Wednesday, March 13, 2019

MORTIIS - Interview and Preview of North American Tour Dates

Innovative Norwegian artist Mortiis has created a unique catalog of music that dates back to the early 1990's.  Emerging out of the Black Metal scene, Håvard Ellefsen developed a solo project for the longer form music he was creating, complete with a dark and mythical image to accompany it.  Those early releases would see him co-founding a genre known as “dark dungeon synth” with significant solo records released between 1993 and 1999.

Those 90's era releases make up what is known as his Era 1 material, which encompasses extended ambient musical pieces that are equal parts cinematic and beat driven.  After touring this solo material throughout Europe, Russia, Australia, Mexico and South America this past year, Mortiis will perform his Era 1 material in USA and Canada for the first time in 20 years.  Engaging in an email interview with the artist just prior to his arrival on North American shores, a number of questions presented allow for a further look into this musical universe.

DaveCromwellWrites: Since you will be playing your Era 1 material which is all instrumental (with some brief spoken word segments) is your goal to let the music speak for you entirely, precluding the need for a vocal microphone in front of you?

Mortiis: I honestly haven´t analyzed anything that deeply...I always just go with what feels right and, when it feels right, that is good enough for me.  That said, I like the idea of instrumental music, as it opens the mind in a different way that say music with sung lyrics tend to do, where lyrical content and the emoting of the voice probably dictates how "you´re supposed to feel" about the music... When I started listening to Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze 25 years ago, it was a very special experience in the sense that it could take me to different places every time...It was instrumental (for the most part) so even though the music was the same on every repeat listen, the landscape of my mind would continue to change... That may sound a bit pretentious. I´m not saying this is why I chose to create instrumental music, but perhaps it did play some role.  Btw these shows are completely instrumental.  I tried the spoken word, and I didn't feel it worked well live.

DCW: Your recent live appearance at The Place Club in Saint-Petersburg, Russia shows your stage set up as a single keyboard embedded within a box-like structure. You appear to be playing the melodies with your right hand, and chord work with your left. What else is going on in there? Do you have effects processors that you also manipulate throughout the performance?

Mortiis: That´s not anything I feel anyone needs to know, haha!  When you try to convey atmospheres and perhaps take people away to strange places, you don´t really feel the need to inform them about what software is going on and what mac model I use up there, haha!  I know some bands love to flaunt gear, personally, for this type of music, it´s the last thing I want to see or hear about.  It´s all about the visuals and sonics.

DCW: Do you have a dedicated sound person that is touring with you? Is that person integral in assisting with coordinating the additional sounds (like percussion and other orchestration) that are necessary to provide the full scope of these compositions in the live environment?

Mortiis: No I do not bring sound people with me.  This is pretty much a one man operation.  I mean I bring one or two assistants, but their job is usually getting me from A to B, handle merch, and so on. It really isn't need in the sense that I bring the stuff that I need and I set it up on stage myself, all the music and all the composition related work, has been done in the studio.  I have no interest in pretending that a lot of this isn't on tracks, because it is, just like all other music created and performed electronically.  Of course it would be awesome to bring along organic instruments and people to play them, and at that point you´d want to bring a dedicated sound technician as well, and it´s something I´d like to do in the future for sure.

DCW: You've stated that you were in part inspired and influenced by electronic ambient artists like Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and others in that musical realm. As an avid fan of these artists works myself (and who listen to their vast catalog on a daily basis) what is it about what they've done that resonated in particular with you?

Mortiis: Musically I didn't pick up a whole lot from them, the thing that really blew my mind was these seemingly endless songs they created. I had never seen anyone do that before, and it almost felt like they were these outlaws that broke a bunch of conventional rules...They made really long songs that covered entire sides of LPs, and they created really atmospheric (and sometimes, in my mind, at the time, dark) music that wasn't created using the instruments I was used to at the time, which was your guitar, drums, vocals... I had listened to stuff like Pink Floyd, but this took things to extremes. I think it was the idea that you shouldn't worry about conventions and standards that inspired me the most. I loved the music, but I didn't really try to emulate it...Mostly (probably) because I wouldn't have known how to do it, haha!

DCW: In addition to those synthesizer pioneers mentioned above, you've name-checked the film score work of Vangelis and early pop experimentation of Kraftwerk. Are you also familiar with and can you appreciate the large catalog of work that Ulrich Schnauss has created over the years?

Mortiis: To be brutally frank, I was not familiar with his work, but I did check him out on Discogs, albeit briefly, and it´s sounding really good. Not quite as "pure" sounding as Tangerine Dream for example, and more melodic (what I heard so far) than someone like Klaus Schulze (who was very soundscapy back in the day) but this sounds really good.

DCW: Your Wiki indicates you have two other active band members in Levi Gawron (Levi Gawrock Trøite) – guitars, programming, mixing, bass (2001–present) and Tim Van Horn – drums (2011, 2017–present).  As it appears you are completely solo on this tour, do you still plan to incorporate them in Mortiis at some point down the road?

Mortiis: Tim and Levi were part of the industrial part of Mortiis and they don´t really have anything to do with this version of it, which has largely been a solo effort. Then again, I have brought people into this version of Mortiis in the past, so never say never I guess.

DCW: The Era 1 music is sweeping, grand and orchestral. It has been stated you've done soundtrack work on films where you've composed atmospheric music along with some of it actually “semi-song structured, with some melody and sense to it." The collected music has been said to be eventually released as a Mortiis album. Is that project still in the works and would you be agreeable to provide a soundtrack to other films if the opportunities arose?

Mortiis: Yeah that music was actually released as "The Unraveling Mind" fairly recently and yeah, if someone offered me a soundtrack job I´d certainly consider it. I mean there have been offers, of sorts, in the past, but more often than not they are from "directors" claiming that their vague "it´s in the pre-production stages" projects have tiny budgets, but offer great promo if I do it. Yeah I fell for that and did a million shows in the old days, getting paid peanuts...So while I may come across as sounding cynical, those days are over for me. If you want it, you have to pay for it, haha!

DCW: You have frequently mentioned how growing up as a “hard rock guy” you were initially inspired by classic metal bands like Iron Maiden, Saxon, AC/DC, Accept and Judas Priest. That combined with the showmanship of Alice Cooper helped formulate your visual presentation. How do you see the progression from that to the ambient soundscape music you ultimately evolved over into? Is there an actual progression, or is is simply the case of being interested in two separate things?

Mortiis I think it boils down to me at one point becoming very horizontal in my musical tastes and interests, as opposed to the really narrow minded hard rock metal guy I was when I was a young teenager in the late 80´ies. It´s really kind of odd, because the scene that really opened my eyes to other kinds of music, was the early Black Metal scene in Norway, and i think by and large, the consensus is, that anyone that comes out of that early scene, is a narrow minded music fascist, and that´s not true at all. People in the scene at that time, had a very diverse and eclectic musical taste...We´d listen to everything from Venom and Mayhem to Diamanda Galas and Devil Doll. so yeah all that said, it definitely was a case of me being into a whole variety of stuff...When I left Emperor, I was disillusioned with bands because in the past 2 years, I had been a member of 2 other bands that had some pretty hopeless members, and gotten booted out of the one band with the talent and obvious future (Emperor) so I was frustrated and pissed off at being in bands...At that point, it was easy for me to chose to go solo, and focus on keyboards and atmospheric music... THAT step was born out of being pissed off and tired of the other options, which was being in a metal band.

DCW: There's a live show of yours from October 1999 at The Batcave in NYC (since closed down) that has recently shown up on YouTube where you perform as a 4 piece (you and three other synth-percussionists and an operatic female vocalist). Do you recall that show or at least that period of your performance art (there is an additional “member” being a sacrificial female figure) and what were you attempting to present from a theatrical perspective?

Mortiis: That was part of The Stargate tour in 1999. It was part of the US tour that year, and it was the first proper US I ever did. That´s Sarah Jezebel Deva on vocals, and Erik and Fredrik, also of No Festival of Light / Ordo Rosarius Equilibrion fame on the percussion. I don´t really remember a whole lot from that specific show, since the tour was pretty much 25-30 shows almost back to back. I recall the NYC show from that tour as being a pretty decent show, although that footage you refer to, I have seen it, is pretty lofi and doesn't really do it a lot of justice...At that time I was really focused on filling the stage with stuff going on, it was really my way of doing what WASP and Alice Cooper had done decades earlier...albeit in a totally different musical setting. I mean I never really ever stopped to consider "hey, you´re existing within this twilight zone where goths, industrial people, metal people, and these odd dungeons and dragons people show up - are they collectively going to get what you´re doing, or understand where your ideas come from?"... I don´t know if I should have, but I never did...I always acted on instinct, and never looked back (well, almost never). I don´t think I ever thought it terms of "drama" or any other theatrical terms like that, I just wanted cool stuff to happen on stage...I like my dose of "thinking man´s music and entertainment" but at least at the time, I didn't consider Mortiis to be that, it was just a question of "OK is this cool? Would I like this as a fan? OK let´s do it."

DCW: With you often mentioning JRR Tolkien an an early influence on, at the very least, your initial visual imagery, one wonders what other authors you have read, admire or are interested in. Another admitted Tolkien devote is celebrated author George RR Martin. With the popularity of Game Of Thrones, many (including myself) went seeking his “A Song Of Ice and Fire” series. Have you read those books, and if not, what else have you enjoyed in the literary realm?

Mortiis: Well to be honest I didn't explore fantasy authors too far outside of the Tolkien realm.  I think at the time I kinda felt that nothing else came close...It was the same way I felt when I started looking for fantasy movies after seeing Conan the Barbarian, and realizing that there really wasn't anything else out there, that wasn't either flat out horrible, or at best low budget...I did like the Excalibur movie, though.  Anyway I did eventually read a lot of the Dragonlance and Death Gate Cycle books, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.  Another series I really liked was The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind.  If memory serves me right, I came across the first book in the series by accident, and it just turned out to be really good.

Beyond that, I've not really been delving too deep into fantasy genres...It´s been a mix of authors like Neil Gaiman, F Paul Wilson (and the fantastic "Night World Cycle"), Bukowski, Hunter Thompson, and not to forget the fantastical (albeit very dark and mostly horror) Necroscope and Psychomech series by Brian Lumley.

I neither read nor watched Game of Thrones so far, believe it or not. I just fell off the wagon...I watched all the Tolkien films obviously, and quite liked most of them...I did read the Narnia books, but they´re pretty much for kids, so I didn't get a whole lot of out of those.  Something people may not realize, is that the original Thousand Nights and One Night stories, are brutal as hell...Nothing to do with the watered out versions most people know. Worth a read for sure.

Mortiis will be performing his latest record "Spirit of Rebellion" in it's entirety.  This work is a re-interpretation of his classic 1994 ambient album Ånden som Gjorde Opprør.

Tour dates are as follows:

March 28 – Metro Gallery – Baltimore, MD
March 29 – Brooklyn Bazaar – NYC (Tickets can be gotten here)
March 30 – The Raven – Worcester, MA
March 31 – Petit Campus – Montreal, QC
April 1 – Velvet Underground – Toronto, ON
April 2 – The Forge – Joliet, IL
April 4 – El Corazon – Seattle, WA
April 5 – Hawthorne Theatre – Portland, OR
April 6 – Metro Opera House – Oakland, CA
April 7 – Lodge Room – Los Angeles, CA

Find tickets to all of the shows and connect with Mortiis via his Social Media outlets here:

WebstoreFacebook  -  Twitter  -   YouTube  -  Instagram  -  Soundcloud  -  Bandcamp  -  Website

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