The first words I utter to Håvard a.k.a. Mortiis, The Inky Lord of the Hidden People, The Cold Priest of Creep, The Whisperer in the Starkness, The Goblin King of the.. erm, Goblins, (enough – Ed), are sincere apologies.
The time difference between here and Norway is an hour. Our interview is arranged for 3pm, and me being oh so clever, figure that I need to call at 2pm to make up for it. That was not the arrangement. So when I make the call, he’s not even home from work yet – yeah, like us mere mortals, this Immortal Gargoyle, this Shadow Out of Slime, this… (I warned you – Ed), has a day job, too.
But, like a lot of things, as you’ll see, he’s cool about it. Having fermented his musical outlook in the Black Metal scene, I imagine he’s met plenty folks more idiotic than me. I imagine… or at least hope.
He calls me back an hour later telling me he was “sitting on the corner just waiting for the fucking snow and ice to melt off the car” when I rang him earlier. Stupidly, I ask him if it’s cold where he is, because you know, Norway in January is usually like the Maldives, isn’t it?
“It’s actually mild for this time of year,” he informs me. “Car’s just covered in this fuckin sheet of ice.” Somehow, I don’t picture him breaking out the Ambre Solaire, just yet. Or ever.
“I fucking hate winter.”
It’s increasingly the way these days, having spent a few days at the Airwaves festival in Iceland, you saw talented artists playing to hundreds, who might be making you soup, selling you a book or fishing you a hook the following day.
“I think it’s down to the fact that physical doesn’t sell that many copies anymore. Even that doesn’t matter. So many fucking hipsters collect vinyl but it’s still not the kind of numbers that you really need to sustain a living, I guess. Or where the numbers are. And the digital domain pays peanuts. Unless you’re a huge fucking band, what are you gonna do?”
“At ground level, you know you’ve got to have a job.” Or, he suggests, perhaps subconsciously alluding to the Norwegian tale, “De tre bukkene Bruse” (The Three Billy Goats Gruff), “you live under a bridge…”
I ask about the upcoming tour of the US.
“Mostly, doing new places I didn’t do last time. I’m not really doing these long tours anymore. I was over there March and April and I did like ten shows and I’m going back, January and February for fifteen. So, you know, those two added together is like one proper tour.”
“I think people are slightly more paranoid. Like what the fuck’s going to happen next? You know, which I think is the way people feel all over the world. Him tweeting nuclear threats every second week or something like that, you know, you’re like, dude, what the fuck?”
Self deprecating, he admits his focus lies elsewhere. “It’s impossible not to notice what’s going on. But it doesn’t go that deep with me. I mean, I couldn’t sit down with an intellectual or someone who’s politically engaged and have a meaningful discussion. I wouldn’t be at that level. I know Trump. I don’t like him. I feel his foreign policy is basically ignorant. And I’m thinking that can’t be good. What kind of damage is he doing? I mean, that’s pretty much just as far as it goes with me.”
I mention how, at least in the UK, there is a tendency to see the Nordic countries as being politically progressive, forward thinking and egalitarian examples of where the west should be aspiring. Yet, at least in the UK, it’s seen to be going in the opposite direction.
“Weird. Because you’re so close to us. You’re like just an hour away on the plane. So it’s like we’re really close. So it’s kind of funny that this Great Britain appears not to be a very safe place unless you have money. Privilege. Born into it. It’s like you’re still in a medieval caste system. Like, you’re a lord or you’re fucked. And that’s very American. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Americans got that from UK to begin with.”
“That means borders and all kinds of shit, yes? And fun for touring bands.” He’s no sentimental nostalgia for the old era of staring “at a machine gun for four hours while a guard checked your passport.”
Eras is how Håvard sees stages of his career. For those of you not acquainted, and please forgive the ignorant simplicity but it goes a bit like this:
Era I – Orchestral Tolkienesque soundtracks, occasionally with a bit of folk thrown in.
Era II – Synthy beat-driven dark wave, occasionally with guitars thrown in.
Era III – Synthy beat-driven industrial rock. With more guitars. Thrown in.
“I’ve made a record in that style and that’s the one that I’m touring. And I’ve been kind of doing these shows for a couple of years now, actually. So it’s been going on for a while. And quite honestly, I’m pretty comfortable in this spot right now, you know. So we’ll see how long I do it for. You know, as long as they book me and as long as I’m inspired, I think that’s what I’ll keep doing.”
He’s a little cognitive dissonant about whether the Eras represent different personas though.
“I think people change slowly. And we’re talking about twenty five years. You know, if you look at yourself at the beginning then the end, you realise that I’m a different guy now, I used to be a different person. A different person making those records. Mentally speaking, or maybe in personality, I don’t think I changed that much. I’m a little bit less of a dick now. People say I could be a bit arrogant in the early days. Youthful stupidity when you haven’t learned humility yet or, you know, you have to learn to just shut up or when to talk, you know, stuff like that. I think that goes for most people.”
Maybe they think he’s more humble?
“Or because I’m such a fucking legend now that they wouldn’t dare tell me.” He giggles.
And the mask has come out of the box again?
“Yeah. Down from the attic, out of the crypt..”
But as he says, “The mask is the mask. There’s no changing that. It’s just kind of new, fresh and fucking way grander as far as I’m concerned. Bigger and better. Like it was in the nineties, but done right.”
The original prosthetic was made out of blue-tac.
“It’s gone through a couple of stages, evolutionary speaking but, yeah, the first ones in 1994 when I came up with the idea. Look like a black metal guy but five steps beyond that.”
How did it come about?
“I didn’t know anybody who was making movie props or effects or makeup in the movie industry. I was just a kid, you know, sitting in an apartment in Sweden and I’m thinking, like, what can we do? What do I have? You know, how can we make this happen? I can’t remember who the fuck came up with it, but it was either me or my girlfriend. We thought let’s try this clay thing that we were using at the time to hang up all the posters on the walls. You become pretty damn creative when you have nothing. You realise it’s moldable. So that’s how that happened. Unfortunately, what we didn’t learn until about half an hour later was that that stuff is kind of oily. It’s a really greasy substance that makeup doesn’t stick too well to. Once you start putting on the white paint. it was hard to get it to stick. But we did it and it was probably like fucking fifteen layers.”
The new album, Spirit of Rebellion, has just hit the shelves.
“It’s a bit like what I was doing in the 90s. But much better done… done properly, you know? I mean, if I knew how to make that music back in the nineties, I would’ve made that music in the nineties. It’s more contemporary. Better layered, more harmonic. It’s only got me on it.”
And a Mellotron, folks.
“A fantastic vintage sound, you know, like the old prog rock sounds in Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd. It’s from a sample pack I found. From the early nineties. I love digging through those. There’s a lot of stuff that nobody knows about anymore. Nobody cares anymore. And that’s their fucking loss.”
And a new audience’s gain.
We chat about the magic of making music. The abstract art of creating something from nothing, other than imagination, time and sweat. Alchemy. And how turning your back on creativity can drive you insane.
“I’ve had all these little wonderful periods of depression throughout most of my life. You know, and I remember one was kind of induced by the music industry itself. I was so fucking frustrated. I was like, you know what? Why am I putting myself through this? It’s a fucking cesspool of disappointment to various degrees. Broken dreams and all that. And at one point I asked, can I fuckin put myself through this shit? I’m always pissed off. I always get mad at people and I just fucking hate everything. So I went about through three months where I had pretty much decided, I’m done with music. Fuck this. You know, I hadn’t made it public or anything.
My wife was the only one who knew. But, I just went back to it, man. One day I was thinking, I’m probably going to kill myself if I don’t do something. Because I’m a creative person. So what am I going to fucking do? You know, just go to a job that I don’t really like? I only go there for the safe cash, you know. I mean, it gives my kids a place to live. I’ve got two cars and a pretty nice house. And we don’t have to worry that much about money. That’s what my children deserve. But I don’t necessarily like the fucking job. I endure it because I have music, which I like doing. It’s a lifesaver or life raft for the rest of the day.
I don’t necessarily always have melodies in my head, but I have ideas.”
With Håvard being a married man, and a family guy, I enquire about any behavioural modification required for being on the road these days, in comparison to the early days. Surely, it’s still not all sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ troll. (Sorry..)
He laughs, “I’m not allowed. For some reason there’s rules you just follow when you get married here. I mean, I’m not a straight edge guy. But of course, I don’t go crazy on tour anymore. Not like back in the old days, you could do what you wanted to, you know. But these days I’m supposed to come back alive. I guess that’s the bottom line. That’s the contract.
And I think it probably contributes to better performance if you’re feeling healthy and fit rather than being stuck in the back of the tour bus for 12 hours trying to get over a three day hangover. I used to get an excited feeling if I drank a lot, then I’d wake up and want to kill myself… knowing you had a show where people paid to see you and you’re basically out there trying not to fucking vomit, you feel like a fucking asshole, you feel unprofessional. Now, I stay sober more or less.”
His flight’s in less than two hours, so we quickly draw the call to a close, with a heartfelt message to the fans.
“Thanks for sticking in there. I’ve been around for a long time. I really fucking appreciate that. They could have left that train anytime, you know. And I know a lot of bands kind of don’t necessarily get to keep their fans for that long. So, you know, I’m fucking very grateful for that.”
Studio pics by Jeremy Saffer
Location pics by Soile Siirtola