It was a big honor having Agnete M. Kirevaag in The Top 10 Albums Of series. This charismatic and inspirational frontwoman of Norwegian cult band Madder Mortem mentioned some classics as Sepultura or Faith No More, but there were also very surprising names as Björk or A-ha. Next to that we spoke about recent European tour with Soen, as there were great times but also some challenges. We also spoke about her daily job as a teachers and counselor. And last but not least we included plenty of literature and music tips. Including her opinion on these bands: Zeal & Ardor, Thy Catafalque, Casualties Of Cool and Nod Nod.
Intro message from Agnete:
You’ll see that a lot of these are old albums, since I presumed this was about “what influenced you as a musician”. In some ways, you never get rid of those sounds that hit you when you were around 16, I think because we’re such a blank slate at that age, and it is difficult to repeat that first surprise after you’ve experienced it once.
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987)
To me, this is one of the best rock’n’roll albums ever. There’s a recklessness and attitude in the playing that makes it so incredibly energetic, and it really embodies the rebellious spirit that I think is the core of rock in general – a middle finger raised to everything and everyone.
Metallica – … And Justice For All (1988)
My aunt bought this on cassette for BP, I think, but big sister got to listen, too … I think this was the first thing I heard that was this heavy and this angry, and I loved it! I spent hours writing down the lyrics in my journal. Lots of people find the production of this album weird, but I still love it, and I still think Hetfield is one of the best ever riffers there are. And it is dark, and very, very sad, underneath it all; there’s such a sense of loss and betrayal in the music and lyrics.
Sepultura – Arise (1991)
I bought this on a whim on a school trip, probably because of the cover, but this album turned out to be a milestone for me and my friends. I listened to it endlessly, and then my friends borrowed it and listened to it endlessly, too. We’d recite the lyrics to each other when we met. And then I got to see them live on that tour in Oslo, and it completely blew my mind. This was what really got us started with “proper metal”. It’s simply a fantastic album.
Faith No More – Angel Dust (1992)
I remember how this album surprised me. I had waited and waited for the new album, because I loved The Real Thing, but this was something entirely different, something darker and stranger – and the change in Patton’s voice use … In general, Faith No More is one of my favourite bands ever, perhaps more than anything because of the ruthless disregard for genre conventions. Angel Dust has been and continues to be a huge influence on my own songwriting.
Soundgarden – Superunknown (1994)
Again, memory lane … I remember my dad driving me to a friends house to listen to this album for the first time, and coming back with my head spinning. I loved Badmotorfinger, but Superunknown was a step further. Chris Cornell is one of the really great singers, but the rest of the band are just as good. What I like the most, is that there is no cleverness for cleverness’ sake, every idea and arrangement goes to serve the song. And there is this long, drawn out chord near the end of 4th of July – I could listen to just that chord for an hour, I think.
Neurosis – Times Of Grace (1999)
This album has been so important as an influence, and I love it, but I almost never listen to it, simply because it usually reduces me to a blob of shivering tears in the corner. And that is what is so amazing with Neurosis, the sheer emotional intensity of this album is truly something to aspire to. It’s all about the feeling, they do simple, efficient things and believe in them, and that belief really shines through. I have so much respect for this band that I would probably be unable to speak if I ever met them.
Gillian Welch – The Harrow And The Harvest (2011)
This album is very new, compared to the rest of my list, but it has become so important for me. THAT VOICE! This is a truly great singer at the height of her powers. Few singers sing so honestly, with so little guile and fanciness, and that is really difficult to do, but gives even the softest humming an unstoppable power to get through to the listener. Add intelligent, beautiful lyrics and an amazing guitarist/back-up singer, and this is an album to drown in. It feels like warm, liquid, melancholy honey. Just listen to it.
AC/DC – Highway To Hell (1979)
There has to be some AC/DC on the list – to me, it could just as easily be Powerage. I got into AC/DC really late in life, actually. Starting a cover band and starting to play some of their songs was what really opened my eyes to this band. Their playing is so restrained at times, and that’s actually really difficult to do, to not overembellish, but stick to the basics. And I love Bon Scott’s lyrics, they’re funny and sad and tongue-in-cheek at the same time. I think there are no other musicians in rock that I respect more than Malcolm Young. Playing boogie rhythm guitar like your life depended on it for a lifetime – now that is dedication.
Björk – Homogenic (1997)
Debut is one of my all-time favourites, but I’ll pick Homogenic because of the song Bachelorette. The combination of the latin-ish dancy rhythm from that piano and the intervals in the vocal melody … it’s just something I wish I had written, and it’s also an influence that I think is not that hard to track in some Madder Mortem songs.
A-ha – Scoundrel Days (1986)
Norway’s great pop pride were immensely successful with their first album. I’ve got no idea how their second album came to be so dark, but it is, and I love it! The production and a couple of the songs suffer a bit from being a bit dated by today’s ears, but listen to the title track or I’ve Been Losing You. Again, a fantastic voice, such a lonely sound!
European tour with Soen
How were you satisfied with the latest European tour with Soen?
We were very satisfied! The Soen audience was very openminded, and we got a lot of great feedback, both from long-time fans and people who had never heard of us before. In general, the crowds felt welcoming and interesting, and that’s really the main thing about touring. I also think the musical combination was really smart. We’re two quite different bands, but we have traits in common that make us interesting to Soen fans and vice versa, I think. The Soens are really nice, very skilled musicians and funny, interesting people to travel with, and it was so nice to hang out with Martin again (we toured with Opeth for 6 weeks back in 2003).
You haven’t done such an extensive European tour in a while. Were you satisfied with the amount of planning and professionalism of the whole tour team and did you face any difficulties, which you would like to mention?
This tour was quite a large production playing some quite small venues with some reeeeeeaaally small stages, and that’s always a challenge – especially since you travel with two drum kits. The first couple of days everybody was trying to figure things out, how to solve the stage set up and change over and make things work, but when you have very little room to move and very little room to store things, you get a little stressed. And our trailer was very, very full, so the load-out needed to be very precise to make sure everything fit. We brought our own sound guy, Tom Roger Veslum, who did a really great job, and once we got a little into the tour and had figured out some smart ways of doing things, the running was a lot more smooth.
We did have one incident that could have been a lot more troublesome than it was. On our way to Poland, the roads were pretty bad, and in the end a pothole caused the trailer to blow a tyre. The bus driver got it changed (poor guy, in the middle of the night and in the rain!), and we arrived more or less on time, but when we got to the sound check, it turned out that the tubes in BP’s amp were busted, probably because of the shaking and crashing in the trailer. We did have backup tubes, but we didn’t have the time to change the tubes before the gig, so we had to borrow an amp there – the backup was in the bus, parked outside the city. Also, the amp was acting a bit strangely afterwards. We are quite dependent on those amps, both for our sound, but also because of the effects set up. But then we had a brilliant stroke of luck in Ljubljana. BP and Tom were opening up the amp to check the damage, and then it turned that one of the sound engineers there was an amp builder! He took care of some bad soldering and generally fixed it up, so we’ll be eternally grateful to Tai at Orto Bar (I’ve got no idea if that’s how you spell your name).
Do you have feeling your audience diversified in any sort of way during the past few years? Let say by age, music tastes or even dressing style?
Yes, I think so – or perhaps it’s more correct to say that more types of people are into heavy music now. I think the streaming generation is much more eclectic in their tastes, and they are possibly less genre focused as a result of getting such a diverse input. Also, on this tour, the age span of the audience was from really young to middle aged +, which is great! But you know, I’ve always thought of us as a band that a lot of different people could like, since we do such a lot of different things.
How are you satisfied with a current position of Madder Mortem on the music market? I personally believe, you have fans, which are MM fans for life.
We do have these super-dedicated fans, who have been following us for a couple of decades now, and that is such an inspiration. It seems to me that if you do get the Madder bug, it’s kinda hard to get rid of! Before Red In Tooth And Claw, we were very, very quiet for many years, and I think quite a few people thought we were gone, so now we’re really focused on getting our music back out there – hence the touring, for instance. We’ve also realised that we need to get much better at the social media stuff, and that also gives us much more communication with our fans, so I think we’re moving in the right direction. If ever possible, I would like to see us at a point where the band would be a full-time job, but I guess that is the dream of all musicians.
I would like to see us at a point where the band would be a full-time job, but I guess that is the dream of all musicians
What microphones do you prefer? Any effects?
I’m really the wrong person to talk to – since BP is a sound engineer, I tend to be a little lazy and leave that to him. Live, it’s generally the SM58, since it’s such a standard everywhere, and it is what I’m used to working with, so I know how to handle it and it feels comfortable to me. In the studio we’ve tried more different sorts of mics, but you’d have to ask BP for the specs and names, I’m afraid. I don’t use any effects live, that’s left to the sound engineer. I can see how that might add to the show, but at the same time, I’m a bit afraid that it’d take my focus off of communicating with the audience, which I think is my main job, so I’ve avoided it this far. For the studio, it really depends on the song and the mood you’re trying to achieve. I actually really like very dry vocals a lot. It means that the singing needs to be top notch, but there is something about the nakedness of it that I think really lets the emotion come across. Also, I often prefer a touch of long delay instead of reverb, because reverb can sometimes hide a bit of the voice details. As we’ve done the last two albums ourselves, we’ve had time to experiment a bit, and one of the things I’ve found really interesting, is experimenting with EQ on backing vocals – there’s a lot of neat tricks to be found there!
Thank you for your top 10 albums and I really love your list. What music do you enjoy lately?
Well, it seems I’ve been enjoying quite a few Soen live shows of late. 😉 Actually, for many years I’ve been horrible at checking out new things. My day job is very social, so I usually crave mostly silence when I get home, and my car stereo is quite shitty, so classic rock works best there … and then when you add Madder rehearsals, songwriting and lyrics work + having a social life, there’s not such a lot of time left. I’ve just sort of come off a massive ABBA-and-classic-soul binge period, and I’m getting a bit more into listening to metal again. I kinda feel I have a little bit of a duty to get better at checking out new bands and albums – since such a lot of people invest their time in our music, I feel like I should be giving something back to the scene. I was very impressed by our label mates Krakow when we did a show with them recently, so they’re at the top of my checking-out list. I also just bought the Fifth To Infinity album, and it’s the best I’ve heard in that slow-and-evil kind of style for a long, long time – kinda brings back the best of old-school slow black metal with much better sound.
Every word matters
Where do you find inspiration for vocal melodies and lyrics? Anything you would like to add to answer of Mads in the end of the interview?
I think Mads did a great job there, actually, he’s right on point! We work a lot together on backup vocals, and he does a lot of songwriting on his own, so I guess he knows how it goes. BP’s a great support as well, since he, too, has worked a lot on his own lyrics for other projects. I do prefer to write my own in MM, though, since I’ll be singing them. We work out the music first, and then I try to figure out what that music means to me, sort of what the song is trying to say on an emotional level. Also, I’m a huge language-and-words geek, so there are quite a lot of more intellectual processes going on as well, playing with extended or double meanings, puns, alliteration and rhymes, intertextuality and so on. Some songs are about the world around us, and a lot of them are about what goes on in my life and in my head.
For vocal melodies, it’s much more just going with what feels right for the song than trying to plan out an idea out from specific principles. Also, sometimes a vocal melody is what we build from – most of my ideas often spring from vocals, since that’s my main instrument. (Trying to do anything on a guitar usually leads to more cursing than music … I can play just enough to completely butcher my own ideas.) I also work A LOT with the rhythmic side of the vocals, which I often think is a little overlooked in a lot of metal. In general, it is very important to me that the vocals tie in and compliment or work with the rest of the band, I think there is too much “guitars, bass and drums, and then some vocal icing added after the cake is finished”. I think the verses of All The Giants Are Dead is a good example of how vocals can intertwine with the arrangement, and how the arrangement then can intertwine back around the backing vocals.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Sing in a rock band … I have a covers band with BP, Mads and some other friends, and that’s great fun. It’s a bit of a vacation from the artistic ambitions of MM, and you can drink beer while you’re on stage, which is also nice. Apart from that, in no specific order, I like to: Go rambling in the forest with my dogs, hang out with my friends, spend the day on an island in the lake in my home town when it’s summer, read really thick books with small print (or any book at all, really), cook big dinners for family and friends, work in my garden, drink whisky with my buddies, have really long conversations about absolutely nothing, watch tacky series on Netflix, eat and drink at nice restaurants.
Are you also interested in meditation and where do you seek answers on your own deep questions?
I do yoga on a regular basis, and I find that the breathing exercises are very helpful, both for the technical side of singing, and for calming down and de-stressing. For me, the main point of any kind of meditation is to shut down my brain and thoughts, since I’m the kind of person that thinks waaaaay too much all the time. I find the answers to my own deep questions either within my own head, or in conversations with my closest friends – I often think better when I talk, if the mouth and the listener can keep up with the stream of ideas and associations. This is actually a point of importance to me. As an atheist, I think this is one of our main responsibilities as humans, to figure ourselves out and work on our own moral code and our own understanding of ourselves and others. We have a duty to think, to improve ourselves and the world around us according to our own ethics. If you have a brain, use it.
We have a duty to think, to improve ourselves and the world around us according to our own ethics
Teacher, counselor & language-and-words geek
I am asking, as meditation helps me a lot in dealing with my manager position and handling open-space environment. Music journalism wouldn’t bring me enough money for decent living. If I may ask, what do you for living?
I can really see how meditation would help with such an over-social work environment! I think that’s what it’s perfect for, to let go of the noise and stress of the day – kinda like a shower for the brain! I work as a teacher in a lower secondary school, which means ages 13-16, approximately. I’m also the coordinator for the special needs education at my school, and I’m a counselor, so if you’re crying or fighting, you’re probably coming to my office. I love working with the kids, especially since their reactions are so much more honest and direct than grown-up reactions, because they haven’t really learned to keep their polite masks on yet. And what you give, you get back, so if you do a good job and show them you actually care, you get lots and lots of love and respect back. However, it’s sometimes really noisy, and you get frustrated when funding or time limits prevents you from doing what needs to be done. And sometimes, when you’re dealing with really bad cases, you feel just so inadequate, because there are sometimes absolutely nothing you can do that will fix things. But on the whole, it’s a meaningful and fun job.
I always write down new words in English or those, which I want to remind myself of. From your answers, I wrote down at least a dozen of them. 😉 Please tell us, how did you build such an advanced English vocabulary and how are you expanding it today? What literature would you recommend us within beauties of English language and also life crucial reading?
It started with metal lyrics, you know – just figuring out what the hell they were singing about. So I learned “ostracized” from Metallica’s Shortest Straw, and “obliteration” from Sepultura’s Arise, for instance. By now, I’ve been using English as a working language for the band for a lot of years, and it has also been my language of artistical expression since I was around 15, so you learn a lot from that. I read A LOT, and these days most of it in English. I have a master’s degree in literary translation, and I spent one term of my degree at Cardiff University. And I teach English as well. So I’d better have a good vocabulary, right? 😉 I think for vocabulary expansion, sort of after getting the basics in place, reading is the most efficient tool, but you need to be active with it, and use a dictionary for new words, write them down etc. Also, using a thesaurus when writing is a good idea, it’ll help with moving vocabulary from passive (understand only) to active (available for use when you speak or write).
For recommendations, that’s really difficult, because there are such a lot of great books to be read. I’d probably start with Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series, since he’s both a hilarious writer and a fantastic thinker. I think Granny Weatherwax is probably one of my favourite literary characters ever.
One of my other favourites is Margaret Atwood – the series based on her The Handmaid’s Tale has gotten a lot of attention lately, and that’s a great read, but I’d start with Oryx and Crake, the first book of the MaddAddam trilogy. (There’s actual a quote from that in the booklet for RITAC.) She paints a scarily believable picture of our future, and manages to be original and interesting at the same time.
Some other great reads, off the top of my mind:
Theodore Sturgeon’s best short stories, for instance “Bianca’s Hands”
Ursula K. LeGuin, “The Left Hand of Darkness” or “Earthsea”
Ray Bradbury, “The Martian Chronicles”
William M. Thackeray, “Vanity Fair”
John Irving, “A Prayer for Owen Meany”
Angela Carter, “The Bloody Chamber” (short story collection)
Next to that, I would like to kindly ask for a consideration, if you would be interested in sharing your opinion on these four albums, which you might enjoy. Thy Catafalque and Zeal & Ardor were your “competition” within Metal Storm awards – avant-garde metal category. Devin Townsend’s project Casualties of Cool might interest you, based on your love for Gillian Welch. And finally Nod Nod are impressive Czech band.
I’ve been extremely busy since getting home from tour, so I’ve just listened to the samples you gave me, but here’s my impression:
Zeal and Ardor:
Cool song, I love that Balkan tonality. Will be interesting to check their music out!
Lots of interesting ideas, but this demands a bit more time from the listener to get properly into. I like the mix of styles. The intro made me think of Devil Doll, actually.
Casualties Of Cool:
Devin Townsend is always interesting, and he’s absolutely shamelessly melodic, which I love. I really like this, and yes, it ties in nicely with Gillian Welch 😉
I like the messy, noisy style, and the monotony underneath. Reminds me a bit of Neurosis, and a little bit of Fear of God.