The Musings of Mother Mortem
CoC chats with Agnete M. Kirkevaag of Madder Mortem
by: Chris Flaaten
Madder Mortem are finally out with their new album, around four years after the magnificent _Deadlands_ was released. The new album sees the band polishing their unique and fresh sound even further, but as the four-year wait suggests, there has been some turbulence during its making and regarding its release. CoC met with vocalist Mommy Madder herself, Agnete M. Kirkevaag, at Elm Street in Oslo to get the full story. Due to equipment failure, the first part of the interview does not consist of strict quotes (which they would never be anyway, seeing how the interview was conducted in Norwegian) but rather summaries of the points made.

CoC: So the new album is finally out on Peaceville...

Agnete M. Kirkevaag: Yes, finally! We were not completely happy with Century Media and asked them if we could get out of the contract, and they said no at first. Then later on, after getting "no" a couple more times and the album was finally finished recording -- but before they had heard it -- they suddenly said yes. But of course a label change takes time, there's a massive amount of paperwork, and we can't really say we had rockets up our asses ourselves either. We got in touch with Peaceville via Katatonia, who we've known for some time, and so far we've had a good reception. Peaceville refunded Century Media for the studio budget and everything was eventually set. Then some artwork was delayed and stuff, but here we finally are. Peaceville seem very serious and honest. They want to know and actually have a relationship with the bands they sign. They are genuinely enthusiastic about the music and have consciously avoided getting "big". Other labels today seem more interested in signing as many somewhat promising bands as possible and only actually promote and support it if it is a big hit.

CoC: You have two new members too?

AK: Yes! Paul (our former bassist) had to prioritize his family and studies and with Eirik (our former second guitarist) it was the typical "musical differences" that made it impossible to continue working together. When they quit we really didn't know what to do, because it's like losing part of the family and we've always been such a tightly knit group. Getting new members that we're comfortable with on a personal level is much more important than their technical skill level, and therefore it's a very difficult process. Odd, our new guitarist, is an old friend of ours and he was actually the original guitarist in Mystery Tribe -- the first name of our band. He plays together with BP [M. Kirkevaag, Madder Mortem guitarist and Agnete's brother] in a "happy" old-school death metal band called Soulswarm -- who have a demo coming out soon, by the way. He's very talented and was already inside our circle of friends, plus he has very good creative chemistry with BP. He has also been the webmaster for us for a long time. Tormod was also an acquaintance of ours. It takes so long to make up that inner circle -- to get to know each other and become comfortable enough with each other to make the music flow the way it should. As I said, this is much more important than technical skill, but we've been lucky because our friends are very talented as well.

CoC: Indeed. Especially the new guitarist seems to have brought something new to your guitar sound...

AK: Well, yes, kind of. Odd and BP have very good chemistry, as I said, and rehearse and jam a lot together. They really push and fuel each other, doing all kinds of weird melodies and even guitar solos now. While they're not the typical guitar geniuses, they accomplish what they set out to do, no matter what it is. They'll sit down and try, experiment and rehearse until they get it right.

CoC: So how was the writing process? Do they present ideas and then you work it out together? Do any others bring in their individual ideas?

AK: We jam, mostly. There will usually be some idea as a foundation, like a single riff the boys have come up with or a vocal melody I have on MIDI, but from there we basically feel it out. While there's a -lot- of perfectionist tuning of even the tiniest details, most parts of our music just come to life in a very natural way while jamming. Sometimes very quickly, too. "Changeling" was done in one-two-three. Someone came up with the opening riff, and a jam session later we had the entire song. We go with the flow, the energy, the feel... trying to make it groove. I think our way of creating music differs from a lot of bands, especially metal bands. It seems that while we have a foundation of metal, fans of a lot of other genres, like noise rock for example, are quicker to pick up on our music.

CoC: There is indeed an increase in "groovy" parts on your newest album, even with some tribal influences?

AK: <Shows the back of her jacket, which sports a big Sepultura patch> That coloured spot is actually Andreas Kisser's autograph! Sepultura's _Roots_ album was the most important influence on those parts. Great band and awesome album!

CoC: I saw on your webpage that you have made a new video for the album opener, "My Name Is Silence". What is the video like, and how do you like it?

AK: It's pretty much just a presentation of the band. It shows us playing, plain and simple. It's an OK video, but we have some very unique ideas we want to try out the next time we make one. It will be very interesting to see if we can make them work. "My Name Is Silence" was chosen because it's the fastest and most in-your-face song on the album, we sometimes call it aggro-punk! Peaceville thought it would serve as a good introduction for us and for the album, seeing how it's the opening track. It is also the song with the most convenient length. Many of our songs are just too long to get played anywhere if we made a video for them.

CoC: Yes, and editing them wouldn't really work either.

AK: <Cringes and shivers> No it wouldn't! It'd be like cutting off one of your children's legs and watching it try to jump around. It's just not an option. <Cringes again>

CoC: Let's change the subject. I heard you'll be participating on the next Winds album?

AK: Yes, I'm already done with my contribution. Andy Winter contacted me one day; I guess he had heard our music and liked my performance. I actually did quite a bit for them. I don't know how much they will use, but I'll be singing on two or three songs. I know I'm biased, but I really liked the music. Some of it was amazing. It was very interesting to see how different their approach to making music is from ours. They would stand in the studio and discuss scales and notes and tempo, very technical and theoretical...

CoC: Speaking of other bands, do you know any of the other new signings at Peaceville? Some of them are also quite good at "your" approach -- feel, atmosphere and honest creativity. Like Novembre, whose last album was an absolutely wonderful remake of their debut.

AK: I know they've signed a few bands lately, but I haven't heard them yet. I'm not really very up-to-date with the music world. Sounds interesting though, I'll try to check them out. We actually re-recorded two of our oldest songs not too long ago. They'll be released on a download-single from Peaceville's website. It was really interesting to do... to see that the basic ideas really were strong. We just weren't capable of taking advantage of them then. We didn't have the skills. While none of us have grown up relentlessly perfectioning our skill in our rooms, we've always played in bands. Practice makes perfect, and while jamming in bands won't make you technically flawless, you'll still get better and better at playing your instrument... more comfortable using it to express yourself. We play and play and play. Every weekend. Just one big happy family playing our asses off.

CoC: So you should be well on your way with writing the new album, then?

AK: Yes, we've almost completely finished with it, actually. Summer is a really bad time for doing anything, so we're hoping to tour this Autumn and then release the new album sometime next year.

CoC: Going back to the freshly released _Desiderata_, though. Some of the songs on it deserve extra mention, like the brutally naked closer, "Hangman".

AK: Yes, it's a very different and personal song, and many have taken notice of it. It's the last song we recorded and I did the vocals on the very last day in the studio. We were all very tired and I had a bad cold on top of it all, but we finally finished it. When we're fully done with a song, everything about it goes in the "vault", you know. Like in Seinfeld. You're done with it and there it lies. To perform the song is a very mixed experience. You have the emotional part, which is what it is, and the intellectual part of you that really likes that the song really works. We've never done a song like that before, and I can tell you that the guys don't have it easy with the first, jazzy part of the song. You can't have many mistakes before it sounds completely wrong and awful. For me, performing it is about just submerging yourself into the atmosphere and mood and just letting go. If you do that, the singing just flows automatically.

CoC: How about the short and also quite sombre "Dystopia"?

AK: That song is mine and only mine. <smiles> We considered turning it into a full song, and we might actually still do that sometime, but we felt it was good as it is. It serves as a nice break on the album now.

CoC: Yes, in between "Plague on This Land" and "M for Malice". The latter is a quote off "Traitor's Mark" from _All Flesh Is Grass_, isn't it? Is there any lyrical link between the two?

AK: Ding ding ding! Well, there's no real link between them, but they are both about the same subject. About how wonderful it would be to let go of each and every consideration for other people and just do what you want. Not being evil, but being truly careless and free to release your real self. I would be so good at it, if I just let go.

CoC: "Evasions" is about wearing some kind of mask too?

AK: Yes, it's a cheerful song, really. It's a positive battlecry to the people who pose, who act like and think they are someone they're not... who will behave according to a stereotype of something that isn't them. Wake up and be yourself!

CoC: So who are your influences when it comes to writing lyrics?

AK: Hm, this is a tricky one. The texts I feel the strongest about are typically lyrics I liked when I was sixteen, you know? Writing down in my journal, Metallica lyrics and such stuff. I don't consider these texts to have the highest lyrical value, but that's what's so peculiar about song lyrics; there's always some combination of functionality and "art". <She takes a moment to think through if there are any writers in particular that come to mind> Now and then Chris Cornell writes some amazing lyrics... Dalbello! A very original Canadian singer who has great lyrics and the most awesome vocal I've ever heard. Very dry and naked voice, there's no "fluff" and she's just an insanely good singer. Bon Scott! I really like him as a lyric writer, actually. Very funny and simple lyrics -- about partying and drinking of course, but I still love them.

CoC: You write the lyrics in English. Do you try to make the English language work on its own, or do you rather translate your thoughts and then make them fit?

AK: When I write lyrics I "think" in English more than anything else. At least by now. I also think it's very awkward singing in Norwegian. Possibly mostly because I don't speak bokmål (the dialect associated with the primary written language in Norway). Singing in my dialect is pretty tricky. It's not -hard-, but it quickly sounds fairly... merry and hillbilly-like.

CoC: This would be a pretty stark contrast to the lyrics you usually write, wouldn't it, because that dialect really is utterly cheerful?

AK: Yeah, it's almost like a hobbit-dialect! Sometime in the future I really want to make it work though; singing in this dialect to heavy music without it being funny or silly in any way. If you can manage to pull that off without any Norwegians chuckling while listening to it, but rather finding it sombre and moving, then you have accomplished something very special. When it comes to lyrics I am a big fan of word play. Like André Bjerke in Norwegian, for instance. He's the king of clever little word twists. Also Gunvor Hofmo. A woman who wrote poems for many, many years. She was actually committed to an insane asylum for a long while and her complete works contain the most depressive content you'll ever find. But it has so much quality, and I especially like her first couple of collections, which are very traditional in form. I'm so old now that I appreciate such things. <Thinks for a moment> I'm trying to think of other lyricists, I know there's someone super-important I've forgotten about.

CoC: How about Edgar Allan Poe, with his excellent grasp of flow and rhythm? Aaron Stainthorpe from My Dying Bride?

AK: Yes, Aaron really has some amazing lyrics... I'm trying to remember the words to "Cry of Mankind" and I can tell it's been a long time since I've listened to them. It's a really cool band, but there are some of those bands that I, in certain negative periods of time, have had such a strong connection to that I now find them a little too draining to listen to. You know what I mean? That you can get an excessively strong bond between certain moods in the music and states of mind. Like, _The Silent Enigma_ from Anathema I have serious difficulties listening to. I actually can't listen to it at all unless I'm wasted and am surrounded by lots of people. It's an awesome record, but therein lies the problem. The music I like the most I like because it is so strong, so atmospheric and so emotional, so a lot of it I can't listen to very much. Take Neurosis, for example. It's one of the bands I think is pure genius at times. Their _Times of Grace_ album is one of the coolest I've ever heard, but I just don't have the stomach for listening to it anymore, because I get so devastated. I become a small shadow of myself who sits in a corner crying, and that's not really what you want to be doing on the evenings. I suspect there's a filter I'm lacking that could let me extract the energy from the music in a positive way. I can't sit and only listen to it, I get sucked completely into the gloomy atmosphere, and that's not always a good place to be. I actually got the urge to listen to My Dying Bride's first album now, I think it's a really good record. It has some infancy problems and a bizarre production, but there's some things there that are really cool.

CoC: <I then suggest checking out Mourning Beloveth's _The Sullen Sulcus_, as their style isn't too far from early MDB and their texts are quite abstract and thus not as gloomy. It seems to be taken under consideration, and as I point out how disappointing their follow-up was, I comment on how many bands, when they finally have everything right, take a step in the wrong direction and how I was afraid that this would be the case with _Desiderata_.>

AK: <laughs> Well, that could possibly happen with our next album. We are a little... I think many listeners will find it unpredictable. And we couldn't care less! We're our own little five-people family out on the countryside, making ourselves very happy with playing music. I think the only way one can make music and be able to stand by it afterwards is to do exactly what you think is cool.

CoC: Nearly every band will say that, but few actually do it. Even Metallica claimed that the black album was what they wanted to do, but they made tons of compromises -- often pressed through by Bob Rock -- to make it more... sellable. They vowed never to work with him again, but maybe the commercial success changed their minds?

AK: Yeah, that's a dangerous trap. When you've played in a band for so long and never got anywhere... well, Metallica isn't an example here, because they already had success. I think we've been able to avoid the trap of commercialising our music because we're so devoted to the musical content. Because we love just playing -- like at rehearsal. I really -love- rehearsing and that probably helps a lot -- that you don't feel that's a chore you have to do. I don't get how it can be any other way, really. How can you make music outside the criteria you value the most? The only thing I can think of is when we, purely for fun, have made stereotype music from a specific genre.

CoC: Well, some bands might have a rigid view of themselves, what they should be and what they should sound like. On rehearsal someone will say "this wasn't metal enough" or "this wasn't true enough" or whatever. It could be like how you explained the lyrics of "Evasions" -- they have a set idea of what they are and everything needs to match it so they can accept their own identity... or they could just want to make lots of money and try to force their music to meet that goal... or someone could just be too influenced by a band and will copy their style and make similar songs with the same sound?

AK: Yeah, that I can actually see happening.

CoC: <I then can't help but draw the parallel I feel exists between so few bands being fully true to who they are and how so few albums come out that really, really impresses me.>

AK: Yeah. There's so incredibly many albums coming out now. It really is silly how many albums actually get released. Of course, this is extremely dangerous to say when you are in a band yourself, but yeah -- some of them definitely should never have seen daylight. There's so much crap out there, but there's also so much music that I'm astonished people don't realize is crap. Fine, one can't argue about musical taste. It is individual. But when it's out of tune, out of key, underproduced without any atmosphere or charm and everything is just wrong, then I fail to see how some people can like it.

From there we end up discussing things like the Idol singing contest, where she comments how she hates vocalists who jam too many runs and other fluff into their singing; "Pick a note and sing it! Such effects are so annoying, and it's not even hard at all. It's just camouflage." From there we go on to fixing her cellphone and other unrelated matters, so I turn off the recorder and deem the interview concluded.

(article submitted 24/4/2006)


CHATS
8/2/2003 A McKay /
P Azevedo
Madder Mortem: A Dream Come True
2/13/1999 P Azevedo Madder Mortem: Crimson Dreams
ALBUMS
7/5/2009 K Sarampalis 9 Madder Mortem - Eight Ways
3/22/2006 P Azevedo 9 Madder Mortem - Desiderata
3/26/2003 P Azevedo 9 Madder Mortem - Deadlands
8/12/2001 P Azevedo 9 Madder Mortem - All Flesh Is Grass
2/13/1999 P Azevedo 9 Madder Mortem - Mercury
GIGS
3/21/2003 P Azevedo Opeth / Madder Mortem / Kormoss Morningrise in the Deadlands
1/14/2002 D Rocher Tristania / Rotting Christ / Vintersorg / Madder Mortem A Night to Remember, a Bill to Forget
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