Killyourstereo.com had a jovial chat with Kvelertak's Erlend Hjelvik about about the release of their third LP, digging H.P. Lovecraft, lyrics lost in translation, and some good ol’ fashioned nihilism.
When you think of getting loose and having a wild time, a place like Norway, with temperatures frequently falling below zero, jutting mountain peaks, long windy fjords, and periods of almost perpetual sunlight or darkness, might not be what you have in mind. However, for Rogaland locals Kvelertak, a little cold weather certainly hasn't stopped them from raging, riffing and rocking out for almost a decade. We managed to tear vocalist Erlend Hjelvik away from the mic, to have a jovial chat about the release of their third LP ‘Nattesferd’, digging H.P. Lovecraft, having lyrics lost in translation, and some good ol’ fashioned nihilism.
Hello there Erlend! How are you doing?
I’m good. Just hanging out on the couch, starting to wake up a little [laughs]. But feeling good man.
Nice. Sounds very relaxed, dude. Let’s talk about your new album, ‘Nattesferd’, which has a worldwide release on May 13th. What’s the mood like in the band around the new record? Are you guys nervous, or excited, anxious, perhaps?
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We’re never anxious or nervous about that stuff. We get questions like that a lot, but I guess the important thing is that the band really loves the music that we make, and the rest follows on from that I think. That’s been our approach from day one. So yeah, definitely not nervous at all. We’re just excited to give people something new and fresh.
Awesome. Now reading about how this record was put together, and finding out details around the recording process, ‘Nattesferd’ represents both a major departure and a new dawn for Kvelertak. Your previous records were recorded overseas with Kurt Ballou [Converge, God City Studios], and they featured iconic cover artwork by John Baizley [Baroness]. Whereas ‘Nattesferd’ was recorded back at home in Norway, and the cover art was painted by Arik Roper. What was the main reason or motivation behind this change in approach for your third LP?
I think for us, it was really about not wanting to repeat the same thing over and over again. There’s a lot of good producers and studios in Norway, and we live there, so why not record there? We looked for a nice room, and there’s a great studio called Amper Tone, so we recorded the album live there. We’d been wanting to record songs live for a long time, so it was one of main reasons for choosing to record there. Especially with all the experience we’ve gathered in the band, being on the road and touring and playing together for so long, it was just cool to have that come out and manifest itself on a record.
And with the cover, I mean John did a great job on the first two covers, but it was just cool to try something different. So the guy we got for the new album, Arik Roper, we’d always wanted to do something with him. I think he made the perfect cover for us, and it looks like something that could be on the front of a 70’s science fiction book or something. It’s great.
Yeah, that’s right.
So he’s definitely a guy who knows how to cultivate that psychedelic, sci-fi atmosphere with his artwork.
Yeah, and even with our last record [‘Meir’], there were elements, which were a definite throwback to bands that have had really cool Roper album covers. So it’s kind of full circle now, that he’s doing a cover for us [laughs].
That’s sick. I’m interested to know, did yourself and band put any more time into writing ‘Nattesferd’, than compared to the other two records? Given that you recorded in Norway this time, closer to your families and closer to home for you all, do you feel like you gave this one more time and attention? Did the overall process feel less rushed?
Yeah, it definitely took more time. The previous records weren't exactly rushed, but we didn't write them over long periods of time. However, for this one, we started writing a long time before we went in to record. The first three songs on the album [‘Dendrofil for Yggdrasil’, ‘1985’ & the title track] were the first three songs we wrote, and we had those sitting around for almost a year.
From all the touring we did on the first & second album, we just needed some time off. But at the same time, things kept coming up as well. Like we got offered a tour with Slayer & Anthrax, and I mean you can’t say no to that! So that’s a few months out the window when it comes to writing. But we spent a lot of time in the practice space, working on the songs, so it was definitely a different approach for us.
That’s cool. Now I’ve been a big fan of the band since your first record and I’ve been following the tours that you get and watching the band’s rise. One of things that interests me, is that Kvelertak have always been a band that incorporates and reinterprets many varied influences. And musically it comes out almost seamlessly, in terms of transitions and how your song compositions are structured. But I think for some people (i.e. music journalists), that sometimes leads to a certain resistance due to classification by ‘genre’. So with people so quick to classify or ‘box up’ music into different categories, how would you personally describe Kvelertak’s sound, Erlend?
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s definitely the worst thing when people hear our music and go, ‘Oh, it’s just black metal,’ or something like that. I mean that’s way too thin of a description for our music. Maybe it fits the first record better, but not our other stuff. We play ‘rock ’n’ roll’, that’s what I like to say. It’s a pretty broad description and it covers everything that we’re about.
Right on, man. I think that cuts to very heart of the band. Leading off that thought, what do you think the band, as a whole, is trying to get across through your music? Is there a greater message or purpose at work there, or is it just fun rock ’n’ roll?
The message is: 'we’re all going to die someday, so we might as well have fun on the way down' [laughs]. We’re all nihilistic motherfuckers [laughs].
[Laughs] That’s incredible. Inspiring stuff dude. Now, another aspect that’s always interested me about Kvelertak, especially with myself being Australian and having English as a first language, is how your lyrics are all in Norwegian and reliable translations are notoriously hard to track down.
Yeah, it’s terrible. Don’t believe the stuff you read online.
It’s funny you say that though, because I read a Metalsucks article from 2011 that had the lyrics for your song ‘Mjød’ translated to English, as something like, “We’re going to fuck Odin’s widow/While giving you awesome riffs.” Is that accurate?
[Laughs] Yeah, that’s accurate. It comes from a time where we’d write lyrics, and just say whatever we wanted to at the time, not really thinking that it would end up on a record. A lot of the lyrics on the first record we wrote in a basement purely for our own sakes. But we thought it’d be fake of us to try and change them after we got a record label and started touring, so we've kept them that way. And you know what, they’re pretty descriptive. It speaks to a lot of the good times we had together, living in a house, writing music together.
So now that I have a chance to ask Erlend, what are your lyrics about? Where do you draw your influences in writing lyrics?
I think even now, I mostly have the same influences as I had when writing the first record. When I wrote lyrics for ‘Nattesferd’, I was thinking of Norse mythology, occult mythology, H.P. Lovecraft, science fiction, and even some world history and Illuminati-type stuff.
Are there any specific tracks on ‘Nattesferd’ that have a particular lyrical theme?
The first song on the album is called ‘Dendrofil for Yggdrasil’. ‘Dendrofil’ in Norwegian means that’s you have a sexual preference for trees, and ‘Yggdrasil’ is the ‘world tree’ in Norse mythology. So yeah, you can imagine the rest of the stuff in that song… Also, the song ‘Heksebrann’ is about one of the most famous witch burnings in Norway. If it’s dark and interesting, then I’ll write about it.
I also saw you mention in an article the other day, that the lyrics to ‘1985’ are a lot darker and subversive than the music might lead on, and I think you guys certainly allude to that with the video you just released for it. Was that something intentional, to pair darker lyrics with more ‘upbeat’ instrumentation?
Yeah, as a band, we’re just not really able to write upbeat or happy lyrics. I mean the guys might write an upbeat song, but we’re not sitting around listening to it going, ‘Ok, we need to bring this down with some tough lyrics.’
I guess for me it’s just the way life is, you know: it’s all good and bad. You can’t have one without the other. And I think in a way, our music is the perfect representation of that. In what it’s like to just be alive in general. Everything goes to shit, but you can still have fun with it.
[Laughs] That’s awesome. Now to finish up, ‘1985’ seems to recall, at least sonically, the glory days of classic rock and heavy metal, with bands like Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Metallica & AC/DC all dropping great records around that era.
Yeah man, that’s the good stuff.
So building off that, I’d like to ask Erlend, what your favourite records from the 80’s are and why?
Ah … there’s definitely a bunch. Probably the top of my list is Scorpions with ‘Animal Magnetism’. I love that album. It just flows really well, grabs you and has very good rock songs.
Also, you can’t go wrong with AC/DC and ‘Back In Black’. It’s probably the best rock album ever. Ah, what else? So much good shit in the 80’s! I can’t choose, so I’m just going to go with those two.
Great choices Erlend. Thanks for taking the time out for Killyourstereo.com today, we appreciate it. Best of luck with the new LP release.
Thanks a lot man!
'Nattesferd' is due out May 13 via Roadrunner. Pre-orders are available here.