Myrkgrav

 •  Posted in: Kogaionon Interviews

Ancient mighty myths, aurora borealis, fjords...no wonder my deep fascination for the Northern lands that bred excellent musicians and superb music. Lars Jensen's MYRKGRAV fosters this very feeling of mine...

Salutes to you Lars! Long time has passed since I've last listened to such a great debut... moreover; I never thought that music coming out of your dark grave could sound so splendid!

Thanks a lot for that. It's very nice to hear that the album is liked by people from all over the world, since it's pretty narrow concept considering the understanding of the lyrics and all, could make the whole experience hard to catch for all those who don't understand a lot of Norwegian or know a lot about Norway.

It's been more than a month since your first MYRKGRAV full length album has been officially released. What can you tell me about the feedback you've received so far? Are you satisfied with the outer reactions till now?

The feedback has been unexpectedly good! I would never have dreamt of such great interest and appreciation for Myrkgrav coming from so many different places. Having that said, it wouldn't have had a lot to say for me personally if the album only got bad reviews and feedback, since I'm quite pleased with the result of it myself. As long as I can enjoy it and stand for it, everything else is just a bonus if it's positive.

"Trollskau, Skromt og Kolabrenning" ... seems to me a superb salute to the past, to the ancestors, to true Norse Black Metal ... please share with my readers the inner concept of this very album and the main changes in your music since the creation of "Fra Fjellheimen Kaller...". There are more acoustic guitars, choral effects, instrumental tracks, a renewed "Tjernet" version...

If you remove the part about Norse Black Metal, I could agree with you, hehe. The whole lyrical concept revolves around everyday stories, myths and other tales from the Ringerike region of Norway. Most of them aren't much more than 100-200 years old. The reasons for my choice of lyrical themes are many, but one of the main ones is that the stories I use for the lyrics often never have been read by anyone else than the very few owners of the dusty old books they are published in. The idea of giving them (the stories) a time of honour unlike any they have ever had before, is a thought that means a lot to me. In my opinion, that's the least anyone could do. Another point that comes along is that I of course would like to give the project a certain originality and identity, which I feel I have accomplished by incorporating local history into the music. And besides, does the world really need another band writing crap lyrics about devils, death and occult rituals? I think not. The changes in the actual music... Where to begin, hehe. First of all, I think I have found the sound that fits Myrkgrav best now, although I am quite sure of that it will evolve a lot in the future. If you listen to the demo, you'll find that all of the material sounds very different. So basically what I did was to decide which of the musical styles from the demo would fit the band best to continue with. "Tjernet" was the first song I ever wrote for the project, and "Olav Tryggvason" was the first track which really caught people's attention, so I figured that a mix of these two styles + some other elements would work out in a good way. I was very determined that I would incorporate some additional instruments, like strings and horns, instead of using just guitars to mould the soundscape. So then it was that the album started taking shape, and I really can't remember when the pre-productions or anything was finished. One day I just had everything ready, hehe.

 

The vocal technique is quite complex and excellently executed. How did the process evolve ... conceiving vocal lines, choosing Sindre Nedland, the recordings...

Originally I planned on doing all the vocals myself, since they are one of the most important parts of the whole sound in a band. As time went by with trial and error concerning the clean vocals, I finally had to face the fact that I'm not skilled enough as a singer to write interesting and well executed vocal lines. At that point it was a little hard to admit that I had to hire someone else to take care of the most personal part of the album, as you might understand. Anyhow, then Sindre came along, and when I heard the first test he did for "De To Spellemenn", I was spellbound, and all my fears of a non-personal sound kind of just vanished. After that, I just recorded pilot vocals so that he could get hold of the rhythm and basic arrangement in each song, and then told him to write as many different harmonies and second voices he wanted to. This means that all the choirs you hear in i.e. "Om Å Danse Bekhette" and "De To Spellemenn" are his own contributions to the compositions of Myrkgrav. Since we live so far away from each other, he recorded the vocals in a studio a friend of him owns and just sent me the files so that I could mix everything together. Though they did a great job recording everything, the microphone they used wasn't that good for his voice, which resulted in some quite disturbing S-sounds. Listen to the short part he sings in "Tre Skygger tel Kolabrennern Kom" and you will understand what I'm talking about, hehe.

As I loved your music, I wish I could understand the lyrics in their original form. I know you've chosen to write them down in a particular dialect, why so? I wonder, if anyone would be determined to learn Norwegian should it be Bokmål in order to understand all the words you sing?

You know how a lot of singers sound very strained and un-natural in their articulation? One of the reasons for that, I think, is because they either get pushed by the rest of their band or push themselves to sing in a very correct manner. If I was to follow strict grammar rules when singing in Myrkgrav, it would have sounded totally different; and by that I mean in a negative way. I try to make an as honest work as possible, both sound wise and thematically, and by singing and writing in my own dialect it all sounds so much more natural. I'm a total Nazi when it comes to using correct grammar when I write in Norwegian outside of the band, so you can also rule out the idea of that I'm writing in dialect because I suck at correct grammar, hehe. I guess that you would understand just as much/little of my lyrics independently of which form of Norwegian you had learned, although Nynorsk is based on Norwegian dialects, and it would make most sense to learn that in order to understand some words. But either way I don't think it would have mattered all that much.

What about the other collaborators of yours on this project: Kenneth Mellum and Espen Hammer? How did you come to the point of involving particularly them in your project? How do you feel about permanent members? Are you interested in such direction or are you self-sufficient for MYRKGRAV to exist?

First things first. I don't think Myrkgrav will ever be a full band, due to the fact that the number of serious and dedicated musicians in my area is... low. Also, I'm a real control freak, and I assume that not many people would last long as members of the band if they had to deal with my way of working, haha. Either way it would have been nice to hire some live members to be able to do a few live shows, but due to the first point I mentioned above, I guess that will never happen. Kenneth was the first session member I ever hired, right after the "Fra Fjellheimen Kaller" demo was finished and I had started to work with the album. When the material for the album finally was finished and we were supposed to start recording the drums, everything didn't go as planned, to put it that way. I'm not going to go too deep into this subject, but the result of the recording turned out kind of useless. I didn't want programmed drums on this album if it wasn't really necessary, so it was a quite hard decision to take when I told Kenneth that we couldn't use his drum tracks on the record. So then it was that I had to program everything from scratch, which eventually and fortunately turned out better than I had dared to hope. I asked Espen Hammer if he was interested in recording the bass guitars right after I was finished pre-producing the album. The main reason for this is quite simple; I'm not good for anything else than doubling the guitars when I play bass. Since I had spoken with Espen and knew what he was capable of pulling off, I simply asked him if he was up for the job, which he indeed was. Unfortunately, a series of unexpected events lead to that he didn't get the chance to participate on all of the songs. So if you wonder why the bass guitars are mixed a bit low, you now know the reason.

 

The whole mixing, programming and recording processes have been done on your own Koia Studios, and I can surely say the results are quite fine. What can you tell me about this experience of controlling and executing the entire process?

As I mentioned above, I'm a total control freak. Therefore I guess that it was pretty natural for me to take on the whole technical aspect in making the album. I wish I had some more experience on beforehand though, since it was a lot trial and error incorporated in the whole process. Anyway, I learned a lot by doing this and it was a great experience in total.

The cover is beautiful, keeping in line with the transcendence to the past, the return to ancient beliefs and Nature... for a moment I had the feeling that all the persons in that painting, relatives of yours, are looking to the Mountains illustrated on "Fra Fjellheimen Kaller..." cover. Is it also placed in Ringerike area? What's the particular significance to you my friend into choosing this image?

If you're still talking about the Trollskau cover: The farm on the painting is not located in Ringerike, but at the place where my mother grew up, a place called Lommedalen. Originally I had a totally different cover ready, and everything was more or less ready to go in the print when found this large, old oil painting lying around in my house. It struck me that it would have been totally perfect for using on the front of the cover. I also found a photo from 1912 of the same farm (remove the CD from the cover, that's the one), and by then it was pretty clear that I had to contact my graphic guy and tell him to change everything again. We had already gone through a lot of ideas, so I guess I stressed him a bit too much, hehe. I'm not a very impulsive type of person in general, but since I felt it was so "right" to use this painting as a cover, that's what I decided. The whole album is dedicated to my roots and ancestors, so I think it fits like hand in glove. If you're talking about the "Fjellheimen" cover: The mountains pictured on this cover is just some random image I found on the internet, hehe. So no, it's not from Ringerike. Since the demo title is "From the Mountain Calls..." the cover kind of goes hand in hand with just that.

 

I wonder about your logo... the scent of woods and bygone times is aroused, plus I had the sense of the "blood eagle" when looking at the "M"... which is the story of this very logo?

Though the original intention with the logo is a bit indefinite, I'm glad to hear that it's not just me who feels this way about it, except the part about the Blood Eagle. Many people tell me that the logo looks like how the music sounds, which I consider as a great compliment, since a logo should give you some kind of idea of what kind of music the band performs. That's my opinion at least. I had the logo made for free some years back without giving the guy who designed it any pointers about what kind of music Myrkgrav performed. I guess it was a lucky strike, hehe. Even though it fit well for the band right from the start, I changed it a bit after the "Fjellheimen" demo, since it looked a bit too circular and "pretty".

Returning to Koia Studios, your own studio, how did you decide to start on such a path? Is it just an instrument for you in order of making the creation and execution complete? Which are your plans regarding Koia Studios?

You could say that the main reason behind starting a small studio is that I have a burning interest for sound engineering. Of course it's also an advantage for me when I'm writing and arranging music, as it makes the whole process a lot easier, with the technology available today. Just a week ago I ordered a new monster of a computer, since the one I have used until now is starting to get pretty outdated. With the arrival of the new one, I assume I will be able to get better results than I have had in the past. For the "Trollskau" album, I had to mix the drums and the other instruments in different projects, as well as I had to "freeze" some tracks to be able to work with others, since I didn't have the computer power to mix everything at once. This took a lot of time, and was quite frankly very annoying, since I had to export files all the time. And we all know that's boooring, hehe. Also, I guess I'll give bands the opportunity to record their demos at Koia Studios, as long as they will cope with programmed drums. As I'm no professional sound engineer, I'll of course not take lot of money for it, but do it more for the fun of it.

 

You've already done two complete recording, mixing and programming works for MYRKGRAV in Koia Studios, and also the vocal recordings for SWORN's 2005 demo and 2006/7 album, QUADRIVIUM's 2006 ep and 2006 album ADVERSUS. How do you feel about these accomplishments? Were there major difficulties in the process? Gratifications?

Most of these projects have gone by rather well, except the fact that there were A LOT of problems concerning the recording of "Trollskau", where I experienced computer crashes, loss of data and so forth. I know my equipment quite well now, and what I have to do to make it sound right. So you could say that I have made up some rules which I try to follow each time, to make everyone happy. Let's say that I was to record vocals for Sworn's album, and chose to drain the vocals in reverb or over-compress them before the signal reached the computer, so that it was no way back. I don't think the guys in Sworn would appreciate that, to say the least, so I try to tweak as little as possible with the raw material, and rather work more with it later in the process to make it sound good as well as to be able to change everything if needed.

Naming the bands above I also open an invitation for you to share me some thoughts about the other bands you're involved in. QUADRIVIUM... tell me all about it, the birth, the steps you've made, the satisfaction you get from it, the experience of a two brained musical concept, future plans...also, I would appreciate if you'd share us some thoughts about the "Origo" EP...

Well, Quadrivium was formed by Nordvang and me, since we wanted a so-called inspirational outlet for a style of music which we couldn't use in any of our other projects. We both shared the same appreciation for the early works of Arcturus, and kind of decided to just record a demo in the same style as "Aspera Hiems Symfonia". Nordvang was to compose all the music, and I was supposed to be the singer, and we also hired a bass player; Decepticon. It turned out that when Nordvang had started writing songs, and the three demo tracks were finished, he simply couldn't stop, due to an outburst in inspiration. So it was that we instead wrote enough material to record a whole full length album. At that same time we also decided to make it a concept album, dealing with the struggle between good and evil, and which of them that could lure humans into believing what is best for them. Even though we recorded the whole album in one stretch, we decided to divide the material on two records, namely the Origo EP and the Adversus album. Origo was our starting point, and because of that, we financed all the work with it ourselves. Everything from recording, mixing and mastering to printing. Due to the fact that we haven't done a lot of promotional work, we quite frankly haven't sold a lot of copies yet, hehe. Neither have we landed a record deal, so we're currently in search for a label that wants to release our Adversus album. When it comes to future plans, both I and Nordvang are quite busy men, so we haven't laid a lot of plans yet. I know he has composed one new song, and believe me, if the rest of the material we'll eventually get finished with sounds similar, it will be a quite unique release.

 

What about SWORN? The album is almost ready as far as I know, there are solely the vocals and the mixing left to be done... what does this collaboration bring to you? What can you tell me about the coming album, concept, tracks, concerts?

You're right that only some vocals and mixing remain. I guess I'll have to get my lazy ass out of the couch and start recording the two last songs soon, hehe. I hadn't really planned on becoming a member of Sworn again, after having left them after the demo was finished, when they had become a full band. I knew they were entering the studio this autumn to record their debut album, and when Christoffer contacted me and told me they had to kick their singer because he wasn't experienced enough, I knew what I had coming, hehe. He asked me if I wanted to join the band permanently, and I of course said yes. It's just something about the music he writes that's so damn catchy and cool, and I guess I get to be more "metal" in the way I use my voice in Sworn. It kind of fills up an empty space in me as an artist, to put it that way. Concerning the album, I'm really not the right guy to ask, as I'm really not in charge of anything else than singing the songs. What I can tell you though, is that the album will contain something around six tracks loaded with great melodic extreme metal! All the tracks from the demo have been re-recorded and partly re-written, and now sounds a lot better than they did before, as well as the new songs which definitely shows a positive evolvement for the band as composers. With tracks like Vivid Visions, Allevation and I Am Ravenous, I think we will conquer some new fans around the world. As for concerts, I don't think we'll do a lot, since I live eight hours away from the rest of the band. That of course makes it pretty impossible for me to rehearse with them, which again leads to having a hard time giving a good live show.

So, you master MYRKGRAV's Folkloric Metal, and interweave your musical experience with QUADRIVIUM's Avantgarde Symphonic Metal and SWORN's Melodic Metal. Is this the equation towards your personal completion in a musical dimension?

I would say so, yes. I believe these different projects give me just what I need to feel fulfilled as an artist. On the other hand, it takes a lot time to be in three completely different bands, and I quite frankly don't know how long I will manage to be a part of all of them.

Tell me about your wanderings in Krokskogen ... what pleases you the most while doing that? Do you prefer exploring the woods alone?

I like to wander just to wander, even though I more than often bring along my camera. I indeed enjoy taking trips like that by myself, yes. Then I can keep my own tempo and find a silence which you don't experience when in example bringing along your noisy buddy; "Daaaamn, a pond surrounded by fog! MEEEEEEETAL!"

Do you feel more caressed and inspired in pure natural environment or you prefer the presence of some manmade elements in order to reach relaxation and contemplation - modern or old architecture maybe?

A bit of both, maybe? ;) In example, I live in an old timbered cottage-like house surrounded by endless miles of woods. I have two TV-channels, no internet and no phone. But what I do have is my studio gear, my car and enough basic modern needs to be able to enjoy life as a free man, hehe. You can say that I choose to follow a so-called golden middle road. Without electricity I would have been doomed, hehe.

 

I know you prefer creating the lyrics for MYRKGRAV by using ancient local stories, known solely in the area you're living in ... please indulge me, and make share me one of those stories ... one that you find particularly inspiring for you in life...

Let's see. I like the story about Finnkjerringa a lot, since it's not that old and has a pitch-black humour to it. It goes something like this: Anne was a bit of a nasty woman. She had recently given birth to a son, and was going to travel from her small cottage in Kroksogen down to the church in Hole, to get the baby baptized. It was in the middle of the winter, so she carried the baby in a leather sack on her back, as she skied down a really tough slope called Mannaskaret. When she finally reached the church, the priest observed that the baby had no head (!). Anne only looked at him with a non-caring look in her eyes and said "Oh, if he had a head when I left home, I know where it can be found". What probably had happened was that the baby had lost its head when she had been skiing, maybe by smashing into some branches or the stone walls along the slope side. Later on, her husband was ill. The story does not tell what was wrong with him, but that he was almost ready to die. Outside Anne's cottage, there sat three corvuses (raven-like birds) on a fence. When Anne saw them, she immediately threw herself at Samuel, her husband, and choked him cold. The reason she gave for doing that was that she believed the three corvuses were angels sent from god, who sang Samuel's last song. Needless to say, Anne was not a very sane person, hehe.

How do you integrate the idea of using your girlfriend's voice on the "Trollskau, Skromt og Kolabrenning" album? Was it just in order to give her some pleasure or maybe your simple need of making her present on the album? How did you come to this decision?

In "Gygra og St. Olav", Gygra is a female creature. The few lines Benita speaks in this song are originally spoken by Gygra in the story. To give it an as authentic feel as possible, I felt that the song had to include a female's voice in order to be realistic. My girlfriend and I share a lot of the same interests concerning folklore and myths, and it was pretty natural to let her do the job. If you put two and two together after reading this, you'll understand that I didn't use her voice in any other songs because of the simple fact that none of them contain any phrases spoken by women, except "Finnkjerringa", but in that one her voice wouldn't have fit it the same way, since it's a more up-tempo song which sounds better with extreme vocals.

What would you consider a major compromise into doing music? Have done major compromises so far?

The biggest compromise by far is that being in the music business takes a lot of your spare time away. Whenever you think you'll be able to have a relaxing weekend with a small trip doing something completely different than music related things, you get contacted by some major magazine which wants you to do a looooooooong interview which has to be finished before Monday or something. I must say I have sacrificed some hours where I intentionally should have been doing important school assignments, and instead have had to answer interviews. What a paradox, since my future as an individual could rely on both things, hehe. Other than that I haven't really had to do any major compromises yet, which I am grateful for.

What do you do beside music? Is fishing a family tradition? How does photography gratify you, what do you prefer to immortalize? What else brings you happiness in life?

Well, I'm just a normal guy who attends school and tries to live life as relaxing as I can. I'm no big fan of attending public happenings, like parties and stuff like that, so I get a lot of time to do other more solitude things. Fishing is one of the things I've always been fond of, be it crayfish or fishing with a pole. It's just so very relaxing, and also exciting. Whenever I'm out doing things like that, I bring along my camera. I'm no super-skilled photographer, but I like capturing moments which I can look back at and think of something positive of, be it landscape scenery or people. Since I'm not too fond of public places, I guess you can conclude with that I'm more of a nature photographer than someone doing a lot of portraits, hehe. I rarely do these things all alone anymore, since my better half plays such an important part of my life. It's good to have someone to share all the moments with.

Talking about photography, I couldn't help noticing a pipe in your studio... is it yours?

Haha, you're not the first one to mention this. Yes, it's mine. I bought it in Sweden, when I was just across the borders to get hold of some cheap tobacco. Tobacco smoked in a pipe tastes interestingly different from when rolled as a cigarette, so it's just for variety's sake. And it looks cool when you're out fishing.

ARCTURUS... seems to be an important band for you, their influences are to be seen and sensed in you: music, clothes... can we talk about a fascination towards their music, or for them as individuals perhaps?

You're only half right this time. I'm no big fan of what they've done on the last couple of albums, but their first full-length is enormous. The way the synth is incorporated into what could have been more raw Black Metal is truly interesting. These guys know how to use synth in metal. Other than that, I haven't really given this subject a lot of thought.

Thank you Lars and keep on this beautiful path you've started! Is there anything you'd like to add for your Romanian listeners?

Thank you as well, for lending me some of your time with these interesting questions! I really suck at these "close the interview"-type of questions, so let's do it simple: I hope that after reading this interview, you have gained some wisdom about the world of Myrkgrav, and that some of you might find it interesting. If that's not the fact, then you could forget you had ever wasted these past minutes of your life and move on, but if you in fact want to learn more, go ahead and check out the music and leave some feedback if you'd like!

http://www.myrkgrav.com

December 2006.