Interviews : Enslaved – “There are a lot of skilled promoters there who really know what they are doing” – (An interview with Ivar Bjørnson)
Enslaved – Ivar Bjørnson
Metal Obsession recently had the pleasure to speak with a man consider to be a living legend, Ivar Bjørnson. He is one of the founding members of the band Enslaved.
Since beginning their career in the early 90’s, experimenting with black metal, adding elements of progressive rock and viking metal. They have been a favorite among many metal fans. Enslaved are currently celebrating the release of their 12th studio album, ‘RIITIIR’ (out now via Nuclear Blast Records) and patiently counting down the days to their first Australian tour this October/November.
Your most recent album was called RIITIIR. What does the title mean exactly?
It’s a word that we constructed. When we were looking at the history of rituals in different cultures we noticed a lot of things were somewhat universal. We created the word to bring together other words like ritual, rite, runes and so on. So essentially RIITIIR is like the Rites of Man. It’s not something you will find in the dictionary. It was just something symmetrical that we put together after all of that.
When you are writing the lyrics for a new album do you study them? Do you have any books or resources you like to use?
We do sometimes. Like we read certain things that will help us build a picture or an idea for the lyrics. We will read maybe certain fables or chapters in some books to get a background for what we want to talk about. I wouldn’t say we are an academic band at all, but we definitely like to read things that we find inspiring and that will help give us some direction. We’ll pick a theme like certain archetypes, or a different mythological aspect to focus on. We just try and build a picture in our minds and then the lyrics come from there.
Was the writing and recording process different from your previous albums? New ones and the older ones.
Actually it wasn’t so far removed from the days of ‘Frost’, surprisingly. The recording process that is, the writing process was a little different. When the early 2000’s rolled around we were very eager to start working with the new technology that was becoming available. We set up our own home studios with pro-tools which has been really helpful for creating sketches of songs and mapping stuff out. It also makes our time in the rehearsal room better because we have already been able to work stuff out and hear how stuff sounds.
So is that where you record your albums now? In your home studios?
Some stuff yes. Mainly we use it to work stuff out and demo things before we head into the studio to do it for real. Some stuff, like effects and stuff I’ll record and end up using. You know, like I’ll set up the microphones and everything in the laundry and just go for it, get something that sounds really good and just keep it for the album. It’s great to be able to just be spontaneous and do that.
How much of the year is spent touring for you?
A lot! [laughs]. It’s seldom less than 2 or 3 months. Usually it can be more. Generally when we release an album we will play some shows across Scandinavia and the rest of Europe. And then we head to North America for a few weeks. We also try to get to places we don’t always get a chance to, like Australia this year. And then there are the festivals as well, so if we are playing at some of them we could be out on the road for longer.
Is Australia somewhere that you have wanted to come for a long time?
Yeah, that’s an understatement! It’s been like a proper Spinal Tap manuscript playing itself out. There have been quite a few attempts. Some attempts were made by people who were maybe, very eager and dedicated to music and all that, but they maybe didn’t have the organisational, financial and logistical touch to carry it out. And then we’ve had just a couple of streaks of just bad luck of other tours landing on top of ours, tours that we wouldn’t be able to compete with so then the promoter would get a little bit scared, which is understandable. Just flying a band with five guys is expensive enough and then you have all the other costs to think about as well. And just recently there was the whole problem with Australia changing their visa laws so that’s why this tour got postponed. But we will be getting there in the end!
Is Australia a risky place for bands from your part of the world to come and play? It’s such a long way to travel for only maybe 4 or 5 shows.
It’s not really risky at all, I would say it’s more of a narrow opening. There are a lot of skilled promoters there who really know what they are doing and how tours in Australia can work. More and more bands are wanting to play there. So no, it’s not risky, it really just needs to be planned right I guess.
How long did it take you to get used to the touring lifestyle?
Back then when Immortal first started touring outside of Norway we realised it would be possible for us to tour as well. When we first started out there was a certain protocol the young bands had to follow. On your first tour you had to carry all the gear, set up the stage and test the equipment and drink all the warm beer [laughs]. Then on your second or tour you might get a better time slot, things get a little easier and you actually start getting a little money. In around ’95 we toured with Marduk and that was when we got to travel around Europe and play in places we didn’t know we could.
It feels like some bands these days are a lot more… soft! [laughs] They might complain that their food is too cold or whatever, they don’t have to go through the levels like we did. But it was always a lot of fun. Travelling on the road with great guys and great bands is always a lot of fun. It’s a great life man!
A lot of the other bands that started out around the same time as you have either split up or have been on hiatus for a long time. Yet you guys have been together this whole time and consistently release music. How do you think you have been able to stay together for all this time and still be as strong as ever?
We were all surprised when that started happening. Around 2000 when Emperor decided to stop we sort of saw it coming. They were kind of introverts, concentrating on their own music and such. Now Ihsahn and Samoth have their other projects. But then when Immortal stopped that was really weird, we sort of saw them as everlasting.
I guess for us it just came down to being lucky with the guys we have worked together with. We have always had a clear vision of what we were trying to do, but you know, we were open to suggest and input. The jobs have always been clearly divided, so one guy hasn’t had all the pressure or anything. And then, if you are putting in the effort in the rehearsal studio then you will have more of a say then if you just play a song and then go to the pub.
What was it like being a part of the early Black Metal scene in Norway? Were you friends with all the other bands?
It was more pen palling, you know, writing letters and stuff like that. You would meet up if, let’s say… I remember Morbid Angel coming to Oslo and everyone would meet up in this record shop run by the Mayhem guys and then we would go to the show. You’d talk a little bit and all that stuff, but it was in most cases a bit more formal rather than a close personal relationship with everybody. Of course you knew some of the people better, and you know a guy like Euronymous spent a lot of time travelling around Norway and he was also running his record company and all that so he would stay in touch with all the bands he signed. He was always on the lookout for bands and worked towards this idea of a scene. He was a charismatic guy that sort of connected the scene. When he died the scene sort of fragmented back into the different cities with right wing nuts on one side and musicians on the other.
That’s amazing! Just for my own personal interest, did you ever know Valfar from Windir?
Yeah, again, that was a more formal relationship. We met him, actually I think we played one or two shows with them. We met him at some festivals, he was the guy from the countryside who would come into Bergen sometimes and drink heavily at The Garage, the local pub here. So yeah, we met him a couple of times but we got to know the other guys in the band who became Vreid a little bit later.
What do you think about bands like Alcest that are mixing outside influences with metal?
Well I absolutely love Alcest. I think they are a rare flower in the world of metal. We got to tour with them a while ago and I became a fan of them after seeing them play. That was really a perfect situation for me to see them. And they are such great guys as well, we had a really fun time. I’d love to do it again and I’m looking forward to more of their music. I definitely love hearing bands moving forward with sound and trying new things.
I think I have taken up enough of your time now Ivar! It was a real honour for me to talk to you and I really cannot wait for your show here in November!
Alright thanks man, we are looking forward to it as well! See ya soon!
Enslaved will be touring Australia this October/November with special guests Rise of Avernus.
Perth: Thursday October 31st – Rosemount Hotel
Melbourne: Friday November 1st – The Hifi Bar
Sydney: Saturday November 2nd – The Manning Bar
Brisbane: Sunday November 3rd – The Hifi Bar
Tickets on sale now!