Solefald – Interview

int_solefald_headerRed. Black. A vast blinding weirdo attack. This Norwegian duo have released their second album, “Neonism”, to lots of head-scratching and similarly confounded intrigue. Made up of Cornelius (all strings/vocals) and Lazare (keys/drums/vocals), Solefald sit comfortably alongside the rest of the Norwegian Bringers of the Weird, uniquely all their own. And they’re an intelligent, inquisitive pair of guys who give metalheads a good name. The following is a conversation I had with Lazare, in its entirety. Excerpts can be found in the January 2000 issue of Metal Maniacs. Thanks to Marty for printing it all here… -by Jeff Wagner – (Taken from Worm Gear #9)

I love the new album, but I should’ve known it would take me a while to get acquainted with it.

It’s not supposed to be an easy record, put it that way. [laughing]

It’s one of those albums that gets better with every listen.

Yeah. If you listen to an album and you instantly love it, you will grow tired of it really fast, but if you’ve got an album and you listen to it and you think, “Well, I kind of enjoyed it, but I’m not sure”, then it’s going to be a really good album if you listen to it a lot of times. And I hope that’s what “Neonism” is, that kind of album.

That was my reaction to the last Arcturus album [“La Masquerade Infernale”].

What did you think about the remix album? [“Disguised Masters”]

I think Garm’s starting to blur the lines between his bands [Arcturus and Ulver], and that can be dangerous. Some of it’s really good, some of it I could live without. I don’t think they need to capitalize on the originals, they’re pretty much perfect as they are.

I agree. But it’s interesting to hear technological versions of music. When you listen to “La Masquerade Infernale”, you hear that, wow, this could be a really good techno tune, even though it isn’t. It satisfies me, in a way, to hear [“Disguised Masters”], because they do with the songs what I wanted to hear, just for curiosities sake.

So what is the deal with Norway? It’s an incredibly significant, creative music scene. I’m not necessarily talking about black metal, I’m talking more about the post-black metal stuff: In The Woods…, Arcturus, Beyond Dawn, Dødheimsgard, The 3rd And The Mortal, Fleurety, Ulver, Ved Buens Ende, and you guys are right in there. None of the bands sound alike, but they’re all massively creative.

The thing about Norway is that we kind of started the whole black metal movement in the late ’80s, and we’ve grown quite tired of it. I mean, you have tens of thousands of bands playing that straightforward black-as-you-get-it metal, and it seems Norway’s at the front of the avant-garde when it comes to reinventing the genre. Since so many bands have done that, new bands come and do the same thing, but in their [own] ways. So it’s kind of like when a country gets a really good skier, for instance, then they suddenly get a lot of new really good skiers as well, because that one skier inspires them, and I think that’s one of the reasons why Norway’s got so many great bands nowadays, is that we had all the inventors, and when the kids sit down and listen to it, they get inspired to make music themselves, and then all of a sudden you have a bunch of new great bands.

Unlike black metal, though, it seems like it would be a difficult thing to emulate–it doesn’t seem that easy to just throw together something that sounds like Beyond Dawn meets Arcturus or something.

No. Norway is a really small country. We’ve got four-million inhabitants.

Which is a third of the city I’m talking to you from right now.

Yeah! [laughing] Kind of puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? So that’s why we have to make use of all the resources we can use, which means that we cross musical borders. If we want to a guy to play this great guitar solo on our album, we have to contact some guy who’s not necessarily within the black metal movement or not necessarily into the music. And I think that has happened a lot as well, with different bands that team up with people who haven’t actually had anything to do with the black metal genre before, but presented to it, they kind of twist it because of their view on the music. That might be an explanation as well.

What does “Jernlov”, your demo, sound like?

It’s kind of more diehard, in a way. It’s more black metal. It still has these other kinds of elements. We have this bagpipe part on the demo. “Philosophical Revolt” and “When The Moon Is On The Wave” was also represented on the demo, but in slightly different versions. It’s rawer. We actually recorded that demo in a barn, because a friend of ours had this eight-track recorder in the barn, because he’s a farmer–

True Norwegian Country Music!

Yeah! [laughing] You could say it’s an alternative kind of country music. But anyway, it turned out okay, and all of a sudden we had all these record companies knocking at our doors.

I didn’t see the name around that much before the album came out.

No, because we got picked up before we even did an interview. It all happened before people began to write about us. I think we did one interview before we recorded the first album, and that was with Isten magazine, the Finnish magazine.

Oh man, I love Isten! Amazing.

That’s two twisted minds making that magazine.

Absolutely. What does the word “jernlov” mean?

It means “the iron law.” That lyric was inspired by a painting made by Odd Nerdrum, who also painted the cover on “The Linear Scaffold”. He’s a Norwegian contemporary painter, very controversial in the way that he mixes new ideas with an old way of painting. A very naturalistic approach to his paintings. He does all these weird paintings set in this environment that’s completely dead. Nothing’s alive, there’s not a flower or a tree or anything. There’s just people with really old clothes and sometimes machine guns, guarding waterholes and stuff. So it could be about a post-Third World War society, something like that.

Tell me about this death-threat you received during the time of “The Linear Scaffold”.

Well, it was from the States. I got this email from this guy calling himself this sort of Aryan/Nazi/Satanic, uh, well, dweeb. [laughing] He wrote, “Well, if you ever go to the States, you’ll be sent back in pieces.” He wasn’t really clear in what he expressed, but I think it had to do with our approach to the music. We play black metal-like music, but we’ve never been into that Satanism stuff, so I think it had something to do with that. The funny thing about it is, he wrote about his own Satanism, and he said he had this kind of esoteric Satanism, based very much on the Kabbalah, and earlier in the letter he called us “gay Hebrew nigger monkeys,” or something like that–really impressive stuff–and I just wrote to him and I told him that, “Well, guess what, the Kabbalah is actually Hebrew, so there you go,” and I never heard from him again.

You brought up an interesting point. In your music there’s definitely a very black metal thread running through there, but there seems to be some contention whether you have to be Satanic to play black metal, or is it just the sound that makes it black metal?

I think in the very beginning, black metal was about Satanic lyrics, so in that respect we don’t play black metal at all, and neither do many of the other bands from around the world, because they don’t sing about Satan, they’ve got other, more interesting things to sing about. But when it comes to the sound, it’s stupid to say, “Well, this band is not a black metal band because they don’t have Satanic lyrics, but they play black metal music,” I think you could just rather call it, “Well, this is a black metal band, but they don’t sing about Satan.” I think it’s stupid to divide it that way. Genres are changing all the time anyway, so it’s kind of stupid to try and make new categorizations for everything. Like metal’s always done. I mean, how many genre’s are there in the metal world? About as many as there are in the techno world. I don’t even know all the names. I like to just call it heavy metal, because that’s what it is! I think you should just be proud to play heavy metal. That’s a good thing.

When people ask me what Solefald sounds like, I always respond by saying, “They’re one of the few truly avant-garde metal bands.” A lot of people like to describe weird music as “avant-garde,” but your case, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Are you comfortable with that? […I ask, not realizing the irony of asking him this directly after his previous statement…]

Yeah, we are, basically, because “avant-garde” means that you do something new, and I hope that we are doing something new, so if people want to call us “avant-garde metal,” then fine by me. I think that’s quite a good term. After all, we’re signed to Avantgarde Music, so it fits!

Neonism: that could either be “neon,” as described in “Fluorescent (The Total Orchestra),” or “neo,” as in ‘new.” Both seem relevant here. Was that purposeful?

Yeah. Indeed. That’s exactly it. It’s a word we made up, and it stands for everything that is new, and everything that has to do with the new, neo world, the urban world. The thing is, most black metal bands are really kind of rural when it comes to the lyrical aspect of their music, but the fact is that most of these bands are situated either in Oslo or Bergen, which are quite urban areas, so we just thought, why should we do this rural approach when we actually are urban people?

What city do you live in?

In Oslo. It’s really a small town, but it’s the biggest town in Norway.

Is the album cover Oslo?

No, it’s actually Times Square. We contacted this fashion photographer in Norway about the cover and the band picture, and we just had a meeting with him to discuss some ideas, and he said, “I have this idea about this little girl looking really absent in a very urban environment.” A few weeks later he went to New York to do some fashion photos, and he took that picture for us.

The background or the whole thing?

The background. The picture of the girl was taken at the same time the picture of the band was taken. So we just mixed those two together.

Can you further explain her relation to the city and the neon and the whole urban thing?

It’s a five-year-old girl, and if you look at the cover, she’s really absent, you know? She’s there but she’s not there at all. And that’s how I feel many people react to ultra-urban environments. They distance themselves. Totally.

I can relate.

Yeah, I guess you can! [laughing] You know, living in the city you do.

I just moved to the country two weeks ago, and boy am I relieved.

It’s good to be out, isn’t it?

Yes, absolutely.

I would think so. The thing is, we wanted to portray this feeling of loneliness, that even though you’re surrounded by people and you’re surrounded by movement and flashing lights and things are happening everywhere, you’re standing outside it. So, that kind of relates to the whole concept of the album. It has to do with the new urban world that has intensified during the course of the last two decades. It’s doing it kind of silently, so that you don’t really notice that it’s getting harsher and harsher, and we just wanted to put our focus on that.

Coming from Norway, which is known as a vast, spacious place, do you see urbanization happening at a pretty quick rate?

Oh yeah, absolutely. People move from the country to the cities all the time. Oslo is growing like hell. It’s actually almost as expensive to buy a flat in the center of Oslo as it is to buy a flat in the center of London. So that says something about how many people want to move into the cities.

What is that? It seems more natural to want to move out.

Yeah, but Norwegians are not really used to the idea of having big cities. The biggest city is Oslo and it’s got 600,000 inhabitants, which is nothing, but it’s rapidly growing, and I think people want to be where things happen. And things happen in Oslo, and they don’t happen in Brivik, which is a really small town. So it seems that everyone wants to be urban because they really don’t know what it’s all about. It’s like, when you’ve lived in Oslo a few years, you start to get a grasp of what the city’s actually about, what’s important, what’s not important, what happens with you and what happens with people around you. But when you’ve been living in a town of 3,000 inhabitants all your life, and when you’re 20 or 21 you want to move, and you don’t really know what awaits you. That’s what attracts you to the town, I guess. You see it all over the world. All big towns in the world are rapidly growing, all the time, and even though some people are moving out, like you, for instance, more people are moving in.

What is the significance of the color red to your music? You’ve got “Red View,” “Floating Magenta,” “Proprietors Of Red,” and you’ve described your music as “red music with black edges.”

The thing about red is that it represents everything intense and everything passionate, and when we first started out with Solefald, that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to incorporate some red into all the black, because there are too many bands who are just plain black, from A to Z, but we wanted to add something else to the music. We started out with black metal and we just did it our way, and we found that we actually had added something else to it, something more passionate and more intense in the aspect of feelings. So we just found that the color red really represents all those feelings quite well, so let’s just incorporate that into the black, so it turned out to be “red music with black edges,” because the red is the important thing in this, and then there’s the black frame, so to speak.

Tomas Skogsberg was largely known as a death metal producer. The first thing he was known for producing outside of that realm was Katatonia’s “Discouraged Ones”, and now you’ve utilized his services. What led you to him?

When we first started discussing what studio to use, we had actually made most of the songs for the album, so we knew that it was not going to come out as a straight metal album, so we wanted to have a straight metal sound to it, and we thought about Sunlight, because they have this purely analog studio. You can listen to all the old albums recorded there, Dismember and Entombed, and you listen really carefully and you hear there’s nothing digital in there, it’s pure sound, straight on. We wanted that approach, so we just took it to Tomas and asked him when we could come, and we said, “Okay, just call Avantgarde Music and arrange the payments,” so that was it.

You mentioned in a previous e-mail how you discovered the secret to that Entombed/Skogsberg guitar sound. Can you explain that again?

Yeah! They’re recorded on Peavey Bandits. They’re between the practice amps and the smallest stage amps. They’re actually really small. Before we recorded, they actually packed the amps in this foam rubber stuff first, and then they turned the volume up to maximum, so it was a really weird way of recording the guitars. They said, “Well, this is the way we always did it,” and we said, “Okay. We trust you!” I think it came out great.

So the result, “Neonism”, is a marriage of your avant-garde approach and traditional, simplistic recording techniques.

The idea was that it should make the music a bit more easily accessible for people, because I think quite a few people were scared away by “The Linear Scaffold” because of our approach to the music, and also because of the high-pitched screaming. I think he screamed some people away! [laughing]

The bio for Neonism says your “musical expression has moved back to your older influences such as Metallica, Sepultura, Judas Priest and Faith No More, while at the same time pointing forward into what is yet to come in the world of metal.” It certainly points forward, but out of those four bands, the only one I can really see is Faith No More, around the “Angel Dust” era. As far as Priest, Sepultura and Metallica goes, I don’t hear it.

You don’t?

No.

Well, if you sit down and listen to Neonism and just listen to the guitars, I think you’ll hear them. Quite a few of our guitar riffs are straightforward metal riffs in the vein of, for instance, Slayer. Take the end of “Proprietors Of Red,” for instance–you have this straightforward metal riff, but we have the synthesizers and vocals on top of it, so it’s not really easy to hear. The thing is that we have been very much inspired by those bands while writing the material. I’ve been listening to all kinds of music, but lately I’ve been returning to the old albums, my old vinyl records. I put on “…And Justice For All” by Metallica, and I just want to make that kind of music, as well.

That music is very epic.

Yeah. With songs eight-and-a-half minutes long and stuff. Very few bands do that nowadays. So I think they have been a great inspiration. As far as other bands, we both really enjoy good technological music, like Massive Attack or Square Pusher. I’m a huge fan of Lamb, which mixes jazz and breakbeats, which is totally brilliant. I saw them live here, one week ago, at a festival in Norway, and I was just totally blown away. It’s the best concert I’ve ever been to. They’re from Manchester, England. It’s a completely new band, they just released their first album. It’s definitely worth checking out. I have also been very much inspired by the progressive movement from the ’70s: King Crimson, early Yes, early Genesis. And the new Swedish progressive movement, with Landberk and Anekdoten.

Will it always be just you and Cornelius in Solefald?

The thing about Solefald is that we are two people and we do everything. If we can’t do it then it’s not going to be done. I play drums, I play all the keyboards and do all the samples and programming, and I have all the clear voices, while Cornelius plays all the strings and he does all the other vocals.

I saw a picture of you in Rock Hard, a live review, where Cornelius was wearing this weird facepaint, and this funny, uh, chapeau, so you obviously had other people with you.

[laughing] We went on a European tour with Tristania just before Christmas, and I think we kind of pissed a lot of people off about Germany with our approach to music and our way of acting on the stage. In a way, Germany is kind of a conservative metal market, and Tristania came through, which is your average doom metal with beautiful female vocals kind of band, and then we opened for them. We played for half an hour and we went off stage and people didn’t really know what hit them. We had great fun, and we made quite a lot of fans, and some enemies as well.

The way it should be.

Yeah. When you play our kind of music, that’s the way it has to be.

You’ll probably get equally aggressive criticism when people hear the lyrics to “CKII Chanel N.6,” the “Coco Chanel, welcome to hell” and “the truth as it was told to me by Calvin Klein” lines, which are just really bizarre.

Well, I hope we get reactions. In one way, that song is about the fashion world, and in another way it’s about human relations in general. We just want to use known products and known people to force people to react to something. There’s CK1 and Chanel N.5, and we’ve taken them one step further, so it’s “CKII and Chanel N.6”. For some reason, people find that very provocative, which is really good for us because that’s what we wanted. In the other lyrics, we mention people in the real world, we use real people in our lyrics to make people react, and it’s working. The album hasn’t been released yet, only the promo CD, and people are reacting like hell already.

I didn’t even know Coco Chanel was a person, which shows you how familiar I am with that whole thing.

She was the biggest diva in the fashion industry in this century.

Are you criticizing the fashion industry?

In one way, while in another way we’re not. I’m a huge fan of designers like Jean-Paul Gautier, Vivian Westwood and Alexander Queen, they’re like the avant-garde of the fashion industry, and we like that aspect of it, forcing people to react, because they are breaking with all the norms, which is, in a way, what we’re trying to do with our music. At the same time, you have to be negative to some parts of the fashion industry because of the signals they send out. The fashion industry is killing people every week, from girls starving themselves to death to glamorizing the use of heroin and cocaine. You know, the “heroin look” has been in for a few years, and it builds up under this sick ideal which kills people. People usually don’t think about it that way because the fashion industry is kind of mainstream, even though they set the mainstream, it turns out to be it, and that’s why people usually don’t react to it. So that’s also what we hope to achieve with some our lyrics, that people see the fashion industry with new eyes.

One other lyric I wanted to talk about is in “Backpacka Baba”: “White man came from across the sea, to wipe my ass with tabloid paper.” Not having seen the lyric sheet, the only way I interpret that is it’s about man’s ill-conceived attempts to go into “uncivilized” civilizations and modernize them and preach to them about the “real” world.

That is kinda what we wanted people to think about that, because every society that is not western has had this process of westerners coming in and showing people what’s right and how to live, and what to do and how to do it. Whether the people wanted to listen to them or not, they’ve been forcing them to do it, which of course is the wrong way of doing things. It always has been, from the colony times up to today. You still have Christian missionaries going to Africa to “save” people.

Who don’t need saving, who are perfectly fine as they are.

Yeah. That’s what I think. That whole lyrics is about a European backpaper who goes to India and swaps lives with one of the salesmen on the beach. What happens in the end is he’s stuck on this beach selling all this stuff while the other guy takes off to Europe with this other guys clothes and stuff, swapping lives. The basic idea was that it was kind of a small revenge on the western society.

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~ by scottsplatter on January 11, 2009.

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