To a Thunderous Beat of Impending Doom – Part One
I have been meaning to interview Vulture Industries mastermind Bjørnar E. Nilsen for a long time now. I vividly recall being swept away by their 2010 album entitled “The Malefactor’s Bloody Register” and from that point on my admiration and respect for the man and his many talents would only grow. The Vulture Industries discography is impressive in and of itself, both musically and lyrically, but last year’s “A Requiem for Terra” release by Black Hole Generator, which was crafted by Mr. Nilsen, totally blew me away and I realized that I simply had to meet up with the dude and interview him. There were no two ways about it! I caught up with Bjørnar at the Conclave & Earshot Studios in Bergen on a dark and windswept Thursday afternoon in February to discuss the upcoming Vulture Industries album as well as the aforementioned and rather bleak affair named “A Requiem for Terra”. As usual, yours truly did not stick to any of the questions he had jotted down on paper before the interview took place and so we ended up discussing and reflecting on the importance of the written word, the blessing of inspiration and the lack thereof, and Bjørnar’s many endeavors outside of the aforementioned two bands. Read on and do not forget to check out the Vulture Industries and Black Hole Generator releases on Bandcamp once you have finished reading this! Here’s part one.
Vulture Industries live @ Southern Discomfort 2014
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)
First of all, what is happening in the Vulture Industries camp these days?
B: We are currently mixing the new album. Eight songs in total. Pretty much everything is in the can although a few bits and pieces need to be added. One track is missing some vocals. We have mixed four out of those eight tunes, but I am pretty sure that everything will be wrapped up in around two weeks time and then we will release the album in September.
That is perfect. The music of Vulture Industries lends itself well to autumn, haha.
B: Indeed, haha. September is also a very good time of year in terms of promoting a record. I am very pleased with this new one. You can tell that it is a Vulture Industries record, but it is somewhat different in places. People have something to look forward to!
That is what I love about Vulture Industries. You guys have never been predictable. The thing is that you always challenge the listener. There is never any repetition in play.
B: Usually a few years pass between each album, which probably accounts for why there is a bit of variation and diversity to the proceedings and between them. Whenever I write and compose music, it is somewhat akin to a journey. There is no preconceived notion about what the album or the song or whatever has to sound like. It is not as if I sit there and go, “Now, I have to write a song that sounds like that” or anything that sounds similar to a other tunes out there. The songs take shape and are formed as we go along, which I think is a great advantage. The creative process is what dictates the outcome, if that makes sense.
That is what makes it interesting; there are no barriers as such.
B: Yeah, I agree.
Are you spontaneous and intuitive when it comes to writing and composing music?
B: Yes, definitely. Most of the stuff that I come up with crops up whenever the mood strikes me, but that can be whenever I am out walking or doing something completely different to music. It usually always happens unexpectedly. Then I usually locate my cell phone and record the vocal melody or the riff or whatever. I have this app where you can put a few tracks on top of each other. It is like a 4-track mini-recorder in a sense. Then I take the ideas with me to the studio and see if I can develop them into something interesting.
Do you then take those ideas and present them to the others?
B: I usually whip those ideas of mine into shape before I involve the others. Many of the ideas and so on are woven and pieced together before the other members enter the picture. Having said that, Øyvind also composes material for Vulture Industries and he works in a somewhat similar fashion to me, but I am probably more involved in finalizing his songs than he is mine. Some of my songs are more or less complete by the time I present them to the others, but often it feels as if the song is not entirely done until we present it to an audience on stage. Very often we make small adjustments when we record any given song in question, but when we then play the song live it is as if it attains its final and most complete structure and shape, almost as if any sense of completion is deferred until we air the song live and people react to it.
That is quite interesting, but it sounds to me as if the whole creative process is rather long.
B: Very long!
Vulture Industries live @ Inferno Festival 2013
(Photo: Stig Pallesen)
You mentioned that the ideas often arise intuitively and on the spur of the moment, but what exactly inspire you in terms of other art forms? I presume that different art forms inspire you haha.
B: Absolutely, there are many things that inspire me. A good book, a good movie, a picture or a photograph, but also long walks in the mountains can inspire me greatly. Actually, being in motion and moving can act as a catalyst in terms of unleashing inspiration, at least to me.
I totally agree. To me, walking in nature is like therapy or an exorcism of sorts. You can actually focus on what is important.
B: If you are having one of those crappy days where everything blows ass, go for a walk in the mountains and I can pretty much guarantee that you will feel like a man reborn by the time you come back down. That is pretty much guaranteed!
Now that we are talking about music and different forms of art and so on, I must say that I have always felt that the words to your songs are just as important as the actual music. The words, the very sentences, and the sentence structures provide me with countless mental images. I find it difficult to put all of this into any meaningful words. Your lyrics bring to mind old classic literature, postmodern films, politics, sociology, and so on and so forth. The list is pretty fucking long. There are so many things that I associate with your lyrics.
B: Wow, thank you.
That was meant as a compliment haha.
B: Haha. Well, I have always been occupied with the idea that the lyrics have to compliment the music and vice versa. It is like any two-way relationship. When it comes to lyrics, they must have substance and they must be about things that captivate and interest me. They have to reflect different shades of my mind and the times that we live in to a certain extent.
When you put it like that, it seems as if there are no limits or boundaries to the subject matter of your lyrics.
B: That is totally correct. The whole process of writing them is equivalent to how I compose music. As long as the lyrics feel right, then everything is right, if you know what I mean. Apart from them having substance, they need to be open to interpretation. Morals, ethics, answers, solutions, and how one ought to live have no place in them. They are not a recipe or a guideline or some shit like that. They discuss and reflect on various problems and issues from different angles while evoking a certain mood and atmosphere that relate to the music.
I find that rather noble. I hate it when lyrics preach. Your lyrics do not tell us what to think or mean. They definitely leave room for interpretation.
B: I want to stimulate and create a mental space for reflection instead of serving some lame solution to things. One of the major sources to the world‘s problems is that countless people are of the opinion that they possess the right answers and therefore ought to be in charge of everything.
I agree. Let us take “The Tower” as an example and the whole “Money is Power” theme. That is more like a statement of sorts, but not necessarily a whole lot more than that. Would you agree? One can reflect on it in whatever way one chooses. Nothing is ever fixed or constant. One has to find one‘s own answers. But then again, I have always felt that the words are highly important.
B: Absolutely. Everything has to work and function somehow, which is to say that the music and lyrics have to correspond. That also goes for the visual image. Everything has to fit together to some extent. There is a totality in play there.
(Photo: Jarle H. Moe)
As to that, the German term gesamtkunstwerk comes to mind whenever I think about how your music, lyrics, and visual image all correspond to each other. Everything has an important part to play. Each and every piece enhances the other, so to say. Are you extremely fixated on details and subtle aspects of your work?
B: Well, that depends on how I feel on any given day, haha. I can be lazy at times haha. I have quite a strong work ethic, but when it comes to minor details I sometimes leave them alone. I can be a control freak though, but then on some days I am more relaxed and mellow. Strange, really.
As a listener and a fan, the way in which the different aspects of Vulture Industries correspond to each other is a thing of beauty. It all adds an extra dimension to things. However, where does the carnivalesque nature and theme of your music and the band stem from? Have you always been into theater and stage plays and so on?
B: I have always been fascinated by things like that. Ever since I was quite young, in fact. I even did a bit of youth theater and was quite active around that back in the day. I guess that I have always felt compelled and captivated by things that do not quite gel, things that are slightly off the mark or downright strange. That has always been a major attraction to me. Things that do not work properly, if you know what I mean. I love things that provoke a strong reaction in me and so that over-the-top stage presence of ours ties in with that, I reckon.
Indeed, why not provoke people? Why go the safe route?
B: Right! So many out there play it safe all the damn time, so it is interesting to do something a little different, I think.
I can guarantee you one remembers a Vulture Industries gig. One cannot remain passive throughout your set.
B: Maybe this will sound a bit elitist and arrogant, but I think proper art ought to make it impossible for its audience to remain passive.
Probably a bit if a lame analogy, but there is nothing worse than receiving and reviewing a mediocre album.
B: Exactly. I would much rather have a critic tear us apart as opposed to saying that we are a mediocre band.
Speaking of the theatrical side to Vulture Industries, how come actor Helge Jordal appeared on the covers to your first two records?
B: You know, it would be kind of cool to have him appear a third time so that we could label the whole thing “The Orion’s Belt Trilogy”, haha.
Does Jordal even like the music? Be honest now!
B: Well, he does find it a bit extreme, but I think he likes certain aspects of the first couple of albums. He did turn up at one of our shows once and he then texted me telling me that he liked it, but that he found it to be quite wild. Initially, the way he became involved in the whole thing was that I found his phone number and contacted him and explained to him who we were and what Vulture was all about. He was open to the idea of appearing on the cover, but he was like “I have to make sure that this is something that I can stand behind and support – it has to be worthwhile! But mail me some music and some lyrics that I can check out and then I will look into it”. He turned out to be a really cool dude and very easy to work with. He was into it. Very down to earth and thoughtful. Once in a while I run into him at Garage.
That is an interesting story. I was just wondering how all of that came about and why he ended up on those album covers.
B: We had a clear idea of how to compose the cover art for the first album and we wanted an actor involved, preferably an older actor. Helge Jordal was our first pick. Luckily, he said yes. That was what we were hoping for.
Having an actual actor involved only underlines and emphasizes the theatrical side of the band in my opinion.
B: I agree.
Many of your compositions have a cinematic feel to them regardless of whether we are talking about Vulture Industries or Black Hole Generator
B: Perhaps my music sounds a little like Helge Jordal! Haha.
Haha, indeed it does. Fuck me, is Helge Jordal a secret member of your bands and you simply forgot to let me in on the secret before conducting this interview and now I am sitting here looking like an ass for not figuring it all out? Haha.
B: Haha! Who knows?
To be continued…….