More than 16 years ago the Sisters of Mercy went on a strike against dishonesty of their record label and have not put out any official product of their art since, other then an occasional concert. For a while now Norwegian ever-changing Mortiis is also still label-less, rejecting the greed of the music industry. Yet this doesnít stop the band from creating new material, progressing with original solutions and future plans. Being a pretty stubborn Northern guy, Mortiisí frontman HŚvard Ellefsen is ready to wait an eternity, but can the fans wait as long? And moreover, will this make any significant change in modern music industry and the business ďvampiresĒ behind it? Impressively, HŚvard holds himself very self-assured, with enough humour and good acting skills, thus this manís presence conveys certain confidence for the future to come...
Howís it going?
Good-good. So far so good. We just came back from Oulu, travelling the whole night in a small van, it was pretty tight and it was hard to sleep. The concert was ok though, it wasnít too crowded, not too many people, but it was a good show.
So youíve been doing a few concerts, howíre they going?
This is not a tour, weíve been coming back home after almost every concert. Otherwise itís a small promotional thing for the new record, as weíre playing four new songs at each show, and the record isnít even out yet, so... Itís more like weíre just doing the gigs. Well, in Russia we got no promotion, so a bunch of people didnít show up as they didnít even know about it. It was more like a couple hundreds every day, or something. But promotion-wise there was nothing, no posters, no flyers Ė nothing. Apart from that we got nice people everywhere, like in all Europe. I like London less and less every time we play there. I donít want to sound like a racist, but there are too many fucking immigrants, crime every day... I donít like big cities.
Of course youíre tired from the trip now, but how does it feel for you to be a part of the Trash Fest, being one among many near-to-glam bands that adolescent girls follow?...
We talked about it and weíre kind of used to never really fitting in anyway, whatever we do. Weíve done everything from pure metal festivals to synth&electronica festivals, and this is like a sleezy-wack thing or whatever, rock/punk... Not punk, but you know what I mean. Itís like this New Yorker punk in í77, like Ramones and this fest kind of falls under this, and again, this is something that weíre used to, not all being like-minded people here... But then again, there are so many bands that sound like Mortiis, and weíve changed a lot... shouldíve really changed the name too (laughs)... And itís clearly marked: Era I, Era II, Era III, so... But Iím kind of sick of that too now, so fuck this Ė letís just do this festival!
Youíre sick of being classified, right?
And that too Ė I get sick of all stuff very quick though, probably that explains all the changes, I donít know, Iíve to think about it... Itís just how I am.
What is Mortiis trying to say with the music, do you think thereís a mission, concept or a message?
I donít think thereís so much of a message, I donít like to tell people what to do. I think people should be their own masters. Mortiis has always been, at least for the past 3 records, pissed off at record labels, old girlfriends (laughs), or whatever Ė people just really have made my life a fucking living hell at some point, and itís still about that, and sometimes peopleís nature in general can be a pretty bad thing; so judgemental Ė I fucking hate that. And I do that too, itís just one of the parts of human nature, we canít do without. All that kind of stuff trigger inspiration, lyrics, you know...
What is inspiration for you?
What IS inspiration?... [takes a pause] I donít have a way to evoke it, you know, I canít force it, it just happens: youíve got one good idea and it triggers ten other ideas, and when youíre on the road you fucking work for as long as you can. Thereís no one special moment, but in the past itís been something like between 3 and 5 in the morning, when finally things fall into place... But itís over now, I have a little daughter and Iíve to go to bed at fucking midnight, back up at 5...
How old is she now?
So you can put her back to sleep with some nice Mortiis lullaby!
(all laugh) Yeah, I could! (does a deep growling tune)
How have you changed since becoming a father?
I need to step up and be more responsible, you know, get up early in a morning, I never sleep anymore.
So then, how do you manage to work on the album?
Itís done already! Yeah...
And just how happy are you with it?
Itís the best weíve ever done, so far. With this album weíre 98% satisfied with what weíve achieved, some things I think could be cooler. I mean, we had Chris Vrenna mixing it and he could do only 5 songs, I was hoping he could do the whole album, but thatís not a big problem, whatever. The rest we mixed ourselves. You can hear some difference between those 5 songs and ours, because Chris mixed them quicker, he didnít have a lot of time. For ours we spent like 3 days on each song, so... Otherwise Iíve 3 albums ready now. So now we have to find a proper record label... If we self-release them again, like we did before with my own label, itíll take all my time. This is 10-12 hours work a day, and so thereís no time to make music. And thatís why I stopped doing it, I was pissed off and fed up, chasing people to ask them to pay their bills, so I spent more time yelling at people than I got for making music. This is just wrong, this isnít why I started this. Now we keep on working on music every day and weíre creating new stuff. Maybe one album weíll put out just for free for downloading, others somewhere, letís see.
And meanwhile youíll continue searching for a deal?
Well, not as much searching, as telling people to ďfuck off!Ē (laughs) Ďcos the deals now are not good, labels are so greedy, they want everything... We did everything ourselves, we paid for it, we own everything now, we shot two videos, weíve got this whole big package ready to go! And so far the offers are coming in, like ďwe give you this much money, and a shitty deal and we want to own everythingĒ. And Iím like: ďoh fuck it, not gonna happen.Ē Weíve just spent so much time and effort and weíve got all this talent involved, great director, great people, so you know, we arenít going to just flash it down the toilet just because the greedy record label wants it for free. Itís not even about the money. I donít honestly care about the advance and the money, I just want a contract thatís a good deal, thatís able to treat the band fairly, that will actually market the record and give the band a chance to be seen and chance to sell some records, you know what I mean? Itís not about any big money Ė fuck it! I donít care! Ė money comes later, if it ever happens. I just want to be treated in a fair fucking way, because this never happened to us. Thatís all I want and so far I donít feel that any of the record labels offer that. Now Iím totally fine and I can wait forever, Ďcos itís gone so far now and we stayed so fucking long in this fucked up industry that I know what Iím not going to go back to.
Whatís the best revenge?
Winning. Getting what I want, which is basically prove to those people that I can do whatever I want on my own terms.
But I guess itís kind of near to impossible to predict how will the label act in the future after signing the contract, how the attitude might change...
Well, you just have to look at the contract, youíve to understand whatís in there.
So then how do you differentiate art from business, as in this industry one canít go without the other...
I fucking hate business. Some times are hard, Iíve some income now and then. Also my wife has a job, so if anything, I have a safety net, weíll manage, weíll survive, itís not about that. You just have to look at things in a business mode and not think about the art. Itís very hard to look at the contract and not take it personally: ďthis is what you think I AM worth?! FUCK!Ē (sighs dramatically)
And you get all insulted, and thatís typical me, thatís the problem I have, always taking things so personal. I try not to, you know... Iím not into the business thing, we have a manager and thatís like how weíre supposed to be doing, but I always want to read the contract and know whatís going on, I need to know whatís there. And so far, every clause in the contract Iíve had so many comments: ďthis has to change, and this has to change, this is fucking... and this has to go away, this youíve to put in there, etc.Ē And of course it never happens, because the record labels want to take care of themselves, so you know...
Do you at least have some choices or offers now?
Yeah, we have some so far... We can always go back, but we arenít gonna do it! Iím simply fine waiting until the right deal comes along. Weíre actively talking to labels, but this stuff takes a really long time, so... Music industry isnít in the best boat now anyway Ė everybodyís downloading. So our solution is: if itís difficult to sell a physical record, then make a physical record even cooler. Put tons of bonus stuff in there, give kids shit loads of cool stuff which you could never possibly download.
Thatís true, but if you just donít have the money Ė doesnít matter how cool the record is, you just canít afford it, thus Ė downloads...
Well, maybe now because the global crisis and thatís at top of the musical climate, so youíve got two problems. But even then, record labels just donít seem to take the responsibility. Lower the price of the fucking product, if youíre gonna sell the record for 20 Dollars, try to sell it for 15, put a lot of extra stuff into it. We wanna put multimedia dvds, with bonuses, desktop wallpapers, and all this fucking cool stuff, put all the tracks to the songs, so people can take them to their computers and breed extra songs, we want to do the same to the artwork, put all the elements there, so people can make their own Mortiis artwork, because this makes any fan a part of the band. I really donít mind. I was thinking they could upload it, put it on our forum or whatever, be interactive. Obviously this has got to be a screened process, as some people could put a fucking swastika onto my forehead, so youíve got to have a censor thing. I think youíve gotta do stuff like that, you canít just put a usual cd in a jewel case and thatís it, itís boring now, youíve got to make it attractive and give more.
Youíve mentioned that the new material has some punk influences...
Itís in the way itís done, some of the performances, of the attitude Ė itís right up in your face, angry, kind of sloppy, couple of the songs are a little bit like that. Itís more like I just got the vibe that this kind of feels punky to me, I mean, I like stuff like Discharge and Amebix... If Amebix ever tours and I was close, Iíd fucking cancel anything to go see them. For now at least I can buy their shirts online.
Whoís that dude on your shirt now?
Charles Manson. Why not him?! (all laugh) I like his face. I wanna marry him Ė no I donít. If you can fucking convince that many people to do that kind of stuff for you, what kind of brain power does this guy have?!
Yeah, only I donít support Hitler. His philosophy I donít agree with, there are assholes in every race, I donít want to exterminate anybody just because of their nationality, but maybe if they are morons, then maybe yes... Maybe he was a political genius, but he took it in a terrible direction... (Levi in the background asks if Hitler made music) Music?! He mustíve not been very good then... Iíve a couple of records by Charles Manson, itís some folk stuff with strange lyrics...
How ironic that both those guys clearly had artistic talents, but somehow didnít manage to direct it in a right way and it came out...
...the wrong way? (all laugh) I donít know, but Iím able to channel my negative energy through music, and finally it turns into something positive, you know? I guess Hitler didnít do that.
What would you consider as the worst quality in a human being?
Falseness and that could be anything, really: liars, backstabbers, fake people, itís just irresponsible. This whole rockstar thing to me is just cynical, or false ego: ďoh, Iíve sold a lot of records, so I can treat people like shit.Ē This is just ungrateful, I canít stand all this, it just fucking pisses me off. Who the fuck create your jobs, who buys your records?! Youíve to respect them, a lot of people forget about that. Some fans donít respect the artists also, but that happens: ďwhy didnít you make this record like the previous?!Ē and stuff like that.
Iíve heard your first visit to the US was rather memorable...
First time I played was in í97, when Mortiis was still a solo thing, I even think nobody really understood it, it was a weird performance, more like an art-show, with a playback music, I was so embarrassed and it was actually really bad, just bizarre. Weíve played this whole festival thing, and the Great Kat was there. You know her? Sheís this crazy guitar chick from 80s, and all this speed metal and sheís i-n-s-a-n-e, we got into a fucking fight backstage, man! She was hanging with all those guys and they were going to fucking kill me! I was just going to grab my bag and she has this massive ego, so for some reason she just started this trouble, I was coming in through the door, just reaching out for my bag and she was ďWTF?!Ē She was playing there with all those strange punk bands and then there was Mortiis in middle of everything... (laughs) This was a pretty long time ago, so Iím not sure how much changed there in Chicago. That was the first time Iíve actually met Alex Zander from MK Ultra Magazine, with his cowboy hat on, so...
At some point youíve also been touring with Christian Death...
That was a long time ago, also. I remember I made a terrible mistake when I called Valor ĎRozzí and Rozz has just committed a suicide back then, and I was like ďhey Rozz!Ē and that was such a senseless thing Ďcos those guys were good friends, so it was a big loss. He just ignored me that day and I think I shouldíve apologized, but Valor is quite a nice guy with a huge ego, no doubt about it, but he has his days. If heís a bad mood, everyone would feel it, but then heís a good mood and you think itíll be ok, but it changes... Heís mostly fine though. I had a pretty good time on that tour, it mightíve been my first tour ever, so everything was still new and depressing, because at the same time I didnít realise how tour goes, how much money you can lose, how expensive it is...
What?! Isnít the label suppose to pay for that?
Hmmm... (does a very self-explanatory facial expression)
Oh, youíve had one fucked up record label!
(all laugh) You got it! Thereís something called a ďtour supportĒ when they cover a fraction of it, but then theyíll deduct that from your royalties later. So at the end itís always you, those people there are just Ė c-r-a-z-y Ė they donít give a flying fuck about bands, all they care for are themselves. And itís not just me Ė itís any label, so for the bands to survive, itís very, VERY difficult. Why do you think bands split up all the time? Itís not because theyíre tired of being a band, itís because they canít fucking afford it!
So how does this financial situation affects bandís insider relationships?
Thatís why some people got fired. Every time they want to do something, itís costing them tons of money, and a band takes a lot of time. You go on tour and you donít have daily job, nobody will let you go on/off job all the time, youíll get kicked out. And youíve to pay your rent, your electricity... Iíve had all those closed off Ďcos I couldnít pay, so itís terrible. Since we got out of that record deal and started touring, I noticed that it became a bit easier, we werenít fighting so much with each other and we had some money left between us, so we were like ďhey, letís go on tour!Ē So bought the flights and applied for some funding from the government, which Iím very good at, I can get those!
Hey, can you give me some tips later?
Sure! Basically youíve to lie a little bit and tell them that my music matters to a lot of people, itís culturally valid and stuff like that Ė this is what the government wants to hear! So promote yourself in a big way, you know? If you wear yourself nicely and look kind of professional, it took me about four years before they started giving me the money, as I kept getting rejections, and when I was about to give up, they said yes. This was huge inspiration for me Ė ďnow it finally works!Ē
So if you could, where else would you go?
Oh, Iíd love to go to New Zealand, Australia, swim with the sharks and see poisonous snakes, spiders... They are creepy, but all fascinating things are! Weíve got very huge spiders in my house, because we live right next to the forest. I didnít know they exist until like three years ago, they are called wood spiders, or forest spiders... They are big and black and they just stand on my walls. My wife has a phobia of spiders and I always have to catch them. I never kill them, Ďcos I donít like killing stuff, so I get a glass and a piece of paper and push them out. Man, those things can run extremely fast! So they come inside the house to mate, so they stand on the wall, waiting for another to come...
(all laugh) Porno on the wall! And my wife is scanning the house all the time and when I hear her scream, I know what it is, so... ďhere we go againĒ (sighs)... And once it was in our bed, crawling over my arm and I didnít want to freak her out, so I was like ďshush, shush...Ē and she was like ďitís a spider, isnít?Ē, so that one I had to kill, I couldnít catch it. And once our cat pulled in a rat, that was pretty disgusting. The cat broke ratís back legs, but that thing was trying to crawl on the floor, so I had to pick it up and kill it. Weíve three cats and they drag all kinds of stuff in, birds, mice, and they are always half dead and Iím like ďoh, fuck...Ē Because they play with them, thatís what cats do, so when they are done, Iíve to kill the half-dead-half-broken animals...
Then you can supply the corpses to those Norwegian black metal bands for their stage shows!
(all laugh) To Gorgoroth! They do that, but Iíve not met those guys for years and years, we arenít in the same scene anymore.
Do you miss those times?
Iíve played with Emperor for about year and a half, but my first band was one death metal band where I was a singer, but they split up after some eight months; then I played bass in another band, but that also lasted some three months.
Maybe thereís a song that you regret you werenít the one who wrote it?
Thereíre probably a lot of them, ďThrillerĒ is one. Except the video, where werewolf looks like a cat! Itís got those whiskers and so on, thatís a werecat! I think the whole Michael Jackson thing is cool, man. Thereíre like 15 minutes of plot and 3 minutes of music, I donít know anyone else whoíd done something like that. If we wouldíve done it, no station would ever play 15 minutes of Mortiis video! But if itís Michael Jackson, heíd get a whole fucking hour. As far as the songs though, ďDragulaĒ by Rob Zombie, ďHurtĒ by Cash... Stuff like that.
If you were not a musician, what other profession could you take?
I got into the music when I was so young, so I never developed any other interests. But in another life, murder investigations seem interesting...
Imagine, you couldíve been the guy who caught Charles Manson...
(laughs) Right. In 1973, two years before I was born... But itís a fascinating world! Iíve always thought that the whole serial killer thing was sooo fascinating, but Iím not sure how smart I am for that. So that would be a job I wouldnít hate.
Hey, now is a small test here: association game. Hereís a bunch of random objects, youíve to pick a couple and say what comes to your mind first, explain it a little bit.
I take one with picture of the witches [picks up a postcard with four witches in pointy hats] This brings a memory when I was very young and I was standing by a very old house, way out in the mountains and I felt that weird smell... Thatís actually how I wrote that ďSmell the witchĒ song later, thereís a certain scent... It comes back every ten years, Iím not that old, but a couple of times that same smell showed up, itís like haunting in a way. Iíve not felt it for about 10 years now, so I guess itís soon time again.
Do you believe in karma?
I think I do. I havenít seen a total proof of it, but I do believe that whatever goes around, comes around. Itís actually kind of logical. If you treat people like shit, sooner or later itíll turn on you and youíll be alone in the world, you know what I mean? This is where our former record label is heading...
[picks up a bottle of Jšgermeister] like Entombed, they had their wine,
Obviously that reminds me of Jšgermeister! We once did a Jšgermortiis, we actually had a sticker with a whole logo that said ďJšgermortiisĒ, I think it was part of the Kerrang! awards or something, in the UK. Weíve had it on all the tables, it was funny. And somehow we managed to convince people at Kerrang! because itís just this typical rockíníroll liquor, and it makes you a fucking idiot too, you get very drunk and stupid and all that stuff...
But isnít the same with any alcohol?
Not really. You can do fine on vodka, you can turn into a monster with tequila, this is about how the ingredients power the alcohol, or something. Iím not sure what happens exactly, but liquors give those results. Yeah, Iíve heard enough of pink elephants after absinth. Whatís in there, some kind of toxic? Wormwood or something like that?
What kind of effect alcohol has on you?
I get a buzz, but nothing crazy. Iím not a bad drunk or anything, I donít get pissed. I get an emotional drunk sometimes, watching a movie and then ďaw, aw Ė please donít die...Ē (does a sad face)
And what about drugs?
Thatís always a sad question, you know? I mean, I donít do a lot of drugs. Itís down for each individual. If youíre too dumb to be able control drugs, you shouldnít do them in a first place. Youíve got to give people some freedom. If people want to do them, there should be certain places for that. Like a pub. Youíre not suppose to drink beer out on the streets, so you either go to a pub or you stay at home. Or a club, but I say pub, whatever. They could do the same thing with drugs, man. So if you want to do coke or fucking heroin, just go and do it there. Iíd rather be in a car with a driver who took a sash of coke, than who smoked a lot of hush. I donít do that much myself nowadays, but I liked the speed and the coke, it just made me fucking happy. You get this electric kind of feeling, you walk around and you talk a lot and you have all those great ideas. And thatís it. Also, it stops you from getting drunk. It goes so fast in your body, of course depends on your blood. I mean, you can drink 20 beers and barely get drunk, and have a horrible hangover the day after, itís a nightmare... But from my personal experience, drugs never did anything bad to me. Iíve never freaked out or anything. Some people maybe turn into real monsters, but I was just happy, so fucking happy and in great mood, man.
Author: Marina Sidyakina, transl. S. Mahrer, Photos: Julia Sheremetyeva Date: 2009-04-17