A Monster That Eats Us Away

Story online since:  21.03.2011 / 08:20:32

Mid of March 2011. You’re being lied to. Everywhere. While in Japan few days after the catastrophe the state press plays the danger down, politicians in my home country Germany all of a sudden find the power switches for their brains and start thinking about the undreamt dangers of nuclear energy.
Having returned home from a rehearsal session for the upcoming tour, Kris from ULVER seems a bit tired searching for hope and for answers. In contrast to that his funny answer machine reflects – with a weird announcement by Monty Python – the absurdity not only of our quite chaotic communication which deals with anything but the new album "Wars Of The Roses” with slightly antiquated black humour…

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So it’s only few days before your tour starts. After fifteen years of hiding you now really want to know it and even play some relatively small clubs which should become quite a challenge with your extraordinary concert set-up of instruments…

We’re not gonna be performing as we were before. It’s time to change and we have… (laughs) moved on and I suppose the set-up to some extents will be more stripped down than before and this will accommodate that we are playing smaller clubs. However it is something we’re not really prepared for. We haven’t really played Germany before except for two gigs in Hamburg, which was cool, and Berlin at the Volksbühne. The rest of Germany is a bit of no man’s land when it comes to us, so… we shall see.

What about the line up?

The line up is the same with Thomas on drums, Ole Aleksander Halstensgård on electronics, and then Daniel, Tore, Jørn and myself.

And what about the songs, of which you have a broad spectre? In which direction will you move?

Playing live doesn’t really have an effect on how we approach new material. We don’t consider the size and the space of the context unless we’re in it. When we write new material we think about it in isolation and don’t think about how we can perform it. We do that later, and that’s what we’re working on now in rehearsal.

"Wars Of The Roses” sounds like as if it was recorded inside a church and has some quite meditative passages. It seems that facing the outside of audiences since playing live, you even more focus on the inside of the human being as well…

I think that’s true with the band. The perspective has generally changed as you say. We were very much in an internalized state for quite a long time. When we became a live band we kind of had to embrace the world at large. Of course that had an effect on the output, our thoughts and processes. So this is definitely a new face, but not necessarily one that will continue. I think the next move might be something more contained, internalized and introspective again. Maybe the size or the shape of the record is different than the others. I think that has something to do with us breathing the open air.

Moreover I think there’s some spiritual essence in the music which is quite new to ULVER as well…

What do you mean by "spiritual essence”?

Okay, now it’s me loosing words, I’m afraid, because this is an emotional impression delivered by the music and nothing that I feel able to put into better words, sorry!

I think I know what you mean, but I wouldn’t call it spiritual essence. That’s nothing we feel to invoke. I suppose there’s an emotional landscape, but that’s a human and has nothing to do with being outside of human, if you understand my meaning.

Yes, I think so, and I think spirituality is just a part of human experience.

We just argue about the semantics, that’s all. Maybe there’s a feeling of consecration at times and that’s where you experience this church like acoustic.

A rather seldom experience for me as music journalist is the impression that your music isn’t constructed for the sake of construction or to please any kind of audience, but that it still floats from a well beyond reason. Would you agree that the key element in ULVER’s sound is still intuition?

The birth of music is of course spawned by a kind of intuition. But I think that the music is more and more formed by the texts and the sentiments in the lyrics. This more and more designs what we’re about as a band and what kind of foot prints we leave. And I think this has become our trademark, so in a way the concept and the pictures we’re trying to create form the music. Whether you call that intuition… I suppose it’s a kind of intuition, but there’s a constructed language and that has to be taken into account. Even the music isn’t completely intuitive. Sometimes we improvise and just play, but that’s not our only way to make music. There’s more than one defined process to write music.

"Providence” has become a beautiful piece of music which wakes associations in me of fantastic theatre performances under the open starlit sky at night. More than other songs it has this special "everything can happen” kind of feeling. Has ULVER become a home in which you nowadays enjoy to invite other freaks and artists to explore music deeper?

I’m glad you perceive "Providence” that way and I hope that others will feel similarly. But ULVER is indeed as much a curse as it’s a home, as you say. It’s a pretty heavy burden that we sometimes carry with this band, you know. It’s a monster and it takes a lot of time – and it eats us away to quite some extent. (laughs) However we hope that the way we struggle on is the right one, ha-ha.

In how far does it eat you away?

What do you mean?

I have seen on the usual internet channels that quite many so-called underground artists in your country are nowadays present on TV channels with interviews and so on, but I don’t think ULVER has neither reached that level of attention, nor do you want to take part in it, don’t you?

(laughs) That doesn’t really apply to us. We’re not a band you frequently see on Norwegian televison – or that you see on TV at all. However things are changing here as well ever since we became a live band. We get response in this country, too. It took us by surprise that we could sell out the national opera house and that we were recently nominated for the national art price. So there has definitely been a demarcation point from studio to live, and that has been mirrored in how we’re received here in Norway.

In the interview you gave after your debut concert to a fishing boy from Alaska, you explained that you would love to give more hope to the mix, but that you have given up on that idea. Has this changed in these times of critical geography?

Did you say something about a fishing boy from Alaska?!?

Yes, I think you gave an interview to him after your first gig in Lillehammer.

That’s funny you know he’s a fishing boy from Alaska. (Well, not that much astonishing if you regularly read on – TW) He has actually become a friend of
ours and he’s working on our upcoming tour. Anyway: what was the question?

Back then you told him that you would love to give more hope to the mix of the music, but that you have given up that idea and I wanted to know whether this has changed in these days of critical geography…

If we have given up hope…? (long pause) We hope on behalf of hope. What I mean by that is that we like the idea of hope, yet mentioning the critical geography, recent events like the ones in Japan remind us of the inevitability, and it’s becoming evermore apparent that… We can’t help as humans to feel a sense of longing for some escape from that, but I feel there won’t be an escape.

I’ve lately seen a TV documentation about the human world fifty years later when we’ve ceased to exist and there were a lot of animations showing how the big cities will be overgrown as well by wild forest…

I’ve seen that as well. You could see how long it would take nature to reclaim the cities and how they would turn into a jungle again after some time.

And that delivered some hope for me indeed. Whatever we do, nature will reclaim quite fast.

Yes, of course.

In how far has ULVER become a political band?

ULVER is not a political band, at least not in the sense you’re talking about. You can’t help to be political, because whatever you say, it has some political reference point. It’s part of our identity that we’re not a political band like let’s say Krass or The Dead Kennedys.

A long time after the Century Media disaster we find ULVER with "Wars Of The Roses” again on a bigger label, this time for post progressive sounds alongside bands like Porcupine Tree and Anathema. Is this move just means to an end since you finally reached a specific border that you couldn’t cross with Jester Records?

Jester Records isn’t finished by any means. We basically had to delegate some of the responsibilities that we have as band and which have just become too much to deal with. Kscope offered to administrate this band and that’s something we desperately need because we have no time. Every day I get hundreds of emails that deal with shit around this band and anything to take this pressure off is welcomed, so that we can focus on the music. Nevertheless "Wars Of The Roses” is a Jester Records release and the deal with Kscope is just a licensing deal, so it will come out on Jester Records through Kscope.

You’re still invited as guest musician to lend your voice to projects from the metal underground, be it the latest, pretty stunning album by Virus, or the awkward "Wolf Father” EP by Nidingr. Are these more acts of friendship than of true fascination?

Not at all, Nidingr is the best fucking black metal band in the world, ha-ha! That has nothing to do with friendship, but with marvellous music. And Virus is an insanely good band. Our friendship lasts for many years now, but I have many friends who play in bands and I wouldn’t necessarily like to have anything to do with those bands. (laughs) Virus are playing with us in London by the way.

They will be quite nervous I guess.

Oh yes, that reminds me of how we felt in Lillehammer.

In Christian spirituality there’s the idea that man in order to realize his true self must face his inner wolf. In how far is this still your way with ULVER which ironically enough once started in pretty anti-Christian surroundings?

Christianity always played a role in the history of this band, and is something we battled with over the years. But I suppose it’s more the relics and imagery of Christianity that persisted. You can’t deny its symbolical influence and it has many beautiful things to offer in that respect, but only in terms of the human being’s perception. In the early days it was more a kind of avert reaction towards Christianity, but now we’re looking at it from a bird’s eye perspective.

What kind of animal are you?

A pig. Then I needn’t clean up.

Thor Joakimsson

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