Interview with Myrkgrav
A Closed Chapter
In an amazing year full of music, Myrkgrav has returned with their 2nd full length and destroyed my top albums list with their latest release. With extremes of black metal and traditional Norwegian folk combined, the newest album “Takk Og Farvel; Tida Er Blitt Ei Annen” will satisfy the darkest to the casual listener. I was able to talk about the new album with founder, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Lars Jensen regarding the album, the long layoff and few other things… check it out…
“I also completely agree with those who have
brought forth constructive criticism”
Congratulations on your epic new album “Takk Og Farvel; Tida Er Blitt Ei Annen”…..what has been the feedback regarding it so far?
“Thank you! So far the feedback has been sparse but the little I’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive. Hopefully the CD release will garner more attention. And I also completely agree with those who have brought forth constructive criticism In terms of what could have made the record better.”
This is only the 2nd full length album in your 10+ year existence, care to elaborate on your delay since the first album (“Trollskau, Skrømt Og Kølabrenning” from 2006)?
“Shortly following the release of Trollskau, I developed depression and anxiety that I have struggled with in various forms constantly from then ‘till now. Needless to say, it’s been a real inspiration killer. I still managed to cook up all the material for the sophomore album around 2010, but after that I became disinterested in the whole project and metal in general, so it was difficult to muster the courage to finish the album – all while dealing with withering mental health as well as having a day job.
It wasn’t before this summer of 2016 that I felt a slight gust of inspiration to finish the record, after having not thought about it for the longest time. All the instrumentals of all the songs were already done, so all I had to do was arrange and record some missing vocals. However, due to how the songs were originally composed with lots of guitar leads and no “space” for vocals, I also had to decide to give up on arranging lyrics and vocals on many of the songs for the record, which is the reason why there are many instrumental songs on the album where the guitars generally do the “vocal” job instead of an actual voice.
“songs were originally composed with lots of guitar leads and no “space” for vocals”
You have released numerous singles, EP’s and splits since your inception, does this work better for you to just release music as it comes and not feel the need to do an entire album?
“Absolutely. In my mind, the album format is more or less dead at this point. I would actually not mind continuing doing things in the name of Myrkgrav if it wasn’t for the fact that my loyal fans want albums and not just singles and EPs. For someone like me, who is an extreme control freak and benevolent dictator in regards to everything regarding Myrkgrav, it would be much less labour intensive to focus on doing the odd small release here and there with a higher standard than to burn out while putting together a whole album.”
The Myrkgrav sound is one that has always blended traditional folk music with more extreme/black metal……what made you originally gravitate towards bringing them together?
“I must admit I have to resort to the “standard” answer here: at the time I didn’t think there were any other bands making the kind of music I wanted to listen to (although Månegarm and Fejd came close), so I decided to take matters into my own hands and try to make my vision come true, of a better blend between folk music and extreme metal. I’ve always also been exposed to a lot of folklore and local history from growing up in an area with lots of peasants and farming tradition, which I would incorporate in the lyrical theme of Myrkgrav to bring it all together for a “complete” folk metal approach.”
How does your song writing “process” work? Do you start with lyrics first or music? Do you concentrate on one song at a time or multiple ones at once?
“Unfortunately I have a nasty habit of writing all the music first without even thinking of vocals or what kind of vocal arrangements would fit any particular song, which is absolutely the main reason behind why it has taken so long to finish this second full-length album. I always write guitar leads first and then add the whole rhythm section to that, which obviously can get a bit out of hand when you end up with loads of songs that are very rich in melodic guitar passages with little room left for vocal arrangements. I also tend to stick to writing one song at the time, since as soon as I get started with one, it tends to be almost done within a couple of days if I really get into it and the flow is right.”
“If there’s something I know can be done better
by a guest artist, I have no qualms about
hiring someone to record those parts”
Being an individual artist has both positives and negatives when it comes to song writing and playing music….has it been better for you to do everything mostly on your own?
“It has been mentioned before, but I’m a total control freak and don’t think I would play well with other musicians “interfering” in my brainchild. However, I have several colleagues that I always consult when writing new material, so all songs go through several revisions based on both what I feel is right and fair compromise from gathering second opinions from my music colleagues.
Another important point is that I am humble enough to know my own limits in terms of musicianship. If there’s something I know can be done better by a guest artist, I have no qualms about hiring someone to record those parts for a better overall result. Such as Bernt Fjellestad’s vocals in Sjuguttmyra or Erlend Antonsen’s awesome bass lines in very many of the songs. I want Myrkgrav to be be as good and multifaceted as possible, which you simply cannot achieve if you are one single person hell bent on doing everything yourself. Imagine if the album had no hardanger fiddle parts at all… it would be a lot more dull.”
Your songs are sung in Norwegian, was this always a better and more authentic choice as opposed to English? Are there lyrics that just wouldn’t translate well into English because of limitations, concepts etc?
“Not only are they sung in Norwegian; they are sung in my local dialect. A lot of the stories and tales used for Myrkgrav’s lyrics are based on vernacular culture, and as such I always felt that it would feel more authentic and appropriate to keep the dialectal aspects as close to the original material as possible when turning them into lyrics, with sentence syntax, idioms and a whole bunch of other linguistic aspects. That has absolutely been the most challenging aspect of arranging and recording vocals for Myrkgrav.”
You have some guest appearances on the new album including Olav Luksengård Mjelva on Hardanger Fiddle….what makes this instrument appealing to you for your music as opposed to other folk instruments?
“The Hardanger fiddle is Norway’s national instrument, and adds a layer of that trademark beautifully haunting melancholy to Myrkgrav’s overall sound, with its sympathetic strings and rich overtones. This is not unlike the nyckelharpa used by Fejd and Utmarken, amongst others. This has always been an ideal to work towards for me personally, as it captures the soul of Norwegian and Scandinavian folk music. There are also other Norwegian instruments that can be heard if you listen closely, like the pixie flute played by myself in the last three verses of Skjøn Jomfru. Olav is a very professional individual, and not only did he simply record Hardanger fiddle parts for the record, but he also helped write and arrange his parts to my existing songs so they would fall more in line with that “proper” Norwegian folk music would sound like mixed with metal.”
Although it has been released digitally already, the physical version is soon to be released with artwork by renowned author and artist Kjell Aukrust, how did this come about and what was it about his artwork that you thought worked for the album?
“Just to correct you here, Kjell Aukrust has been dead for a while. (Yes I was aware he passed away in 2002-Jeff) The illustrations for my lyrics will follow his style but be done by other artists. The illustrator I have hired is very busy at the moment, but I’m hoping he’ll be able to squeeze me in soon so the CD version can reach the market as soon as possible.
I was originally planning to use the same illustrator as I did for the cover of the Vonde auer single (which I absolutely loved), but he seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. My main idea is to make the album as much a full package as possible, where you get the music, the lyrics in both Norwegian and English as well as the stories illustrated visually. I like to think this will make it easier to really appreciate a relatively obscure release that is otherwise filled with subjects unknown to most people who are not in the know about Norwegian folklore and local history.”
Who were/are some of your biggest influences in creating Myrkgrav tracks, whether bands, artists, books etc?
“As far musicians and artists go, I’ve never really been inspired by other people’s music. I do not have any theoretical knowledge of songwriting either, so all Myrkgrav has come to be through trial and error and from within myself and my own vision for what I wanted to create. I will however say, that the local history books written by Reidar Holtvedt has been the main source of inspiration for the lyrical and visual thematic aspect of everything that is Myrkgrav, in terms of folklore and local history. Most of Myrkgrav’s lyrics are based on stories found in his books, which are basically just vernacular tradition that he documented and released as books in the 1950s. Some of them even contain stories told to him by my own relatives, which is inspiring in the sense that I am carrying on the flame of my own heritage and ancestry. These aspects have always been important to me and at the core of my personal values, which is also why I have lately pursued the craft of shoemaking, as my great-great grandfather did.”
“The Hardanger fiddle is Norway’s national instrument,
and adds a layer of that trademark beautifully
haunting melancholy to Myrkgrav’s overall sound”
How do you feel about the music business these days as far as releasing music independently and the digital age? Is it better from a control point of view? What about pirating/downloading?
“I will say that it’s more difficult to reach out to your audience these days. Back in 2006 or so there were so many forums and channels dedicated to new folk metal releases, while today I honestly have no idea how to truly spread the word of a new Myrkgrav release. Thankfully I have Markus Eck from MetalMessage helping me out with the promo bit, as I don’t think I’d ever be able to reach anyone beyond my small and loyal following on Facebook without him.
In terms of control it is of course much easier to put your music out there yourself, and I don’t care much about piracy to be honest. However, I do find it strange that although I have put the whole new album out there for free on YouTube as well as all streaming services such as Spotify and the likes, pirated versions on blogs float around everywhere. I don’t really understand it. If you are to listen to the songs from official channels, all the plays help contribute with a tiny amount of royalties to the artist, whereas the pirated versions give nothing back. Good thing buying musical equipment, recording, producing, mixing, mastering and having made artwork is completely free of charge… that was sarcasm, in case you didn’t get it 🙂 When the music is already available free of charge from official sources, why not just listen there. I really do not understand the logic there, even if I’ve never been in the music industry to make any money.”
Was there ever a chance that you would have performed live or toured with Myrkgrav? If the opportunity arose would it ever be a possibility?
“Nope. As mentioned earlier I struggle with mental health issues and it would too much of a toll on my already low energy levels. There is also the issue that a lot of what you would get to hear live would have to be played back from recordings, as there are always so many guests on each Myrkgrav recording that getting everyone on stage at the same time would be virtually impossible. At least in terms of using the hardanger fiddle parts from Olav, for example. I also have stage fright from hell, which is why I had to quit Sworn right before they were going on their The Alleviation tour through Europe back in 2007 or when it was. I’m definitely more of a studio musician than anything else. The only time I’ve been “on stage” was for a graduation ceremony in high school, and it scared the crap out of me, haha.”
“I’m definitely more of a studio musician than anything else”
You announced with the release of the album that this would be the end of Myrkgrav… is that a definite statement? Will there ever be another release or a project under a different name or is it too soon to know?
“Well you know what they say: never say never. For now I am not interested in writing or releasing any new music, as I have in fact not written a single song since around 2010. But that might of course change, and if it falls into the same genre and category as Myrkgrav, I don’t see any reason to not release it under the same moniker. But only time will tell, and right now I consider Myrkgrav a closed chapter of my life, after having this newly released album weighing on my shoulders and haunting me in the back of my mind for some 9 years. I do not want to think about it right now, and just focus on other things that are currently more interesting.”
Favorite music from 2016?
“To be honest I don’t really listen to music much at all. I anticipate that Dunderbeist’s new record Tvilja that is coming in early 2017 will be the bomb though, as that is pretty much the only band I keep track of.”
Any closing thoughts??
“As folk metal and Myrkgrav is a much smaller thing now than it was back in 2007, I would encourage anyone who enjoys the new album to put their favourite songs from the record in popular playlists on streaming services they are subscribed to. That’s really one of the best ways for a band and a new album to gain some momentum these days. Otherwise, thank you for your time, and I promise that although Myrkgrav has come to an end, I have not. Music flows through my veins, and the only thing I can write is folk metal – so don’t be surprised if there is suddenly talk of a new Myrkgrav single or EP some years into the future even if times seem bleak right now. Keep the flame burning; even if it’s on spare mode.”