On the eve of the release of the hotly awaited reunion album 'Arcturian'eGigs manages to grab time with ICS Vortex, the vocalist for the Norwegian avant-garde space pirates Arcturus, for a talk on the new full-length, Vortex's involvement with Arcturus before he officially joined the band and his worries related to the group.
How are you?
Good. I had a little too much to drink yesterday. I probably have this aura of alcohol around me. It's probably embarrassing.
Nice! I'm jealous.
[Laughs] It's good! I went down to Camden, had some fish and chips. I've been longing for that for a long time and that was fantastic. All around, it was good! I'm happy to be back in London. It's a really important city for me to look good in or whatever, I don't know. Maybe there's a bit of pressure [laughs]. I was so stupid last night in Belgium and I kind of fucked it up.
What did you do?
That's a secret [laughs]! It's not sexy!
Besides the misadventures in Belgium, how has the tour been so far?
It's been inspiring in so many ways. We have a good team surrounding us as well. We have some really cute young guys opening but they're not going to be here tonight. I can't actually remember [their name] right now. That sucks but they're sweet anyway. It's a short tour pretty much. We started off in Italy, which is always good for the ego because they sing along so it's almost like we're brilliant and all that. It was good.
How have the fans been reacting to the new 'Arcturian' songs?
A lot of people are clapping after the songs have finished so that's good [laughs]!
How would you say 'Arcturian' compares or contrasts to the previous Arcturus albums?
Obviously we have a violin player and have been tracking every song. He's such a gifted musician. He's got like three master's degrees in violin, fiddling or whatever. He's amazing. He's writing his notes and shit and doing everything on the first take it's like 'woah'. We couldn't bring him to the tour but we're taking him to the States and the second leg of the tour.
How has the response to the new album been?
We have some raising of the eyebrows as to be expected on the production side.
I've read a review that mentions this. What's the story about that? People say the production sounds like old school black metal.
I think it sounds perfect and I wouldn't change anything. I was expecting it. I spoke to some friends Øystein from Borknagar he said the same thing that the critics said, that this and that could be changed for a better experience or whatever. The drummer in ICS Vortex said the same thing pretty much but to me, it sounds really good so fuck it, fuck them all. That's the most important thing. I'm happy with the whole process. We had all the time in the world to finish it pretty much. On the last album, it was such a rush in the end and that just ruins the whole listening experience for me now. We just went down there on a Friday evening. It takes me three and a half hours to drive from Oslo to the studio and spent the weekend. Once I got there, slowly drinking myself to oblivion back inside the pub and I would be totally useless. But then you would have a sweet spot place where you can perform without caring that this is so important and this is going to be a mile stone for you blah blahblah. You're just into the music and that's a keeper. So we did that and I really loved that way of being free. I've never been drunk in the studio before. It worked for me. I know performance-wise, I get down when I'm under the influence but there's a sweet spot.
It's all about getting the balance right. Did you feel there was a lot of pressure for you to make something outstanding considering it has been ten years since 'Sideshow Symphonies'?
Since we all have day jobs, we do this because we love it. The process was good, we liked the music from the start. I never think of it like that, I thought of it as fun. As long as it's inspiring, that's my only goal. I like playing live sometimes - when it really works, it's fantastic - but my favourite part is the whole process in the studio, from scratch and just building it. With every new detail added, I have to listen to it ten times. I just love the process so that's the way of recording for me. So long as there is that, that's the only thing I care about. 'Sideshow Symphonies', I think there were a lot of split opinions about that as well. That's fine, as long as somebody likes it! I can totally see how it is and I understand. I said no the first time [Arcturus] asked me [to join the band] in 2003 or whatever. But when Garm quit, I was like Oh fuck, not again, but when I heard the music, I heard the demo tapes and I thought it was so good. I get instant melody lines and shit I had to do it. I don't care about what everybody else thinks.
Why did you reject the offer to be Arcturus' vocalist the first time?
Because I knew there would be a lot of fucking people having issues about the new vocalists and I just didn't care. I just fucking hate all that. It affects me actually. I try not to and I do what I do. But anyway [laughs].
I think it's safe to say Arcturus got even more popular when you were in the band and I don't know if that's because of the spread of the Internet.
Yeah, well. Fuck it. I was always a huge fan of all the albums. But I remember I was at a friend of mine when he got the 'Morax/My Angel' release. We were sitting there drinking chocolate milk because we were too young to drink. Then we just played it over and over again because it was so new and we just loved it! I've been a fan ever since. I love Garm's work on all the albums. I can talk to you about why it's difficult for fans to relate to a new artist but maybe it would have been better if they quit Arcturus and started a new band. Maybe that would have been better but I didn't think about that. I'm just honoured to be in Arcturus.
Arcturus' music is so unorthodox. How does the band actually go about writing the songs?
Not as democratic as I would love. I wish we went into the rehearsal place and jammed the riffs together; that would have been better. The way it has been on this album is that I made one song that was finished, we arranged everything and just kept the same unfortunately. Knut does four songs and Sval does five songs and all of those except the 'Demon' track are pretty much as it is in the original form. Of course, when you start adding the drums and Hellhammer does all this weird stuff and you start with the bass and follow them, it sounds different. It sounds so much better than the original I think, which is great. Since we had so much time, we were able to do detailed works. It sounds like it was made up by everybody in a democratic way in the rehearsal place but it's not. But at least it sounds good.
Where you writing lyrics for this album?
Yeah, everyone except one track.
How do you find taking over these space themes? Is it easy?
Is it easy? No, it's not [laughs]. I tried to keep the metaphors so it will sound like Arcturus but the lyrics are based on personal experiences, about my friend and people and stories that had an impact on my life, usually from my twenties to my thirties because that was a period where I was I dunno. Everything every day was a new adventure. A friend from that time has taken a huge fall but he's rising again, the spirit and feeling about that. I try and describe this without sentimentality. That's the main thing, I guess. That's how I roll [laughs].
Keep rolling that way! Arcturus started out in the midst of this extreme metal scene but the music is so different. What kind of influences were the members pulling from?
It's so different for everybody musical-wise. Svard has always been the main composer and he doesn't listen to metal at all and he never has. He draws inspiration from Bach and blah blahblah and stuff that I have no idea what. To me, Knut is a solid down-to-earth guy. He's not a city guy, he's like a farmer's son. He grew up milking cows [laughs] and is very down-to-earth. He's more like a hippy guy. He likes his weed. And then we have Hugh [Skoll, bassist] who more than anything else wanted to be a mechanic. He builds motorcycle from scratch. Hellhammer is the metal god, the black metal icon that he is so everybody has totally different interests and that's what makes Arcturus great. We're so different.
Norway has quite a few avant-garde and progressive bands. Why is that?
I think the music scene in Norway contains a lot of people from university, they've taken master's degrees in guitar and drums. Like, in the ICS Vortex band, everyone is from the music conservatory. They're skilled musicians. When you're a skilled musician, you tend to go more into the jazz direction. So I guess maybe that's why. It's totally different to what we grew up with. We just listened to the Iron Maiden records when we were small and tried to keep up. Now we have Youtube and you can learn stuff directly, which is great. It's such a fantastic tool but I guess that's the difference though.
Arcturus is 25 years old now.
What's been your favourite time in Arcturus?
I don't know. I remember when we started jamming the 'The Chaos Path' because that's how I got into the band. Me and Knut were just trying to maybe do something else. I saw myself as the new vocalist of Arcturus back then because Garm kind of lost interest; he never went to rehearsals but I was living in the rehearsal place. I really was! We were drinking all day in the Elm Street pub and just one road down, we had the rehearsal place. We were drinking mostly water because we were so poor. We just went off and ripped the bong and made music when we were jamming. I have a lot of fond memories of that. We were super young and actually had the time. We were just friends and musicians. We just jammed because it was the best thing in the world for us back then. We had a fantastic boat trip. I think it was in 1997. I have some pictures of that when I bought my first bottle of Jack Daniels. It was super expensive I couldn't believe it and we were just drinking and driving around on the boat but it was awesome for us. So it's stuff like that that is my fondest memory.
That's the end of the questions. Do you have any final words?
No, but thanks for the support.
Thank you for the interview.