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INTERVIEW: Kvelertak Talk Desertfest
Nick Hutchings , April 24th, 2014 07:30

Ahead of their headlining set this weekend, we catch up with the Norwegian metallers par excellence

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Norwegian hirsute beasts of rock Kvelertak (Norse code for "chokehold") are not just bringing their beautiful beards and surely unintentionally endearing love of owls to London as headliners of this weekend's Desertfest in Camden. They are bringing forth their experience of an extensive U.S. tour with Mastodon, adding their excitement of seeing Lemmy rock their band T-shirt and throwing them together with their tightly-honed battle-hardened takes on two genre-melding metal albums, Kvelertak from 2010 and last year's Meir.

Imagine if every convention of rock had been chucked in a dustbin and rolled down the road like Steve McQueen's 1998 work Drumroll then you are some way to understanding the monstrous yet hypnotic racket that Kvelertak conjure. Just when the roaring guttural vocals seem too much – like Michael Gerald from Killdozer duetting with Animal from The Muppets they are counterpointed by a sing-along chorus, a glam, stomping Bolan boogie or a tightly wound rhythm section, but it's never too much. It's never cartoony or cod, just insistent and good. And it's all sung in Norwegian. Even if you are not up with your Norse mythology, or, indeed the Norwegian words associated with trepanning, it will not impair your enjoyment of their raucous racket.

While on tour in the States, band leader Erlend Hjelvik took time out to talk about their in-coming assault on Desertfest, whether they would return to producer Converge's Kurt Ballou and artwork artiste John Baizley of Baroness for the follow up to Meir and what tame bits of Norway they take with them on the road and what wild bits from around the world they like to take back…

What has happened to the band since the Quietus last spoke to you in March last year?

Erlend Hjelvik: We have been busy touring our asses off in different part of the worlds!

How was Japan last September?

EH: It was awesome, it's a country I always wanted to visit. I went there two weeks before the shows with my girlfriend so we had time to hang out in Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe. It was a lot of fun, it's like being on a different planet!

When can we expect a new album?

EH: All I can say is that we're taking time off this fall and will start working on new songs then.

How hard has it been to follow Meir?

EH: People asked us that after our first album too and I think we did a good job following that up. I'm sure it will be the same case this time around.

How much writing are you able to do on the road?

EH: Most of the writing has so far been done at home, but I know Bjarte [Lund Rolland, guitarist] has been talking about bringing a sound card and computer with us on tour. We'll see how much gets done. At least we've started thinking about making new songs, so I'm sure there'll be some new ideas.

Do you find yourself writing about stuff from your experiences on the road or are you able to switch off from it and put yourself into a more mythical place?

EH: I kind of did both on the last album, I sing about everything from everyday issues like being on the road, not paying bills to more mythological, horror or even spacey stuff. I like to have a foot in both worlds [laughs].

Will John Baizley be doing any more cover art?

EH: I think well wind up doing something different on the next album, we don't want things to become too predictable. It felt very natural to have him do the second album cover for us, especially since we recorded with Kurt Ballou for a second time. We haven't decided on who yet; we'll tell you when we know!

Have you got a wish list for producers you'd like to work with?

EH: I think we have some ideas for how we're going to record the next album, but I don't want to say anything specific yet in case we wind up doing something totally different [laughs].

How is it touring the US with Mastodon? What have you learned from them so far?

EH: We've played sideshows with both Mastodon and Gojira at Soundwave in Australia before, that was a lot of fun. It's kind of hard to pinpoint if we've learned anything from them, but it's always a good influence to watch professional bands play live and see how they do things on the road!

What are Gojira like to hang out with?

EH: They are really nice and down to earth guys, very chilled people!

Has their interest in nature and the environment influenced you at all?

EH: We have an interest in nature and the environment, but I wouldn't really credit that to Gojira, though I think they are doing a good thing by bringing up issues like that.

When you're on tour a long way from home for a long time, what parts of Norway do you take with you?

EH: Norwegian music, podcasts and crossword puzzles [laughs]. Whatever makes the time on the bus go by faster.

What do the Americans expect from a Norwegian band and what do they get that surprises them?

EH: I think they expect Vikings, Satanism and a lot of binge drinking, which we occasionally deliver. We surprise them by putting on awesome shows.

How does it feel to see Slash rocking a Kvelertak T-shirt? Where was that? Who is the most incongruous person you've seen wearing one? Or who you'd like to see wear one?

EH: I was just surprised that he knows about our band! I think it was from a practice with Mötorhead, so having Lemmy in the picture just made it better [laughs]. The most incongruous fan of our band is the Crown Prince of Norway who's seen us both in Norway and in San Francisco. I've never seen him wear one of our shirts in public though, I guess I'll have to send him one.

How does it feel to be headlining at Desertfest?

EH: Great! I'm really looking forward to it, I also can't wait to hook up with our friends in Årabrot (appearing on the Quietus stage at the Underworld on Saturday) and Weedeater!

How much of a vindication is this to have such a high profile in this country and yet not sing in English?

EH: I think the band would sound a lot different if we sang in English, so it's not really something I spend time thinking about! I'm just happy that people seem to appreciate our language.

What do you think of Spirit Caravan?

EH: I haven't listened to them as much as I have Scott 'Wino' Weinrich's other bands like Saint Vitus and The Obsessed. I really like what he's doing even if I haven't heard everything that he's been involved in. I'm sure the show will be awesome, would have liked to see them if they played the same day.

Will you be able to hang out and watch Boris on the Sunday? What do you think of those guys?

EH: No, we're flying to the States to tour with Mastodon the following day. Would have liked to see them though, I used to listen to them a lot a couple of years ago. Guess I'll have to dig them up again, I haven't really thought of that band in a while.

Do you take any souvenirs from gig venues or cities you play in? Got your eye on anything from this trip to the UK?

EH: Nothing specific, if I find something cool I'll get it. I like shopping in the U.S.; they have a lot more interesting shops over there! Last time I got a coyote skull. I want to buy more stuff like that, but I'll have to see how many dead animals my girlfriend will let me keep in our apartment!

Kvelertak play Desertfest this Saturday, April 26; head to the festival's website for further details and tickets