Who would have guessed that a little dwarf star named PECCATUM would blossom into a full grown star? Five years since their debut, Strangling From Within, one-half of the post-EMPEROR musical movements has grown far beyond anyone’s expectations. After exploring new musical territories (and stumbling a bit along the way), the band, consisting of former EMPEROR Metal God, Ihsahn, and his wife, Ihriel (who herself released the haunting gem, Iter.viator, under the moniker, STAR OF ASH), have blown it all open with their latest musical concoction, Lost In Reverie. APESHIT chatted with the man-half of PECCATUM, Ihsahn, to learn more about the methodology behind the madness.
APESHIT: The new album, Lost in Reverie, is amazing and probably more than what most people expected from PECCATUM. One of the major things that stand out on the album is obviously the complex nature of the music…it’s a very challenging album. It’s not something that you can understand on the first few listens. Did you guys intentionally create an album that was very musically challenging or was it just an unintentional result?
Ihsahn: Well, it was intentional to keep the variety all together. We kind of had this idea about making, not a metal album, but something in the extreme genre where we would produce an album more like you would do with a pop record where you give each song the kind of arrangements and instrumentation that it needs regardless of what kind of band constellation you’re in or whatever. And also, I think especially from PECCATUM we see things from a learning factor as well. We’ve been very conscious of changing the methods we use. Some of this material, we’ve written strictly from an acoustic point of view with piano or guitar. Other songs have their starting point in purely electronic stuff. That was very intentional to keep the variety and also to combine the extremes of music with the quieter music. It’s not been intentional to make things hardly accessible.
APESHIT: Like you said, there’s a lot of different things going on and a lot of different genres of music that you can hear. You can hear like 70’s prog rock on one song and there’s black metal and classical music and all kinds of things. Can you describe these influences? A lot of metal fans, in general, do not listen to a wide variety of music.
Ihsahn: Well, what can I say? (Laughs) We do. I mean we have been listening to so much metal that, I suppose, over the years we’ve been listening to other forms of music instead…almost in order to be surprised by things. For my sake, I’ve been playing extreme metal for so many years, it’s very hard to listen to a new release in the same genre and be objective and be able to appreciate it in the same way. You can’t help it. You start thinking about how you would’ve done this yourself. Other genres where we have no experience with as far as songwriting and arrangement goes, it’s often that it’s more surprising and more inspiring. And I think, that it’s not necessarily that some people ask about our jazz influences or whatever. Of course, we listen to jazz music, but there’s not all music that we necessarily appreciate, the atmospheric expression of it.
But we think that all music has some kind of potential. And I mean the sonic potential of some electronic music these days even though we’re not big fans of say, “chill out” music. But the potential, that working method, those kinds of sound structures, we find it challenging to try to adapt some of those techniques to our expression. Of course, that is the case instead of being inspired by a lot of different genres that we like. Just trying to experiment with…in some cases, even though very much of it is electronic or programming too, in combination with all of the organic recordings, I think we’ve…I’m getting out in the fields here. (Laughs) I think you get my [drift].
APESHIT: Yeah, like you said, everyone knows you for playing more guitar-based music. And PECCATUM is becoming less and less strictly guitar-based. Your guitar playing is now assuming a different role. Was it a challenge to adapt your guitar playing to this new role?
Ihsahn: Well, it kind of developed in that direction over the years…working as we do with things on paper and things on the computer rather than being in a band constellation. When you work out things together, playing themes and stuff, I suppose we get a more technical and theoretical approach to the way we write. That is also something that we’ve been conscious about. Although we have taken many influences from taking the music together, we try to work in a traditional way too in composition-wise and arrangement-wise and trying not to just present new and new and new themes but rather if you take…some of the songs, there are black metal parts. It’s actually the same themes that are repeated afterward, just with different instruments and different way of arranging it. So as for my guitar playing, you just have to adapt to the way and play it to the way it’s written.
APESHIT: There’s many different vocals styles that are utilized on the record. We hear some new vocal styles from you like on the song, “In the Bodiless Heart.” How rigorously do you work at becoming a better vocalist?
Ihsahn: Well, it’s a quiet a long time since I took singing lessons now. But we both took classical singing lessons but this time we…I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s an improved style but…we tried to…with the voices and with the other arrangements, try to adapt to the atmosphere and the structure of the song. So the song in themselves dictated how the vocals were supposed to be. It came to be like that. Of course, there are always improvements to be made, but what can I say? The whole process, the singing, the lyrics, everything has been very inspiring in that it’s kind of chosen its own way of things.
APESHIT: Do you find it hard to be objective during the songwriting and recording process, especially since you’re working with your wife, someone who is very close to you? Do you find it to be harder or easier?
Ihsahn: I think it’s easier. Over the years, we’ve developed a working structure that is very constructive. I would say that we work extremely well together. We have a good combination of sitting separately and writing and coming together and writing stuff together and arranging stuff together. When one performs, the other is the engineer. I would say that in general, the way we work at the end of a recording like this, where we’ve done practically everything from A to Z, it’s kind of hard to remain objective when judging the product along the way. You may have just finished the last vocal lines and when you start mixing, usually then you’re most occupied with the last things that you recorded. So you just have to try to get some distance and just be the mixing engineer. So you have to mix all these roles. It takes quite a bit of time to get results you want. Sometimes you just get very subjective, blind…you get lost on things you’ve worked with.
APESHIT: Both of you guys are more than capable songwriters on your own. Can you further describe what the songwriting process was like?
Ihsahn: Well, this time we spent one and half years doing this album. We were really set out to do something different. We knew very much PECCATUM’s sound and the way that we did things. So we probably threw away material for two more albums in the process of getting to this one. So this time, we just put out all the ideas that we had in the back of our heads and small bits and pieces that always come along. We worked to a certain point where we felt if it was in line with what we expected or what would fit in or not. We actually written a lot of material for this and like I said earlier, we did a lot of different angles to the way we’ve written. Also with lyrics and the whole concept thing of the album, usually we’ve always had the music come first and add the lyrics later. Some of the lyrics have started first and we built music around that. That in itself has been a clue for us to keep the variety and start from different angles and try to sew together along the way one final product.
APESHIT: The lyrics on the album are very emotionally heavy like the music. Just the vibe is a very heavy vibe. Did you set out to create a deep emotional impact?
Ihsahn: Yeah, I would say that. Even though a lot of lyrics are in the third person, it’s not necessarily we who are the narrators. I would say that this album is not a concept album in any subjective or chronological way. We’ve been quite inspired by Svartedauen, a book about The Black Plague, by Theodor Kittilsen, a Norwegian writer. And also French surrealism and the chaotic and claustrophobic movement of water. It’s rather surrealistic and abstract, but the general idea was to create a very dark and decadent atmosphere throughout the album.
APESHIT: Lost in Reverie sounds a lot different from the previous PECCATUM albums. It’s very apparent that there’s STAR OF ASH-influenced sound. So from here on out, how will the two bands progress?
Ihsahn: First of all, the previous album, Amor Fati, came out in 2000. So it’s actually been four years now and during that time, Heidi (Ihriel) did the STAR OF ASH album and I did the last EMPEROR album [Prometheus - The Discipline of Fire and Demise]. In between there, we’ve been through a lot of musical processes and projects so all of the musical work we do of course rubs off on us and will eventually come through in any new music that we do. But I agree that this is probably somewhat, at least in part, more similar to the STAR OF ASH album than the previous PECCATUM albums. But still, I think we set them very much apart–their own entity and their own personality. I think from now on, STAR OF ASH is a much more quiet outlet. Also, that is Heidi’s solo act so that kind of brings out the one side of it in a very quiet way. Whereas we aim to keep PECCATUM that more of the dark and aggressive side of things. Maybe for the next releases, they will very much go separate ways.
APESHIT: Are you interested in reaching a wider audience with PECCATUM? The new album, aside from the black metal parts, can appeal to many different kinds of music lovers.
Ihsahn: Well, what can I say? That’s not something that has been intentional in the way that we’ve written the album. The first release on our own label [Mnemosyne Productions], from a business perspective, to reach a wider audience would be great. I would say that we have been somewhat surprised by the response that we’ve been getting so far as we thought that this was the least accessible album that we have done. But considering the feedback that we’ve been getting and the reviews, it’s been very very positive indeed. What have we done wrong here? (laughs) Objectively speaking, it’s probably too far out, at least for a very commercial or mainstream market. It may appeal to people to outside this “metal thing” and probably be too strange for metal people too. With our experience with the previous albums, a lot of visual artists have also been keen on PECCATUM even though these artists have never done anything with or anything to do with black metal. Maybe the extremity of it all, even though it may be quiet at times, finds its way.
APESHIT: Yeah, it’s extreme in that way as well. Now about your own label, Mnemosyne, what made you guys want to get into the business side of things?
Ihsahn: I’d say that it’s quite a natural step for us since we finished the contract with Candlelight Records. We went searching for a label for a while. [We] got a few offers from small labels and a few quite big ones for a new contract. In the end, we figured out since we more or less do all of this stuff ourselves…we’re very conscious of how we want to be presented and how we want the cover layout, and most of the time, produce everything in our own studio…so we thought that we might as well take the next step and also release it ourselves. From all of the experience that we’ve been getting and all the musical work that we do outside actual recordings and stuff, we thought that it would be interesting now to maybe utilize that experience that we’ve been gaining over the years and try to adapt that to new artists as well. So we hope now to discover some new talent and do some production work in the studio. So we’re currently looking for bands in, not necessarily the same vein, but borderline extreme metal and crossing over to other genres. We think that it’s all very exciting.
APESHIT: Having worked at a label before, I saw how bands became so disillusioned because they did not understand the business side of things. They would blame the label for certain things but it wasn’t actually the label’s fault.
Ihsahn: Yeah, it’s this whole idea that as soon as you get a record contract, you get rich. And the album is out and it is selling a bit less than they expected. They want their money and they didn’t realize that the studio budget is recoupable.
APESHIT: Yeah or they’ll sign their merchandising rights away to the label so they can’t print T-shirts themselves to sell.
Ihsahn: I think that that is something that is really important. But most bands are not informed about these things and probably most of them, like we did, learned the hard way of how this worked. At least we hope with Mnemosyne that we can work rather closely with artists and use experiences that we have. We have quite a lot of contacts with designers and everything instead of our experience where you have one promoter that does press in this country and another one that does press in another country, another guy doing layout and trying to combine that with a pressing factory. There is a lot of work to pull that together to get a product out that is consistent all the way through. We still notice that even now, that with our own label, there’s a lot of hassle to get things done on time and all this practical stuff that comes with it.
APESHIT: Back to the band, does PECCATUM have any interest in touring again?
Ihsahn: As you’ve heard from the album, we would have to hire quite a lot of people to get this show on the road! We’ve been getting quite a few offers lately to play live. It’s definitely something that we might want to pick up on, probably not from pub to pub all over Germany while touring. But rather with putting up single shows where we hire in the necessary musicians and necessary equipment to pull that thing off. And probably also [we have] to rearrange and fit in some of the older material as well. And do more of a single performance-kind of thing. We’re looking into that and it’s something that we really hope to do but in itself it is almost as big a project as recording an album. We’d have to do so many things all over, not being a rehearsing band. But it’s something that we’ll definitely try to realize.
APESHIT: Has your life changed since EMPEROR was put to rest? You’ve kind of been out of the spotlight and this is the first thing that we’ve heard from you since then. Have you been more or less busy?
Ihsahn: To be honest, not much has changed for me personally. I probably have more to do now than then. So we just have really busy days and I’ve had that for many years. So not that much has changed. I did about 200 interviews for the Prometheus album. The Scattered Ashes album also came out, and I did some press for that. Now, we’re doing press again for this album, and in the meantime there’s a lot of stuff to do with the label. I’m also writing a tablature book for the Scattered Ashes album. I’m actually sitting in between interviews now and doing the layout on that one. So no, not much has changed apart from all of the nostalgic talk and about whether EMPEROR will have a reunion and do live shows. And “why this?” and “what that?”
APESHIT: A lot of people were upset when you decided to end the band.
Ihsahn: Yeah, but I mean we realized in the end that we started out uncompromisingly and ended in the same way. Because we knew that it would be for the wrong reasons to continue. If you see what we do separately now, what Samoth and Trym do with ZYKLON and what I’m into now, it was just very necessary. I think that it would be wrong to continue the band for those reasons…because we sold a lot of records and it’s a good living. If it’s just supposed to be a living, I guess you could get any job.
APESHIT: And you don’t want to become tired like METALLICA or something.
Ihsahn: No, I mean that never was the goal. I think people know what is true and what is not true. You’ve probably heard this black metal thing about being “true.” And I think that is being true to your music, not do things for public opinion. That’s what we continue to do. We make music that we like and we make music from the heart.
APESHIT: Definitely. Do you have any plans to work on another THOU SHALT SUFFER album anytime soon?
Ihsahn: That’s probably just as a cold chapter as EMPEROR. I am however writing an Ihsahn solo album right now.
APESHIT: What kind of music is it?
Ihsahn: That would be of the hard hitting kind. (Laughs)
APESHIT: Sounds intriguing! So are you going to be doing all of the instruments?
Ihsahn: Well, probably not drums. I’m a horrible drummer. The other things I think I can do. So we’ll just have to see. That’s basically the plan. That’s probably the main priority this summer, writing material for that.
APESHIT: Does the album have a name yet?
Ihsahn: No, it doesn’t.