Interview: Madder Mortem

On October 28th, Madder Mortem released Red In Tooth And Claw. DutchMetalManiac’s Martijn Bakker recently reviewed it (here) and now he asks some questions. Vocalist Agnete M. Kirkevaag answers. Read it all below!

Thank you for taking time to talk about the new album and Madder Mortem in general. A lot of reviews and interviews starts with ‘it has been seven years since your last album’. I will not start with that sentence…

That would be actually nice!

I was wondering, if there would not have been record label- or member changes, how many albums you would have liked to have released since 1993 – the start of Mystery Tribe.

If we had no other issues, it would be ideal for us to release an album every one-and-a-half/two years. It also gives us momentum to do gigs and do writing and we would not have to wait for it, what happened with Desiderata, a bit with Eight Ways and now it took ages!

But you still managed to keep the band together. There is a risk that it takes too long and the feeling for the band is gone.

It actually helps that we did have a written album that we really believed in. We had all this music and we wanted to have it out. We did have the occasional gig, but if we had no activity I think we would have died.

What is the meaning of the album title Red In Tooth And Claw?

It is actually a quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson and is from a long long long poem called In Memoriam and the original line is ‘Nature red in tooth and claw’. I guess you could say it is about human nature. How there is such a lot of violence in us and how we tend to idealise nature. But nature is in fact quite chaotic and violent. A lot of songs on this album deal with violence in some way. Or violent thoughts at least.

On this album we hear BP sings/scream a lot more then on former albums. There is a lot of violence in there too.

I love his screamings. He gets a level of aggression that I don’t get from that many other singers, BP has his own really angry take. For Eight Ways we were doing something a bit more produced, a bit smoother, so that one ended up with less screaming. We wanted to do something now with a little more teeth.

Looking at the artwork that has worked out too. Whereas Eight Ways had this amazing smooth, fantasy-like artwork, RITAC is much rawer.

We left the design over to Christian Ruud, he has been part of us for a long time (playing guitar on the Mercury record). The cover goes well with the album. We wanted to change a bit, because the other covers were more ‘pretty’, and this album is rawer. It’s different but I like it.

Looking at songs on the album, I want to ask about some of them. The chorus of If I Could could just as well be used by any boyband, with all due respect. Is it not a risk to do something like that, though on the other hand it is heavy as hell.

If you look at the lyrics of metalbands that are not native English speakers, you will see they use a lot of more difficult words, like super advanced vocabulary. They tend to make it too complicated. It is a project for me to express myself more directly. I always tended to write mysterious lyrics and sometimes it can be right for the music, but sometimes I think it has to do with cowardness. If you know what to say then sometimes it is wrong to try to hide it in mysterious lyrics. And using simpler words also makes it easier to connect to the person who is listening. It has never been compared to boyband-lyrics however. But it feels good to do the lyrics this direct.

But if you like to be direct, and speaking about non-native speakers, why wouldn’t you write lyrics in your own tongue?

That’s really interesting question. For me English is my expression as an artist, not the ‘going to work and do the laundry’-person. And it is the language I studied, poetry and literature. It is for me the language I would use to express my feelings most precisely. Norwegian is slightly less flexible. That makes it sometimes stronger but it would also feel too naked. I would like to do something with Norse poetry, because it has a different style of rhyming, more the first letter rhyme rhythm. Maybe someday if I can pluck up enough courage…

Sticking to language; My first reaction to seeing the songtitle The Whole Where Your Heart Belongs was: Oops, they added a W to much! But then, as poetry it is a great find.

First of all: I am geek when it comes to language. It is what I do for a living and what I studied as well. I think the difference between the title and the line in the chorus (‘And it seems it never will let you go and never fade’) emphasises what the song is about. There is a whole where you think you should belong to and then you don’t and there are different kinds of emptinesses. But I also did think I was very cleaver, yes! Never forget that about rockbands. A lot of things we do, we do because we think it sounds cool 😉

Well that is a good example of irony. In what way is humour and irony part of Madder Mortem? The video of Fallow Season had some funny moments, like the waiter-part where the glass falls over. It is silly, although on the other hand it is a heavy emotional song.

Yes it is silly. The whole idea of these party-scenes was to make a contrast, because all of the rest is very bleak and dark. The song is a lot about the decadence of the way we live and the 1% who is bleeding the rest of us dry. I think it works like that -the butler is actually my dad!- the fall of the glass was accidental, but we wanted to keep it in, because it gave the sense of something stylishness that is crumbling. Another thing of it is: a lot of metalbands tend to take themselves so incredibly serious and that seems exhausting to me. I take the music and the lyrics very seriously but we are people, and people do stupid things. Terry Pratchett says it nice in one of his books: the greatest achievements and the greatest disasters happened because people have been fundamentally people.

I do see a lot of bands wanting to be cool and you dare to be, naked, fragile. At least in not trying to be cool.

When we were younger, when we released our first demo, we were talking about it: are we going to take on artist names, and you bet we are happy that we did not! We realised early that we are not good at ‘image’. We are really good at music, but not at image. We simply don’t have the time or energy for that. It does not work that well with our music either. It’s either all or nothing and we choose not to do that.

I was happily surprised when I first saw you on a live-video in a time where all (okay, most) female singers wore big dresses, like the Dutch gothic metal bands. And you did not fit in that image at all: no dress, no size 34.

The first tour we did with, amongst others, Tristania, we got one review, wherein the reviewer did not write anything about the music, but he did write a lot about how angry he was that I was wearing pants! To me that is so ridiculous. One should be very suspicious of any singer who wears a corset on stage… But nice dresses look good on some people…
We have had a difficult relationship with this whole gothic idea, because we were never really part of it. When we started out the whole gothic thing wasn’t there. You had bands like The 3rd and the Mortal but they weren’t gothic in that sense. And we came more from the Sepultura, Metallica, Faith no More, Soundgarden kind of background, but we always get compared to bands that we feel that we have very little in common with, musically, but the common denominator is that there is a girl in the band. That can be…okay, but can also be annoying. There are a lot of good gothicbands out there, but it does not feel like home to us.

People like to put music in a sorting box.

Yeah, well I am still waiting for the first ‘male-fronted metal festival’. It’s a bizarre idea. It is like creating a genre with bands with bass-players with black hair. It’s random and it is not about the music.

But if things are just about the music, why would you do a live-show?

Because that is music in its purest form I think. I love writing, recording and playing live equally. They are just different ways of doing music. It is great to have an audience, because something is happening in the connection between the artist and the audience. To quote myself from Underdogs: When it growls and roars it feeds back into those who made it be. There is something in the connection with the audience when you really feel you are doing it right. There is such a rush! I would not be satisfied to just do recording. And it is a lot of fun to play live.

Would you bring out a live-album? Or would you say: just come to a show?

It should then be a proper live album. Most of them are filled with over-dubs, that the audience has an unreal experience of what a live show would be. It is like watching a filmed theatre play. You cannot capture all that is happening in the moment. We do tape a lot of our live shows though. But then we would rather do a DVD. Then again, because we are not a boyband…I don’t know if people really want to watch us!

You include a lot of styles in the music. Is there a style you would like to include still?

Our new guitarplayer, Richard, he is a great blues guitarist and we have not done a lot of blues stuff. You may have noticed that the new record has some guitarsolo’s which have not been our thing really. It is getting a bit more of a place now. We are not very planned. We just start on a song and then figure out what a song needs. Sometimes it takes you into unexpected directions and sometimes you just go with the core of what you do. It is fun and sometimes we think: Can we pull this off?

Exactly that. Like if you are playing on a festival and people would not know you and you would start with a song like The Purest Strain (from the Eight Ways album) I think people would think: What the hell are we listening to now?

We played at Inferno Festival and we played The Purest Strain with a standing bass and that was quite fun, because it is an old-school jazzy kind of thing. We thought everyone is being very metal three days in a row, so we thought: they could use a bit of a laugh. People loved it. They were kind of dancing!

Do you feel Madder Mortem is a bit of a cage? Over the years the music is still recognisable. Would you like to do something different?

I would like to be in a jazzband on the side maybe. Me and BP and Mats play in a coverband and play old school rock like AC/DC, Deep Purple, Zeppelin and those sort of things. I love playing that as well. But then there is nowhere that I can do what I like, as to Madder Mortem. We have different interests on the side, but this is what we like to make.

Would you like to describe Madder Mortems music, or do you fear a cage?

We tried it a few times. We came up with ‘brute pop’ and other bizarre ideas. But describing it honestly: it is heavy, very dynamic, very melodic, and it is all about contrasts. And there is a challenging tonality.

On your biography on the MM website you start with ‘the music of the underdogs’ (title from last album) is that how you see the music?

Yes, because I think all good rock music has that sense of being underdog music because there is this hunger in it. There is rebellion and there is impatience. To me that is a little of the underdogs. We get the reaction quite a bit that our music is too difficult, but I think it is not. You just have to give the music a bit of attention. It is a bit about going into the world with your middlefingers raised. And we also identify to being part of the working-class people.

Now that all record label problems are over…when can we expect the next album?

We plan to start recording this summer, early fall. So if everything goes right, maybe early 2018 would be our ideal thing. We probably have enough material for two albums. We might do a tour if it works out, that might postpone it. But we also have our normal jobs.

Madder Mortem is a sort of underground band. Would getting bigger mean a change?

We are grown up. I cannot imagine what would change us. No matter what has happened around us, we always did what we wanted with the music. We want to make albums that we like and if people like it that is fantastic, but we are not going to change our music. If we would have great success, the only thing that would change is that we would have a lot more time to work with our music.

I asked lots of questions. Is there anything you would like to say?

We did this new thing that we did not do before. Every song has a quote connected to it. That is a little bit of my geeky side I guess. I thought it would be an interesting idea to take quotes that I really like and with that taking a different way of thinking about the song. I would really love people to think about that and give us feedback about what they think. Some of the quotes are classical English poets, but there is also Motörhead, Springsteen, Terry Pratchett… I like this idea of intertextuality. It would be fun to see what people think about it.

Thank you very much for the interview Agnete!

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