Kvelertak interview with Erlend Hjelvik: "Our debut album turned out a lot better than we even expected"

05/06/2012 @ 13:22
Having been described by many as one of the biggest surprises of the last few years in the extreme metal territory, Kvelertak are still cashing out the success of their self-titled debut album. On the occasion of their first visit to Athens, we contacted the band's frontman, Erlend Hjelvik, who spoke with us about the show, their upcoming sophomore album, the influence that Converge have had on them as well as some other nice stuff...

Greetings from Greece, Erlend! Allow me to start with a 'big question' I've always wanted to ask: Kvelertak's music combines many different extreme elements all the way from punk to black metal, and also all of your lyrics are in Norwegian. How the hell can your songs be so damn catchy?
I know, the way you described it, it doesn't sound very sexy at all, hehe... I think it's thanks to Bjarte's (Lund Rolland - guitar) songwriting, he always had in his mind that he was going to start a power-pop band but ended up with Kvelertak as his main band, so he's taking that out on us!

How did you come up with such a fresh and original combination, a sort of black or extreme metal, mixed with punk and rock 'n' roll? How would you personally describe Kvelertak's music, ideally?
It's a result of us listening to the aforementioned music, I think. We just call ourselves a rock band nowadays, because it doesn't sound very good when you try to explain the music, haha!

Your debut album received many great reviews. Were you aware of the fuss you were about to make in the metal world, while you were creating your music?
Kind of... I mean, once you've got Kurt Ballou to record the album and John Baizley making the cover, I figured it would be hard to fail at making a good album, but even still it turned out a lot better than we even expected.

KvelertakHow do you feel about the categorization in today's rock/metal music? Do you think it works in a positive or in a negative way for a new band, when most people expect from this band to 'fit in' a specific genre of music, just to 'belong' somewhere?
I think it makes a lot of confusion, especially with a lot of new bands blending different styles together. I see for instance that we get referred to as a black metal band a lot of times, but I think someone expecting black metal is listening to us for the first time, will be pretty disappointed, haha!

Do you think that punk music has (or has the potential to regain) a social impact of similar scale to the one it had during the 70s? Are societies more vulnerable nowadays with the crises and all, in order to be motivated by a music genre?
No, I think those days are over and personally I don't like when bands are too political or try to shove a message in your face. In our own case we're just here to rock out and have a good time doing it.

KvelertakYou know, some would say that it's common sense that the English language broadens a band's perspectives. Don't you ever consider the possibility of writing your lyrics in English? Or do you believe that the Norwegian language adds the 'exotic' element, so to speak?
I never had any intention of anyone outside of Norway listening to the music and we mostly made the music for ourselves, so I guess it didn't make much sense to me to be singing in English, which after all is a foreign language. Then again I think it makes us sound a bit different, like you said, and people across the globe don't seem to mind it!

What other musical instruments did you use on the recordings of the album -besides the easily recognizable tambourine- to come up with this wonderful rock 'n' roll vibe?
I'm just the singer and don't know much about musical instruments, haha... I know there's at least piano, hand-claps, tambourine and theremin on the album.

How significant was Kurt Ballou's contribution on your sound?
A big contribution. He's a wizard in the studio and he's really professional and honest, so it was a pleasure to be working with him.

KvelertakLast year you received two Spellemann Awards, which as I understand is equivalent to the Grammy Awards. Specifically, you won in the categories 'Best Newcomer' and also 'Best Rock Band'. Firstly, congratulations for that! Also, in June of 2011 you received -from the hands of Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl- a gold record certification, for selling more than 15,000 copies of "Kvelertak". How does all that make you feel, since I guess you're not yet accustomed to that sort of stuff?
Thanks! It feels absurd, we didn't think we made music that got that kind of attention. We feel very lucky and privileged to be experiencing things like this.

Who is in charge of writing the songs' lyrics? I can tell from the liner notes on the CD that there's kind of a story going on that connects them, or shall I say more like a tale, in which Kvelertak participate along with some Gods from the Norse mythology. Could you describe what takes place in there, in general?
There's no real story since the songs on the album are just a collection of the best songs since we started out in 2006 (Mjod being the oldest one on it from 2007). The general theme is old Nordic mythology and subjects like sacrifices, the apocalypse and so on... I basically just sing about stuff I think makes for good song lyrics and would sound bad-ass. I'm going to stay away from Odin and Thor on our next album though, as I don't want to get stuck in a lyrical corner, haha...

KvelertakDuring the last couple of years you played many gigs, which raised your reputation as an incredibly energetic band on stage. Where is all this energy really coming from?
We learned a lot from being our first euro-tour which Converge headlined, I think they must be one of the most energetic bands I've ever seen. So we saw how they did it and kind of stepped up our game. I guess we just try to pretend it’s going to be the last show ever before we play and give everything we got, it seems to rub off on people, so it works!

A fine example of your live intensity -as we all could see through a certain video on Youtube- was your crazy performance in Singapore a couple of months ago. Is there a story behind this?
No, it just happened, the venue was really small and extremely hot so I think Vidar (Landa - guitar) went out to cool down and everybody else followed him, haha!

Wasn't it a bit unfair to Kjetil (Gjermundrod - drums), though? Haha!
We actually had a step-in drummer, Truls (Haugen) from Insense. Kjetil had too much meat in his ears and had a surgery right before the tour, so he had to sit that one out. So it was unfair to Truls, hehe!

KvelertakWe will soon have the chance to watch you perform live in Athens, since you will be supporting the mighty Megadeth in June 20th. What can we expect of this show?
They can expect six sweaty guys to perform an energetic rendition of the songs from the album! It's going to be our first time in Greece, so we're really looking forward to this one!

What would you say to someone who doesn't have a clue what Kvelertak's music sounds like, in order to convince him to come to the show?
I'm glad we don't have to convince people to come to our shows anymore, but I would tell him that I would give him a free beer if he came to see us!

Are you currently working on any new material? How soon can people expect a new release from Kvelertak?
We are about halfway done with the songwriting for the next album now, we're set to record in the end of August, so I think we're looking at a early 2013 release.

KvelertakDo you intend to follow a similar musical path? Are there gonna be any surprises or new additions to your sound?
I think it will be pretty varied like our first album, but I think it's going to sound a bit more coherent. Personally I think this album will be better than the first one, but I might be a bit biased since I'm happy about doing something new, hehe... It's still a bit too early to talk about surprises or things like that, but it'll definetly sound like Kvelertak in the end.

I believe that in "Kvelertak" the whole team who was involved in the creating process contributed to this successful result. Are you going to work once more with Kurt Ballou and/or John Dyer Baizley?
Yes! And yes!

That was all from me, Erlend. Looking forward to seeing you guys in Athens! Is there anything you'd like to add or say to your fans in Greece?
Please bring us some weed!