July 13, 2017

Interview with MYRKGRAV

I interviewed Lars Jensen, 
the one behind the MYRKGRAV project.

01. Hi Lars!
Do you remember when and how you founded Myrkgrav ? 
Myrkgrav was born out of the simple fact that I wanted
to compose the music I would personally enjoy listening to, which is a common factor I share with many, many other artists. It was back in 2003 when I began fiddling with the more folk- and viking influenced side of extreme metal, after listening to mostly Norwegian black metal for a few years, but also having recently discovered that I quite enjoyed Scandinavian folk music as well as bands like Månegarm, Otyg, Vintersorg, Fejd (which was quite young in the game at the time) and the likes.

02. Can you share with us your feelings in that time, and your experiences under that musical project ?
Well, I began very simply and did not have any experience with playing, composing, recording and mixing music from before. To this day, I remain completely self-taught in regards to everything music. I don’t know one bit of music theory, so all the Myrkgrav songs that have ever been written have been born out of pure experimentation. Of course, as a 16 year-old I had a lot more of that childlike passion and inspiration than in recent years. I don’t remember it being particularly difficult composing neither the Fra Fjellheimen Kaller… demo nor the debut album Trollskau, skrømt og kølabrenning, as I was boiling with inspiration at the time. It was a good time to be alive and just…create.

Following the debut album, things started going sour. First of all, the record label I was on went bankrupt/corrupt/silent. My mental health also took a big hit, and I have never been able to recover from that dark period in my life enough to find joy in being a musician. Mind you, most of the Takk og farvel; tida er blitt ei annen album was written between 2007-2009, with a couple of tracks being written in 2010 and 2012. So it is quite an old album even if it being released in 2017, as I have not written a single note of new music since 2012.

I hope to be able to find joy in music again sometime in the future, but for now I do not worry too much about it, as I have finally been able to close the chapter that Myrkgrav is with Takk og farvel.

03. November 17, 2015 you said « I am not dead. Myrkgrav sort of is though, as my recording space has been occupied by shoemaking and leathercraft tools » but the project is on hold now… Is shoemaking your new big thing or do you have more passions currently ?
Shoemaking is indeed my main passion currently, but I have been known to jump from interest to interest, so who knows how long it takes before I find something new and fun I want to do. You can follow my shoemaking adventures on the Instagram account @ostmoboots. I named my shoemaking company after my great-great-grandfather, Karl Johan Østmo, who was also a cobbler and shoemaker in the village where I grew up. Staying close to my roots is the only constant in my constantly changing roster of interests.

It should also be noted that “officially” I am mainly a university student, studying folklore and ethnology, but I have been on sick leave for the better part of two years due to mental health issues. I hope to be able to finish my Bachelor’s degree this upcoming year, before moving back to Norway from Finland, settling down on the countryside, working part-time and making boots the rest of the time to make ends meet. I just want a simple, stress-free life. Raise some chickens, grow some crops, take care of myself and my loved ones.

04. Have you fully stopped music ? I mean the joy to play music for yourself – alone – outside whatever project and people…
I find very little joy in music nowadays. I haven’t picked up an instrument in probably a good three years, which is a little sad when you consider the fact that I spent such a great amount of time and money on having my instrument and gear park fit just me. Another factor is of course that I live in a small apartment with neighbors in every direction with paper-thin walls. Playing without that tube push from an amplifier is not nearly as fun.

I also don’t listen to a lot of music. There are a few bands that I keep track of, but I’d say I listen to music about 2 hours per month. I imagine that is hard for many people to comprehend, how a musician can live without music, but I find peace and harvest energy in tranquility and silence. There is music in the silence, too, however clichéd that may sound.

05. The new "Takk og farvel - tida er blitt ei annen" (Thank you and farewell - times have changed) meant to be an EP within tracks yet recorded years ago, then became an album. 
Why ?
I originally did not want to include the many instrumental songs on the release, which would have made it a much shorter EP/MCD type of record. However, my musician colleagues and friends convinced me that the instrumentals had enough merit on their own to be included – and so I did put them on there and it became a full album. The instrumentals were never supposed to be instrumentals in the first place, but I could never find a way to arrange vocals for them. After working on the album for 9 years and not coming anywhere with the vocal arrangements, I just said fuck it and released the tracks as-is. It would be fun if fans found ways to make these songs their own by writing lyrics for them and singing them to themselves. The ultimate artist-fan-collaboration.

06. That second full length "Takk og farvel - tida er blitt ei annen" released, will be available in physical format by the end of July. How was the making for that album ?
As mentioned earlier, most of the music was written between 2007-2009, with vocals being written and arranged sporadically over the course of 2009-2016. I had a plan for the artwork for a long time already, and thankfully that was much easier to put together than the musical aspect, haha. The album has been haunting me like a demon and hanging over my shoulder constantly since 2009, and I am so glad to finally be done with it so that I can move on.

07. When have you written and recorded the added tracks to the record that meant to be an EP… ?
They were all written at roughly the same time, I just didn’t intend to include the (instrumental) songs on the record. By adding the instrumentals, it went from EP playing time to a full-length album.

08. What are the songs about ?
All Myrkgrav songs deal with local history and folklore from the village, neighboring areas and woods in which I grew up. The lyrics portray everything from everyday peasant life to the more mystical and humorously morbid sides of folklore. In the past I’ve described Myrkgrav as Peasant metal, which is a very fitting term. The music, lyrics and artwork are all interweaved in a 19th century countryside package.

09. Can you describe that artwork ? What does it mean to you ?
The title and artwork work together in portraying Myrkgrav (and me personally) taking farewell to where I’ve come from these past years and moving on to a simpler life. The person on the front cover depicts me wandering away from something – but also towards something else, which you will be able to see when the physical format is released. Hint: it’s not all that different.

Something that was also very important to me was to have the lyrics illustrated, so that listeners far and near can take part in the atmosphere of the original stories the lyrics are based upon. Although I have also translated all the lyrics to English this time around, the added hand-drawn illustrations add another dimension to the complete package; making it a thoroughly thought-out thematic concept.

10. Who are the guests appearances on the new record ?
Olav Luksengård Mjelva plays the hardanger fiddle, Norway’s national instrument, on the record. I gave him a lot of artistic freedom to arrange and write the fiddle parts in a manner that would sound more like genuine folk music, rather than just having him play the same things on his fiddle as I had arranged for guitar. Olav is an amazingly professional musician, and he came up with so many great bits and pieces that made the album a lot more complex and genuine.

Second up is my long-time friend and colleague Erlend Antonsen, the mastermind behind projects like Nàttsòl and Quadrivium (where I was the lead singer up until the second full-length). Erlend wrote and recorded bass guitar for the vast majority of the songs on Takk og Farvel, he’s got a real knack for funky bass lines that flow well with the material without being neither boring nor too “out there”. Listen closely to Bakom Gyrihaugen and you will her slap bass in one of the parts. You wouldn’t think it would fit into the folk metal scheme, but it does.

Bernt Fjellestad from Guardians of Time and Susperia has lead vocals on Sjuguttmyra. On the 7” EP release of Sjuguttmyra his vocals didn’t have enough volume compared to the rest of the soundscape, and I’m glad I got a second chance to put this song out there, sounding the way it is supposed to. Bernt is an amazing singer, my favorite Norwegian metal vocalist along with Jørn Lande.

11. Do you still enjoy Folk Metal and Traditional Folk ? What do you like the most there ?
If it’s proper folk metal I sure do enjoy it. Utmarken, Fejd and Bergtatt are great examples of folk metal bands that I still keep track of. In terms of traditional folk, there are a few classics that I always keep coming back to, such as Bukkene Bruse. Otherwise I listen to a bit of this and that, ranging from indie to other metal genres. A couple of favorites include The Tallest Man on Earth, Dunderbeist and Dodie. Dunderbeist is by far my favorite Norwegian band at the moment; and have remained so for the past six years or so.

Thank you for the interview Lars, and goodluck in your new life! Cheers!

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