Ulver interview with Kristoffer Rygg: "Nowadays anyone can do records and some people do them very well even in their own bedrooms"

30/05/2012 @ 16:20
Ulver recently released cover album "Childhood's End" giving us some hints about long forgotten hippy psychedelic stuff. We communicated with Oslo and Ulver's mainman Kristoffer Rygg. He talked to us about his beloved 60s, Ulver's transition towards becoming a live band, his collaboration with Stephen O 'Malley from Sunn O))) and last but not least, he didn't hesitate to comment on todays world of music.

2012 finds you with a new album with covers from obscure bands. Most of them -if not all- are even older than you yourself... When did you start digging psychedelic stuff from the 60s?
It's probably been following me throughout life more or less but I'd say that I really started digging in the late 90s. Around the time that I grew a bit weary of contemporary music in all its forms and started going back somehow.

Some years ago you did a cover of Black Sabbath's "Solitude". The result was outstanding...
Thank you...

Ulver...is this the reason why you came up with the idea of this album?
No, not really but I think we actually attempted covering a few songs. We did a Lee Hazlewood cover that we never released, we did a Kiss cover for a Norwegian Κiss tribute album. It's somehow thankful -although it's not easy work- to have the body or skeleton of the song ready before you do it. You have something to work with and it is in a way sort of a relief. And this is an album that we've done in between creative battles sort of speak. So, it's been a welcome returning point having these sessions. We had this one in late 2008, before Dan joined the band, before we became a live band, before "Wars Of The Roses". It's been kind of recurring since that so it's been kind of a labor of love, I would say. It's not really been an excess project because we took it quite seriously. From the last part of 2011 until we were finished mixing we treated it with the same kind of reverence and seriousness as we would any other album. But obviously it's different when it's something about emulating something that you know from before. It's been interesting in a sense that we’ve been aware that a lot of these songs and bands that we covered are forgotten or too far underground for most people, so that's charged process as well. This sort of pride of being a fan yourself.

Could we say that the songs you picked are personal favorites?
Yes, obviously, but there are many songs that we could have picked and we didn't for a variety of reasons.

Did you chose the ones that suited better for a cover version?
Hmm... We're talking about a big era of music and I think if we had our free will entirely we'd probably cover 50 songs. So it's a matter of peeking a few rockers, a few baroque moments, a few ballads and making a whole. We wanted the album to sound as a sort of coherent presentation of the different things that we like from the 60s and psychedelic music specifically. It's been hard choosing which tracks to do than actually doing them that way.

UlverIf you were to choose one favorite album from that time, which is more difficult, which would that be?
I always hate it when people ask me that not only because it's difficult but because you like one album for a reason and then another album for another reason...

Well, which is the first album that comes to your mind right now when you listen to that question?
Actually right now it's "The United States Of America".

Really? I think the United States Of America song you covered is the best song in your album...
Yeah, the last one. It's a great sounding album. Almost a bit goth, a bit dark. It's got that sort of choral, religious vibe to it. But I mean, that album was also quite peculiar. But if I was to pick just one band I'd probably say 13th Floor Elevators. Also, The Pretty Things who did the first rock opera conceptual album of the time before The Who did "Tommy"... And then you have Jefferson Airplane which were so significant for the whole San Francisco scene. They got quite big and led to The Doors and other stuff happening in the South and California. There are so many reasons why you like certain things and why certain songs would stick out.

Your album's name is "Childhood's End"... Did you choose it to reflect the bittersweet retro feeling these songs have?
That's part of the story, yeah. Quite literally it's got an inherent sadness to it by the fact that it refers to something that is lost, that is almost bleak in that sense, that is about innocence lost. But it's also about the dawn of a form of culture. Popular music and rock music specifically. Also in political terms it was an interesting time. A time of many contrasts spiritually and culturally. But to be very mundane it's also a title we lifted from a novel by Arthur Clarke. It's a bit of a combination of all those things.

Kristoffer Rygg (Ulver)Now that "Wars Of The Roses" is over a year old, how do you look back on it?
It's been a while since I listened to it but (wheezes) it's probably too close in time to... I mean that you’re always incapacitated when it comes to judging your own stuff. But I still like quite a few things that we did there. We did them quite fast as opposed to how we used to make records in quite a long time span back in the day. So that sums up our album both in good ways and negative ways without wanting to elaborate too much on that. That would defy its purpose. But yea, I feel that we did some good stuff with that album. Some strong lyrics. A few solid tracks. There are a few things that had we had more time we would probably change but as I said it kind of informs this album that it's done that way so all in all I'm happy to actually produce albums and especially at this rate. You know, we had this album out last year, we had the DVD now, we have "Childhood's End", today I mixed some tracks with Stephen O' Malley from SunnO))). We kind of picked up the pace and it's that how ideally I like to work. Not linger too much.

I've seen you twice live with Ulver here in Greece and I can say that you have improved on stage. You are becoming more of a live band...
Thanks. The first concert we did in Greece was probably like the third or fourth concert we ever played so it was not so routine at the time. So, obviously, when we played in Athens last year we had a few more concerts under our belt. Naturally you get a bit more experience and add that to your performances.

Yes. And you also had with you the "Wars Of The Roses" songs which are more suitable for a live performance...
Yes. That's part of the story why "Wars Of The Roses" and "Childhood's End" are products that stem from the live incarnation of the band. They involve more people with different approach, both studiowise and otherwise. So naturally what we've done recently reflects the fact that we play it in real time. We had quite a few obstacles in the beginning setting up the first set. The set that we played at Gagarin was difficult to transcribe somehow because a lot of that music was never created having in mind that it was to be performed in a way. So yeah that naturally sums up how we sound now. But with that said, we've now decided to take a bit of a break from the live thing so that might give clue on our next studio output as well. When you don't really have to consider how to reenact the music in real time... I don't personally like to be in a similar headspace for too long because you become comfortable with something.

Kristoffer Rygg (Ulver)Yes. That is something more that obvious in your discography...
Yeah. I think that a sense of almost nervousness is important or unrest is important and something that we've always utilized in a way.

You have travelled away from the urban sound of "Perdition City" and the amazing bleak sound of "Shadows Of The Sun". I think that Ulver have brighter sound than ever before. It has some light that comes through...
Well, it can’t be much darker that “Shadows Of The Sun”… (laughs) That’s something we actually discussed thoroughly internally in the band. That “Shadows Of The Sun” is an album that we’re very content with. Probably THE most content. If we try to step outside ourselves and look at what we’ve done… But that place is so far out in a way. Not that we’ve really tried, but if we were to try I think we’d fail miserably. You know, going that deep into the woods, sort of speak, to use a very cheap metaphor… It’s quite nihilistic that album. There is no faith, nothing in it. So the only way to continue after that is to do things a bit differently I think.

Don't they also come, these changes, from your personal life?
Well sure. Life in general probably forms creativity more than any sort of singular influence outside yourself.

You talked about mixing some songs with Sunn O))). Can you give us any clue on this stuff?
Actually we recorded four -not really songs at that point- but rather blocks of sound. Also in the ultimate 2008, around the same time we had the first sessions for "Childhood's End". It's the same. It's been lying around and we've returned to it occasionally but now Stephen's been around a bit. It's time to get the ghost out of the closet. We're free to do it now. I've completed "Childhood's End" and it is a bit of downtime from the live thing so we're in a position where we actually have the privilege to pick up on some lost threads. Old ghosts or whatever.

Are there any other projects that you have in mind for the near future?
Well, sort of. But they are in the igniting phase right now. We're just slowly starting to write again. But I don't want to disclose exactly what the references are at this point. But we're going to start to write some new pieces of original music again. We've been working with deadlines for the last two years. I really don't want to do that this year so I'm just going to not feel pressured by any external demands whatsoever, neither if they come from the studio output nor the on stage performances. We're going to have a study year in the studio. We'll see what happens.

UlverWe don't have any clue on the musical direction, do we?
I do, but I don't want to disclose it (laughs).

What is it that you enjoy the most in today's world of music and what is it that frustrates you?
I think the latter part of the question is the easiest to answer. It's very difficult to deal with the fact that music has become sort of something that anyone can do. Even when we started in the early 90s it really wasn't. You had to have a certain budget and access to equipment, studios etc. Now anyone can do records and some people do them very well as well in their bedrooms. It's become quite a mission to navigate in the resulting jungle of sounds. So it's just become a bit too chaotic for my personal liking. I mean that the result is that you become a bit blasé to music in a way because it is not exclusive anymore. Or at least that's the feeling you get sometimes. Now, what I really personally enjoy is how I work in the studio because as a consequence or response to what I just talked about we're in the process of acquiring equipment and approaching sound in a retrospective fashion. We've moved away from electronics and back into big amps and big drums and rooms, analog sound and tape and that sort of stuff. It is a response to how easy it has become to transmit sound in a way. So that's something that I take pleasure in. But me, I'm too old, I've been doing it for too long to say that it's all because I love to do it, it's something that I've don't for so long that I can't really do anything else. So it's my curse in a way. It's a mixed blessing.

That's all. Thanks for your time. Hope to see you soon in Greece.
It won't happen this year but maybe we'll return to the stage next year, I don't know. Thanks for the support.