(Norway-based contributor Karina Noctum brings us this interview with drummer Kevin Kvåle, whose career includes performances with Gaahls Wyrd, Horizon Ablaze, and Svartelder, among other groups.)
I’ve been following Kevin Kvåle’s musical career for many years now. I remember when I got Horizon Ablaze‘s Dødsverk and since I like Pantheon I a lot, I knew it was going to be good before even listening to it. The music’s variety, technicality, and progression, without sacrificing the dark and cold Norwegian sound, appealed a lot to me.
I remember I met Kevin years ago in Bergen at a festival — Oh! the golden days of old when I took live shows for granted — and got to congratulate him upon hearing he was going to play together with Gaahl. I was not surprised — he was a natural choice. I enjoyed many of the live shows both in Norway and abroad and became a fan, so I was pretty happy when Gaahls Wyrd won the Spellemannprisen (the Norwegian equivalent to the Grammy). For all the aforementioned reasons I included him in my list of drummer interviews.
When did you start playing drums?
I started at the age of 14. I watched a video of Slipknot live at Letterman and I remember thinking “this is what i want to do with my life”
Have you ever had formal lessons?
Yes absolutely! I have studied music for many years. From high school to university where I got my degree in fine arts and teaching. I recently got my masters degree where I wrote about the Norwegian slåttetromme tradition.
Here is a list of my wonderful teachers. This was a Vågsbygd Videregående and at Rytmisk Linje at Universitetet i Agder. Kurt Lisø, Lars Erik Asp, Bruce Rasmussen, Karl Oluf Wennerberg. Most of what I learned on slåttetromme is from Bjørn Sverre Kristensen
How do you learn new techniques?
I grind it out behind the drums. A lot of my techniques are just a product of me wanting a certain sound or feel to the music. And if I am working on a new technique the goal is always to be able to be as relaxed as possible when I do it. I like to practice different techniques I know I can get some use out of. I have worked a lot on the “push pull” technique and it really keeps my mind occupied. So I put on a podcast or audiobook and just try and fail until it gets better
I work very structured when I rehearse and I always take some time to just practice techniques. But I work out way more on creativity, grooves and ideas more than just sitting with the pad. But to be specific, when I’m learning something new I check out what I can see from YouTube or talk to drummers I know who already use these skills and I try to emulate what is going on. But there is always a trial and error phase. That initial stage where you are just trying out stuff can be very healthy and humbling to do and keeps the inner child drummer alive.
Which bands are you currently working with?
Gaahls Wyrd, Horizon Ablaze, From the Vastland, Svartelder, and a new project called Titan Two.
What are the current situations with the bands you play with?
All plans for live shows are postponed until 2021 so we all are in writing mode. Not all the bands I work with have a full-time schedule and the writing process is very different with all these bands. You can expect a lot of interesting releases with me on drums in 2021!
What particularly drumming style do you prefer to play and why?
I have always loved metal drumming and I always come back to playing heavier music one way or another. I have played many different styles with various artists and I hope to do even more of that in the future as it’s good for all musicians to step away from just one flavour of music. I like to think of my style of drumming as more than just fast and brutal metal drumming and hope people find me a more fluid and interesting drummer with a special sound. I’m happy musically as long as the drums are creative in one way or another.
When it comes to Gaahls Wyrd, when did you start?
I was contacted by Baard Kolstad who needed a step in for their first tour “Vardøger”. I rehearsed with the band and learned a huge amount of songs from Trelldom, Gorgoroth, and God Seed and we went out touring. Considering Baard‘s busy schedule I was asked to be a permanent member and joined the band officially while we were touring. I had other bands interested in my drumming but I saw the potential of this band and I know this music group is right for me.
How does the composition process work when it comes to Gaahls Wyrd?
It’s a long and intense process. The best part about this band’s creative process is that we never know the end result. Some bands tend to know in advance just how their albums are going to sound and that can sometimes lead to stagnant sounds. This band works around certain compositional ideas coming mostly from Lust Kilman and we all try our best to complement or provoke each other musically. When we worked on our debut album we had many things ready before the studio, but it was in the studio with our fantastic producer Iver Sandøy that things really got interesting.
We are always planning new music and I can truthfully say that I don’t know how our newer music is going to sound like, and I absolutely love that!. We want to inspire ourselves and keep it fresh, and that really resonates with people. We all contribute in our different ways in this band and the constellation we have right now of band members is a force to be reckoned with!
I’d say Gaahls Wyrd has lots of atmosphere and feeling. How do you define feeling when it comes to drumming?’
When it comes to feeling in music, as a drummer it really depends on the song you are playing. It’s very good you think this music has a lot of atmosphere since there is a lot of intricate drumming and crazy fills or strange beats but yet it all ties together in the music! And that’s what I think defines feeling. When the drummer immerses him or herself to the music the feeling comes naturally and does not sound forced or fake.
Also in order to get a feeling behind the drums you have to feel something. If you just drum for the sake of drumming and not to complement the overall emotions behind the songs it won’t sound as potent as having some vision behind it. It’s easy to forget that we try to communicate something behind the drums and just think about musicianship but sometimes we have to strip away the ego and just do what the song demands.
How did it feel to win the Spellemannprisen, the Norwegian Grammy equivalent?
It was very special to me to win this award. Unfortunately the official event was canceled and that was very unfortunate. But me and Gaahl were told by our label to meet at their HQ for an interview.. Little did I know they had it all planned out with NRK. So the reaction you see from me is very real. I had the honor of giving the speech even though this job should have gone to Lust Kilman as he was essential in making the music.
It’s very nice for everyone else involved in making this record to feel validated for their hard work and it’s important for Norwegian metal music to be taken seriously.
There are also elements of Norwegian folk-music drumming on certain songs on this record and having those two worlds blended together on an award-winning album makes me very proud
What other musical styles influence you in your playing?
I think all drummers should study some forms of jazz drumming as it is a part of the drum kit history and it really helps you improvise and work on independence. I don’t really play jazz but I practice it a fair bit. I don’t care for certain fusion and jazz albums but some things catch my ear and I try to take the cool parts and implement it into my playing. Ginger Baker is a good inspiration for a rock drummer listening to, and practicing, jazz. Also pop drummers like Ash Shoan keep you invested in the groove aspect. I get inspired by drummers like Benny Greb, I don’t really like his music but I adore the drumming. There is usually something you can like rhythmically in a lot of music. Improvisation is a tool I use for inspiration and I try to work on that every day one way or another.
How should drumming in Black Metal be developed further?
This is an excellent question! There are way too many drummers all sounding very similar these days and this is because they don’t challenge themselves musically. Sure they challenge themselves when it comes to reaching certain BPMs but not in creativity, and it doesn’t matter how many beats you can fit in a measure of music if you don’t have anything to say. I have watched hundreds of drummers play the same blast beats and fills but they can’t move me. I don’t feel anything when they play. But if you put on bands like Radiohead or Mew or Daughter or Kings of Leon, all those drummers play with very different approaches and they move me a thousand times more than Marduk or Dark Funeral.
To be a better drummer you need a better band. Push it forwards and try to do something that doesn’t feel natural for the genre. That’s the only way we can push this genre that somehow has become very conservative. Blast beats mean nothing if the music you play on top is totally uninspired and boring.
So to really answer your question I think the best way is to take chances as a drummer. Do something strange. And if your bandmates hate what you do: Get a new band! Have fun and just try new stuff. Different size of bass drums? Rides as hi-hats? Snares as toms? No double-bass in metal? The sky’s the limit if we just get away from the comfort zone once in a while and don’t think about norms.
Which drummers have influenced you the most?
So so so many! The one who made me want to pick up the sticks was Joey Jordison! His playing on the first Slipknot albums is just phenomenal and inspires me to this day
Derek Roddy is the drummer who made me want to practice the drums. I remember watching him blast away yet still having a certain groove around him. His sound was just so fascinating and his work for getting the extreme metal drumming out to the drum clinics and magazines is really important. I learned a lot about practicing from this guy
Frost and his unending fury is a big inspiration and 1349 is one of my favorite bands. Hearing him talk about music makes me believe in the genre and he is, in my mind, underrated when it comes to his musical ideas and determination.
Steve Jordan made me reevaluate my life at one point with his zen approach to drumming and just existing for the song and groove. A fantastic drummer and producer who inspired me to really think about the groove I am making and the placement of the groove. Is it in front of the beat or behind the beat? Super interesting.
Norway is amazing when it comes to metal drummers and being on tour and watching Hellhammer play each night was very inspiring! He really utilizes that monster drum kit every night and improvises a lot and makes every show different.
I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t mention these drummers. Vitek, Morgan Ågren, Adrian Erlandsson, Mark Guiliana,Sean Reinart(RIP) Jojo Mayer, Kenneth Kapstad, Mario Duplantier, Ken Owen, Tomas Haake, Brian Blade, Martin Axenrot, Nate Smith, Jean Paul Gaster, Ginger Baker.
What kind of ambitions do you have for the future?
I want to keep bettering myself as a drummer and as a human. I have started to realize a lot of things are connected and you need to take care of your body and mind as well as your chops. So my ambition is to be better at Yoga and stretching as well as continuing to develop my drumming further each year.
I am a highly skilled educator and have been working with teaching drums for many years here in Norway and I am working towards being able to do clinics and more metal-oriented lessons for drummers internationally. So getting into the YouTube lessons or Skype lessons is a natural step, and if fellow drummers want lessons just contact me on various online platforms.
Tell us about your gear…
My kit is a Gretsch New Classic kit. I love this kit and the maple/gumwood combined with coated drum heads is just the type of sound I like. I want the drums to blend in with the music and I feel maple shells really help with that. The reason I went to Gretsch is that I am very sick of all the metal drummers not using anything different and I really like the retro look. I want my drum kit to inspire me and that’s where the sounds are important.
As far as cymbals go I like big Meinl cymbals and have been using those for years. My crashes are big and that’s only because I like the blend that gives and it just melts into the music more naturally in my opinion. I also like using rides as crashes and often use different light rides since they fit almost all styles of music! But I change it around constantly to keep things fresh.The only constant cymbal I have is the Meinl 21” Byzance Derek Roddy Serpents Ride. You can hear that on almost all my albums.
I always use two bass drums since it’s just so metal! I love the look and the feel of two kicks. I use 20” bass drums since i just really like the feel it gives and it’s a bit more controllable tuning-wise (and takes up less space in my car). I use triggers but that’s mostly to be able to get good monitoring in-ear. Our wizard sound engineer Andreas uses 2 mics on each bass drum and blends that with the trigger signal. For pedals I use Axis Longboards and have for many years. The tension is set low but the beaters are lighter than the Axis beaters. I like felt beaters, so currently I use pearl demon drive beaters on the Axis pedals.
Cymatic audio utrack24 is used live for certain backing tracks and click tracks for songs. I play with Hantek In Ears.
My sticks are currently Vic Firth 5B but I am looking at changing that up for something a bit lighter or with a different tip for more stick definition.
Are you endorsed? How difficult is it to get endorsements, especially under the current situation?
Sadly I am not endorsed just yet but it’s all part of the plan and I hope in the future to get a good deal with Meinl, sticks and pedals. But that is definitely something myself and the label are working towards at the moment.
What do you listen to these days? Any recommendations?
I am a very seasonal listener when it comes to music, so now that it’s autumn I tend to listen to more melancholic music like Melissa Horn, Daughter, Sivert Høyem and music in that style, I like the mood it gives me. It varies each day. When it comes to metal today I listened to Ved Buens Ende, tomorrow I’m gonna check out the new Anaal Nathrakh.
Thank you so much for the interview!