Enslaved are currently bringing their brand of extreme metal to the masses across the UK with Opeth in support of their latest album, E. Prior to their performance on the first night of the tour, I got to catch up with the all-round lovely gentleman that is guitarist and founding member Ivar Bjørnson. As well as discussing the upcoming tour, we talked about the interesting circumstances that led to his collaboration with Einar Selvik, how Bardspec came to be and also his concept for a Family Guy episode. Read on for the full discussion…
Since I last spoke to you, you’ve released a new album with Enslaved, done a lot of touring and released another two albums with other projects. Where do you find the time to do all these things?
I don’t really find the time, it just has to be that way I guess. I can’t remember the exact words but General Melchett in Blackadder said something about being absolutely pig-headed and having no touch with reality whatsoever. So when I enter I project I try to avoid rational thought about it. If I want to do it, then I will do it. I’m still running away from reality and I think I’m doing quite well at that!
This is the first night of the tour with Opeth but you had a few dates in Europe before this. How did they go?
They went very well. The new album E has been getting really good reviews but you never know how that translates into the live situation. But they went really well and the shows in Germany in particular went really well. It seems like the new songs have a lot more dynamics and they are slightly more annoying to head bang to given some of the weird time signatures. When we juxtapose those songs with some older ones that still works too and it’s just this weird feeling of everything fitting well together. But in general, people have been really enjoying the shows, in particular the show in Utrecht on Monday; it was absolutely insane and we couldn’t believe it. I had to ask them “Is nobody going to work tomorrow?” It was totally mayhem and one of the best Monday shows we ever did.
You’ve kind of answered my next question as well. How do you feel the response has been to the new album?
I think it’s an example of where we are as a band. There was a bit of risk involved as well given that we got a new keyboardist and went straight into the studio with him after only playing one show with him. Also, in today’s world of digital and Spotify wanting 4 and 5 minute songs we took a risk by venturing more into proggy territory and having longer songs. That was probably one of our biggest risks but as the weeks went by I thought maybe not as when we did that earlier in our career that might have been true but around now not so much. I think people have come to expect that the new Enslaved album will something different and I can’t really say that we are surprised by the response anymore because we are constantly changing.
What I think would surprise people was if we made two albums in a row that were similar. I don’t know though; the whole thing has become a big catch-22 now. All we can do is make the albums as honest to ourselves as we can and then leave it to the listener. I think now we are on a wave where our music resonates with the fans of our band.
You’ve probably been asked this quite a few times, but how did you end up working with Einar on Skuggsjá?
It was a really cool fluke back in 2014 where Norway were having a celebration of the 200th year of constitution. There were going to be a lot of debates and conferences and also some cultural events in the various boroughs. One of the cultural directors in the borough knew about metal and decided that there needed to be some metal represented. It was a sheer coincidence and also one of the main concepts was freedom of speech which tied in nicely with it.
It’s an interesting position that the Norwegian government have regarding cultural from the lefties to the… well, we don’t really have any far right people in government yet but we have some pretty far right conservatives who still agree that we need to support culture. For them it’s a bit more of an economical thing as they can export it and see people working with it which is fine. So they really appreciate having this cultural movement which is in itself quite anti-establishment which I think is a healthy thing about Norway.
So they invited us two to do it as we had the connections with some of our concepts were in the Viking age and further to write something debating our history. During this work we realised that we had to keep going with it and that’s how it ended up where it is today.
Have you got any plans to further develop it or was it a one time thing?
Oh yeah, we’re still going with it. At Bergen international festival, which is more of a classical and contemporary art festival, this year they commissioned us to write a piece on our history again. Whilst the first one was more about religion and the transition from a holistic world view to Christianity, this new piece goes even further back into the bronze age and how Norway was populated. It’s called “Hugsjá” [I think that’s how he said it], “the way north” it means. It was really cool to do it as we worked with an Icelandic professor and also visited some places where the people first landed with their boats. We then wrote pieces inspired by those places and then we went and performed in those places. We’re recording it now for an album actually so it should hopefully be released some point next year.
And there’s Bardspec which is your own solo project. How did that come about?
Bardspec’s been there for so long, man. It was a few years after Enslaved had started that I started getting some of the early home studio equipment, musicator or something I think it was called. I mainly used it for compositional aid and also programming things for drummers as I find that conversing with drummers behind a drumkit is nigh on impossible as they want to play it rather than listen. I was also a big fan, even before Enslaved, of dark ambient music so I started making some of these songs. The challenge I thought I had was I had no real audience for it as it was different to both metal and the dark ambient stuff.
So anyway, I wrote most of the stuff between ’11 and ’13 and it was at Roadburn ’15 where I was curating and the programme manager said “We’ve got a really good programme here. I think an electronic project like an ambient project would fit in well though.” “Oh really?” I said and then I told him I had a project and showed him the demo. After he listened to it, he said that I had to play as it was the perfect fit. I did that and after being convinced by that I went into the studio and recorded it. I’m working on some stuff at moment and I’m going to writing some more music for it in the first part of next year and it’s looking like an early ’19 release.
Keeping with the projects, are you still heavily involved with the By Norse label?
Yes, I’m still heavily involved. We’ve managed to divide our roles now as out of the three of us two of us are travelling quite a lot. So Einar is now working with A&R and I’m working as the accountant. It’s a nice counterbalance against all the touring and playing. Working with Excel spreadsheets and everything, it’s a nice break from all the metal. We’re working on branching out now to have other bands on the label which don’t feature one of us in the projects. But yeah, still heavily involved.
Have you had chance to watch any Family Guy yet?
Have I? …No, I’ve not, actually. They just released season 15 on Netflix which I thought would be good to download and then watch on the bus but I ended up binge watching them before I came out. In a week’s time I’ll start re-watching them but they’re there all the time. If there’s someone on the bus and there’s internet then there’s someone watching an episode or watching some funny clip on YouTube. And of course we have Peter with us…
[Ivar then shows the tour lanyard that has a funny picture of Peter Griffin on it]
Maybe you should speak to Seth and see if you can get featured on an episode.
That’s a good idea, actually. I’d love to appear on an episode and I’ve an idea of how one could work actually. Peter’s based in Rhode Island which is not too far from where the Vikings came into Newfoundland, so we could maybe pitch it as Peter finding his Viking roots.
In terms of equipment, has your base setup changed much?
It’s changed a little bit. I’ve started using the Fractal AX8 floor unit and it’s surpassed all my expectations. I mainly got it for festivals as a failsafe for when the wrong amp turns up. We use a 6505 amp and when you put on the rider that amp you sometimes get it but sometimes you also get given an amp that’s completely different. I also use some of the clean amp sounds in it as well because when you’re using a metal amp the clean sounds don’t exactly sound great. I can now do a AC30 sound and all kinds of others for my clean sound. I’ve been really impressed by it and it’s allowed me to have more flexibility with it. Our other guitarist is still using a 6505, it took us 5 years to convince him to use a digital delay as it was too modern for him! Grutle switched to Orange amps about 2 years ago and he’s really happy with that.
It’s an ongoing journey but first and foremost, we use the equipment which we think sounds best. If we hit up a good cooperation with someone then that’s cool but it’s never been a cost thing for us.
As long as your guitars are still safe and not lost.
Yeah, that was insane. 32 days it was lost for and I’m fortunate to get it back. Whatever they are eating at Birmingham Airport I think they should stop.
I’m not sure what’s happening after that actually. The first time I thought about it was after we did the ‘re-enactment’ of Vikingligr Veldi which went down very well. We thought that it was a good venue to do another one and doing a tour with something feels a little bit much. If we were to do a tour then we’d probably do like a period tour rather than an album. Not to sound too humble, but I think an album needs to be a Dark Side of the Moon level before it’s worth doing a tour playing it in full. Who know though, we might do it at one point. We’ve got 14 albums to pick from!
Given that you’ve got 14 albums now, does it not get really difficult to pick out the songs for a setlist?
Lots of experimentation and a few “falling on our faces and learning from it”. It’s not easy though as for these tours when we have a new album it’s finding the songs that we feel have the most instant connection. When we’ve found them, we then build the set around them. On this Opeth tour though, we’ve only 50 minutes so we’re doing things a little different but on the headline run we can drop a few more in. It’s all about the flow as well. We like to make sure that the set flows natural rather than trying to ensure that every album is represented.
A few years ago, we tried to do that and the accountant in me wanted to ensure that every era was represented. Unfortunately, however, it didn’t work and we fell on our asses a few times. It probably would have been easier to have a monkey throw darts at song titles on the wall and pick the songs that way then consciously trying to represent every album. It’s the same when people try and write a hit song. You can never really calculate those things and it takes experimentation to get it right.
Is there one ambition that Enslaved has yet to achieve?
Yes. I think there’s an endless road of where we can take this. I really want to push the live show more and more as we’ve gone through an era of establishing ourselves. We’ve had a rougher ride than most bands as we’ve changed so much over the years and at the time we’ve had to tour with other bands in different styles to bring our music to new people. Of course, we have the fans that have known for a long time and have followed us throughout our changes but we still have people that come up to us after show and go “I had no idea you sounded like that.” After that, we then get a lot of nice messages on Facebook saying that they love our music and they all keep saying the same things.
So now that I feel that the word is getting out there, I think the next thing is to become more grandiose and have a bigger stage show. We can always keep improving and I look forward to bringing more exciting things in the future.
Enslaved’s new record ‘E’ is out now via Nuclear Blast, available to purchase HERE.