Enslaved are celebrating the 25 years of their existence this year and they are touring around the globe. I had the chance and the honour to do my first interview ever face to face with the legendary frontman Grutle Kjellson during their visit in Germany. Talking about touring, remembering the past years and discussing music in general with one of the founders of the band was absolutely a blast for me. I hope you will enjoy reading the interview as I did having it.
Welcome to Metalpaths webzine. First of all how are you doing?
We’re doing pretty well. Second stop of the tour and things are getting into shape. Playing last night was the usual first gig with a bit of chaotic circumstances. Gears didn’t show up and the bus was too late, you know the usual stuff that happens on the first date. But apart from that, it was a good show, meeting some old friends and having a great time as we played in Switzerland. Pretty cool!
There has been a year and a half from your last release “In Times”. Now that it is actually matured, how did you receive all the reactions about it?
It’s been quite overwhelming actually. Already from the first shows we played to promote the album – it was a show performed a couple of days before the actual release, a show in San Diego of California and on the following US tour – it was really overwhelming. People were singing along just two days before the release, obviously because we put some songs on YouTube. It worked very well, great reviews, great promotion tours, great festivals and people having already some live favourites from the new album. That’s always good.
As you said you’ve just started a world tour for the 25th anniversary of Enslaved…
Well basically it’s what we are doing the whole year. (laughs)
I‘ve read that you are going to visit Australia and Japan also. How do you feel getting to know new places? And of course far away from home for so many days. Any homesickness, maybe?
Well yea… Of course… Especially towards the end of the tour you tend to get homesick. But I mean, you are aware that you are going to be away for a long time. You just have to look at the tour list (looking at his plastic pass where the tour dates are written) and you have to get used to it mentally, that is the most important thing. The physical part comes around on its own. There are of course pros and cons. You can have a beer whenever you want (laughs), but you are not able to sleep on your own bed and you are not able to have any privacy at all. Enough challenges I can tell that much. But we are touring for so many years, it is our job basically, and we have to cope with those things anyway.
I‘ve read that you will focus on the last three albums, is that true?
Quite true. There is going to be some older songs as well. There is going to be some old favourites, but the main focus will be on the last albums, yes. But not only. We have an hour and a half; it is going to be more spread out.
Exactly this going to be my next question. From the very beginning your songs are quite long as it matters the duration. How difficult is it for you to choose the set list on every gig when you have only an hour or an hour and a half?
The tricky thing is when we are having recorded and having released a new album and your obvious choices lying in there for a kickass live. But it is not necessarily working this way. Certain people screaming for different songs. And we think: “Oh maybe we should play this one. This song has a huge demand. We didn’t even think that was a live song.” It is kind of strange. There are some strange dynamics. There are demands on certain songs from certain areas of the world and again on other areas there are totally different demands. It’s also quite difficult after 13 albums. So we try to handpick the songs for each territory. In Australia we did it quite simply. We made two lists; each one with 20 songs like old and new stuff, and the people could vote for the songs. We take the top 7 from one and top 7 from the other and we are going to play 13 or 14 songs in an hour and a half, all of them handpicked from the Australians.
Another query about the tour. Do you guys get actually the chance to pick your supporting acts? This time you have with you Oceans of Slumber and Ne Obliviscaris.
Yes and no. In a sense we can suggest some bands. Then the booking agencies have to work together and preferably the bands have to be on the same roster of the agency. Of course the bands have to be available as well. In the end we can also turn down a suggestion, because we may know that there are some silly issues. We rarely do so. But again it has had happened.
And again, 25 years. Apart that you and Ivar being in a band, I suppose you are also friends. What are your emotions considering your long way of your career? How do you guys manage to go on for so long?
We have grown to be brothers. As we know each other very well and we know when we should not step at each other toes. We are perfectly aware of one another personal issues. So we have a healthy dynamic between us. We know if we should or should not interfere.
Could you imagine going on as a band – playing live and recording albums- for another 25 or 20 years??
I am trying to imagine myself being like almost 70 years old. It would look quite silly, but why not. If we are in a good physical shape and if we’ll still doing albums and enjoying our lives, I cannot see why we should not. But again there are a lot of things that could go wrong. It would be strange going on with a band for 50 years. That would be definitely going on the books. And again why not, if we could manage it.
Beside you two (Ivar and Grutle) the other members were changing through the time. But now for about 12 years the lineup of Enslaved kind of stabilizes. How is the collaboration with the other 3 guys (Cato , Herbrand and Arve) and how do they contribute to the music?
Not to music or the lyrics, but to the arrangements and to some production procedures and obviously on stage. A good collaboration overall, but it is always going to be me and Ivar on the lyrics and the music.
Let’s go back in the days where you were beginning (at the time when Norwegian black metal was turning quite big and notorious with all the criminal activity). Although you share common elements in the music, you were never put any satanic imagery. What were your thoughts back then, or maybe when you thinking of it retrospectively?
First and foremost the scene consisted not of many bands in numbers, but those bands were very different. Immortal sounded nothing like Enslaved and Mayhem sounded nothing like Darkthrone. Everybody in the scene had a diverse taste in music and everybody individually had a different background. There was a huge feel of inspiration and it was not really homogenate. And that was because it was before the age of the internet. Everybody was doing their own thing – writing letters to one another and we had to meet just couple times a year. Apart all these other activities, it was a pretty strong and vital little scene with interesting music and it was a lot more open minded than most other scene.
It was of course open minded enough to change the face of extreme metal scene.
So it wasn’t any resistance against changes and against evolving. That made it quite interesting.
After so long time you have survived the outburst of the Norwegian black metal scene, the many changes of your line up and your music have progressed a lot through the years. The metal scene is always expanding and as I see it you are one from the top acts on extreme metal scene – being nominated and winning grammy awards. How do you look at the metal genre today? Do you stand out any bands?
It is a bit more tempting nowadays than it used to be in the 90’s. There are so many copycats around that their songs sound similar, that is kind of boring. What I find really silly, is that a band claiming to be true Norwegian black metal or whatever and trying to copy the sound of Darkthrone in 1992. I mean Darkthrone was taking things to the next level and still they do. And that was not about copying another artist; it was about creating a new sound. Fusing a lot of different stuff together. They did their death metal sound, their Celtic Frost and Bathory thing and they take in some punk rock inspiration later on. How good is to be inspired only by other black metal bands. It is somehow lamer than listening only to Eurovision songs. (laughs)
You recently announce that you are going to headline on the Beyond the Gates performing live “Vikingligr Veldi” in its entirely. How difficult could that be to capture the atmosphere of those days on stage after 23 years?
Some of the songs we’ve played couple of times already. I think we have played all of the songs. I mean like many years ago. Many years ago we did “Vetrarnótt”. We did “Norvegr”, the instrumental, with the actual line up and “Midgards elder” a long time ago. “Heimdallr” – we are actually playing it today and of course in Australia. It is going to be a challenge obviously, but it is also not a thing we are unfamiliar with.
You have appeared to festivals and of course you have appeared to concerts on small venues like this one. What would you rather perform on festivals or venues?
No, not really. It is just as a good experience in a small club as it is different. It is all about creating a connection with the audience. To interconnect the audience. To get the band to communicate with the audience. And you can get that feeling in a small club in front of 30 people as well as in front of 30.000 people in a festival. It could be exactly the same thing. It is not have to be a lot of people. It is all about the atmosphere really. It is supposed to be a ritual.
You had a side project called Trinacria. I found the release of “Travel Now Journey Infinitely” extremely interesting. Do you have any plans for this group?
Maybe with not the same line up. We haven’t talked about it. There are so many side projects too. You don’t get to have the amount of time to do such things. It’s not 100% that we won’t do it, and it’s not 100% that we will either. So it might happen and it might not happen. But I really do wish we could find some time for it, because I do also think it was an interesting project. It was something different and we definitely learned from this experience. I think we did bring some elements back into Enslaved. I think we did that.
Talking of side projects. There is the Skuggsja. I would say a mix up of Wardruna and Enslaved. What I would like to ask is that: Both of the bands have appeared together to some festivals at the same date. How difficult was it for you to do two performances in one night?
The difficulty was to capture enough energy to do two concerts in a row. It was a challenge for both the bands and the audience. It was a cool experience overall. Anyway I think it’s over now. Well I don’t really know for sure, because that is Ivar and Einar and the others we were merely sessions. But I did enjoy my participation.
Also today (30.09.2016) is the first day for someone to pre-order your new re-release of the “The Sleeping Gods – Thorn”. Why did you decide to re release those two EPs?
Because the thing with the EP’s and the 7”s is that they came out and quickly disappear. We saw that they deserved a most proper release. We think the material on both was pretty interesting, and it has a lot of different experimentation. Like a reconstruction of some old material. We had also a great time recording the songs.
Any plans for another album? Did you guys have already any new material?
Yeah. We have some material for a new album. It is going to be released next year. We will record it in spring most likely and it will be released by the end of the year.
Obviously there are many prog rock and classic rock elements as well as psychedelic ones that reflects on your music. Among many others of course. But if our kind – the human kind – were to choose an all-time top 5 albums to represent ourselves in the universe and you were the one selected to choose them. Which ones would you choose?
I can name five and then I could name ten, but then again they would be different ones tomorrow. Well let say for now: “In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson, “Permanent Waves” by Rush. No wait “Hemispheres”. No wait let’s leave it with “Permanent Waves” for now (laughs). “The Day the Earth Caught Fire” by City Boy. Then “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” by Mayhem. It is still my favourite extreme metal album. And “Under the Sign of the Black Mark” by Bathory. So there you have three fruity ones and two really metal ones. (laughs)
Thank you very much for your time. It was a great honour and pleasure talking to you. And may you have few final words.
All the readers are welcome to the shows. It is going to be a quite long European tour and we are only in the beginning. It would be more dates in October and November. Looking forward to see you guys again.