ShredderNet.com recently conducted an interview with former EMPEROR frontman Ihsahn (real name: Vegard Sverre Tveitan). A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.
ShredderNet.com: I wanted to start by talking about the concept of the [new Ihsahn] album [“Eremita”]. I know you’ve named it with the Latin word for “hermit” and you have Friedrich Nietzsche on the cover there. Can you describe that in a little bit more detail?
Ihsahn: The actual concept of the album is not as directly linked to the hermit and Nietzsche as it might seem. Even though it is definitely a protagonist here who escapes far away from civilization but the atmospheric scenery for this is almost like an old crime/horror type of movie. You know, there’s this shovel digging in the back yard and there are images in my head of a certain atmosphere and scenario. The concept in itself is not that chronological apart from small hints like the opening track being “Arrival” and the closing track being “Departure”. So, for the most part, it’s just a framework of an atmosphere that I create before actually starting to write any music to kind plant the creative energy and focus in on it in a sense. The title “hermit” reflects this solitary person and the album on different levels. Obviously, Nietzsche being such a huge influence for me, he writes about my favorite hermit Zarathustra and in many ways I kind of have a hermit-like approach to the way I do my music so I found it very suiting.
ShredderNet.com: Yes, I’ve heard that you tend to stay in the studio by yourself a lot of the time to channel the creative energy. At what point do you get in touch with the other musicians and how do you get them involved after that?
Ihsahn: Well, this time it was really easy since I chose to use Tobias Anderson who has been in my live band since the first show I did and he’s a very talented young drummer. He has more of a jazz and rock background, not quite your typical huge drum kit type of drummer. I really wanted his energetic, dynamic style for this album and he did I fantastic job, I think. He actually recorded the whole album to a click track and all the riffs played back by piano sound so he had nothing to lean on except his own imagination and my direction. That kind of gave it a very dynamic and expressive foundation for the recording. Jorgen Munkby on saxophone was definitely easy to think intro the equation since the collaboration worked so well on my last album. Since then he has also become a very good friend and he’s a fantastic musician with a very distinct style. It was a pleasure having him on this record as well. Of course, there are other “lost spices” as well like some guest vocalists and soloists: Einar Solberg from LEPROUS, opening my backing band, and Heidi, my wife, who I finally got to sing on the album. Then, of course, Devin Townsend sings on a track and Jeff Loomis contributes a solo.
ShredderNet.com: When people talk about your music, at least here in the states, they start with how far the songwriting and the musical direction has come since your work in EMPEROR. Are there any approaches that you’ve retained from those early days that help you now?
Ihsahn: I think what I try to retain is a very uncompromising attitude. Basically, I try to be as honest and authentic in my work as I possibly can. I guess that’s what you could almost call a black metal attitude, one where I do whatever the hell I want. [laughs] But apart from that, I come from that background and I think it shows even more so with my new album. I must admit that when I started my solo career, I think I needed to create that very much for myself a distance between me and my days in EMPEROR because it’s kind of hard to be your own kid brother in a sense. EMPEROR obviously has a phenomenon and life of its own regardless of who actually played in the band. So, I think I needed to distance myself from that but now that I’ve done as many albums as a solo artist as I ever did with EMPEROR, I’m quite pleased with where I’m at musically. Because I’ve gained more confidence in what I’m doing and I don’t feel like I need to distance myself from it very much anymore, for this last album I’ve brought in even more of that black metal history and expression. That is kind of a natural part of me but personally I feel some songs, like “The Grief”, for example, is some of the “blackest” stuff I’ve ever done.
ShredderNet.com: So, “After” was supposed to be the completion of a trilogy. In what way where the first three albums cohesive and how does “Eremita” stand alone musically or lyrically?
Ihsahn: The reason I wanted to make a trilogy in the first place was to give myself a time frame of doing three albums to kind of reinvent myself on a personal level and not having the pressure of having to prove myself post-EMPEROR on one album. I wanted to kind of start back at my roots in a sense which is why when I did the first album there were no guitar overdubs, everything was beta home recording on tape, a straight-forward five-piece metal band and it was very heavy metal influenced, building on my old metal influences from old MAIDEN, PRIEST, KING DIAMOND and stuff like that. From there I tried to keep centering and from there tried to push the envelope a bit further on the third album. Concept-wise, the first two albums are very deliberate on being direct. It’s called “The Adversary”, the first album, and that’s how I see this genre of music. It’s an adversary and not submissive to what is commonly accepted. So, I was very much in war mode on the first two albums. “After”, the third album, was the conclusion which is why the concept of that one is post-apocalyptic and there is no sign of life; it’s after the conflict and almost a recollection of everything. In that sense, it was more meditative. Having done that, I know felt very free to choose the scenario for this album. I went into the whole writing process with more confidence and experience. I had quite a few methods of how I approached the work. To a big degree, this entailed trying to trick my mind to stop being analytical and go straight to the creative part of things, which is kind of hard when you’re putting on all the hats, being producer and engineer, playing guitar while thinking about the mic positioning. It’s a different way of working which is why I think it’s so important for me to have this kind of framework before I start writing material because my only support system to get feedback is my wife Heidi, who is essential to the whole process. When I come up with all these abstract ideas of what kind of album I want to make, she helps me put together the framework and is a very good sparring partner for me. She can tell when I lose faith in it, if I go overboard with stuff and whether it’s good or if it sucks. It’s a whole different way of working but I much prefer it to the old-fashioned, in-a-room-with-a-band kind of thing.
Read the entire interview from ShredderNet.com.
“Introspection” audio stream: