We join Emperor frontman Ihsahn at home in Norway to find out why he’s finally reconnected with black metal.
If you enter Norway’s Telemark region, you’ll get murdered. That was what mapmakers were told in the 1600s, when they wanted to plot its terrain. And that was the grisly fate of some unlucky outsiders who dared to visit.
“There was this old-school B&B run by an old lady, and no one came out, and they found all these corpses in the mire behind it because she’d apparently killed everyone,” explains Ihsahn, leaning forwards conspiratorially like a campfire storyteller. “I’m not sure if it’s true, but it goes to describe some of that strident nature. And that very self-contained, hard-to-open-up kind of spirit. I associate that with black metal as well.”
Identity is a tricky thing to pin down. Ihsahn’s new EP, Telemark, is about identifying with the take-no-shit ethos of his geographical predecessors. But it also sees a return to the black metal of his Emperor days, reflecting his own upbringing, musical development and the man he is today. Which is why we’ve come to his hometown of Notodden, to risk seeing Telemark for ourselves.
We arrive at Juke Joint Studio in the early evening, after a dark, two-and- a-half hour drive southwest from Oslo airport. So far, so safe. Ihsahn greets us at the door dressed in a black shirt and jeans, the standard uniform of a metal elder statesman, and ushers us inside. He presents us with a box of Melkehjerter milk chocolate hearts, Norway’s signature confectionery product, before lovingly showing us the beautiful analogue desk from the legendary Stax Records. It’s rumoured to have been used by Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley, and was originally shipped over by US blues musician Seasick Steve.
Ihsahn used this equipment to record his first solo album, 2006’s The Adversary. Since then, he’s released six more full-length records, increasingly leaning into the avant garde and melodic rock. Telemark came about because Heidi, his wife and musical co-conspirator of 22 years, had long been challenging him to revisit black metal – and to sing in Norwegian for the first time.
“I think sometimes she thinks I go too far, like I try to be a pop musician!” he laughs. “I resisted it for a while, because I was thinking of a full album, and I think that would be far too boring. But in a specific project like this about Telemark, there were so many interesting dots to connect.”
Heidi suggested three titles: Stridig (Strident), Nord (North) and Telemark. But before Ihsahn started writing the songs, he chose two English-language covers to sit alongside them: Iron Maiden’s punkish Wrathchild and Lenny Kravitz’s groovy Rock And Roll Is Dead. Incongruous at first glance and a world away from 90s black metal, they set the stage for the independent attitude and authentic sound he hoped to capture.
“I wanted this to be very old-school, I wanted it to sound like one band ensemble in a room, and both the Wrathchild song and the Lenny Kravitz song have that kind of bare-bones, rock’n’roll sound to them,” he explains. “So that kind of set the sonic scene to work from. I wrote the entire EP for that ensemble – drums, bass, two guitars and screaming vocals and a brass section. It was kind of simple, you know? And then singing in Norwegian added an element of excitement and surprise.”
All three original songs are intense, driving, frostbitten anthems that nod to Emperor’s heartland, but are executed with the progressive flair and slick production Ihsahn’s become known for. The title track even incorporates folk melodies, filtered through blastbeasts and windswept screams, ending with the dramatic, yearning declaration: ‘Telemark!’
Lyrically, they express the “strident nature” of the Telemark people that comes across in his anecdotes about the cartographers and the murderous woman. There are references to traitors, the national anthem, a tempting female siren called a Hulder, and a troll who trapped his wife in the mountains – all wrapped up in visions of winter.
“Because I started going back to my musical roots, it made sense to build my geographical roots into that,” he reasons. “At all the Emperor shows, we were introduced as: ‘From Telemark, Norway: Emperor.’ Even our live shows today are introduced like that. So we’ve always had this kind of strong connection to this area, for some reason, and now that I’m older I’ve really grown attached!”
This strong, local character is something Ihsahn only became aware of once he started travelling. Only by being exposed to other cultures could he come to understand his own. It’s something he explored on My Heart Is Of The North, from 2016’s Arktis: ‘I have felt the hunger, the restless howling call, to lift my gaze across the seas, to seek out foreign shores / Yet for all riches, they may bring forth, the undeniable remains, my heart is of the north.’
“Everywhere I go, I meet people who also love Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, so it’s like cultural common ground – metal is a global thing, and we all know how to relate to and behave around that music,” he explains. “But everything else is like a bonus. When you go to Japan, the culture and the way people relate to each other is different. And of course you notice that reflecting your own kind of social heritage in a way. You get to know notice peculiarities that you won’t notice when you’re in your own environment. It’s like me meeting French people. I’m like, ‘Don’t fucking kiss me!’ Ha ha ha, I’m just kidding.”
Ihsahn’s clear that Telemark’s about a regional, spiritual kinship rather than bloodlines and family history, but it’s impossible to talk about the EP without acknowledging his background. Ihsahn, real name Vegard Tveitan, was raised on a farm in Notodden. When he was a child, his grandfather would spin wild yarns about trolls, casting himself as the hero.
“He sort of made you believe that stuff, so I still have these images in my mind of my grandfather fighting trolls!” he chuckles. “You don’t really think of those stories as part of your cultural heritage, because no one really reflects on that to start with. But it kind of adds up when you start looking back and connecting it with other things. When you develop a more conscious reflection on it.”-
When he wasn’t reluctantly babysitting his brother, eight years his junior, Vegard was obsessing over music. He had started piano lessons when he was six years old, got a guitar four years later, and would record demos on a four-track using the set rhythms on an electric organ. Luckily for him, he had no neighbours and could play as loudly as he wanted. His first album was Kiss’s Rock And Roll Over, he got “really into” Twisted Sister, and will never forget the night of October 5, 1988, when his dad took him to see Iron Maiden.
“They were like gods,” he marvels, casting his mind back to age 13. “And that was kind of part of the experience. Bruce Dickinson, the lights went on, the pyro went off – Moonchild! He was jumping onstage. There were 5,000 other people there, we’re breathing the same air. And that is what art is like, and that is what music can make you feel. It makes you connect to something otherworldly. I could imagine it’s a similar appeal to what religious people feel.”
By the time he was in Emperor, he felt trapped in Notodden. Here he was, in a band making abrasive music for an exclusive underground crowd, sporting long black nails, inverted crosses, spikes and a leather coat. The town misfit. “We really wanted to get away. [Guitarist] Samoth lived half an hour from here, so in this town I was the only one doing that style,” he explains. “I was like the ‘infected fox’ – the sickness that foxes get, where they lose their fur. That’s a Norwegian expression. It’s like an outcast. But probably all, you know, self-inflicted!”
Nevertheless, as Ihsahn mentioned earlier, the band were introduced as: ‘From Telemark, Norway: Emperor.’ They invoked tradition, even if they didn’t understand the weight of it yet, just as they used the imagery of the dramatic landscapes on their doorstep without feeling a particular bond.
“In the early artwork of Emperor, there were always big forests and the full moon. This is something that we all saw around us. But this was the romanticised, larger-than-life version of it,” he explains. “As time goes by, you feel more and more attached to that. I didn’t really have eyes necessarily for the bigger picture. But you will see that tomorrow – just watching the outside, and the lake here, and forests and everything, you will see where it comes from.”
At 9.30am the next day we meet Ihsahn at Heddal open-air museum, a collection of traditional farm buildings on a hill. It’s the first time we’ve seen Telemark in the daytime, and we can see what he means. The sky is blue and an eerie, pale yellow light streams through the clouds, illuminating thick sheets of ice on the ground. The air is crisp and still, and trees darken the horizon. Ihsahn points to a wheel at the bottom of a cabin – at the family farm, his grandfather would make him sharpen tools on one just like it. “I hated it!” he laughs.
Down the hill is Heddal stave church, its striking tiered outline and wooden panelling familiar from photos of black metal arson attacks on similar structures in the 90s. Though this one remained untouched, and Ihsahn wasn’t involved in the wave of vandalism, he casually mentions that armed townspeople gathered to defend it from him. He was only 16; it must have been a weird experience.
“It was totally understandable,” he says. “It was the beginning of that black metal thing, it was very, very… shocking, I think, because it was a very extremist movement in many ways, and people did not see that coming.”
We wander over to an information board depicting a man in the Telemark Bunad, traditional Norwegian dress. Ihsahn recently wore the costume for Telemark’s promo pictures, and between this and lyrics about the national anthem, he’s quick to dismiss any notions of nationalism. He remains thankful, though, to have grown up in a country that supported his passions – even when those passions were controversial.
“Someone recently asked if I was proud to be Norwegian, but I just feel very, very at home,” he says. “There’s this deeper sense of longing. It’s not like it’s better than anywhere else, but over the years I’ve developed a sense of gratitude. I heard this interview with Tobias [Forge] from Ghost, mentioning how he also was so ‘after the fact’ grateful for coming from a country that allows you to think, ‘I want to be a musician.’ We have a mixed economy and a very, very strong social security system.”
When we ask if there’s a reason Ihsahn’s written Telemark now, he suggests it’s related to that acute sense of longing for home, which he feels when he’s on tour. “There’s a really strong pull. Obviously most important to my family, but also just that sense of belonging,” he explains. “I think that is something that may come a bit with age as well – everything else that seemed more exciting, the grass was always greener, you’re kind of past that.”
Ihsahn, Heidi and their son and daughter live two minutes from the farm where he grew up. When he’s not away, he’s working on new music or teaching the next generation of guitarists above Juke Joint Studio. His grandparents are laid to rest in the small cemetery of Heddal stave church. Telemark is where Ihsahn’s always lived, and it’s where he helped create a whole new genre of music. It has its folklore, but so too does black metal, and Telemark is perhaps more autobiographical than it first appears.
In January 2020, Norwegian authorities combined Telemark with Vestfold to form the new Vestfold og Telemark county, redrawing the map. Ihsahn is griping about it. Emperor have a history of using Telemark’s axe crest, and it made him happy to look out for the road signs on his way home from a trip. Still, he can’t fully rationalise exactly why it bothers him so much. After all, identity is a tricky thing.
“It’s a political, structural thing where they kind of share administration, but they also changed the signs to combine the two,” he explains. “I have no political or practical attitude towards it, I don’t know yet, but it just feels wrong! I live in Telemark, and nothing’s going to change that!”
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L.A. grunge pioneers L7 stage their comeback with a snarl and a wink
As she prepared to go onstage one night in Australia in the early 1990s, L7 frontwoman Donita Sparks heard a concert promoter introduce her band by describing their bodies in belittling language that can’t be printed here.
“Look, the #MeToo thing — for me it’s like #WhoHasn’t?” Sparks, 56, said recently of the sexist harassment she and her bandmates endured for years as one of the very few all-female bands in the male-dominated grunge scene. But because there were four of them, Sparks quickly pointed out, “I don’t think any of us ever felt in danger” of the type of physical assault that movement has brought to light.
“Men were kind of scared of us,” she said proudly.
With its sludgy riffs and singsong melodies, L7 found big alternative-era success — opening for Nirvana, scoring an MTV hit with 1992’s “Pretend We’re Dead,” even starting the abortion-rights advocacy group Rock for Choice, which staged high-profile benefit concerts by the likes of Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam.
By 2001, though, the band had splintered, driven apart by personality conflicts and diminishing record sales.
So when Sparks called band co-founder Suzi Gardner, 58, in 2014 — she wanted to make a documentary about L7 and needed help gathering archival materials — she didn’t know what to expect.
“Then Suzi picks up and goes, ‘Good eee-vening,’ ” Sparks recalled, laughing as she offered her version of the guitarist’s goofy Dracula impression. “I knew right away everything was cool.”
Five years later, L7 has more than a movie to prove it.
The quartet whose rise and fall was documented in 2017’s “L7: Pretend We’re Dead” is hoping to rise again with “Scatter the Rats,” its first album since 1999, released this month through Joan Jett’s label, Blackheart Records. On Friday, the band — which also features bassist Jennifer Finch, 52, and drummer Dee Plakas, 58 — is set to kick off a North American tour at the Glass House in Pomona.
It’s easy to see why L7 picked this moment to come back. Like Bikini Kill, the influential riot grrrl band that recently launched its own reunion, L7 made its name with bruising yet catchy songs about the appallingly casual predation faced by women.
“Some guy just pinched my ass,” goes the group’s snarling debut single, “Shove,” from 1990. “Drunken bums ain’t got no class.”
Remind you of anyone’s boast about grabbing women by a different body part?
“We like to think that women have come really far, but in many ways, so little has changed from the ’90s — or even from the ’70s,” said Jett, who recruited L7 to back her in 1992 for a Rock the Choice gig at the Hollywood Palladium. “People still hold girls to a completely different standard. And L7 has got something to say about it.”
Yet as timely as the band’s old tunes can feel — not to mention newer ones such as “Dispatch From Mar-a-Lago” — there’s something about how L7 delivers its message that sets this band apart right now.
In an era of intersectional feminism and woke #MeToo activism, Sparks and her bandmates strike a coarser, more freewheeling tone in songs including “I Came Back to Bitch” (“I’m the big dog / You’re simply the bone”) and “Burn Baby,” with its repeated chant of “Lock us up! / Lock us up!”
The women definitely have institutional misogyny on their minds. But they also want to make you laugh, and they’re willing to risk a bit of political incorrectness to do it.
“I think we’re a menace with a wink and a nod,” Sparks said as she sat next to Gardner at a Cuban restaurant in Atwater Village. Her prominent gold tooth glinting in the sun, the singer — who famously threw a used tampon into the audience at England’s Reading Festival in ’92 — added, “We were always slightly threatening, and I think we’ve still got that.”
“We’re not afraid to call things out,” Gardner said.
“But,” Sparks clarified, “without a case of the sinceres.”
Asked what she thinks of today’s liberal youth movement — members of which are sometimes derided as “snowflakes” — Sparks said, “I think they’re in for a world of hurt. You have to pick your battles or you’re going to exhaust yourself.”
“Throwing a conniption because you can’t get the banana-mango vape oil?” Gardner chimed in. “Spare me.”
“The night is long and filled with terrors,” Sparks went on. “And they’re coming for you, snowflake.”
That L7 is contending with these shifts at all comes as a surprise to the band’s members. Sparks, who anticipates each question she’s asked as though it’s sure to be dumber than the last, said she grew up dead-set against rock reunions, at least until she caught the Sex Pistols in 1996.
“They were fabulous,” she said. “Then again, I was wasted.”
More to the point, L7’s breakup wasn’t friendly. Sparks felt abandoned; Gardner spiraled into depression and stashed her guitars beneath her bed, where they sat unplayed while she cared for her ailing mother. The estranged friends lived just blocks from each other in Silver Lake, but they say they never saw each other.
“Actually, I saw you a couple times in your car,” Gardner said as she sipped an iced tea. “One time I even honked.”
“You did?” Sparks asked. “Was I in the Cougar?”
“No, the other car.”
“Oh, wow,” Sparks said. “And you honked at me? Interesting. I probably thought it was one of my exes.”
After patching things up through work on the documentary, L7 started playing live again, albeit without any new songs.
“Writing and recording again — that just seemed impossible at the time,” said Gardner, who described a lengthy effort to regain her confidence as a guitarist.
“But a reunion only has a lifespan of a few years,” Sparks said. “So after we exhausted that, it was like, ‘OK, if we want to keep doing this, we need to make a record.’ ” The L7 movie premiered just days after Donald Trump won the 2016 election, which provided plenty to write about.
“We obviously weren’t going to do the super-earnest thing,” Sparks said. “But we were cool with sticking our necks out. ‘Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago’ is like our ‘Springtime for Hitler.’ ”
That irreverent sense of humor — and L7’s defiantly primal sound — may have kept the band’s comeback at a lower boil than, say, Bikini Kill’s (which opened with four sold-out shows at the Palladium). With some exasperation, Sparks pointed out that L7 has never been invited to play Coachella.
“We thought we were friendly with Goldenvoice,” she said of the company that puts on that cool-hunting mega-festival. “We play other shows for those guys. I don’t know why we haven’t been asked.”
Yet Sparks and Gardner say they’re unwilling to play by the rules of modern pop stardom, in which an artist’s entire life serves as fodder for social media.
“You don’t need to see me weed-whacking, OK?” Gardner said.
“Privacy is cool,” added Sparks. “Years ago, people were curious about our sexual orientation, and I never wanted to reveal that because I felt like I wanted to be a role model for whoever wanted me to be a role model.” With a laugh — and with far saltier words — she said she wanted everyone in L7’s audience to think they could have sex with her.
“I’m an open field,” she said. “Anybody’s got a chance at this.”
L7: Reunited Alt-Rock Icons on New Album, #MeToo, Getting Pranked by Mike Patton
“We’re not the spokespeople for pussies,” declares L7 frontwoman Donita Sparks one sweltering afternoon in Brooklyn. “We’re a rock band.” Given how they were among the first grunge-rock bands to achieve widespread success, you’d think the Los Angeles group wouldn’t have to make this clarification — certainly not over 20 years in, amid a high-profile, long-anticipated reunion tour. But so it goes with the glass ceiling and the first ones in line to smash it. Between their pro-choice benefits, anti-rape anthems and infamous festival tampon tosses (take THAT, heckling dudebros!), L7 have made plenty of cracks. (For further proof of their monumental impact, check out the 2016’s crowdfunded documentary L7: Pretend We’re Dead, released by the band themselves.)
Following an extensive hiatus, the four-piece — currently comprising Sparks, guitarist/vocalist Suzi Gardner, bassist Jennifer Finch and drummer Dee Plakas — recently wrapped the latest run of their ongoing reunion tour, which kicked off in 2015. For the trek, the quartet have been performing incendiary hits like “Pretend We’re Dead,” “Fuel My Fire” and “Shitlist,” as well as their recent comeback cuts, “Dispatch From Mar-A-Lago” and “I Came Back to Bitch.” We caught up with the band to discuss their historic past, raucous present, their next moves — and that one time Mike Patton may have taken a shit in their orange juice.
YOU RECENTLY ANNOUNCED THAT YOU’RE WORKING ON YOUR FIRST NEW ALBUM SINCE 1999. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THESE NEW SONGS?
DONITA SPARKS Well, we had done the reunion, but we didn’t really want the pressure of new material at the time, so it was just like, “Oh, let’s do the meat-and-potatoes L7 set, without that pressure.” And so, as time went on, we kind of accomplished that: we were starting to jam on new stuff, and just decided to put out a couple singles, “Dispatch From Mar-a-Lago” and “I Came Back to Bitch” — and now we’re doing a full length.
SO WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE ALBUM?
SPARKS Nothing, except for …
SUZI GARDNER … We’re writing like crazy.
SPARKS We’re writing like crazy, and we do have a PledgeMusic campaign up now that’s doing very well. We will either put [the album] out ourselves, or partner up with a label who’s got some fabulous distribution. We’re unclear about that aspect at this time.
THE PLEDGEMUSIC CAMPAIGN AWARDS PLEDGES WITH TONS OF SPECIAL GIFTS, INCLUDING DONITA’S RECORDING MIC, RARE VINYL, SIGNED SET LISTS AND MORE. WAS IT HARD TO PUT ANY OF THESE ITEMS UP FOR BID? THEY’RE PIECES OF YOUR HISTORY.
JENNIFER FINCH Yes, but sometimes you have to clear out the old to bring in the new.
SPARKS We’ve been holding onto this stuff [for such] a long time in our closets, and at some point, it’s good to just kind of …
GARDNER … let it go.
SPARKS Let it go.
GARDNER Real estate is not cheap in Los Angeles, and so, we have to be realistic with all this crapola.
DONITA, IN A 1997 ROLLING STONE INTERVIEW, YOU STATED THAT YOU COLLECT JIM CARREY MEMORABILIA. WILL ANY OF THAT BE UP FOR GRABS?
SPARKS Well, now, I can take my 8 x 10s that are signed by Jim Carrey, and photoshop my face next to his to make it look like we were a couple, and maybe get it on one of those “Who dated who?” type of celebrity websites. Maybe then we’ll start spreading that rumor that me and Tom Cruise actually used to date. But no, I do not collect Jim Carey memorabilia anymore, because I had to dismantle my Jim Carrey breakfast nook. So I just have a couple of signed 8 x 10s.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TOURING WITH FAITH NO MORE IN 1992?
FINCH Oh my god. Dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty, dirty. That’s my comment.
SPARKS I believe Mike Patton defecated in our orange juice.
FINCH Because he thought it was funny. Like, really, he thought it was cool to do that. So we’d have like [Faith No More members] Roddy [Bottum] and Billy [Gould] walk in and go, “Don’t drink the orange juice. Don’t drink the orange juice.” And I’m like, “Why?” And they go, “It’s cryptic.”
GARDNER Roddy and I got attacked by a hippopotamus in Germany.
WOW, WE WOULD LOVE TO HEAR THAT STORY. CAN WE HEAR THAT STORY?
GARDNER Well, we were playing in a circus tent place and we snuck out to where they had this hippopotamus in a tank, and we walked towards it and it lunged at us, and we [makes wiggle moves]. It was really scary.
FINCH I wonder if that hippopotamus is doing a reunion tour.
SPARKS I wonder if that hippopotamus is a pair of shoes right now.
FINCH Take it to the dark place!
POLITICALLY, LYRICALLY AND MUSICALLY, YOU PAVED THE ROAD FOR LOT OF BANDS. ARE THERE ANY BANDS THAT YOU’VE SEEN OVER THE YEARS THAT YOU WERE LIKE, “I REALLY LOVE WHAT THEY’RE DOING. I REALLY THINK THAT THEY’VE CAPTURED KIND OF WHAT WE STARTED?”
SPARKS No. I don’t know, man — there’s not a lot of meat-and-potatoes bands out there. Since our reunion, we’ve been getting lumped in with a lot of bands who we are blown away to be mentioned alongside: The Stooges, and Motörhead, and you know, these, like … great rock bands. Our name being thrown into those circles, I think, is our proudest achievement, because that’s what we started out to do.
HOW IMPORTANT WAS MOTÖRHEAD TO YOU GUYS WHEN YOU WERE COMING UP?
GARDNER They were very influential. We rocked out to them a lot. I still rock out to them, serial-listening in my car, so I’ll be listening to them until I’m killed by death.
SPARKS And Motörhead were an island. Their music classified as metal and hard rock, but the band didn’t belong to any specific scene.
FINCH And they crossed [into] DIY and punk and all different genres .
SPARKS Yeah. And I think, you know, the Ramones are a lot catchier than Motörhead tunesmith-wise. I think we’ve got a lot of that, too, ’cause we like the Ramones, as well, and the B-52s.
L7 WERE AMONG THE FIRST BANDS TO DEAL WITH SEXUAL ASSAULT, EQUAL PAY AND OTHER FEMINIST ISSUES THAT HADN’T YET PROLIFERATED THROUGH THE MAINSTREAM. WHEN YOU REFLECT ON THE SCENE IN 2018, IN THE WAKE OF THE #METOO MOVEMENT, IN PARTICULAR, DO YOU THINK FEMALE PERFORMERS ARE BETTER OR WORSE OFF THAN WHEN YOU WERE ON THE COME-UP?
FINCH I think certain people are more aware about safety, and, in general, that’s a good thing.
SPARKS Maybe now, they’re more aware about sharing their abuse stories with each other and getting empowered that way. See, I think that there was possibly a lot more shame attached to some women’s issues back in the day, so I think that that’s a cool thing about the youth, that there’s more sharing.
However, these changing attitudes can sometimes come with a little hypersensitivity that I think, in a hyper-reactive sense, can be a little boring and unnecessary. It sucks the fun out of some things, you know what I mean?
In some aspects, you have to get over it. If you don’t like a certain word or something, then combat that with some humor, as opposed to getting up in arms about every misstep somebody takes. People say stupid things all the time. I said something stupid on stage last night. We can’t nail everybody to a cross, because then you don’t know who your friends and enemies are.
FINCH It’s a big learning experience, I think, for society right now, and there’s gonna be missteps. And you just flow with it. You just go with it and support people the best you can.
WE’RE ALSO SEEING CHANGES TO DIY COMMUNITIES, ON AN INSTITUTIONAL LEVEL — PEOPLE SPEAKING UP ABOUT SYSTEMIC ABUSE AND ABOUT THE POWER STRUCTURES THAT SOMETIMES LEAD TO SITUATIONS WHERE WOMEN FEEL UNSAFE, AND THEN CREATING REAL CHANGE. WERE THESE TYPES OF POWER STRUGGLES DISCUSSED AMONG ARTISTS IN THE L.A. SCENE, TO YOUR KNOWLEDGE?
FINCH I think there’s always been this joke of a “casting couch” — the understanding that there are players, and there’s a dynamic of sexuality in the entertainment industry that has always been talked about. But the talk about definite structure and who controls the power is a new conversation.
SPARKS And I’ll say something: You know, there are also plenty of people who would be happy to give a blowjob to get a part in a movie, also! So there’s that side of it, too! There are some people who would go very low to get a part in a film, so, you know …
FINCH Or get high.
GARDNER I’m really bummed. I can’t sleep my way to the top.
SPARKS I wonder if I’d have ever blown somebody to be like a No. 1 artist, or on the cover of Rolling Stone. [Turns to her bandmates] What do you think? Would you have blown someone?
FINCH Yeah, it’s interesting, you know. I didn’t know it was actually an option in our particular genre, but now, we’re actually experiencing power. We have employees, so we make sure those employees understand and sign off that they’re gonna get sexually harassed on a day to day basis. Men, women, trans — it doesn’t matter. We’re equal opportunity harassers.
SPARKS And offenders.
FINCH Oh yeah, offenders.
SPARKS Contact our attorney, Larry Parker.
GARDNER But seriously: It is good that the environment now is that you don’t have to suffer in silence if you don’t want to. Like, there’s people who are speaking up. The pendulum is swinging and whacking us all, and I see that as a good thing.
WHO ARE SOME MORE RECENT BANDS THAT YOU’VE BEEN DIGGING LATELY?
FINCH You mean besides Imagine Dragons? [Laughs] No, which actually, secretly, I really like.
SPARKS I like FIDLAR, Tijuana Panthers, Bleached — and oh, there’s a lot. There’s a lot of music.
FINCH: We’re big Peaches fans. There’s a lot of stuff out there.
YOU’VE BEEN PLAYING TONS OF SHOWS RECENTLY, MANY OF THEM SOLD-OUT. HAVE YOU BEEN SURPRISED AT ALL BY THE TURNOUT AND RECEPTION?
SPARKS It’s been very heartwarming. There are older fans and then younger fans, and the older fans are nice and thick and they can support the light ones very easily. Young kids are just flying around, and the older ones are just kind of sturdily holding them and catching them. So that’s kind of cool.
FINCH: Most of our fans do do Crossfit, so … [Laughs]
AND DOES L7 DO CROSSFIT?
FINCH [Raising hand] I have!
This interview has been slightly edited for flow and clarity.
L7’s Donita Sparks Talks Trump, Music Industry Sexism and the Band’s Enduring Legacy
As the burgeoning Seattle grunge scene of the early ‘90s exploded into a global phenomenon, fans and record executives alike scrambled to find the next denim-and-flannel-clad savior of rock’s new movement, which favored anguished power chords and stripped-down aesthetics over the glam metal bombast of the ‘80s.
But as Nirvana and Pearl Jam led the crusade with their brooding agro-anthems, the all-female punk foursome L7 flexed irreverent with furious, tongue-in-cheek ragers like “Wargasm” and “Fast and Frightening” (which boasts the iconic lyric, “Got so much clit she don’t need no balls”).
The Los Angeles quartet — Donita Sparks (vocals/guitar), Suzi Gardner (guitar/vocals), Jennifer Finch (bass/vocals) and Demetra Plakas (drums/vocals) — often got lumped in with their grunge contemporaries, but their music bore more similarities to the unhinged punk-metal of Motörhead and the satirical, gory stage production of GWAR. L7 enjoyed minor commercial success with 1992’s Bricks Are Heavy, featuring the hit single “Pretend We’re Dead,” and founded Rock for Choice, a series of pro-choice benefit concerts that featured Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine. But they also gained notoriety for their onstage antics — particularly for their performance at the 1992 Reading Festival, where Sparks tossed her used tampon into the mud-slinging crowd and yelled, “Eat my used tampon, fuckers!”
The ensuing years were not as kind to L7, as lineup changes and dwindling label support led them go to on an “indefinite hiatus” in 2001. But in late 2014, Sparks began assembling archival footage for a documentary that eventually culminated in the crowd-funded L7: Pretend We’re Dead, which is out on DVD on Friday (Oct. 13). The band hit the road for a well-received reunion tour in 2015, and last month they released their first single in 18 years, the sardonic, Trump-skewering “Dispatch From Mar-a-Lago.” They currently have a new single in the works as well.
As she prepared to fly to Brooklyn for a film screening and Q&A, Sparks talked to Billboard about the new documentary, sexism in the music industry and L7’s enduring legacy.
When did you start doing interviews for this project?
God, it’s such a blur now. Probably three years ago or so. I think the footage and a lot of the photographs had been handed over the year before that, so the director, Sarah Price, had the visual content, but then the audio stuff was coming in about three years ago.
Did you all take part in the interview process separately?
Yes. At the time we hadn’t even spoken yet or seen each other in 17 years or whatever. It was just via email and stuff like that, arranging the interviews.
You said previously that working through all the archival footage originally prompted you to consider if it was the right time for a reunion.
There were friendly salutations and things in the email, so that was a good sign that nobody seems to hate each other here. But the initial thing was me posting stuff to a Facebook page that I had created, and I wanted to archive my photographs and band photographs that I thought were great that I wasn’t seeing on the Web. So I started posting those, and we were getting all these likes, and it was an unusually enthusiastic Facebook crowd. Every time I’d post something, it was like, “Reunion!” So then it was just kind of like, “Wow, I guess there is a demand.”
Do you feel that with the documentary and reunion tour, there’s been a reappraisal of L7’s legacy?
I think so, because we were sort of forgotten about, a bit swept under the rug. We didn’t have a big digital footprint on the Web. We had no press agent, so we were not contactable to do pieces on the ‘90s or whatever, like maybe some other people were who had still press agents or things. So we were kind of forgotten about. This has definitely sort of reminded people that we were kind of an interesting band.
Journalists often connected you to the burgeoning riot grrrl movement of the ‘90s. Did the band actually identify with or feel connected to that movement?
Well, we were all punk rockers, but riot grrrl was formed on college campuses, and we were urban. And we were kind of from the nitty-gritty, impoverished city artist scene. We weren’t college kids. We were more from the underground in that way.
I think that riot grrrl was more of a political movement using rock as their delivery mechanism, where we were a rock band who happened to be feminist. So it’s a little bit different. We were not on a political platform. We formed Rock for Choice, but we were not riot grrrls. We were grown-ass women, not college kids. And riot grrrl was very serious, and we had a lot of fun.
It’s refreshing to see you were willing to straddle that line and have fun with your music.
For some people, we weren’t political enough. And I would read stuff over the years saying that we were not feminists. And it’s just like, “What the fuck are you talking about?” I’ve gotten so much shit my whole life for being a feminist, and to be called not a feminist is just so outrageous. So we either weren’t political enough or too political. We gave a shit but we wanted to have fun, too.
It’s kind of ironic how you’re sometimes perceived, and then you’ve got to try and set the record straight, which I think this documentary does. And actually, I think our new track also supports that sort of approach as well.
When did you start writing “Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago”?
We wrote it a couple months ago, but we felt it was very urgent to get it out. We thought, “He’s either gonna get impeached…” — and then we thought Mar-a-Lago was gonna get wiped out by the hurricane. So it was just this urgency, like, “We gotta get this song out! Because it may be irrelevant in a very short amount of time.” We’ve never felt such urgency to get a track out.
You’ve had so many crazy, buzz-worthy moments in your career—in particular, the Reading incident in 1992. How do you think those antics would be perceived differently in a quicker, Internet-based news cycle?
I don’t really know the answer to that question. I know that it is a shocking thing that I did, and it is still very shocking, but I find it funny that young gals are really embracing that, and they’re throwing tampons at us onstage. Not used tampons, but they’re homaging us by writing messages on tampons that say, “We love you L7!” and they’re throwing them at us.
You go through phases of, “Oh yeah, that was really cool that I did that!” and then, “Oh God, I hope my mother never finds out about that,” or, “Oh God, why did I do that?” And then, years later, it becomes this moment that the young gals are really digging. So as far as the Internet cycle, I really don’t know, but it certainly has lasted because I’m asked about it in every interview I do.
That must be a head-trip for you, that the incident has been co-opted as a gesture of empowerment by your fans.
Which it is, but it was also an absurdist moment, because I am an absurdist at times. So it wasn’t like this big, “I am woman, hear me roar” thing. It was kind of like, “Fuck you! You think you can throw mud at us? Well, we’re throwing blood at you.”
How have your reunion shows been different than your first go-round in L7?
Well, I think we’re all better musicians, even though we got really good. We started out as just having a cool thing going on, and then we got better as songwriters and better as musicians as time went on.
Is it more financially viable for L7 to tour now?
At our peak, I really don’t know where the money went. But right now it’s good. We’re not making huge bank, but we’re not [just] breaking even either. I don’t think we’re getting Misfits reunion money, but it’s just kind of interesting: We’ll play a festival and we’ll be fifth down the line on the bill, but we’ll get the article in the Chicago Tribune or whatever. It’s this weird thing where we’re not getting placed in a certain place on the bill, but we’ll get the press.
So I don’t know. What is that? I’m not sure. Is that sexism? It’s like, once again, here we are in the Tribune and we’re seventh on the bill. But whatever, we’ll take it. We’ve always been the underdogs of rock. That this has not changed much doesn’t really surprise us. As our manager says, “You’re getting skirted.” Isn’t that ironic? Skirted.
Do you still experience that sexism on a regular basis in the music industry?
We’re not dealing with that from our peers. We never have. We’re not dealing with that from the media. We used to, but we don’t anymore. Media are seeing us more as sort of legacy territory. They’re less gender-obsessed now than they used to be with us. But the people holding the power strings, you’re still at their mercy. And those suits, whether they be record label suits or concert promoter suits, they hold the power. Whether [sexism] is a factor, I am not sure. I don’t know. I’ve never known what goes on in the back rooms.
It seems like being in L7 could be kind of a thankless job when you were in the thick of it. Have the reunion shows and documentary changed your perception of L7’s career at all?
I can look back and see some mistakes that were made, but I would say for the most part, we were just a band of those times, in a way. For a band to last a long time and sustain a certain level is an incredibly difficult thing to do.
We lived the full experience of a rock band, I feel, which is: you climb, and then you plateau, and then you decline. That’s a very interesting life experience that not many people have experienced. So it’s all good. The fact that we did suffer those horrible, shitty times, it’s like, wow, that’s some character building stuff. That’s some humble lessons. So we’re very thankful for everything that we have right now.
Interview with In Flames from www.overdrive.ie : LINK: https://www.overdrive.ie/feature-interview-this-new-album-is-the-best-that-in-flames-can-offer-right-now-bjorn-gelotte/ FEATURE INTERVIEW – “This new album is the best that In Flames can offer right now.” Björn Gelotte Speaking from the Nuclear Blast offices in London, guitarist Björn Gelotte tells us about the approach to ‘I, The Mask‘ and how the experience was one that has somewhat…
Venom’s Cronos on Touring with Metallica, Working with Dave Grohl, Modern Metal, and More
The metal veteran also tells stories about the Beastie Boys, Brian Johnson and more
Although Venom are 15 studio albums deep into their career, the band’s longtime singer-bassist Cronos surprisingly admits that he still doesn’t feel like he’s “made it” — despite influencing countless metal acts over the years.
But with the arrival of the group’s latest offering, Storm the Gates, few veteran metal bands have remained as ferocious sounding as Venom this far into their career.
We recently ran Part 1 of our interview with Cronos, where Venom’s long-time leader discussed his band’s influence on other bands, silly record label advice from back in the day, and refusing to embrace the mainstream, among other subjects.
In Part 2 of our interview, Cronos talks about how Venom gave Metallica one of their first big breaks, befriending Brian Johnson before he was even in AC/DC, getting sampled by the Beastie Boys, and why he considers most modern metal bands to be “Crap! Fuckin’ crap!”
ON TAKING METALLICA OUT ON THEIR FIRST-EVER EUROPEAN TOUR
It was a great time. And it was a good time for those guys to actually be able to hit the European shows. We were looking for bands like us, because as we always said, “We have a different crowd. We’re not pulling the same kind of crowd that would go and see… Mötley Crüe or whatever.” A friend of mine used to have a bootleg stall, and he came to me one day with a VHS tape, and said, “I’ve seen this band in San Francisco, and they are just like you guys.” And it was a Metallica show, with Dave Mustaine wearing his Welcome to Hell shirt.
So, when we got the opportunity to get in touch with Jon Zazula and go over there, we said, “There’s a band on the other side of the country…” Now, we traveled 3,000 miles from England to New York, and those guys traveled 3,000 miles from the West Coast to New York, so that’s fair — we’d meet in the middle. And then after that, I remember I told James [Hetfield] that story, and he said, “Oh no, no, no. There is a band that’s really, really like you guys.” And that’s when he told us about Slayer. He said, “There is a band in LA just like you guys.” And then from there on, it went from Exodus and everybody started coming out — it was amazing.
But the Metallica boys, they’re hardworking guys. Fuckin’ hell, I couldn’t take that away from them. We were getting to the end of the 7 Dates of Hell Tour in Europe [in February of 1984], and we were all getting ready to go home and put our feet up and start working on the next record. And I said, “What plans have you guys got?” And I remember Lars said, “We’ve lined up our own tour.” And I was like, “Wow, you guys never stop!” I don’t give a shit if people say, “This album is terrible or that album is terrible.” Every band that has a long career is going to have good and bad releases. And I don’t give a shit about what people say about Metallica’s career as a whole — they were hardworking guys in the early days, and nobody can take that away from them.
ON BEING LONGTIME FRIENDS WITH AC/DC’S BRIAN JOHNSON
He’s a very good friend of mine — he lives up the road from me. He just lives around the corner, really. I remember when I first went to his house with my first single, and he was saying, “Yeah! The apprentice rock star!” [Laughs] Yeah, Brian’s been a good friend. He was in a local band in Newcastle, called Geordie, and they used to do covers by Nazareth. He’s got that kind of a voice, like Dan McCafferty. So, he was perfect for AC/DC. I heard the stories straight away — when he went for the audition, he met the guys in the pool room, had a couple of games of pool and a couple of beers, then went in, went through “Whole Lotta Rosie” and a couple of other tracks, and Angus and the boys looked at each other and said, “We’ve got our man.” That’s so understandable, because Bri is such a down-to-earth guy. He’s a very private guy — he keeps to himself. I haven’t seen him since he’s left the band, unfortunately. He’s off spending time with his family. But I’ll bump into the guy soon, I know I will.
ON WHEN THE BEASTIE BOYS SAMPLED PART OF A VENOM STAGE RAP FOR THEIR SONG “MARK ON THE BUS”
That was great. The Beastie Boys are the Beastie Boys — they’re just trying to have fun. A lot of people get offended by them, but I don’t see how you can get offended by those guys. They came and did some shows here in England, and when they got to Newcastle, they couldn’t stop talking about Newcastle Brown Ale — the beer. And all night onstage, “Cronos lives in Newcastle! Yeah!” Those guys don’t mean any harm. If people take them wrong… then get a sense of humor guys, come on.
ON WHY HE THINKS CERTAIN GROUPS LIKE THE PMRC MADE SUCH A BIG DEAL OUT OF THE CONTENT OF ROCK LYRICS, INCLUDING VENOM’S “POSSESSED”, IN THE 1980s
Bored politicians’ housewives with nothing better to do. Trying to please their friends in their communities. It was all based on nothing — it’s ridiculous. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? Look, the only the way trends can develop and change is with freedom of speech, and trying out new ideas. And as we know, many bands come and go and they never make it. And for all the bands out there, it’s a small percentage that really do make it at the end of the day. But when you start curbing what you can and can’t say, well, for fuck’s sake.
Yes, people do cross the line, but that’s in the name of freedom of speech. There was some American comedian that wanted to come here to the UK, and he had a really sexist show, and he got stopped and they wouldn’t give him the visa. And everybody in England was ticked off, because we were like, “No, no, no. Let him come. Let him face his critics. Because if he is up on stage saying racist and anti-feminist things and all the rest of it, well then, let’s hear it — it’s his point of view.” But I don’t think you should ever stop this sort of thing — unless somebody is breaking the law, well then, you should let people have freedom of speech. It’s the same thing, really.
ON APPEARING ON THE SONG “CENTURIES OF SIN” ON DAVE GROHL’S PROBOT PROJECT
Come on, Dave is such a fuckin’ nice guy. He’s such a professional. And there’s just no ego or airs and graces about the guy — he’s just so flat down-to-earth and straightforward. And also, an absolutely amazing musician. Working with him was such a great thing, that there were no industry people involved. Me and Dave spoke to each other — we did the deal together. We didn’t have to have big lawyers fighting over paperwork. When Dave actually sent me the music, he sent me the music for the whole album, and said, “Track #7 or whatever it was is what I was thinking of for you. But to get a feel of the album, here is the rest of the music.”
I took the song that he had for me and basically wrote three separate sets of lyrics, and I sent him a rough mix of the three different ideas. One of the versions was a bit like, “Hanging out with the guys, going for a beer, rock n’ roll,” and another was a bit sleazy — prostitutes and bars. And then the third one was kind of the Satanic element. And Dave came back, and said, “I want the Satanic element!” So, I put the bass on and did the vocals. It never was really intended to use the bass, because he’d only asked us to do the vocal. But I put the bass on anyway, and said, “Look, use it if you think it adds to the track. If not, then I’m happy for you to just use the vocal.” But he also used the bass, which I was really proud of. But Dave is Dave — he’s fuckin’ great.
ON MODERN-DAY METAL
Crap! Fuckin’ crap! Honestly, I’ve been saying this for so long now. The thing is, you’ve got a lot of people who are now just taking other people’s music on the internet, instead of creating their own. The creative side of the world seems to have hit a brick wall. Now, we haven’t had any new music or fashion explosions at all now — for at least the last 20 years. When you think back to the rock n’ roll thing of the ‘50s, the peace and love thing and Hendrix in the ‘60s, the glam stuff that came out in the ‘70s, punk, and then hip-hop… but then it stopped.
But that came with the birth of the internet and all these people making these YouTube channels. I was sitting and watching this one guy, and he said, “I started a band. I tried to make it with the band for a couple of years, but I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I put a YouTube channel together, and just used other people’s music and other people’s ideas, and now, I’m able to get the YouTube royalty.” And I’m going, “Wow. Two years… that’s all you’ve spent? Two fuckin’ years? I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and I still don’t really feel like I’ve made it! Come on, two years?! You fuckin’ wimp!”
But I think it’s what’s affecting music is the lack of originality and the lack of purpose and the lack of conviction. I think people need to look at themselves and reevaluate. Because without new ideas, this whole scene is just going to get stale. But I don’t know, I’m looking at these magazines now, and looking at these young bands, and I’m thinking, “They all look the same. They all sound the same.” To me, the only bands worth going to see are all the established bands – the Metallicas, the Megadeths, the Slayers, the Venoms, the Dimmu Borgirs, the Immortals, the Behemoths. These are the bands that are still doing something up onstage that is exciting and good to watch and listen to. But these newer bands, you could swap members, and you wouldn’t even know there was any changes. Name the drummer — nobody knows. Name the guitarist — nobody knows. Which band is this? Who does he play drums for? Nobody knows. The whole thing appears to have been watered down.
Our thanks to Cronos for taking the time to speak with us. Pick up Venom’s latest album, Storm the Gates, via various outlets at this location.
New interview with Cronos from Venom. Link: Consequence Of Sound https://consequenceofsound.net/2018/12/venom-cronos-interview-part-1-storm-the-gates/ Venom’s Cronos on Storm the Gates, Songwriting, Influence, and Anti-Mainstream Approach It’s not often that you can credit a band for helping create not one, but two different metal sub-genres. Venom, however, with such classic albums as Welcome to Hell, Black Metal, and At War…
Interview with Nergal from www.ultimate-guitar.com Link: https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/news/interviews/nergal_i_composed_all_the_material_for_new_behemoth_album_just_playing_an_unplugged_gretsch_guitar.html “I Loved You At Your Darkest,” Behemoth’s 11th album, is as brutal, savage and menacing as anything to ever come out of the dark and creative brain of the group’s singer and composer, Nergal. At the same time, there are uncharacteristically moody instrumental pieces, cleaner vocals and…
Interview with Nergal vocalist for Behemoth from www.rocksverige.se Link: https://rocksverige.se/intervju-nergal-i-behemoth/ INTERVJU: Nergal i Behemoth Behemoth med Nergal i spetsen är högaktuella med nya albumet “I loved you at your darkest” Vi träffade Nergal för en kort stund när han nyligen besökte Stockholm och vi pratade självfallet om nya albumet, men även om musiken till teaterpjäsen…
Watch this clip for a video message from ex-Misfits vocalist Michale Grave and an interview from www.joelgausten.com where he says that he wished the Original Misfits all the best on on their reunion shows. Interview Link: http://www.joelgausten.com/2018/09/from-christ-to-crimson-ghost-michale.html Michale Graves Video Message From Digital Tour Bus: Interview with Michale Graves Ex-Misfits Vocalist Integrity. That’s…
Generation Kill is the band fronted by former Exodus Vocalist Rob Dukes who appeared on albums like “Exhibit A- The Atrocity Exhibition” and “Exhibit B – The Human Condition” , “Shovel Headed Kill Machine” and “Let Their Be Blood” which is a re-recording of their classic album “Bonded by Blood”.
Dukes recently appeared on the Jim Norton & Sam Roberts New York based Radio show, which is a comedy based radio show on the Faction Talk Station on Sirius XM Radio which has featured guests like Nancy Grace.
You can listen to the audio interview below and Dukes discusses his hobby of Antique Car Restoration, premiers a new Generation Kill song during the interview, you can hear the new Generation KIll song by listening to the audio interview from Sirius XM Radio which they premiered on the show.
He also discussed his split with Exodus and claimed that they were all drunks that drank before playing shows and were ruining the opening songs when playing live, while he wasn’t drinking. They also said that being in a band some members can be like a “cancer” ruining the band by thinking they are the king and getting everyone to go along with them and lying.
He he also said that the truth always rises to the surface and when karma catches up it can be a “motherfucker” and you have to say they deserve it.
He also said he is still friends with Exodus and had played a concert with them last year.
Full Audio Interview and Generation Kill Song Premier “The Rat King”:
Exodus – Bonded By Blood – Re-recorded Version with Rob Dukes:
Interview with Glen Benton from Deicide from www.deadrhetoric.com . Link: http://deadrhetoric.com/features/deicide-decades-of-blasphemy/ Deicide – Decades of Blasphemy By Kyle McGinn Few bands in death metal have a legacy that can match that of Deicide. From their early demos as Amon and then the classic self-titled release and beyond, they’ve left a legacy of the extreme.…
Interview With Deicide from the Tampa Bay Times Newspaper: https://www.tampabay.com/blogs/soundcheck/2018/09/10/deicides-glen-benton-talks-biking-in-tampa-writing-about-satan-aging-in-death-metal-and-more/ The Suncoast bike trail near Lutz is not the sort of place you’d think would inspire some of the most brutal Satanist death metal ever to come out of Florida. But if you pass a biker with an upside-down cross scar burned into his…
Judas Priest has announced their be a celebration next year in 2019 for their 50th Anniversary in an interview with Metal Kaoz www.metalkaoz.com . https://www.metalkaoz.com/interviews/21602-judas-priest-richie-faulkner.html Judas Priest recently released their well received by fans new album Firepower, which will appeal to fans of their Painkiller era record. Judas Priest – Firepower – Official Audio: Judas…
Interview with Deicide from http://www.whatculture.com Link: http://whatculture.com/music/deicide-interview-death-metal-satan-overtures-of-blasphemy Deicide Interview: Death Metal, Satan & Overtures Of Blasphemy “People go out into the dead of night to experience this music, drink, party, mingle and sin.” Deicide. Noun. The act of killing a god, or the perpetrator of such. This death metal quartet are a band that live…
Pig Destroyer interview from Canadian Magazine Exclaim. http://exclaim.ca/music/article/pig_destroyer_throw_away_the_grindcore_rulebook_on_head_cage Pig Destroyer Throw Away the Grindcore Rulebook on ‘Head Cage’ By Denise Falzon Published Sep 05, 2018 Virginia’s highly revered Pig Destroyer have made a name for themselves over the past two decades — on albums like 2001’s Prowler in the Yard, 2004’s Terrifyer and their last…
On October 3rd, 1995, the face of extreme music was transformed forever. That was the day that, from the beating heart of the then-burgeoning Gothenburg metal scene, the anarchic aggressors At the Gates unveiled their lauded fourth disc, Slaughter of the Soul.
Packing eleven tightknit anthems into only 34 minutes, the magnum opus quickly became the new standard-bearer for contemporary heaviness with its succinct brutality, totally opposing the more pop- and punk-inclined angst of grunge and nu metal on the other side of the Atlantic. It also marked the first of many head-turning bullseyes for the Swedish melodic death metal movement, soon to be joined by Dark Tranquillity’s The Gallery and In Flames’ The Jester Race.
23 years later, the furious methodology that spawned Slaughter of the Soul is still bringing At the Gates to new heights. Despite a lengthy hiatus during the 2000s, the quintet are currently flying high off of consecutive successes with 2014’s At War with Reality and the brand new To Drink from the Night Itself.
To try and explore the Swedish mavens’ continuingly destructive yet hook-laden mastery, I sat down with frontman Tomas Lindberg before his band’s ferocious set at Derbyshire’s Bloodstock Festival.
Matt Mills: “I want to start with a really simple question: why are At the Gates so f—king good?”
Tomas Lindberg: “Ha! I don’t know if we are, we just try hard. What I believe is that we care a lot and everything means a lot to us. We really want people to feel that this is important to us: that’s just our attitude.”
“Obviously you’re playing the Ronnie James Dio stage of Bloodstock later on tonight. To those that haven’t seen an At the Gates show before, what should they expect?”
“Intensity and urgency. And there’s a lot of interaction with the crowd, a lot of closeness to the crowd, and today we’re focusing on probably the last three albums [Slaughter of the Soul, At War with Reality and To Drink from the Night Itself] more. But we’re only playing sixty minutes, so you’ll have to come back for some headline shows to see the full thing.”
“It feels like the modern At the Gates sound was very much refined on Slaughter of the Soul in 1995. Is that the quintessential At the Gates album?”
“For us, that album is actually the most one-dimensional we ever did. All the albums before and after that have a wider emotional palette, whereas Slaughter of the Soul is thirty minutes of just pure anguish and anger. We only did that once. A lot of the sound that we created on that one we went back to a little bit, but we incorporated the emotion of the earlier material. I think tha
t the last two records have the full range of At the Gates, but then all our albums sound different and that’s something we’re proud of.”
“And the new album, To Drink from the Night Itself, came out earlier this year. What does it mean to drink from the night itself?”
“It works on a lot of different levels, that title. The whole album is all about the importance of art in general. The easiest way to describe it is that ‘To Drink from the Night Itself’ is a metaphor for the creative process: channelling very dark and intense emotions through yourself and to the listener. But then it has a lot of sub-levels to it.”
“Would you call To Drink from the Night Itself a concept album?”
“Definitely. It’s based on a novel by Peter Weiss called The Aesthetics of Resistance. I just felt that I wanted to create the same kind of atmosphere and touch on the same kind of emotional subjects that he was in his book. Of course, it’s a thousand pages long and we only have ten songs, but it’s just trying to approach it from the same angle.”
“And this is the first At the Gates album without Anders Björler on guitar. How difficult was it to move on without him?”
“Anders, I don’t want to downplay his importance to the band. Everybody knows how integral a part he’s been. But, for us, after the last show we did with Anders on the At War with Reality tour, he basically said that he wanted to take a break and he asked if we can do that: ‘Can we have a break and then I will see how I feel.’ We were stuck in a vortex: we wanted to do stuff but couldn’t without him. So when he actually said ‘You guys can move on without me,’ that was almost like a relief. It’s not a relief to see Anders go, definitely not, but it’s better than not knowing, so we could actually write the album. Me and Jonas [Björler, bass] started writing the day after.”
“There was a four-year gap between At War with Reality and To Drink from the Night Itself. Will it take another four years for there to be a next album?”
“Hopefully not. We toured the album for almost two years and then we had that gap that we talked about where Anders left, so that’s two-and-a-half years there. The writing and the recording of the album was only one-and-a-half years, so we’re thinking of starting writing earlier for the next one and writing during tours. We already have some ideas of where we wanna take it.”
“So a new concept has been thrown around between the band members?”
“Definitely. Right now, we’re a very excited band.”
“I want to finish off by taking things a little wider and talking about the Swedish death metal scene as a whole. Obviously At the Gates are a cornerstone of that scene…”
“One of them.”
“So what was that scene like when At the Gates were starting out and is there still a scene there today?”
“It was very, very small. You can’t compare it at all as it was pre-internet and everything. Basically you were pen pals with all the other Swedish bands and you met in the summers when you had school holidays. It was very, very small and very intimate, but, nowadays, the possibility for bands is amazingly good. I think it’s a good thing, but they don’t really need that underground thing anymore. Of course people still have scenes in different cities and hang out, but the whole Swedish thing – there’s still an underground but the situation is not as desperate as it was for us.”