Kjetil Nernes Of Arabrot On Sex, Death & Living In A Church

As Arabrot release The Gospel, one of the albums of the year, his reverence Kjetil Nernes speaks to Luke Turner about the church that he calls home, and where his group record their thundering anthems to sex and death

Arabrot have always been a sex and death band

They’re the core themes to what I do, without any doubt. I’m trying to put this in a nice way, but I feel that all my artistic output is related to sexual energy. On the other side of sex and sexual energy there is death, obviously. To me, and especially now, going through the period with cancer when I was sure I was going to die, with death so close, and I’ve gone through these phases with all the sexual stuff, the erotica-themed Arabrot albums – now, we are a more a sex and death band than ever.

There is some faith in The Gospel

I have used religion before, the Old Testament. I’m interested in feelings, either the very silent or the extremely noisy, I don’t care about what’s in between, the middle of the road isn’t my thing. The bible fits really well with that. I’m using it thematically all of the time.

Religion was never a part of my life

This is exactly the opposite of Karin [Park, Swedish musician and Kjetil’s partner], who was brought up with Christian parents in a Christian community. In my family we never never spoke about it, and for me it’s just become an interest, a literary interest, through art. I’m interested in how it works, in a way, and if I read the bible it’d be in the same way as I read Dante.

I hadn’t ever planned to live a church

I got so tired of the city life, and the small scene in Oslo. I wanted to move out to a big place, I first saw a farm or whatever. In Norway and Sweden they have missionary houses, which is basically a church but it doesn’t have a bell on the top or a churchyard with graves. I thought of those places. At the local church that Karin’s family used to go to the congregation got too old and stopped going, nothing was happening there. Karin said ‘we should just move in, set up a studio, have a rehearsal space and it’s so much cheaper than Oslo’. So we did it.

It was like 1982, and time had stopped

We live in the place where the congregation had their coffee. The next room is a big-ass room, really high up to the ceiling, there’s a church organ and the acoustics are fantastic so we use it as a studio, for making music videos and so many different things. The church left the pianos, three organs, all kinds of instruments, hundreds of old bibles. One of them is from 1706, a gigantic bible. In the kitchen they had 100 of everything, coffee cups and whatever else, and there was loads of Swedish mashed potato that expired in 1988, salt and pepper that expired in ’92.

There are no ghosts…

…perhaps because they didn’t have any funerals. The only ghost in the church is me.

It has a calming atmosphere

It brings my pulse down, that’s for sure.

I have no trouble having sex in a church

Oh yeah, it’s been good. There’s a lot of room, so you can definitely go for it if you want to. There are no neighbours that’d hear you. Maybe the congregation wouldn’t agree with me on this, but I think in a way it celebrates life, with the church. I am celebrating life in my way, in the church, let’s put it that way.

I don’t think the old congregation really know what’s going on

They know Karin moved in there and are happy with that, because they at least know that one of the Parks are there and they know that the Parks are good people. They don’t know anything about me. I signed a contract with a guy who was playing the organ, he owned the place. He was 92 at the time and that was a couple of years ago.

It was great getting married in my own church

I was sceptical of the whole Christian marriage thing at first, but then doing it at home with Karin’s uncle as the preacher, it was phenomenal, it was so good. I’m really happy I did it and I couldn’t have done it in any other place than my own living room.

Musicians feel really at home here

You can get your work done with no distractions. When Stephen O’Malley came over we had a really good time, out there there wasn’t as many people wanting stuff from him, we could relax and do our thing.

It’s the most proper Swedish place

At midsummer we have a big party with bands and DJs that goes on till 6am. It’s a big thing here, they close all of Sweden so you can party and all of the Stockholm people come out to where we live in Dalarna and watch the maypole being raised and the dancing.

The church might be heard in The Gospel

You know Arabrot’s body of work and the thematics, life and death and the big stuff. It’s been raw and aggressive and extreme for a long time, and I find it fascinating how this church atmosphere being very silent and slow and mellow leaves a lot of room for thoughts and contemplation, and it’s funny how those two approaches and ways of thinking fit each other. I do have a feeling that moving into the church and having the pump organ, all of these remains of the old church life around me, still doing the sort of harsh and noisy and extreme music that I do, it feels like I am inspired by the atmosphere of the church somehow, maybe some of that translates into the music. At the moment this record is too close and I need some distance, but I do feel like the church room had an impact on me.

It is the right place for me to be

When my mum finally came out for the first time… she’d been so skeptical about me moving out into the countryside, to Sweden ugh!, when she finally came out the first thing she said was ‘aha, yes, you definitely fit here’. It does, to be there, representing my artistic output as some sort of villain preacher man.

Arabrot are currently on tour, including a date at Corsica Studios on March 17th – tickets here

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