Ihsahn (aka Vegard Sverre Tveitan) happens to be, one of the most iconic people, involved in the Norwegian black metal scene. Producing extreme music, for the past three decades with Emperor and through his solo band baring his own name! His latest album called “Arktis” will be out on April 8th 2016 and Metalpaths webzine conducted an interview with the legend himself, where he revealed all of the album’s details and many more. Next follows the audio and written version of the interview only for you, the readers of Metalpaths.com. Enjoy!
Hello Ihsahn , and welcome to our webzine Metalpaths.com. Congratulations for “Arktis”, your new observation which has been in the process the last couple of years. How do you feel now that it is ready to be revealed to the audiences? And how did you come up with this cover and this title as well?
First of all I’m very pleased from how this album came out, back in relation to what I wanted it to be. So, I’m very excited to, finally, have it released. It’ ,actually, available for quite some time. It was all done by the end of October (2015), but because of this transition where Candlelight records joined with Spinefarm records, there had been some practical issues, just to get everything in order, for the release. And yeah about the title, I would say, really reflects some of the scenes from the album. There’ s a lot of references, some of the themes are in this sense of belonging. It reflects also, how myself, kind of situated in having a home and growing up in this northern part of the world, has kind of influenced me as a person, and probably also my music. That aspects are good, as you can see from the artwork, there are old pictures in the artwork. They are taken by a Norwegian explorer, Fridtjof Nansen, from his own expeditions and I was kindly given permission to use them, by the Norwegian National Library. That emphasizes, that almost old school black metal attitude, that I think is also present, on the album. Of course, Fridtjof Nansen approached the north pole. He had a very distinct goal, none had been there, and we didn’t know what was there. The north landscape, I find it extremely beautiful but at the same time it’s really hostile, cold and dangerous. Still Nansen approached this goal of his, venting into this icy, hostile landscape with such enthusiasm and with such a courage! And I find that thing very inspiring, and I would like to explore also myself both personally and musically! To not settle to what is comfortable, common but rather reach out to the unknown!
Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure to have a few first listening sessions, and I was amazed by the freedom of expression it encaptures. I heard a lot of hard rock influences mixed together with the Ihsahn sound and of course some Emperor elements. Do you actually feel that free to compose without boundaries?
Yeah, why shouldn’t I? haha!
Well, I mean it in a sense of company’s directions etc.?
With Candlelight, I’ve never had any artistic direction, or obligations at all! That’s been a full on trust that I will deliver. I’ve had full artistic freedom with Candlelight , always! I hope it will also continue to be that way After the Spinefarm thing which is universal. I think I ‘ve been in the privilege position, being, first with Emperor and then on later years I think I’ve been able to blow my own trumpet! Because you know Candlelight has been a small label, I think I’ve always been on their best selling artists. So, that brought me to their priorities and together brought my artistic freedom.
Production-wise was it all done at your own studio? or where there other places and people involved in the mix, production etc.?
As with my three previous albums It’s mixed and mastered by Jens Bogren, at Fascination Studios, in Sweden. Probably ninety five per cent of the album was done at our own studio. I always record the drums in a studio called Tubejoint Studio (not sure about that) which is a local studio that me and my wife co-own. Which is huge recording space, lots of analog equipment and there are some guest appearances, that were recorded elsewhere. Most of that though was engineered and recorded by myself.
What about your companions for this project? Apart from Einar, who can obviously be heard in a few tracks. Who else did record with you on “Arktis”?
Well, again, I wanted Tobias Ørnes Andersen, to do all the drums. He is a fantastic drummer. He’s also my main live drummer as well, so it was very natural to bring him in again. As you mentioned, Einar (Leprous), does guest vocals for the first and the last song of the album. Matt Heafy from Trivium, is doing vocals on the chorus of “Mass Darkness”.
Great, I didn’t know that!
Yeah, he managed to have it scheduled, and he did great! Also, Jorgen Munkeby from Shining, reappears with some saxophone, for “Crooked Red Line”. A very different song, more quiet song, compared to what we’ve recorded together before. He always does magic, with his sax! I think the oddest are Robin Ognedal and Nicolai Tangen Svennæs, who are my live guitar and keyboard players, because I started playing that song live, before I actually recorded it. So, I wanted to bring that live vibe into the album also, that’s why I invited them to that song.
Can you tell us how do you compose? Is there a certain way you perceive your songs? I’m not referring to any rituals or sth like that but the overall process. What comes first, what follows etc.?
That is something that I very often change up. That’s the challenge and also the privilege of being a solo band. Because for example, my previous album “Das Seelenbrechen” it was far more experimental. So, basically, every time I start an album, the first thing I do, I have this book where I Kind of sketch out a framework of what kind of album I want to make. This is because I don’t have a band or any other people that push and pull so that the music comes to compromise in any members involved. So, for me, and also working on a studio environment, with technology these days you can basically do anything! And then you might end up with something that is all over the place. It’s been very natural for all my solo albums to sketch out this framework of what kind of album I want to work on before I have to start writing. So, For the previous album I threw all my experience out of the window and approached the album with a more improvisational, spontaneous state of mind. And I went from there. On this particular album, the basic idea was to write all the songs, within this called difficult pop/rock formula. With every song having basically one main ID that just kinda started growing up and carve out a song, with that one id providing everything on each song instead of patching different pieces together. “South Winds” for example, which is very driven by this kind of bass riff, and the whole song builds around that. Or “Until I Too Dissolve” where there’s this 80’s influenced song. It’s main idea was its opening guitar riff, and everything got evolved around that guitar idea. This also is extended to the arrangement, which I always had a fascination for. Metal albums have the tendency to have the same production for every song on an album. I’ve always been fascinated by pop records because each song always has the sound and the arrangement it needed. So, that’s what I wanted. Of course, there are similarities on the guitar tone, drum sound etc. but still I wanted to change it up, so that each song, could have its particular identity, and the sound it needed.
With the release of “After” back in 2010 you -together with some other people- gave another meaning to the 8-string guitar playing. Using its range for melodies, rather than extreme metronome rhythms. How did you come up with this? You’ve been using 8-string guitars non stop since then. Do you feel its range opens up the sound palette to your needs better than the six or seven string guitar?
It all depends. This fascination with all types of instruments is a general thing for me. Since, I’ve been doing this for such a long time, writing guitar based music, If you play for a while there’s this thing called “muscle memory”, and every time you pick up the guitar, your fingers move in their known patterns. For me, writing music for guitar, the main challenge is almost to try to trick my mind, over that analytical muscle memory thing. Cause every time I sit down with my six string guitar and try to make new riffs, I feel like I’m repeating myself. I play so much guitar based music that I t feels like repetition, and then I don’t get TO the music because I get this self analysis instead! So, when I first picked up the seven string guitar, that inspired the entire last Emperor album. Because I said to myself I’m not going to transpose all my riffs down to B (seventh string guitar tone). I will use the extended range. I’ll keep what I already know and add the extra dimension, not just move it lower. When I did several albums before “After” and Ibanez (Japanese guitar building company) introduced the eight string guitar, I got very curious. Even more than with the seven string. Because with the seven string you can do the same kind of power chords and everything, but with the eight string, in regular tuning, it’s just a whole tone from the regular “space” so you can’t do the same chords in that register! And also, I ended up writing stuff in F# or G# or something like that and then I got into how you can combine open strings, and it opens up a whole different tonality. Which I find very interesting. Also being in that range you can also switch up things with the bass element. With “Arktis” I did not use any regular bass guitar at all. Because I had some much string sounds, going on in that register already, I ended up using a mode for all bass parts on this album. All these is just a matter of keeping myself excited. And enthusiastic and curious about stuff. And since you’ve mentioned guitar I’ve had ten great years with Ibanez Guitars, but recently with my main contact leaving the company, I’ve also gone elsewhere ended up with some fantastic people of a Dutch company Aristides Guitars. They are a bit pricey, but for what you get, it’s still reasonable! I’ve been sworn to using Ibanez guitars but after picking up The Aristides Guitar I realized, I’ve never before used an instrument that is that flawless. You know when you pick it up it’s just flawless. Playing-wise, stable tonal decency throughout the whole register. It goes highly recommended!
Haha! We strayed off the conversation, so let’s go back to the album! The album, will be out on April 8th 2016, via Spinefarm Records. Do you feel, that releasing an album nowadays, is just another excuse to tour? Or every album needs to be released by an artist to “cleanse your ideas” till another set of songs is ready and for the next release?
For many bands, especially bands that have been around so many years, like recently I read on an interview that Slayer’s Kerry King stated he was not into releasing more than three or four new songs, before they head out on a new world tour. So, obviously, the income is mostly coming nowadays from touring rather than record sales. Back in the eighties, I guess bands toured to promote the album, so that they can sell even more albums. Now it’s the opposite. Many bands release album just to promote yet another tour! It’s a bit strange but, for me personally, the main focus is to be able to write new music! That’s the main excitement for me. To be able to write and produce music in my studio. It’s not that if there’s no more money, I won’t be doing any albums anymore, haha. I don’t think I can stop doing that. So as long as labels want to put them out there, and people still pick them up to listen to them, I think I will continue to do that! Maybe, also, it all is just being a phase. When we got the cassette, everyone started tape trading, and everyone thought that would be the end of the music industry. Of course, now we’ve seen a big change, but I think at the same time, streaming services and everything, it starts getting up. The outcome of streaming services will increase with more and more people paying for streaming services. Of course, you can get pissed off because “it’s not like the old days” blah blah blah, but still in music history the whole idea about selling physical copies of your music, is a rather new phenomenon, if you look it that way. It’s just a different phase. You either have to go with it, and being a musician kind of adapt to how you can perform and express your music or get a day job! You just have to adapt or not. That’s it and I’m willing to adapt. I think you can adapt and still keep your integrity, as a musician.
You have confirmed some summer festival appearances, so far. Will there be anything special on these shows in terms of set list, visuals or musicians that will be on stage with you, that you could share something interesting here with us?
I don’t think there will be any huge surprises in that respect. Hopefully, a very good light show! Where the situation allows, I sometimes use visuals. Of course, I will expand my set list with material r from this album, obviously, more songs from this album. That’s all! Yeah(laughs).
What about our fair country, Greece? Is there any chance for us to have you here?
Well, this is not entirely up to me. So, this is really in my tour manager who gives me the where and when I play these shows. The whole process, of booking the shows and everything, I usually play on festivals. I think many of my shows will continue onto the early winter, because of this transition phase from Candlelight to Spinefarm and my album kind of being pushed back. It was originally meant to be released in January 2016. So, that kind of slowed down the whole cycle, as well. But hopefully, it’s been very long time since I played in Greece. I’d love to come back. Both playing and as a tourist. I’d love to come back!
That’s great! Ihsahn, thank you for your time and the chance to have you here with us. Congratulations on your new album “Arktis”, once again. Anything for the Greek fans would do…
Thank you so much for the support! I’ve had a great relationship with Greece, to a long part of my carrier, so I hope you still enjoy what I do!