Interview with Satyricon

Satyricon is a Norwegian black metal band that was formed in 1990. Mainly the band consists of two members – Satyr and Frost. Satyricon are in a way an exception in black metal- they never cared for trends, for the latest fashion in how one is supposed to present oneself and they always abhorred the tried and tested genre stereotypes. The result is a notable career, spanning eight albums that always put the music first, often as a surprise and challenge to the listener. Satyricon’s last album The Age Of Nero came out in 2008.

They also played at Tuska Open Air 2010 and I had a great opportunity to talk with Satyr. Here is what we talked about.

So to start off, how are you?

I’m in a good mood today. I had a really nice time yesterday. This is an off year for the band. It was our second show this year and we don’t have any more shows scheduled. We made a decision in August (2009) to take a touring brake for 2010. We did only two Helsinki shows – one in February in MetalExpo and the second here in Tuska. They were booked before we made a decision to take a break in 2010. So, it’s nice for us that even if we are on a tour-brake we can still do a couple of shows. And when you do a couple of shows it becomes all the more important that the shows you give are very good shows. Yesterday it was a very vigorous crowd, real fighting spirit. I will leave Helsinki feeling inspired.

Your last album was out in 2008 – The Age Of Nero. How do you feel about this album now? Are you happy with it – commercially and music-wise?

For me it’s most important that I’m happy with it musically. Everything else comes as a result of this hopefully. If you make a good record and you do good tours most of the time it will result in good record sales. That’s nice. This record for example was our best selling record in some countries and overall the sales have been very good. Especially taking into account the Internet downloading and everything. I’m very happy with it but then again the most important thing is that we are musically satisfied with The Age Of Nero. Its commercial success is a bonus for us.

You have only one video from this album – Black Crow On A Tombstone. Will there be other videos maybe?

We did some live footage of “The Wolfpack” because we wanted to do a video for that. But I wasn’t really satisfied with the footage. For me it was a logical song to do a video for and I wanted it to be a live video as I felt that Satyricon is a good live band and the exchange of energy between our listeners and the band has become a very important part of the spirit of Satyricon. So, I wanted to do a video where you can see that and feel that. But I wasn’t happy with the camera angles and the footage and it was just the band on the stage. And for me videos like that are boring. I wanted it to be like you where there. For me it’s – if you can’t make it right then don’t make it. But I was very happy with the Black Crow On A Tombstone video.

Satyricon

And regarding Black Crow On A Tombstone – I read in an interview where you said that you got the inspiration for the song when you were writing and saw a crow sitting on a tombstone watching you. Have you had any other such obvious inspirations?

Yeah, many. My Skin Is Cold is based on a dream. What’s interesting about that is that basically in the dream I was hearing the song and I had not yet written the song. It was interesting because I was hearing a Satyricon song that did not exist. And I could hear the melodies and I could hear my own voice singing words that I had not written. I remember waking up that night 4 or 5 in the morning, it was a crazy feeling. Thankfully I was awake enough to understand that it was very important to write down all the words that I could remember and then I fell asleep again and the same dream continued. So as soon as I woke up I called – this was in Tokyo in an hotel room – one of our crew and told them to bring the guitar to my hotel room. And I started to try to play the melodies that I had been dreaming. And this was basically the essence of the song My Skin Is Cold.

Interesting experience.

Yeah, I like to think that these experiences make good stories but the most important thing is if you can use them artistically. For example with the Black Crow On A Tombstone – that was the same thing. It was a very bizarre happening because it was this crow sitting on a tombstone and if I would move somewhere it would sit there and it would move his head, turn away and as soon as I looked at it, it would turn back at me. So wherever I looked or moved it was always sitting still and its look followed me everywhere. It was very much like – I’m watching you. It was a simple thing but still very powerful because it didn’t feel like a coincidence because it didn’t went on like few seconds, it was more like 10min. Then I wanted to tell my colleagues what had happened but then I thought I could use this story artistically instead of just telling it.

I wanted to ask about the music writing process. Is it like you said – you get inspiration from somewhere and start writing or do you go to a studio and think – I’m now going to write something.?

We don’t really write music in a studio situation. It’s different. Sometimes it’s a bizarre thing like “My Skin Is Cold” but with other songs sometimes I could experience something – for example when I wrote “To The Mountains” for “Now, Diabolical” I was up in the mountains and I had spent some hours getting to the mountain top and when you get up there you can see many other famous Norway’s mountains – you look in one direction it’s that mountain or the other directions it’s this mountain. It was very impressive. And after I went back I wanted to write about something that gave me that grand feeling I had on top of that mountain. That’s very hard. But seeing all this made me make other stuff also gigantic.

So I thought let’s try to make a song that has the gigantic feeling that I was seeing and how the mountains made me feel inside. But other times it’s very simple – you just sit and play guitar and you just mess around and all of a sudden you have a melody. Then you think that’s cool and you start working on that. And there’s nothing special about it. It’s just a very good melody. So, it can be very complex or it could be very simple.

I’d say that Satyricon is not a typical black metal band, it’s a bit different.

I think we feel ourselves that we are a band that has chosen a certain lonely path. It’s kind of like – instead of walking in already stomped path we make our own path and leave a trail. That’s been the philosophy of the band. I feel like as we have done that. It’s my impression that the majority of bands and the music community around the world can like us or not but I know we are a unique band. And I also hope that we are an important band.

Whenever I hear Satyricon I can right away say that it’s you playing. Sometimes with other black metal bands you get a bit confused but you have a such a unique sound that I can say definitely that it’s Satyricon.

Thank you. Well, I mean that should be every artist’s goal to create a distinctive and recognizable sound that has your fingerprint on it.

Satyricon

I read somewhere that your album Volcano got the Norwegian Grammy for best “Best Metal Album”. How important are such awards to you?

Not important at all. I mean, the show yesterday with the way crowd responded – that’s the real world. Awards are more like a thing where business partners; colleagues and friends are like “congratulations” and other blablabla. And maybe for the record company sometimes it could be like a good sales argument. Maybe in some records stores – if they don’t want to sell your records, they can say that its records have gotten many awards. And maybe it could make them change their mind. It can help a little bit but for me artistically I know what it is – it’s like 4-5 people in a committee that will decide. And I think that there have been several times where we should’ve won or there have been times when we even weren’t nominated. And other times where we have won award for like something I think is just ok. I think that for any band the real reality check of where you are at is really on stage. If you don’t have people coming to shows that’s bad – but it could happen to any band if the show is badly promoted. But if you have only few people at the show or aren’t getting a response from the crowd then you are doing something wrong. Overall we have good attendance and people respond to our music in a favorable way.

When we do signing sessions like today a lot of the time it’s just people shaking hands saying it was a good show but for every five people there is always someone that will tell me that you’re music means a lot to me personally and you can tell if there are people who are not that shy people, more open people they can talk about how (in what way) it means something more to them. And so it is for me also – some music is enjoyable music but at other times music can almost be like a medicine for the soul and the mind. And for other people who want to be creative music is like art, same as painting or writing. Music can be an inspiration to bring out the best inside of them. I’m very conscious of the fact that our music can have strong impact on people and it’s an honor and I also look about it as responsibility.

Regarding the audience do you prefer smaller more intimate places or bigger venues like this festival?

Like most bands I’d say it’s both. It’s very simple – if you have your own gig everything is prepared the way you want it and you have enough time to prepare for the show. You’re inside, you get the full lights show and everything and you get to be more accurate and pay more attention to detail because you don’t have to do things so fast. All the equipment is yours. But if you play festivals it’s more rentals, like here. In your own show you get very close to the crowd, you know that everyone is there because of you. Then again at festivals, I think Satyricon is a band that is good at playing in the big stages. Sometimes it can be seen when a band comes on to a big stage that they are uncomfortable there. But we are a band who loves playing big stages. It’s not something we are afraid of, it’s more like – bring it on.

It was seen yesterday at your show also. I saw that all the people were going along with the music and were very happy at the gig. And were very satisfied with the gig.

I like a powerful crowd reaction. If you have a good festival like yesterday it’s more massive then a club show. It’s more massive, everything is louder, more people and more hands in the air.

Regarding the live shows I wanted to ask about Estonia. I’m actually from Estonia, not from Finland. And I know that Satyricon played in Estonia in 2006. Do you remember anything about it?

Yeah, I remember it quite clearly. It was far out in the forest and there was a river running right past. My main memory of it was when we were on stage and it got dark I could see the fog coming up from the river. And it was very atmospheric. I remember seeing that on stage. Sometimes in festivals you have a much better view than the crowd because you are on stage, you are higher up and if it’s in nice scenery you can see some special things. I had similar experience one year later in 2007 in Norway when we were playing at a festival near a big lake with huge mountains in the background. The crowd was watching the stage, I was on the stage and it was a full moon and you couldn’t see the mountain but you could see the shadow of the mountain and the moon sending the light down to the lake up to where people were standing. So it was like a good place to play black metal.

So, will you be performing in Estonia again?

These things always come down to the demand. Even if a band wants to come and play in Argentina but if no agent in Argentina wants to book the band then there will not be a show. That’s basically the way it is. Whenever we have offers coming in we are serious with all of them and as far as Estonia goes – we’ve only been offered to play there once and we did it. And since that we never have had an offer. If there is another offer, we’ll do as we always do – we’ll consider it and if it makes sense then we will come. So it really depends on the people who organize the concert in Estonia.

What do you think about the fact that black metal bands have gotten more popular in recent years? For example Satyricon, Dimmu Borgir etc. Have the people changed or has the genre of black metal changed?

I think that black metal has evolved. Good bands are able to evolve musically and to progress, not change but progress and be subject to evolution. I think the most important thing is – I can speak on behalf of our band only – we say that if we keep doing what we do and we do it well and again and again then people at one point will learn to like what we do. It’s like if you do something well and people see it once they can like it but forget about it but if there are enough good bands, good records and shows then more and more people will start to recognize it. The underground genres – like death metal was for death meal people, black for black metal people etc. have evolved because everything has become more exposed. Maybe some people who would only listen to bands like AC/DC and Motörhead start getting into Slayer or Slipknot or whatever. And then maybe they start listening to Morbid Angel or Satyricon or something like that. They make the next step.

Thank you so much for the interview!

You’re welcome!