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Interview with Satyr from "KNAC" by Mick Stingley (12 October 2004)
Black Metal fans already know the lead singer and force of Satyricon. Rock fans may be getting into the heavy, hooky music on their latest record, "Volcano" which features the track, "Fuel For Hatred".
Long-distance from Norway, vocalist Satyr talks about the new record, his native land, politics, immigration, making a video with famed director Jonas Åkerlund, as well as fondness for wearing Dolce & Gabbana shirts...
Hello? Satyr? I can barely hear you...
Hello? Oh yeah...
That's better. Must have been some interference... how are you? You sound a little tired.
I just flew back home this morning... and I was so tired when I came home that I just planned to go to sleep, so yeah. Then our publicist called me and reminded me about today... so yeah. Tired.
Well, I appreciate you taking the time to talk. You're in Norway I take it...
Yeah. I'm in Norway. Slipknot came in yesterday, and I'm good friends with Joey Jordison and he sort of blackmailed me into coming down to the south coast where they were playing the festival there... so it was a late night. I haven't really listened that much to their music in the past and I'm not sure if all of it is for me, but I have the utmost admiration for them as musicians and professionals and I think they put up a very, very good show. Most of those guys are also really, really nice guys.
Well, I've just come around to Satyricon...
It's never too late!
This is your first major-label record - you're on Columbia now... Daron Malakian's imprint... that's got to feel great.
I think it was the right move for us because I know that Century Media/Nuclear Blast family is doing better and better every year. And I think those guys are really good at what they do... but for us we a had good experience working with EMI in Europe on that same record, we saw that it gave us better budgets with better distribution that it was before... for us, it was I guess, it was just fresh and it felt like they were ambitious on our behalf, so that is the reason we chose to do it this way this time.
I met and interviewed Casey Chaos a few months ago. He brought you to Daron and Columbia?
I don't know that he brought me to Daron, but, that's definitely - it was through Casey that I met Daron. I was visiting Casey in Los Angeles, and Daron came down to his house. We knew that we were going to meet during that stay, so it was definitely part of the plan, but doing anything together? It pretty much happened in Casey's backyard. Daron and I just kept walking out in the backyard to smoke. He just talked about how much he loved the record, because he got a copy from Casey, and yeah... He said that he was a real fan of our music, he talked about how he would want to release music like this through his label, but it was a lot of work because the people at Columbia would never get it. I said, "Dude, we're signed to Capitol Records in Europe. I don't see why they wouldn't be able to do it. Slayer has been connected to the Columbia system for years". I guess he was being too pessimistic for such possibilities. I explained to him how I needed something new in America, and how I needed that. That I was passionate and willing to be ambitious on our behalf to take us a step further in America. He asked if I was really interested... and I said definitely as long as there is, like, a real will within the system to promote music and do this, I'm very interested. He then started making phone calls... and then a few days after I came home he said, "Everyone is on board, and everyone wants to do this. So let's just start negotiating a contract".
Were his fears about the label "not getting it" because you're playing Black Metal, or because you're playing heavy music?
Probably the reason he the stuff he said in the first place was, because, maybe, he realized how far and to the full extent this thing, Black Metal, has gone in Europe. You know? In the way that "Fuel For Hatred" - that song was in heavy rotation on national radio, at least here in Norway. At the time, when we started talking, we had picked up a Norwegian Grammy for the record. We had a video for the song directed by Jonas Åkerlund, one of the most renowned video directors in the entire world. He's worked with Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Madonna and so on... so - as underground or whatever, as the music might be to him... I don't think he quite realized how big it is in Europe. So maybe he underestimated the power of Black Metal! Like, with Sony/Columbia, I mean, they have a million divisions and labels and there are different ways of doing this. I think the AMEN record goes through Columbia machinery; whereas our record goes through Red Ink, which is owned by Sony/Columbia... and they have a long history of working with alternative music, don't they?
Well, you've been in and on the scene for more than ten years. You were around when Black Metal began, really.
So you've seen the evolution of it and have a better understanding than anyone at a label. You must have been nervous. Can you describe to those who haven't really experienced Black Metal... is this more than music? Or is what you're doing just another progression of metal?
Well, in many ways I guess it's both, yeah? I regard what we do as "Black Metal" and I feel like, to me, it's as if there's... every once in a while you see bands that are desperate to avoid the tags and all. "We're so special... you're limiting our art by saying that we're this or that." Blah, blah. To me that's all a bit pretentious. Satyricon is a Black Metal band, but is it Black Metal in a traditional, predictable way? I don't think so. I think Satyricon is a band that has existed for a long time. We have roots that go way back. But at the same time, we're also a very progressive and modern-thinking band. We're the kind of band that based on our historical foundation keeps pushing the boundaries of this music all the time, while setting the standard for ourselves and maybe for other bands to come. I have never really been inspired by other bands in any way that I want to steal their song structure or steal their riffs, you know? Maybe there are some impulses and certain atmospheres or vibes in other people's music that I pick up on and create, and try and create for myself through the Satyricon machine... but those kind of impulses I get from everywhere. I think a band like Dimmu Borgir gets that strictly from Iron Maiden and Sabbath... and Black Metal related bands. They're very, very orchestrated and they follow the tradition of thinking upon metal as an opera with distortion. Satyricon can be orchestrated and epic but it can also be very rock and roll, you know? Rock and stripped down. That is one of the key factors where we differ from many of the other bands that fall into that genre of more traditional... of what people perceive of Black Metal. You see that in our fans as well. Like someone who is a die-hard Iron Maiden fan, when they start liking Black Metal music... they start liking bands like Dimmu and stuff like that. At our shows... there is a mixture of fans. Fans that like Darkthrone and Mayhem, Slayer, and then kids that like bands like Queens of the Stone Age or Turbonegro.
Turbonegro? We have a lot of Turbonegro fans at KNAC...
We've actually done a few double-headlining shows in them in Norway in the last year. They're a cool bunch of guys. We don't sound very similar musically, but we come from the same place, so there's been a connection between the bands for a long time. We've both been kind of pioneers in our own fields. They were one of the first bands in Norway to start touring internationally... strange, strange things they do...
You mentioned winning the Norwegian Grammy. Tell me about that.
I think awards like that... my personal "Grammy" is when people in other bands, people in important bands, bands that I listen to and admire myself... when they come up to me and say "Volcano" rules... that to me is more important than anything and more important than winning the Grammy Awards. They are more of a thing for the record company and the publicity team to use to sell the record, I think. So when the fans get behind you, or your peers...
A while back "Dawn of a New Age" was remixed by the industrial band Apoptygma Berserk. How did that come about?
Okay, that was in the studio doing the record and I don't even remember. I think it was just by coincidence that some guys just dropped by the studio because they were in the neighborhood or something like that. And Stefan from "A-pop" was one of them... he's not a friend of mine, he's just an acquaintance, but he has been an acquaintance for many years. He listened to the song, "Modern", from Nemesis and he loved the song... and he said, "I'd love to remix this song." And I wasn't terribly excited about working remixes at the time, I was just like, "Do you mean you want to alter the song into the style of music you do? Take the parts and all that? Well, that would be interesting... you can do that". I didn't think so much about it. Then, sometime later, he said, "I'm still up for that remix if you want me to do it". But then he added, "But I'm getting more ideas for "Dawn of a New Age" and I think I want to do that song instead". And... I just said, "Whatever, man. This is your thing". You know? So... he did it, and while he was doing it he wanted me to come into the studio and do some spoken parts for the remix and I did that... but I purposely didn't interfere with the process. And when it was finished, I didn't really think it was all that great. That remix definitely has its moments but for me... it was just a very fascinating thing. You know something like that - it had never been done before... to Black Metal. And it was very interesting for me to see that happen and I was very excited by it - the idea of doing something like that and how strange it is. The thing itself, as a piece of music, even though it was not what I usually do. So we had decided to put out an EP called "Megiddo", which is kind of the closing chapter or the aftermath or the epilogue of the "Nemisis Divina" album. So we decided to put it there... and it created a lot of controversy. People freaking out saying, uh... "What the fuck is this?" or wondering if we have become a techno band. You know it is these metal people... all freaking out! They were so confused and "What's happening to Satyricon?" and all this. Even Stefan from "A-Pop" said, "I thought you might include it on the EP, but I was more than surprised to see that it was the OPENING SONG on the EP!" ...and I just said to him, "Well, why? This is just an EP, this is really interesting this thing that has been done here. And we're not out here trying to make strategic moves or analyze how the market is going to react to whatever..." And I think that's part of the beauty of Satyricon is that we don't function in that way. Right now we have, like, these people whispering in my ear, or who are trying to make money off Satyricon, they keep talking to me how they... they ask, "What's the direction of the next record?" You have different options, I think you can keep evolving the thing that you do... they ask, "Have you considered going more in the "Fuel For Hatred" direction?" and this. You know? What they're doing is suggesting that we should make more songs like "Fuel For Hatred" so that we might sell more records, and I am... I'm like, "I know what you're getting at. I make good songs. I try to do interesting things. I try to challenge myself as a creator and a listener of music and that's why we do these things..." And after all of this... all that controversy that it caused... now you see a lot of bands trying to do the same thing. And all of a sudden people started accepting it, you know?
Yes! I know that are a few... I knew that "Icon of Coil" has a remix of a "Theater Of Tragedy" song, and there is a remix of Metallica's "Fade To Black"... but it was an interesting choice nonetheless, for a Black Metal band, yeah. But sometimes metal people don't like that sort of thing... so I guess in Norway...
Yes. Sometimes they are very serious, here in Norway, too.
Tell me about Norway. I went to the tourist board website...
Oh yeah? The Slipknot guys were saying... it was their first visit to Norway, and that festival where they played is on the south coast, the festival is set up near a lake. Very beautiful scenery and you're outside the center of the city, and it was their first time here, in Christenson, and Slipknot had a dressing room where they sit outside and watch the swans that swim around and fjords... [Laughs] The mountains, the landscape the trees and the sun and all of this... and they were thrilled by the beauty of it all. It is a very nice place to live if you like nature.
Well, those pictures in your CD booklet for "Volcano"...
Oh those! Those are from Iceland, those pictures! But Norway has many similarities with Iceland language-wise... even though it is still very different from ours - it came from the same place, the Vikings. We share a lot of historical things... but if you've seen some of our older pictures from the CDs... a lot of Norway. There are certain places in America, when we toured with Morbid Angel in May... driving into Seattle, in the state of Washington that reminded me of eastern parts of Norway, the Oslo area. I think that's something we tend to forget about America - they always think about New York and skyscrapers and Hollywood and the movie industry. But America has a lot of beauty this way. The state of Washington is very, very different from the state of Arizona, this way. In many ways, Norway is like this. We don't have states, we have counties, and up north it's very mountainous and you don't have that many trees, and climate is pretty dramatic. But on the south coast is paradise-like, with lakes and fjords and trees and sunshine... so, sometime you should visit and see it all.
There is some inspiration there for Black Metal; and you drew on this for some lyrics, no?
I guess I did in the beginning a bit more. I think Sepultura would never have sounded the way they sound with their original line-up if they weren't from Brazil. And I kind of doubt that Metallica would have sounded the way they sounded if they were from the Czech Republic. And it's the same way with us and they Norwegian Black Metallers with our surroundings. We live in the nature and the society that we're a part of and everything that we see and experience in our lives living in Norway influences our music and the music that we make.
With all that's going on in the world, and this country, how do people in Norway look at America? How do you?
Well, I think what we're seeing in general about your country is that we're - and you are - getting more and more polarized, you know? You have forces which are trying to unite the world through the European Union, or The United Nations and NATO. Let's all make a pact that we don't kill each other! That's pretty much the idea of NATO, you know? I was born in 1975, but I would learn about The Cold War when I went to school. Political forces which try and unite... NATO is a very good example of that. That is the essence of NATO, the more members NATO has, the less chance for war, basically. That's how it works, you know? But what we see happening is the Western World and The Arab World are farther from each other than they've ever been. And terrorist attacks is their attempt to separate us even more; and your/our way of trying to eliminate that threat is doing the Iraq thing, and removing people who we consider a threat or a thorn in the side of our ideas of what the world should be like. And then have them try to become more like us so that they won't be a threat anymore and that seems to be the thing. And... they don't want to become like us, or you. And I'm just kind of watching it from the outside as far as like being interested in politics and what's going on in the world... but I am not very emotional about it. It affects us all in many ways, so you have to pay attention. People here are saying, "Crazy Arabs and crazy Americans... and now Americans are going to do whatever they want". And I remember just saying to everyone, "This will affect us. This is not New York versus Afghanistan". And then we couldn't even get our drummer into America.
Frost. He had passport problems.
Yeah. So, there are many reasons for it. He had an old... five-month sentence that dates back approximately ten years. He had an issue with airport authorities a few years ago when he was filling in for the Gorgoroth drummer and playing in Columbia and traveling through - he had to change flights through New York going back to Norway and they argued that he should have had a Visa for that. I guess actually you are supposed to have it, but he didn't know about this. He showed them his tickets to Oslo, Norway, but they kept arguing that he was attempting illegal immigration. And, he said, "You know, how can this possibly be? I have just played over in Columbia with this band, and now I'm getting on my connecting flight that's why I am in transit". I guess the whole thing came about that he was unlucky, and now with the system that America has - it definitely doesn't discriminate. If you have anything in your record, even though you're an educated man with a musical profession from Norway, one of the most wealthy modern societies in the world, they will still just - if there's anything written down in that computer about you, they will say, "Fuck him. He's not getting into this country." It's almost like it's easier for them to just stop everyone. I don't think America cares so much about the little man's destiny. I think they think that if it only will cause problems for a few hundred, a few thousand, few hundred-thousand, a few million people -- then whatever. We are just going to have to do what we have to do to protect America. I think that is just going to make it even worse. That kind of attitude is what is going to make people who didn't hate America [before], hate America. That's exactly what it's going to do. It's going to have the opposite effect. The more America segregates itself, and isolates itself, without getting the support of the European countries, the more irritated Europeans are going to be at Americans. I don't think it's the smart move for America to segregate itself from Europe, no, no no... it sucks! It's something that affects, in this case, my band. It's making our attempts at establishing ourselves in America very difficult. We can't even tour with our own drummer.
Which is a shame, because Frost is such a monster on the drums.
He is a monster. That's what I always said to people, how good he is. And people say, "Oh, yeah, he's a good drummer". And I say, "But you don't understand - you have to see him play live. You'll be blown away..." I don't think people realize how powerful he is, and how he plays with such authority and precision live. And then when people see him they always come back to me and say, "Aww! Frost, you know! Wow!" [Laughs] And I say, "I told you!" and they're like, "Yeah, I know - but awww! Still!" I tried telling them. The thing is about him is that his presence, on stage, even though he's hidden behind the drums is very powerful one, with the way he looks and how he hits - he hits ridiculously hard! And what he does in certain places might not sound as complicated as it actually is. So when people see this, how his hands work and how he works with his feet - they're blown away. I was absolutely gutted when they decided not to let him into the country, and we tried to fight it... and we spent an awful lot of time and money to fight it, which makes touring for us in America very, very difficult and to establish ourselves like we're attempting to do. I know there is a great want for Satyricon, attention for us here in America - with the label - and I think we can last for quite some time, but there are so many bands fighting for the same spotlight as we are and the attention of the press and the fans of metal music... it's almost like we're carrying this backpack full of burdens that makes it so much more difficult for us to join the race. That's just the reality we face. We managed. We did that tour with Morbid Angel, and we had "Trim" filling in, and I think we did well on that. Now we're just working on other possibilities... so that we can come back and tour America as much as possible in maybe six to eight months before we have to go back and enter the studio to record a new album.
Well, maybe some of us can make a trip over to Oslo to see Frost.
Yeah! Come to Norway...
I can hear your cell phone in the back, it's been ringing while you were talking there... are those ring tones Iron Maiden?
Oh, yeah! That is "The Number of the Beast"! [Laughs]
Tell me a little bit, if you will, why the band is just you and Frost.
Well... I guess. This is complicated. I ended up with a partner that has a great view and qualities, which are very admirable. But... musical creativity is not one of them. He - it's strange - he can... Frost is really, really good. For example, drawing, you know? Like in many ways, he's a very creative person, but he can't make riffs and stuff like that. You know? He's getting a lot better a lot better at it. Most of the time I come up with the drum parts, too. He will work with my ideas and compliment them with his... fills and this expertise and understanding of his instrument. But he is in many ways more of a solid worker than a creator you know what I'm saying? That is the reason why I have ended up with all the responsibility. And I am probably more interested in the creative things than he is. He is very interested in drumming, and he is very particular about the way he wants something to sound. But, for example, he's never been interested in the mixing process; but he's never been interested in actually hanging out in the studio throughout the process to try to contribute in the outcome, whereas I am extremely interested in that. I love working with sounds - I love mixing, I love creating the sounds, producing the instruments and the gear in recording the sounds. So we are very different from each other this way. And he is someone that I can trust and he is very loyal and we have a good working relationship and that has been a thing throughout the years - whenever we try to have someone else come in, it has never served us well. We've never had people come in and contribute and take some weight off my shoulders. People come in and I teach them the guitar parts and they play the guitar parts and they do nothing. They don't have any... they don't have that much to offer in the setting. Even though they've actually been encouraged to, they don't. So it's this - we have all these people here who aren't doing anything and we don't notice unless there's a problem. We have tried to establish a conventional band line-up, but it has never worked. So I remember saying to Frost, going into "Extravaganza", the record before "Volcano", where we tried to include some people in the band that wanted to be members of the band, and they disappointed us again. So I said to Frost, "Fuck it. This is it. Satyricon is just going to be us in the creative process and in the studio..." I definitely want to have a band for playing live, but representing the band and making the music in the studio... I don't want anyone else to be a part of that ever. Because it had been the two of us all the time anyways, and whenever someone came in for a year, six months or whatever, they didn't really do anything. So I just said, "Let's stop trying to make it more than it is." We are highly successful working this way... it's just not necessary, it seems. I've been trying to tell people this many times, but it's hard for them to understand. I can give you numerous examples of some of the biggest bands in the world in metal music where there are four or five members, and there's only a couple who actually play on the record. There are so many huge bands with two guitar players where you have one guitarist playing everything, and they might use one guy to do only the solos. Or they have a drummer, and they have a drum machine to do a lot of it, or a good studio drummer. And they might use the drummer on one or two songs and of course live. And the kids might want to see four or five guys in a band, that's their idea of a band. But a band quite often chooses to get rid of the least good elements of a band when they make a record. So what Satyricon does is the opposite. Aside from being totally honest about it, this is us: we are the two guys who do all the work, we represent the band. These guys - the other guys who play out live - they compliment us live. That's when they come in. So, I consider my live band "Satyricon". I don't point at one of my guitarists - I don't tell the audience that he's just here to play as a hired gun. I say, "This is my guitarist. He's in Satyricon." And they call themselves Satyricon members, they're just not part of the album process.
The video, which is on the CD, is a performance video. Those guys are there - Satyricon is a band.
Yeah. That is what we are and how we play.
There's also an extraordinarily beautiful young woman in there... who's quite naked and has a snake crawling all over her... in fact, she's covered in snakes!
Oh, yeah! But I have no idea. I've never met her before, and I hardly spoke to her throughout the process and I have never seen her again and I don't even know what her name is. [Laughs] Isn't that what big directors do? We say, "We need a naked chick for that, and we need a bunch of snakes..." and they say, "Okay. Will do". You know? And then you're there, and some chick walks in and lies naked on the floor and a couple of guys walk in with bags filled with snakes and they go, "Here are your snakes. Where do you want us to put them?" And the director points at the girl. That was the beauty of working with Jonas Åkerlund... we just wanted a performance video and something to enhance the performance. Simple elements... we're going to do that middle part and you do something to break up the performance bit of it so it wouldn't seem too static. Or undynamic. That was the beauty of the whole thing. Just to say... "I need this"... I remember when we were going to do the last scene. We started talking about things. He said, "Would it be okay if you were wearing white and maybe you sit in that corner and we pour blood down the walls?" And I thought, "Yeah, yeah. That'll look good". And the wardrobe woman came in with a pair of white of white pants... and she goes, "Oh, shit, we don't have a white shirt". They asked me if I could do it without a shirt. And I said, "Sure". But Jonas said, "No, I want him to have a shirt. I don't want people to focus on his tattoos and stuff like that". So... she said, "What kind of shirts do you like?" And I said, "What do you mean "shirts I like"?" and she asked, "Well, what is it you wear?" And I said, "Well... you mean like tank tops and stuff like that?" And she goes, "Yeah..." and I looked at her, and I said, "Well, those simple Dolce & Gabbana shirts - they fit me really well. They don't have any print on them and they fit well and they're not loose. I like those". And they said, "Okay, we'll get that". And I said to them, "No, you don't have to get that. It's 9:30 in the evening nothing's open. You're not going to get that anyways". And she said, "Well, you wait and see". So thirty minutes later, they came in with a selection of white Dolce & Gabbana shirts for me to try on! I don't know what they did - if they had someone open a store that was closed or what. Whatever. They sorted it out. That's what every artist appreciates and that's what is nice to work with someone like Jonas Åkerlund who knows that. You only want to channel your energy into the creative process; you only want to think about that. You don't want to think about stuff like, there's not enough power to have the lights on, or how late it is and how much the studio costs...
...or whether D&G is closed at 9:30!
[Laughs] Yeah! Exactly!
That's quite a ringing endorsement, I might add. "This Black Metaller, Satyr, wears..."
Dolce & Gabbana... I really enjoyed that process. I like Jonas' work. I am a big fan of his, and this is not something our record company in Europe set up, this is something I set up. I spent years trying to make this guy work with us. I established a relationship with him, and finally it happened one day. And we're planning on working together in the future. As an artist I have the utmost respect for him.
In closing... and by the way - if that girl in the video is from Norway... that's another reason to go visit Norway! But answer this for me: Given that your music is perceived as so dark... and yet you have demonstrated to me just now that you have a sense of humor...
What makes you happy?
Eh... well, succeeding musically makes me very happy. That is my one of the key motivating factors... to have a musical triumph this way makes me very happy. You know, it can be anything from enjoying a piece of music, be it mine or someone else's. Perhaps a good movie... being with my brother, or my girlfriend. Skydiving. That makes me happy. If my favorite soccer-team, Liverpool, wins, that makes me happy. The experience in nature, the thrill of snowboarding is thrilling... those make me happy. But a lot of things piss me off, too! [Laughs]
Well, thanks for taking the time with KNAC...
I have heard about KNAC before... I have seen this on a sticker, maybe a bumper-sticker. I think I have seen this in America somewhere. Very good. I will look for it all. My thanks to you... we will try to come back to America in the winter, I think.
Well, I look forward to seeing you then.
Okay. Take care!
Taken from: KNAC
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