DM: How are you feeling with the release of True North right around the corner?
Øystein: We are really, really happy with the album. It was a lot of work but came out pretty close to what we wanted to achieve back in the day when we started to work on this one. We are really excited.
DM: The album feels very diverse and deliberate, was that the intention?
Öystein: Long story short, on previous albums we have been sort of cloudy with a lot going on with the musical and lyrical aspect of things. Lyrically speaking, we were always a bit philosophic and mysterious, but this time we wanted the whole thing to be a little bit more reality based and up in your face in terms of production and lyrical content. The lyrics this time are much more direct in a sense. This time I actually wanted to say something. I’m very happy with the production we landed on in the end. There are a lot of things going on with the arrangements and the guitars, which is something we have always done, but still it’s easier to digest which I believe is a combination of the production and the songwriting. It is part of a plan, but we also just let it flow in a sense.
DM: What were you trying to get across lyrically on this album as opposed to albums in the past?
Øystein: There is no concept; I am not too big a fan of concept albums. We operate within the same thing we’ve done for ages which is using nature as the basis of the lyrics. On the previous album we were rather asking questions than saying anything. I had an especially tough time after Winter Thrice. We did the album and did a lot of touring. The thing is, I lost my father at that time. He was buried the day before we released Winter Thrice. It was a Thursday that he was buried, and the album was put out that Friday. My way of dealing in the beginning was just to escape and run away to work and tour. After, in a way, I crash landed because I had to deal with my sorrow and the practicalities, my mother was suddenly alone for example. I also have kids, which gives a different perspective, but losing people or family so close to you will give you a smack in the face, a reality check. I felt like I was falling down from some clouds. I felt the urge to say something, I felt the urge to be more direct with music and with reality in a sense. Reality is brutal sometimes. The first song I wrote for this album was “Wild Father Heart” which is a song that I wrote during the day my father was in intensive care, and I was waltzing back and forth, trying to help, talking to doctors, and trying to deal with this. We still don’t know why he died; he just withered away so to speak. So that’s where it starts. The lyrical idea of that song is in memory of him but I wanted to project everything he had given me. He had given me this scope and interest in nature. He was a mountaineer guy who would walk into the mountains every second day. So he gave me the basics for the whole lyrical role of Borknagar in a sense, the philosophical ideas along with the interest in nature. That song cherished that free spirit of people who find their own path in life. The track “Tidal” is a little bit the same but based on a documentary about moose in Scandinavia. The thing is that they walk the same path over all of Scandinavia; they’ve done so since the ice age. The interesting point is for some time they went extinct, but when they came back they walked the exact same path even though the climate and landscape had changed. The scientists did not know what was going on just that they had continued walking the same path. Taking this into idea into the human world, I have a son and a daughter, and I see so many things that they pick up on. Qualities or interests that I have that they pick up on that I have never told them, that they find themselves. It is an interesting concept that I wanted to bring into the title song, that we have seen this light before. The idea of the rotating cycle of life and all the mysteries that are there. On the other hand, “Mount Rapture” is a very straight forward song, I’m a hardcore atheist, I have a very naturalistic view on the world. I’ve been involved in discussions and engaged in topics of religions in schools in Norway for example and worked against it in local media. It really frustrates me; I am 44 years old and tired of bullshit. I am tired of religious ideas, tired of anti-vaxxers, tired of stupidity basically. Humans are not born with sharp teeth and claws, but we have a huge brain. It’s my way of saying, let’s use the brain for fuck’s sake and leave alone superstition. There’s reasons why we have wars in this world, and there are reasons why the world is such a shaky place at this point even though we are in 2019 and should really know better by now. We should leave all this bullshit behind and use the brain. I am talking a bit harshly, but that’s my way of saying that.
DM: All of that makes a lot of sense, it does in many ways seem we’ve potentially strayed from the path humans should have followed for this weird, destructive, individualistic path. In the same sense, as you mentioned following the natural path, is that how you view the creative process, in a very organic way?
Øystein: Definitely, when people talk about organic, a lot of people think of production with vintage or analog. For me, being organic has always been about honesty. I have always been striving to be as honest as possible with my music. I want to be as close to the listener as possible. I don’t want there to be a huge distance between me as a musician and the listener. It does depend on sound production and how we write songs, but I always strive to be honest in the sense that it mirrors my life. My way of doing honest music is projecting my life into the music. My life is filled with ups and down, as everybody else. Rough times, good times, shiny days, rainy days, and all these facets of life. For me, music as a basic tenement is a very human artifact. My cat doesn’t listen to music. It might stress if the music is loud, but the cat doesn’t care about music. It’s a very human thing. If you are going to appeal to humans, to make music that works in a sense, you have to make music that IS human and IS organic. That’s my way of thinking, how I do it, I am not really sure. There are a lot of elements in the studio: the guitar you use, the amp you use, how I sing a lyric. But, that has always been our basic idea to be organic and interweave my own life. I have been writing music since I was 15, all my life basically. It’s so interwoven in my life I don’t need to plan. I do this work all the time. This organic relationship with music is something I try to bring into my music.
DM: Considering you’ve been playing music so long and Borknagar as a band for a very long time, would you say there is there any lesson or perspective you’ve gained from being an artist for all this time? Or even how being an artist has influenced how you interact with your life experience?
Øystein: Yeah, I think there is one that is pretty mundane and obvious in a sense. I have been in the business since I was a kid. I have seen people come and go. I have seen waves; Viking metal was the big thing, then suddenly black metal or death metal is the thing. I’ve been through it all basically. What I’ve learned and what I feel from the people who stay in the business and survive are the people who are willing to work hard. This goes for all kinds of life. If you’re willing to push it a little further, walk the extra mile, and lift or carry the extra stone, that’s the way of doing it. A lot of journalists have this idea that I sit on the mountain top and think about how to make the next song, and when I come into the studio everything just dawns on me, but it doesn’t really work. It’s hard work. It’s a willing to sacrifice. I have had no social life over the last half year; I’ve just been in my studio. I think hard work is the key. Not to just be commercial successful but musical successful. Good music is hard work. If you really want to fulfill your musical wish and idea, it doesn’t come easy. You have to work really hard for it. It’s the difference between people who stay in a thing and those who leave after a few years.
DM: That is a very important lesson, especially in conjunction with your earlier view on letting inspiration arrive organically. You also have to add in the work.
Øystein: Yes, and it’s not always just about lifting heavy stones. It’s also mental work. The time you spend before writing songs. When I listen to music, I see colors and shapes in my head. It may sound like an acid trip, but it’s not. It’s just how my brain works. I have green riffs, I have brown riffs, I have square riffs. The point is, I spend a lot of mental power in terms of making an album. I kind of map out what I want the album to look like, or what color I want it to be. It might sound absurd, but you have to have mental maps in your head.
DM: That makes a lot of sense. On a different note, I know you recently performed at Maryland Deathfest. How was that experience?
Øystein: It was pretty much 20 years since last time when we did the tour with Emperor. It was a bit tough. We did a photo shoot in Oslo, and then flew to the U.S. the day before. It was three days, and it was hard for an old fart like me. The audience was awesome, and it was definitely worth it. It was really amazing; the audience gave me a boost. We’ve done most of our shows in Europe, and the audiences are generally very nice, but there was some intensity about the U.S. audience that I haven’t experienced in a long time. It reminded me of Europe in the 90’s. I mean that in a good way, they were very passionate. The place was really steaming. It was a nice surprise for us coming all the way from Norway.
DM: The fans here don’t get to experience the type of music you guys create on a regular basis, so it would make sense they’d be very hungry for it. Are there any future plans to come to the states for a tour of any kind?
Øystein: There actually is. We are closer than ever to doing another U.S. tour. Currently our agent for the U.S. and South America is working on a tour. It’s still on the scratch board, and I don’t dare promise anything but hopefully something will happen next summer in the U.S. It seems promising as of now.
DM: We will for sure be crossing our fingers. Well, we won’t keep you any longer, but thank you for sharing your perspective on life and creating music. It is nice to speak to someone who is so clearly an honest and genuine artist. We are really excited to see everyone’s reaction to True North. I am sure people are going to love it.
Øystein: That is what I am trying to do. If I succeed, I don’t know. It’s just my basic musical philosophy. We have really worked hard on True North and are so excited and stoked about the reception to it. I’ve never been this excited about a new album, not even the first one. It’s getting harder and harder as you get older, but it tastes even better because of that. Hopefully people will like it, but you never know, we’ll see. Hopefully we’ll see you in the U.S next year!
Interview conducted by Sean Cantor