GROTESQUE HYSTERECTOMY – II/III Why Grotesque or why Hysterectomy
Not so long ago, in the list of bands that end up more and more often in my musical newsfeed, the name Grotesque Hysterectomy sort of stands out. And it somehow insists, so you end up knowing so much about a band that you haven’t even listened to yet. But in one of those pieces of news they announced the release of an upcoming album, now in the fall, so I thought to maybe find some of the band members and see what’s behind this strange name and the insane music that pours from your speakers once you press play on their tunes. Christopher Konings and Shandy Mckay are the two in the band who sat down with me and walked me through the bizarre world of Grotesque Hysterectomy. The band originates from Norway, can be thought of as death metal (although the below interview both confirms and destroys the myth), it started trying to sound like Metallica or Maiden and it failed so badly that it ended up with a "pile of mistakes, done over and over repeatedly and it’s so beautiful." (quote from the interview). I personally found it a fun and intriguing chat, pretty much how the guys presented their music.
In the brief description that one can find about the band, you read that Grotesque Hysterectomy was started somewhere in 2002 and then it went through a lot of line up changes, with people coming and leaving and returning, etc. So, who’s the band today..
Christopher Konings: It’s basically me and my brother who started the band in 2001 and like you said, along the years we had so many changes, probably due the fact that it’s not easy to play in a band with two brothers fighting all the time.
But when this band actually started, was it that you two guys played together for a long time or was it some spontaneous decision, a teenage dream?
CK: We started to listen Iron Maiden, Metallica and stuff like that, stuff with brutality and energy. We picked up our instruments and tried to sound like them.
Do you think you succeeded?
CK: No, absolutely not!
Shandy McKay: Which was actually their success
Hehe, so then if you didn’t succeed to sound like those bands, you ended up with your own music and sound?
CK: Yea, it ended up way more brutal. I remember that back then, when I first listened to Cannibal Corpse I was like ‘wtf is this?’, it’s impossible for someone to play like that! At the beginning, we were just making noise. We tried some sort of death metal, but it ended up more like grind core. We didn’t know what we were doing, at all.
SM: We still don’t know what we’re doing, which is great!
Actually that’s what I am trying to figure out. Where would you include your band at the current moment?
CK: It’s hard to tell. Technically, we always try to keep it at a higher level than we all actually are at. We try to keep that punk attitude and always play a bit faster than we really can. That way we will always sound like the dirty band we are.
SM: That’s such a good description. I’m uncomfortable playing their music which is something weird. In all the bands I’ve been with I’ve been comfortable and found it easy to adapt, to do what I do. In this band though, it’s another world. It’s bizarre, and that’s the intrigue. I’m not bored at all, it always keeps me hungry. That’s mainly because of what he (pointing towards Christopher) writes. He writes bizarre shit, and I love it.
That means the writing process is Christopher’s responsibility?
CK: In the first stage, I’m just sitting home, making some pre productions which I then present to the band. My brother, who is the drummer, writes the rhythm and some of the song structures together with me. Now, Shandy is going to start writing some leads.
SM: I polish on top of what they’ve already done. It’s different, as I’m a song writer in everything else I do, but in this band I’m really not. I appreciate that. It’s a totally different dynamic for me. I come in and play what he writes and what he writes it’s so bizarre and well, wrong..
You try to make it right or you keep it as it is then?
SM: Nonono, it’s not that. Ten years ago this wouldn’t have worked for me. I would have simply said ‘Oh Christ, you’re doing this wrong’. But I’ve explored so much music lately, trying to be with more inventive and intriguing bands and that’s why I actually joined these guys. I realised that they’re something that’s completely against the rules, they don’t give a shit about them anyway, they are not trying to be anything, this is simply what and how it’s happening with them. I so love the intrigue of, for example, instead of sitting down and fixing that guitar line, we’d rather make that mistake work. It’s our sound. If you listen to the music, it’s a big pile of mistakes, done over and over repeatedly and it’s so beautiful.
So it’s a music based on mistakes? – some laughter comes along with this dialogue –
SM: I wouldn’t say that. It has a direct intent from his point of view, but through my eyes…I’m clinical, you know…I see things clinically, as I said, ten years I would have thought this is something wrong. Now, I come in to this, and I’m like ‘Wow, you’re doing something that I would want to fight against, but I’m just gonna do it your way’. I have to actually become a better musician. No, a much better musician, in order to be in this band, so…That’s the intrigue I told you about. It’s something we don’t wanna change. I do wanna write a little bit, due my ego, but the most important fact about this band is that he continues to write the music. That’s what makes Grotesque Hysterectomy.
When did you join the band yourself?
SM: Not that long, anywhere between six months and a year ago.
When you first heard them, what other band you might have thought to compare them with?
SM: Well, that’s kinda weird, because I never heard them. My buddy Birger, the other guitarist in the band and with whom I play in other bands together, came to me and said that these guys need a solo and since you play leads. Since I’m always willing to throw myself into something new, I said ‘yea, sure’. I showed up to their rehearsal and as it often happens when you go in a rehearsing room, it all sounded noisy anyway. I couldn’t hear anything, only noise, but just seeing what Chris was trying to do on the guitar and my instincts kicked in saying ‘He’s bending the rules, he’s not playing that right’. But then they actually played two songs and I sat there, thinking ‘Holy shit, they just pulled off a big pile of mess and it sounded so cool’. When they were done I felt like, for example, when you know algebra and how much two plus two is and someone comes up and shows you trigonometry. It’s a bad starting point. Normally, I’d be turned off by that but it had the opposite effect on me. At first I wasn’t sure if they really needed a member or not, but the guys asked me if I come to another rehearsal and then we just all got along very well. Overall, I just kinda fell into the band, I’ve never been asked if I join starting today. I simply started showing up. I still haven’t listened to the whole back catalog, only to the songs I started learning.
I personally play in a lot of bands and this one intrigues me the most. I love all my bands, obviously, but this one is a different kind of fun.
This is less more straight forward?
SM: This has got me captivated in another way. This man has me with a big question mark always on my mind. What will happen next, what’s going on?
What was the most challenging thing for you, guitarwise, when you play or played with Grotesque Hysterectomy?
SM: It’s still the most challenging. All of it. There’s nothing easy about it. It bends the rules. It has very bizarre timings, the closest thing – only from this point of view – might be maybe Virus. Yet, we don’t say we sound like that, it’s just when it comes to timings that bend the rules. You’re expected things to go one way then something else happens, it all goes somewhere else and it hard to accept where it went. You’re so confused. But overall it’s not noise metal, it’s very structured and sounds great.
CK: In my head it sounds right.
SM: Let’s say I start counting to four, a bizarre musician might count to five or something. But this guy here, he starts saying his ABCs backwards. See how confusing that is?
I read that you’re working on a new album…
CK: Yea, so far we had a demo in 2003, a one seven inch releae in 2005 and a twelve inch in 2007. So it’s been a while since we recorded something actually. We stopped for a while, spinning our wheels, trying to reinvent the sound, but I don’t know if we did.
SM: You did, in my opinion. The first material of yours sounds something like kids writing some cool shit, doing what they want without carrying too much. The new material is this guy…I don’t know, I actually don’t even wanna know how he comes up with it. I think if you question things too much and dissect it and discover the actual formula, it looses its fascination. But like this, he’s just writing bizarre shit and it’s so cool. The new shit is a completely different world, it’s on another scale.
Is your writing influenced by listening to other music? Or by any kind of action in particular?
CK: I don’t listen to a lot of music. Probably some classical tunes on the radio. I just walk around, hear this music in my head and it needs to get out. Overall, it’s a long process.
Surprising how many metal musicians I meet and say they actually listen to classical or jazz music, and hardly to any metal. How did your sound ‘evolve’ from the first album to now?
CK: Yea, initially we were trying the Cannibal Corpse in one song and then Deicide in another song. I don’t think we sounded like them, but that’s what we had as direct inspiration. Nowadays, when we make music it’s more like ‘Nah, I heard that before, that riff is good for garbage’. We’re more trying to create our own ‘dialect’.
SM: When I introduce the band to my friends, at first they see the name and they’re like ‘What is this man, are we back in the nineties?’, but then they hear the old material it’s easy for them to pin it to death metal. The new stuff does the same with everyone, though: it brings a big question mark over their head and they go ‘I don’t know what to say about it, but I like it’. It must be the same thing I had: the intrigue. Fully intrigued by what this band is capable of.
So, to draw a conclusion, it’s the kind of music that brings a big question mark over your head.
SM: Yea. First of all, it’s brutal.
CK: That’s why almost everyone is going to hate it.
Why do you think that?
SM: Come on, it’s metal world, everybody’s the most judgemental people there. But leaving joke aside, I don’t really see it brutal. It’s like when you see an image in art. You see a Rembrandt, a Monet or a Van Gogh and, even if they differ in style, they are still beautiful. With this music, I don’t see any beauty. I see the other side, I see that art that you don’t understand when you see it. Like a baby with a gas mask and some puzzle pieces.
SM: That’s exactly what I hear from people listening to this band. This ‘huh’ and a big question mark.
What do you sing about?
CK: That’s personal.
Oh no, so it’s gonna stay secret?
CK: Nah, I just have nothing to do with the lyrics. Now, our new vocalist, Sigve Torland, is responsible for them. He created a theme about a family that abused his son, and the son pays back in a lot of bizarre ways. It’s not very original, but it’s brutal. Overall, it’s not a concept album, but the six songs with six destinies have a concept around them.
SM: There’s no underlying themes in these band, no message about being satanic, religious, anti government or so. It’s just lyrics, stories, like Stephen King writing a book.
Back to the new album that will be released in October, how do you, yourselves, fell about it?
CK: It feels quite scary. I spent four years to gather the material which I think it’s good enough.
Was the material strictly composed for this new album or did you use any left overs from the previous stuff?
CK: No, only new stuff. We spent quite some time trying to figure out what we want to sound like, so we created stuff for this album specifically.
So, what do you sound like then?
SM: Like a baby on a gas mask, with puzzle pieces around. But yea, if we really want to try a categorisation, it’s death metal. No matter what, the fundamental is that it’s an extreme death metal. A bit progressive at times, but not like King Crimson does Cannibal Corpse or something like that. I can say we’re very disharmonic as well.
Will the album be supported by a tour?
SM: Yep, we’re doing a mini tour, in Norway.
Overall, what’s the catch with this new album?
SM: I can try to summarise it, since it’s such a philosophical question, something I think about quite often and I can probably talk for an hour about it. It’s about the individual, that doesn’t exist, in my opinion. You can’t be individualistic, you can’t give up all rules, live far away from everything, far away in the woods, well, there’s already somebody doing exactly the same thing on the other side of the forest for example, therefore you’re no longer THE individual. In my humble opinion is that this music, to me, is the closest to individuality, as far as I heard in metal. It’s unique, it’s heavy, it’s definitely not happy music. It won’t make you smile because of its positivity. It’s gonna make you smile from the deluded side of your mind. it’s heavy bizarre shit, constructed so beautifully. It’s this guy’s mind, I’m telling you. He’s a normal dude, easy to talk to and all that
It’s just his mind that…
SM: Yea, when he puts his fingers on the fretboard, something happens. In a special and unique way. He’s not trying to emulate, to be someone else and that’s just what he feels, making it all so beautiful. I believe that a lot of us as musicians strive to have that naturally, but we don’t realise that we have these barricades called influences and those things come out a lot of times in what we write. But with Grotesque, it’s kinda hard to put a similarity. You might find some tones or sounds that you think come from here or there, but as the entire project falls out, you’re left with that question mark we talked about.
When you sit down together and rehearse, does it go smooth or and you do full songs or do you really have to insist on certain parts all the time?
SM: We really have to rehearse. For me it’s not easy, but for him, well…
CK: Since we don’t do many concerts, we have to start from scratch more or less every time. And everyone shows up and says ‘Man, I don’t remember’.
SM: It takes a lot to play this material right. It doesn’t take a lot to play the material itself, it’s not like we’re Emperor for example, with all these scales or arpeggios. You can play the chords or notes right, you can be on time but doesn’t mean you’re playing it all right. It has to feel right. There’s a certain feel this guy has when it comes to music…
CK: It’s actually not the notes, but the spaces between them, you have to remember that. A lot of extreme metal bands don’t have space between notes. They don’t seem to know that there are different ways to move from one note to another and that’s something I try to put a lot of accent on.
CK: Why Grotesque or why Hysterectomy?
Well, that would have followed, but not let’s just say why Grotesque Hysterectomy?
CK: To be honest, when we were looking for a band name, my brother just picked up a dictionary searching for strange medical terms. So we found hysterectomy and thought it sounded cool.
SM: It’s cool to spell too.
CK: And it has to be grotesque. We didn’t even know what the word meant. Once we found out what that was, we had to make a concept out of it on our album, Reek. That came with the gadget ‘1,2,3 – Hysterectomy’ Kit. It was a ‘Do it yourself’ kit, with a scalpel and instructional manual and everything on how to do it. In my opinion we have to not only try to make unique music, but to make the concept a little bigger and give a certain dimension to it. To intrigue more people and give them something extra to hear about.
What about live shows? Do they have any concepts?
CK: Nah, we just play our music on stage, nothing else. Nothing funny on stage. But a little bit of humor is ok in the layout and the concept of the band, of course. We even have a new gadget that will come out with the new album. It’s a board game that will follow the lyrics in the songs.
With the abused kid?
CK: Yes, exactly. The kid is killing his own family, step by step. You are the kid in the board game. You listen to our music, play the game and follow our lyrics. I believe there’s actually a problem with metal lyrics. No one really cares. So that’s why I designed the game myself, to make people more aware about the texts. The game comes with two dices, I call them battle dices and they have each six different weapons and values. If you ‘step’ on your mother and you win the battle against her, you may gather her head.
SM: So the main achievement is to get all the heads.
So that’s the perfect score. Since we’re talking about perfection, do you think your music is perfect?
CK: Yes. I’m never happy actually. Even if I am the first day when I do something, the day after I keep thinking I could have done it otherwise.
Then how do you end up with a ready release?
SM: You just have to put your foot down and say ‘I’m done now’. I know since I have the same problem. I need to be told by other musicians who work with to simply stop and put things on tape. If I were a painter, I’d still paint my very first painting and it would have a six inches thick layer of paint. But back to the band’s release, we are very excited about it.
You just managed to create such a bizarre image of it to me, and I’m so convinced I’ll feel that question mark. It’s already all over my mind and intrigues me.
SM: I wouldn’t have joined if it hadn’t been for that intrigue. I already had too many things going on, but stepping in into that room I knew this was the band I wanted to be a part of.
CK: You should actually go on our official page on Facebook and check out one song from the upcoming album. It is called ‘Pussy galore’
How is that related in any way with being abused…
CK: Well, it’s just how the kid sees the world. But if you go there and check you might get an idea of what we have talked about until now, and hopefully it will make you want to listen to the rest of the album.