Interview with Ihsahn


The Purest Form Of Art – An Interview with Ihsahn

Originally published as the cover feature of Ghost Cult Magazine Issue 13. October 2013

One of the most inscrutable and softly spoken characters in all of metal, Vegard “Ihsahn” Tvelitan made his name as the leader of a seminal Black Metal act before now releasing a collection of grandiose and experimental, not to mention acclaimed, solo material. Polite, articulate and focused while his band mates were being convicted for murder and arson, this virtuoso musician and husband of fifteen years was more concerned with changing the face of extreme music through bold experimentation. Ihsahn’s forthcoming fifth solo release is “Das Seelenbrechen” and the return of Emperor to the live arena in 2014. Ghost Cult’s Ross Baker caught up with the man himself to find out what drives this master of progressive black metal.

It has only been a year since your last album “Eremita”. What inspired such a rapid return to the studio?

Almost immediately after finishing one album, I begin compiling ideas for the next one. After the first trilogy of albums, “Eremita” was a bold step but on this album, I wanted to reset the creative parameters and not fall into a formula of writing. It was exciting to record an album quite quickly to get that live vibe. It was unnerving but a very liberating experience for me.

“Das Seelenbrechen” translates to “The Breaking Of The Soul” in English. Is there a particular story or concept behind the album?

“The whole point of having the German title and the tracklist of songs being atypical was a way of taking a very deliberate side step from what I have been doing. I am very inspired by people like Diamanda Galas and Scott Walker. Their music is much more intuitive, expressive and open to interpretation. Metal these days is too much about editing and polishing everything. I felt the need to do something vaguer and abstract, straight from the soul. The album title is taken from a Nietzsche aphorism where he talks about the purest form of art. It is the only Nietzsche reference on the album but it expresses the feeling I experience when creating this music. All music lovers will realise that feeling when they listen to a piece that mirrors how they feel. It fits with the improvisational feel of the record. Creating the purest form of art is also one of the driving forces in my own life.

Speaking of improvisation, “Tacit 2” in particular seems to have a strong freejazz influence. What made you record that track?

The freeform elements allowed me to work more intuitively. That song is just the one lyric and a freeform structure. Both the “Tacit” tracks were recorded in just one take. Tobias, my drummer and I worked on those songs together. It was not about making freeform jazz, more making sound to fit the atmosphere I wanted to create. My love for Diamanda Galas influenced these songs. She can play Black Metal with her voice alone! She would do with her voice what some acts would try to achieve with a symphony orchestra. I wanted to capture that live feel she has on this record.
After years of playing Metal and music with many layers, I wanted to do something rawer and stripped down. It was very scary for me but very liberating at the same time.

Why have you chosen to explore more progressive sounds in your solo career? Did you ever feel restricted by Emperor in the sense that some fans would only accept heavy Black Metal from you?

At the end of Emperor, I felt restricted by people’s opinions of what the band should and should not be. We were writing as a band on the first album but “Prometheus…” was composed by me alone. I was restricted by the parameters of what my band mates would stand behind and consequently I found my place was in a solo venture as my musical ego is too big to cope with that! (laughs).
I think I am easygoing in all parts of life except for my music. The only person who has any influence on my work now is my wife. She is my sparring partner in many ways. She will tell me when I am on the right track.

You have spoken of your wife Heidi as your “musical sparring partner”. What does she bring to your writing process?

She is very practical and has this sense of quality not just within music. She provides an objective view and helps me find what I am after. If I have a song that I was working on e.g. my “After” album that had many clean vocal parts, she told me, it was very cheesy and too sweet so she suggested I have a saxophone part there instead of a vocal line. That song became my favourite moment on the record. She helps record my vocals and we discuss all my ideas before I start writing an album. She helps me realise the direction I want my records to take.

You have chosen to reform Emperor again for the 20th Anniversary of “In The Nightside Eclipse” why did you agree to this when you have refused to do any shows since 2006?

The 20th anniversary was the sole reason we wanted to do this. It seemed an appropriate way to celebrate our legacy. There have always been offers for us to do something but we turned them down flat. I have been very reluctant to do stuff like this because I wanted to give my own music a chance. I want to be very clear that my solo work is priority now. That is why I waited to record three albums before I did live shows because I did not want to mix in Emperor songs with my material. I wanted to be a 100% solo artist and it would be fooling my audience and me if I presented my new music as second best to the songs I wrote as a teenager. I feel my best is yet to come and I was not interested in the cliché of just playing the old classics. I am still young and have a few years in me left.
I am proud to mark the occasion of the anniversary and celebrate the starting point for us. It made more sense to do this than a “best of” set list. I feel we will perform the songs authentically and with 100% conviction because people would notice the difference. Our fans would know if we were trying to fool them.

Why have you decided to not produce another Emperor album?

We want to be very clear about this. There will never be another Emperor album. The solo work is not a fling; it is the most important thing for me now.
The reason there will not be a new Emperor record is that I do my best work as a solo artist. The end of Emperor was when I came to that conclusion. In practical terms “Prometheus…” was my first solo record. There was an open door for the others to pitch in material; I play more instruments on that one than I do on some of my solo albums.
This is with no disrespect to the other guys but if you listen to my stuff or Zylkon or The Wretched End they are very different in direction. If it were up to me, Emperor would sound like I do now. This is how I write Metal.
The duality of my work with Samoth worked so well for so many years but I feel it has played its part. In addition, many fans would expect different things from an Emperor album in 2013.
If I genuinely thought we, could get together and sparks would fly I would do that in a heartbeat but it would mean many compromises because I would want things to be more experimental. You would never have an Emperor album with saxophone on it!

The line up for these shows will feature your original drummer Bard “Faust” Eithun. Have you decided on the bass player for the live shows?

It will be Secthdamon (Tone Ingebrigtsen) on bass and Einar (Solberg) on keys. The reason we choose Secthdamon rather than Mortiis was that Secthdamon joined when we became a more serious band. Mortiis came into the band when his bass parts were already written so he had very little input in the direction the music took. He even left before that album came out so his involvement was very small.

“Das Seelenbrechen” takes its name from Nietzsche’s famed “Human, All Too Human: A Book Of Free Spirits” You have referenced Nietzsche as far back as “Thus Spake The Nightspirit”. What fascinates you about him?

“Thus Spake The Nightspirit” was written when I had only discovered Nietzsche. I shied away from his work for a while when people started telling me he was a political figure. I did not like the ideas he had been associated with. He hated everything about fascism.

Having Leprous as your backing band has clearly paid off in terms of how cohesive the lineup is live. Will that be a permanent arrangement?

I hope so. Tobias has been inspiring and can relate to playing the more freeform stuff. It’s a win win for both of us. I get a great backing band and they get more exposure. Einar (keys, vocals) is my brother-in-law and both the guitar players are students of mine.
I just give them the score for songs and when I come to rehearsals, we work the magic. Whether this will continue or not depends on if this continues to work. Promoters also get two bands for the price of one!

Where will your muse guide you in the future?

After the Emperor shows next year, I will be working on ideas for my sixth album. I admire acts like Radiohead that have retained their own atmosphere and character whether they have made rock or electronic music. Regardless of how their songs are arranged, you can tell it is them. That is what I want to achieve with my own work. I want to create something pure and individual.



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