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Kvelertak: Forget The Pressure

Every metal band that comes from Norway writes black metal, right? Wrong! Kvelertak are a group of borderline crazy Norwegians that play straight up, high energy heavy metal. It’s the kind of metal that makes you want to party in an ice storm, not stand in a forest lamenting modern society. Forget the black metal label and check out our interview with guitarist Maciek Ofstad. When you’re done, go see them perform because Kvelertak are bringing their show to our shores – the very same show that James Hetfield saw when they played in San Francisco.

Two great albums, constant touring – everything seems to be going really, really well for the band. Would you agree?
I’m feeling awesome, I’m feeling good about everything. We released that album [Meir] in March and we’ve been on tour ever since. The shows are good, it’s cool for us to play new songs and new setlists, so I’m excited. We had a blast last time in Australia and I’m personally super fucking excited to be back.

Your rise to fame happened really quickly, why do you think your music is resonating so well with people?
I don’t know, I’ve asked that question myself a couple of times [laughs]. We sing in Norwegian, so it’s not a given that we can tour all around the world and have people come to our shows, but it’s been going super good. But I don’t know, people enjoy the music and I can’t say anything else other than I’m glad they do.

On the note of singing in Norwegian, does the language barrier ever add anything difficult in non-Norwegian speaking countries like Australia? Do you have to tailor the live performance at all?
No not at all. Yeah, we sing in Norwegian, but there’s not so much focus on the words as there is on the expression. Kvelertak is very expressive music, there’s a lot of detail in the guitars, drums, bass and vocals, everything makes the music, it’s not a big focus on one part of the music, which is why I think there’s no barrier, you know? Or at least it hasn’t been, so I guess something works.

Do people try to sing along at the gigs even if they can’t understand you?
[Laughs] Yeah they do and it’s pretty goddamn funny. But people do it here in Norway too, we’ve never released the lyrics for the first album, but people are still singing along and I know that they’re getting it wrong, but they still do it. When I was growing up, watching my favourite cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I didn’t have a clue what they were singing about in the theme song, but I was still fucking shouting my head off. I guess it’s just pretty primal I would say.

We kind of deviated to the live experience there, but before we keep going I have a couple more questions about the band. This might sound a bit premature, but with two massive albums under your belts, do you feel any pressure regarding the future?
Everything in Kvelertak is about taking it as it comes. I don’t feel any pressure at all, we’ve always just done what we want to do, we’ve written music that we want to play and that we think is cool. You know, I’m excited that other people can relate to our riffs and enjoy them as much as I do. We’re just going to do what we want to do, and if you like it you like it, and if you don’t, you don’t. So there’s not a lot of pressure now but there was a lot of pressure on the second album, like they say, it’s the hard follow-up. But, it worked so now we’re safe [laughs], but like I said we’re going to do what we do anyway, so there’s no point in having pressure. Whatever happens happens.

So when you’re writing music do you actively try and capture the high energy and sense of fun Kvelertak is known for, or does that just come naturally?
I’d say it’s a combination of both. BJ [Bjarte Lund Rolland – guitar] is our main songwriter, and on this second album we spent a lot of time in the rehearsal space just rehearsing the songs and trying to make them 100 percent done. But it just happens, it’s not an agenda, it’s not like, “Oh we have to do this, and it has to have this kind of essence,” it just happens. If it’s good it’s good and if it’s shitty, it’s shitty, you know?

There is a genuine sense of energy and fun in the music, so is recording in the studio and rehearsing just as wild and fun?
[Laughs] Well the studio is definitely a fun part about being in a band, I love being in the studio. Going back a second time to record a new album, it was just a lot of fun, there’s a lot of experimentation, maybe a bit too much because suddenly we found out that we’d spent four days trying guitar sounds and we thought, “Maybe we should start recording” [laughs]. It’s definitely more focused when, if you could say, making the song, getting it down, taping it down, but then you have fun with it live after. It’s definitely a good time being in the rehearsal space and the studio.

Anyone listening to your music would probably call it rock or metal, but you’ve also got the black metal label attached. It’s in the vocals somewhat but the rest is pretty far removed from the genre. How do you feel about having that label?
It’s weird you know. It’s a pretty easy label to make considering that we’re from the same country as a lot of good black metal bands, but I wouldn’t consider us a black metal band at all. We’re definitely inspired by black metal and I listen to black metal myself, everyone in the band are fans of the genre, but we’re not remotely a black metal band. I’d just call us a straight out rock’n’roll band.

Do you feel like it’s pigeonholed Kvelertak in any way?
It’s not a bad pigeonhole [laughs] I don’t mind, but it’s just wrong, you know?

You guys really fuse so many genres together that it’s difficult to define your style, which is a good thing. In your opinion, are genres even relevant or useful anymore?
Well they are in a way, but it depends on what you’re going to describe. Describing our band with a label is nearly impossible because there’s so much that you can describe it against. But you have to have genres, like if you go into the HMV, you can skip the whole techno thing and pass on straight to the blues.

You’re into the blues?
I can’t say that I’m into the blues, I don’t know a lot about it, but I definitely enjoy my blues.

You tend to hear that with a lot of metal musicians, a lot of them are into jazz or have learned jazz at some point in their career. Is that the case with you?
I listen to a lot of jazz, my main channel on the radio is a jazz channel, but that’s just to relax. Because we tour so much, I listen to so much heavy music. Sometimes it’s nice to just come home, drink a cup of coffee and listen to something else, just to get inspired by something other than blast beats. For me it’s more of a relaxation thing. But when I started playing guitar, when I went to high school I went to a guitar school and my teacher made me play jazz, and I hated jazz, I just wanted to play Iron Maiden all the time, but I had to play jazz. Today, I’m thankful for it because it definitely gives you a broader aspect about what a guitar can do than if you just play metal music all the time.

You have a reputation for pretty insane live shows. When you play live, do you actively go all out or again, does that just happen naturally? And while we’re there, what’s been the best live experience?
It’s just a thing that’s been natural for everyone in the band, we come from a scene where energy is important, you know the punk scene and hardcore. It’s not planned, or at least it wasn’t at the start, it just happened, it’s a way to get the shitty, shitty energy out of your system and go off the stage feeling better because you know you’re lighter than you were before you got on stage. It’s been an output, or an outlet of energy. But there’s so many moments live, I don’t even know where to begin, it feels like we’ve played a million shows and every show has its funny thing. The recent best moment was while we were playing in San Francisco and I saw James Hetfield side of stage headbanging, while the crown prince of Norway was in the crowd as well enjoying the show. It was very absurd, because you know, you have the prince of Norway and the king of fucking metal at a club that has a capacity of 400 people. It was very insane.

And I know I keep reiterating your fun factor, but it feels special in a way because in the metal scene so many bands come off as having a very serious attitude and metal is often associated with serious people. Why do you think metal takes itself so seriously sometimes, and are we at risk of losing the fun in metal?
Metal music, for me growing up as a kid, I was super serious about it, but it’s just fucking music. It’s cool music, it’s fun music, and the reason I fell in love with it was because it woke something up inside me, these feelings that I had to learn to play the songs on guitar. I wanted to be a part of it. I wouldn’t say we’re anywhere near… there’s no danger of metal being too serious at all, even the serious people have fun, or else they wouldn’t do what they do.

Be sure to see Kvelertak at a date near you!

Kvelertak Tour Dates

Sat Sep 14th – The Rev, Brisbane (18+)
With Kyzer Soze
Tickets: oztix.com.au

Sun Sep 15th – Manning Bar, Sydney (18+)
With Totally Unicorn
Tickets: oztix.com.au

Tue Sep 17th – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne (18+)
With King Parrot
Tickets: cornerhotel.com

Wed Sep 18th – Fowlers Live, Adelaide
With Life Pilot
Tickets: oztix.com.au

Thu Sep 19th – Amplifier Bar, Perth (18+)
With Chainsaw Hookers
Tickets: oztix.com.au

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