What in some capacity do Dodheimsgard, Fleurety, Virus, Aphrodisiac, Solefald and Zweizz have in common? The simple answer to that is the involvement of Svein Egil Hatlevik, Norwegian multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. His latest project Stagnant Waters did not so much turn my head as twist it right round, tear it off and take a massive dump down my gaping neck cavity for good measure. The artist has always been one for doing things on an avant-garde level but this deranged bastard of an act takes everything to another level embracing all sorts of genres into a pretty damn unclassifiable sonic clusterfuck of an album. I do not know about the waters around Outer Enebakk in Akershus where Svein comes from being stagnant but Ave Noctum took a deep sip from his world and quizzed him on his decorated career.
Ave Noctum: Firstly congratulations on the new Stagnant Waters but way before we get there I wanted to dip back into your past if that is cool? Can you tell us a bit about your formative years and what first introduced you to music in general and got you interested in it all?
Thanks. One of the first memories I recall of desperately wanting a record was when I was five years old. I saw a record with Gene Simmons on the cover at a friend’s place. When Kiss was really at the peak of their career, they decided that all the members should have their own solo album, and the Gene Simmons one had this very classic picture of him with the makeup and blood running out of his mouth. I asked my father again and again and again if I could also have the same record, in the way the five year olds do so expertly, but he didn’t really approve of me getting an album with that kind of demon face on the cover, and eventually we reached a compromise. He bought the Paul Stanley album from the same series of Kiss solo albums, which was the second record I ever owned, the first one being a record with Winnie The Pooh stories. Generally, I don’t think I really had a specifically musical childhood, not any more than your average kid. I would listen to the music that my peers would listen to, like Samantha Fox, Bon Jovi or Europe. From then on it was the path from bands like WASP, AC/DC and Iron Maiden via Anthrax, Slayer and Metallica to death metal and eventually black metal.
Ave Noctum: When did you start developing an interest in actually playing instruments, was it in school, what were you drawn towards, drums and synthesizers have been a big part of your career.
When you grow up in a small place in Norway, you can do sports, play in the local marching band or find your own activities. I did play soccer for a couple of years, but quit as soon as I understood that I really didn’t have to do what my parents told me to. My pals and I were all into metal, so we started a band of our own. Drums were kind of a random choice, since the other guys already guitars and basses; I was the only one who didn’t own an instrument. So my first drum kit was an old and mouldy one that I got for free from my English teacher at the time.
I did take some piano classes 15 years ago, but that only lasted for a couple of months. I also attended music classes in high school, but on a very basic level. The formal training I have is pretty much restrained to theoretic courses in digital signal processing, which has proven very handy when it comes to making music on a computer.
Ave Noctum: What was the area you lived in like for finding music that interested you and also people to collaborate with?
It’s not very far from Oslo, so we would take the bus to Oslo and go to record shops. Another source of music would also be older boys that would let me borrow records that I could tape. That would work as long as you wanted to hear heavy metal and thrash metal records, but when I got into the more extreme kind of music, none of those older boys would have anything interesting. That’s when we discovered the Helvete shop. I remember the first album I bought there being “Necroticism: Descanting The Insalubrious” by Carcass. Oslo would also be the place where we’d meet people who would be interested in the same type of music as us.
Ave Noctum: The first project that is listed as you being in properly is Fleurety which you started with Alexander Nordgaren in 1991. If I am correct you would have been 14 then and you released your first demo ‘Black Snow’ at 16. Were you and Alexander friends in school and did you perhaps stick as being slightly different from the rest of your peers :)?
Yes, that sums it up pretty well.
Ave Noctum: Min Tid Skal Komme is seen by many as a bit of a landmark recording and along with the likes of Ved Buens Ende really put Norway on the map for doing something different and more experimental within the realms of the black metal sound that had been forged in the country. Was this something that was done on purpose at the time or something that happened more by accident?
In the first half of the nineties almost all Norwegian black metal albums were landmark recordings. Norwegian black metal in the early nineties was very competitive and individualistic; it was imperative for every band to offer something unique. Otherwise you would be worthless. Some people would feel this more than others, and I think that we were more occupied with being individual than most bands at the time. Black metal as a genre has always had more artistic aspirations than, say, death or thrash, which is why experiments are more likely to happen within black metal or by bands influenced by it. We wanted to make our music, and we didn’t have much respect for copycat bands.
Ave Noctum: The band never worked on any time scale or particularly quickly but within the 5 years it took between the debut and the follow up ‘Department of Apocalyptic Affairs’ it was evident that the group had really evolved into an even more out there entity. At the time many could not wrap their heads around it, where was your influence coming from then? I hear jazz heavily, stuff like Zappa and Beefheart, obscure folk, bands like The Cardiacs and the sort of sound you would hear if you went to the circus on mushrooms.
The term “experimental” is being used very generously in the extreme metal context, just like the term “avant garde”. Concerning the latter term, if you want you use language in a precise way, it should optimally be applied in retrospect. The avant garde are those artists who do something original first, and then others are inspired by it and try to copy it. In that sense “Transylvanian Hunger”, in its way of purifying the most minimal form of black metal, is more avant garde, the way I see it, than all these bands that are normally classified as belonging to the genre of “avant garde metal”. Similarly, the term “experimental” is also being used in a roundabout way that deprives the word of its meaning. When you perform an experiment, you do not really know the outcome of the process you are going through. So why am I talking about this? Because “Department of Apocalyptic Affairs” was indeed an experiment. We’d made seven song sketches, but we didn’t really have any idea of how the end result would turn out. I’d call it a socio-musical experiment, in the sense that we brought all these people into the studio and had them record different parts in very little time, and the songs sound almost like they could have been written and performed by different bands. I can see why you ask what other artists influenced us, and to a certain extent we were influenced by for instance Frank Zappa and a certain notion of jazz, we wanted to have that swing groove some places. But what if I told you that one of the songs, “Shotgun Blast”, was originally heavily influenced by the song “Just One Fix” by Ministry? Nobody would imagine that. I would just play the exact same repetitive drum pattern from the Ministry song. But then the original idea of the song disappeared completely somewhere in the highly non-linear experiment that was the recording of that album. It was a process of letting go of our preconceptions, and letting the experiment determine the outcome. Therefore the question of what influenced us somehow irrelevant. The album happened, and it was magical.
Ave Noctum: Fleurety have had a very long standing collaboration with cult (and bloody great) British label Aesthetic Death. How did you end up on their radar and what has kept you with them for so long?
I can’t remember the details of how we got in touch with Aesthetic Death initially, it’s more than twenty years ago. We have an extremely good relationship with Stu, who runs the label, and we are very thankful to him that he lets us indulge in our project of releasing very unprofitable 7” vinyl. He’s been supportive and loyal for all these years. Total respect to him.
Ave Noctum: The longevity of the band is also something that is remarkable and you are still going and have new vinyl coming out via Aesthetic Death soon, tell us a bit about what to expect and why do you think Fleurety have kept going for such a long time?
I usually say that making music with other people is the form of social interaction I like the most. Alexander and I have been friends since childhood, and when we meet, we like to make music together. He’s been living in all sorts of remote places across the globe the last ten years, so we meet once every year or so. That’s when Fleurety happens. The upcoming 7” will be named “Et Spiritus Meus Semper Sub Sanguinantibus Stellis Habitabit”. It doesn’t sound anything like “Department of Apocalyptic Affairs”; if it sounds like anything we’ve done before, it would be “Min Tid Skal Komme”. But it’s pretty far from that one too. One of the songs features some pretty abrasive guitar shredding, while the other one is more on the grim side. Hopefully it will be out in a few months, but things tend to take a while with this band, so I wouldn’t be too sure.
Ave Noctum: Leaving them behind let’s go back again to 1997 and Aphrodisiac and your sole release there ‘Nonsense Chamber.’ I have this on one of those Polish Misanthropy cassettes and always found it a chilling and quite disturbing listen. It was at a time when I was listening to a lot of things on labels like Cold Meat Industry and reading about serial killers which in essence is what it is, mixing dark ambience with experimental electronics. This project was you Vicotnik (DHG) and Kim Sølve I believe. It’s a dark listen, what were the ideas behind this and why was it never developed further?
A lot of people seem to think that Kim Sølve was part of this band, but he wasn’t. The misunderstanding stems from the fact that Kim Sølve and I had a project which after a while ended up being monickered Pronounced “SEX”. However, initially, we used the Aphrodisiac name. Aphrodisiac was Vicotnik and I, and it was basically about making the most unpleasant sounds we knew how to. Like you, we were reading a lot about serial killers and taping documentaries on VHS to use as voice sample material. We were also somewhat inspired by the Cold Meat Industry artists, without ever really listening much to them. It was more the idea of unpleasant noises, sounds you would hear in many forms of music. I was listening to composers like Krzysztof Penderecki, György Ligeti and Arne Norheim at the time, composers that utilized the typical kind of post-WWII academic music kind of timbre and tone clusters. I remember when I first heard Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” when I was 16 or so, and it struck me as infinitely darker than any black metal that I’d ever heard. That’s when I started to think that I wanted a project that was dark and unpleasant for real. We made one album with Aphrodisiac, and when we’d done that, we felt like we had used all the ideas we had, and the project was euthanized.
Ave Noctum: Of course you were also involved in Dodheimsgard themselves as keyboard player between 1997 and 2003. I guess that means you contributed to Satanic Art and 666 International. What are your memories of being involved with them and what contribution did you make to the writing of these albums? I was also interested in your memories of playing live with them; unfortunately here shows are very rare but always struck as being rather on the deranged side.
I remember that time as being very exciting. I first got involved after I heard a demo recording that they’d made after the “Monumental Possession” album, and I thought it was extremely great. It had kind of like the same feeling I got from listening to Zyklon-B, which is one of my all-time favourite black metal releases. One of the songs on that demo was “Symtom”, which would end up in a re-recorded version on the “Satanic Art” EP, and the song “The Paramount Empire” is from that demo recording. Dødheimsgard was like a triumphant parade of great riffs, as the song “Traces of Reality” is an outstanding example of. I would come to Vicotnik’s place, and he would play one great riff after another. The way I saw it, this was in 1996, most black metal had become lame and generic, with Dødheimsgard being a beacon in a fog of mediocrity. Of course I wanted to be a part of that. At the time I’d been taking piano lessons for a while, and I’d been listening a lot to piano composers like Erik Satie, Frederic Chopin and Edward Grieg, and I had a couple of ideas of what I wanted black metal keyboards to sound like, as opposed to most of it at the time, which was dominated by boring harmonies and toothless melodies. It was, and still is (although to a lesser extent), a widespread notion that keyboards have no place black metal, and I wanted to prove the falsity of that notion. My contribution to the composition of the albums I played on is more or less writing my own keyboard and piano parts. We did a six week tour supporting Dimmu Borgir in 1999, which was basically 40 or so shitty concerts. Everything went wrong on that tour, musically speaking, not that much more to say about that. But it was fun.
Ave Noctum: Apart from some guesting with Virus, mixing with Solefald and doing a few other things you were quite quiet for a while after that, had you got a bit fed up with music, were other things in life getting in the way?
I wasn’t doing much music from 1999 to 2003. I was making some music by myself that would eventually become Zweizz material. Fleurety and Dødheimsgard were both inactive. These were also my most hectic years at the university, where I was studying computer science and mathematics. I was also spending a lot of time writing for the student newspaper, which led me to the profession I have today, working in a newspaper.
Ave Noctum: Umoral saw you teaming up with the likes of Teloch and Hellhammer and providing vocals. They only ever released a short EP and one that I do not remember really although for some reason the cover art is familiar (look it up readers). Tell us a bit about this, is more to cum? Funnily enough I have Nidingr’s next album up to do on my review pile.
We have recorded 97 percent of what is to become our debut album “Der hvor sola aldri skinner”. It’s been stuck in the pipeline for too long for reasons that are too mundane to elaborate on. One of my new year’s resolutions for 2013 is to have this album out before the end of the year. We have also recruited another drummer to take Hellhammer’s place: AntiChristian, known from Tsjuder and The Cumshots.
Ave Noctum: Last time I caught you on stage there was no chance to talk as for one particular reason you had your head down a toilet. You were not throwing up through drinking too much but you were certainly throwing up a lot of noise as Zweizz your adopted moniker. Tell us a bit about that and how would you describe this extreme form of lavatorial electronics?
It’s an idea I had several years ago, to use the toilet as some kind of microphone stand. You put a camera inside the toilet, so that the face or whatever body part you prefer may be projected on the stage. This way the audience can get very close to the face in a strange anti-intimate way. Many people would find it embarrassing and awkward, which is good. Also, this particular construct with the toilet bowl appeals to me in a way I find hard to explain. The music at those performances was a kind of improvised noise. It’s hard for me to describe, because I get sucked into the act of doing the show, and I rarely remember very specifically what it sounds like. I did one show in Switzerland, where one critic compared the sound to the feeling she would get when she was having her teeth drilled. If that’s what people feel, I think I have succeeded in some way in making the type of sounds I attempt to. As with most noise music, I am also very occupied with the physical experience of sound, and I want it to be unpleasant.
Ave Noctum: What sort of reaction did the mild mannered hipster crowd of head liners Ulver give you at the time, I doubt you were bottled off stage but extreme reactions can no doubt come from extreme art?
Some enjoyed it, some people hated it. But there was no violence or use of coarse language. The most amusing response, I guess, was one critic saying it was “obviously inspired” by some theory by Slavoj Žižek. Maybe not such a big surprise that this response was after a concert at a university campus.
Ave Noctum: Ok I have just pressed play on the new self-titled debut album from Stagnant Waters so let’s go there. Obvious question why that band name, the music although perhaps tying in with some of the song titles is far from stagnant, seething more like?
The band name was chosen way before I started taking part, but I think the origins are that Camille, the guitarist and also the guy who formed Stagnant Waters (initially as a sort of solo project), was going through a very frustrating time. From what I gather, he felt that his life had come to a standstill, and this name popped into his mind. A lot of people have been commenting the same way you do, that the music sounds too hectic for a band of this name. I like to think of it in another way: A lot of things happen in stagnant waters, you have all sorts of bacteria and microbes and strange little creatures thriving in stagnant waters. At this level of magnification, a stagnant pond, for instance is just as hectic as the music you’ll hear on our album. Which is the also reason you should never drink from a stagnant pond, it could kill you.
Ave Noctum: You are working with two others on this project Aymeric Thomas and Camille Giraudeau. They are both French how did you hook up with them and how did you work, face to face or electronically?
We met through MySpace, back in the day when there was a lot of activity on that site. Initially I was pretty sceptical, because I felt I was already involved with too many projects. But then I listened more closely to their material, I quickly changed my mind; it was too good to turn down. So I went to Clermont-Ferrand, where we spent about a week recording vocals.
Ave Noctum: It’s a fantastic mix of styles and ideas and completely and utterly deranged stuff, how the hell did three people put all this together, what parts did you play in the actual construction of the music? Metal Archives has you down as just vocalist.
The songs for the début album had already been written at the time I joined the band, so I don’t really know the details. What I do know is that the other two guys had been sending stuff back and forth through the internet, and the first time they met was that time when I came to France to record the vocals. For our next album we have made two songs, only partially finished at this point, where I have been sending song sketches to the other guys, and they’ve been building the rest of arrangement from that. I don’t know how we will be working in the future, it’ll be interesting to find out.
Ave Noctum: It all sounds very randomly thrown together and certainly the titles and what I can hear of the lyrics are going to make little sense, is there any concept behind it all??
Most of the lyrics were quite coherent and conceptually transparent before I started working on them. Some lyrics were written by the other guys in the band, others were written by guest contributors. I decided I did not want the lyrics to be immediately comprehensible, so I started turning everything upside down, rewriting most of it to make the meaning more obfuscated. It’s kind of like making a sigil, you have a representation of something, and to make that something come real, you reshape it and morph it into something that does not resemble the original representation. It sounds a bit wishy-washy, I know, but that’s the method I chose. It’s a more subconscious approach, a way to add to the feeling of unease and confusion.
Ave Noctum: There is structure amidst the chaos the and ‘Of Salt And Water’ has you doing some really melodic clean vocals over what sounds like some sort of music from a golden age of Hollywood cinema epic adventure. Then the electronic battering ploughs back in and chaos again takes over. What reactions and emotions did you want to get from your listeners?
It’s hard, I guess, to answer this without resorting to the old cliché of “we just made it because we liked it”. As I said earlier, I can’t really tell you much about the making of the album prior to my entrance into the band, but I can tell you the following: When I heard those songs that Aymeric and Camille had been creating, I thought: This is precisely the music I would have made myself, if only I knew how to do this and that better. So, frankly, I would expect the listeners to react with the same enthusiasm as I did back in 2009, or when it was, when I first heard the songs. I have to admit, it did take me a couple of listens for everything to really sink in, but when it did, I was really psyched.
Ave Noctum: What have the reviews been like yet (mine is here http://www.avenoctum.com/2012/10/stagnant-waters-st-adversum) Have there been any really negative ones; they must be really interesting to read as this certainly is not music for everyone.
Thanks for that review. There have indeed been very negative reviews, but they have been very few and far between compared to the enthusiastic ones. I don’t know about the other guys in the band, but I’m used to all sorts of reviews after 20 years in this business. I’ve also written reviews myself, so I know how easy it is to just write whatever spiteful words, or mindless praise for that matter, that come to mind. Most of the time, reviews with a very low grade tell you more about the writer than the music. If someone wants to say they hate my music, it’s fine, but more often than not these reviews would just be some guy hating something on the internet. And hating something on the internet is very easy. We’ve received some very heart-warming praise for this album, where you can tell that the reviewer had obviously put a lot of thought and effort into articulating her or his thoughts. That inspires me a lot.
Ave Noctum: That said it must have been interesting for the record label Adversum to market you. Luckily the label is done by people who you have worked with in the past, tell us a bit about your relationship with them?
Seeing that the “avant garde metal” moniker has existed for quite some years, I don’t think marketing would be any more difficult than “folk inspired black metal” or “shoegaze/depressive black metal”. Other aspects complicate things more, for instance the fact that we are not a bands doing concerts. I guess it’s the same thing as an election; if you want to win a lot of votes, you need to meet people. The people behind Adversum are friends, which makes it easier to discuss things properly, and seeing we share many of the same goals concerning what kind of music we want to hear, and therefore what musical ideas we want to promote, we have a very good relationship.
Ave Noctum: Just before the album got to me I heard your track on the tribute to Enslaved album. ‘Større enn Tid – Tyngre enn Natt’ was hardly an orthodox and purist version of the song, did you surprise Pictonian the label who I assume gave you freedom to do what you wanted and what about the fans? I can see some crying into their mead.
I must admit I have no idea about how it received. I didn’t really take part in the making of this cover version, it was something the other guys in the band started working on before I joined. We had a discussion about this song, and personally I feel no need to pay tribute to Enslaved, because I don’t really have a close relationship to this band. So we agreed that they would complete the song without me.
Ave Noctum: So what next for Stagnant Waters, could you ever pull things off live or is this a studio project only and an on-going one?
This far we have been making music in a very indulgent way; we have been using any studio technique we needed to make the music we wanted. If we at one time decide to become a touring band, which doesn’t seem very likely at the moment, we will have to make songs that would sound good in the concert format.
Ave Noctum: Whilst researching this I have just come across Self Spiller a side project of many including yourself, members of Sigh, Agalloch, Formloff and countless others. There is an album Worms In The Keys on Vendlus which I am going to have to hear. Tell us a bit about your involvement with this?
My involvement here is limited to sending some sound files to Jason Walton of Agalloch, who masterminds this project, in 2007 or something. I’ve listened to the album several times to see if I can find any trace of my own contribution, but I have no idea what’s me in there.
I hope people will also check out the Zweizz & Joey Hopkins album, released in 2011. That was my one of my main musical priorities in the years from 2007 to 2010. Sadly, Joey Hopkins died in December 2008, and I spent a lot of time finishing the album that we had been working on. He was a huge talent, and at one time he was also supposed to be the vocalist of Stagnant Waters.
Check out, for instance:
Zweizz & Joey Hopkins – “No clue”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLNufw1QEDo
Zweizz & Joey Hopkins – “The Goat”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBYik8wWilI
Zweizz & Joey Hopkins – “Smash, Politics, Gag”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLFG_3_HdwU
Ave Noctum: Thanks for taking the time to do this in depth interview. You have the stage, anything you want to say to our readers?
Thanks to you as well, and thanks to anyone who actually read this far.
Interviewed by Pete Woods