Norway’s ENSLAVED began their musical journey back in 1991 and have perserved through, arguably, a more difficult path to success than some of their Norwegian brethen. Through numerous line-up changes, record labels, and distribution problems, they continue to triumph with an unwaivering artistic vision and subsequent, ever growing success. APESHIT spoke to ENSLAVED vocalist/bassist Grutle Kjellson during their most recent U.S. tour earlier this year about critical acclaim, winning Norwegian grammys, progressive rock, and what makes the current line-up of the band so special.
APESHIT: How’s the tour going?
Grutle: It’s going great! Absolutely, great…lot’s of people. New York was great…a thousand people. Canada was awesome. California has been great so far. Arizona tomorrow. We’ve been to places we’ve never been before. So, of course, we are excited.
APESHIT: ENSLAVED have been on a bit of a roll with 2004’s Isa and now with your latest, Ruun. The band’s sound has been strong and steady thanks to a consistent lineup.
Grutle: Definitely. We’ve had the lineup since 2003 when we recruited three new members. Cato [Bekkevold], Arve [Isdal a.k.a. Ice Dale], and Herbrand [Larsen] have given us very much in what we probably missed in our earlier days…especially in the arrangements, and in the actual recordings of the albums…and live too. Definitely, the lineup changes have been for the better.
APESHIT: Yeah, the changes can be very frustrating…
Grutle: But I think they are very necessary to clean up, you know? So yeah, we found the right members…definitely.
APESHIT: With Below the Lights or around that time, you guys were still trying to find your sound, at least in terms of the recordings. How was the evolution of ENSLAVED’s sound since that album?
Grutle: We’ll we’ve been getting older and more experienced…kind of know much better what we want. Yeah, it all comes down to experience really. We’ve done mistakes on all the albums. We won’t do those again, you know? It’s kind of a natural progression in recording, writing, arranging, and everything. Pretty much, we know what we want nowadays, instead of going into the studio and see what happens.
APESHIT: You guys get great press, great reviews…deservedly so. How does it feel to get your art fully appreciated by the fans and the media. A lot of other bands may write really great albums but do not always get recognized.
Grutle: It’s great especially since Below the Lights. We’ve been getting good reviews in all the bigger magazines–getting some attention from the newspapers (at least in Norway). And Grammy nominations–we won it for Isa. It’s great. That’s what we do. That’s what we always wanted to do–to be able to live from the music. We’re still not there because we are living in Norway–it’s as expensive as hell! (Laughs) But we are trying…we are trying to get better all the time. Naturally progressing in all [areas]–live performances, studio, songwriting, arrangements. We are constantly trying to improve.
APESHIT: Speaking of the Norwegian Grammys, what’s it like to get that sort of national recognition?
Grutle: It’s great. It has some kind of importance in Norway. [We} get to play the big rock festivals in Norway. Internationally, it doesn’t really make that much [of a difference]. People are aware of it.
APESHIT; How much credibility does the Norwegian Grammy Awards have? In America, “Best Metal Album” could go to ROB ZOMBIE, which is not “real” metal.
Grutle: Actually extreme metal in Norway is quite a big genre actually. In the beginning of the 90’s, the press wrote all about the church burnings and killings. They didn’t write anything about the music. But the music has been growing so it’s been impossible for the press to ignore anymore. Actually, it’s the biggest musical export from Norway is extreme metal. So it’s got a lot of credibility actually.
APESHIT: In America, metal is RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE and ROB ZOMBIE (laughs).
Grutle: Extreme metal is actually kind of popular in Norway. Like in Southern Norway. It’s a small country. So it’s a popular genre. Festivals are always packed. You just can’t ignore it anymore. It’s a part of the musical life in Norway.
APESHIT: The fans, the media, and the labels…they label all you as “Norwegian bands,” like “ENSLAVED from Norway,” or “this band from Sweden.” So people who don’t live over there view the bands as “a band from whatever country.” Do you view yourselves as a band from Norway or from your hometown? How do you view yourselves or who do you represent?
Grutle: We are proud of being Norwegian…
APESHIT: Do all the Norwegian metal bands view each other as belonging to one big army or is that just from an outsider’s point-of-view? It seems like you all know each other and everything.
Grutle: Yeah, it’s a small country–four-and-a-half million people. Everybody…all the bigger, older bands knows each other. There’s no competition. We just like to have a great time and support each other. It’s a pretty good scene. But you know, there’s idiots there too…and everywhere (laughs). People are trying to be “true” or whatever they call it. Kids.
APESHIT: You guys played the soundtrack live for the silent movie, Terje Vigen, at a film festival. Tell us about that event. How did you guys manage to get involved? Will there be anything like that again in the near future?
Grutle: I think Ivar [BjÃ¸rnson] can tell that story better than me, but there was this guy at The Norwegian Short Film Festival in Grimstad, a small town in Norway, who was kind of into metal and stuff. He wanted to find a suitable extreme act, extreme music, that would fit into this… So he just called us, and asked us if were were interested. We said, “hell yeah…that’s a crazy idea!” So we don’t have any actual plans for doing this special thing again, but we always jump into these kinds of projects. We think it’s interesting, refreshing, and it’s a challenge, you know?
APESHIT: There is a project featuring yourself, some of your bandmates, and the members of the noise act, FE-MAIL. Can you tell us about that project?
Grutle: We actually played the Inferno Festival. The band is called TRINACRIA. There’s me, Ivar, and Arve from ENSLAVED, those girls in FE-MAIL (Maja Ratkje, Hild Sofie Tafjord), and there’s a drummer and bass player from smaller bands. We are going to do a tour in November, and we are going to play some avant-garde/jazz festivals in Norway. That’s one of things we like to do–musical challenges.
APESHIT: Fans of ENSLAVED may be exposed to progressive and psychedelic music for the first time. What progressive or psychedelic bands can you recommend for them to check out that you guys really enjoy?
Grutle: Oh yeah…everybody’s got to have a couple records of PINK FLOYD, of course…DEEP PURPLE albums. And then you can dig even deeper–bands like old GENESIS, KING CRIMSON, CAMEL… There’s a lot of great music from 1968 to the end of the seventies. It’s a really great period for progressive music.
APESHIT: You guys have had distribution problems in the US. ENSLAVED’s old Osmose Productions catalog just recently found its way into stores everywhere here. Monumension didn’t even get an official release here.
Grutle: Yeah, it was supposed to be distributed by…I don’t remember the name of it. Monumentum was supposed to be distributed by Caroline? I think the organization that owned the company broke down or something like that. So we had no distribution. That kind of fucked up. And Necropolis Records (who was supposed to distribute Mardraum) didn’t really have good distribution. Then we released Below the Light through The End Records--a small company without proper distribution either (although they were nice guys).
APESHIT: Do you feel more satisfied with the last two releases’ distribution?
Grutle: Oh yeah, definitely. Candlelight is a serious label, and they’re growing in the States. That’s been good for us.
APESHIT: You participated in the tribute to Quorthon a few years ago at the Hole in the Sky festival. What was that experience like?
Grutle: That was totally amazing. One of my greatest gigs ever actually. I think it was 26 minutes altogether. There and then, it was like “let’s go for it”…all the old classics, everyone’s inspirations, all Norwegian bands. The crowd went absolutely insane. It was very strong…very strong, very emotional…totally overwhelming actually.
APESHIT: It was appropriate that you guys paid tribute to him because you guys have really carried on the tradition of BATHORY.
Grutle: Yeah, we have to do something…he’s a genius!
APESHIT: Yeah, he never really got the credit he deserved.
Grutle: We actually got offered to play Wacken and all the festivals, but we were like, “fuck no.” We didn’t want to earn money off of his name or anything like that. We’re not going to do it again…ever.
APESHIT: What do you attribute to outlasting your peers? EMPEROR broke up, IMMORTAL broke up, but are now playing reunion shows. You guys have been going on strong. It seems like the future is getting better for you guys. What’s the motivation behind your success?
Grutle: It’s what we do. It’s what we like to do. To be a full-time musician–that’s been the main goal the whole time. It’s just the love of music really…just as simple as that. We want to be better all the time. We want to progress and develop.
APESHIT: You guys started out at an early age…as young teenagers. At what point in your career did you realize you had become professional musicians?
Grutle: I still haven’t! (Laughs) Obviously, we are getting somewhere, and that’s a big satisfation, of course.