MONSTEREO – Interview
JIGSAWS, WITNESSES, AND THE SEARCH FOR ENLIGHTENMENT – AN INTERVIEW WITH MONSTEREO
Not that long ago, yours truly received a sparkling new copy of Monstereo’s latest record entitled "In the Hollow of a Wave" and I was truly impressed by the evocative, otherworldly soundscapes that these four Norwegian gentlemen from the stunning Norwegian West Coast had conjured up. Floating somewhere between psychedelic rock, hazy stoner rock, and something else entirely that can only be classified as deeply atmospheric progressive hard rock inspired by the glorious 70s, their eclectic brand of music is something out of the ordinary and worth exploring in more detail as it is filled to the brim with wildly interesting textures. Eternal Terror Live caught up with Øyvind (guitars, synthesizers, and Hammond organ) and Ola (vocals, guitars, and synth) to discuss all things Monstereo and why the concept of space looms large in their own musical creations.
Greetings, how are you doing and what have you been up to today?
M: Fine, thank you! Started the day off with a good cup of coffee. Stoked to finally be releasing our new album!
Now that your latest opus, the incredibly cool "In the Hollow of a Wave", is out and the entire creative process has come to an end, how do you feel about the output and what is the feeling within the Monstereo camp like these days? How long did it take you to craft the LP from beginning to end? Did some of the themes and ideas for it sit around for months or even years prior to actually getting recorded?
M: It feels great! This album has been in the making for many years. We actually recorded a seven-track album back in 2017 that was scrapped. We needed some time to evolve our sound as well as becoming fathers and finishing various educations. Two of the songs from the original recording session are still on the album but re-recorded with Iver Sandøy (our producer for ITHOAW). Both "A Sudden Rush" and "Jigsaw" are old tunes that needed a few years to mature; two pieces of cheese that just needed to get a tad cheesier. This might be our most thoroughly produced album to date. It took a lot of work, but we’ve had a really fun time throughout the process. We laughed a lot, which is important, and joked around with riffs and references from old tunes. So, the feeling in base camp is good. We are old enough now to not take ourselves so seriously and that really boosts creativity.
To these ears, the album is all-out marvelous in terms of conjuring up a unique, slightly hazy, and surreal atmosphere and the whole affair comes across as a warm, lively, and organic offering. As much as I admire your previous releases, "Bright Dark" and "Spacesuits, on", I think "Hollow" is the most fully formed and confident record of yours yet. Would you agree? Do you ever reflect on the musical evolution of the band and how you guys have matured as songwriters over the years?
M: Yes. We definitely agree. As mentioned, this album is our most thoroughly produced to date both in terms of song writing and recording. We collaborated with producer Iver Sandøy. He really got the best out of us as the album is ridden with organs, synth, fuzz guitars and tambourine – all in true classic rock fashion. He’s gotta be a wizard or something.
We are definitely also more conscious of what we want to do. Playing in a band with your friends is a precious thing and time is always an issue. We want to have fun together and playing progressive rock is so much fun. It’s like writing a story. More is more as Yngwie (Malmsteen) said.
What was the initial motivation for bringing Monstereo to life and where did you guys hook up? Was it a shared passion for vintage rock and all things psychedelic that brought you together or perhaps something else entirely? Were all of you active playing in other bands or projects prior to joining forces in Monstereo?
M: Øyvind was studying with Ola in Bergen. Ola introduced him to Jon and Jørgen and we had two or three meet-ups and almost immediately hit it off. We were all serious Motorpsycho-fans back then (and still are) and had different projects at the time, but Monstereo was a welcome change for all of us.
In terms of writing and arranging songs for Monstereo, how exactly does the creative process unfold and who contributes what to the band and its evocative soundscapes?
M: Usually, Ola and Øyvind come up with a riff or a song structure. We have always jammed out a lot and still try to incorporate that into our songs, even when the songs seem very straightforward and pre-produced.
Given that there is a loose and vibrant feel to your compositions, do you guys tend to experiment and improvise when hanging out in rehearsals and working in the studio?
M: In the studio we are more effective and well organized and prefer to use as little time as possible. Studio time is expensive time. We are all from West Norway, so maybe we are a tad cheap-ish? The main recording session was done in Duper Studio at Bergen Kjøtt during a weekend after New Year’s in 2019, including a few synth and vocal sessions during the spring of 2019. At least that’s good value for money!
Speaking of spontaneity, what is a Monstereo live gig like from your perspective and is it a thrilling experience?
M: A live gig with Monstereo is always a lot of fun! Especially for us. Our debut concert at Kvarteret in Bergen included an almost 20-minute-long song. People were shocked, in part because it was a talent show with mostly indie bands and rappers, but we still had a total blast! These days we are more in-sync with our audience, and we always crank the juice on our live shows. Happy ear-bleeds for everyone!
Photo by Kim Kvalheim
Could you perhaps list some of the artists and bands who have inspired you over the years both in terms of picking up an instrument and with respect to writing and composing song material of your own?
M: So many great bands. Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Rush, Doobie Brothers, Dungen, Thin Lizzy, Motorpsycho, The Mars Volta, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Yes, Jaga Jazzist, Mogwai, The Hellacopters, Steely Dan and many more.
I absolutely love the artwork and design that accompanies your latest LP. Not only does it complement the songs and lyrics beautifully, but it is also an incredibly striking image in and of itself. Who came up with the idea for it and is it meant to connote or signify something specific? Or is it more that it encompasses the overall feel and vibe of the album without necessarily bearing reference to any specific song or set of lyrics?
M: Robert Høyem, man. We just leave that entirely up to him. If Iver is a wizard, Robert has got to be a tier 100 warlock or something. With this album we wanted to emphasize the retro sound with the design of the album cover. We just showed him pictures of some Roger Dean stuff and basically let him do whatever he wanted. That usually turns out great. Robert is a dear friend and we have known him for a long time. He is an amazing artist, and we are always humbled by the amount of work and passion he puts into our covers.
Apart from the visuals, the lyrics are excellent and very clearly inspired by space. Where does that fascination stem from? Could you perhaps give us a few clues to help us decipher the words to the tunes? A song title ala "Third Eye Seeing" is just brilliant.
M: Space is a continuous inspiration for all of us as you have already figured out, but these references are almost always a metaphor for something more relatable. We always want the listener to make their own interpretations of these songs, but we will give a few clues. The general theme of this record is inner personal development of the positive kind with each song touching on different areas and angles. "Third Eye Seeing" kicks off this journey with its theme of searching for enlightenment and widening your point of view.
What is next for you guys and what are you currently up to in terms of band activities? Have you used any of the "imposed downtime" during the pandemic to compose material for a follow-up to "In the Hollow of a Wave"?
M: Yes! There is something in the works . . . As is the case for most bands, the COVID pandemic has prevented us from working together in the rehearsal space, but demos have been sent back and forth and a new record is in the making. Monstereo is as inspired as ever! Together with the awesome guys at our record label, Karisma Records, we will make sure that it doesn’t take six years to complete our next album, ha-ha . . .
Are there any talks of playing a few gigs in Norway on the back of your sparkling new record?
M: Hopefully, we will be able to do a couple of gigs this fall. But everything is of course still somewhat uncertain with the ongoing pandemic. However, we can’t wait to play for a live audience again and we will make sure that everybody gets happy ear-bleeds sometime in the near future.