Perhaps no other band originating from the influential wave of Norwegian black metal in the 90’s has evolved as far away from its musical beginnings as ULVER has. This ability to successfully shape-shift has become the band’s forte, leaving no peers or followers in sight. Their latest and most accomplished album, Blood Inside, is a swirling mass of sounds, climates, and layers. APESHIT managed to catch up to the highly elusive Krystoffer G. Rygg (a.k.a. Garm, Trickster G) to uncloak the mystery behind all things ULVER.
APESHIT: Blood Inside is truly a remarkable album, but before we begin to discuss your latest ULVER work of art, let’s start off with some quickies about the early days of the band. You must get asked about black metal a lot; “Are you gonna play black metal again?” and related shit over and over again. You must be sick of it by now.
Garm: These people are stubborn that way. No, it’s okay. It’s, you know…it’s the evil past. You can’t escape it.
APESHIT: Now far removed from the “evil past,” what are your most significant memories of those early days?
Garm: I think they’re on a more personal kind of remembering thing…intense romantic emotional aspect of it. More of how things were back in the day rather than specifically relating to the band. It’s more of that kind of nature…ambivalently nostalgic. (Laughs.) But it’s both fond memories and there are aspects of it that I’m kind of glad that I’ve survived and not destroyed myself. I do think that a lot of the people who were in the middle of it back in the early 90’s are glad that it didn’t destroy them as well because it was like, you know, a kind of a…as I said a kind of intense youth culture or anti-culture if you will.
APESHIT: The Theme’s from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell album signified a huge change for the band in many respects. First of all, the album caused quite a conflict with your label at the time. Can you elaborate on the problems that Century Media had with you guys?
Garm: I think that it wasn’t necessarily a huge problem, but I think that we had really different perspectives, or kind of different perspectives. We foresaw different things for the band. I think they kind of expected us to rest on the, you know at the time, black metal legacy thing that we had going on. I think they feared to a much greater extent than us that we would really alienate everybody with that record; whereas, we really kind of expected people to take it for what it was or understand it. We as a band didn’t. We foresaw the album doing rather well. And in the end, it turned out that we were right and the label was wrong considering that the Blake album is actually, commercially-speaking, our biggest success, to now. It’s a bit early to say with Blood Inside so…they might have…
APESHIT: Made a mistake.
Garm: Well, they might have reevaluated their stance due to it. I think they didn’t really believe in it at all. And as a band, it’s not so cool to be on a label that you get the distinct feeling that they don’t believe in your kind of judgment. So I guess we got out on more or less friendly terms. All the quarreling has been exaggerated quite a bit. I had to borrow a lot of money to get out of the contract. That was the biggest real obstacle.
APESHIT: As a result of this disagreement of artistic expression, you started Jester Records…
Garm: I went back home basically. I went back to [our domestic label,] Voices of Wonder. I’ve been with them ever since. It’s easier to go and give a label that’s at your local office a slap in the face than having to deal with [a label in another country].
APESHIT: So was being on your label as free and as much of a victory as you have envisioned it would be?
Garm: Both yes and no. I’ve come to realize more and more that I’m taking more of “the label stance.” (Laughs.) The usual label/artist dichotomy. I see things from a label perspective as well due to bitter experience, you can say. But in terms of personal freedom, hell yeah. I do what I want. I don’t necessarily make good business calls all the time because I deliberately, I try and keep the attitude that it’s a hobby of mine so it still works for me financially as well. It does quite well. I’m actually able to live off of it even though some of the things I release might be more appealing to me than the big general public. So yeah, sometimes I lose some money. It’s all good fun.
APESHIT: What are some of your other biggest challenges as a label manager?
Garm: Personally, it’s actually the same thing that Century Media had with me. It’s trying to get the artist to understand that a lot of records get released every week and it’s not necessarily a snap of the fingers and they’re gonna sell a lot of records. Just dealing with artists and make them see reality sometimes is hard. I’m usually far behind on administration, I guess which is true of a lot of people these days. (Laughs.) It’s nothing special. It’s kind of slow these days. I haven’t been really signing much…just taking some thinking time with everything.
APESHIT: Going back to the release of the Metamorphosis EP, the line-up of the band was reduced to just yourself and Tore Ylwizaker, though guitarist Harvard Jorgensen has remained on board in varying degrees.
Garm: He [Jorgensen] hasn’t always been peripheral but he’s still kind of peripheral. He’s not actively in the band anymore.
APESHIT: So how did the line-up of the band evolve up to that point in time? Did it just die off and you were the one doing everything?
Garm: It’s a different story with all the different people involved. The Blake record became a rather huge process for us. And it took a lot of time and we learned a lot of new things, technology, how to make music, etc. So it was a kind of big process of shaking things up. A lot happened with the band at the time…the thing with Century Media, we bought our own studio, Tore got in at that point. In the end, it was basically just me and Tore just sitting in the studio working with it anyways. I guess Eric chose to quit at that time because he didn’t feel like he was significantly involved I think. I think our other guitarist, Torebjorn, he just kind of disappeared. He was always busy sleeping anyway. Ju, that was more like a musical choice. To be perfectly honest, he didn’t live up to our musical standards even though he’s a great guy. So in the end, it was just Tore and me making music.
APESHIT: The mastery of creating electronic music is not something that most traditional rock/metal musicians can easily adapt to. How did you get your start in it?
Garm: After I finished junior high school, I got an internship at a mastering studio. That was my one and only regular day job. I was hanging around for a couple of years. With the Blake album, with Knut, the guitar player in ARCTURUS, and myself we decided to spend the money on recording equipment rather than just renting it…the thing that people do with apartments–buying instead of renting. So basically [we] just got into it that way. Later we moved our studio to a bigger studio community or complex in Oslo. There we met Tore and things escalated from there.
APESHIT: What are your primary tools and instruments that you use in the studio?
Garm: Well, the computer. Now we actually work on Nuendo, a well known recording/editing tool. We used to use some other more hardware-based solutions but Nuendo is so compatible with everything. We still have mics, a mixer, and pianos and hardware synths and stuff like that. But a lot of it is computers and plug-ins. It’s a long list.
APESHIT: What percentage of Blood Inside is created with live instruments versus synthesized/programmed sounds?
Garm: I guess most of the things on the record are recorded instruments, but they are cut and edited afterwards so it’s very little meaty programming and direct software-generated audio/sound. Most of it is recorded drums, guitars, [and] bass. It’s a lot of editing and rearranging those recorded sounds. So in that way, I say 75% of the record is played instruments, which was something we really wanted to do this time. We had a feeling that we went too cold in a way with Perdition City and these things.
APESHIT: You traveled to Los Angeles last year and got to work with famed producer, Ronan Chris Murphy [KING CRIMSON, TOOL]. How did you originally hook up with him?
Garm: He hooked up with us actually. He wrote me an email many, many years ago–seven or eight years ago–just saying, “Hi. I’m a fan. Do you want to work together?” So I emailed him back some years later, and he was into it.
APESHIT: What kind of influence and impact, if any, did he have on the record itself?
Garm: Production-wise, not so much. Had he been involved at an earlier stage, been part of the process for a longer time he would’ve probably had a lot to say in the production. But for now, this time, he was more like a mixer, helping us to find the sound which was more rock-oriented, almost retro-ish. It’s not so clean as the other more recent releases that we have. In that sense, he helped to kind of define things. It was only for two weeks. We didn’t have the time to get him. He worked with us for two weeks, and we worked on the album for a couple of years. It kind of speaks for itself. It was very good to get away and [have] someone you trusted to do the basic defining of the record. Maybe at some other point, we’ll work with him again and have a bigger…we’re talking about moving out to LA next year just to work in another environment and with other people for a couple of months. We’ve been discussing with Ronan things, projects and stuff like that. It’s all out there.
APESHIT: You have Mike Keneally, who played with Frank Zappa, perform on some songs (“Christmas” and “Operator”). How did you hook up with him?
Garm: He was a friend of Ronan‘s. We were just talking about music one night. I got Ronan to call Mike ’cause he was coming into town to play a concert the next night or something. I sweet talked Ronan into calling Mike and asking him to drop by the studio. So that’s what happened basically. He was really into the stuff actually. That was really quick. He just plugged in his guitar and played for an hour, maybe an hour and a half, and left for his concert. It was cool experience nonetheless.
APESHIT: Most of the live drums are performed by Knut Allefjaer who also worked with PECCATUM and STAR OF ASH. How did you get a guy who’s played with the Norwegian Philharmonic Orchestra to play with you guys?
Garm: Well, he’s actually the drummer or one of the drummers on a record I released on Jester by a band called ROTOSCOPE, which is a JAGA JAZZIST offspring project. That’s how I came to know him. He recorded some drums with us first. I remember that I put him in touch with Vegard (a.k.a. Ihsahn) and Heidi (a.k.a. Ihriel) from PECCATUM/STAR OF ASH. He’s probably the best drummer that I’ve ever worked with. There’s never a question when we’re like, “Hey, let’s call a drummer.”
APESHIT: Blood Inside is dedicated to your family. How has fatherhood affected you as an artist?
Garm: As an artist, not much. It’s just two separated worlds for me. It’s affected me as an artist because there’s not so much time now to be all ego about things, and stay in the studio all night, and things like that. So it’s much more structured, my life [is] now. Much more straight. There is a certain kind of dichotomy between my ambitions as far as music, and [how] all this goes, and my responsibilities family-wise. Sometimes it’s very difficult. (Laughs.) But keep in mind that my kids are still very young. I guess I have a couple of hardcore years in front of me.
APESHIT: It should be fun.
Garm: Yeah. I feel like these days there’s not time for anything else [besides] family and work. That’s kind of time well spent–meaningful time. I’m kind of beyond doing stupid things in my spare time. (Laughs.) So it feels meaningful, and it’s about two kinds of love as well. But what I’m trying to say is that those kinds of love–the ego love and the sharing, giving family thing–is kind of a hard bargain sometimes.
APESHIT: When you get commissioned to work on soundtracks, do you have any conflicts with the producer of the movie or whatever when they say, “No, this is not the sound that we wanted. Can you adjust it?” Is there a lot of going back and forth?
Garm: Sometimes. Sometimes not. There’s certainly more conflicts in that enterprise. But sometimes that can be good as well. When you’re free to make all the choices yourself, you can’t promise that you’ll make all the right decisions. There’s less room for error you can say working with film because so many people have to agree on every aspect of post-production. It’s kind of different.
APESHIT: A while back, it was posted on the ULVER website that a remake of Nattens Madrigal was planned featuring a symphony orchestra.
Garm: Not with a symphony orchestra, but with a string quartet.
APESHIT: What ever happened with that project?
Garm: It got caught in the storm things. It’s still there. The string quartet was recorded four years ago.
APESHIT: Oh! (Laughs.)
Garm: (Laughs.) It’s the other things in front of us that we still have a lot of work with. I don’t actually know when we’ll finish it because it’s kind of a project that we keep returning to. And we’ll work on it for a couple weeks and we’ll be like, “Aww, let’s work on something else.” So it’s a recurring bad dream. A recurring nightmare. It’ll be there someday. It’s not like the most important, or at least it hasn’t been the most important project to us. Otherwise, we would’ve finished it a long time ago.
APESHIT: How has the reaction to Blood Inside been from the other press besides APESHIT?
Garm: It’s been mostly very good as everyone says. But it’s been the first time in many years that it’s met some people who have [had a] hard time swallowing it as well…which is all good. I think we need some antagonism at this point. And after all, it’s a record that’s not very subtle so it’s perfectly understandable that some people have some negative reactions to it. But at the same time that only enhances the love that other people with other tastes have for it. So it’s all solid, strong reactions.
APESHIT: What kind of level of success do you want for this album? Do you guys want this to be the biggest album that you guys have put out so far?
Garm: (Laughs.) No, I never think in those terms. I view everything we do as relative failures. That’s how much of a negative guy I am. I always have the feeling that it’s never entirely what I hoped for and there are still more important things to come. I hardly ever think about that. I’m just glad to just get it off my chest.
APESHIT: What I think is interesting is that you obviously have fans that followed you from the early days when ULVER was just straight out black metal. But what is the other side of the fanbase like haven’t come from the metal roots, so to speak?
Garm: How do you mean?
APESHIT: What are those non-metal fans like? What kind of music fans are they?
Garm: I don’t know how to answer that. People are individuals. They are as different as you and me. As much as I don’t like to be pigeonholed myself, I don’t want to do that too. I don’t think of the people who listen to us as black and white terms. It’s a lot of different people. It’s branching off. Some people from the indie kind of scene [are] getting into it, and you have metal people, and you have people from the jazz/contemporary [scene] getting into it. You have all kinds of people. It’s not like it’s “the metal people” or “the other people” getting into it. (Laughs.) That’s not part of my perspective.
APESHIT: Let’s say that if all the constellations in the sky were to line up, would there ever be a chance that ULVER would ever perform live?
Garm: I think there is. But I’ve talked so much about this and I’m kind of bit tired, weary of the subject.
APESHIT: Logistically, it would probably be crazy to execute such a thing.
Garm: Yes. And like I’ve said many times before, I don’t think we’ll ever play live as an extension of recording one specific album. If we ever decided to play live, I think we would try and take the whole body of work out and try to present it. In such case, I think we would have to take a year off and focus on not making any new records. Just try and put everything into the live thing. That feeling is never really there. It’s always like “Let’s try this project and make another record.” We’re more fond of just sitting in the studio than being out, being in the midst of things, in the midst of the humans.
APESHIT: I know that you started a project, SINDROME, with the guitarist of SIRIUS.
Garm: The drummer actually.
APESHIT: Can you talk about this project and your involvement?
Garm: For me it’s recreational. I’m really just trying to be a singer, nothing else in that project. Just really enjoying being a singer in a band that’s really straight, in-your-face, catchy, melodic, kind of rockin’ stuff. It’s kind of commercial music you can say. For me it’s very recreational after an album like Blood Inside. I really like that kind of music. I really enjoy that kind of music. I love easy music as well. I’m not all into narrow stuff. I enjoy music that’s direct. Daniel [Cardoso], he’s a very nice person. We just kind of hit it off. I decided to join, or at least make that record. I’ll probably make another couple of records with him in between. It’s good to just balance things out a bit.
APESHIT: So what are you going to work on next in the immediate future?
Garm: We’re taking some time off now. I’m finishing this SINDROME project. We’ll probably just take it easy for a while. As I said, I have very small kids at home so I’m just taking some time off. I guess later this year/the beginning of next year, we’ll begin conspiring again. As I also said, we’re considering moving out to Venice [, California] or something for a half a year and just ringing up the studio and renting a house out there, and see what happens. It won’t be something where people will notice that we’re taking some time off. We have a lot of soundtrack music that hasn’t been edited to CD versions. And we have some ideas but it’s hard at this point to say which project we want to realize first. I’ve been talking to some different collaborators as well. It might be a collaborative effort.
APESHIT: Cool. Venice is beautiful all year round.
Garm: I kind of like the place as well. It’s still lingering around in 1968. I think that would be a good spot for us to work in for a while. We have some contacts down there as well so that’s another reason we were going there.