It's always such a cool feeling to go to a concert where they'd play a music you never listened to prior to that evening and after five minutes into the concert get completely sold to the sound and the live show on stage. That's the effect that the release concert of Ã˜rkenkjÃ¸tt's 'Ã˜nskediktet' had on me after seeing them live at John Dee. Ever since I started listening to the album on daily basis and as I found it as one of the most interesting releases this year, I tried to get in touch with the band for an interview in which I could discover the origins of such a cool album. The two guitarists, Simen Munthe-Kaas Rem and Christian GrÃ¸nli, sat down for a chat with me and introduced me to the band's concepts, the way they got hooked into the Arabian music and what's with the piano playing horse on their album cover. Plus some news in the upcoming future of the band, a band that you can follow on their record label's website or on Facebook.
Me: Let's hear a bit of band history, how did it all start and how did it evolve or change to get where you are today?
Ã˜rkenkjÃ¸tt: It basically started with the two of us in school, jamming on the corridors or during class. It was the kind of school far up in the mountain, in Telemark, like one and a half hours away from Notodden, a place where everyone was a farmer. And there we were, listening to Immortal, exchanging CDs - Christian was the one who was into Immortal and Simen more into Emperor due the guitar lessons with Ihsahn. And so we started with the jamming. Not many people up there would be into that since every guy's dream was to be a farmer or or to drive a big truck or so. It's the kind of place where the same genes go all the way through all generations. They don't see the difference between the wives and their sheeps, getting people very close to their animals.
(Christian) Simen had also had experience from playing with several bands and so he kinda dragged me into starting a band together. He brought some people from the other bands he was working with, but they're all gone from the current band.
Me: So you actually started as a black metal band?
Ã˜: That was our main interest at that time. Black metal band, with Norwegian lyrics and influences from all kind of metal bands. We started late 2005 and did our first gig early February 2006, I think. We didn't sound at all like today, but we had this spirit that we knew we wanted to develop and there was a good connection between us. Ever since it's been almost 100 gigs all over Norway.
Me: So many gigs without actual full releases?
Ã˜: We had two EPs. One recorded 2007 and one late 2008. I'm really glad that we haven't been a studio band all the time, but rather focused on playing live. That's a great experience and energy to bring with you in the studio and it also allows songs to develop as you play them live, because we'd always listen back to the recordings of the shows and learn from that. Also live, there's this energy let's say, that you can't offer people on a CD. I'm glad we had all these live shows so far because when we recorded the album we felt like the songs have developed over a long period of time, we saw them evolving into great final results.
Me: How long have you played with the current line up to get this compact band feeling that you have today?
Ã˜: I think that was from our second EP, about 2008, when 'Skygger og stÃ¸v' was first recorded and it turned us into this 'oriental' direction. With this lineup, we participated in every competition we could and every gig we could get our hands on. Actually it was from the very beginning that we played any gig we'd get, like weekends in some small youth clubs and such. Then suddenly, in 2007, we won the big rock competition in Telemark so we started getting a lot of festival invites in Telemark and then in other regions in Norway. Oslo, Trondheim, Molde, etc. We even played one gig in Lithuania.
Me: So Norway offers enough support for small startup bands and you've been given a chance by the community?
Ã˜: Some people supported us, but in Notodden, the 'base-city' for the band, everything the youth does is driving their car up and down, 200 times, on the same street, with high volume music. They pretty much hated us because we wanted something else and didn't follow the pattern. But the overall government support and funds are helpful as long as they see you want to do something and work hard for it. But after the above mentioned shows, the wheels started spinning faster and faster so we ended up with a gig at the Inferno festival in Oslo in 2009. It was special for us since it got the first real publicity around the band, TV interview, big article in this Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten. A lot of attention for us. We kept on playing a lot live in 2010 and then we came to the point we had to record and album. It had been like five years afterall and after playing so much live and getting better at that, we thought we had this concept ready and it was time to put it on disc.
Me: Speaking of concept, what's the story behind the album? Did you come up with the songs during all those live performances or was it a matter of sitting down in the rehearsal room and jamming?
Ã˜: The first track, 'Skygger og StÃ¸v', like I said before, was on our second EP and that, in many ways, defined our sound today. The album kinda spawned from that song. I also consider that it was some sort of a reaction to the 'ice cold' we all got from the existing black metal music. While the desert can be even more colder. You know, rock music is supposed to be fuckin' hot and it was much more exotic and exciting to us to think and dig into that world, the darkness that you can find in the Arabic culture, rather than the ice cold mountains. The excitement with the latter is lost by now, since you can just pick up an Immortal album and find that. For us, it was a much bigger creative reward to dig into something else.
Me: Did any of you have any particular interest in the Orient in any way or any special experience with it?
Ã˜: (Simen) I travelled there several times, twice to Egypt and one time to Dubai, but it was a lot of what we've seen on television.
We all love Aladdin…
What we find cool is that usually, even in the more happy Arabic stories, there's some darkness and mysticism around it that we wanted to grab and put it through our music, blend it with our rock'n'roll. And then you get the Ã¸rkenrock. Or the desert rock.
It actually came very naturally. I don't know why, but it just did.
It was never like someone saying 'We should to this and that, and this would be interesting for other people!'
We never sat down, never planned much, it all just happened naturally.
Most of the songs didn't even sound as they are today, in the beginning. But then we came up with various ideas, or interesting patterns and we just followed them deeper and deeper. You can visualise Ã˜rkenkjÃ¸tt like some dirt into which we planted seeds and the flowers grew out of it, not really sure what they'd be, but once they grow, they stretch really high.
Me: Did you ever listen to a lot of music from that part of the world? Or did the sounds come so natural to you?
Ã˜: Of course there were a lot of film scores, soundtracks that we all knew and liked. But mainly, when we played certain notes, that appealed to something inside us…
It's like we found a scale and then decided to push it up half a note or so and made it sound more interesting, and giving it an Oriental flavor at the same time. A bit of reinventing the wheel. We had some fun discoveries.
Me: I noticed that few other Norwegian bands who enjoy more and more attention today, use Norwegian as main language for their lyrics. You guys made the same decision. How do you think the people come to love music when they can't understand a word?
Ã˜: I think it's because of the overall energy the band brings to the landscape. For us, everything has been about honest expression. Using your mother tongue, it's more natural. In English, it all feels filtered, it's not our primal voice. That's something people can recognise. Besides, the black metal bands from the 90s have done the job for us as they made people study Norwegian, be able to understand a bit, so they prepared the ground for us.
Me: I was reading an article yesterday about the fact that learning Norwegian lowers the chances for dementia…
Ã˜: Hehe. But for example, artists like BjÃ¶rk or Sigur RÃ³s, people don't stop listening to them just because they can't understand Icelandic. But it appeals to people. Plus, nowadays you don't need a three or five years study of some language, you just use Google translate to find out what some lyrics are saying. You won't get the subtleties between the lines, but you'd get the main idea.
But probably the main meaning would disappear if you translated our lyrics, so maybe sometimes it's not so useful to know the words to sing along, but not know what it is about and be puzzled when you hear it rearranged live.
Me: Back to the album is a concept. Can we get some hint on what the concept is about?
Ã˜: Actually discovery is part of the concept. But it has some really deep meanings behind. There's a story, not a very concrete one, more like a philosophical journey inside a person.
You can say we got our own universe and this is like a key for the people to come inside.
Like Simen said, it's this universe, and the journey I was talking about, it also takes place in this universe. That's the metaphors you will find both in the lyrics and the music, which will give you the right visuals when you are going to explore the concepts.
Overall, when you listen to this album, it's not like you have to know anything in advance. Just be open to what you hear and not put any quick solutions to anything, just follow and give your mind to the music. We don't want to tell people what this or that is, just let them discover and create their own part in that universe. It's room for everyone in the 'Ã¸rkenland'.
Me: Are you considering bringing certain visuals to your shows as well? So far I've seen mainly the singer who wears this like Arabian dress, plus you have carpets on stage and a broken camel.
Ã˜: Yea, we are thinking of something in that direction.
A friend of mine told me something cool the other day. He was listening to our album and said he could really feel the heat in one of our songs.
Me: Actually, if you listen to the song about five suns and you're outdoors on a warm day, I agree with your friend.
Ã˜: About the visuals, we're developing that now. A concert is made both of the sound but also what you experience with your eyes. We're thinking to maybe add some screens or so, but on the other hand we don't want to take away people's own imagination. Everyone gets their own picture inside their minds, we maybe can just guide them a little.
Me: When it comes to the instruments used on this album. At basics, you have the classical rock/metal composition, drums, guitars, bass and vocals. But there's more one can hear on this album. So what did you guys blend with the 'regular' instruments?
Ã˜: A lot of exotic drums. Our vocalist has these exotic drums that we used, but if you saw our release concert, Tobias (Leprous drummer) used a lot of percussion stuff, Arabic drums, cowbells, tambourines.
When we recorded, we stood in a circle around the microphone and clapped for one of the songs. We also stepped on the floor in a certain rhythm. Anything that we thought would fit at the moment.
It was important that the sound we made felt right. Even if it was just doing this <insert finger snapping sound here> . If you heard the song 'Livets frÃ¸', we have a kind of flamenco part there. For that, we used the clams that Mikael brought from a vacation in Spain. We used everything that was fit and would build up around our sound.
Also, Ihsahn and Heidi were really good to keep us on the right track. You can hear there's some keys, and that's what Heidi did with an el-piano. They did the organ parts together, we have some classic rock organ every now and then. Ihsahn is a very symphonic dude, so for 'Fem soler' he did all the arrangements for the orchestra. But more in an American Western way. Actually that's one goal we have for one day, to have Ã˜rkenkjÃ¸tt doing everything together with an orchestra.
Me: What about the blues part at the end of the 'Profeten'. Or the sound of the last song, 'Redneck Randy'…
Ã˜: You know Notodden is the blues capital in Norway. Hehe.
Actually it came naturally like that. We all love classic rock like Zeppelin and such. It was something that felt so cool. We also worked with Morten Omlid who has won several national guitar contests. He's like the blues guitar king. It was cool to get him to lay down the solo for us. Plus Mikael gets so involved into singing that part, so it was fun to see how he managed it so cool on the record too. That last song also shows we're not locked into anything, not even in the Norwegian language. We just use what feels natural at the moment, and that was right at the moment we made the song. It all happened in a hot day in Ihsahn's studio when we just called Morten, he came with his guitar, plugged it in, jammed a bit and then we just recorded.
He nailed it.
We have it on tape. Or, well, I hope we have it on tape.
That guy lives for guitar. When he plays solos, his face almost melts. It's a cool experience to see him.
Even if I said that it came naturally, it also surprised us too in the way it ended up. We obviously can't have any rules or restrictions for our music since we managed something like that. It also surprises people and I love to surprise people, since I love to be surprised myself by new stuff that I hear. It's a cool feeling.
Me: I actually thought that my music player skipped to another artist when I was hearing the end of the 'Profeten' song.
Ã˜: Hehe. About our last song, some people actually misunderstand that. Redneck Randy is also part of that universe. He's a part of the concept. It's like a world within a world, a universe within the universe. All the album is like an adventure and then you come to a trip within a trip.
And how can you know that the whole album, prior to the 'Redneck Randy' song, is not a concept or a journey happening inside Redneck Randy's head? And then it takes you to another place because he's on acid and he starts fighting aliens?
Me: More and more young people are getting self educated into using music programs at home, record by themselves, do the mixing, etc. But you decided to work with Ihsahn's studio. How much of a difference do you think that makes in the final result? It's probably a matter of saving money versus working with experienced people..
Ã˜: The difference is quite big. They have like twenty years of experience. It's great to start and record at such a level.
We believed in our album being good, so it didn't feel right to make quality compromises. We see it like we have slowly started to rise with our flying carpet, but Ihsahn and Heidi had been flying their carpet in 20 years. So it would have taken a lot for us to get that far, but they invited us on their carpet to fly at the same level. We felt that our music deserved that. They knew how to make the album into a whole, to make the sound through the album compact and complete. We couldn't get the input and the sound on the album as good in any other way.
Me: You told me you played very often live, but I guess that since you're not the most famous band out there, you don't often get to play big stages. You're a lot of people on stage, with a lot of energy. Do accidents happen often at your shows?
Ã˜: Yea, we fell off the stage quite often. When Redneck Randy enters the stage it's chaos.
We're all like characters on stage, Mikael is the prophet for example. He has a heavy job on stage so it's good for him that at the end of the show Redneck Randy takes over. People also find it cool when a guy from the United States comes in and we can collaborate with folks from outside Norway, like Redneck Randy.
Me: Why is there a horse playing the piano on the album cover? Why not a camel for example?
Ã˜: Aren't horses and camels related in some way?
I think they are!
It's the surrealism of the image that really describes the concept.
In our universe, there's horses too, not only camels
Me: True, you said there's room for everybody…
Ã˜: The guy who painted the image on the cover, he's a good friend of ours - Christian Berg Gravningen - and…
Maybe we should have a horse playing the piano in the opening act?
Yea, in a real western bar style. And at the end, people can come up and kill it. But the piano still continues playing, since it's not the horse playing it. Back to the story though, Christian Berg got an early mix we had from the studio, plus the lyrics. We told him that this was his key to our universe..
He couldn't sleep for days. He had this vision of a horse and didn't know where it came from. He kept listening to the album and he didn't realise the vision was related to it until he started painting it.
You can say that every person's experience with the album is of equal worth and that's one thing that came out from this guy, after listening to the album. That's what he saw and couldn't put the vision away until he got to paint it. It's a big painting, over one meter. We would like to give that to everyone, so now that we got the LPs, that's the closest way for people to get that image.
Me: That's why you don't want to give away the key, since it has such unexpected effects on everybody?
Ã˜: We hope everyone starts visualising things. Would be so cool to get drawings with what effects the album has on people who listen to it.
Me: I guess the logical step is to go touring and promote the album, right?
Ã˜: We already have several offers, some gigs planned later in the year. The upcoming Friday we play the biggest stage in Kristiansand with Blood Red Throne for example. We will actually open the ProgPower festival in Netherlands and it feels great to open for all those people there who seemed so much into music. The festival leader put a link to one of our songs and got so many replies and comments, so we're excited about playing there. We know we're going to get so much energy back from the crowd out there.
When we played in Lithuania, like five years ago, it was really crazy. They set up a big stage at the stairs of the city hall. The whole city had gathered on the streets there and they had this fence to protect the stage, but the people started tearing it down. The guards had a lot of work to do. The day before, when we arrived, we learned how cheap the alcohol was down there, so we managed to trash like three hotel rooms, throwing the TV out the window and stuff.
(Christian) I just turned eighteen and was living the rock star dream.
The hotel called the police, who came and surprised us since we are not used with policemen carrying around guns like they did. We suddenly came up with some money and they left us alone.
The story had spread around really fast among the people, so the gig next day was so insane.
But back to what's in our future plans, we just announced a European tour as support for our friends from Leprous. The tour will start at the end of September in Oslo, Norway and will cover cities from Denmark, Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Spain, Netherlands, UK, Belgium, France and Germany. But there's more dates to be confirmed in the future, so stay tuned for the cool news.