Interview: Mortiis

I’m wanting it to be one of these long fucking nightmarish soundscapes. That said, I am fucking notorious for saying one thing and then I do something totally different six months later!

For the past twenty years Mortiis has been releasing music that has taken on many forms and shows how forward thinking and ever evolving he is when it comes to his music. Gavin Brown caught up with him to see what music he has been working on recently and what he has planned for the future as well as how he is doing during the pandemic, his extensive back catalogue, his various remix projects, his history with both electronic/industrial music and black metal, Venom, encounters with members of ABBA and unforgettable live gigs in a very interesting and entertaining chat.

E&D: You have recently released the new track ‘Blood Becomes Water’. Can you tell us a bit about the track and what the reaction has been like so far?

Mortiis: It’s not so much that it’s a release. It’s kind of like a preview. It’s a work in progress that I did for what will eventually become the next Mortiis album, God knows when the fuck that happens! Probably next year, so that was something I have floated on the Bandcamp account for pretty much a fan club thing. They get this exclusive access to certain things that I put up there. I thought it might be a cool thing to just put up there, it’s a snapshot of work in progress. The feedback I’ve gotten so far was cool, man, people seem to be into it. It’s a little different from what I’ve done before, at least that track is. The Spirit Of Rebellion album, that has a certain sound. This one’s more sort of ominous and dark but I don’t know exactly what direction it is going. It’s a two minute excerpt out of about ten minutes and I’m not done with it. I mean, it might end up being fucking four hours long, probably not, but, you never know! I’m wanting it to be one of these long fucking nightmarish soundscapes. That said, I am fucking notorious for saying one thing and then I do something totally different six months later! There’s a lot of elements on what to add to it. We’ll see what I can fit in and what works, there might be a bunch of fucking banjos at the end of the day. It’s a snapshot in time of something I’m working on right now, but kids seem to be into it.

E&D: Will you be doing sort of that with other material for the forthcoming album, providing snippets as teasers for the new music?

Mortiis: Yeah, why not? Unless something really weird happens, like if Universal wants to pay me a million dollars and I would fucking do that and they would say, you can’t do that anymore, then I can’t do it, but that’s never gonna fucking happen. So it would have to something really weird for me, for me to not do that, because I think it’s kind of cool too to post something. I mean, I don’t like posting complete songs before they’re done, but I kind of liked just cutting out little pieces and got lectured here some little, you know, here’s a little a teaser of what’s going on and, and just kind of see what people think about it and, you know, and I think people appreciate it, so I’m cool with that, but you know, as long as it’s not sharing complete songs, you know, from start to finish when they’re not finished, that I would feel a bit weird about at the moment I could change my mind. It has happened before.

E&D: Have you got an archive of all the unreleased stuff as well, that you could bring out?

Mortiis: I’ve done that a lot with older stuff, especially from the more industrial rock days, back when I was doing The Great Deceiver. I’ve put out special versions of the EPs and albums and they contained different versions, demos, works in progress and things like that I’ve kept onto because I have about ten hard drives, so I never throw anything away. I had been doing that and it’s kind of a cool opportunity to showcase different kinds of artwork and a different version of that song that you heard on that album. It’s not for everybody, it’s for the hardcore fan, the person that really wants to dig into it. I’ve done that and a lot of that stuff, started on Bandcamp, with the fan club thing, I will upload it to them first for a few months, so they’ll have sort of priority listing for for quite a while. And then it goes on the other platforms eventually.

E&D: So that the true fans get it first basically?

Mortiis: Yeah, because they’re the ones who have spent money on merchandise and all kinds of stuff, so I’ll take care of them first and everybody else after.

E&D: Going back to The Spirit Of Rebellion album. What’s the feedback been been like for it so far?

Mortiis: Really good. I don’t know if I’ve seen any negative reviews. I’m sure it has had a few. You can’t get away from that and I’m not even sure if I want to get away from that. I’ve always tried telling myself, don’t read the reviews because eventually you’re going to get pissed off. There’s going to be some asshole just telling the world that you’re useless. I only get pissed off for, like, 10 minutes and then I go, why do I care? Then I’m like, fuck it, it doesn’t matter. Get on with your fucking day. I try not to read the reviews, but I fucking always do because I’m curious, no matter how long you’ve been doing this. So no matter how cold cold you pretend to be, you want to know what people think. Obviously I think as part of your ego, you can’t really get away from wanting to know that you make an album and you’re really happy with it and you want other people to like it, otherwise they wouldn’t work so fucking hard on it. It can get a little frustrating when you get these shitty reviews, but then on The Spirit Of Rebellion, haven’t seen any bad ones. I get shit for my image but I’m used to that! Most of my feedback I get from my socials so its all fans and that’s good.

E&D: On The Great Corrupter remix album, you’ve had your songs remix by likes of Merzbow, Godflesh and Chris Vrenna. How did it feel to be remixed by those iconic artists and do you have a favorite remix at all?

Mortiis: The feeling is awesome. I was really excited about that remix album because, the backstory was, I was, it was going to start life as simply a luxury edition of The Great Deceiver, with just a couple of remixes on it and we had some additional bonus material laying around that we were going to put on there, so I got in touch with a couple of remixers and people were very enthusiastic seemingly about being part of it. I got really motivated as well, so I started contacting more people. In the beginning I contacted more people than I thought would respond, which has always been my past experience me hen I tried to put a remix album together, you contact ten people and four people respond so if you want five people on there you’ve got to get in touch with fifteen people. This time though fourteen people came back and I was like, Oh fuck, I guess this is going to be a little bigger than I thought. True to my form, I always make something into a much bigger deal than I initially set out to do, so in the end it was like twenty five remixes or something like that. By that point, I got guys like John Fryer, Chris Vrenna, Godflesh and Merzbow, Rhys Fulber and evening some old heroes from Axegrinder, the old British crust/grindcore band from the 80s! Rise Of The Serpent Men, thats one of my favourite records! That was unexpected, to say the least! I was super excited and the cool thing this time was every remix that came back and every time there was a new remix in my mailbox, it was a bit of suspenseful time because you don’t know what it is going to sound like. You don’t t want to get something back from Chris Vrenna or Godflesh and you realize you don’t like it, how am I going to tell them I don’t like it?! Everything that came back was killer though and I was really happy with it. In the past, with other remixes, that has not been the case. There has been stuff coming back in the past, before The Great Deceiver, where I’ve had to admit, fuck, I don’t think I can use this. Thankfully, every time a remix dropped, I thought, this keeps getting better so I was very excited about it. I was very, very honoured to have all theses cool guys, these name people, to be into the project. I didn’t expect that. Some of them I knew before like Chris Vrenna but Merzbow I didn’t know. Rhys Fulber I’ve known for years so that was easy to contact him. He’s a good guy but yeah, it was fun man. It was a big project but I’m very happy with it.

 

E&D: Do you have any plans for more remix albums in the future for further albums at all and who would you love to do remixes on it?

Mortiis: In the future, I would have to release an album of remix friendly material. I mean, first of all, I don’t think that that The Spirit Of Rebellion for example, is something that lends itself very easily to that but I’m definitely going to be doing more of that sort of electronic industrial music in the future anyway which is perfect for remixing. I have a big list somewhere of who I would have loved to work with. I wanted to work with KMFDM and get them to do something and Sasha got back to me and said they would but he didn’t have time.

E&D: So there’s something for the future?

Mortiis: Yeah, so that’s on the list for sure. I’m going to nag him again until, until he’s available sooner or later. I would love Charlie Clouser to do one but he’s in the movie business now so it’s not like he would do it for 500 bucks haha! I’m sure he’d be polite but would pass on that! You never know until you ask, man. Some people, were like, oh fuck, yeah I know who you are, that happened a couple of times when I expected people to say no. I’ve been shocked before, man. Some of the older school people like, Coil I wanted but they’ve passed on now. That was on my list but I don’t think that’s very realistic any more. Some of the really old industrial guys have passed away so it’s hard to work with someone who’s no longer alive! I have a big list though, Skinny Puppy of course, that would be fucking great. I want to make that happen, I have to!

E&D: Coming from more of a metal background. How did you get into electronic and industrial music in the first place?

Mortiis: I can’t remember exactly but I came into that from a couple of different angles at around the same time. It wasn’t one thing that just led to everything else. I got into the sort of Berlin school stuff, the old sort of German electronica that was probably around 91, 92, when I believe my brother, he was hanging out with kind of a shitty crowd and they were stealing stuff from people and all of a sudden he had a bunch of LPs in his room because we were both living with our parents at the time, obviously because we were both teenagers and I just looked through them. He didn’t have any interest in music, I guess it was his contraband or whatever you call it, it was the stolen stuff. There were all kinds of Pink Floyd records which I knew about already but there was this one Reid’s that looked really weird and cool and it was Hyperborea by Tangerine Dream which is a really fucking great album. I thought it looked really interesting so I stole the stolen goods! I put it on my record player and thought it was amazing stuff and ever since then I was digging that stuff. On the other hand, the more sort of industrial electronic music. I can’t remember exactly how I discovered it but I did discover stuff like Coil and Psychic TV pretty much at the same time because it’s the same people. It might’ve been on some tapes that someone sent to me or something like that, but I think that’s how I got into it. Shortly after that I discovered Cold Meat Industry and all the bands on that label. I kind of just opened the doors to everything, you know, all the German stuff and the Swedish stuff. There was never a lot of it in Norway, I started realizing the history of it probably started in the UK, with Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, all that stuff, so, one door leads to ten more doors!

E&D: Going back to the new music, obviously you’ve been working on new music throughout this whole pandemic situation. How else have you kept busy or have you been concentrating solely on the music?

Mortiis: I try and work on music as much as possible, but what was happens is I get stuck in music for a couple of days and then everything else gets ignored or forgotten about. Then I have to deal with other things. I have a couple of kids that need attention sometimes! I have a job and I actually work in health services as a health care assistant but right now I had to stay home because I had to take the COVID test the other day. I was showing symptoms and I might’ve affected everyone. I’m clean, but you have to stay at home until you’re symptom free. I have had a few days off, so I’m just working on music, man. I’ve got all kinds of fucking projects going on right now, focusing on something that I’m doing with Stephan Groth from Apoptygma Berzerk. We’re doing a thing, well it’s mostly just me at the moment, he’s supposed to be stepping in pretty soon.

E&D: When are looking to get that released?

Mortiis: We don’t know. we’re just making music and then we’ll see how we deal with that later on. I don’t think there’s going to be a problem to get it released, but it started out as an idea to do a single and then I played him a bunch of old demo tracks I had here that I thought would work for the idea that we had, which was pretty much like Tangerine Dream, late seventies style, John Carpenter, Vangelis, all that late seventies, early eighties stuff, it was really at its very best. We are heavily inspired by that kind of stuff, so right now we’re just making a ton of music and we’ll just have to see about releasing it, you know, I mean we are going to release it, it would be a huge waste of time otherwise, but we’re still in this sort of music creation phase, so it’s a little early to say when it’s going to be released, but yeah, it started out as an idea to make a single, but as the weeks and now a couple months into it has gone by, we just realized that this is at least going to be an album because there’s a lot of music. I think I’ve got like an hour of music to be honest. I think people will like it. The metal crowd, maybe not so much. I think this is gonna be more of a thing for the electronic crowd and those like vintage synthesizers.

E&D: Is the music very atmospheric?

Mortiis: Yeah, it is. definitely. And it is also a big homage to those days of arpeggiators and moogs and all that stuff. I’m having a great time working on this because it’s different from what I usually do. I’m not gonna say I’m taking it less seriously, but I’m stressing less over it with, normally I get so paranoid about whether or not it’s good that I almost make myself sick but with this one I’m just kinda going with the flow and that’s a great fucking experience for me, stress free. I like that a lot.

E&D: Have platforms like Bandcamp and the Patreon that you have been doing been vital for you during these uncertain times?

Mortiis: Yeah. I think so, but to be honest, I haven’t noticed that difference since the pandemic, I mean I have been active on Bandcamp for quite a while since before this started so I’m very glad that I started that a while ago because it does bring that little additional income at the moment, which right now, it’s pretty damn important. I do have a regular job, so I’m not suffering. I didn’t lose my job or lost shifts, since I work in health so there’s always income, but in the sense of music income, I mean that has probably been cut in half easily because there’s no touring, we were going to do a bunch of tours starting with the Mayhem tour in the fall, that’s going to get rebooked for next year because Europe just isn’t open enough for this to happen, people can’t be in the same room, it would be irresponsible and I don’t think it would be possible regardless, sonthat’s gonna be rebooked. I’ve lost a couple of tours this year and I’ve noticed webstore sales are down, obviously, you know, a lot of people probably lost their jobs and the economy is kind of weird and shaky. People aren’t going to do as much online shopping. I think people are just being very careful like that. That’s been noticeable but with Bandcamp, the technology that they offer that I started using a while ago is definitely very useful.

E&D: Do you miss playing live and being on the road?

Mortiis: Yeah, to a degree, you know, I miss elements of it. I don’t miss being fucking tired or at four o’clock in the morning, waiting for a cab that hasn’t turned up to the hotel. I mean, I’ve had a lot of really sort of punky experiences when I’ve been out playing, it’s not like I tour in this big grand expensive way, you know? I’m not fucking Dr Dre or something. I’m not a huge artist. I get to play live and I get paid for it, so I’m  at that level, which is more than most people can say, but it is far from luxurious and those elements, I don’t miss but I just deal with them. They’re just part of the job, but yeah, there’s tons of elements about it that I like such traveling. I like the show itself, talking to people before and after shows, I like selling fucking merchandise, the whole package or day 80% of it, the other 20% I can do without but you live with that.

E&D: What is the most memorable gig that you’ve ever played. One that sticks out in your head?

Mortiis: I think the one that kind of sticks out, it’s not that the show itself was any better or worse. It was actually a pretty good show. I think it was 2018 in Australia. I believe it was Melbourne and I built this kind of steampunk looking sort of box, it looked like an old organ, that I put all my gear into it and because I just don’t think it looks visually good when with keyboards and shit like that onstage, so I sort of hide them in these cool looking things. Somehow the fucking thing, which has a big leg that sticks out, it somehow had gotten front heavy and the whole thing is broke off. It fell to the ground while I was playing live. I mean, fucking wood splinters flying. I was so lucky that it didn’t pull out all kinds of cables and shit like that, it would have ruined the whole show, because a lot of stuff comes out of sound cards and stuff that’s going on inside computers and shit like that. It must have looked awful. The whole thing just fell off and for two seconds I was like, do I stop the show and try to fix this? I just said, no, fuck it I’ll just keep playing because the sound still sounds was still there and no cables were damaged, nothing got fucked up, nothing got ruined except this wooden construction thing. It was weird, there was about 300 people there everybody was kind of shocked at this, to see the stage just fall apart.

E&D: You carried on though!

Mortiis: Yeah, you kind of make a split second decision and are like, ah, fuck it. Let’s just carry on and see how they gig goes. And so you listen to things and make sure everything sounds normal, there’s no real reason to stop up here.

E&D: Even though it was a long time ago, do you have fond memories of your time playing bass for Emperor in the early days of black metal in Norway?

Mortiis: Yeah, sure. I mean it was alright. I was a young man back in those days and it was a different time, but by and large I have nothing but fond memories. It didn’t last for that long. It was just over a year, but, yeah, it was a good time, I don’t think anybody realized at that point the foundations of how much important stuff was being made at the time. We all realised later on I think, you never know when you’re creating something important until the world feels you later on! Yeah, good times, I mean it got a little crazy there at the end and I’m sure there are people out there that would have wanted something done but that’s not for me to say. I had a good time.

E&D: What have been some of the most memorable moments of your career so far?

Mortiis: Memorable moments? Oh fuck. Getting people like Chris Vrenna to remix me was a pretty big thing because I’ve always been a huge Nine Inch Nails fan and he was right there when there were at their very best in my opinions. That was a pretty cool moment for me. We actually worked with Chris a little bit in the early stages of The Great Deceiver on some of the songs and they ended up on The Great Corrupter as well. We were actually at his house for about a week mixing and dealing with stuff. He’s a really nice guy, that’s some of the cooler stuff for me. I do remember a friend of mine, called me up. He used to work in a record store and he was working at a record store at the time. He called me up and said like the blonde chick from ABBA just bought your CD. That was quite weird. That’s memorable though! I never forgot that, man. I mean, it’s not that it doesn’t matter. I think it was like a Christmas present for a family member, but still, that was like, what the fuck? This was back in the late nineties, you know, that’s a long time ago too, so she bought one of those dungeon synth albums so there’s not a lot of dungeon synth albums who can say that!

E&D: Finally, as a huge Venom fan. What’s your favorite Venom album and how did you discover the band in the first place?

Mortiis: My earliest memory of Venom was someone had tape and it must’ve been like a fucking seventh generation tape or something because I remember the sound was even more muffled than the earliest Venom recordings are. That was most likely the In League With Satan single because it had that song and then it was ‘Living Like An Angel’ on the B-side, it might have been ‘Red Light Fever’. I can’t recall, but it was a single and I remember I was listening to it and I’m thinking this is fucking insane! This is probably back in 85 because I was really young. I was about 10 and I was a huge W.A.S.P fan and I thought W.A.S.P was the hardest band in the world because that’s all I knew, the blood and the saw blades and the codpiece and the raw meat and the blood. I’m thinking if they can be that, that’s impossible because I’m 10 years old. I don’t have any imagination beyond Blackie Lawless being crazy, so someone plays me Venom and secretly to myself, I had to admit this is fucking harder than W.A.S.P, but I pretended not to like it, cause I couldn’t admit it loudly. It was like I was losing face, because I was this big W.A.S.P guy in my town and everybody knew me cause I was collecting W.A.S.P and I was just a fanatic. I couldn’t admit to something else being harder and cooler and crazier than them. That was impossible but it was, and Venom was right there and that’s how I discovered that. I didn’t start collecting until several years later. My favorite Venom album is definitely Welcome To Hell, believe it or not. There’s just something about it, maybe it’s because it’s got that sort of Motörhead vibe, but with this real satanic edge. Black Metal is fantastic too but for some strange reason, I just happened to slightly enjoy Welcome To Hell more. It might just be because of the sound, the sound is so raw, it’s raw on the Black Metal album too. That’s just a little more polished. I mean, Welcome To Hell was actually recorded as a demo I believe, so that’s probably why it’s so rough and gritty as fuck but that appeals to me man, and the songs were really good but that’s always the way with the first album. You have had since the day you formed to write those songs but once you put your second record out, you’ve only had from the first album til the second record to make those new songs, but that said there’s nothing wrong with the songs on Black Metal. It’s just that I like the sound a little better on Welcome To Hell. The absolute best they ever did was the single in between, Bloodlust, which has only two songs. That’s like the absolute perfect fucking Venom sound in my opinion.

E&D: That’s been absolutely brilliant, man and hopefully we will be seeing you next year with Mayhem when you make it back over to the UK.

Mortiis: I will make it back, man. This pandemic needs to calm down first. As soon as that happens, there will get an avalanche of fucking bands. That’s my worry. That’s going to be like fucking five bands playing in every town every day, everybody’s going to just jump on a plane and go on tour, that’s going to be a problem too. We’ll take that as it comes!

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