DEVIL: Good melodies in a vintage production


devil-photoWell, what has come of this site? It’s all about the darker side of life at the moment. Some weeks ago I announced a pretty extensive Satan-feature is upcoming, and then Stian from a certain quintet of Norwegian doom rockers willingly responded to my questions in an attempt to catch up with the DEVIL after the release of the band’s second album, “Gather The Sinners”. An album that represents an improvement on their already more than decent debut. Enjoy this long interview! When DEVIL burst onto the scene with the first demo, “Magister Mundi Xum”, were there things about your sound, the songs and the performance you were unsure about how the audience would respond to?  Did it take long to build up some self-confidence within the ranks of the band?

– Well, you can never be confident on the feedback on your work, be it music or other areas. We’ve always been clear on that we’re not a technically brilliant band, so we were prepared for much worse feedback on that than we actually received. The sound we knew was going to be a love/hate thing, but that is also one of the aspects that’s not written in stone. We will always be seeking adjustments on that, and every time you turn a little more pro or dirty, someone will be butthurt about it. As for the songs, we’ve from day one been pretty confident that the songs are our force. The minute we finished “At The Blacksmith’s” and “Time To Repent”, for instance, we felt we’d done some pretty neat songs, and criticism on that would go entirely on taste, not the objective quality of the songs. If there is such a thing. I’m not trying to come off as arrogant here, but I feel we do write some damned good songs from time to time.

Back in 2011 you told me you believed DEVIL was able to release a new album every year for the next four or five years. Even though there is obviously a difference between “being able to” and actually doing it, were you a bit optimistic back then with regard to how much time you can spend on the band?

– I’ve never said that, you must have been misquoting us. Haha, only kidding. Actually, yes, it’s the time aspect that keeps us from keeping up that tempo. We had to sit down and discuss how much we wanted to put into the band, and decided we rather do things slow and steady than rushing into things and maybe lose focus or even members along the way. That being said, we’re still awfully productive in the writing stages, but when push comes to shove and it’s time to record, and not least mix and master, things do take a lot more time and need to be very structured. For instance we did use two days on bass and drums, but four weeks on guitars, due to time limitation. On the other hand, during a two hour rehearsal last night, we finished one song, and made another new one. So if we come to a point where it’s starting to pay off, and we maybe can have the band as a part source of income, we would have no problem with keeping up that pace.

To do things slow and steady, was that something which was easy to agree on, or did you have different views on this matter?

– Yeah, pretty easy to agree on that. It’s a give and take situation, but everyone was and is willing to adjust in many ways in order to keep the band going. The biggest difference in opinions is perhaps that I want to play live at all times, haha.

In which ways does DEVIL make your lives better? Is it about a need to be creative, to play music in front of an audience, to have fun, or on a higher level, maybe realizing yourselves?

– We get shitloads of friends on Facebook. But seriously, I think it improves in different ways. For me, it’s about being able to do something I’ve always dreamt of, and not least visit new places and meet new people along the way. For others it can be the feeling of creating a heritage of ones creative part, or the simple joys of seeing your name on a LP. But one thing is for sure; if it ever stops being fun, we’re out. We don’t do this because we have to, but because we want to.

I guess one can feel a bit isolated in the Norwegian scene, performing this kind of music. Do you see this as a negative or positive thing? At the same time, things are developing here too, and it’s probably more bands you feel you can share a beer and a stage with in 2013 than a few years ago.

– A few years ago we weren’t around as a band ourselves either. I think it’s cool to be the main band in the genre in Norway, even though we’re a very small band still. I’d hate to play in GRAVVELT or something and be one of 1000 black metal bands that no one notices. And we’re starting to get some attention here too, thanks to some underground fanatics that always support us and our likes, such as yourself, Fenriz, Harald Fossberg, Helle Stenkløv, etc. Even in Pyro, which is quite mainstream, we get a lot of coverage. And of course in the genre press such as Scream and Metal Hammer. But we’re never gonna have Norway as our biggest market. I think maybe Germany is where we’re best known, and with Holland and England just behind. You know, with internet and Ryanair it’s no point in grieving the lack of fame in the home land. There’s a huge market and a party just an hour away!

DEVIL is a band built around friendship, what will happen the day one of you says he doesn’t want to be in the band anymore? Is the existence of DEVIL dependant on contribution from the original members, or is it possible to continue with lineup changes as well?

– One should never say never, but as for now I hope we’ll be the same quintet for years to come. The only change we think is totally cool is that Kai (Wanderås, guitar) sometimes has had to sit out a gig or two because of other commitments. Then we bring in Christian Olsen-Ruud, the guitarist of Electric Woodland and my brother-in-law. Everyone can be replaced in theory, but we’ve all seen what it usually does to a band, and I’d rather not that ever happens.

Who would be your choice to replace yourself if you can’t show up for a show?

– Since I too do the guitar, it would be natural to ask Christian. But I think we’ll try to not come in that position that we have to find a replacement for me…

devil-gatherMany people talk about the difficult second album. Was “Gather The Sinners”   harder to make than the debut, or is the “easier second album” a more correct description?

– I use to say that we’re in an everlasting creative process, which means we don’t stop and say “now it’s the second album” or “now it’s a 7””. We just continuously write songs, and when we have enough, we release it. So for us it’s not like writing a new book, it’s like writing a new chapter in the same book. And I don’t know about everyone else, but I can’t remember chosing one chapter over another in a book.

How much work do you put into a song before you decide if it’s a keeper or something to throw away? Do you reuse ideas from rejected songs in other tracks?

– Very much so. We got several songs that’s put together by parts from both two and three songs, or ideas, that were rejected. But if we got the basis of a song, we try not to reject it before we’ve rehearsed it, because it’s quite much change that is done, for better or worse, when we’ve put our sound and style to it. And every now and then we remember that we have old stuff that we’ve forgotten to use, so we pick it up and either work with it or search it for cool parts. Actually I think “Beyond the Gate” from “Gather the Sinners” is an old song that we temporarily put on hold from before the first album, and suddenly remembered it, brushed off the dust and worked it out to a ready song for the new album.

You extended the deal with your label Soulseller even before the first one had expired. Was the label afraid that DEVIL should end up as a Bosman-band? Does the agreement mean that you are satisfied with were you are today, or do you believe that the label is strong enough to help the band taking forward strides?

– I don’t think Soulseller was very worried, but we might have proven ourselves worthy at an early point, and it’s quite common to try to do three albums or more on the same label. And we are very satisfied with things when it comes to Soulseller, especially that we’re given the freedom to release whatever and wherever we want to. And I think Soulseller could be a notable contributor to the business for years to come, and we’re happy to be a part of the development of the label. And of course, they’re very dedicated and in it for the right reasons, and Jorn that’s the man behind it, loves DEVIL, so we’re good. And as always; never say never, there could be a time when we feel it’s time to try something else, but so far that would be for far other reasons than us being unhappy with Soulseller.

Even though you are obviously satisfied with Soulseller, you did a version of “Mr. Crowley” for a Ozzy-tribute with the short title “No More Tears: A Millenium Tribute To Ozzy Osbourne – 1971-2012”, and as far as I understand, you saw a bit of the bad side of the industry there. What exactly happened, and is this the kind of offers you will steer away from in the future?

– Yeah, that was some shitty stuff. It’s apparently this label, Versailles Records, that’s specialized in doing tribute albums. We were invited to do an Ozzy song there, and the guy was nice enough, and to be honest, we were given the albums and everything, but it worked in the way that we all paid a small amount to contribute, which is fair enough for us, but it turned out that everyone that replied got a space on it, haha, and a limited space that meant they cut the songs after a certain length. We weren’t afflicted by that, but it was three CDs with VERY varied quality, to put it mildly. Also, very little effort was put in making decent cover art and such. We took one CD each, gave away a few, and the rest I think we’ll throw away. But it was a lesson learned, and not the most expensive, so we haven’t been making a big fuzz of it.

Did you record any additional material this time so the fans can look forward to another vinyl single release or something else like that? Or is it an easy task to step into the studio again if you want to record a couple of the songs that you are constantly coming up with?

– We don’t have any leftovers except some additional vocal tracks for a couple of songs, because it’s often others than Joakim that sings on the demo/initial versions of the songs. But we could easily record a song or two on short notice. We got all the equipment at hand at all times, which is extremely practical. But we did some of the recordings in a proper studio this time, and it’s probably something we would like to do again.

It seems to be the general opinion that Joakim has come in leaps and bounds with his performance on the new album. Being so close to him as you are, how would you describe his development from untested singer and frontman to where he is now?

The main difference is that Joakim hadn’t done much singing prior to the first album, and nothing at all before the demo. So it’s of course pretty steep rise in quality on the vocals. What I hear most myself, is that he’s challenging himself more now, being more confident in every way.

Despite the good feedback, was there anything with the debut you weren’t fully satisfied with and wanted to change for the follow up?

– First and foremost the drum sound. And with that came the bass sound. As for song writing there wasn’t anything in particular we were looking for, but we feel ourselves that it’s a more even and high standard on the songs as a whole, whilst “Time To Repent” maybe had that two songs that stood out above the others.

On the other hand, the listener expects to recognize at least a few of the elements they enjoyed on the previous album. Which aspects of your sound was it important for you to keep intact?

– The vintage production is of course one thing we wanted to keep. But also the good melodies. We’ve always been about writing good melodies where others maybe have been focusing on other trademarks. We have never been afraid of being catchy and having a certain “singalong” aspect, and that’s something we want to stick to.

There is a lot more music to digest this time, as “Gather The Sinners” is about 1/3 longer than its predecessor. Would you say that the debut was unusually short, is it the new one that is a long album by DEVIL-standards?

– I think the first one was a bit short, but I don’t think an album has to be as long as “Gather The Sinners” either. We’ve probably already done our shortest and longest albums, haha. In terms of regular albums, at least. But as I mentioned, we are continuously working with songs, and if we have 12 good songs before we get around to record, we might as well use them. I don’t think of a new album as a whole new thing now. It’s more like a new chapter in the same book. These first two albums are definitively parts of the same DEVIL era or period, both in terms of time and mind. Maybe we’ll start more or less from scratch at some point, or start on a new book, to use the metaphor again, maybe we won’t.

I immediately fell for the song “Coffin Regatta”, with its simple, but really cool riff through the verse and a catchy chorus. In my opinion this is a song that shows a meaner side of DEVIL. Please give us a little insight into the creative process that lead to this track.

– I must admit that I don’t really remember just how it came to life, but I think Thomas had an idea of doing a song about that particular story, and he made at least the verse riff, maybe the chorus too, and presented it. We worked it a little around as usual, and I made the title and lyrics, and it was good to go! Pretty common process in DEVIL, just change the names.

If I am right “Southern Sun” was chosen to be the opener of the album a short time before it was released at the expense of “Coffin Regatta”. The least you could’ve done when you downgraded the latter, was to put it as number two on the album, but it rather ended up at the very end of the album. Why?

– We’d more or less settled on a track order, but just before we should finish artwork and send everything to print, one of the guys felt like not opening with “Coffin Regatta”. So we did some brainstorming and decided to switch them. The reason it ended last, is that we also wanted one of the top songs to be at the very end of the album, and we had a feeling “Coffin Regatta” would be positively received. The only thing we didn’t think about is that we now open with the two doomiest songs on the album, but if that scares people away, it’s their loss. I have a naïve hope that people listen through albums at least once, and therefore easily can skip to their favourites or even, god forbid, listen to complete albums.

The overall atmosphere is pretty dark, but at the same time you have a catchy song like “Ladies Of The Night”, as well as other uplifting moments during the other songs. Is it difficult to balance these extremes against each other, or do you know how far you can go in each direction?

– There are no limits in any direction. Quite the opposite. We like to break patterns before they turn into habits, that’s why there’s no intro on the album. So we wouldn’t have any principles against going all out on the dark side or have a field day with plain singalong songs. But I think the balance now is good, and it comes quite naturally.

devil-photo2Fast forward eight years and three more albums. Which songs from “Gather The Sinners” do you still perform live?  And do you perform this  new one or the debut in its entirety at selected festivals?

 – Hm, I guess maybe at least “Southern Sun” will keep with us all the way till then. And if we should do an entire album it would be this. After all, we want to play shows that are longer than 35 minutes, haha.

All members of the band are all really nice guys. Do you feel that this sometimes makes it harder for people to be critical to your music?

– Of course. Or at least in public. You don’t wanna disappoint people you like, that’s only human. But on the other hand I think people are fairly honest when giving feedback. But people will like or dislike music for many reasons. For instance we knew right away that many of the very first that embraced the demo, will jump ship now that we get bigger exposure. They’re like the hares in dog races, that’s extremely important for the first laps, but then lay off. It’s a combination of fancying the extreme underground and the feeling that having to share your favourite toy. You see this with all bands. Look at Ghost; The favourite cream waffle of everyone that heard them initially. Then they became big in the underground, ant the hardcore true metal fans gave them up. Then they entered the mainstream metal scene, and the rest of the underground started to piss on them. Now they’re probably breaking out of the metal scene all together, and now the metal fans all together will flip them the finger. And that’s not the first or last time this happens. Metal fans wants to be exclusive, and the more dedicated, the more exclusive. I say listen to the music (and your heart. LISTEN TO YOUR HA-AAART!).

I read that you are quite satisfied with the lyrics this time, have you worked consciously to better them, or did they just turn out more well written?

– A bit of both. We’ve tried to lift them for several reasons. One was that we wanted to include them in the booklet this time, and then you need to present something that doesn’t look like it’s written by 14 year olds. Now I’m speaking about grammars, not necessarily the lyrics themselves. And we’ve had more songs this time where we were clear early on what the subject should be.

I don’t have the lyrics to the songs, but in the song “Restless Wanderer” I hear something about a Sea King. I guess one band member must have been tired of waiting for the rest of the guys sometime, somewhere, and went for a walk by himself only to be rescued by a helicopter?

– That is correct. It’s Kai who needs a helicopter to find the venues we’re playing. In fact, when we played in London, he went to Camden because we were there the night before, haha. That’s reasoning. Had to take a cab through half of London to find the venue. And another story, on the first album, we have a song named “Open Casket”, and one of the lines are “I woke up in despair”. Some guy mailed us and asked for the lyrics. We said we didn’t have them, but if he wanted to try to transcribe them, we could look over it and correct them for him. He sent us back the lyrics with the line “I woke up in this bear”. Haha!! How drunk how you been if you wake up inside a bear?!

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