Norway’s Kvelertak made the music scene take notice with their impressive debut album. Now the band is preparing to drop their sophomore release – ‘Meir’. Killyourstereo.com recently sat down with frontman Erlend Hjelvik to discuss the upcoming full-length, Norwegian winters and getting stuck in a hotel fire escape with Mastodon.
Hello Erlend, how’s it going?
Hey, good. How are you?
Yeah, not too bad thanks. Are we speaking to you from Norway at the moment?
Yes, I’m just waking up (laughs).
Starting next month you’ve got an extensive runs of shows coming up, when you’ve got spare time before the tour, what do you get up to?
Right now it’s just a lot of promotion going on and the other guys have started rehearsing already and I’ll be going over to Oslo in a couple of days to join them. Other than that, I have new album coming up with Djevel my other band – a black metal band I am in. I have to do vocals with that. Then we [Kvelertak] are going to go on the European tour in the beginning of March. It feels like there’s lots to do now, which is a good thing and I’m looking forward to getting out on the road, that’s when I think I’ll really relax (laughs).
Obviously the topic of conversation for the promo at the moment is the new album (‘Meir’). This one coming up because it’s the second one around I know there’s probably a bit more interest and expectations from fans and music critics. When it came time to write and record this record did you feel any of this pressure at all?
No, we don’t think too much about what other people are going to think. I think for us the most important thing is that we liked it ourselves. Personally, I’m a lot happier with this album than the first one. But, the first one for me was the best I could do at that moment. I think from just all the touring we did with the first album, I think everyone has been getting better at what they do. I think it is a more confident sounding record this new one. For me, I think it’s a lot better.
You just touched on it there, being more confident. What were the main differences you noticed from the debut album to this one?
I’d say the new one is more shameless – I think that word sums it all up. I think we’ve expanded the sound from the first one. I think there are a lot of new things we do. We’ve made the slower songs with almost the clean vocals on it, then we have some songs like ‘Nekrokosmos’ that are a lot heavier than what we did on the first one. It’s all over the place this new album I think. To me, it feels like there is more of a rock vibe compared to the first one.
I’ve been watching your new video clip (‘Bruane Brenn’) quite a bit recently. Those kids in it did quite a good job of rocking out to the song in it. What did you guys think when you saw the end product?
I thought it was just cool to make a video that was something different. Just a nice video for a change.
When we came up the idea it was going to be kids like drink driving and doing drugs and stuff like that (laughs).
It didn’t turn out that way. Our director, he has his own style, so he just took that basic idea and made it into his own thing. I think it turned out really good. I think those kids did a really good job at helping us. The singer I recognised some of the moves he does (laughs).
The other big news recently is the signing to Roadrunner Records. I know reading some interviews you’ve done previously they’ve been really supportive of you guys retaining the Norwegian lyrics. Was there much pressure in the beginning of the band from international management for you to sing in English?
Not at all, it has actually never been a problem for us. The only guy that advised me to start singing in English was Happy Tom [Thomas Seltzer] from Turbonegro. That was when we were in a radio talent contest – I guess you could call it that – for demo bands. We were on that in 2009 and he was one of the judges and that was what he told me (laughs).
Luckily, we are not good at taking advice from people. We just do our own thing, it has never been a problem. None of our fans have ever requested we sing in English either. I think it just adds to the flavour.
I know you just said a moment ago there, you’re big on doing your own thing. I know bands, like you also mentioned there, like Turbonegro have been an influence on you. Do you take much experience and knowledge from what they pass onto you guys?
Not really. I think it is just different times now to when they were starting out. I think they’ve moved up to be a big band more gradually than us. I don’t know? It is a hard one to answer. They’re great guys and we listened to a lot of them growing up. They’ve given us some advice, but I actually don’t know what the advice was at the moment? (laughs).
Norway itself, from most people’s perspectives and also Scandinavia has always been quite renowned for heavy metal and punk music being quite embraced. For you growing up there and living there your whole life, what is it like being a heavier band over there?
When I talk to bands from other countries they almost don’t believe us. It definitely is easy to be a band in Norway. Once you prove that you can be successful, you get something from the States and stuff like that. There is a good music scene in general. There are a lot good bands especially in Oslo and also our hometown in Stavanger. There are a lot of good heavy bands – everything from black metal to punk rock. It is just a great environment for bands I think…the shitty weather also helps too I think (laughs).
That was actually going to be one of my questions later, with obviously Norway the fact that it’s so cold and in winter the limited sun light, is that actually a positive in some respects being in a band because it forces you indoors to rehearse and stuff like that?
I think it just adds to the mood I guess. I don’t think a lot of black metal bands for instance would exist if it weren’t for the winters in Norway (laughs).
If it was summer all the time I think things might’ve wound up sounding different. I don’t think it has much to say on the practice space, because it doesn’t really matter what weather it is outside when it comes to stuff like that. I guess it is just more of a mood thing.
John from Baroness he again did the album art for you guys. I know you met him recently when he was recovering from injuries he sustained from that bus crash. Does it put things in perspective when you see things like that? Obviously you’re a band that is touring a lot, those are realities you can face.
That is every bands worst nightmare being in a bus crash like that. They seemed like they were super lucky that none of them got killed. It just seems like a shitty situation to be in considering all the court issues and stuff like that. It is definitely something we think about. We’ve had some shitty drives before that smoke weed and watch DVDs while driving. It definitely makes you more concerned I think about your safety…luckily those drivers are fired now (laughs).
Another musician you’ve worked with, Kurt from Converge he again produced the album. Can you give us an insight on what it’s like working with him?
I think he [Kurt Ballou] is a musical genius. He has a rocket science degree almost, he is just a really smart guy. He has a really great ear for what things are supposed to sound like and he lets you know immediately if something is off and he doesn’t leave you with a bad take. He gets the best out of all the bands that record with him I think. He is just a great guy to work with.
You’ve been here once last year for Soundwave. What were the main highlights/stories you took away from your trip down here?
There are a lot of things. That is one of the coolest tours we’ve done, it was basically like being on vacation with a lot of cool bands. That is one of the coolest things I’ve done. We were travelling around with Mastodon and Gojira and staying at the hotels with those guys and playing sideshows with them. That was a lot of fun getting to know them. Just things like the first day when I met Brent [Hinds, Mastodon] we were stuck in a fire escape smoking a joint in our hotel (laughs). He had a bad foot, which was broken. I just remember it was a lot of hassle trying to figure out how to get out of there. He wound up just starting to pee in a hallway (laughs), it just felt kinda weird, but it was a lot of fun (laughs).
Also things like Rob Flynn from Machine Head coming out to side of stage while we were playing.
Are there any plans to come back to Australia later this year? Are we factoring in the tour schedule?
I think we’ll be down there, I don’t know exactly when? But, you’ll definitely see us down there at some point, I don’t know when yet. We’re working on it I guess.
What has been the biggest learning curve from being in a band so far?
I think the biggest learning curve was when we went on our first European tour; right after the first album came out. Kurt from Converge took us out on tour even before he met us, which was a really cool thing for him to do. So that tour was with them [Converge] and Kylesa. I just remember being at sound check for our first show and saw them doing sound check and it just blew me away. Converge is one of the craziest live bands I’ve seen and they’re just super intense and energetic and really into their music and I think they set the bar. After doing that tour I think we became ten times better. I think that was the biggest learning curve for us.
And how you were saying before about watching Converge and how they go about their music, growing up was there a particular moment, be it an album or particular performance that was the main reason you wanted to be in a band?
When I started listening to metal, I started listening to Metallica and Marilyn Manson and Slipknot that stuff in the beginning. Then I moved onto Dimmu Borgir and that cheesy black metal before getting onto real stuff. That was the music that made me want to scream. I actually started doing that while I was working as, I guess you could say a cowboy, I was working at a farm milking cows and was all by myself there and that’s where I just started practicing singing I remember.
What’s the best thing about being in Kvelertak?
The best thing is definitely the touring part and being on stage, that is the thing I love the most. In the band it is basically all of my friends there and it is just great travelling around with them and going to different, new countries. The whole thing, we are having a lot of fun and I couldn’t ask for a better job than Kvelertak – it is perfect for me. Especially comparing it to the day job I had before that working in a warehouse loading boxes of frozen pizza in a big giant freezer. It definitely beats that.
I can imagine (laughs).
In terms of this year is going to be filled up with playing shows and promoting the album, but ideally where do you want to take the band next?
We don’t really have any goals like that. Right now it is just focusing on the touring, which we are going to a lot of for the new album. It feels good that we are on Roadrunner now. It is going to fun to see what they are able to do with the album. It is going to be cool to see where it is going to take us. I try not to get my hopes up for anything, but it is just going to be fun to see where it all ends up. We’ll do our part, which is touring up and moving up and making music for the next album. We’ll see how it goes. We really don’t think too far ahead.
Were there any finals words you wanted to pass onto our readers?
Check out the new album when it comes out. It comes out on March 26th. It’s available to order on roadrunner.com right now. We are looking forward to coming back to Australia. We don’t know when yet, but we’ll be down there sometime soon I think. It’ll be great.
Thanks a lot for the interview, which is tonight over here, but the morning over there for you. Thanks for chatting to us today.
No problems, thanks.
No worries, I’ll catch you when you get down to Australia next time.
Sure man. Good to talk to you.