is there something that at 16 you considered to be a weakness, say the way you played guitar, the way you wrote songs or sung, that you see now as a strength?
Yeah, I still do. Sometimes a limitation can be a strength. If your musical abilities are unlimited it can be a real distraction, at some point you were perhaps more focused on showing off how good you were or how many different instruments you can play. Whereas for me nothing like that was ever important, music was there to express myself. And I think in the end it just has to be honest, it has to be true. And I think that’s why I don’t have any qualms listening back to any of my albums because at the time that they were made they were all 100-percent honest or at least 100 percent of the honesty that I could conjure at the time. I think that’s where I’m headed, I’m headed to that 100-percent honesty, that’s kind of where I want to end up. That’s my journey, ridding myself of anything external and just managing with something that is as egotistical, as internally derived as it can possibly be. And I understand that this journey will never end, which is also the attractiveness of it – there’s always something new.
Obviously every band has its own internal dynamic in terms of taste and songwriting or capabilities and so on, but do you believe that there’s something about the way you write music with Carl and Hugh that keeps you honest?
That’s a difficult question. I think we had to meet in the middle somewhere and that’s the challenge of honesty in Ved Buens Ende, that is it becomes too focused on any one thing then one or two of us will begin to feel detached from the project as a whole entity. So, yeah, a lot of care and attention have to be given along with a willingness to learn. My biggest inspiration as a musician isn’t that I grew up listening to Metallica it’s the guys I played in bands with, those guys inspired me the most – watching Carl make a guitar riff, watching Hugh play the bass, being so close to those ideas and combining them with my own ideas and those combinations giving birth to new ideas and the combination is really unlimited. So, it’s a really good environment to be in because it’s potentially so destructive when it’s not balanced out the right way.
One of the things that have come up in interviews that I have done, not necessarily the 90s interviews but others as well, is that I’ve had the opportunity to talk to bands that weren't together as a band anymore at the time of the interview. And one of the things that was telling about those situations was that when someone was discussing artistic differences then it became quite easy to see where those differences might have been if you just follow the trajectory of the different members and what they did after the end of that band. In your case it feels as if the three elements that made Ved Buens Ende and Written in Waters into such a unique moment went their separate ways and continued to make art and evolve along those, say, individual lines – Carl continued with those winding riffs in Virus, and you went down the path of industrial and extreme metal, and Hugh was somewhat the most atmospheric with his work in Arctutus, Ulver and so on. And so each did great things but it feels like those basic elements were separated. Did you ever have that discussion, as a band, what each of your brought to the table and the paths you took after the band ended?
I don’t think we ever sat down and talked about it but I guess, speaking for myself, that at some point we came to the realization that for the formula of Ved Buens Ende to work it had to be the three of us. And even though we managed to make music on our own that was pretty much still in the avant-garde niche, it still wasn’t the same. I guess Carl in many ways created that body of work that most resembled Ved Buens Ende in the sense that it was still his voice there, which really tied the link. But still, it wasn’t the same thing. And I even have people come up to me from time to time and say that A Umbra Omega is actually the album closest to Written in Waters. Regardless of how I think of it the conclusion is quite definite in the sense that I think that for it to really, really be Ved Buens Ende and not just something you can say “Yeah, I think I hear the inspiration there” or “I hear you’re going back to your roots” it really needs to be just us three guys. Because we feed off of each other and we also thrive in spite of each other in a sense. And I don’t think that was categorically true when we were young but looking back it’s easy to see that if I thought Carl made a lot of really crazy riffs for one song I wouldn’t add to what he already did but did something different with the song so it would have that balance. And I think that was a good mindset we had in Ved Buens Ende, that instead of trying to copy each other we tried to learn from each other and filled out each other’s style in the sense that I got three riffs from him and so then I got to analyze: “OK, those riffs are great, but what does this song lack? Where does it have to go?” instead of thinking: “Oh, he gave me three riffs now I have to follow up with three riffs of my own.” And then you had Hugh, who really wasn’t a part of the songwriting process in that way, he never made any songs, but he became such a huge part through giving the bass lines, becoming the bone marrow of the song.
In my world of associations that kind of use of the bass is a very post-hardcore intuition, perhaps post-punk and new wave too. Because in hard rock, metal and a lot of black metal, for that matter, the bass is just there to add a frequency and in Written in Waters the bass serves, at times, as the guitar since you and Carl are everywhere so the bass has to hold it down.
There are a lot of times that the bass is actually the instrument that’s conjuring the melody and the guitars are more these distorted atmospheric instruments. There are moments where it goes into the more melodic 90s black metal riffs and stuff but for the most part the bass is really what ties it all together. The drums are all over the place in the sense that you’ll never really catch what he’s really doing the first time you listen to it. After about 50 times you start seeing the system behind it all, so that too really isn’t your way in, same with my parts as well, so it’s basically down to the bass guitar and the vocals as ways for the listeners to find a way into it, how you get in the door and what gives you time to analyze the rest.
As a listener that album sounds and feels improvisational. To what extent was that the process? Or was it more someone coming up with the stem of the song and someone else fills in the blanks? What role did improvisation have, if at all?
It was all of it, really. Some songs grew out of me having a riff or Carl having a riff and we gave it to each other and fleshed out the rest, and other times it was just being in the rehearsal room and improvising, jamming. Hugh came in probably a week or two before we recorded the demo so a lot of his stuff is not improvisational in that he improvised in the studio but it’s improvisational in the sense that he just joined in during rehearsals, me and Carl would just play the songs, we didn’t give a shirt about him, he just sat in the corner with the bass and it just took form from that. But the interesting thing about Ved Buens Ende was how we never made it difficult, just grew into the process. It wasn’t a lot of analyzing, it wasn’t a lot of “Yeah, should we do this this way or that way?” or “This will sell more records.” There was nothing of that, it all just grew organically – suddenly there were songs, without us overthinking anything. Maybe that’s also why it ended being such an honest musical attempt in the sense that we didn’t overthink it or think like “Yeah, black metal should sound like this and that.” It was never really about that.
I have a question about that that I’ve always wanted to ask you or I think you could say members of your black metal generation, which was always so filled with very young people. I’m 39 and every time I think about you being 16 when recording that album it makes me feel inept and like a huge failure. And so in the effort of making me feel a little less horrible – obviously there are advantages in making music that young, one of which is that you just don’t know any better, you’re just messing around and if you end up with magic then great. Can you think of any disadvantages? Ways in which you were limited then and are less so now?
That’s a very difficult question. I guess looking back I don’t feel there was any limitation. There is the obvious limitation that I’m probably a better musician now, I have a better understanding of gear and production and how you should go about arranging music and stuff like that. But I think it’s difficult to call that a disadvantage, having all those assets, but it can really get in the way in the sense that you start to overthink things. So I would say that there were no real disadvantages in being young and in lacking those abilities because when you’re young you don’t really give a shit anyway because you have such a high regard of what you’re doing, you have such a belief in what you’re doing. You know you’re not the best guitarist but it doesn’t really matter, you’re so unbiasedly focused on what you’re doing. And let’s face it: You had the time too. You’re 16, you skip school and go to rehearsal and you’d go home to your mother who washed your clothes and made you dinner, you didn’t really have to think about all that so you could be totally immersed in your world. Sometimes I really miss that. To return to that sometimes is really great, to get a week here and there when we can actually do that, despite the fact that it’s not really the same experience. But it still allows you to reconnect with it because you’re trying to get into your mindset and you’re philosophizing and you’re analyzing and thinking: “OK, what was important for me then as an artist or musician?” So in that sense I don’t think I’m any richer now than I was before.
When you described the way that album came out, the organic nature of your relationship, the question that came to my mind was – if it was as organic as it was why didn’t it then happen again? Why is it that the subsequent album never took form?
I guess we started overthinking. Nothing was really good enough. When I came up with a riff then Carl would go: “Yeah, it’s alright” and when he would send half a song to me I would say: “Yeah, it’s OK, it’s a start.” So we never really manage to go past the starting point of making a new album because we had so many thoughts about how that album should be instead of just following the same approach that worked the last time which was just to meet up and make music. And you also have to remember that when we were a bit younger when we started Ved Buens Ende we didn’t really know that much about record deals or festivals because bands from our region, they weren’t really invited to play festivals – our main bands were Mayhem, where the guitarist was dead, and Burzum with a guy in jail and those were the biggest two bands. There wasn’t really any market. And the good thing about that is that you’re not distracted by that either, you’re not preoccupied with what the fans might think because you don’t have any fans, or what the record label think because you had none, or what the record sales would be because there aren’t any, what would the festivals say, there’s nobody approaching you anyway. So when all that came in, the reality of being in a band on a record label and being invited to play festivals, a lot of garbage goes into your mind, especially when you’re…. We were still teenagers. I turned 17 when we started working on the second album and I guess Carl and Hugh were 19, and we got caught up in what everyone else was doing, because everyone else was analyzing and thinking. And that was OK, that was their role, but we shouldn’t have taken that role, we should have just continued doing what we did.
So you’re saying you began to look at your work from a more analytical and less creative point of view?
Yes. Instead of being creative and then analytical about it later we started with analyzing and tried to create from there. We weren’t mature enough to just see everything and the bigger picture, but we had a really, really great experience in the studio and that should have already told us a lot. When we recorded the demo we were all surprised with how it sounded, despite the fact that we had rehearsed those songs for a year already, at least Carl and I. But still when we heard it caught on tape, all the combinations put together with the vocals on top and the way the lyrics were sung, we were really taken aback. It was like: “Oh shit, is that how we sound? That’s pretty cool.” I get goosebumps just talking about it because I’m revisiting the feeling of listening to our music coming out of the speakers for the first time. The first time I experienced our music, even though I had heard it so many times before.
But maybe in what you just said there is some consolation for me who was and is envious of all your 16 year olds making masterpieces, which is to say that there is one drawback of being young which is you don’t necessarily know how to handle it.
You don’t necessarily communicate your problems with your other bandmates or find a mature way of saying what you mentioned during our discussion of the period between Supervillain Outcast and A Umbra Omega – everyone is saying is great and you’re adult self went: “Ah, this may be a bad sign, I need to do something differently.” Perhaps your younger self was a bit paralyzed by that position.
That’s a good point. The disadvantage with being young is that you can’t really take it in and analyze it in the same way as when you’re older. So I guess that was the drawback. But returning to your initial question about you feeling inept when compared to my younger self – I have the same feelings in regards to myself [laughs].
The fact that I made Written in Waters, or any other album, doesn’t really change that.
Thank you for that. Doesn’t really help, but thank you.
So I had a couple of more questions but one of them doesn’t really have to do with Written in Waters but more to you as the ambassador or one of the leading figures in the incorporation of electronic and industrial music into black metal. And the reason I raise this is that, again, over at the American side of things there was a process that is different in substance but I think similar in structure – one of the issues that has been most interesting for me to flesh out is this tendency of American bands who play fast and furious punk and hardore to transform into bands that create 20-minute post-rock pieces. And since I wondered why that was the case I started asking some of those musicians about that and got different kinds of answers. But I think that one of the equivalents to that in certain black metal bands – Dødheimsgard for instance, Beherit, obviously Burzum, and others – that the most primitive, violent-sounding music suddenly incorporates an unexpected artificial or electronic sound. So I won’t ask you to explain the phenomenon as a whole but I would be interested in hearing what it was that you personally found interesting that made you introduce mechanical elements into your music?
There are many reasons, and I guess my answer could be a bit all over the place but one thing worth mentioning is that I never sat down at one point and said that I wanted to be that guy that was into those avenues or whatever. And then there’s that aspect that when you start out playing music you’re always connected to the music that made you want to play music in the first palace. So, starting points for bands are not really a huge head scratcher because if you started playing guitar because you listened to Metallica then you will always be playing metal. But that doesn’t mean that as you mature and get better at playing your instrument and better at understanding music then you’re able to incorporate a lot of other stuff. And at the same time, because you started with metal, because you listened to Metallica or Iron Maiden, that doesn’t mean you don’t listen to other types of music. So as your ability to understand music grows you are then more apt to discover all those other musical genres you liked – that you heard before you listened to metal, at the same time you listened to metal, and perhaps after as times goes on.
When I grew up my mother and father were luckily musical people, they didn’t play instruments but they played a lot of music in the car and at home. They were vinyl people so they had records, and so already then that passion is kind of introduced to you and I remember listening to music with sensations of feelings, like when my mother put on certain Pink Floyd songs I got scared, I thought it was scary. I felt like I was falling into a deep black hole and the music was kind of swallowing me up. And that’s a pretty young experience, I’m probably five or six years old at that time, getting that emotional response from audio input. I think that always followed me in the sense that that’s what I wanted to do, I want to paint emotions, I want to take pictures of emotions in music. As time passed I learned that in order to draw those emotions in more than one manner I then have to incorporate sounds and structures that are more compatible with certain emotions. So that’s how that ties together.
I would add to that, if I may, that it’s not just that those sounds were compatible to those emotions but that there’s a benefit in using sounds that aren’t already someone else’s. That if you started playing metal because you listened to Metallica then Metallica is always there when you’re playing guitar, but if you pick up a keyboard or a synthesizer it may be different. So maybe there’s value in those sounds being different than the ones you had already been using.
Yeah, that too. And that’s an asset you get by becoming a better musician, becoming a better guitarist, understanding production a bit better, and maybe you’re fooling around with a synthesizer at your friend’s house and you can put that into your toolbox and create emotion from that that was perhaps impossible two months before when you were only sitting with your guitar. Another interesting aspect of it is that in my mother’s milk, the bands that I grew up with as a musician – Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, Master’s Hammer and all those bands – all sounded different from one another. So even if by ‘94 or ‘95 it was contested that black metal should have a certain sound that wasn’t there originally. It was kind of a rule that every black metal band had to sound differently, and in ‘92 and ‘93 that notion was still intact when bands like Enslaved, Abruptum, Emperor came along that also had a very distinct sound. And some of those bands are also incorporating synthesizers or as Master’s Hammer did with timpani drums and stuff like that. So that idea was already planted, that this music we’re creating now and calling black metal, it’s not really one genre, it’s more the mindset of the people who are creating it that defined the genre than the musical concept.
It reminds me of a recent interview I did with Neurosis where they describe how the shift from being a hardcore band to a band more influenced by new wave and post rock wasn’t very well accepted by the punk rock orthodoxy, who were telling them “This isn’t punk rock anymore.” And what Steve Von Till, who I spoke with, said was: “Isn’t it punk rock to not do what everyone else is doing?”
Yeah. I was never a part of punk rock, I wasn’t old enough, but I guess I had the same approach to black metal. Or perhaps similar also to the people making rap demo tapes in Harlem. I think that goes for every type of music that’s made on the streets, basically, by people who don’t really belong, by outsiders, so you’re creating a place that’s just a mental place together with all these other people who you don’t know and suddenly there’s a structure where you all belong.
So, as our last question is a return to Written in Waters, which, as luck would have it, is just now celebrating its 25th anniversary. Given the time you had in that band and in all the other bands you were in in the interim, and now returning to that band, is there anything you’re especially proud of when you look back at Written in Waters?
I’m really impressed with how it all came together, and I remember thinking that back then and also now. And when I say “everything” I mean everything – the photos, the cover, how the lyrics go with the music in an odd way, they’re kind of abstract and you have a sense of what the narrator is talking about but he’s really just emptying himself on an emotional level so you can’t really find solid ground to stand on when it comes to the lyrics and they in a sense become your lyrics. We never really sat down and thought about: “This is how it should look, because that would work with the music” so to this day I’m impressed with how it all came together. It could have been the same bass lines, the same music, the same logo and then on the back side you would have three people in corpse paint in a black and white cover – it could have been that way! So I’m really satisfied to this day that we didn’t skip a beat, we didn’t make a mistake. So how it all came together organically, and it still had this feeling of completeness. That’s impressive for guys that young, just making something that looks like it's 20 years old and now 25 years later it still looks unique and feels fresh.
I think you could be shocked at how intuitive you were at 16 but if you’re still making music 25 years later, maybe you shouldn’t be as shocked. Maybe the intuition that is still a part of your artistic life today was already there.
Yeah, and I think you have to learn it because initially it just happens but you didn’t know why or how. And then you made tons of music in between that sometimes connected to that same honesty and other times didn’t and in that process you learn what it was you were initially doing and how you did it. So it is coming full circle in a sense. I always say that it’s so easy to be nostalgic in this scene but I’m actually looking forward more to the years ahead of me and I’m still convinced that I have better music ahead of me than behind me. To have that feeling and to feel honest about it that’s just something that’s really exciting. That we’re not even near the end, we still have 20 or 25 years of making music with us now finding our footing and having figured out what’s important.