We start with congratulations, because the band will be around for twenty odd years around the time when the new album ‘Winter Thrice’ comes out. What are your feelings about this milestone?
Wow, what can I say? It has been an interesting ride, an adventure I would say. When I started Borknagar around 1995-1996, I never expected this to happen. I never expected sitting here, doing interviews with journalists from all over the world. In some ways it is rather serene, but in other ways I have been working so hard as well. It has not come easy, so to speak I mean. I have been working on this since I was seventeen years old, since 1989 actually. It is my life, it has always been. Now when looking back, it fills me with pride and joy of course. One of the great aspects of releases is the interaction with people. I know people, I have fans all over the planet. Just that is a great thing in my opinion. I can travel to almost every country and call somebody. That is a beautiful thing. So it is quite impressive. I did not expect this to happen, but I just made the best out of it. It is fun. There have been ups and downs of course, but I would not want to miss this business, definitely not.
The previous album ‘Urd’ came out in March 2012. Since then we could welcome Borknagar a bit more on stage. I saw you at Brutal Assault festival for instance… Can you tell a bit more about this evolution?
I am always busy with music. I like being creative. That is almost my religion. Making music, that is the most important thing, but the last couple of years I started to realize more and more that we are privileged to be able to travel to play in front of people. We are privileged to share our music with so many great people. The more I grow older, the more I learn to appreciate just that. When I was twenty-five, I did not care about that. I hated the touring, I just wanted to make music, I wanted to be alone with my guitar. I did not want to be a social guy, just fuck off (laughs). When growing older, having kids and being a father, turning forty… I realized that life will not be eternal. Life is kind of short and you must get a life now. We must use the opportunities we get. When getting the question to play for instance in Romania, why not? We are privileged to do this. We can travel, we can have a good time. We – me and the rest of the band - have learned to appreciate that.
So being on the road – even though it was only nine days – was a positive experience?
Oh yeah. I surprised myself. I have changed. I enjoyed it a lot. If you would have asked me, like ten years ago, if I would be honest with you, I’d say that I did not like the touring. I hated it, that would be my answer then to your question, but now I like every aspect of it. I like the landscapes outside, I like to be in a new city, I like to taste new food… all those kinds of things is something I have learned to appreciate much more in the last five, six, maybe ten years.
We had to wait a bit longer than usual on a new Borknagar album and a while ago I spoke to ICS Vortex on behalf of Arcturus, a band that was recently reinvigorated as well. Did you have to wait for something or was there a delay in one way or another?
No, not Arcturus caused delay, but the problem that delayed things a little bit was Andreas (Vintersorg – Vera), being in a bad accident. He was really heavy injured actually. It was November last year, exact a year ago. He fell backwards into a concrete ground, four metres high. He had a lot of skull fractures and haemorrhage, bleeding in the brain at two places. Those fractures had to heal a long time. We had to postpone everything for three or four months at least.
That is too bad! Give him strength! I read that he could not come over to be in the video clip for ‘Winter Thrice’ due to an ear injury. That’s still from that accident?
Yes. He is improving a lot. He is getting back to life. It almost happened a year ago, so he had a lot of operations and he is back at work now. He is functioning pretty much as normal now, but he still has a way to go to be fully recovered. For this video now, he cannot fly, because his ear might explode. It was impossible for him to come.
What are your experiences about making that video, because I found out that it was recorded at an historical place…
Yes, we had a really good time. We hired that Midgard historical centre. It is actually a museum for a couple of years. It is a really beautiful site on historical ground, with all a lot of old Viking stuff, also replicas. We kind of recorded in this building and it was great. A nice atmosphere, an authentic kind of experience for us. We did not want to go full Viking with Viking clothes and stuff like that, we were just dressed up like normal guys, but it was very cool scenery and it gave us a very nice feeling. I am sure it will turn out very good and different.
One can also see Garm in the video. That is another point we have to mention. I remember you were so glad that ICS Vortex returned on more songs from ‘Urd’, but now we can even announce that Garm, your original singer of Ulver fame, is back on two songs. How did this become reality?
For this album – also because of Andreas’ accident – we got a little bit more time to think about things. It was a sudden idea that popped up in my mind, because it was twenty years ago since Garm and I were in the studio to record the vocals for our first album. Whatever he wanted to do, that was fine for me. I sent him a text and he called me back after a few hours and we talked for a long time, also about old times. He was really into it and he has a home studio to record it. He did much more than we planned. It felt good and we had fun.
You always spend a lot of time on searching a title, you said in a former interview. How did you come to ‘Winter Thrice’ this time?
Well, it felt right in many ways, because I had been thinking about this record for a while and it only started out as just a song title. The more I was thinking about it, the more it felt right, because it has different layers. One of the things is that it kind of refers to ‘The Olden Domain’, more precisely the song ‘Dawn Of The End’. The ending of that song has this vocal line ‘autumn twice, winter thrice’ and that was something I wanted to insert on the new album, just as an idea. ‘Winter Thrice’ has also a mythological connection. In Northern mythology, in all kinds of mythology, you have this story about how the world should end. Ragnarök in Norse mythology, but the time before that refers to the title too. I would say it is a pretty dark title in many ways. Why not? We are living in dark times as well.
Indeed. Are there some lyrics you want to say something special about?
Well, I can talk forever about lyrics basically (laughs), but the first song ‘The Rhymes Of The Mountain’ is a personal song for me in many ways. It is a kind of humid song with my typical way of expressing myself towards nature. This song is really a celebration of the mountain. All countries that actually have mountains, the mountains always have a special meaning to the people. And why? There might be money involved, religious or non-religious items, but the mountains always seem to attract people and fill them with awe. If you need comfort, you just have to get away from people and free yourself, walking on a mountainside. I always take a walk in nature in the mountains that surround me. It is healing. I had a tough time last year, when I go there it is time for reflection. It is also a bit about my father. I have not dedicated this song to him, but I must think about doing that, because this song reflects in many ways my relationship with my father actually. Just talking about it, makes me feel emotional. So, enough about that. I just wanted to explain how personal this song is to me.
I’m sorry, okay. I remember that you considered ‘Urd’ a bit akin to ‘The Olden Domain’. Does it mean that ‘Winter Thrice’ is a bit reminiscent to ‘The Archaic Course’ or not?
That is a tricky question. I don’t know. I would say it has more elements of ‘The Olden Domain’, maybe a bit of all the albums in a way. I can hear some elements from ‘Empiricism’ and even from ‘Quintessence’ and I think that is only natural. I never want to release a new album which is totally independent, coming out of nowhere. With a new album, like ‘Winter Thrice’ now, I want this album to be a part of something bigger. It is not just an album, it is part of our musical history, a part of nine other albums as well. So for me every album has its place in the musical history of the band.
As you said, when looking back at this huge back catalogue, there are things that inspire you again for fresh ideas. Are there elements on this album where you use something from or refer to the past?
Yes, we always do that, I like to refer. Even if you look closely on the cover of the new album, you can discover something from ‘The Olden Domain’ cover, but I do not want to reveal too much, because people have to find out themselves. But if you listen carefully to the lyrics, if you watch the cover closely, you will see things that you might have seen before.
You are a huge music fan yourself. What were things or revelations for you during the last years?
Well, to be honest, actually the new Leprous album ‘The Congregation’ is brilliant, Baard’s (Kolstad – Vera) other band, but it is different from what we are doing in Borknagar. Yet I think those guys are so skilled and professional. I am kind of amazed by them, it is great. It is not really my cup of tea when it comes to music, it is not the kind of music I buy and listen to all the time, but still I am really impressed by that band, because they are so professional.
Indeed, your drummer Baard Kolstad replaces David Kincade, the man from Malevolent Creation. He started with one gig at the live show at Inferno festival, but he stayed…
He is a prodigy, he is a genius on drums, but he was even before that a member of the band. I talked with him years ago and now when David left I said: you are a great drummer. You can stay, but it is up to you, because he is also busy with Leprous. Fortunately he stayed.
And now he is even in Abbath’s band…
No, he is not playing with Abbath. That’s just bullocks (laughs). He rehearsed with him a couple of times. He was supposed to be a part of the band.
Ah thank you for telling me the truth. The artwork was done by the Brazilian guy Marcelo Vasco. Can you tell anything about that?
We have been working together on several albums now. I think this is the third or the fourth. I have also worked with him for Cronian two times. He is a friend. The great thing about him is that he is able to… he understands my ideas. I can talk with him in simple words and he gets it. He is able to make this vision come true in a brilliant way. He is still a graphic designer, but he is also very good in understanding how we want things to be. It is like the album title. It should not be too obvious. It should be a little bit mystic. It should be something with several meanings. It should be something you have to look at several times before really digging what’s going on. There is no exact meaning to it. For me it is more important to have a feeling and atmosphere on the cover than to have a message on the cover. I don’t want a traffic sign on the cover, I want to give people a feeling, a notion, whatever.
Can you tell something about the bonus track ‘Dominant Winds’?
That is a special song. It is actually the first song Vintersorg did vocals on after the accident. He was in the middle of recording vocals when this accident happened, so when he was recovering that was the first song to work on. That gives the song a bit of a special touch. He is one of my best friends and I saw him struggling. He still had much pain all over his body and you can almost hear that he was fighting his way back to life.
To occlude, what are the plans to play live?
At the moment we have Graspop festival in Belgium, we have Wacken, we have With Full Force. There are other festivals on the table on which we haven’t decided yet. We are also discussing a little tour in March, two weeks, something like that. But I am not sure yet, I don’t promise too much, but we will definitely do some live shows in 2016. Details will follow…