(Our Norway-based contributor Karina Noctum has brought us this interview of Thomas Eriksen, the man behind the Norwegian black metal band Mork, whose new album Det Svarte Juv was released by Peaceville Records on April 19th. The interview was conducted close to Mork’s performance at this year’s Inferno Festival, and is accompanied by photos of the performance by Silje Storm Drabitius, to whom we are grateful for his permission to use them.)
How did you get to sign on Peaceville Records, which has in its roster some pretty legendary acts such as Darkthrone and so on…?
The first time I approached Peaceville Records I was told that they did not sign new bands. They said that they stick to the old bands, and then some time passed and I was contacted by other big labels that wanted Mork, but I didn’t really like the deals that they were offering me, so I declined some of them. Then I told Peaceville that it was now or never. If you want us now, you can have us, but if not we can go to another label. Then they started to think, and my good friend Nocturno Culto, from Darkthrone, he actually gave them a nudge. He made them realize that Mork was something worth investing in, something worth checking out, so that was the way it worked out.
Peaceville signed me for my third album which came out in 2017, Eremittens Dal is the title, “Valley of the Hermit” in English. Last year they re-released my first two albums Isebakke and Den Vandrende Skygge. Meanwhile the fourth and my latest one called Det Svarte Juv was released on Friday, April 19th.
What particular considerations do you take when you record to try to preserve a sound as faithful as possible to the authentic second wave Black Metal sound?
The important thing for me is that the sound is not too good or too polished. If the sound seems to come from a high-tech studio where everything is well done, I lose all the atmosphere and feeling. I have listened to many Black Metal bands who make albums with primitive riffing and all that, but the sound is too good for me sometimes and there is nothing there. It’s like I’d prefer to listen to Motörhead instead. To me it’s important that it sounds a bit shabby, a bit garage, and I guess that derives from old Burzum, old Darkthrone, and old demos. That’s where I find the religious part of this, the mystique of this. To me the sound is more important than ideologies, beliefs, or political stuff. It’s the sound and the overall feeling that I get from it.
I make albums that I like because it pleases me. Afterwards people listen to it and if they like them, that’s a bonus for me. I really appreciate seeing so much positive feedback on the new album. We are getting top scores, 8 out of 10 and 9 out of 10 almost everywhere. Pretty positive reviews. So when I’m sitting and making these albums I have no idea how it’s going to be when it is out and in the public eye. I sit and work on these songs over and over and I listen to it. I tend to grow blind and perhaps think in the end that it may not good or may be boring. But that is because I have heard everything a thousand times, but when people finally listen to it then it’s great. That is a relief for me!
What else do you do in order to get that old school sound infused with feeling? Where do you record for starters?
I do it in my own studio. Everything on my own and it is not so difficult. What you hear on the Mork albums is straight out of me. I do not sit and think much. What I make is what comes out there and then. I never write a song. I usually go into the studio and may have a riff. I just start at the beginning and I make a song while recording. I sit and riff then I find a clicktrack and just build the song from then. Later I layer the instruments, perhaps I find a poem from before that I use as lyrics or maybe I write something afterwards. Everything is very spontaneous because when I create Black Metal I don’t think I need to dwell and create songs overtime. I just do it spontaneously. So a song can be made in one night.
When I made the first album I sat down and tried to make a necro Black Metal album. That’s they way it happened. One night, one song. Second night, second song. One week, album finished. It works really well for me.
What are the most important things you have learned from your predecessors, the most influential black metal bands, when it comes to making music?
I think I have learned that not to care about anyone else is good. To just do what you want. I know Fenriz and Nocturno Culto, but they have not given me this advice directly. I have just understood that they respect me for not caring about the scene or the expectations. People should just take it or leave it. I think that’s the attitude the old guys have; I don’t think they make something to please everyone. There are many Black Metal bands out there today who make Black Metal because they feel they have to. I can’t say any names but I think there are true and fake bands. I’m not going to say that I’m the true master, but I’m true to myself. I feel comfortable with that. I’m never scared about what other people think.
Where do you get inspiration from? Is it like certain nights you are so super-inspired that you just do it? Or do you use something to inspire yourself?
I don’t know, because when I walk around at home it’s not like I feel that I need to record something. Usually I just sit down in the studio and I just try to start. Some nights are pretty good, other nights there comes a lot of shit and I just have to put down the guitar and do something else. So inspiration comes out of the fingers, and when I play a riff I quickly can catch if there is a feeling and atmosphere. It is important for me to feel it inside. If a riff is just cool then I will probably drop it. It’s important that it has that mystique that Burzum gave me.
Which goals did set for your band in the beginning? Have you achieved them? Do you have any ambitions, or is it like it has developed by itself?
I made the first album in 2013 just by coincidence, just to try, and after that was finished I got signed to an underground label. Then I started a live band; we started to do gigs. Big labels showed interest and we got more fans. We got more big gigs outside Norway and played across the world, and all this has been achieved in quite a few years. I feel lucky because many of the goals I had have been achieved. I had the ambition of playing at Inferno, that happened first in 2016. To play outside Norway at big festivals. To cooperate with Nocturno Culto. He sang on my album. We had him on stage too, and there he sang a song, my song. Gylve has praised the band. I’ve worked with the guys from Dimmu Borgir. Everything has just built slowly.
We are now going to America for the first time. We will play in Las Vegas,and probably will do some shows in Los Angeles and San Diego, but more information about those shows will be announced in due time. That’s another bucketlist for me. I wanted the music to pave the way for me so I can have a whisky at the Rainbow Bar like Lemmy. That’s a childhood dream of mine and now this will happen.
I do not take anything for granted, but I’m sure gates will open if you keep at it, believe in yourself and work hard, which I do. I work all the time.
How do you prepare yourself to play live?
I try to get my blood flowing. I’m 35 soon; I’m not 20 anymore. I try to do some push-ups and run. I try to get the body going and I don’t abuse the body that much the day I’m playing. I just go into this box inside my head and just focus on the gig, but I’m still functioning as I do everything around it; I’m not the kind of guy that needs to sit in a dark room with a candle. I’m not there. I just go on the stage and do my thing. Nothing but the setlist is planned. The show is more spontaneous. There are no rituals or anything like that.
What do you think about Black Metal that is more of the ritualistic sort?
I like it. We had some candles in our show and cold lights. I think all that looks cool, but I don’t think that Mork needs flames and pyro because the music speaks for itself. I believe that if a song is strong you don’t need lots of shit. But obviously we need some lights and smoke, but that’s it.
What was the process of creating the new album, did you do everything yourself this time around?
It was a bit strange. This album is the darkest I’ve created. The past two years I’ve been through a lot of tragedy in my personal life. I’ve lost my father. I have lost two grandparents. My mother became ill. I was in a break-up and everything turned into shit in my life. I had had smooth sailing in my life until this time. So in spite of the fact that this album was made during this time, I don’t think it is directly inspired by what has happened. It has been influenced by it a little bit nonetheless. It’s a bit dark and it’s good to have it out finally. It’s called Det Svarte Juv, which means “the black pit” or “the black abyss”, which is a metaphor for the mental black pit that you can fall into if you are unlucky, so it is inspired by depression and hard times. But the good thing is that the album also has strong songs that are built around self-belief and empowerment. It shows that I survived this period as well. So it has some positive aggression in there too.
When it comes to the lyrics in Eremittens Dal, it’s like they always bring to mind stories I’ve heard about old people who live all by themselves in the mountains. Do you get your inspiration from folktales of that sort or something you have read, perhaps?
When it comes to the lyrics it comes from my imagination. I call them poems because they are not written for any specific song. I try to make them fit into the music afterwards.
When it comes to Eremittens, that’s more like a metaphor for a one-man band because I compose my music in solitude, so you can call me a hermit. I just haven’t found my valley yet I guess.
How does Det Svarte Juv differ from Eremittens Dal?
While Eremittens had more aggression, the sound in the new album is a bit darker. The riffs and music are a bit more free-flowing now because what I have developed myself. The first album was very strict necro and Black Metal when it comes to song writing, but ever since then and for every new album I have let myself loose even more. I don’t listen to Black Metal exclusively; I have lots of different music inside me. I’m not defined by genres because I think that if a song is good, then it is so regardless. I have allowed myself to be creative outside the Black Metal box in the last album. It is still Black Metal of course but I think it is much more varied and I’m really proud of it. It has pretty strong songs.
What are the challenges of playing live for you, taking into account the fact that you work alone on your music for the most part?
I remember when I started the live band in late 2014 and we played our first show in January 2015 and actually made the debut in Poland, not in Norway. We played in Olsztyn and I remember that bringing the songs to a live rehearsal room was a bit strange because the songs weren’t meant to be played live. We managed to sort it out, and now the band is stronger than ever. The guys are really on fire and they enjoy it as much as I do so now, so it’s just a pleasure. These days we play new songs that we haven’t rehearsed for a while and it’s a good time. There is some challenging stuff for me when I’m in the studio since I create a riff and then I sing on top of it, but I don’t do that simultaneously. So to play and sing at the same time can be challenging sometimes, but practice makes perfect.
We have tried to rehearse at least once a week, although we have a guitarist who has moved far away. He lives in Norway, but it’s like 9 hours by car, so he rehearses at home. The rest of us rehearse once a week.
What do you think of the overproduction of a band’s sound that seems to happen quite often nowadays in the modern metal scene?
I’m not a big fan of it, but it depends on the genre. I like Vltimas with Blasphemer and David. That album is just amazing, and that album is well-produced. They are not trying to be atmospheric or Black Metal. That album is a crossover Death Metal thing and it’s perfect for its cause and sake. Don’t get me wrong, my point is that I do not find well-produced Black Metal to be that interesting to me, but then again like Dimmu Borgir, that’s perfect for that ’cause I respect that, but if you bring me a Darkthronish riff that is well-produced, then I drop it off. Black Metal is such a vast thing that there are a hundred ways to go that are correct.
…and that’s the pleasure of it, to find all those ways. I like variety.
Yes, I like variety as well. It’s like I don’t go around all day feeling just one emotion, and I don’t think anyone else does either even if they try to be very evil. I don’t think they are. I think they laugh and cry, we are humans.
What are your future plans?
We have never been a touring band. We have always been flown in to play one show and back, but now things have taken off and the name of the band is growing, so tour offers are coming in. We have to see what we can join or not. Nothing is planned yet but there are things in the works. We are talking about South America, and the East Coast. Because when we announced the Las Vegas show then lots of people asked for us to come and play on the East Coast, but because of the visa process we are unable to do it now. But we are going to try to do it on a separate trip. In addition, we wish to do a proper European tour. We have been offered to go on the road with some pretty good bands now. We are going to play at Hellbotn in Oslo. Cadaver will play their first show in 20 years there the same night. As for other tours it will be probably England and Bulgaria as well.