January 8, 2014 Interview – Satyr of Satyricon
Norway was a breeding ground for black metal music during it’s formative years. One of the pioneering bands during the 1990’s embodying the movement was Satyricon. Through the years Satyricon have risen from underground legends to one of metal’s primary bands. Standing tall in the face of question, Satryicon’s progression in sound and style over the course of their eight studio albums is a testament to their pride and individuality. In 2013 their self-titled album Satyricon continue that journey with a dynamic and thought provoking mix of style and atmosphere. Recently we sat down with mastermind Satyr for an enlightening look at the history of the band, balance in life, a yearn for growth, and much more.
Crypticrock.com – Satyricon was formed back in 1991 and since that time you have released 8 full length albums. The band has progressed over the years in sound but always keep the dark black metal elements present. How would you describe the progression of the band over the past 2 decades?
Satyr – Like most other bands, we do better when we really enjoy what we are doing in order to have fun. In order to be motivated and inspired there has to be a sort of quest or a challenge. Those can be personal ambitions that have to do the way you perform your instrument, related to the strong structure, to the overall atmosphere of the music, production, or anything. I think the most important element that has kept us moving forward all the time is the will and desire to go places where we haven’t been before. That in itself doesn’t necessarily suggest every time you do a new record you are out there to reinvent the wheel. It’s more a case of when we complete an album it’s almost as if the train has reached the end station. We emotionally depart that project, reset the computer, and ask ourselves what now. Usually we just start to jam, as we go there will be things there that stand out as things that we would like to pursue and based on that we set goals for ourselves. In the case of the new album it took longer than it usually takes, but I think a lot of that came down to the fact that throughout the 2000’s we on the tour all the time and were so tired. We needed some sort of break to get into that mind frame where we needed to move forward musically.
Crypticrock.com – Right and I suppose that is why they call them albums because it’s a period in your life and where you are at that point in your life. Many have misconceptions about black metal as an art form. I think most people believe black metal music to be satanic but that is not necessarily true at all. What is your opinion on the art form you have been so entrenched in for so many years?
Satyr – Every time I reflect on the subject, more and more so I come to the conclusion the most important factor why there are so many misconceptions, misunderstandings, and wrongs out there is because there has been a change of generation. I was thinking about it today, I was at the gym looking out the window and some kid passed by, not sure how old, probably 18, and he was wearing some Mayhem t-shirt. I thought to myself, wow this guy was most likely not even born when we started playing together. How would someone like him know where it all comes from and the basic idea of what this whole movement was? What kind of insight do you get if you were not around? What I understand from reading the things I read there has been some sort of redefinition of black metal in public opinion that doesn’t match the original idea.
I more or less made the decision to not try and fight that because I know which generation I belong to. I like making music based on those principals. To try and educate a whole generation on what Black metal is about is too big of a task and I am not sure if I want that job. The most important thing to understand, if you are trying to learn what the essence in what black metal is about, is it’s essentially defined by a feeling. It’s not how the logo looks, not the production, although that can be an element, and not necessarily the speed. You can suggest that, in general, black metal tends to be more atmospheric than say death metal, but I think first and foremost black metal is about a certain feeling. Whether a band looks a certain way or not, that’s not really the most important thing nor their lyrical themes, it’s the feeling. How to detect that? You just either get it or you don’t.
Crypticrock.com – I agree with you. It’s interesting to see black metal as an art form become as popular and in many ways as mainstream as it is. Your newest self-titled record Satyricon was released back in September 2013 and it is receiving a very positive response. The record appears to have an experimental edge to it. Tell me what the concept behind the writing and recording of the album was.
Satyr – Well Frost put it well when he said at the end of the touring cycle of The Age of Nero (2008), we had that record in every cell of our body’s, and we just couldn’t write a new record at the time. We had to distance ourselves from what we had just been through. That was the most intense touring cycle this band has ever done. I took a year and a half doing other things than music. For those 18 months we played 4-5 shows at the most. We didn’t practice; we didn’t do anything in the studio. When we started working again it was because I really wanted to. I had many ideas and thoughts where to go musically. I wanted it to be more melodic, I wanted it to be more atmospheric. I really like dynamics in music, but I always felt that it is so hard in metal music to come across dynamically. It is like the house is packed with people. There is so much sound going on so how do you maneuver in that landscape?
One of the things that I thought was try and see what happens when you get rid of some of the elements that keeps turbo charging everything you do all the time. For me there are some very simple but yet really effective moves. We didn’t use distortion pedals at all. That’s probably not too uncommon in rock music, but in metal it’s pretty uncommon not to use any pedals whatsoever, but we didn’t. That changes the tone of the guitars to a slightly less aggressive sound, slightly less sustained, but also more dynamical. There is more air and space in the sound. When it’s not turbo charged by an effects pedal, to me, it doesn’t only affect the way you play it, it also influences the way you write. That was one thing that I started applying already from day one because I knew it would affect the choices I was going to make.
One other thing I wanted to do was bring back the old drum kit we used between 1993 and 2003 because I think it’s a fantastic sounding drum kit. It was in bad condition so it needed some refurbishing. It just has a tone to it that I really like a lot; that I thought would fit the music. Interestingly enough that drum kit, that is in our possession still, has been featured on so many albums. It was used on all the old Satyricon albums up until Volcano and then again used it on a new one. Emperor used it on In the Nightside Eclipse (1994), Mayhem used it on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994), Darkthrone used it on a couple of records, it’s featured on at least one Burzum record, and it’s been on 1 or 2 Enslaved records. So, it’s a drum kit with a lot of history (laughs).
Also in the past we used a lot of analog equipment because there are some obvious benefits. I felt that with trying to express more dynamics and making the record more melodic and atmospheric going further with using physical outboard gear instead of computer plug-ins would bring out more of the stuff I wanted. I like natural compression from recording onto to tape as opposed to stimulating that with software. Sometimes you don’t get the definition you can from a digital recording, but to me a record like this is not suppose to be about the ultimate definition, it’s suppose to be about a certain vibe. We feel ourselves, that this record exceeded our expectations so we are really happy about it. Obviously we are really excited about the positive response and having had really high chart entries in many territories, that’s exciting. I actually think another thing that is really interesting about it is it’s been getting some really bad reviews too. I think it is a record that doesn’t take any prisoners. It’s very uncompromising in its own way; it’s definitely not for everyone. Frost and I reflected a little bit on this too, that many of the records that are milestones today, when they came out they were somewhat controversial. They were not all immediately understood. We feel that this record is definitely a grower. It has qualities to it that will give it the longevity we think it deserves. It will be interesting to see how this record is going to be preserved 10 years down the road or even longer.
Crypticrock.com – You’re right. Sometimes things aren’t received well at first but over a long period of time is the true judgment. One thing certain is that you are a man that does not like to limit your artistic expressions. You started Moonfog Productions early on, have done an organic medieval style record in Wongraven in 1995, and worked with Storm and Thorns. With all the work you have done can fans expect to hear any new musical spawns from you in the coming years?
Satyr – I hope so. I have to say one thing which is good about getting older is you understand better what you need as a human being in order to be at your very best. I have made many moves like that over the past 4-5 years, that I get rid of the elements in my life that are not working out for me and I try and do more of the things I know are inspiring and motivating. One of the things I started really thinking about 5 years ago is why am I on tour all the time? When I dreamt about being a musician and all these things, my idea was of writing songs, writing albums, being in the studio, and being creative.
I never dreamed about being on stage, so why am I on stage all the time? I started asking myself all these questions, and as an artist in the modern world you realize playing live is definitely a part of it. It’s also something we definitely enjoy, but I have to admit not to the extent that we were doing it all the time. That’s the life of a gypsy, being in the back of a tour bus or going through airport security for the majority of your life. What I would like to do is work more in the studio. Like the project we did here in Oslo, we did a show with a Norwegian national opera chorus. I spent a year and a half planning that show, that doesn’t make sense when it’s just one show. I would have done it again, and I probably will do it again because it was the most fun I had in a long time.
I will actively be pursuing other opportunities, new ways, and other things to do because I really enjoy it. I much rather spend my time doing a lot of that stuff than be on tour all the time. Having said that, I don’t have anything on my table right now, but that is what I’d like to do so I am going to go look for it.
Crypticrock.com – That is definitely something to look forward to. I imagine just besides wanting to make music touring has to be very taxing on your body and mind being on the road so much.
Satyr – It does. I think our live bass player, Anders “Neddo” Odden, put it well. He has toured all over the world with us and with Celtic Frost during their reunion in 2006, and his own band in the 90’s. We were talking about it while on tour in Russia. It was a really good tour but at the end we were looking forward to going home because it was quite intense and tiring. We were looking at some people in our touring party that looked like they didn’t want to go home. He said some people don’t have a life. Some people have nothing outside of music; it’s just about going out there playing music, drinking beer, and doing the same thing again and again. So when they come home they return to nothing, there is nothing there. They don’t want to go home. For the rest of us who have studios we can go to, we have families, we have friends, and we have other interests in life. Touring is a good element to have in life, but for that to be the only thing, that is just not something I’d like to spend the one life I have doing.
Crypticrock.com – That is a great analogy. Besides music you have also dabbled in the art of wine making. Regardless if you are a wine drinker or not there is something very interesting about the process of making a fine wine. What was this experience like for you?
Satyr – I very much enjoy working with wine production. Unfortunately a part of it is doing all these wine tastings. I don’t like that. I like holding wine lectures for wine clubs. I do that now and then. I recently did a lecture which was entertaining because I was in front of a crowd with hardcore enthusiasts and you can go very in depth on certain subjects in the culture which I think is very interesting. It’s the production process that interests me the most.
I got into wine through traveling the world. You get a different perspective on what it means to be a human being. You go to so many places, you come across so many different cultures, ways of doing things, different people with mentalities, different languages, climates, food, drinks, everything. I started understanding after a while just being someone who enjoyed the occasional good bottle of wine. Within the world of wine you actually have an underground and you have a mainstream.
You have all these different movements, quite similar to my background in music really. I started hooking up with many of these underground producers and to my satisfaction it was almost reliving the old black metal days to a certain extent. I started meeting people that run really small wineries that are completely hardcore and uncompromising about their wine. Some of these people have 100’s of years of wine making in their families and they live in some of the most beautiful places in Europe, rich in culture and history. It’s very interesting for me to encounter. I also made friends with some really unorthodox people. Weird places like Lebanon, I got to know a wine making family that run vineyards in Hezbollah control areas. We had to actually pass Hezbollah check points to get to the vineyard. To my knowledge Hezbollah is considered to the government of the United States as a terrorist organization. That was interesting and quite intimidating too. There was this whole world out there I had no insight into until 3-4 years ago.
Crypticrock.com – It sounds extremely interesting. It really makes you realize how magnificent the world is and how many different cultures there are to learn about. My last question for you is regarding films. Crypticrock.com is a rock/metal and horror news site so we like to focus on all genres. Are you a fan of horror films and if so what are some of your favorite horror films?
Satyr – I have some friends that are really into horror films. Philip Anselmo has this insane collection of horror films and not just horror films but original horror film posters. I remember when he and I were working on a musical project together he would sit on the phone bidding on an auction for original horror movie posters from the 1970’s. Personally I have no insight on horror. I remember when we were kids we would watch all these horror movies that were on the scene like Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Friday The 13th (1980).
One movie which I thought was really entertaining at the time around 1986, which I actually haven’t seen since then, was a movie called The Toxic Avenger (1986). I am not really a horror movie guy. I like Stanley Kubrick films. I guess everyone likes Clockwork Orange (1971) but I really liked Eyes Wide Shut (1999). To me that is a little bit about why I like the books of Brent Easton Elis. You obviously have American Psycho (1991), but I like books The Rules of Attraction (1987) and The Informers (1994). There is nothing spectacular going on at any time in those books but there is there an underlined darkness, the vibe is very creepy. That is what I liked about Eyes Wide Shut, there is no climax what so ever, but there is this nerve and darkness all the way through. You never get quite comfortable when you watch it because it has a weird vibe to it. I like movies like that. I like some David Lynch as well; sometimes to me it’s just too flat out weird. I like movies that portray a certain atmosphere more so than being a story teller.