One of the most ingenious, gripping and elusive heavy bands out there put another crown on a career now spanning over 30 years. 30 impressive years we might add, considering the jaw-dropping discography of Motorpsycho. The Norwegian threesome just unleashed what might well be their 22nd record. The All Is One came out through Stickman Records on August 28 and is the final part of a trilogy that deals with ‘Trump’s reign as chief douchebag’. Strong stuff.
Never Mind The Hype got in touch with bassist and leadvocalist Bent Sæther, founding member alongside Hans Magnus “Snah” Ryan (guitar, vocals), who was very forthcoming in answering some nosy questions. No risk of losing interest or inspiration after 30+ years, and getting disillusioned is not an option either. The band has a mind of its own and won’t be stopped. “We are still excited about what we do and the music seems to happen by itself. We suck at repeating.”
Read the review here (in Dutch)
By Ingmar Griffioen
– We have to admit we lost count and had to dig into the discography. We estimate The All Is One to be your 22nd album? That is some achievement. How would you describe its place in your discography?
Bent Sæther: “22nd? Could be – we have lost count too!
This band is it’s own thing and operates seemingly on it’s own accord, and we have long ago stopped trying to control where it wants to go. It is a ‘career in rock’ that at some point turned into an art project and a way of life, and the records are not products as such anymore, more ‘proof of process’: testaments to what we have been up to lately-type things. It’s place in our discography is right now as the newest installment. The process dictated it’s size and shape, but what it means, or what it’s position is in the greater scheme of things, or indeed in our career, we have no idea of. Yet!”
– How do you guys keep this band running for over 30 years? How do you manage to keep motivated and inspired?
“As I explained above, this is not a career as much as an outlet for our reseach and development in music. Since popularity or success in the traditional sense is not a motivating factor, disillusionment with career matters or record sales is not applicable, it is just our own sense of excitement that is a gauge: as long as we are excited about what we do, the music seems to happen by itself.”
– Did you have a certain goal/sound in mind for this release?
“Nope. We wrote the precursor to what became the N.O.X. suite last year for the St. Olav Festival here in Trondheim, and felt that it had legs enough to function on record as well, so we wanted to do that on this one. The other songs are there for perspective and context, and we felt it was important to show versatility – that we do other things than these 40 minutes behemoths too, you know! They aren’t as impressive, perhaps, but they are better compositions in many ways, and they touch you as a listener differently. We are resigned to the fact that we always seem to sound like ourselves however much we try for something else, so we are more concerned with making the arrangements work. Whatever it takes.”
– How does that even work for Motorpsycho, in terms of songwriting? How do your songs originate? They sound very improvisational, and at the same time tight and focussed.
“They are both, most of them. Usually Snah or I have an idea for something. We work on it for a bit and usually relatively quickly find out whether it’s a song in it’s own right or a candidate for a part of something else, or… whatever! Then we try out arrangement ideas until something feels right. This usually also reveals whether it can be an open thing or if it needs to be tight and focussed. Some are like this, some like that – it’s kinda all about finding the balance beween the various variables and giving it a shape that feels correct.
“Arty farty speak this, I know, but… it is like this, sorry! What we always try to do, is never overwork something to the point where it becomes stale before recording it: What I like in other people’s recordings, is the sound of their excitement, and that is something we always try to capture in ours too.”
– I read that the album is the last part of the “Gullvåg Trilogy”. What does Gullvåg stand for and in what way are this album, The Tower and The Crucible connected?
“Håkon Gullvåg is the painter who did the artwork for these three albums. That is really the only reason why it’s been called ’the Gullvåg triology’, but thematically they do span Trump’s reign as chief douchebag, and the lyrics on these albums are almost all informed by this new political reality. We were never political as such (except for Nothing To Say back in 1993!), but we came out of the 80s hardcore scene and really care about these things. These days it feels more important to speak out than it did for many years. That is also probably a recurring theme in these records, if you’re looking for that kinda thing.”
– In 2016, before the release of The Tower, you parted ways with longtime drummer Kenneth Kapstad. At the time you said you needed ‘to meditate on the path forwards’. How did that process take shape? How difficult was it to replace Kenneth?
“Kenneth is truly one of a kind, in every way you look at it. So in a sense he is irreplaceble. But Motorpsycho was a living thing before he joined, and even if he coloured what MP was when he was in it, MP is bigger than any of it’s members. It is a way of doing things and a way of relating to things, and becomes what it needs to be no matter who is in it.
Kenneth was perfect for MP when he joined, and it was perfect for the further development of MP that he left when he did, even if it felt like a betrayal and it hurt like hell when it happened. But that is just the way of any divorce. Snah and I worked at the theatre for a few months while we thought about it and talked about it, and when Tomas showed up, it made sense to work with him.”
– How would you say Tomas Järmyr, an experienced drummer for Yodok, Zu ao, with a background in jazz/improv as well, fits in? Has his arrival done something to Motorpsycho and the sound?
“Tomas is truly one of a kind, in every way you look at it. Right now he is the perfect drummer for MP: his way of relating to the music is fresh and inspiring, and he has just so many different colours and ways of approaching the music that open things up a lot. Different from Kenneth, but at least just as good! In some ways he is stylistically a little more versatile than KK, so he seems to not impose a sound on the music quite as much as KK who is very ideosyncratic and kinda always sounds like himself. MP is about all kinds of musics, so Tomas is a good fit.”
– Motorpsycho is known for not shying away from politically and socially critical lyrics. What were the main lyrical inspirations for this album?
“As stated above global politics have taken a turn for the worse over the last years, and we do talk quite a bit about that. We were never fans of authority anyway, but having it wielded by inept narcissists and ’strong men’ really scares the bejesus out of us. We all need to think and talk about the value of democracy, now more than ever, because the alternative is so much worse. These albums are our comments and insights and standpoints in that debate I guess.”
– Take the title The All Is One for example.
“Yup. pretty specific! Johnson, Erdogan, Bolsonaro, Trump, Putin, that dick in Hungary… here’s lookin’ at you kid!”
– In single ‘The Same Old Rock’ you imagine Sisyphus would be happy. Which exasperating process / event are you referring to?
“This is a quote from Albert Camus. This eternal struggle is what it is – can we accept it and live with it, or is it possible to actually enjoy doing it? It is a lyric about the situation, applicable to a lot of things in all our lives, but nothing too specific.”
– There are also some references to infinity, repetition, reciprocity, which imo fit some of your music. Could you shed some light on the five-stage N.O.X. missile, the mythical or cosmic references?
All the parts are pretty cyclic, there is not a whole lot of that old verse – chorus – verse structure in there. Almost the whole thing is in one tempo, in one key, and the parts are almost interchangeable. This suggested those kinds of ideas lyrically too, and the whole alchemical thing is something that seemed to resonate well. Ditto the Tarot, so these are basically discourses on a philosophical level around things like that, how it’s all just various points in the cycle. We tried on purpose to not make it too specific, and I think we succeeded in that – I’ll have to read them again to tell you any more!”
– It seems very ambitious to put a 42 minute project like N.O.X. as the centrepiece of this album. Was it not tempting to make a separate N.O.X. album?
“Since it is a 42 minute piece, it could have been a full length album on its own, but it felt like it would be both a stronger listening experience and a more truthful representation of what we’ve been up to over the last year to include some more concise and ‘graspable’ pieces. Something about the sheer scope of this album really spoke to us when we decided on this structure though, it felt like every piece of music was reflected in something else that made it all make more sense somehow.
“But, yeah – there is a little whiff of ’the grand work’ about the size of this album that is – if not pretentious, very ambitious and certainly utterly preposterous, but… it is also satifsfying for us to take it this far! It’s absolutly exhausting to listen to of course, overwhelmingly so, but so are all our favourite cultural experiences – from a Mahler symphony, to 2001 – A Space Odyssey, to a Philip K. Dick novel or an Egon Schiele painting: it’s that kind of thing you’re aiming for and that kind of impact you’re hoping the work will have. Ours is not that good, of course – what is? – but you have to strive for that kind of excellence if you want it to mean something to anyone else. It is the ambition that keeps it interesting for everyone, isn’t it?”
– We wouldn’t dare to try and capture the scope of your discography in a few words. But we do feel this release is more experimental than heavy. Some might say ‘a different kind of heaviness’ of ‘new definition of…’. What role does experiment and improvisation play in your process?
“Phew! … what can I say? It is all a part of what we are. We suck at repeating, so we always try to find some new way to do things, it’s that kind of improvisatory mindset that makes it fresh and fun. A lot of our songs have spots where they open up and are free, and as long as somebody is playing something interesting, we’ll stay there and see where it goes. When the moment is gone, we go back to the written music. That is something we’ve always done, so it is a big part of it.
Sometimes someone comes up with something that is so strong that we need to turn it into a song or something, so stuff actually can get written on the fly too. But it is all one thing to us: we don’t split it into different zones or build barriers around the various approaches – they are all valid as long as they are creatively working. This is also how we feel about musical styles – whatever works is fine. So if it’s heavy or psychedelic or plain weird doesn’t matter to us if it works.”
– How is this going to pan out live? Have you already done some live tryouts or shows?
“No idea! We will need to be at least 4 people on stage to make it make sense, for sure, but … we are not interested in copying the record so it will obviously be different anyway, yeah? We have to try different approaches and see what works on a pragmatical level – like always – and see if we can find a way to make this structure an interesting thing to work from. We’ll see – sometimes there isn’t much more to get out of it after you recorded something, other times a piece will live for decades – you never know which ones are what. But we’ll try all of these for sure!”
– We don’t know if the live perspectives in Norway / Scandinavia are as depressing as in The Netherlands and dare to hope: Is there a European tour planned?
“No, it looks like no tour until the second half of next year. We’ll have to see how the plague situation develops. What can you do? We will do a couple of small scale gigs here in Trondheim in October to try stuff out and try to keep somewhat in shape, but that seems to be the max we’ll be allowed to do. Depressing indeed.”
– How do you feel about playing live in front of an audience?
“Depends on the day, but mostly just focused and concentrated and ready to go deep!”
The unavoidable question:
– How has Covid-19 affected the band?
“Well, when it hit, Snah had to babysit his 5- and 7-year-olds for a couple of months, so everything basically just stopped. Tomas had an operation on his foot, I wrote a bunch of new tunes, we mixed the record … Our usual summer airport running around didn’t happen since all the festivals were cancelled, so we had an actual summer holiday for the first time in two decades. That was refreshing. But we have also not had any income, so we are on the dole and financially not having much of a good time. It’s difficult to say the least.”
– Has it influenced (the making of) this album?
“No, not really – this was all written and recorded before the plague hit, so it didn’t.”
And a cliche one:
– What are the plans and ambitions of Motorpsycho?
“To stay true to our own ideals and to keep doing what we do for the right reasons. If it becomes a money thing or a fame thing or a popularity contest or something like that, I hope we have the sense to knock it on the head. What makes this good is the preposterousness of it, the sheer idealism at the base of it and the uncynical nature of it. It has a certain purity and innocence that make it work. My ambition is to keep that alive.”
– Thanks for your time, and the music. Hope to be able to see you live in the foreseeable future.
“Oh, but we will! Might be some time, but eventually – you bet!”
Motorpsycho’s album The All Is One was released through Stickman Records, August 28. It can be streamed through Spotify, ao services, and purchased via the Stickman webshop.