A Hole In The Sky: Årabrot Interview And Mix
, October 26th, 2011 07:32
In Solar Anus, Årabrot have delivered one of the year's best albums. We met up with them to discuss the band’s history and to collect a brutal mix in advance of their Quietus Halloween gig on Monday
Hearing the words "Norwegian metal band" can conjure up an image of face-painted, provocative TNBM loons like Mayhem and 1349 while the idea of a "Norwegian noise group" can suggest very serious people making dense walls of harsh noise espoused by Lasse Marhaug and Jazzkamer.
Amongst such well-established archetypes, Årabrot stand out as one of Norway's most exciting and innovative bands, blending noise rock aggression with strains of ferocious heavy metal and a brazen punk attitude to deliver raw, brutal and unexpectedly cerebral music that instantly sets them apart from the pack.
Starting in 2001, Arabrot have evolved from a quartet into a two-piece, with singer Kjetil Nernes delivering impassioned vocals over Vidar Evensen's tornado-like drumming. In 2009, they teamed up with legendary Chicago-based producer - and Shellac singer/guitarist - Steve Albini, to record the well-received Revenge, and they were back in his studio this year for the recording of Solar Anus, released on long-standing label Fysisk Format. A step forwards both sonically and lyrically, Solar Anus manages to immediately engage whilst breaking new ground and playing with the conventions of both the band's sound and the noise rock genre itself.
Where some noise rock bands concentrate on the violence to obscure a lack of substance, Årabrot hone in on Nernes' oblique lyrics that run the gamut from Georges Bataille-inspired philosophy to explorations of religious and mythological ideas. Underneath the roar of the guitar and the thundering drums, this is fiercely intelligent music.
Have you been busy lately?
Kjetil Nernes: We just came back from the Norwegian leg of the tour supporting our new release, Solar Anus. We did some really great shows, with a great turnout, so it was absolutely fantastic. It was supposed to be five shows but the last one was cancelled because we had a problem with our vehicle (chuckles), so it ended up being just four shows...
That's still pretty cool, was that across Norway, or in the Oslo area only?
KN: It was pretty much up and down the south of Norway, so Oslo, Trondheim, Bergen and then Stavanger, which is basically what we can do in Norway, first off because of the distances, but also because there aren't enough clubs around. We couldn't play in smaller towns because there would be no people coming to the shows.
I can understand - you need a decent-sized crowd for it to be worthwhile, but then you guys have got quite big, relatively-speaking, in the last couple of years, so you must draw quite a few people to your shows now...
KN: Yeah, absolutely. I can tell that... we've been around for quite a few years, working quite consistently on the project, and now in the last two years, with the help of our label, Fysisk Format, from doing all these trips and tours of Europe, and being so consistent, we've gained a lot of hardcore fans, which is amazing, because people show up at shows and they buy every record and every T-shirt every time they come! It's really nice.
Could you tell me a little bit about your history? I believe you've been going since about 2000, and your name comes from the name of a municipal dump. What gave you the idea to call yourselves Årabrot?
KN: That was back in 2001. At that time, it just made sense, as we were in a small, West-coast Norwegian city, to name ourselves after the local waste dump, because we were a sludgy, dirty punk band. It just made perfect sense. It was basically just four friends doing a home recording and releasing a 7", back in 2001. We didn't really get started properly until 2004, when we all moved to Oslo and decided to actually make a band out of it. We hooked up with a producer, Billy Anderson, to record the first album. So, even though there's a ten-year anniversary this year, I'd say that 2004 is the year of the actual, proper start of .
So you were a four-piece originally, but now there are only two of you. Was that down to artistic differences with the other two, or did it just make sense to operate as a duo?
KN: Well, the main couple is me and Vidar, the two of us. It was a natural process. We toured Norway as a four-piece, but after the Revenge album, it seemed clear to me that we would have to make the band a two-piece, so it would be centred around me and Vidar, and then we'd just hire people, or get friends, to play the odd instrument. It had already been like that for many years, and it didn't make sense to me to do it any other way. It made things a lots easier, to be just the two of us, especially when we wrote the songs and when we were in the studio.
You guys have just the guitar and drums - that's quite an original approach, but in comparison to, say, Lightning Bolt, who have a very basic sound, yours is very rich and layered. Do you do a lot of overdubs or getting other people like Concept Virus involved?
KN: It's definitely a particular way of doing the guitar sound. Lightning Bolt have a more "basement band" approach, whereas we do things a lot more like a trio or four-piece. So, if it's just the two of us, I use my baritone guitar with both a bass rig and a guitar rig to make the sound as big as possible. And that's how I did it with Albini - we hooked up with a lot of amps and made it as big-sounding as possible, with very big-sounding drums. Then we added the synthesizer, and all the effects from Concept Virus. I'm very happy with how it turned out on Solar Anus.
Yes, it's a fantastic album, and the title track is particularly powerful, with a lyrical content that distinguishes Årabrot from a lot of other metal bands. It's a very powerful and heavy album, but it's also quite thoughtful and intelligent. Can you give us a bit of background to Solar Anus?
KN: It was definitely our intention to have that combination. That track was the first that was written for the album, when I wrote these songs a few years back. I'd been into surrealist literature and in particular Les Chnats De Maldoror by the Comte de Lautréamont. And Georges Bataille, of course. I liked the idea of making noise rock yet also being sort of philosophical at the same time. Sort of the Bible and porn, God and animal - I like that concept of duality in art, literature and also music.
It's quite refreshing, because it's not often you get that level of ambition in noise rock or metal...
KN: Well thanks, man. It seems to go down really well in the UK, where reviewers and people who have been writing about us seem to understand this slightly ambitious approach to noise rock; whereas in other countries, such as Germany, where perhaps they don't speak as much English, they would have a harder time getting a grasp of the concept behind the album.
Possibly in the UK we have a bit of history, with bands like Skullflower, who did a track called 'Solar Anus'.
KN: That's true! We're actually doing a show with them later this month.
I saw that! I saw them live earlier this year and they were excellent. So, maybe in the UK we do have a bit of history of sort of cerebral metal, and it helps that your English is obviously perfect! Have you always sung in English?
KN: Yes, always in English, never in Norwegian. I used to follow football when I was a kid, and was always reading English football magazines or books. it never made sense for me to do it in Norwegian, because I guess I knew from the very start I'd do music that would be too big for Norway, and that it would have to be in English, to travel abroad and make and record music.
How did the production of the album go, working with a big name like Steve Albini? How did you meet him?
KN: Well, we did an album with him before, which was a very interesting experience, but at that time we didn't manage to fulfill our expectations 100% in a way, because it was little hard to know what was going to happen - we just took a chance and hoped for the best. Having been there before, it made sense to go back, because we knew about his way of working, which is very specific. If you're prepared for what you'll get there with him, you can get fantastic results. I wrote, and we prepared and arranged the songs back in Norway, so we were really well-prepared. We nailed it in one take, guitars and drums. Then we did the vocals, before travelling back to Norway to do overdubs and clear our heads. Then we travelled back to Chicago for Steve to mix the album. It was all done in a bit more than six days, including mixing. I think it was an amazing experience, and we've become good friends with all the people who work in the studio, which is an enormous studio, and I think there'll definitely be more trips to Chicago in the future.
Steve Albini is quite a character. I've never met a guy like him. In many ways, he's impossible! He puts on a car mechanic overall and comes down and there's no room for chit-chat, it's straight to work. He also has a dark sense of humour that is fantastic. He knows everything about all of his little boxes and microphones and rooms, down to the tiniest screw. If you know what you want when you go to Chicago and work with Steve Albini, then you get fantastic results, but if you just go with no idea of what will happen, it just won't work out.
I've listened to your earlier albums, and Solar Anus has a more developed sound. Do you think you've hit a new peak and do you think that was from being in Chicago or because of the strength of the concept behind the album?
KN: I definitely agree. For the first time, we had more time to do the record because Fysisk Format, our label, put in more money, so things were not as rushed as before, and we had enough time to put the album down as we wished. Of course there was also a strong conceptual idea behind it. We've grown older, we're more confident and assured of ourselves, and I think this shows in the music.
Obviously, for a lot of people, the words "Norwegian Metal" brings to mind Burzum and Mayhem, but you guys sound completely different, even though you can hear the metal in there, alongside punk, hardcore, noise. Do you see yourselves as a metal band or a noise rock band?
KN: We've always branded ourselves as a "noise rock" band, like the old style noise rock bands like Scratch Acid, all of these eighties bands. As time evolved, we kind of changed, but I still say we're a Norwegian noise rock band, even though there's a bit of avant-garde or even hard rock as well.
How does your sound go down in Norway, playing stuff that wasn't part of the metal scene? Were people open to hearing something completely different?
KN: It was extremely difficult, especially at the beginning, but not just in Norway. It was really difficult in all of Europe too. When we started touring around 2005, 2006, we did a few tours where we just did not fit in. It was before all these sort of American sludge bands started coming across, so to me it seemed like every night was playing with either really hardcore metal bands, or Limp Bizkit-type metal bands, or really jazzy prog stuff. We were just so far off, all of the time, and it took us at least four or five years to feel part of anything. It's only in the last three or four years, it seems there are quite a few new bands, younger bands, coming up, who sound more like we do, with the same kind of references. When Fysisk Format got properly started, it really helped us, and it's great to have great Norwegian bands like Okkultokrati and Haust around. There's great progress there, I think.
The internet has obviously been a great way for bands to promote themselves and, even if the downside is illegal downloading, it must be important for a band like Årabrot to make a space for themselves.
KN: Absolutely! I see a future of just realising only vinyls and downloads. The CD must die out. Spotify is very big in Norway, and maybe having some sort of subscription service along that model, with access to downloading lots of albums could be a solution to the illegal downloading issue.
Your sound is very intense, quite violent. How difficult is it to keep that going night after night when you're touring? I read something about a collapsed lung!?
KN: (Laughs) Yeah, that's true. That was actually the first ever London show that we did, back in 2006. Mid-show, my lung collapsed. It was basically like I had been stabbed in the chest with a knife, it just cracked in the middle of all the noise, while screaming. So we went to the hospital, and they wanted £50 just to have a look at me, so I thought "I'm fucked here, so fuck it!" So we left and ended up at an after-party with some of the members of Hawkind and Adam and the Ants, in this posh penthouse. There was cocaine and dingy models, and I just sat in the corner drinking whiskey to get rid of the pain! I did the next nine dates with a collapsed lung before we got to Norway, by which time I was a wreck!
Have there been any knock-on effects? Your singing certainly sounds as powerful as ever on the album...
KN: My body repaired itself more or less. I think the alcohol did more damage, if I'm honest! The lung goes kind of like a football or a balloon, so it was a case of re-inflating it and two weeks' rest. But physically, doing these shows, it's like a workout. It's not harder than being in Slayer! Nowadays, you can't drink a case of beer at every show if you want to do this kind of music, you have to stay fit and fairly sober, just to make it, because it's so physical.
I imagine there must be a lot of preparation involved with every concert, especially reproducing the elaborate and sophisticated sound of Solar Anus. Has that changed your live sound, or do you just sort of strip down the tracks a bit?
KN: Surprisingly enough, there hasn't been too much change, I'd say. It was quite a natural process. We did the Revenge album, recorded it, in 2009, and it was released a year later because there was too much going on. So, between September 2009 and May 2011, when we recorded Solar Anus, we had been working consistently, as a band, as we always do, and it was just a natural process of maybe making the songs a little bit more complicated, but at the same time they're still fairly simple. Especially live, the focus remains the physical side of drums and the physical side of tube amps and the guitar sound. Instead of technique, we use simple chords, but focus on having a good sound and on the vocals and the lyrics. So it's actually rather simple.
Which I suppose mirrors the concept of the album, getting the sublime out of the more basic side of human nature...
KN: Yes, that's absolutely the idea, and I think you can hear that coming out in the music.
Do you get any negative feedback from people -not your audience obviously- when you sing about these themes, or over titles like 'Madonna Was A Whore'?
KN: Especially perhaps in the lefty punk side of things. But I'm glad you asked me that because actually in Germany, again, I think they react to the titles quite a bit. I think there's a very philosophical and literate approach to the lyrics, but I also put in my own little jokes, with biblical references and of course a title like Solar Anus. But in metal magazines, especially in Germany or German-speaking countries, there's been a very negative reaction to this, they just think of it as a joke, and they get stuck on the song titles. We've had some shit reviews in the German press, which I find funny. But on the other side, if you look at the title 'Madonna Was A Whore' and only the title, yeah maybe you can think a lot of things. But the idea behind that song was to ask the question "What if your idol was false?", which is a serious question. But I don't really care, people can think what they want. And in the UK, it's gone down very well, and I've heard none of the accusations of misogyny over that song.
I've spotted throughout the album references to legends, myths, religions... Does a lot of research go into the lyrics you write?
KN: Yes. I read a lot of different things and do a lot of research. I'm interested in classical art and try to incorporate all of these references from classical literature and art into the dirty AC/DC approach of the music. It doesn't matter if people don't listen to the lyrics. We always print them on the album cover, and people can get whatever they like out of the actual text. For me, it's very fulfilling, writing these lyrics, it's like writing my own little books. Once they're written, it doesn't matter to me what other people get out of them, or what they'd think of them.
Can you tell me a little bit about the Necromantic scene in Norway? I recognise the reference to the Jorg Buttgereit film...
KN: It's us and two other noise rock bands on Fysisk Format, Haust and Okkultokati. The whole thing is based around the three of us. We did a Norwegian tour last year and after one of Haust's titles, we adopted the Necromantics label. We did another tour two weeks ago when we did the ten year anniversary of Årabrot, and we called that tour Necromantics Part 2 and we're now planning to get out in Europe under the same flag.
What do you find unifies you guys as a scene? Do you all perform a similar style of noise rock?
KN: They're much younger than us, and they grew up on Darkthrone and are quite punk-ish, but Nordic, with a lot of sludge. Årabrot doesn't really sound like Haust or Okkultokati, but there are a lot of similarities.
Before I let you go, can I ask what the future plans for Årabrot are? You mentioned the upcoming London show. Anything else?
KN: Yeah, yeah, there's a European tour in the works, which might be in December, or moved to February/March. We also have a collaboration album with Concept Virus, called Absolute Negative Number 2, which is in the works. It's coming out early next year on Fysisk Format. We also did a recording of an EP with Emil Nikolaisen, from Serena-Maneesh, who's an old friend of ours, so at some point another EP will be coming out under the Årabrot name. There's always something happening. We have a lot of ideas and most of the time it's just finances holding us back. We want to tour as much as possible next year, and also start work on a new album to follow on from Solar Anus.
Oh wow, have you started writing some new lyrics then?
KN: No, not yet. I usually write the basic structure of the songs first, then we incorporate the drums, then finish with the vocals and the lyrics. Because often I respond with my vocals to Vidar's drums, so the lyrics are the last thing we do. The music comes first, because Vidar's approach is very complex, and always responds to what I'm doing either on guitar or on the vocals.
Awesome, thanks Kjetil. I hope to see you at the gig in London. Good luck with the tour!
KN: Cool, see you then!
Arabrot play the Quietus Halloween gig on Monday October 31st at the Shacklewell Arms. Vile Imbeciles and Dethscalator are also on the bill, you can buy tickets here