Borknagar interview (09/2019)
|With:||Øystein Garnes Brun|
|Conducted by:||RaduP (skype)|
I've always been very fond of Borknagar, especially after seeing them in 2016 at Rockstadt Extreme Fest and having "Winter Thrice" among my most listened to songs of that year. I of course jumped at the opportunity of reviewing their upcoming album, and even more I got the opportunity to talk to founding member, Øystein Garnes Brun, so I wanted to know a little bit more about how they've been in the meantime.
Radu: Have you done many interviews today?
Brun: Some. I think it's the fourth, or something like that.
Radu: Okay, so you're not really that tired yet of them?
Brun: No, it's cool, it's cool.
Radu: Okay, okay. So Winter Thrice was Borknagar's tenth record. It was released 20 years after your debut and it also had Garm, its original vocalist, on a song. Ever since then, there have been quite a lot of lineup changes. Were there any challenges in writing True North with one less vocalist as a follow-up to such a triumphant album?
Brun: Well, what can I say? To me, being on the other side of the whole thing, it was quite smooth, actually. We had a process in the band, of course, and we did Winter Thrice album we did this whole circle of tours, South American tour, European tour, and all the festivals, and after all that, then you have a little break, just to gather my thoughts and stuff like that. At that time we had a few songs ready already and we started to talk about the new album and stuff and we had some basic plans about taking a step up in terms of, yeah, doing an album, but also in terms of doing live, and we started to talk about… For the most part, me and Simen [Hestnæs, a.k.a. ICS Vortex] and Lars [Are Nedland, a.k.a. Lazare] have been the driving creative force in the band the last five years, so we kind of sat down and listened to the material and just decided, "Okay, let's go."
And, yeah, of course along the line we had some lineup changes, and that was no surprise for us. The old drummer, Baard [Kolstad], he's very in-demand, he has his own band, Leprous, and he also is kind of an entertainer in the sense that he does a lot of drum shows, drum and bass stuff, and things like that, so we saw that coming, that he wasn't able to join us for a full new album, and a little bit the same kind of thing with Andreas [Hedlund, a.k.a. Vintersorg], the old lead vocalist, that he is a busy man in Sweden working at a high-end job, being an educator, having a responsibility for the whole northern Sweden in terms of teaching kids, basically, programming, using computers and all that stuff.
Which brings up the point that we had to make some decisions, and based on the fact that there are three of us, Simen, me, and Lars, who were determined to pick it back up - "either we do it properly or we don't do it" kind of thing - we had to make the decisions, and there was basically no bad blood or anything like that, but we needed some new members, we needed a new drummer and we also needed a new guitarist. It worked out really smooth, I would say. Of course, it is sometimes a bit tough to see good friends and band members leave and stuff like that, but I also have to be a little bit pragmatic towards the whole situation, and I basically had an option to go on, move on, and do another album and all that, or just sit down and do nothing with the band, so that was not really an option.
So it went well. I'm extremely happy with the lineup we have nowadays and all the guys are really dedicated into the music and really put their heart and soul into the new album, so I would say it's a very honest piece of work.
Radu: Okay. I suppose since a lot of band members were from all around, even for this album you couldn't really record in one place, you just recorded in your separate studios, right?
Brun: Kind of, but it did happen less for Winter Thrice. I mean, that was based around home studios and I'd do my stuff with my studio and the other guys did, but the thing is now that I have spent the past four, three years to build my own professional studio, I have… So actually this time around that was, I would say part of the magic this time was we actually got a little bit old-school, teaming up the whole band in the studio where we did the vocals, we would just walk into my studio, lock the door - of course with food and drinks and all that - but 24/7 we were just working on the music, recording vocals and stuff. I think it's the same thing with the drums this time. We met up everybody and was part of the recording process, so we didn't do the "real" old stuff, like rehearsing in a rehearsal room - we did a little bit of that - but we didn't rehearse all the songs and play live in the studio and stuff like that like in the '60s, but still we got a little bit back to this old-school feeling of being a band working in the studio together and being more… intertwining all the ideas and inputs, and I think it kind of, hopefully, shines through on the album. It sounds more… alive, maybe, in a way, and I think that's the reason why it turned out like that.
Radu: With Vintersorg no longer part of Borknagar, what does that mean for Cronian?
Brun: Well, it doesn't mean much, really, in the sense that that's something we agreed on since we talked a lot of times on the phone, "Let's do another album," so we're definitely gonna do a new album, but for us Cronian is more like a musical playground. We don't do this…
Brun: We don't do this for commercial reasons. We kind of just do it to have fun with music, to cherish our own musical passion, or whatever you want to call it, so we don't work with that line. We don't do live shows and stuff like that. That wouldn't be fun the way we want it to be. So we had plans for the new album, but when I don't know. Maybe next year, maybe in two years, maybe in five years. Let's see. For me, that's kind of the deal with this project, that it's completely independent. We don't need to cope with all kinds of expectations or deadlines or money or… It's self-made, we do everything ourselves in our studios, and we just do it at the tempo that we feel is right for the project and that's it, basically.
Radu: Okay. With ICS Vortex replacing Garm in both Borknagar and Arcturus, do you think he will eventually replace him in Ulver as well?
Brun: (laughs) I don't know. I don't think so. Ulver is Garm. I mean, of course Ulver is a band these days with I don't know how many members exactly, and I know some of the guys, of course, but for me Garm is Ulver, or the opposite way around. That won't happen. It wouldn't BE Ulver, so to speak.
Radu: Yes, obviously. And it's really cool that they started performing live. I think Garm left Borknagar because he couldn't really commit to live shows, right? Something like that?
Brun: Parts of it. I mean, yeah, parts of it, but… at that point, he was really fed up with the whole metal thing, to be honest. He was done with the whole black metal and metal and drums and guitars. He wanted to walk another path, so to speak. He wanted to explore the electronic side of the music and all that kind of stuff, and I totally respect him for that. I remember when we did The Olden Domain back in the day, in '97 or what it was, we had a talk in Germany when we were mixing the album, like, "Yeah, this is gonna be it, I'm not doing more metal at the moment," so yeah. It was kind of a cool thing; I kind of respect him for that. And ever since I've been a huge fan. I sometimes bump into him or we talk on the phone or something like that. He's an awesome guy - I mean, he's a good friend of mine, very good friend of mine, but also, for me, the music's so - I would say - genius. He is such a talented guy. He has such a sense of quality that… I've never experienced anyone being close to him when it comes to just having this radar, scoping the good things. He just has this very precise taste of quality, I would say. He's an amazing musician. But what I wanted to say is I'm a big fan, I've always been a big fan of his work -
Radu: Yeah, it's probably one of my favorite bands as well.
Brun: Yeah, his new stuff, his next album is just fantastic in my opinion.
Øystein (photo by Hillarie Jason)
Radu: It seems that as people get older they get tired of heavier and brutal music - like you got tired of Molested as well.
Brun: Well, yeah, I mean… yes and no. Molested was for me my debut when it comes to playing in a band. We started out as kids - I mean, really as kids. I was like 14, 15 years old. We couldn't play our instruments. We only had these, I guess, hormones in that age, teenagers, and we just had the urgent need to do music. I got my guitar from my parents and the drummer got some drums from his parents and we just started to jam in my parents' garage. And, you know, we were that serious about it. We really had some years with the band. I mean, we literally… I couldn't play guitar, seriously, and the drummer couldn't play drums. We sat down and basically did what we did during the three or four years we were rehearsing. I'm still proud of the stuff we did back then. It had something very unique about it. It's very passionate, in a way, and I kind of planned my own youth, in a way, and it kind of gives me a lot of nice associations, but I remember closing in to being 19, 20, or something, some guys had education responsibilities, one of the guys had to go into military service, you know, those kinds of things that happen at that age.
On my end, I was a little bit… I've always been very fond of… I've always enjoyed death metal a lot and I still do. I love it. Good, old death metal is some of the best music I know. But I've always had the need for even death metal that is a bit atmospheric, melodic. I guess it's a little bit because I've grown up with a father which was basically a hippie back in the '60s and '70s and he collected a huge pile of LPs back when I was a kid, and I always liked watching through all these and listening to these. He made his own speakers at home. Huge speakers we had in the living room and every Sunday I was waking up to Pink Floyd or Uriah Heep or something like that, so that got the whole atmospheric/proggy thing a little bit in the blood, in that sense.
So when the whole Molested thing came to an end, what's my next step? I want to continue making music, I love doing this, and a natural consequence or pathway for me was to try to do this more melodic, atmospheric stuff. Not necessarily just down-to-earth and slow music, doom or something, but I've always enjoyed music that has diversity, colors, different colors, that goes fast but holds with a flow, you know. Fundamentally, for me, music is about contrast. It's like life, basically. Some days are good, some days are not good, and all those things are just facets of life, and I think that, if music should be honest and interesting in a humanistic way or that if you dig deeper, you need to be able to project all these nuances in life, so to speak, so I guess that's what I basically thought back then.
Radu: Okay. I find it weird that you did vocals for Molested, but you haven't done any vocals in a band with so many vocalists.
Brun: No, you know, I did the vocals, growling and all that, back in the day, but when it was finished with Molested, I felt pretty serious about the vocal thing as well, so, nope, I am done with that and I won't do that, that's it (laughs).
Radu: I just thought it was convenient, since your other vocalist, the harsh growler, is also out of the way now.
Brun: Yeah, but Simen, you know, does the harsh vocals now, so that's no big deal.
Radu: Borknagar has an on/off relationship with playing live, even becoming a studio-only band for a while. You toured extensively to promote Winter Thrice, but no tours for True North have been announced yet. Should we expect one soon?
Brun: Yeah, I mean, we had different courses running, actually. We of course, obviously, are going to do some festivals - we had done this year, we are gonna do a few more this year, and we of course are gonna do a lot of festivals next year, I presume. But, you know, we had some fan club ask, we are pretty close to confirming our South America/Latin America tour, and just this week, actually, we had something to discuss and there is some interest in the US for a tour, so we are now looking into options or possibilities to go over to the US, North America, of course; maybe summer next year or something like that, but I can't guarantee anything and I wish I could… but hopefully. At least we are close this time. It seems like it can become something actually.
But, you know, for a European band, it's tough to get a good tour going in the US -
Radu: Especially with the visas.
Brun: Yeah, it's visas, and it costs a lot of money and traveling and, you know, it's a lot of things that we have to make sure is fine, and as you said we have a little bit of this on-and-off relationship with live, and part of the reason for that is… I'm not doing live anymore for peanuts and beer with that setup. I don't expect to become rich, I don't expect all that kind of stuff; that was never my intention. But I expect to not…
Radu: Not get bankrupt.
Brun: Yeah, that's my point. I expect not to lose too much money on doing such things, so sometimes we have to say no. It will be cool, but it's just too little money for the whole project to be alive, actually, or to float.
And I'm quite hard on that. In the past, we have got offers with huge bands, doing support and stuff like that, and here I am, "What's in it for us?" "Yeah, you should be happy to just play!" Sorry, man. Not happening.
Radu: You'll get paid in exposure.
Brun: Yeah, that's one way of saying it, but… Yeah. I firmly believe, as I think I've stated in the biography we did before the release of this album, I generally believe in good music. I don't buy those concepts. I've heard of so many bands, "Yeah, you have to play this or that show, because it's too important to give no notice," or something like that… Yeah, but… in the long run, and I've been doing this for a long time, I have much more firm believe in good music, in general music. That can move mountains, so to speak, and I always cling on to that belief.
Radu: But it would be great to get a US tour going now especially. It's been 20 years since you were last in the US, with Emperor, right?
Brun: Yeah, yeah, pretty much. Yeah, 20 years and 1 month, or something like that.
So, yeah, that was really a really nice tour then, and we are all in the band really excited about getting something going in the US, so that's high up on our priority list, so to speak.
Radu: Do you think there will be any difficulties with performing live with one less vocalist?
Brun: Nah. On the previous tours we had on the festivals, we actually had three vocalists on stage; now we only have two (I say "only"). So, no, I don't think that's a big issue. The only thing that we have been discussing a little bit, of course, is that… especially Simen has a… it's a hard job for him. We're doing, let's say, an hour, hour and a half, and he's doing bass and he's doing clean vocals and the [harsh vocals]. It's tough. You have to be in shape to do that stuff. It's a good exercise. But that's a challenge we are gonna deal with, I think. We have already done parts of shows with the lighter lineup, so it's no big deal, actually.
Radu: Okay. So you'll manage.
Brun: We will manage. Of course.
Radu: Can you tell us a bit about the song "Voices"? It was really the unexpected highlight for me.
Brun: Yeah, hm… What can I say about it? It's a cool song, I would say, I agree with you, and back in the day when we started with this album, we had, like, 14 or 15 songs altogether - we had almost two hours of music, I would say - and we kind of listened to everything and what's the best thing, what kind of album do we want to do, and all that stuff, we had a lot of discussions. But I would say that this song, when Lars wrote the basics of the song - actually, it was a funny story, because it was written backwards. He basically started to write the song from the end to the beginning, kind of a cool thing. But at that point we just had a framework, just a basic idea and stuff like that, but to me there was something universally true about this, and we kind of feel out the songs a bit more, we work on preproduction and all that stuff, and the more we got inside the material, it felt very natural flow on the album to be a finishing song, and also it seems, in a way, even though it's a very different song from the song before, the song "Tidal" -
Radu: Yeah, the long one.
Brun: Yeah, the long one, it has some different feeling… I don't know how to say it, but emotional climax, in a sense. I think they are kind of interwoven lyrically speaking and have a little bit of the same flavor, maybe, even though it's a very different song. But I think it's a very good song. It's, to me, a real universally true song. I mean, if you don't like metal you still probably will like that song.
Brun: It's just true, the song, and for me, and for us, when we do music, I've always put aside all kinds of limitations. I try to cherish the free spirit in the passions of making music - you have a feeling that you can do whatever you want. As long as things sound good, I'm kind of happy with it. We all have our stuff which sounds a bit stranger. But I love that stuff. As long as it sounds good, it's a good idea, whatever, and I enjoy the song myself, then go for it. I don't want to be restrained by some "metal laws" that you're not supposed to pass this border of whatever.
Radu: It's actually the songs that sound least like Borknagar on the album that I like the most, like both "Wild Father's Heart" and "Voices."
Brun: Yeah, exactly. For me, as I said before, this was all about contrast, and I think that if you have an album with 45 minutes with just blastbeats, to me that's boring. You might be impressed by the production, you might be impressed by the drummer behind the drum kit that's drumming for half an hour, doing the blastbeats for half an hour, but if there's nothing more than impressing, it doesn't connect to me emotionally or anything like that, unless there is something to it that has some character or something, signature or emotional something or flavor - I mean, there has to be something more.
Also, in terms of guitar playing, all these guitar players play faster than lightning, it's like, yeah, fuck, it's impressive, how do you do that? But it's on the same level for me as whatever sprinter runs from A to B in nine seconds. It's just impressive. It doesn't give me anything in my life, if you get my point.
Radu: Yes, I get it.
Brun: For me, music is different things. I need to find musical quality that actually slaps a string in my emotional life, in a sense. When I listen to Pink Floyd, for example, which is one of my big favorite bands of all time - it's like THE band for me, they've always been and probably always will be - when I listen to that band, it releases an emotional reaction. I don't get that from anything else in this world, nothing. Food, a nice movie, whatever, it doesn't release the same emotional response as listening to Pink Floyd, and that's kind of the same type of thing… if I succeed, I don't know, of course, but I've tried that same idea about my music, that I would like to make music in a way that would actually add something in the life of the listener, in a sense. It means something more than just being impressive or "this was a cool artwork" or "damn, that was a nice band photo!" If that's cool, then that's cool, but I want the music to speak to the people and I want the music to be able to reach into…
Radu: To have an emotional connection with it.
Brun: Yeah, on a different level.
Radu: Okay. I get it. If Borknagar were to cover a Pink Floyd song, which one would it be?
Brun: Oh, that's a good one. My spontaneous reaction would be "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." I love that song. But that's probably because my father was also in love with that song, and that song reminds me very much about him. I lost my father three years ago, actually during the release of Winter Thrice, and I still have a little bit of personal… I still find it hard. So that's a song that gets me in the mood… it saddens me very much. It kind of just… stirs you up in terms of emotions, I think, in a both good and bad way, if you get my point, so to me it's a very personal song.
Radu: We have that in common. Both of our fathers love Pink Floyd and introduced it to us.
Brun: Cool man, cool man. Awesome, awesome. Even in the burial of my father we played Pink Floyd and stuff like that, so, yeah, that's some heartfelt stuff.
Radu: Okay. What do you like to do in your free time?
Brun: What free time? (laughs) What are you talking about? How do you define that?
Radu: Okay, what do you do other than music?
Brun: (laughs) Yeah, you know, I have a lot of things. I'm all over the place, I guess. I'm just like my father - he was always either sleeping or working. I'm pretty much the same type of guy. I'm always… I have a house, I have a garden, I have things I have to work and build… I love building things. That's where I spent much time in the last couple of years. I spent the last years building a high-end studio in my - I have a big garden, so in one of the corners I built, yeah, a professional studio, and I did everything by myself, everything from the grounding and the concrete and the stuff like that. Every spike is done by me, so to speak.
Radu: Oh, great.
Brun: I love those things. I love working with my hands. I'm a big guy and I feel like I kind of belong working, using my body, being physical, and I love being in my garden just building something; whether it's a new computer desk for my boy or it's a full-blown studio, it doesn't really matter, but I just love building things. That's the key.
Radu: That's pretty much what you do with the music anyway, too.
Brun: Yeah, kind of, but the music is invisible in a sense. You can't see it, but the building you can see, so maybe that's kind of a way for me to…
Radu: To materialize.
Brun: Yeah, to materialize, compensate for… Music, if you think about it, is such a special art form, I would say, because it comes from nothing and is nothing. The medium, the CD, of course, the cover, you can tape on it, you can smell it, whatever, but the music itself is just organized frequencies. It is nothing. You can't see it. So that's kind of an interesting philosophy behind the music, but maybe I have a need for naturalizing ideas, being creative, to have something that is - "yeah, I built that one," or something.
Radu: Yeah. How much time do we have left?
Brun: I don't have any more interviews until 9:00 in half an hour, so I need to do a couple of things before that, but five, ten minutes, no problem.
Radu: Okay, no, it's just I finished the questions anyway. I thought it would be just half an hour.
Brun: Yeah, usually are, but actually the time schedule today wasn't too hard on me. It's actually about 6:00, 7:00 - or my time, of course. Your time it's like 12, 1, 2, and 3, but -
Radu: It's 9 pm here. I'm from Romania.
Brun: Oh, you are! Okay, okay. Romania.
Radu: I hope you're gonna come here for a festival next year.
Brun: Yeah, it would be great. We did, um…
Radu: You did Rockstadt. I saw you there. It was in 2016.
Brun: Yeah we did, yeah we did. That was really cool, actually. I don't remember the actual gig, if it was good or not, but I remember we had a really good time in Romania.
Radu: Yeah, it was -
Brun: We had to struggle to get back home, though. There was some security stuff and you had to go down in a basement with all the equipment and they had to search everything… I think we caught the flight within the very last seconds; it was, like, really kind of exciting. But we made it.
Radu: I'm glad.
Radu: Okay, so what other art form besides music are you into?
Brun: You know, it depends on how you define art forms. I've always been very fond of movies, actually, if that's an art form, and my mother is very much into paintings. She invests in buying really, really - what can I say, at least in Norway - expensive and famous paintings and stuff like that. I've been joining her a couple of times, but I don't know. I don't kind of get it, in a sense. But movies are something I've always been very fascinated by. And, of course, things that you can do with your hands, again, as I said before I loved using my hands. I've grown up in the countryside, so when I was a kid I was running around in a forest with a knife and my boots, basically, that's it, and I was making all kinds of bowls and flutes off branches and stuff, I was making all kinds of things. Nature was my playing ground. For me, growing up - whatever you can make with hands, and you know it's really impressive what people have done, everything from gold and whatever, what can I say, what material you have… I don't have any specific… but I'm a big fan of movies, and especially I love - it's probably not an art form, it depends on how you see it - but documentaries, I'm a sucker for documentaries. Especially for those that are well-made and have a twist and that kind of stuff.
I guess that's my best answer. But I'm not a guy that goes around in a scarf and looks at paintings for two hours, definitely not. That's not my style.
Radu: No, you look at nature for two hours.
Brun: Way more. I live in nature. My backyard is only nature. From my backyard, I can walk straight up to the mountains, to the highest mountain in the whole Bergen area, actually.
Radu: That's really cool.
Brun: Yeah. I live as close as I can get to nature, and will continue to.
Brun: I will continue like that. I'm not made for living in a city. Being in a city, it can be impressive, it can be a lot of things to see and do and all that stuff, but for me, more than a few days in a city, I get depressed. "Ahh, I have to get away from this madness!" (laughs)
Radu: It's just like with music. You need to feel an emotional connection to the place, which you can feel with nature.
Brun: Yeah, definitely. I find peace there, I find solitude there - you find basically everything you need. Quite strictly, you can live in nature. I mean, in the area I live, actually. If everything changed and suddenly you find yourself in the Stone Age, we have water, we have animals, we have fruits and various berries and stuff we can take, so in some sense you have everything you need in nature. So that seems a little bit, I don't know, maybe it's a little bit philosophic, but I guess that's how I am. I've grown up in nature and that's my ground zero, in a sense.
Radu: Okay. One final question: if you could get any living movie director to direct a video for Borknagar, who would it be?
Brun: Oh, man. (laughs) That was a new one! Hm… Yeah. I think maybe… I'm not sure, actually. You know, it depends a little bit, not a director but maybe Woody Harrelson would be a good thing. Or… yeah, yeah. I think so. I like the guy. There is something about his style as an actor and as approaching movies that I kind of enjoy. Yeah, probably.
Radu: Okay. Well, thank you very much, and I can't wait for the album to come out. I have already listened to it, but people probably can't wait for it.
Brun: Yeah. Did you like it?
Radu: Yes. Honestly, I'm not very fond of the production, but the songs, I really like them.
Brun: Great. Thank you so much. Nice to hear.
Radu: I'll review it some day soon -
Radu: So you'll see my thoughts on it.
Brun: Great. I will check it out.
Radu: Thank you.
Photo by Hillarie Jason
Brun: Right. Thank you so much for the support and for a nice talk and everything, and have a good time.
Radu: Have a good time, too. And thanks for the opportunity.
Brun: No problem, man. See you, take care, bye-bye.
||Posted on 22.09.2019 by Doesn't matter that much to me if you agree with me, as long as you checked the album out.|
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The Enemy Within
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