The Gloves Are Off
CoC chats with Mortiis
by: Jackie Smit
Mortiis is pissed off. And why not? After years spent being called everything from "Ole Rubber Nose" to whatever else the embittered flunkies of the greater music press could come up with, the tables have finally turned. Suddenly the very scribes that before wouldn't give him the time of day are clamouring for his attention. The irony is that the reason for this happening is at least partially rooted in an album that directs its venom at just such hypocrisy. For those that don't know yet, _The Grudge_ takes a massive leap forward from 2001's _The Smell of Rain_. Branded "Era 3", it sees Mortiis as his most confident, vengeful best. I recently had the pleasure of receiving a call from the man himself, in what turned out to be a very lengthy conversation about everything from the forthcoming album, to being in the UK charts, to his days in Emperor.

CoC: Starting with the new record first of all: you have said many times in the past that you have dubbed your early work as "Era 1", that _Smell of Rain_ was "Era 2" and now _The Grudge_ is "Era 3". Was it the plan all along for you to evolve in this way, or is it something that happened naturally?

Mortiis: I think when I had finished _The Smell of Rain_, I didn't know what was going to happen. All I knew was that I was going to start a band, so that we could go out and play live, and that's what I did. We rehearsed and we started touring during 2002 and a little bit during 2003 and that's also when we started making the new album, and it was around that time that I realised that this [_The Grudge_] was going to be a hard album. I think I knew a little while before we started the album actually, because live we were just getting so much heavier. So, I kinda knew that this wasn't going to be another poppy kind of album. I knew there was going to be more hate -- for very good personal reasons, all of which tie in nicely with the album title as well.

CoC: You had been touring for _The Smell of Rain_ already by the time you decided this. So what made you want to draft in permanent members and get a fully-functional band going, so to speak?

M: I think just that fact that I grew up with all these rock 'n' roll bands in the Eighties, subconsciously this is what I always wanted to do. And when I made _The Smell of Rain_, I knew that the next step would be to stop the whole session musician thing, because that was basically the second album on which I had used a bunch of session members, and I kind of felt that was a bit of a drag. I mean, not that I didn't like working with those guys, but I felt that I wanted something that was more real, more true... more authentic. So that's what I set out to do -- I got all the guys together and, you know, here we are.

CoC: In terms of their contribution to your music, are the guys that have been drafted into the band given an active say on what makes it on to an album?

M: No. No fucking way. <laughs>

CoC: You're still the boss then?

M: I listen to what they have to say, and I basically come up with stuff that everyone loves anyway. I remember one of the guys when we were in the studio really hated "Twist the Knife" because when I brought it into the studio one night, it was at such an early state of completion that it probably sounded funny to him. But then when it started shaping up and it started to get the meat on to its bones, he said: "Fuck man that has to be a single." Of course, there's no way that song can be a single -- it's too damn weird for that. I agree that it's a cool song, but it's too fucking strange. But that just goes to prove that I'm always right. <laughs>

CoC: The issue of having a designated band leader does seem to work best in a lot of situations...

M: Yeah, you kind of have to go the Ceausescu route. Just follow my lead and that's it. You've got to be a dictator in a way. You don't have to be a prick, but if you have total democracy in a band, I think it's going to end up being a very unfocused, confused band where everybody has a say and no one is really 100% happy with everything that's going on, because they have to compromise with three or four other people all the time. I just find that it's better to have one designated leader in the band and everyone accepts that person, or you leave the fucking band, basically. The point where that happens, where someone doesn't necessarily agree, that's where problems begin, and as the visionary or the leader of the band, you then have a weak link on your hands, which you will probably need to get rid of. At that point of course it ceases to be personal; you know, it's business as usual, it's what's best for the band -- if you want to take it seriously, you have to treat it like a business.

CoC: So, in that sense, what ultimately got the guys who are playing with you right now their jobs?

M: Well, basically the fact that they're from around here [Oslo] and that they were ambitious and keen to be in the band. And, you know, they're not ugly and they look okay on photos and they can play their instruments. Everyone was okay with my ideas for imagery and of course everyone was into the stuff that I had written, like the stuff on _The Smell of Rain_. It took a little bit of time to get them into the whole "you don't have to play like Rammstein just because I'm saying that this is a slightly more industrial sounding one than the last song." That's one of the points that I had to hammer home in the first week: I wanted them to think in a more punkish attitude, like "fuck you, fuck you, fuck you" -- you know what I mean? Just be aggressive. And you know, I even pushed that point home when we were rehearsing _The Smell of Rain_ songs, and it fucking worked great. Those songs, which were initially poppy and catchy, were actually working out great for this more aggressive way. We started adding more guitars to that stuff and it sounds awesome. But the guys in the band -- they didn't have to audition or something to be in the band. It's not like that -- we're not fucking Aerosmith, you know.

CoC: Now, talk me through the recording process you went through for this album, because you did take a lot longer than the average to finish this one up. Come to think of it, I remember reading on your website when the album's recording started that you were going to complete the album in brief bursts of activity.

M: Yeah, kinda. What happened was that I would sit here at home with my setup and I would create songs. Usually every time I had like two of them ready, which basically meant that there was a pretty good structure with a beginning and an end and basically, you know, it made enough sense for the rest of the guys to be able to track their drums and bass and guitars on top of it. Then we'd get the songs to a state of completion where it wasn't really going to change a lot as far as structure and things like that. After that we'd hit the studio for like a week or two and basically just work on those few songs. And usually once those got started and I had given all my instructions to all the guys for drums or guitars or whatever, I would go to a different room and I would start programming on a different song again and start working on something else, like something that we had already worked on a month before. That worked really well. Instead of me just sitting there like a fucking little Hitler watching the guys work and barking orders, now I just kinda dropped in every fourty-five minutes to an hour and just see what was going on. And you know, every now and then I'd notice that something had been done wrong and we'd have to spend some time on it, and then when everything was okay again, then I'd just go back to my thing. The last thing that we would then track would be obviously the vocals, and I was pretty adamant that as much as possible should already be on the song, at least in some kind of demo form, before I tracked my vocals, because that's when the true power of the song comes out and that's when you give the best performance vocally. It gave me a lot of time to drink a lot of whiskey before I went and did it. <laughs> We drank a lot of fucking whiskey, because, you know, it loosens up the vocal chords, it warms up your throat and it's kinda like an ointment. Plus, it gets rid of a little bit of that stage fright that you will feel. Like you're standing there in an empty room in front of a microphone and you're supposed to go ahead and impress everybody with your amazing voice or something. You know, so when you go ahead with all that whiskey it's really not a problem at all.

CoC: I can imagine.

M: Yeah, so that was always like a fun three or four hours while we were doing the songs. I always had a lot of fun. When I heard my vocals on the songs for the first time -- you know, we had never rehearsed anything until we'd actually finished recording, so that we could play them live. We never recorded anything live either -- not vocals, drums or guitars or whatever. We just do everything bit by bit. It was really methodically done; things were looped up and repeated and then cut and pasted. But yeah, like I said, I had a really good time doing the vocals. It was weird in a way, because I'm singing about really negative stuff, so you're really living yourself into this while you're recording it, but at the same time you're kind of enjoying it. It's like you finally get to vent all these things and then you get to hear them screamed out into the air, and it's like "Wow, I finally got rid of that -- I finally got rid of that shit".

CoC: Speaking of all the anger and the negativity that you explore with _The Grudge_, it's something that you've made a lot of mention of in other interviews. Do you think that you've managed to exorcise all those personal demons completely with this record?

M: Well, it's hard to tell, because right now I feel like it's all out of the system. But I felt the same when I did _The Smell of Rain_, which was like a shitty two year depression crap time that I never ever want to return to. There was a lot of stuff that was left there, but I feel like I got a lot said now. I feel like I've had my revenge on a bunch of people and... I don't know, man. I feel like if I keep on whining about these people now, it's going to be kinda redundant and it's going to be like "Haven't you complained enough now?" Having said that, I also deal with several other things. There are always things that will piss you off in a variety of ways, and it's not like I just want to make music that's angry just for the sake of being fashionable. It's not like that. It's going to have to be real. These two last albums have been very real, as far as they both come straight from the heart, you know? So I'm going to really have to be careful on the next album, but I'm not too worried, because I know myself really well now. I know that whatever I do will be based in truth to some extent -- it's going to be something I feel or that I have an opinion about or something that's straight from the heart. I'm sure that there's a lot more stuff that I can just bleed out, you know? But we'll have to see, man. I just don't want to be treading water. It's a fine line, I guess, between just repeating oneself and then kind of doing something that's more meaningful and sincere.

CoC: The anger that you talk about on _The Grudge_ -- was this aimed at something specific, or are you just generally dissatisfied with the state of the world right now?

M: Well, it's all kind of personal. Several songs on the record are directed at specific people. I'm not going to name any of them, because I don't want to go down to that level. Then you get songs like "Gibber", which is more like an observational song about society and how society will hide and not acknowledge certain courtesies. You're supposed to be okay to people and society preaches this with all their morals and all that, but then you have like big groups of people that are really fucked around and no one ever really acknowledges that. So "Gibber" is about that. I guess, once again, it's set in a more Christian society -- the way Christian normalist society could so easily condemn people while at the same time preaching love and understanding. I never got the logic in that. That always appeared to me as very hypocritical. I'm by no means a hyper-intelligent, research-driven person. I'm not Manson or someone, who can back up every thing they're saying. I just happened to write a song about a topic that was bothering me and I've covered very similar topics with songs like "Parasite God". That song was pretty much about the same thing, just written in a different way. As a matter of fact, about 80% of the lyrical content of "Gibber" is older than "Parasite God". It was written ages ago with a different title and I found it, and I liked a lot of what it was saying and what I did then was to give it its last verse. I may also have changed the title and I changed a few lines here and there just to make sure that it kept the flow of the rhyme, because a song like "Gibber" is something that has to rhyme if it's going to be cool. And that's what "Gibber" is about -- it's kind of a Ministry tribute; it sounds a shitload like Ministry in many places. Also on the album, the major difference in the way I sing is down to Al Jourgenson's influence. So, that's one example and then you have songs like "Worse Than Me", which is kind of like stupid shit that I've put myself in. It's a song about stupid situation that I've allowed myself to get dragged into and stupid people that have fucked me around, making me feel slightly unstable. It's very retrospective though, because I haven't felt unstable like that for a great many years. It's just something you look back on and you never really examined what happened there -- sooner or later, it's just going to explode. That's the kind of person that I am. Maybe I'm fragile or something. I don't know. But I thought "Let's just write a fucking song about it." So, there's a lot of that kind of stuff.

CoC: Well, I definitely think that the examples you mentioned there are things that people can very easily relate to.

M: Yeah, it's extremely human. It all is. Everybody goes through things like that. Maybe I'm just a fucking sissy! <laughs>

CoC: Aside from being much more aggressive, you also took a lot more chances with this album.

M: Yeah, I agree with that. But then you can also argue that if you compare _The Smell of Rain_ with _The Stargate_...

CoC: There's a big departure there definitely.

M: So there was a big change there. I knew at the time that I could lose everything, but I figured that it was going to be worth it no matter what, because I was at the point of self-destructing at that time. I stopped enjoying what I was doing and I knew that if I kept doing this -- like do another _Stargate_ bullshit album -- I was going to fucking combust or something. I was just going to fucking sink, you know? There was no passion. And that was a really difficult, strange time for me for a little while, because I didn't have any vision for a little while. That's not like me at all. I always have very definite ideas and visions over what I want to do; there's always a focus on something. And for some time, there wasn't. I just didn't know what I was doing, and I just had to get out of that fucking situation and then I just found my way and realised that this was what I wanted to fucking do. I wanted to do the whole rock band thing that I grew up listening to in the '80s. Not your general kind of music of course, but just be the frontman -- to feel the reaction of the crowd, which is something that I find very rewarding; maybe not artistically, but egotistically. So that had to be done, so I knew that even if I lost everything it would have been worth it because I would have achieved something. But hey, what happened? We sold almost double. It was a pretty big success. To me on a personal level, that was a lot more scary than anything I did on _The Grudge_. I know that the _The Grudge_ is a big jump and it takes on a lot of new things. You have songs like "Twist the Knife" which has some really weird stuff going on and then there's songs like "Loneliest Thing" -- that's a really bizarre song that begins in one way and then ends off in a completely different way and ends up sounding almost like a soundtrack to "Miami Vice" with fucking digital synth that I was just going off on. Stuff like that... I think we did a lot of stuff on the album where I couldn't tell myself "Yeah, they're going to love it." It was more like "I think they'll like this." Do we care? Not really, because we're having a good time doing this and it feels right. So fuck 'em. Fuck 'em all!

CoC: How do you feel you've been portrayed by the media?

M: On _The Smell of Rain_, I felt like there was a definite improvement. At that point I think that people were really surprised about the music that came out from Mortiis -- about the music on that album. I think people, the press, everyone probably expected another bizarre concept album about insane fucking themes -- you know, travelling between dimensions and all kinds of spaced out, hippie stuff. So when the album came out, it had real subject matter, it had stuff that people could relate to, and I think that people were forced to realise that Mortiis could make some good music. I'm sure that a lot of media people hated that fact, because until then I was such an easy target, especially with the UK press.

CoC: That's actually what I was going to get to a minute.

M: Yeah, I mean, the UK press were pretty fucking merciless, especially when _The Stargate_ came out. We got a 2 out of 5 in Kerrang!, there were references to Morris dancers in the review. That wasn't exactly a fun read. You know, The Sun ran a small piece claiming that I was still living with my parents, which I wasn't, and then it really started to become like "Okay, why are you seeing these things?" If you don't like the album, fine, but why are you talking shit like this? Pretty much everybody in the UK were taking the piss and the album got no good reviews and a lot of people were introduced to Mortiis for the first time in that way. And I felt that people sending letters to Kerrang!, saying "Why the fuck do you have that stupid idiot in your magazine in the first place?" -- I was used a lot for humorous purposes. I thought that was like "Fuck them", you know -- I've been through all this shit before, I can handle it -- and I could. But it kinda felt like these guys praise guys like Slipknot who have a very similar image in a way. While I can appreciate that musically, they're vastly different to what I do, so whether that makes them more justified to have an image like that, I don't know. I just felt picked out and made fun of like you wouldn't believe -- ridiculed to the limit. That all changed quite a lot when _The Smell of Rain_ came out. There was more respect and more press too. So, this time round it's a completely different story. Now we're getting great reviews -- I mean, we got great reviews for _The Smell of Rain_ too, but this time it's even better. I think, if we didn't prove it last time, then we're definitely proving this time that Mortiis is musically very, very good. I'd hate to blow my trumpet now, but I feel confident now. We still have the image, but we change and morph into something different with every album, so I think that visually we've also gotten better.

CoC: Talking still about the UK press, I generally find particularly magazines over here to be very hypocritical. As an example, like you mentioned, you were a figure of fun for just about every magazine around, and when _The Smell of Rain_ came out, suddenly they started acting as though they'd been your biggest fans all along.

M: Now I'm writing for one of them every month! <laughs>

CoC: How does it make you feel when you step back and you analyse the situation as it stands right now?

M: I don't think I've really done that yet. I know that things have changed. I am noticing what's going on -- I'm not blind. It's not like people suddenly changed. Nobody changes, man -- it's just that the tables have turned. All of a sudden, Mortiis has more fans, we're playing live -- we've actually proven that we can be a good live band as well. I think people were just forced to acknowledge the fact that you can't just write us off as a one year novelty. We're not something that just came and went. I think we actually managed to override a lot of bullshit and a lot of the crap that journalists tried to throw in my face, all the ridicule at my expense. We're still here. Still playing fucking music and we're about to go out on a huge tour. We have ten UK dates and we were on the fucking charts over there!

CoC: Let's just talk about your imagery for a moment. I noticed on the press shots for the new album, your mask has changed from a full-on, face-covering to where it looks like a piece of skin that’s been stitched over your basic features. I might be reading too much into it, but is this a subtle hint that you might be doing away with the prosthetics in the future?

M: Well, that question proves that I have achieved what I set out to achieve. I wanted people to speculate and wonder, and that's what they're doing. It doesn't necessarily say that's going to happen, but it doesn't say that it isn't going to happen. I'm building a lot of bridges and I'm sowing a lot of seeds for me and a lot of other people. Let's all wonder what's going to happen now! I can tell you this: it will be full make-up on the tour. If I were going to get rid of the mask, I'd never do something like that cold turkey. As much as I love the shock factor, on that level, if I were to ever take off the mask, I'd do it in a very kinda subtle, tasteful way. We have a couple of really nifty things going on in the album artwork as well, so when that comes out, people are going to speculate even more, and there's going to be a lot of theories out there.

CoC: Well, one theory one could have is that the personal nature of _The Grudge_ and the imagery of the mask peeling off your face would indicate that you're opening yourself up a lot more.

M: It is becoming more so. It's becoming a lot more human. As such, I felt that the image needed to be humanized a little more. Maybe unwillingly, the character is becoming more human, because he is being drawn into the evil of this world more and more -- to be a little spaced out there for a second. That's one way of looking at it, absolutely.

CoC: Were you surprised to see the first single off _The Grudge_ enter the UK charts?

M: Well, as I tell everyone, I have stopped having expectations and I think that my enthusiasm was killed pretty early on when I was introduced to the realities of this industry. I have become very cynical and I've learned to accept that whatever happens, happens. You learn not to jump up and down about things, because things are never as good as they look. It was a pleasant call to get from Earache, when they called and said that we'd come in at #42. I mean, the aim for them was to just get into the charts, but it's very difficult. They said that if we come in, it will probably be at the low end -- maybe like the top 75, you know? So, when it happened, nobody was really expecting it. I was happy to get the phone call, but it wasn't one of those moments where you want to go and have dinner and celebrate.

CoC: That’s just because Earache don't pay you though.

M: <laughs> Exactly, I don't get shit! If they start to play it on the radio, then you start getting radio money, but I doubt that we've been A-listed yet.

CoC: Sadly not. The music scene in the UK is probably the worst in the entire world.

M: It can't be worse than Germany. Or France, for that matter. I think France has to be the worst. They have really weird laws, man, like 50% of whatever is played on the radio must be French. The horror of listening to French radio!

CoC: Do you still get a lot of questions about your early days with Emperor?

M: Yeah, they do. The question I get a lot these days, is how do I feel about the fact that they split up. I tell them that they split when they were at the top. It was a shock decision, for sure -- I mean, I don't think that Samoth really wanted to split up, but he didn't really have a choice. It was Ihsahn's decision. So, that's how that was. A lot of journalists are pretty young, and I think they want the inside scoop on what went down in the early days.

CoC: What interests me is how similar you see your persona while you were in Emperor to the character that you are today?

M: On an extremist level, which I'm on -- I've always been one of those "take it as far as you possibly can" people. Back in the early days of Mortiis when I was in Emperor, I was definitely that way as well. The day after I left Emperor, I sat down and thought about what I was going to do. Two days later, I went down to the music store and bought a keyboard. Didn't even know how to fucking play it! Still don't know how to play it actually, because I don't do music like that, I program the stuff. I was probably a better player back then than I am now, which is pretty scary. To get back to your question though, I've always been a pretty extreme person in many ways, but it changed a bit about three years or so after I started Mortiis. I lived in Sweden for a few years and I started to open up a bit more to people, and listen to different music. And I think that all gradually made me become the amazing person that I am right now.

CoC: What tracks on _The Grudge_ stand out for you as the songs that capture everything that the album is about?

M: Wow... that's a hard one. I think songs like "Gibber" and "Worst in Me" definitely. But they're all kind of important in their own way. I mean, there's "The Grudge" itself that kinda nails it down as far as how certain people have fucked me around. I don't know, "Way Too Wicked" does that as well. Then there's a song like "Le Petit Cochon Sordide" that's just about this person that's like the devil himself.

CoC: And here I was thinking you were singing about your feelings toward French radio on that song.

M: <laughs> Yeah, I was singing about how much I hate France. No, actually I don't hate France. It's just impossible to get shows there. They just have really strange laws over there and it's almost fascist in the way that they only seem to support their own. They seem to only like themselves and everyone else can go fuck themselves in a way. It's a weird attitude. I mean, it's like "Is Hitler back and ruling the musical climate of France?"

CoC: In an ideal world, what would you like to see _The Grudge_ do for you in terms of raising your profile?

M: I would be happy if we could sell enough that we could easily play and sell out decent sized venues -- a thousand people a night, so it's still fairly intimate. That's a case where you can get good fees and you can stably live off of record sales, so that everything could stop being such a hassle. The way it is right now, it's just such a hassle. For everything that you want to do, there always has to be a meeting, because it's always a budget question. It would be great to move ahead and not worry about doing videos, doing tours, worrying about tour support. All those things are part of daily life for me, and we have enough faith in ourselves to hope that those things are going to change with this album, or at the very least send us on our way.

CoC: Who would you regard as ideal touring partners for Mortiis?

M: Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. I don't know if it would mean anything to them, but to me it would mean a helluva lot, because they're kind of like the bands that I really enjoy listening to and that I'm really impressed with. I think that their fans would also really appreciate the stuff that we do -- in fact, I know that a lot of them do -- so it kinda makes sense.

CoC: Well, thanks very much for your time today, and best of luck to you with the new album.

M: Thanks for the interview, and I'd advise people to check out to find out when we're going to be in their town so that they can come and check us out.

(article submitted 23/9/2004)

12/9/1999 A McKay Mortiis: The Shadow's Soul Between Obscurity and Oblivion
10/11/1996 S Hoeltzel Mortiis: Mind Melding With Mortiis
9/23/2004 J Smit 8.5 Mortiis - The Grudge
10/19/2001 A McKay 6.5 Mortiis - The Smell of Rain
3/5/2000 P Schwarz 6 Mortiis - Fodt Til a Herske
1/1/1998 S Hoeltzel 7.5 Mortiis - Crypt of the Wizard
12/9/1999 G Filicetti Mortiis / Christian Death / Godhead / Diet of Worms The Black Metal Opera Arriveth
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