Demons have returned
No more Eras continuations and no more infamous goblin mask – after a long break, industrial act Mortiis is back from the caves with a brand new album “The Great Deceiver”, the 12th release since formation in mid-nineties. I spent some amusing time in Brighton during their UK tour with frontman Håvard Ellefsen to chat about the change of style, various music influences, old issues and the early Norwegian black metal scene.
HMA: You’re now back after 4 years silence with a new era called Era 0. What is it about? What happened to Era IV?
Mortiis: The whole era thing, I was getting kind of sick of it and I was wondering if I just keep doing it, where’s it going to end, you know, with Era 38? I mean it gets a little tacky and weird after a while. In the beginning, it made sense, because the first time I did it was when I put that little indicator [on] to speak on my recorder, and I called Era II because the music was so radically different from whatever I had done before.
I just wanted a hint. I wanted people to get a bit of a hint that this is not going to be what you might think it’s going to be. I did it again with the next record “The Grudge” because of that one just kind of went into a much angrier, darker direction than “The Smell of Rain”. Then a lot of time went by. We did “Perfect Defect”, and this is not as quiet as I’d hoped.
Now you know the time comes to do the “The Great Deceiver” I’m kind of thinking “fuck it. I don’t want to do these era things anymore”. It doesn’t make that much sense to me anymore. What we did was we brought back the old logo. We used a different logo on the Perfect Defect album, brought back the old sort of plastic look, then I figured, you know what, let’s just mess with people’s heads and call it Era Zero and that’ll be the end of it. It would mean like, who knows what it means. It’s like a mystery. What does that mean? Era Zero? It doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s just a mind fuck. I didn’t think everyone was going to be asking me about it. I guess I don’t have a good answer. I just feel like, ok we’ll do the era thing for the last time. Era Zero.
HMA: Talking about the new album, “The Great Deceiver”, what’s the concept and what are your expectations?
Mortiis: It’s just me being really angry with a whole bunch of stuff, really. Just people and experiences, what they did, very bad. That’s written pretty much what it’s like. There’s no big concept or like a storyline or anything, it’s just a collection of songs that kind of deal with various aspects of how I felt, sort of retrospective stuff.
HMA: Who does the man represent in your cover artwork?
Mortiis: I just liked the idea of a person that was branded in strange symbols. Just the whole idea of how messed up religion is and all that stuff. I just wanted something that was sort of mysterious and strange looking. Kind of dark. Again there’s no deep philosophical purpose there. Actually, those symbols are just various religious symbols that I found and I can incorporate it into the artwork. I just thought “Wouldn’t it be cool if it looked like they were kind of like branded on?”
HMA: Did you work with any artist for the artwork?
Mortiis: I started working with a guy from Australia called Bryce something, and we lost touch. He started working on stuff, then Levi our guitarist actually is quite a good graphics artist so we kind of continued on it. This one guy started it then he just kind of dropped out of sight. We took what we had and we just kept working on it. Really, it’s mostly me and Levi putting our work together.
HMA: You’re famous for your troll goblin face and Spock ears which seems you’re dropping during the years, what’s the reason?
Mortiis: We brought it back for some photos recently but it’s not like we’re doing it live a lot. The reason it got dropped, was because when I started with the mask Mortiis had a whole different kind of idea. It was very fantasy based which worked really well. Once I started writing about real stuff it kind of felt like I’m not sure if this mask really represents that. It’s sort of a fantastical thing. I kept doing it for a while, it just started feeling more and more like it was a little bit out of place so I eventually dropped it. Then I really started hating it too, because putting it on it’s so hot and warm.
HMA: I can imagine.
Mortiis: It’s like the film prosthetics. It’s not a mask where you can just pull it on, you have to glue it on you know? I mean, your skin doesn’t breathe. It’s a furnace you know and there’s always the risk that it might kind of fall off. It’s happened a couple of times because you get hot and dancing…it dissolves, starts flopping, it’s like “oh fuck. I’ve got four more songs, it’s going to fall off” There were all these little factors that played in and eventually I just made a decision, ah ditch it. We still do a very visual thing. I mean there’s a lot of makeup and everything, we still do that.
HMA: Basically for your stage image is very important
Mortiis: Yeah, I grew up with KISS, Twisted Sister, Motley Crew, Wasp. Alice Cooper, all the sort of big image American bands in the early ’80s. That’s natural for me, it’s like if there’s a way I can add something visually cool to the set if I am actually in any way capable of doing that, I’ll try to do it. I don’t know maybe it’s that little part of me that kind of likes a little entertainment factor in the music industry.
HMA: Is there an underlying message or story on the video of the song “Doppelganger”?
Mortiis: I mean it’s Doppelganger and the shiny map of god which is the video that came after, they’re kind of like connected. It’s pretty much the same concept there. We’re just pretty much just fucked up sort of laboratory where really weird shit’s going on. Blood and gore. No, we just wanted to make something that was visually disturbing because in the past I always liked videos that were like “oh shit, what was that?” Our old record label would always find out what my ideas were for videos and they would go you can’t do this, you can’t do that. I was like who the fuck do you think you are? EMI? You’re not a major label. You’re a small independent label just acting like you’re fucking Warner Brothers.
HMA: Oh no way!
Mortiis: That was frustrating. Finally we did these videos, I was financing all that stuff myself because we’ve done everything on our own now, we own everything, nobody can tell me anything now. I can do whatever I want. We just, whatever weird crazy shit that I could come up with, I would do it simply because I could. Nobody can tell me no.
HMA: Quite right. Is Mortiis still a solo project or are there other members now involved with it?
Mortiis: No, Levi has been with me since 2002. It’s not a solo project and I realize that it might seem that way because I carry that name as an artist and that’s the name of the band, but we’re definitely two people. We cooperated a lot on the music, I create the music and everything, and he records his parts, his guitars and everything. He’s a big part of the studio process with the whole technical aspect of that. He’ll have his creative input and everything. It’s a collaboration for sure and we experiment a lot. It’s not like the song is done and now we have to record the guitars at this point. I’ve got some stuff here, some pieces or whatever, let’s try to put something on top of it, see what happens. I’ll take that back and keep working on it, maybe do more recordings. It’s like a lot of back and forth.
HMA: What do you think about industrial music nowadays? Do you think it’s still alive and kicking?
Mortiis: I don’t know. I mean I’m terrible like that, I never paid attention. I just make my own stuff and I’m a pretty nostalgic person I think because I really don’t feel excited about anything that’s younger than twenty years, you know? That sounded almost a little bit perverse, but I mean don’t misunderstand – in terms of music I just like the sound of stuff that was created quite a while ago. I thought it sounded more honest and individual. Sounded more like its own thing. These days maybe everything is down to technologies, the recording, everything is just straight from a laptop now. Back in the old days it was into all these big mixing disks and all this hardware.
HMA: So it’s easier to produce an album today than 15 years ago.
Mortiis: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean it’s been made very easy and very affordable, but maybe I’m totally wrong but my impression is that it all kind of sounds the same now. Because everybody has exactly the same equipment. I’ve got a laptop and that sound card and I’m recording, that’s it. It might sound clean and nice, but it’s dead. It’s generic, that’s just me. In that sense when I go out there and I try to discover music, I go to second hand stores, trying to pick up weird vinyls, I’ll take a chance on something. Like you know, just buy cheap shit. I mean I could go out and buy like eighty records if I find like a cool store, I’ll just buy like one pound stuff. Twenty of those records will suck, what the fuck did I buy? Then there’s going to be like a few gems, like oh god I never heard about this, this is so cool. That’s kind of the way that I discover music.
HMA: Since we’re talking about the old days, your past with Emperor, do you actually listen to any black metal?
Mortiis: Not really. Isn’t that like a hipster scene now? Unless you got a big beard and a shitload of tattoos done last week you shouldn’t be listening to so and so. I don’t know, I just get the impression that it’s all fashionable.
HMA: Yeah. This has kind of come back now, for black metal.
Mortiis: I suppose so. I mean I just lost interest in black metal at around like ’95. Before that, all the bands were really kind of unique, but then a lot of people started jumping the bandwagon. Everybody was copying everybody. It was just like, oh man this is getting kind of lame. Around that time I just started rediscovering my metal roots and I went back to more classical metal stuff. I moved into way more strange underground, mysterious sort of industrial, that was very involved with the clubbing industry and all the kind of bands that were on that wave length. I was discovering this whole new world and a lot of that stuff is just way darker really than you know. Black Metal was always about creating this grey and bleak, cold dark atmosphere, some bands did it great, like Darkthrone.
I discovered some guys who did some really deep dark music, completely different sound sources. That was a really interesting time. I was aware of some bands like that from before, you know like Coil and Throbbing Gristle. The really old originators from the ’70s, Boyd Rice. All the stuff you just start to discover like super deep, dark shit like Brighter Death Now and In Slaughter Natives. Bands like that. All of a sudden, I was signed to the same label as some of those bands, Cold Meat Industry. A lot of times those guys were like one man projects, but they just created walls of noise and darkness. It was awesome, fuck black metal man, this is fucking crazy.
I was doing that at the same time that I was getting more experimental and open minded in terms of the kind of music I was listening to. I was going back to my Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, AC/DC and I was going completely off the wall on this dark industrial stuff. Slowly but surely I was also starting to open up to like you know Johnny Cash, Iggy and the Stooges, all these scenes in the New York punk, I was getting pretty open minded. The more you kind of open up your horizon, black metal seemed more and more like this tiny thing over here and there’s a whole universe of stuff. The black metal scene’s getting pretty wiped out. I still loved the first Mayhem record, Dark Throne, Burzum (although the guy was a douchebag), Emperor very good of course. A couple of other things were coming out in my life. There was this band from up North called Manes which were really cool, their demos were great. They turned into like a techno thing, similar to Ulver who went from like a fairly quite original black metal band from Oslo and turned into this experimental thing, they were really cool. That was like one of the few bands that came out in ’95-’96 that sounded cool, you know as black metal.
HMA: You released a book Secrets of My Kingdom in 2001 (which apparently was supposed to be released earlier), are you considering to do another one in a near future?
Mortiis: Not really. I mean my manager has been pestering me about you got to do an autobiography. Who do you think I am, I’m not like a big fucking name, who wants to read me … so I’m like no? I wrote a lot of text and info and poetry between ’92 and ’97 but was so delayed it should have come out in ’99 with the Stargate album. I think what actually happened was that the New York records realised it was going to be quite expensive to print this book so they would try everything they could not to do it. Eventually what I would have to do was … Because a lot of kids were asking like, when’s it coming out? I was like you know what? Here’s the email address for the label manager. Why don’t all of you guys ask him when it’s going to come out? Four months later the book was printed. If I hadn’t have done that it wouldn’t have been out at all.
Interview by Vixena Manu – Copyright 2016 © Heavy Metal Artwork. All rights reserved.