To a Thunderous Beat of Impending Doom – Part Two
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 two.
I love the new Black Hole Generator album. The more I listen to it, the more I dig it.
B: We did spend ten years putting that album together, so it ought to at least be somewhat decent, haha. But seriously though, I hope that it has been worth the wait.
Well, let us be honest here; you have had a ton of other stuff on your plate all these years. I take it that there was never any rush when it came to composing and recording the BHG album?
B: In the beginning, things were moving along quite nicely. It sounds bizarre, but it all started out with me recording a dog barking and then putting riffs on top of that. I was just fooling around a bit, but some of those riffs turned out to be quite good and then all of a sudden Black Hole Generator was born. We could not keep enlisting the help of the dog because it was fucking up the timing, haha. Dreggen (guitars) then became involved and we recorded some demo tracks that eventually found their way to MySpace. The US label Ars Magna then got in touch and offered to release it for us, which we agreed to. We had quite a lot of material for an album and started recording that, but we were not as prepared as we ought to have been. Some of the things that we recorded just did not work and things feel apart a little. Both of us started working on other stuff. As time went by I started looking through some of the riffs and ideas again and I decided that I did not want them to go to waste. Luckily, I have a lot of good friends who are great at playing instruments and on top of that I run a recording studio with Herbrand, so I was able to move forward with the project and start recording again. Dreggen was living in Mexico around that time. We re-recorded the guitars and the bass and so on and then I did the vocals. Eventually, I was able to wrap the whole thing up. It was not exactly how I would prefer to compose, write, and record an album, but I am proud of it and stand behind the material 100 %. If I had to do it all again, I would have done it differently, but, like I said, I am proud of the record.
I was wondering how you felt about the material now that you had been working on it for some years…
B: Since I did so many other things and worked on so many other projects, I never really got to that point where BHG became a total bore and I grew tired of the whole thing. If I had worked rather intensely on it for ten years then that would have driven me mad, haha. I rarely listen to my own music. I only listen to it while I am actively working on it or mixing it, so I never really grew tired of the BHG material due to the way in which it was constructed and recorded.
Once one is done with something, one is already looking forward to the next album or the next project, right?
B: Absolutely, that is also how I feel.
Was there a specific reason or motivation behind the launch of BHG? Was there an agenda of sorts, say for instance a theme or a specific set of lyrics you had lying around that you felt had to be channeled into something musical?
B: Once it became BHG I wanted to do something that was a little more extreme than Vulture Industries, musically and lyrically speaking. A more extreme expression, if you will. The first BHG release is a little more black metal-ish compared to how the new album turned out.
I love the diversity of the new record. To me, it feels dynamic and yet pounding at the same time, kind of like nails being driven into your skull. “Spiritual Blight” is one of your finest compositions ever.
B: Thank you, I am quite happy with that one as well.
That song is extremely bleak and haunting and yet strangely moving. It is also insanely melancholic. I can listen to that track over and over and never tire of it simply because it is so hypnotic.
B: It does have trance-like quality to it, I think.
As I was telling my wife, it feels as if one is walking in on a strange and bizarre ritual that one is not supposed to watch, but you cannot help yourself and so you keep looking at it anyway, haha.
B: Haha, that is pretty cool.
What do titles such as “Earth Eater”, “Beneath the Chemical Sky”, “Spiritual Blight”, and so on connote and what inspired them?
B: The theme is very much centered on apocalyptic thoughts, impending doom, judgment day, and the end of it all as we know it. It is about the greed of mankind and as such is slightly darker than what my lyrics usually focus on in Vulture Industries.
Alright, but themes such as greed and sin also run through some of the Vulture Industries tunes…
B: Yeah, to some extent they do. They are relevant themes, I think.
Right, they are timeless, but then there are many different ways of approaching them.
B: Exactly, and never-ending themes like that always loom large in the overall perspective of things.
While I was listening to “The Hound” by Vulture Industries the other night, I could not help but think of “Let Love In” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds as well as artists such as Devil Doll and Tom Waits.
B: Those are all artists that I admire and listen to a lot.
Would it be fair to say that you find those artists more inspiring than metal or black metal or whatever?
B: Yes, that would be a fair assessment, I suppose. I honestly cannot recall the last time I ever read the lyrics to a black metal tune unless we are talking about a band or a project that I have been working on here at the studio as a producer. There are probably many good lyricists within the metal milieu, but the lyrics are not such an important deal to many bands and so they come across as less relevant quite often, which is totally unlike artists such as Nick Cave and Tom Waits where the lyrics are an extremely important and integral part of the whole listening experience. The lyrics are very much in focus when it comes to Cave and Waits.
I could not agree more. That brings me back to what I said about Vulture Industries and the lyrics being very important to me in the sense that the words evoke a certain mood and atmosphere as well as thoughts and feelings. They tell a story, in a sense.
B: It also helps that you can actually hear what I am saying as opposed to many extreme metal bands out there.
It is just so refreshing when a metal band focuses on and emphasizes the importance of good lyrics and storytelling to the extent that you do. “The Hound” is a good example of a composition that brings to mind great songwriters such as Waits and Cave even though you are quite far apart from each other musically…I guess I am trying to pay you a complement here, haha.
B: That is indeed a great compliment. I am a big fan of those artists and I am pretty sure that I have stolen an idea or two from them either knowingly or subconsciously, haha.
Let us use Nick Cave as an example. He draws a lot of inspiration from literature.
B: Right, but no art is created out of nothing. Everything derives or comes from something else. We are all influenced by something or someone. I often borrow ideas from others, to be honest with you. There is always that relation to other forms of art.
That is the way it is. Everything is connected. But there is also a difference between being inspired by something and basing ones work on something, right?
B: Yes,definitely. There is also a big difference between copying something and doing something innovative based on something else, you know? I am not saying that a copy is totally worthless, but it will always remain a copy of the original. I do prefer the originals.
Me too, but then you could go from there and state that “Why bother with the copies when you can spend time listening to the pioneers?”, if that makes sense. Why spend time listening to a third-rate copy of something?
B: I prefer to listen to the pioneers too.
There is an endless horde of copies out there. It is insanity!
B: It is like a xerox machine; if you copy something, it will inevitably be a little less bright or sparkling compared to the original sheet, haha.
That is a great metaphor, haha. Now on to something else; do you enjoy touring? Does it appeal to you?
B: Yes, I enjoy touring. Also, the fact that some people out there are willing to spend their time and money on coming to our shows is humbling. I also love checking out new places and meeting new and interesting people. Living on a bus for any number of weeks is a rather peculiar experience in the sense that a certain bond arises between you. On top of that, it is cool to wake up on the tour bus in the morning in some new place, you know? It can be hard work, too. You sleep a lot less that what you are used to. You do not exactly dine well. You tend to drink a little too much. It is not something that I want to do for six months at a time, but the way things are now with us being away approximately four weeks a year is perfect. Once you are on the road then things are cool. The first few days are cool. Then the next few are a little so-so and then things pick up again, haha. There are ups and downs to it. Once you get home it feels great, but then a few days pass and then you want to go out there again and do it all over again. Having said that, I love being at home, haha.
VULTURE INDUSTRIES live @ Betong, Oslo May 12, 2012
(Photo: Andrea Chirulescu)
Being so close to other people constantly, does that not bother you from time to time or become a little too intense?
B: That is true. You can get a little tired of having people around you constantly, but then I am fortunate in that I travel with cool people. We have done this so many times before and we always have a great time together. Also, we are good a giving each other a little space. Somehow it all works out. When it comes to the band, we work very well together in so many different ways. Many bands are quite dysfunctional on the road, but not us. There are no egos or primadonnas in Vulture Industries.
You are an incredibly active man in that you run a band, you run a management company, you are one of the owners of Dark Essence Records, and you work as a producer and is part.owner of a recording studio. It seems to me as if you love all kinds of different aspects of music.
B: Absolutely, yeah, but I just love the variety of it all. No two days are ever really the same. I love being involved in many different things. It can be a bit much at times, but having good and helpful people around one definitely helps.
You obviously have a strong work ethic and a lot of motivation for what you are doing.
B: Indeed. You do not get rich doing what I do.
It is a labor of love. It must be very fulfilling to achieve so many different things; getting bands out there on tour, composing, recording, and releasing albums, contributing to the local and international music scenes, and so on and so forth. The stuff that you create has an effect on people and it moves them.
B: Honestly, I never really think about stuff like that…
That is why I am here. Someone needs to enlighten you about stuff like this, haha. Besides, you are too fucking humble sometimes, haha. I know you!
B: Haha, right! It is truly humbling to know that what one does has an effect on others. One ought to cherish and respect the fact that others are investing their time in what you do, and I do cherish and treasure the fact that people are interested in what I do.
Dark Essence Records is very important to the local scene. You have released some great albums throughout the years.
B: There are so many talented bands out there and especially here on the west coast of Norway, so it is very fulfilling to be able to promote, produce, or even release some of their albums.
In my opinion, many of those bands have a sound and identity of their own, but what are you looking for when signing a band?
B: I rarely listen to demos. The other owners and associates of the label handle that, but if some band has checked into the studio that really appeal to me then I will let the others know about that band and ask them to check them out. Sometimes I also encounter something interesting when on tour and I will then notify the others. We always keep each other in the loop before actually signing a band. We are all in agreement to some extent.
There have been some long-lasting relationships. Look at Helheim, for instance. That indicates that you guys all get along, otherwise they could have just fucked off and signed to some other label. Speaking of Helheim, was “The Journeys and the Experiences of Death” the first album you ever produced?
B: Let me think…hmmm…yeah, that was the first full-length album I ever produced. I did a few demos and EPs before that one, however. The second album I did was the first Sulphur album, the one entitled “Cursed Madness”. But yes, it all started with “The Journeys and the Experiences of Death”.
Did you dream of becoming a producer one day?
B: No, not really. If you had asked me what I wanted to be 25 years ago then I would have said engineer or something along those lines.
It is fantastic that you have been able to turn this into a living. I really respect and admire you for that.
B: It is funny to think how it all started out with friends and buddies basically needing help recording stuff. Then it just grew from there.
Is working as a producer always motivating? If a band comes in and their music means nothing to you, what then?
B: It is not always motivating. You are totally right about that. Sometimes you end up producing a few similar sounding records in a row and that is not always interesting or motivating as such, but then you have do keep a professional attitude and just get on with it.
I reckon that is to be expected given that this is your job.
B: Correct. There is no way around that. In the overall perspective, it is a privilege to be able to work with many different bands and see how they work and so on. It broadens your horizon.
You are not exactly a teenager anymore. I think we can both agree on that, haha. So, when looking back on your career in music, do you harbor any regrets in terms of saying no to certain things or perhaps passing up on certain opportunities?
B: No, not really. My philosophical perspective very much revolves around the idea that regretting things is a futile exercise. If you feel happy and content with where you are now, what is the point of regretting things?
I agree. Sometimes when I speak to older musicians, they all say that they wished they had looked more into the business side of things as opposed to constantly rocking out, drinking, and nailing chicks when they were young.
B: Come to think of it, maybe I should have spent more time drinking beer, chasing chicks, and getting laid when I was a young and aspiring musician, haha.
Right, because you were extremely business-minded from the outset, haha!
B: Haha. But seriously though, I usually leave the past where it belongs, i.e. in the past.
One could also argue that you have explored different genres throughout the years. Take BHG for instance. That outfit is different to Vulture Industries.
B: Totally. There have never really been any limits or musical boundaries imposed on BHG. I just follow my own path and keep searching and experimenting with things. I still possess a strong urge to express myself through music. It is something primal, something from within. I also think that is the key to staying relevant. There has to be that fundamental drive.
Absolutely, you clearly have something that you want or need to express. Otherwise you could have quit years ago.
B: You are right about that. The great thing is that I still feel that I have a long way to go.
Do you have these periods where nothing comes to mind? No ideas, no inspiration, nothing!
B: Yeah, that happens from time to time. However, that is only natural and I have never ever felt frustrated or afraid that the inspiration would never return. Whenever those creative droughts occur I spend my time doing other things and then suddenly the inspiration comes back and then we are on a roll again. It feels good to get away from it all once in a while and then look at it from a fresh perspective.
You cannot force it either. That does not work.
B: Exactly, nothing good will ever come from that.
When looking at how people consume music these days, how do you feel about that? Spotify, compiling playlists, not listening to albums from start to finish anymore…what the fuck is up with the youth of today?
B: Lately, I heard this story about a relatively popular metal band with a young audience where said audience did not give a shit about the band‘s back catalogue. They only wanted to listen to the recent hits. Pretty sad, really. The album format has a certain length that can turn into an experience of sorts. There is something special about that. Not saying that a song cannot have a strong effect on you, but for us I think the album format is the most appropriate one and I think our fans will agree with that. Streaming is something that we have to deal with and I tend to view it as a new opportunity, but they need to establish proper models in terms of royalties and so on. Things are still very much up in the air. A lot of people are opposed to the idea of paying for music, but then they have missed the point entirely. Just as a carpenter or a plumber needs to be paid for their services, so musicians ought to receive something in return for all the hard work, the countless hours, and all the resources that they pour into their creations.
Exactly. Music does have value.
B: I could not agree more. Then there are those who consume music where music means nothing and they just want to have something on in the background or at a party or something. I can understand why they might feel unwilling to pay for music…well, to some degree, I suppose. The thing is that many bands and artists have spawned albums each consisting of ten or eleven tunes. Out of respect to the artists I feel that one ought to listen to the album in its entirety.
Speaking of listening to music, what are you currently listening to at home?
B: Ughhh, good question. Let me see…Anekdoten “Gravity”, The Black Heart Procession, the new Vulture Industries mixes (just to check if they sound alright), and then I recently stumbled on this band from Oregon named The Builders and the Butchers, which is awesome.
Do the old Vulture Industries demos feel like ancient history to you.
B: Haha, yes, more like a former life. I have not listened to those for years. I am not even sure that I own any copies of them anymore.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions of mine, Bjørnar. I really appreciate that.
B: Do not mention it, Jens. It was my pleasure.