NorwayInterview: Lars Jensen (everything)

Hello Lars! Welcome after ten years!! How are you today? How has your life changed over the years?
I’m all for honesty, so I’m going to go ahead and say that there are both good and bad things going in life at the moment. On one hand I’m really happy to finally have a new MYRKGRAV album out and that my shoemaking business is taking off. But on the other hand, I still struggle a lot with depression and anxiety, so it’s quite a multifaceted affair to go through life. I will say that my life has changed an enormous amount over the past few years. I went from being a musician and sound engineer at a revered recording studio to working in accounting, then moving to Finland and studying folklore and ethnology at Åbo Akademi university, before settling on making shoes right now. I tend to jump from subject to subject of interest and try to keep evolving and achieving personal growth.

Why so pause in the last years? Yes, a lot of small singles, but… What was the reason you decided to continue with MYRKGRAV?
Like mentioned above, I’ve been struggling with mental health issues for several years now, which was a real inspiration killer. After being in the business a few years prior and being completely screwed over by my old record label, I also couldn’t release anything new until 2012 because Myrkgrav was tied up in a contract with a label that had gone corrupt. At the time the contract ran out I had a lot of other stuff going on in my life, but all the instrumental material for the second album was already written by 2010. So this summer I finally ran into a bout of inspiration to finalize the rest of the songs and record vocals for the songs that I had lyrics for, which turned into the Takk og farvel; tida er blitt ei annen album. Regrettably I could never finish vocal arrangements and recordings for some of the songs, which accounts for the numerous instrumental songs on the album. Still, they have such a multitude of interesting guitar leads and such going on that I personally don’t feel like they sound unfinished.

Myrkgrav Lars Jensen 9How did you find your composing style? Has it changed over time? What is your observation on the way of MYRKGRAV as a one-man project?
As I have no idea how other musicians write their material, I usually start with writing some guitar leads and build upon them to follow a natural progression without thinking too much of song structure. This process has not really changed at all through the years. The song Vonde auer is a perfect example of this, as there are really no repeating parts for the entire duration of the song, which is over 6 minutes long. Many people comment on how this is something the especially appreciate with MYRKGRAV; that many of the songs tell a story of themselves even if vocals aren’t taken into account. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been going for the whole time too, to utilize unconventional arrangements to build up a song from start to finish without a fixed structure, in order to bring the listener with me on a journey. That is not to say there are no “traditional” arrangements in Myrkgrav either. Songs like Om å danse bekhette follows a pretty standard structure with intro – verse – chorus – verse- chorus –  bridge – chorus. I like to think mixing up the songwriting structure makes it easier for everyone to find something they like in MYRKGRAV. You can’t please everyone with everything, but I like my approach anyway.

Tell us about a normal working day…
These days I focus on cordwaining, that is making shoes and boots from scratch. For now it’s a hobby/side income, but I plan to expand slowly as there is already a lot of demand for my boots. The “company” is called Østmo boots, where the name is taken from my great-great grandfather who was also a shoemaker back in the early 1900s. In other words, shoes and boots dominate a lot of my workday, as I am currently on one year sick leave from the university before I plan on finishing my bachelor’s thesis in folklore next year.

Myrkgrav Lars Jensen 4What are your memories on “Trollskau, skrømt og kølabrenning” album? How do you personally few about it, how satisfied are you with the album? I had an amazing experience listening to it…
Well, since a decade has passed since its release, I only hear my own mistakes and lack of musicianship when listening to the record. But in all fairness, it was written by a 19 year-old with only enthusiasm driving him. I quite like a lot of the material itself on the album, but the performance and production leaves a lot to be desired. I actually plan on someday re-recording the whole album (except the screaming vocals, because I still think those are great) with real drums, better guitar sound and perhaps some additional folk instruments instead of synths. Not unlike what can be heard in the re-recorded versions of Finnkjerringa and Om å danse bekhette on the Takk og farvel album, as well as the 5 year anniversary edition of Fela etter’n far on the Sjuguttmyra digital EP.

Really… I say: Your debut album is a basic model of pagan metal! I like that record very much… What kind of feedback have you got until now for CD Trollskau… ? How were the reactions of zine, fans, press etc.?How would you describe your position in the wide-world metal scene?
The feedback I got back in 2006/2007 for the debut album was absolutely overwhelming. I had never thought that so many people would appreciate my humble album written by a regular joe who just loved the folkier side of extreme metal. MYRKGRAV has always gone under the radar of the major metal public though, probably due to the fact there have never been any live shows and physical format as well as other merch has been difficult to get hold of. One funny thing is that all die hard MYRKGRAV fans seem to think that the band is one of the most respectable folk metal acts of all time, but outside of that quite small fan base no one really knows MYRKGRAV at all. So it’s a bit mixed. I certainly prefer having a small but dedicated following as opposed to a huge audience though. I like being able to actually have conversations with fans and keep my feet planted firmly on the ground due to there not being an endless stream of people approaching me as if I was the incarnation of what folk metal should be. So, to answer your question, MYRKGRAV seems well-respected by loyal fans and also those who like folk metal in general, but it’s still very much a tiny project that lives on the fringes of the known metal grid.

Myrkgrav Lars Jensen 1And now new album Takk og farvel; tida er blitt ei annen… Please, tell us how you created the album, how long it took and what were your main goals when recording it.
The album was actually supposed to be a follow-up to Trollskau and only take a couple of years to finish, but like I mentioned earlier, things didn’t exactly go as planned. Most of the material was written between 2007 and 2009, with the last composition, Vonde auer, being from 2010. After that MYRKGRAV went on hold for several years and I had a lot of time to think and revise my ideas for the record. My main goal with MYRKGRAV has always been to create a natural blend of Scandinavian folk music and extreme metal, which is what I really set out to do when it was time to really start working on making the final arrangements of all the songs. So it basically took 9 years to finish the album although the foundation was already laid down a long time ago.

How does the new album differ from your previous work? Do you feel this is an evolution or even a fresh start?
Takk og farvel; tida er blitt ei annen is definitely a natural development from Trollskau, skrømt og kølabrenning. It’s still an extreme metal record, but the folk music aspect has been given a lot more space, especially with the help of professional Hardanger fiddle player Olav Mjelva. Not only did he record the hardanger fiddle parts for the album, but also helped arrange the fiddle parts so that they would not just follow what I had already written on guitar; but rather stayed more true to how the tunes would be performed in actual folk music. Working with Olav was an absolute pleasure and I feel like he deserves a lot of credit for the general outcome of the album and haunting atmosphere of Nordic Melancholy that underlines what Scandinavian folk music often deals with.

Myrkgrav Lars Jensen 2Please, can you give a brief background to the concept of new album, and also how does the name bear any significance on how music in MYRKGRAV is crafted?
The concept remains the same as always: folk metal that does not negate its extreme metal roots, where both the lyrical and visual concept is based around local history and folklore from the surrounding areas of where I grew up in Norway. Krokskogen, Sørkedalen, Lommedalen, Nordmarka etc. This is the absolute fundament of MYRKGRAV. The title itself, Thank you and farewell; times have changed sums up both what has happened in my personal life and how practices have changed in terms of beliefs and ways of doing things in life since the 1600s until now. So it’s sort of a double meaning, and I’m saying farewell both to MYRKGRAV and times that have long since passed. Once again, Nordic melancholy plays a big role in MYRKGRAV.

New songs sound like medieval pagan hymns, what is your vision of your music? What has changed in MYRKGRAV’s sound and conception since your first album?
Like mentioned above, the main goal has been to create a natural fusion between folk music and extreme metal. The folk aspect was less obvious on the debut album, which is why I guess a lot of people say that the new record doesn’t sound like “traditional” MYRKGRAV, although I can’t hear that myself. If you would have replaced the synths on the first album with folk instruments, I think the difference would have been much less obvious. So in essence, more folk, more real instruments and less pseudo-folk with the help of synth, which dominated the first album.

Myrkgrav Lars Jensen 3Which were the most difficult tracks to write?
I wouldn’t say any were more or less difficult to write than others. The songs all live their own life once you get into the songwriting flow. For example, Vonde auer is by far the most complex song on the album, but it came along very easily and I probably finished the main arrangement in two days. I would perhaps venture so far as to say that most obviously “easy” song to do, the traditional folk song Skjøn Jomfru was the most difficult, because it had to have added instrumentation and parts that are not in the original folk song – in order to not just be a blatant copy of a popular medieval ballad that has existed for centuries. I find it much easier to write original material from scratch rather than to turn “real” folk songs into metal-blended re-arrangements, if that makes any sense. I would venture a guess that it’s the same for the band FEJD, which could easily play a lot of traditional tunes if you keep their choice of instruments in mind; but they have also opted for original material that is only inspired by traditional folk music rather than just rehashing old folk songs. I have a lot of respect for that way of doing things.

Tracks 5 and 8 are re-recorded songs from the 2006 “Trollskau, skrømt og kølabrenning” album. It’s interesting process…
Those two songs were both some of my personal favorites as well as loved by the fans, but I felt the original versions were very lackluster. So I felt some responsibility to breathe new life into them, and I am in fact very happy with the result, even if only minor modifications have been made.

Myrkgrav Lars Jensen 5As for the lyrics, please, let me know what the lyrics are about, if there’s a concept for the album and I also would like to ask you what does inspire you when it comes to creating your music and writing lyrics.
MYRKGRAV lyrics are tricky. They are all based on vernacular culture from the areas surrounding where I grew up from around 1600-1850, found in folklore journals and books. I try as best as I can not to change the source material in any way, i.e. keeping all the slang, idioms and syntax from the original manuscripts when turning them into lyrics. This is a huge pain in the ass and also why the Takk og farvel album ended up with so many instrumental songs, since arranging lyrics and vocals for them turned out to be impossible although I had several colleagues try to help me get it done. It was just not doable. The stories and tales that inspire me the most and often end up as MYRKGRAV lyrics are those that depict what everyday life was like back then, but might seem completely horrible to us today. There is a lot of dark humor involved, morbidities and such – although it is still all presented in a very friendly way that makes it easy to appreciate and maybe even laugh about. This time around I have translated all the lyrics into English for the booklet for when the CD comes out, so everyone will be able to appreciate this aspect more easily than before – where each lyric just came with a short description of the turn of events in the story.

What kind of music are you listening to today?
To be honest I don’t really listen much to music at all. There are a couple of bands I keep track of, like DUNDERBEIST and LEPROUS, but beyond that I sadly lost most of my love for music after the whole corruption with my old record label and falling into depression. Sometimes there’s a song here and there that I really fall in love with, but I am definitely not the type of person to always have something playing in the background or listening to music on headphones while walking somewhere. I appreciate silence and tranquility. Even on the rare occasion when I’m at a concert, I always find myself longing for the silence between the songs. Quite ironic really, that a musician does not fully appreciate music.

Myrkgrav Lars Jensen 8What do you think is the biggest problem in either the world or your country? How would you describe the world today?
Well, a sexist racist fascist was just elected president in the world’s most powerful nation, so I’d say we don’t have a lot of good things going for us in the world right now. The economy is shit, politics are all black and white with a strong us vs. them mentality, so I don’t know. In folkloristics and cultural studies in general we live by something called cultural relativism, which is trying to see a foreign culture or phenomena through its own values rather than your own, in order to eliminate the extreme dualism that would otherwise dominate your world view. I do not understand how this is such a hard thing to grasp. Everyone has the right to do and believe what they want as long as it does not happen at the direct expense of someone else, and I do not understand why this is so hard to grasp. We are all together on this rock in space, so rather than try to tear each other down it would be so much better to at least try to avoid all the hate for completely bullshit, made-up reasons that we see every day in the form of terrorism, sexism, misogyny etc. etc. We are all fucking human beings, why strive for anything other than kindness just because you disagree about something?

I have stopped reading all mainstream media and focus on those closest to me and try to not get involved in drama that does not concern me. The previously big unknown world has become so small and readily available to everyone; and I don’t necessary think that is always a good thing, re: things like desensitization. I won’t go further into this because I am probably the least politically invested person I know. I value kindness, and I’m not seeing a whole lot of that amongst the general population right now, so I choose to do what I can do make my own existence meaningful and be a good person to those around me – which I think is starting to become a forgotten art in this world where it’s so easy to throw shit at someone from the anonymous safety of the world wide web.

End of the year is a good time to summarize all things happening in this year. How was 2016 for you? What were the most important events and things that happen to you?
Obviously I’m very happy that Takk og farvel is finally available to the public after an agonizing decade-long wait both for me and the fans, and I’m extremely enthusiastic about my newfound love for shoemaking and leathercraft. Other than that the year has been pretty rough on a personal level, but I am lucky to have a wonderful relationship with the most compassionate woman I’ve ever met, and we always lift each other up and grow stronger together for every day that passes. It might seem cheesy and non-metal to appreciate the lovey-dovey aspects of our existence, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that you have to create your own happiness despite the unwritten rules of any kind of community you find yourself in. Not everything is black and white, life is multifaceted – difficult, amazing, amazingly horrible, horribly amazing and everything in-between. One day at the time; the year doesn’t matter. Each day is what matters.


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