Latest release: Meir (Roadrunner/Warner)
Band site: www.facebook.com/Kvelertak
Few if any heavy acts in recent memory have created such a major buzz on their first LP, but Norway’s Kvelertak and their heavy-duty blend of black metal, hard rock, hardcore, punk and whatever the hell else they feel like did just that via their self-titled debut. So much so that it caught the attention of powerhouse label Roadrunner Records, who have issued the much-vaunted follow-up Meir (“more”).
Re-teaming with producer Kurt Ballou (Converge) and again boasting exquisite artwork courtesy of John Baizley (Baroness), the band has taken their diverse, aggressive sound to even greater heights. Several weeks prior to the new record’s release, guitarist/vocalist Maciek Ofstad spoke to Loud about the dreaded sophomore slump, whether they’ll return to Australia and fans mispronouncing their name.
Q: So, right now is the difficult part for any band with a new record in the can – you have to play the waiting game before eventually finding out what everyone thinks of it.
A: Yeah, the waiting sucks and we have been waiting. We were in the studio in September, so we got the first mix in October. We have been waiting for four-and-a-half months (laughs), and I’m sick and tired of it. I’m sick and tired of the album already (laughs).
Q: (Laughs) I can understand that. I can’t remember too many heavy bands recently which have created such a stir with their first album. How aware were you of the expectation and hype that you had established when creating this record?
A: Well, you think about it. With the first album we did, no one knew who we were and we didn’t expect for it to do that well. I knew that we recorded a good album, but for it to explode the way it did, I don’t think any one of us had any idea. So when you do the second album, suddenly people know who you are and suddenly all these people have opinions about what kind of music we should play (laughs). And it’s gonna be what it is anyway. We’re a band of just friends playing music, and that’s what we want to do. If people enjoy what we do, then that’s awesome. So you think about it, but you can’t let that come in your way of what the band is.
Q: The well-worn cliché is that you have a lifetime to write your debut album and six months to come up with enough worthwhile songs for a second full-length.
A: (Laughs) Yeah. The first album, some of the songs on there are, at that time they were three years old, they were written in 2007. The album got released in 2010, so it had been a while. It was about being a fun band, and still is, we still have that attitude. This album was written on the road; we had a year-and-a-half almost… We’ve been on tour ever since the first album came out, and we only had like some time to write this record. We took four months off from touring in 2012 to actually be in Oslo, and focus on being in the rehearsal space and actually just rehearsing the songs. But it went well, it’s been an experience. Bjarte (Lund Rolland, guitars), the main songwriter, he’s an amazing songwriter. He makes up songs in his head while we’re like everywhere, and then just works them out on the guitar. Everything that comes out of that guy’s mind is always mind-blowing. It’s cool to have that… I wouldn’t say pressure, but a focus, somewhat of a focus. The album, as I said, it’s a smaller period of time. But I definitely feel that it’s more connected as an album, compared to the first, where it’s just songs, while this is an album. It makes sense; it’s more of a whole. That’s what I personally feel.
Q: It’s certainly preferable to have a tangible sense of anticipation than to have next to none, after all.
A: Yeah, yeah (laughs). I’m very happy that people like our music and like what we do. So yeah, I would much rather have it that way. But you know, it’s cool to go online and like read all these… There’s a lot of positive stuff, but we just recorded and released the video (for “Bruane Brenn”) and now that we’re signed with Roadrunner, we have total freedom of the visuals that we want to do with the band. But we released the video and some guy was like, he commented, ‘major label corporate bullshit’, and the video was made before we signed with Roadrunner (laughs). So it’s cool that people have opinions at least; I just don’t always respect their opinions (laughs).
Q: The internet obviously gives everyone a voice to express said opinions too, which has its pros and cons.
A: Yeah, I think it’s mostly bad, because a lot of people in this world are very dumb, and they shouldn’t have a voice (laughs). But yeah, freedom of speech and everything is a good thing… sometimes (laughs).
Q: (Laughs) Kurt Ballou also produced this album. How was the experience of working with him the second time around?
A: It was awesome. It was definitely cool to go come back there now that we know the guy; we did tours with Converge and the first album went super good. To come back with him now, it was definitely a more relaxed atmosphere. The first time around I was super nervous, because Converge has been one of my favourite bands for a very long time. Just sitting on that couch and thinking, ‘I have to play guitar in front of this guy who has been… fuck, he’s so good, how am I gonna do this?’ I was embarrassed. But it worked really well, to go there the first time and be able to go back, it was cool. It was cool because he knows our band now, he knows what we do, we know how we works and we have like an understanding of where the album should go. Yeah, it’s really cool to work with Kurt – I love being in the studio.
Q: The album title is simple, yet effective too. Is that what you were aiming for?
A: Yeah, we had a couple of working titles, but when Meir came on the table, it was like, ‘yeah, of course, it’s gonna be that’. This album, it definitely feels like it’s a part of the first one, you know? That’s why it’s also called Meir – you know, more. That’s why we also went back to Kurt, and used John for the artwork again, because we want these two albums to kind of belong together, this is like a… extra leg out from the first album. It just felt natural; when Meir came on the table it was like, ‘yeah, of course we’re going to go with that, it really sums up the whole album’. In both ways, like it’s more Kvelertak, but it’s also more. I feel like this record is bigger; the record is just bigger than the first one.
Q: Interesting. Shifting topics, since the first album was released I’ve always wondered how often fans come up to the band at shows, talk about how much they like your music, and then proceed to mispronounce the band name (laughs). Like, not even get close.
A: (Laughs) Yeah, that happens all the time, and it hasn’t stopped either, it just keeps on going. “Ke-velt-er-tack”, “Kevler-tar”; it’s pretty funny. One thing is the band name, but the songs; when people try to interpret the songs. When people try to figure out what the songs are about, I love it.
Q: How conscious a decision was it to write lyrics in Norwegian and not English though?
A: Lyric-wise, Kvelertak I don’t think has ever been too conscious. I think it was more like it was a fun band. I did an interview with Erlend (Hjelvik), the singer a couple of weeks ago where he said that when Bjarte had a song ready, he called Erlend and told him to come and sing tomorrow. And he’s like, ‘okay cool, I’ll just write some lyrics’. It’s not a conscious choice, but we’re Norwegian, so why sing in English? It’s more how Erlend feels it’s natural to sing in his native tongue. And the Norwegian language is richer than the English language; it makes sense, and you get rid of all the clichés (laughs) in all the lyrics that are in English. We do what we do, and that’s about it. The lyrics for this album are definitely way better than the lyrics (on the first album). There are cool lyrics on the first one too, but I think these ones are better. I think he wrote better lyrics for this album, because he knows people are going to listen this time.
Q: You made a sizeable impression during your first trip to Australia as part of last year’s Soundwave bill. Are we likely to see Kvelertak here again soon?
A: Yeah, man. We’re going to be there as soon as we can. We have some touring that we have to do in Europe and go to the US first. But I have noticed Australia in the email chains, so yeah, let’s hope we get down there really fucking fast, ‘cause it’s super cold here, and I don’t want to be here anymore (laughs).
Q: Any famous last words?
A: I’m good – do you have anything cool that I can say? (laughs) Keep on rocking in the free, world, Australia – we’ll see you soon.