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The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
Ivar Bjornson Enslaved - Interview
The Rockpit interviews

IVAR BJORNSON

ENSLAVED


Enslaved

Norwegian progressive black metallers Enslaved are returning to Australia in October for a special 25th anniversary tour that will see the band lay out 2 special sets of old material and new material spanning the entire career. The fans also get to pick out songs to be included in the set which makes this tour a must see, we caught up with singer/guitarist Ivar Bjornson to discuss the tour and how it feels to be still going 25 years later.

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Andrew: So how's things with you and the band?

Ivar: Things are good. Just finished up Summer festivals and preparing for the Autumn tours.

Andrew: Yeah we are looking forward to seeing you in Australia again, I guess you've only been here the one time right?

Ivar: Exactly, it was 4 days.

Andrew: It's exciting to see you back again but this time it's a little bit different - An Evening with Enslaved. Is it just you and no support acts?

Ivar: Yeah if there's any support act, it's ourselves. We do the first hour of material from the beginning, from '91 up until 2004 and then we do a little break which I guess translates into beer and then we do the later period of Enslaved, the second set. But there's going to be some support acts I'm pretty sure, but they're going to be Australian ones like local acts.

Andrew: OK this is a very interesting idea, a very cool idea which I like. A nice contrast of where you guys started from and where you guys are at now.

Ivar: Yeah that's what we wanted to do. It's both the highlights, some of the process or the journey from there to here and then at the same time it's also to underline the whole circular development of Enslaved in the sense that in the later works we are quite inspired by the early works also. So it's also a way I guess for us to show the audience what we experience and that there's a lot of cross wiring and connections between the roots and the present.

Andrew: Yeah obviously you still have that signature sound that's been there since day one but you guys have become very progressive over the years so it's interesting to see some of the old material up against the new material. Do you find yourself comparing the old and the new at times when you're playing the songs live at shows?

Ivar: Yeah we do. We started really with this new lineup when we started playing older material together with newly released material. Some of it was planned when we had this thought that this old song and this new song had sort of the same atmosphere in our heads so we put them together in the setlist and get it confirmed. Other times it was more by accident like a song from the new album, the newest song would be combined with the first song from the Nema LP and we would be pretty surprised how great they went together. And there's even cases of reviews or people coming up to us afterwards pointing out this sort of kinship which is natural but at the same time it's sort of a pleasant surprise I guess that we unconsciously kept nurturing these roots in the new material.

Andrew: The last album "In Times" came out last year, what kind of response have you been getting from the fans and like you say, the critics. Has it been mostly positive?

Ivar: Yeah it's been all positive with "In Times". I think it's been the one album that people seem to agree on because there's a lot of fans of older Enslaved and some of the more blacker or more extreme side of Enslaved that was really please with the new album "In Times". But it also seems to be making people that are fond of the more experimental or more proggy side of Enslaved happy too. There's always people who wish things were more different but this time there seem to be very few and also they are sort of equaling each other out. We've had someone who wish we would go in the more proggy direction and not so much of the early black metal references and then at the same time someone will comment that there should be more of the early black metal references and less of the proggy things. We're in it for ourselves basically and it's great when people like it but I guess it's great when people don't like it too. If it's not to their taste, that's fine. They gave it consideration and would rather listen to something else. The only time I would argue is if people complained that things were done to choose the easy solutions, so we're doing it for these reasons that are complicated, that I would make an argument but 90 percent of the cases when somebody would criticize the band, there's not much you can do. If somebody said I don't like the band, what can you do?

Andrew: It's just one of those things, you can't please all the fans. It's like you said that you have to do this for yourselves and I thnk that's more important than anything else.

Ivar: Exactly!




Andrew: One of the things I read in the press release for this tour is that there is some interaction with the fans as far as picking out the songs for the setlist. Has the setlist been sorted now or is that still in the process of selecting songs for the setlist?

Ivar: We're just about to get feedback on it, should be any day like end of this week that we get it back from Australia. At this point we don't really know what the setlist will be like.

Andrew: Do you think there might be a few surprises in there, some of the more obscure songs that you haven't played much over the years?

Ivar: Well that's what I'm expecting! But then again we don't really know what people consider obscure and what we consider obscure so it's very hard guessing. I guess I'm going to be surprised [laughs].

Andrew: [laughs] Obviously you have quite a few albums now so how many songs from the back catalogue have you never played live before?

Ivar: I can't give a number but what would make sense would be somewhere between 30 to 50 percent of them I guess. I'm thinking of experiences like when we do a new album and we tour for the new album, with the amount of songs that we have available in our back catalogue there's usually time to include 2 or 3 new songs in the setlist and then you go on the second leg of the tour and then you take a few more. So with around 7 or 8 songs on each album and 3 or 5 being played, I would say maybe half of them. And then we've done a bit of thinking when we do special gigs like anniversary gigs or whatever, we've done some albums from beginning to end at festivals and so on, so a little less than half has never been played live.

Andrew: Is yourself or anyone else in the band secretly hoping there will be some songs in the setlist that the band have never played live that you want to play live?

Ivar: Oh interesting question! I can't really think of one but yeah. As they say in political elections, I don't want to influence the results so I do have a few now that you mention it. Maybe I should do it the American way and rig the elections so I get to play it.

Andrew: [laughs] Yeah that's always an option I guess! But that must be getting more difficult with every album to put a setlist together to cater not only for yourselves but for the fans out there.

Ivar: Yeah but up to a certain point actually and then the crowd sort of turns. At some point in our career there was time to include something from every album and you could change them around and make sure that the favorites and the songs people are talking about in the set. Then it got harder and harder and I guess around the time of the 7th or 8th studio album towards the end of the 2000's, it started getting really hard because then you had to leave one album maybe to get out and make room in the setlist. But then again around the time of "Vertebrae" or "Axioma Ethica Odini", we just realized it's totally impossible. We're not going to be able to have a set that represents the entire thing anyway, we can do this anniversary thing later on where we take from early and late [songs] using the timeline through the songs but we're not going to be able to represent the whole thing anyway. So there's always going to be things that are missing out, maybe that's a bit of a ballistic way of thinking but you can't win so why not just enjoy doing experimenting within that room that you're given. I guess now that we've done the 25th [anniversary] thing, when we're 30 we can focus on certain albums just to do like 5 gigs for something and do 2 albums everyday, I don't know. That's about the only chance we have, for normal touring cycle and festivals it's pretty much finding a starting point and just like going abstract art [laughs]. Just put it in the next one and see what works.




Andrew: And that's fair enough! Speaking of 25 years, that's a long time to still be doing this. How does it feel? Has it felt like 25 years?

Ivar: Not really, it's been absolutely awesome. The lineup was pretty challenging in our first 10 years, our first drummer left and we had a bit of a Spinal Tap run there for many years with drummers coming and going and using session members and so on and we had a sort of lineup going but that dissolved too. That's just minor stuff but when the lineup has been stable it's been such a pleasant experience and I guess our ambition is to always make music that we enjoy ourselves that we want to listen to. With that being the sort of measurement of success, we're quite happy with what we've done. We've made a good catalogue, we have a good reputation as a live band and we have very loyal fans all over the world and I guess most importantly, we have people discovering Enslaved pretty much on a daily basis every time like when we play a festival. The place we come from is sort of a unique position between a rock and a hard place if that's the expression! But we have the Norwegian black metal scene that is quite infamous but Enslaved doesn't quite belong to it and then we have the development and a reputation of being a proggy, melodic band but there's also something...it's something between that. So we have a bunch of people with misconceptions who don't know exactly what Enslaved is. Like last week we played this Midgardsblot festival in Norway with a lot of folk bands and a lot of melodic bands with roots in Norse traditional music and we had a lot of fans there, people who heard about us and thought we would be this low-fi black metal band sounding like the 90's and they saw us and were totally happy with that. We also toured with Opeth and Amon Amarth where their fans really were surprised and we could see that record sales really spiked in the days after those gigs. So we just keep thinking that we have to get out there and play as much as possible and make people aware of our existence.

Andrew: Yeah absolutely and we are all definitely happy for your success as Enslaved are one of those bands that stands out amongst all the bands that do the kind of music that you do, so great to see. And it's great to see you coming back to Australia, we are really excited. Do you have any last words for the Aussie fans before you come to Australia?

Ivar: Yeah we would like to thank them all for the massive support that we got last time which made us really eager to go back which we are finally able to do again and looking forward to seeing them. Hope the people from last time show up again and bring their friends and ready to teach us more Australian swearing and let us have some more of the wonderful beer!

Andrew: Well thanks for your time today, it's really appreciated and we will see you in October!

Ivar: Thank you so much!


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ENSLAVED AUSTRALIAN TOUR 2016:

Wednesday 5th October - BRISBANE, Crowbar
Thursday 6th October - MELBOURNE, Prince Bandroom
Friday 7th October - SYDNEY, Manning Bar

Tickets and tour details can be found at Tombowler.


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Interview by Andrew "Schizodeluxe" Massie on August 25th 2016