by Ryan Meehan (with assistance from China Joe Zibrat)
Emperor has historically been viewed by most metal fans as being one of the most important bands in the black metal landscape. With the 20th anniversary of their historic album “In the Nightside Eclipse” just around the corner, the band will reunite to headline the legendary Wacken Open Air festival in the summer of 2014. At the core of this black metal reign has been Ihsahn, the band’s guitarist, vocalist and chief songwriter for over two decades. Not only has he composed some of the most influential music to come out of that part of Europe, he’s also a very well established solo artist who will be releasing his fifth record on October 22nd. Recorded at his own studio in Norway in collaboration with drummer Tobias Ornes Anderson (Leprous), Ihsahn’s “Das Seelenbrechen” takes its name from Nietzche’s famed Human, All Too Human: A Book of Free Spirits and courageously eschews traditional metal instrumentation in favor of a limitless textural landscape that evokes the freewheeling spirit of artists like Diamanda Galas, Scott Walker, and John Zorn. A daring and exploratory recording that is a musical contrast to the progressive shades and saxophone augmentations of the former Emperor vocalist/guitarist’s previous two albums (2009’s After and 2011’s Eremita), “Das Seelenbrechen” exists in an entirely unfamiliar sonic world as Ihsahn draws upon his most esoteric influences, fully embracing the spirit of the avant-garde. We are extremely honored to have Ihsahn as our guest today in 7 Questions.
RM: First off, what are your viewpoints and beliefs when it comes to religion and spirituality? And what effect have those beliefs had on the music that you have written both as a solo artist and with Emperor or Peccatum?
I: That’s a rather big question (laughs) I guess…I would say that it’s very hard for me to pinpoint in particular what my belief system is, because it’s what I would say…that there are some constants, but there are some changes as well. And that’s part of it…I want to have a dynamic perspective on life and not settle for any given truth. It all stems from my very early beginnings of what drew me to being an outsider, and having this sideline sort of musical and philosophical way of life.
RM: What are some of the aspects of music that your solo work allows you to explore as opposed to the music that you composed while in Emperor? Was there any turning point in your life at which you decided that you wanted to not necessarily go in different directions, but additional directions when it came to music composition?
I: Well, I think I’ve always wanted to do additional things…and in particular with this new album…I’m trying to challenge myself to do things in a totally different way. Me being a solo artist is more of just a consequence of having a big ego when it comes to my music. I’ve come to realize that it’s probably really hard to be in a band with me – So the consequence is being a solo artist. (Laughs) Because I’m sure that I can be a pain. And it’s not just because I want to do it, it’s not necessarily because I’m a “control freak”, but it’s just that my musical impulses are very strong, and it’s very hard for me to get out of sounds that I hear in my head. When you’re in a band, you want to have a say and you want things to be dynamic – you want to be the controller. In the end, even the last Emperor record…I wrote that on my own…I presented it to the other guys when it was finished. That’s what it came down to, so it’s like there’s almost no use being in a band, really. So these days the only person when it comes to my music that can actually get through to me and be constructive and positive is my wife.
RM: I noticed that in your arsenal of guitars, you have a couple of eight string models that you play and record with. How do you manage to avoid those bottom strings sounding muddy or clouded, and instead achieve such a sharp tone? And does your amplification setup change when you are using one of those guitars in the studio?
I: Well, with age I’ve generally turned down the gain. The more I play and the more that I record, the more I enjoy that sound of the string – that it’s not just distorted but you can actually hear the attack of strings. So otherwise I have a very similar approach –whether it’s a six string, a seven string, or an eight string for guitar sound. But what surprised me most about the eight string as opposed to a 7 or 6 is that on a 7 or a 6 string, you can still do power chords and that sort of thing…But with the eight string, it’s in such a low range that it’s impossible to do that. So you have to treat that range more like bass guitar, more single note and such…Even in “standard tuning” it’s based in drop F-sharp. The older guitars that played in a different range, you could voice things differently…That was a very bad explanation of it all, but basically the main reason why I wanted to use guitars like that is that I’ve been playing a six string for SO many years that I feel like I’m repeating myself musically just by watching my fingers move – Watching them move in their common passage. But when you get a new instrument and there’s all these other tones and other ranges to deal with, you can skip that analytical part and go straight to listening and asking “Does this work?” or “Does this feel good?” and “Does this sound great?” Much of my work and my methods now when writing is about skipping the analytical part of being a musician and just trying to go for the emotional impact of the music…And I think that it resulted in me doing an album like the one I’ve done now, where a huge part of it is pure improvisation.
RM: Back in August it was announced on Metal Underground that Emperor would be reuniting to headline the 25th Anniversary of the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany next year, and that the band would also be headlining the Bloodstock Open Air Festival in England in 2014 as well. Can you see yourself doing a substantial amount of live performances ten or fifteen years from now?
I: It wasn’t until 2006 and 2007 that we actually got to do any really big shows. The Emperor shows next year – I think I was reluctant to get the Emperor thing going again because I had such a strong focus on the solo stuff. Since I’ve finished my most recent album, I feel more confident with my solo stuff having a solid foundation. Next year is the 20th anniversary of “In the Nightside Eclipse” and for me it’s more than just an anniversary celebration of the first album that kind of kickstarted me being able to have a music career for twenty years. “In the Nightside Eclipse” has become one of these albums that people think of when it comes to early Norwegian black metal, so a lot of people seem to have a strong relationship to that as well. And generally me being sort of an “old time” metalhead and watching the old Iron Maiden or Judas Priest DVDs, it’s kind of cool once in a while to play to thousands of people and rock out. (Just occasionally)
RM: Were you at any point apprehensive to return to the stage with Faust for the upcoming shows? Does the crowd tend to have a positive response to him playing live with you guys, given the circumstances?
I: It was really a great bonus that we could get him to play the drums as that he was the original drummer on that album. We are both very grateful to play with him again because he has a very different style of drumming than Trym had. As for the audience, I think that in Europe I think that most people will consider this a bonus as well. Obviously there will be people who may have issues with that back and forth, but let me just answer this in more of a general way…If there’s to be any purpose with this kind of justice system that we more or less share in Europe, it’s that you do your time and kind of start over…He’s been a free man for over ten years now, and he has a family, so people can have their issues with that. But legally speaking, he did his time and he has kind of started anew. So this is not about those things…this is about him being a drummer in a band. So if people have issues – it’s easy for us when you know someone rather than if you look objectively to them – that this person did this or that. But if you know someone you look at it in a different way – You become more subjective to it and see the whole person. What can I say? People have issues…It’s their prerogative, if you will. At the same time there’s a lot of different terms, but I’ve never heard of true Norwegian politically correct black metal. You have to be honest and say that Norwegian black metal became such an international topic also because of everything that happened in the early nineties. And people got excited because of that in the same way that they got excited about rock stars or pop stars for that matter being drug addicts, you know…People are drawn to the extremities and then you can’t really be all politically correct about it afterwards. Everybody has to make up their own minds about that of course, but we all for sure have not made any special conditions about that because I think that’s the legal system has been judge and jury and it’s something society is finished with.
JZ: Do you find the elitism of some black metal purists to be frustrating when presenting any new output, solo or otherwise?
I: I guess I used to have issues with everything I do being compared to what I did as a teenager (laughs) because most people would be…For example, if you were really good at school and you had great grades in school and then you grow up people talk about how great you were in school and it’s like “OK, thanks, but I’m kind of doing all of this stuff now”. As a music fan, I can relate to the nostalgia as a person and the subjective nature of my relationship to my own work…Of course, I have no ability to have that nostalgic relationship to my own music. That is my thing…I feel what I’m doing now is far superior to what I did back then – subjectively speaking. I’m feeling more secure about my output now musically, and people still pull this. I still have a music career, and to this day I’m getting front page magazine covers sent to me by email. I’m still doing what I love and people think to like it. Now I guess it’s easier for me to proud of Emperor without feeling that it’s in contrast to what I do now, because it’s all a part of the same kind of musical life that I’ve been having.
RM: I know that you’ll be playing the full program of “In the Nightside Eclipse”…Will you also be playing any of the Ihsahn solo material at any of these shows and aside from that, have you written the rest of those setlists and do you have any idea what they are going to look like?
I: I have some idea about it, but obviously it will be the whole album and any additional material that we will have will make it long enough to fill a full headliner’s set. So there will be additional songs and material, but we decided very early on that this would not be similar to what we did in 2006 and 2007 – a collection of the “best of” setlist over the whole catalog or that sort of thing, this is an anniversary celebration of that album, so it’s that album and also songs from that era of Emperor. So this is a much more focused live set, kind of celebrating that part of things – rather than a pick and choose from that decade.
RM: What’s coming up next for you in the remainder of the year and looking forward to 2014? Anything big in the works that we should specifically be looking for?
I: For my own sake, this album has been very much to impress. On Sunday I’m leaving for a short tour in Japan, which I’m looking very much forward to and beyond that I just have one show locally (In Oslo) that I need to do. And next year, on the live front I will be focusing on doing the Emperor stuff. And also given the nature of my new album – Much of the material is not really a given live act, that kind of fits with the schedule so I might pick up stuff closer to 2015 on the live front, but obviously the Emperor shows next year will leave me room for more production work. There are a few things that I am working on and also I’m in the starting phase where I’ll probably be producing for Matt Heafy (of Trivium) and his solo efforts.
Official Website: http://www.ihsahn.com/
Ihsahn on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ihsahnmusic
Ihsahn on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Ihsahn_official
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