Metal has been dipping its brazen toes into the pools of electronica in a variety of forms for decades now; with giant acts such as Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein making a bold fusion of the two, and others taking a more subtle approach. One such genre which falls into the latter characterization is dungeon synth, a genre that focuses on simple and entrancing loops which bring forth a nostalgic or fantastical atmosphere, and arguably began with one Håvard Ellefsen of Mortiis.
The ex-Emperor bassist gained quite the underground following after his releases brought forth a new perspective on both electronica and metal. Before the release of his upcoming album, Spirit of Rebellion (read our review), a reinterpretation of his canonical 1994 release Ånden Som Gjorde Opprør, we spoke with Håvard about Mortiis, switching over from creating music on tape to digital platforms, mishaps touring in Ecuador, and much, much more.
You must be busy with Spirit of Rebellion coming out at the end of the month. Must be quite excited.
Mortiis: “The album and the tour? Yeah! Yes, of course, you know, it’s fucking cool to go back to the States and everything, I’m glad they brought me back. And the record and all that stuff, so you know, it’s totally exciting. It’s a lot of work, I’m pretty much doing everything solo these days, so pretty much all of the work kind of falls on me. But, at least I’m in fucking control, you know? That’s ok. To be honest, it’s exciting, I haven’t thought that much about it. I’ve just gotta get ready in time, that’s my main thought.“
Just working it all out?
Mortiis: “Yeah, just fucking, you know, the dates are getting pretty close and I’ve gotta get ready for everything and there’s still some music stuff I’ve got to take care of, shit like that. When it comes down to touring and stuff like that, I’m never relaxed until I’m actually on tour. It’s weird, because back when we used to be a band, we were talking about it a lot too because there was so much frenetic fucking preparation stuff going on. You know, the weeks leading up to a tour, that when you’re actually on tour it’s like a holiday. Because at that point, all you really had to do was set up the stage, get on the stage, and do the show. That was about it. So, it’s weird how that works out. I don’t think people realize.“
Hear the official PureGrainAudio “A Noob’s Intro to… Dungeon Synth” playlist.
A lot of people don’t realize the behind-the-scenes to make it happen in the first place.
Mortiis: “Cancel shows, then you’ve got a difficulty to find replacement shows, nobody sees all the running and the milling about and the fucking breakdowns that some people have, you know? Because that’s all happening in the background, it’s never on the poster, you know what I mean?“
Let’s get onto Spirit of Rebellion. You’ve mentioned before that it’s kind of a re-interpretation of your 1994 release. I was wondering if you could explain what it was like revisiting it and reigniting it, so to speak.
Mortiis: “Yeah, you know, I kind of like to look at it like a reinterpretation/continuation, that’s sort of the way it ended up. But yeah, I mean, going back to that, obviously, I hadn’t listened to it in a long time, and you know, the most interesting thing about it was when I sat down with the original intention of just kind of re-recording the tracks with the intent of performing that for a couple of festivals, the Cold Meat Industry Festival, which was kind of the instigator for everything. They’d been kind of hounding me for doing that show for months, and I’d been rejecting the offers every time because I didn’t feel like, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do it. Finally, I just kind of like, ’fuck,’ you know? My band just went into hiatus, it’s gonna take like half an hour to explain all that so let’s not get into it, but that was happening. You know, I was kind of sitting there for a little while thinking like, ’What am I going to do now?’ and then the offer came in again because they never fucking gave up! And I was like, ’alright, ok, I’ll fucking do it. I’ve got nothing right now, I got fucking no music, I don’t know even what I’m supposed to perform, but I’ll just do it, I’ll figure this out.’
So, I made the decision to perform the Ånden Som Gjorde Opprør album, that was the original intention for that festival. So yeah, I sat down and started listening to the music and started working out how I played it back in those days because there was no MIDI or anything like that, there was nothing I could pull up and just start. Everything had to be recorded over again, from scratch, you know? Yeah, so the interesting thing was as soon as I started laying down… I mean, they’re all pretty basic melodies, Mortiis has always been pretty basic, it’s not very technical, because that’s kind of the musician I am. I’m not really you know, super expert or anything like that. It is what it is. But, I started hearing all these new melodies on top of it.
As we dig into this lengthy chat with the man himself, check out the video for “Visions of an Ancient Future:“
It’s been 25 years since that record was made, and I had improved a little bit (laughs), and I’ve certainly cultivated my musical instincts in the sense that I can now lay down one track and start hearing things automatically in my head, in terms of what the next sound or melody or rhythm, whatever. So, that was happening a lot when I was laying down those basic tracks, and you know, me with my OCD situation where if I have an idea I *have* to try it out otherwise I can’t fucking fall asleep. So, I started fucking around it with, you know, adding these new ideas on top of it, completely new melodies and structures and whatnot, a lot of percussive stuff, which was really lacking in the original recording. Pretty quickly, I realized, ’Fuck, I am making a different record!’ you know? That was interesting, and it was very motivating, ’Alright, I’m back, I’ve committed to doing at least one show with the Era 1 Mortiis, why not just make the most of it?’ The more I got into recording that, the more I started thinking about the stage show, the more I, you know, the original idea was to just get up there and do something pretty simplistic.
Yeah, you know, I had commissioned David Thiérrée from France to create all these still images that were going to be projected on stage, a moving living backdrop, you know, side banners and all this visual stuff. So all of a sudden I went from doing something very basic to doing something completely new and rather elaborate, you know? At least for a first show. So, yeah, one phone thing led to another, you can easily say that. Eventually, it was a whole new fucking thing, it became this sort of return, I was getting offers to play more shows and festivals. The ball’s just been rolling ever since.“
That must have been quite crazy, at first. Going in thinking you’d remake an album, then all of a sudden this is happening.
Mortiis: “Yeah! (laughs) It was, you know. It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I mean, it’s all positive though you know what I mean? And for me, it was good too, because I was kind of down there for a little while when I realized I didn’t have a band anymore, at least there wasn’t going to be a band for a while. I was pretty damn disillusioned because of the couple years leading up to that, you know, The Great Deceiver release, and the touring of that record, it’s kind of like the cursed album. It’s my favourite Mortiis album of all time because we worked so fucking hard on it and I think it came out so well, and it’s so true to who I am as a person, but it got fucking raped by the industry so badly, you know. Probably due to self-fault of my own for simply choosing the wrong people to work with, you know what I mean? But it’s very hard to find the right people because there’s just not a lot of them. It’s been like that for a long time.
This level that I’m at, it’s not a massive level, it’s not fucking Rammstein you know, where you can just basically (tell them), ’if you don’t shape up, you’re fired,’ nobody fucks with bands like that. So, you know, I could tell people like that and fire people and I have done that several times, but it’s not like there’s a big line of people waiting to work with you, you’ve got to chase these fuckers down and find them and hope that they’re good. It’s frustrating! It’s really frustrating because you know, 25 fucking years, there’s been a handful of good people, of course, credit where credit is due, I guess. But mostly, it’s been kind of, ’oh no, not another one of those guys,’ you know? Maybe they think the same about me because I can be kind of harsh. I don’t fuck around anymore, I don’t have time for it.“
Stream the Mortiis song “Reisene Til Grotter og Odemarker 1of3” right here..
As you go further and further down your career and you know what you’re doing, I suppose that’s an advantage of being able to do your own thing now regardless of the circumstances. You can take it in your own hands.
Mortiis: “Yeah. Death looms closer every day, I don’t have time for this shit!“
Why worry about this stuff when the void’s a few years off, you know?
Mortiis: “Ten years and I’ll be like fucking, have I got a lot left? Who knows? I might not even be alive in ten years, who fucking cares.“
All the more reason to make the most of it now, right?
Mortiis: “I guess so, yeah.“
So, has this sparked a want to revisit more sections of your discography, or is this something you’re going to focus on now and then potentially create more solo material?
Mortiis: “I tend to change my mind all the time, but yeah. I still feel like it would be cool to go back and revisit maybe another one, but I just don’t know when. I’m trying to map out what my next move should be and I’m still kind of, you know, ping-ponging a couple of options there. So, we’ll just have to see. But, in my mind, there are fucking 500 things I want to do right now and I’m just gonna have to make a decision! (laughs) It would be fucking cool to do it. I thought this worked out pretty nicely, it would be cool to do another one. Maybe in a different direction, you know? Sort of retains some of the essences of the original recording obviously, which I feel I did also with Spirit of Rebellion and go out there and see how it goes. But it might not be this year. I’m probably doing something different later this year, I’m just going to do this tour now and I really feel bad. I haven’t sat down and properly written music for months really, because I just haven’t had the fucking time.
It’s a lot of DIY involved with Mortiis, you know? So, I just can’t fucking, I can’t split the atom, you know what I mean? I can only be in one place at the same time. I also have a full-time job because Mortiis doesn’t pay all the… it pays some of the bills, I mean it’s a nice outside income. You know, it’s not enough to live off for a full-time job, we’d be pretty skint if we were to choose that. I’d fucking love to do that, and I still hope that I might be able to do it at some point. If things keep going better and better, I might be able to do that, and at that point, things will move faster. But as it stands, I’ve also gotta go to work, because I’ve got two fucking kids and they need food and fucking clothes and shit. A house to live in, things like that, I don’t know, human needs. I work a lot on my phone, to put it that way. Every window I have, even at work, I’m on my phone just fucking dealing with stuff, you know? Always staring down, to the degree that I had to go to a fucking chiropractor because my neck got fucked from staring so much into the screen.“
Peep some strong examples of classic Dungeon Synth artwork.
I’m getting to the same point. Constantly emailing, working in a kitchen too, my back’s nearly 90 degrees sometimes.
Mortiis: “Hell yeah, it’s lovely. Fucking lovely with that pain shooting down your back and fucking neck, it’s fucking wonderful. Love it!“
So, you mentioned the way you made Spirit of Rebellion in comparison to the original release, it must have been quite a wild experience going from tape to something, I assume, like Ableton?
Mortiis: “Yeah, I’m like a Q-Base guy. I do have Ableton, that’s actually for live performances (that) I use Ableton, because it’s really nice for a trigger application. Because obviously, on stage I’m one guy, and there’s like ten sounds playing at the same time. Needless to say, a couple of those things are tracks. No point trying to fucking hide that fact, you know what I mean?“
Nah, you’ve got eight arms that’s all.
Mortiis: “Ah, yeah, I’m an octopus, right? (laughs) That’d be kind of cool, though. Dr Octopus from fucking Spiderman? Yeah. That guy was kinda cool. But yeah, Ableton is in use a little bit but not much in the studio. I have used it for some weird timing experimentation and shit like that, or certain things like years and years ago. Primarily, that’s an application used for live purposes. In the studio, it’s all Q-Base, and obviously I didn’t have Q-Base back in, you know, ’93, ’94 when I was making the Ånden Som Gjorde Opprøralbum, you know? That was me literally sitting at a keyboard playing straight into, straight onto fucking tape. Yeah, pretty sure. That would have gone on tape. They did have computers in the studios of course, back in those days. My first album, they actually recorded through a computer, not a tape, which was fucking weird. I think it was because he realized I was making these long fucking songs we’d want to track in MIDI at the same time so we could go back and, you know, rectify if I had playing mistakes and stuff.
Back in ’93, I didn’t understand that technology. Or ’94 or ’95; that didn’t come until way later. And, of course, on Spirit of Rebellion, I had all this technology at my fingertips, so there were obviously some things recorded to MIDI; and once everything sounded good, that’s when you print it out to audio and further processing and eventually mastering. So, that was like night and day from ’94 to quite recently when I recorded it.“
Mortiis’ classic effort carved the way for dungeon synth and many bands of a similar vein. Check out “En Mørk Horisont“ from 1994’s Ånden Som Gjorde Opprør:
That must have been crazy.
Mortiis: “Yeah, when you put them out next to each other, it’s not even on the same planet.“
I did listen to both when I first started preparing for our chat, and you can definitely pick up the same vibe, but I was trying to think what it was like applying that recording to programming software or something. It must have been strange.
Mortiis: “The most difficulty I had was when you enter into this kind of rigid recording environment that Q-Base is with all its grids and quantization and all that stuff, which is pretty normal stuff when you work with MIDI. Lining that up with the way that the original was recorded, which was very free-flowing, you know, straight from my hands onto the keyboard and onto tape, the timing is going to fluctuate constantly. So, I had struggled with some of the sections, I can’t remember exactly which ones, I think the ones where you get… there’s some flute-ish type of sounds going on and it gets a little more floaty; the way that was recorded, I’m not really a big sort of musical term kind of guy, but some sort of triplets or some shit, I didn’t even realize back in those days that that was the way I played. That was just stuff that felt nice. That’s how everything I do comes around, it feels right. I’ll just track it, you know? But, of course, it took me forever to realize that was the way it had been recorded back in those days because I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. Once we tried to put that into a modern environment on these sort of 4/4 straight grids, and then tried to fucking place those what we call ’events,’ which is each note. You try to place those on the grid… we’re getting into boring studio talk now.
Long story short, it doesn’t sound right when you try to quantize it in that way. It just sounds fucking wrong. It doesn’t have that cool flowy, I don’t know, triplets-y sort of vibe to it. You lose it immediately, and it just sounds choppy and wrong. So, I’m sitting there, I probably sit there (for) two or three days just for that section like ’what the fuck am I doing wrong?’ Because I’m so used to programming now, I can’t really play it and have it flow that nice, I need to put some of those events into place by hand, you know what I mean? And that’s when it all got fucking wrong. Them, finally, I realized these grids are fucking wrong, I mean it’s not 4/4, it’s something different because I’m experimenting with this time signature stuff. You have a big list of these different settings in Q-Base. I started messing around with that and that’s when it sounded slightly more the way it should. I think after that, it was just a question of moving it around by hand until it felt good (laughs). It’s a strange way of making music, but after staring into a computer screen as long as I have, it’s pretty natural for me to do that! You record it, and then fix it up.“
I’ve been messing around with it myself, and there’s only so many times you can hear the same loop until you finally realize what’s going on. You move it around and it makes sense.
Mortiis: “The trick is when you have a problem with something, just fucking take a break. Walk away for half an hour or something like that, because you’re fatigued and you’ll listen yourself blind, you know what I mean? And you come back and you go ’ah fuck, okay. It’s all wrong!’ (laughs) and then you start over! That’s happened to me sometimes, you just sit there and fucking mess around for half an hour, an hour, hours on end and you think it sounds good but you’re not quite sure. You take a break, come back, and you’re like ’oh my God, this is horrible!“ (laughs)
(laughs) It works either way.
Mortiis: “Yeah, it’s a curse and a blessing I guess.“
Spirit of Rebellion was released on January 24th via Omniprescence Productions/Dead Seed Productions.
While we’re still on the topic of Spirit of Rebellion; without falling into that journalistic question drop of ’what are the themes,’ could you relay the emotions or inspirations for either the original or Spirit of Rebellion?
Mortiis: “With the original, I was still, you know, still very heavily into the black metal thing. I was very passionate about black metal. It was 1994 and black metal was still exciting. That might be a controversial thing to say to some people, but if you’re my age I think you know what that means. It was fresh and exciting and fucking stuff was going on, and there weren’t really that many bands around, so everyone had an original sound, you know? Which was fresh, it was cool, I thought. Of course, we were all into this very dark sound, and that really permeated in everything I did which was all about atmospheres and for lack of a better expression, darkness. We were really fascinated by everything that was considered dark and mysterious and occult, to some people Satanic and things like that. So yeah, that was really a big thing for me, and what really made black metal different from death metal was, in my world, black metal was never about aggression, it was about atmospheres and vibes. That kind of attitude I really had and brought with me into my keyboard experimentation. I tried to… I don’t think deliberately, that much… but it was an attitude that I had.
I wanted it to be mysterious, I wanted it to be strange and enthralling, all these things. At the time, I was also fairly new to the world of industrial experimental music, there was a lot of that stuff that I was listening to. Old German electronic music; Pioneers, Klaus Schulze, Tangerine Dream, all those guys. We perceived their music as being sort of dark as well; I’m pretty sure they never thought of it as dark, but we were young kids and that was the element that always seduced us. The mysteriousness of things and once again, the darkness. That was a word we used a lot! All those things are inspiring to me.
As for Spirit of Rebellion, you know, I’ve got to be honest, I think it’s pretty much (the same) … I’ve tried to retain the same kind of vibe, but 25 years later. Needless to say, I got pretty disillusioned with black metal after a while, I thought it was getting pretty watered out. Maybe that’s no longer the truth, I don’t know. I’ve got to be honest and tell you that I haven’t paid much attention. I spend a lot of time on social networks and things like that; I see all these names flashing by and I see a lot of them being repeated so I see what’s popular or not, but I don’t really have their records. I’m not really pulling any kind of inspiration from that stuff. It’s old school for me, you know? That and certain soundtracks, I was getting really into Conan The Barbarian soundtracks. That type of vibe, of course, is something that I always try to mimic to some degree. I mean, I’m not afraid to tell you that I ripped them off, I totally did, you know, it’s no secret! But of course, I’m not a composer in that sense, I’m not a classical composer, I’m nowhere near… I just sit here in my little home studio and do my best. I’m not trained in any way, so I do what I can and people seem to like it.“
I think two things from what you just said say a lot about the age we’re in now. With black metal, people can say it’s overdone, there’s a lot of it going on, but that’s partly because of how easy it is to access music all over the world now. The same with you being able to do that in the studio, despite not being a composer; they’re both statements of the age we’re in.
Mortiis: “I suppose so. Technology for good or worse, I guess. To be honest with you, in the beginning, when technology started to replace physical formats and things like that, I thought it was a pain in the ass, I thought it sucked. You know, it’s got a lot of good things going for it, I use it myself so it would be hypocritical of me to say that I fucking hate Spotify. I think every fucking song I made is on Spotify right now (laughs)! So, you know, across the board, and even when it comes to music, sales of music and publication of music and the creation of music, and everything between, you’ve just got to fucking embrace it. You don’t have to use modern technology if you don’t want to, nobody’s forcing you. But, you know, for people like me it’s fucking great because I don’t have to go into a really expensive studio where I can’t afford fucking three days and hopefully make an album. I can sit at home and take all the time in the world if I need to because I basically have what I need to put my shit together here.
Thankfully for me, the music I make is possible to make using computers and some hardware; I don’t need a big drum room or anything like that, you know? In that sense, I’m kind of lucky. In a traditional sense, a band would struggle more, I guess because they would need a million fucking microphones and compressors and pre-amps and all kinds… pretty much a studio. Unless you want to program your drums. In metal, I’ve never really heard programmed drums sound great, I mean, it kind of needs to be organic. That might be because I’m old school; I was never into the trigger drum sound or anything like that. I think I digressed a bit, but…“ (laughs)
Check out the Mittwinter song “Inverno Sogno” rare dungeon synth video here.
With Mortiis itself, you’ve directly or indirectly, you’ve begun a whole subgenre – dungeon synth. Quite a wild little explosion that happened in the early ’90s. Did you ever expect to be headlining a festival where all the other artists are massively inspired by you and doing what you’re doing today?
Mortiis: “Yeah, I mean, I wasn’t the only person doing that type of music back in ’93, ’94, but I was one of the very few ones that came out of the metal scene that did it. I didn’t really sound anything like any of the sort of ambient tribalistic sounding bands you had going back in those days, they had a different sound. What I did was essentially sort of black metal intros that were just expanded through entire records, you know? That’s not sounding too good for me, I think I made it sound a bit more exciting than just an intro, but for lack of a better expression once again. To me, I’ve always had a very metal attitude about it, the imagery of Mortiis was always very metal. You know, that’s obviously me growing up with Kiss and W.A.S.P, you know, getting into Lord of the Rings and the Orcs and all that shit, so clearly, what other fucking route was I going to take, you know? When you think about it, the visual aspect of Mortiis, it couldn’t have been any other way.“
I looked at the prosthetics you had and everything; it makes sense. You listen to the music then see it all and think “I get that.“
Mortiis: “A lot of people didn’t in the beginning because they weren’t able… well, the metal people seemed to embrace it quite a lot in the beginning. First of all, they were the only market, that’s a cynical way to describe a demographic, I guess, and that’s another cynical way (laughs), they were the only ones I knew how to market myself to. They seemed to get into it quite a lot; it was other genres of people, especially when I joined Cold Meat Industry, where I got introduced to, or exposed to, an industrial, experimental, very underground type of crowd that was just into a totally different type of music. It went fairly ok, but I don’t think they ever were able to quite grasp the image of it. I think, to their minds, that type of imagery clearly is very aggressive metal (laughs) and you put the record on, and it’s the exact opposite! So, I blew a few minds back in those days. I think some people couldn’t really get over it, certainly some journalists too back in the day; they couldn’t add those two elements together. It didn’t compute, I don’t think, to a few people. But that’s how it is man, it’s a fucking result. I’d rather have that fucking mind meltdown with some people as opposed to some mediocre fucking shoulder shrug. Yeah, looking back at it, it’s all good to me, you know?“
Must have been quite interesting for people to see live for the first time. I was wondering how you apply Mortiis in a live context when it’s just you?
Mortiis: “Back in those days?“
The response to it back then, but also what you’ll be doing with it now.
Mortiis: “I think the music I’m performing now is a lot more live-friendly in the sense that it’s much more rhythmic and percussive. So, you really do get a much more powerful sense of movement in the music now than there used to be. There’s just more going on, and obviously, there’s additional stuff going on like I told you in the beginning, and I’ll expand that as much as I can, bigger backdrops and bigger everything, you know, all that fucking scary horror shit. Back in the early days, I didn’t really have a lot of that, so my very first shows I think I started performing the first Era 1 shows that ever happened. I believe (they) were in the summer of 1996 or something like that and they were pretty bad… yeah (laughs). I won’t go into it more than that but looking back at them I’m thinking ’oh my god, they are not good.’ But the people that were there, if there are still people that are following or still in the scene, they might remember it differently, I was the guy on stage. I’m always my biggest critic, you know what I mean? Remembering back on the first couple of shows in ’96, I don’t think they were that great. Now, I like them. What I do now, I fucking love it. I’ve had a long time to improve! (laughs)
I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing back in those days. I’ve gotta remember, at the time when I did my first couple Mortiis shows, I’d barely ever been on a stage at all. I did two shows with Emperor and that was it. I did two shows with the band I had before Emperor, so by the time I set foot on stage with Mortiis for the first time, that was probably my fifth time on a stage in my life. Som, there’s a limit to how good you’re going to get in four shows. You need more time to really get into it.“
I didn’t realize it was that soon. If you started with your fifth show…
Mortiis: “I believe so, yeah! Two with Emperor, then two with the one previous band and I had another band before that that didn’t do any shows at all. Nah man, we’re looking at show number five, that was the first Mortiis show when I was on stage. I was literally chattering teeth I was so nervous, I was like the guy in Hellraiser, you know what I mean? Clattering my fucking… I was so nervous it was unbelievable.“
Look where you are now, though.
Mortiis: “Yeah. Huge star now. Mega! (laughs) But at least I’m not that scared I’m always nervous when I go on stage. I think that’s healthy because it means you care, it means you still give a shit, you know? So, that’s just healthy as far as I’m concerned. But, it’s not to the point where it’s fucking taking over your life and you would do anything to not go on stage! I mean, I was literally fucking ready to just escape, just run. I was so fucking nervous. ’Anywhere but this!’ was my thought at the time, I remember that. But I’m glad I did it, man, because it was the start of something that eventually became good.“
Your discography itself, we were talking about the reception of Mortiis live in general, I think is a great argument against both the necessity for genres and the expectations of artists to stay within the realms of those genres. Example, a band brings out an album and people expect the next one to sound the same.
Mortiis: “Yeah. I can’t remember any bands who do that. I mean, you can mention bands like AC/DC, but if you listen to their stuff across time, it’s changed a lot! So not even a band like AC/DC, who you might feel are pretty damn static in their sound, they weren’t really that static. They actually evolved. You know, which is healthy, because I would fucking kill myself if I just did the same thing over and over; fucking boring.“
It seems to be a common expectation. Relating to genres and ’labels,’ it’s you making the music…
Mortiis: “Yeah, it’s not music made for order. I mean, it’s actually your music; you’re a free fucking person, you can do what want. I mean, I suppose music is to some degree a product but at the same time, it’s not a fucking Snickers bar! It’s art, which I suppose is supposed to change. Maybe that’s a bit pretentious, but it is, you know?“
You can catch the video for “A Dark Horizon“ here:
Talking about art, the video for “Dark Horizon“ is quite something. Did you come up with the concept for it and then you acted it out?
Mortiis: “To some degree. You know, I read the script and I made changes four times, I think. I pretty much agreed to what was in the final draft, added some ideas. I mean, there’s nothing spectacular about those videos. The previous one, ’Visions of an Ancient Future,’ they’re basic horror-style type of videos with a very nice atmosphere in them. That’s pretty much all I wanted, I didn’t want anything deep or philosophical, I just wanted something catchy and cool. Something easy and simple. So, yeah I was part of that. To be honest, I think my biggest contribution to both scripts in both those videos was filtering out the ideas I didn’t like and making sure those didn’t happen, and that it was going in a direction I felt was kind of cool. I was happy with it, so I was like ’alright, let’s go.“
It pairs really well with the music. A lot of the time, I personally have trouble watching music videos because I just get sucked into the music.
Mortiis: (laughs) “A lot of the time, you kind of get the impression like… how much did the band get involved in the storyline in this video? Oh, you’re in the desert, like 10,000 other bands did, playing out there with your band with your drums and your guitar plugged into a fucking pile of sand? How exciting! Yeah. And everything’s in slow motion with a wind machine that you can’t see, because it’s on the side.“
Yeah, but it looks cool.
Mortiis: “Yeah. And they’re all like spread eagle, they’re like five feet tall now ’cuz they’re so fucking wide-legged playing guitar. I’m a heavy metal fan man, I don’t mean to slag it that badly, I probably like half of those bands anyway. It’s fucking, it’s not that exciting, you know what I mean? I just kind of question how involved are they on the video concept. That might be down to signing Satanic fucking record deals where they don’t have anything to fucking… they have no power, they have no fucking say, they have no influence; their record label will tell the director ’this is what we want; the band can shut the fuck up, all they need to do is fucking show up and that’s it. Go home and shut the fuck up.’ So, I kind of suspect there’s a lot of that going on.“
I think especially for “A Dark Horizon,“ the visuals work so well with the music. The music is atmospheric, so something very arty works well.
Mortiis: “Yeah, I was gonna say… one of my inspirations has always been soundtracks and things like that. And it’s instrumental at the moment. I mean, there are a lot of choirs going on in the music; that’s actually all mellotron if you remember that old organ-type instrument. Yeah, so it’s all based on that, which to me, has the best fucking vocal sound I’ve ever heard; it’s fantastic. When you layer it up with a few layers of that, it’s like ’damn, this is very atmospheric and nice!’ Very sort of proggy, ’70s type of sound to it.“
You can play around with that a lot.
Mortiis: “Oh yeah, once it’s in a computer of course. I didn’t do much to it though, because it’s a mellotron. You don’t want to fuck around with it too much. I wanted to make sure that it sounded great and not through a fucking distortion pedal or something like that. It wouldn’t have been the right music to do it to, you know? In industrial rock, you can… everything goes through fucking distortion, 58,000 layers. You know, with this kind of music, I try to stay a little more clean, you know what I mean? But yeah, going back to what you said, the music does have this soundtrack-y vibe, quality to it, so I think it’s just easier to put that music over videos and it’ll probably just fit in easier than maybe thrash metal would have done or something like that which, I guess, is more specific. I don’t know, just a theory.“
Now, you’ve had a pretty extensive musical career so far, you’ve put out lots of work. I was wondering if there were highlights, you’d like to talk about or elaborate on?
Mortiis: “I mean, there’s been a couple of them. You know, in the early stages of making The Great Deceiver, we got to work withChris Vrenna, he used to be in Nine Inch Nails, and Manson, and even Gnarles Barkleyfor the half-hour that they were famous. He’s a really fucking great guy, it was cool to sit there. We were mixing the record. Some of the songs we were mixing together with him, and you know, I was and still am a huge Nine Inch Nails fan, and I don’t want to attach his name too much to that because he’s been out of that band for fucking two decades, so that’s not his big claim to fame, he’s just a very talented person. Also, an extremely nice guy. You’d never think he’s been in these huge bands because sometimes some people get an attitude, you know? There was none of that; just a really down to earth guy and super talented. It was just really nice to work with him for a few days.
The following record, which was just the remix album which turned into this mammoth fucking remix album, The Great Corruptor, where I wanted to remix a couple of songs, turned into fucking 27 remixes or something like that with all of these different artists. Chris Vrenna once again contributed, we had Godflesh, I’ve been into those guys since fucking 1990, back in the days I thought Earache was a cool label. Raymond Watts from PIG was on it, all these other dudes like Rhys Fulber from Front Line Assembly.
A lot of these guys that I was really inspired by when I sit down and make industrial rock music; these guys were behind some of the classics as far as I’m concerned. So, I was fucking honoured that those guys actually went ahead and remixed my music and it fucking came out fucking amazing. Merzbow from Japan, that was… I didn’t expect that to happen. Got this mutilated, crazy fucking noisy bastardization of one of my songs in return from this Japanese legendary man. So yeah, that’s a fucking cool record too and I spent a lot of energy supervising it and talking to people and getting tracks sent out and getting them feedback on mixes and their progress, things like that. Just getting to work with a lot of these dudes, they could have said: ’no, fuck you, I don’t like it,’ a lot of those guys did it for free. I’m not going to say they did that for everybody, but some of them actually did it for free, and that was like ’what the fuck?,’ you know? That’s fantastic. so, I guess that’s a compliment.“
Yeah, you know you’re onto something good if you’re getting that.
Mortiis: “Yeah, those guys, not exactly unemployed, you know what I mean? So that was great, man. Of course, you know, I think we talked about it at the beginning of the interview, but Spirit of Rebellion is kind of a personal highlight for me because I pulled myself out of this… I was well on my way down to another one of my famous depression snaps when the band went on hiatus or extended break or whatever the fuck you’re supposed to call it, and I wasn’t sure if I was even going to do music anymore. I just thought: ’ok, fuck it, I’m gonna do this one show, the Cold Meat Industry show, I’m gonna do these tracks.’ It just snowballed, and here I am. I’ve kind of got this new energy boost out of it which is fucking great.“
Merzbow mixed with Mortiis is something else. Give it a listen here:
I can imagine that must have been tricky, but you got all this out of something relatively happenstance.
Mortiis: “Yeah, exactly. The first few months, it was just like ’oh, oh we’re doing that! Oh, okay, that’s another offer. Oh, they want me to go to Canada and do a festival? Ok, alright.’ All of a sudden, you’re doing small tours, all of a sudden, I’m in fucking Australia, then the next thing I know I’m in the States, then South America, then I’m in fucking Ecuador thinking I’m kidnapped by a fucking… that’s not the highlight though, that was horrible!“
Mortiis: “Nah, it was just an incident in Ecuador where we thought we were being kidnapped, it was stupid… The story’s too long, but basically that place is so corrupt. Their police keep shutting down every venue that you try and play (in). If they hear about a show, they go there, and you’ve got to pay them an insane amount of money because it’s fucking corrupt. They call it like a ’fee,’ but of course, it’s just fucking ’buy the police off your back’ money, you know what I mean? It’s corruption money, and if you don’t pay that they close you down and the kind of money that they’re asking for is several months wages for people, so there’s no way you can pay. You know, so we kept having venues shut down, and we’re fucking driving around in the city in the back seat of the promoter’s car, almost like something out of the Spinal Tap song, just missing the moonshine. You know, it got to the point where the promoter got so desperate, he wanted me to play in his living room (laughs), yeah! And I’m like: ’dude, I’m not fucking doing that! I’ve been doing this for 25 years, I have some dignity, come on!’ You know?
So eventually, we just said: ’dude, this isn’t going to work out, I’ll have the agent pay your money back, just take us to the airport because this clearly isn’t going to work out, we don’t have a show.’ And he just refused us; he keeps driving us around Quito, and some pretty devious fucking neighbourhoods too, you know, like real slums and shit like that. He wanted us to play in one of the slums and I was like: ’dude, there’s no fucking way I’m playing there, I’ll fucking die.’ You know, we went to this one place where there was a toilet right in front of the stage. The stage was this like this… some planks with some tarp over it because it was raining, it was like a tropical fucking rainstorm almost, and there’s water dripping down on the mixing desk and I’m like ’I’m not gonna fucking stand there, I’ll be electrocuted on this fucking stage dude!’ There were hedge clippers laying there, and there were broken bottles, I was thinking this is going to be a god damn massacre.“
And a toilet in front of the stage…
Mortiis: “This is all in front of the stage! All of that fucking stuff; beer bottles and a toilet and these rusty hedge clippers; all these weapons, essentially, just laying all around the place. It’s a massacre waiting to happen, man. So, eventually, I just said like: ’dude, just take us back to the fucking airport’ and he refused and kept driving round and round. It ended up (with us) thinking ’fuck, we’re god damn kidnapped.’ I had one guy with me on this trip, who was kind of my assistant and he was getting pretty panicky. He saw a police officer on a motorbike, and he was like ’I’m gonna jump the fucking car and fucking talk to the police officer’ and I said like, ’you can’t fucking do that, they’re even worse!’ They’re so corrupt, they’ll probably just mug you and fucking punch you in the face and just drive off, he doesn’t give a fuck about you. So, eventually though, thankfully, he found kind of like a venue, it was actually a decent place, he went in there and talked to the owner and he agreed to put on the show. He went back out and told me ’alright, this place has already paid the fee, we can play you tonight,’ and it was like 6 or 7 in the evening already, so we were kind of running out of time.
We got set up real fucking fast, they drove me back to my hotel, because there was no dressing room or anything; I put the makeup on, mask on there, they drove me there, went in there, did the fucking show, straight back into the car, back to the hotel, took the shit off. Then, I got driven back to the venue, because I kind of do that, I try to mingle a bit and sign stuff if people want that, over there they’re very excited to meet me so you do that. Just as I’ve signed a bunch of stuff, I go up onto this little so-called VIP area (because) I just wanted to have a beer. So, I sat down there and fucking just as I sat down and cracked open a beer, the fucking police came in and shut the place down (laughs)! Of course, they never paid the fucking fee, that was a god damn lie! So, that could have happened at any point, we just got really fucking lucky that it didn’t happen during the show. It’s just… you know, fucking insane place, dude.“
Definitely an experience… (laughs)
Mortiis: (laughs) “It is! I’ll go back to Ecuador, I mean… it doesn’t really bother me, but not with the same promoter.“
If you can avoid driving around for a few hours and looking at venues with toilets in front of the stage…
Mortiis: “Yeah, not knowing if you’re kidnapped or not, you know…“
Usually helps if you know.
Mortiis: (laughs) “Yeah, it got a bit weird after a couple of hours, like ’fucking hell, take me to the fucking airport, this is not good!’ Looking back at it, I’m glad I did the show, because that’s one less cancellation on my record, and I don’t like to cancel. I did the show, everybody was happy, the guy was happy as fuck. The promoter was like dancing at the end, he was so happy. (Because) I think if we had had to cancel it, it would have been like his fourth cancellation in a row or something like that for the exact same reasons; he was panicking. I mean, the guy was literally about to cry. I felt bad because when I kept telling him I can’t do this, this isn’t going to work out, there were literally tears in the fucking guy’s eyes so I felt for him at the same time, you know what I mean? I’m a fucking human being, I don’t want to make grown men cry, but I was like ’dude, there are lines! This is very, very degrading to me, like all the places they want me to perform. I’m going to look… this is going to be so bad, and I might die!’ But in the end, it worked out, so that was a good ending to the story. Just glad we didn’t get shut down in the middle of the set.“
And if you haven’t had enough Mortiis by this point, here’s more of his dungeon synth in the form of “Parasite God:“
On the flip side, your upcoming tour, you have two weeks in the U.S…?
Mortiis: “Yeah, it’s like fifteen dates, fifteen shows. I’m not really a big fan of doing those long-ass tours anymore, so that’s why I’m kind of doing slightly shorter tours. So, this is the second time we’re going to the States in less than a year, we did ten shows last time and fifteen now. That kind of adds up to one proper tour. You know this is a different routing. The only state we’re heading (to) that we also went to last time in Los Angeles; that’s the only place we’re playing twice in a year, so everything else is just a different market, different cities. You know, because I’ve got kids and everything back home, so I don’t really want to stay away for like fucking forever, you know? It’s nice to go out there, go out for a couple of weeks and come back, it’s better that way.“
That’s another positive of doing it yourself. You’ve got your studio, you can have a bit more control over tour dates, etc. although you can’t fully control them.
Mortiis: “You know, a lot of people have that misconception. When you put your dates out on socials and start getting the responses and they go like, ’why aren’t you playing in Seattle?’ Well, for starters it’s because I played it last time, where the fuck were you? (laughs) You know, it’s fucking sixteen hours from the other date; you think we’re just going to drop by? That’s like three days out of the fucking calendar for just one show, you know what I mean? It’s not like it’s really on the actual routing. And, people seem to think that I decide where I play. I mean, I can have a certain impact, like, I have a feeling we should be playing there and there and my agent might try and make that happen. But by and large, you know, they route it up and map it out and present me with a list of shows where you get the offers in and that’s the tour that you do. You know, I can’t just… some people think I can just call up a venue and go like ’Hey man, I want to do a show,’ and bam! There’s a show. It doesn’t. The music industry isn’t magical like that, you know? It’s just not the way it works.“
That takes us back to what we were saying about touring earlier. There’s so much more to it than just ’the show.’
Mortiis: “Yeah. A lot more people working in the background. There are so many people involved and such a chain of events until you actually stand on the stage and perform, you know? It’s an amazing amount of stuff that needs to happen before that even becomes a reality.“
I’ll leave my questions there! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk.
Mortiis: Oh yeah, you got it. No problem!