Motorpsycho, one of the greatest Norwegian rock bands, will perform today in Belgrade’s Youth Center and it is going to be their first show in Serbia ever. Trio is on tour promoting its latest studio album “The Tower”.
Band was formed in the late 1980’s and the main characteristic of their whole career is the change and the constant need for musical research. There is almost no genre with which this veterans haven’t experimented, and many of the prizes and a growing fan base testify to the success of these projects.
We talked with bassist Bent Sæther about the beginnings of the band, the music that inspires them, the constant creativity that does not leave them for almost three decades, rewards, concerts and a new album, and, also, we spoke a bit about football.
Rock Svirke: What is the best way to describe music style of Motorpsycho?
Bent: I don’t really know! We have been all around the genre-/stylistic map since we started almost 30 years ago – pop, rock, metal, psych, prog, jazz, avantgarde, C&W, you name it! – but our main focus has been in explorative rock, maybe along the lines of early progressive rock, but with a
punk energy and a jazz mindset! Sorry – I know this doesn’t explain anything, but it’s the best I can do!
Rock Svirke: How things have changed since your beginnings in the late 80’s until now, speaking of your band?
Bent: Oh, we’ve been through several drummers, even more keyboard players plus a guitarist or two, but the core was always Hans Magnus “Snah” Ryan and myself on guitar and bass respectively. We both ‘sing’ too, and have always written most of the music for the band. In the beginning I
guess you could call us a hardcore-meets-grunge band. We’ve (d)evolved ever since, through various stylistic adventures over twentysome albums, into what we are today. The last album ‘The Tower’ is pretty representative of our interests and preoccupations of late, and we are still as inspired and curious about music as we always was. New blood – Tomas, the drummer – brings out different things in us two old-timers, and we are really curious to see where we go from here!
Rock Svirke: Black metal was dominant in Norway back in the 90’s, so how did you decide to play different music such as grunge/prog rock?
Bent: We were never interested in being a part of a ‘scene’ or anything like that, and even if our background is pure heavy metal, by the late 80’s, metal was either in the poodle-phase or in the thrash camp, and neither of those made much sense to us – we were more into what we today call
‘classic rock’ and what was then the pre-grunge new noise rock (Swans, Big Black, Sonic Youth, Husker Du, Fugazi, etc) than metal. There were a few other bands into the same thing, e.g. the early Turbonegro, but it was all too small to be called a scene or anything. We just did what we wanted to do I guess! Also, black metal was not really ‘dominant’ in Norway in the late 80’s: there were maybe 30 guys doing it all in all, and they all played in each other’s bands, so it was not a big thing here: it was so underground that no one really knew anything about it until the insanity took over. Then it got big.
Rock Svirke: What kind of music were you listening to back then?
Bent: When I moved to Trondheim in 1988, I started working at the local college radio station, and the other DJs that worked there really taught me a lot about all kinds of music. By the time MP started, I was fully immersed in the pre-grunge alternative rock thing as well as the then current british drone rock thing, and I’d learned all about all earlier phases of music: psych, prog, punk, you name it! So I listened to everything from the last 30-40 years of recorded music, and found good stuff in every genre. Our first idea was to mix Husker Du pop sensibilities with Sonic Youth noise and Hawkwind dronepsych. I dunno if we ever did, but that was kinda the first thing.
Rock Svirke: You picked your name after watching the Russ Meyer movie of the same title. Do movies have any kind of influence on your music?
Bent: We actually didn’t see the movie until we’d had the name for a couple of years, but the name suited us: Motor as in energy and psycho as in weird. Worked well for us! We have played to various silent films over the years, and various films have used our songs, but we have not worked scoring a film. Yet! I find that a lot of our stuff is pretty cinematic though. Some of it is pretty epic, and some of it kinda invites the listener to make a little movie in his head, so yeah – we think visually too when we write.
Rock Svirke: Have you changed the way how you work since your first record “Lobotomizer” up to the most recent release “The Tower”?
Bent: Yeah, i think so. We have tried just about every approach to songwriting that we’ve come across by now,and you learn a little for each step you take in any profession, and you like to think you become better at it (laugh). Also, in the studio we’ve tried doing things in various ways, learning along
the way what works for us and what doesn’t. These days I tend to write themes or bits instead of ‘songs’ like I used to. That makes the whole thing more ‘modular’ and interesting in that that it poses different questions and creates different challenges in the writing process. Pretty arty farty
answer this, but it is a bit like that the whole thing!
Rock Svirke: The fact is you are constantly innovating when it comes to music. How do you come up with new ideas and keep your creativity on the high level?
Bent: Well, thank you! If we do, I think it is because of a few things: we try not to compete with ourselves from last year, but also always seem to naturally move into different areas of music when we feel like we’ve achieved something. When you’ve mastered something, you use that knowledge to move on; we are by nature extremely impatient, and need to change things up on a regular basis to feel engaged and interested; success to us means trust, that an audience trusts you. What that audience usually likes is not something as banal as a style or a genre, but a sense of excitement in how the music is communicated. Repeating old stuff is never as exciting or engaging to us as creating new stuff, so that then, becomes our job: to stay engaged and excited about the music, so that the audience can come to us and experience that excited feeling again. Right? Only AC/DC ever managed to sound inspired playing the same stuff over and over – and they’re brilliant at it! – but it’s not for
Rock Svirke: You have achieved many Spellemannprisen awards (often credited as Norwegian Grammy Awards). How meaningful are these awards to you?
Bent: They are a pat on the back from the establishment. We never felt we were a part of any establishment, so it is all kinda meaningless to us, but it is a nice pat on the back nevertheless and our parents really like it! None of the accolades that you might get from a musical career ever feel like they are in proportion to the amount of work and love you put into the work, so it always rings hollow to me. Music is not a sports activity, and all these measurable concepts like prizes, charts and fame are foreign to our process and hard to relate to. Music can and should be art, not a competition.
Rock Svirke: Motorpsycho have recorded many double albums, even one triple LP, you recorded rock opera, many conceptual albums, worked with Steve Albini, combined various music genres, collaborated with Trondheim Jazz Orchestra. Is there anything new you would like to try? Is there anything left?
Bent: Uh…I hope so! Man, playing in MP is like an ever unfolding adventure where every chapter brings something new and inspiring without us ever looking for it or thinking about it. We’re kinda Zen’y when it comes to this stuff: if it is meant to happen it will. Our job is to be there when the muse comes calling, and to be ready for whatever she brings the next time. If we do our part in that relationship, she’ll keep coming. Or so I hope!
Rock Svirke: What sets last year’s “The Tower” apart in the Motorpsycho catalogue?
Bent: It is still too early for us to have any perspective on that album, but we went with a new drummer to a new country to record with new people in a new environment, and I think i can hear that in there. It is also perhaps the heaviest record we have made in some time – there are a lot of big
riffs on there! Additionally, it is the most political we’ve been lyrically in a while, as the lyrics were written around the time of the American presidential election and the world kinda felt like an unsafe place. I felt I needed to address that, and the album asks questions kinda summed up in
the phrase ’where did decency go?’. We are not talking about the Tower of Babel, but the Tower in the tarot, the 16th card in the major arcana. Made sense to us… Look, we are hippies at heart, and there are a lot of things in the world today that feel like they are going in the wrong direction. I normally can’t stand politics in lyrics – preaching is awful – so I hope that the ones on ‘The Tower’ don’t feel preachy or arrogant, but it was just impossible not to write about that stuff at that moment cause it felt so important. That makes ‘The Tower’ different for sure, since most of
the time the lyrics are more personal and inward looking.
Rock Svirke: How did you end up recording in famous Rancho de la Luna studio in Joshua Tree?
Bent: I’ve been there twice before with a band called Sugarfoot, and I know the place and its vibe pretty well. I thought The Tower would benefit from some of that desert magic, and sure ‘nuff – it did! Dave Catching is an absolute sweetheart, and the place is just really different from anywhere else I’ve ever been. Good for the soul too!
Rock Svirke: Tomas Järmyr is your new drummer. What sort of influence has his presence and playing had on the last record? How is different in regard to your previous band colleagues such as Hakon Gebhardt or Kenneth Kapstad?
Bent: Tomas had only played with us for 3 months when we recorded The Tower, so I dunno how much he influenced the material on that album. Most of it was written before he joined, but obviously his style and sensibilities helped us find the arrangements and the direction. He is less
busy than Kenneth by instinct, but he can go there if he wants to. At the same time he is technically more adept than Gebhardt, but he can be as primitive as him too, if he wants too. He is really a great combination of the two previous ones, I guess! Touring The Tower last fall, he had to learn a lot of old songs too, and he still has a lot to learn – our catalogue is pretty…vast! But he’s fitting in nicely, and we get better together every show!
Rock Svirke: It is well-known you never play the same set twice, so how do you decide which songs are you going to play on a particular gig? Is that trouble for you, considering you have tons of songs in your discography?
Bent: Sometimes its practical stuff that decides: if we fly in we can’t bring all our stuff and that limits the repertoire somewhat. Also sometimes we bring a fourth guy on tour – that adds to the possibilities available, so those kinda things factor in, but the basic principle is really pretty simple: we need to play what we are inspired by to be any good. That means that we have to rotate the possible material so that it doesn’t become like a show or a routine. In those situations one tends to focus on the wrong things (mistakes, showmanship) instead of on the music, and we try our best to avoid that! Having a big repertoire is not a problem – we are adaptable and pragmatic and will try our best to transcend no matter what the situation is. I think most people have understood that we are not really about specific songs or hits anyway, so this approach seems to work.
Rock Svirke: You have already played in these areas, specifically last year in Zagreb . What are your memories about that show?
Bent: We only ever played Poland of the countries in eastern Europe before last year when we played both Budapest and Zagreb, so we feel really new to this part of Europe. But it’s been good so far! In Zagreb there weren’t really too much of a crowd last time, but those that were there seemed
happy, and we liked playing there too! It is kinda weird going from 1000+ gigs in Germany to much smaller venues in other countries on the same tour, but I think it really is healthy for us to go new places. It is a different challenge to try to reach new audiences: you can’t take anything for granted and winning them over is a different proposition than playing to the converted for sure. Difficult, but fun!
Rock Svirke: Lets take a little break from music now. Are you into football? Do you support Rosenborg from Trondheim, the greatest club in Norway?
Bent: Of course! I have not been able to go to the stadium too much lately, but I go occasionally, and always watch when they’re on the telly. We went through a rough patch for a few years there, but are finally back where we belong: on top!
Rock Svirke: What’s the music scene like in Norway these days? Would you like to recommend new bands or great albums from your country which deserve our attention?
Bent: There are probably more good bands/music in Norway now than ever – I seem to find new stuff all the time, and it’s everything from avantgarde to pop. Healthy I’d say! Here are some, off the top of my head: Astrosaur: “Fade in//Space out” (instrumental prog/metal), Ola Kvernberg’s “Steamdome” (instrumental dancy jazz/prog by a fiddler!), Needlepoint: “Ainless Mary” (loose guitar/psych with a jazz twist), I love Gard Nilsen and all his projects (Acoustic unity, Bushman’s Revenge, Puma, etc), Stian Westerhus (avantgarde guitarist, touring with Ulver lately), Susanna Wallumsrød (singer/pianist. dark, quiet, beautiful. lotsa covers), Sunswitch (drone trio. feat. Tomas and Kristoffer), etc, etc! There is also a local label that only releases stuff from Trondheim called Crispin Glover Records, and a lot of the stuff they release is really really good!