«Well, it's hard to say when you're in the middle of it. We build our
music around certain basic elements of rock, but consider ourselves a
bit far from mainstream guitar-rock. We operate on the borderlines to
other styles, so we don't relate much to titles like that. But
positive attention is nice.»
Motorpsycho was formed by 3 students in 1989, and started a prolific
record career in 1991 with their debut, the heavy-grunge-ish
Lobotomizer. Single, double and triple LP's an numerous EP's have
followed, each with a distinct sound. Even a C&W-album with the
soundtrack to a non-existing spaghetti-western has found its way into
the discography, leading the band to do several shows under the name
The Tussler Society during 1995. The highlight here was the opening
gig at the cowboy-festival Down On The Farm in June, and soon after
they appeared as Motorpsycho again at the Kongsberg Jazz
Festival. This time cooperating with the bebop-group The Source.
Motorpsycho have since 1992 been connected to a small, exclusive group
of people, who have contributed more or less musically, lyrically or
with engineering. The group has hence looked a lot like a creative society,
a playground for sound and music enthusiasts. Having been 5 during the
recording of their latest record Blissard, the band are once again 3
during the following tour of Norway.
«We realized that this was best, cut to the core, and build from that. We've been
working on tightening our sound, and I for one feel it hasn't got any more bare
live than on the records.»
Can you describe the two others, and their role in Motorpsycho?
«Bent (Sæther) is from Snåsa, and usually plays the bass. But he plays guitars, drums
and piano too, although he's not schooled. Yes by the way, he's played the drums in
Agle Marching Band. Write that!»
We feel we are being used as medium for internal pranks.
«No, to put it shortly, he's played in a lot of bands, and become insanely creative.
He's always strumming some guitar, and writing lots of songs. Motorpsycho was formed
by the two of us in 1989. Gebhardt (first name Håkon) joined the group in 91/92, after
our first drummer. He's from Tromsø, has been to Norwegian Sound School, but I meet
him at Trøndertun Boarding School in Melhus where they teach rock. He plays the banjo,
by the way, and he's a killer on the guitar...or at least I think so. But drums is his
thing. That and studio engineering.»
«I've not been schooled, except for that one year at Trøndertun. I've taken the odd
guitar-lesson, but I haven't got the patience to practice, so in the early years I
mainly was playing around with Black Sabbath-riffs and the like. I tired of that at
Trøndertun, so I started making own songs, with Gebhardt for instance.»
Do you have any vision or personal philosophy on your approach to the guitar?
«I haven't thought about that. I try to let my thoughts go when I play, so that the head
doesn't get in the way of the fingers. I figure it's got a lot to do with relaxing and
flowing with the others in the band; musical communication. It is supposed to feel good
for everyone, that esotheric feeling of everything being right. That is what I ,and us,
are working towards.»
Does personal stagnation occur?
«Oh yeah! I have the feeling I've been stuck the last few years. But I try to maintain
a degree of progression.»
Advantages and weaknesses as a guitarist?
Our man boggles.
«I easily move towards old heroes when I play. That's left from my bedroom-heavy-metal
studying. And I write far too few songs. Could have used my time better, so I guess lack
of discipline is a good explanation.»
And the advantages?
«I'd say I have a good musical intuition. At least working with the others in the group.
I like having the ability to relate emotionally to the music I play. I can hum major
and minor scales, that is tell them apart and recognize them. A lot of guys can't do
During Oslo Rock Festival in 1994, the band experienced every musician's ultimate nightmare,
when their tour-van was broken into and relieved of about all their gear. We sense a sudden
soreness and frustration from the interviewee when the incident is mentioned, and let him
tell about it in detail, to warn our readers.
«I lost two blonde Gibson ES-335 hollowbodies, one from the late 70s, the other from the
early 80s. I'd been playing them for several years, and they sounded so right in what we do.
I think I'd been able to kill if I got my hand on the people who took them - I think about
those guitars every week. I have a feeling they'll surface someday, though. A few Marshall
tops and footpedals were also taken, but they are dispensable - and we were insured! By
the way, I got one guitar back after a while, allegedly because noone was able to play it.
It was an american Mosrite in the The Ventures series from the early 60s. I bought it from
Åge Aleksandersen when he was on the lookout for Valley Arts guitars with the slalom-ski-
design, that was a bad move - by Åge that is.»
How do you go about replacing the indispensable?
«I've acquired a couple of new Guild hollowbodies, I like their
sound. It's easier to get sustain from hollowbodies, I like to fool
myself into thinking so anyway, so I like working with them. The amps
I use now are excellent, by the way. Two Oranges, one for clean sound
and one for overdrive. I have been using Marshalls among other things,
but they sound too like. I mean, one sound regardless of guitar-type,
and that's the one you hear in most rock. That's where tha Oranges are
so good. You plug in, and the sound is there at once, just like it is
in the guitar you happen tu use. The EQ'ing is the matter of taste it
ought to be.»
«Right now I just use the overdrive in the Orange-amp. I like the sound being
there at once, so it's got to be a high-voltage amp. And I have a Roland Space
Echo and a tape-loop-unit which I use both live and in the studio. I try to
use tape-looping a lot during our improvisations, which gives a kick when successful,
but it's easy to lose control and go flat on your nose.»
Do you generally use the same gear live and in the studio?
«I've been using a lot of effects and amps, so my gear has varied from
tour to tour. But I feel I will stick to the Orange-amps, at least
live. Entering the studio, however, I borrow lots of equipment, among
others from a friend of ours in Trondheim [Vegard Moen]. He has an
exclusive collection of vintage guitars from Silvertone, Gibson and
Danelectro, plus a small museum of obscure instruments and
gear. Ranging from electric sitars to tiny two-valve-amps and various
ampincases; shortly everything in valves. I'm not into all the news in
amp technology. I like better to search for sounds among old equipment
passing by, like oscillator-based sources of sound like more or less
functioning Hammond organs. That's one area where me and Helge can
relate! (Helge Sten aka. Deathprod. Sound engineer/producer who has
been studying noise at the Trondheim school of arts. Is a part-time
member of Motorpsycho, and is making soundscapes and minimalistic
ambient for his own and other's multimedia-shows.) He's totally into
oscillators, and is constantly on the lookout for new devices to force
some sound from. His pride and joy is a Theremin [electronic
instrument developed in the Soviet Union during the 1920s.] which is
based on manually manipulating the interference between two
high-frequency oscillators. One is given a fixed frequency, while the
other is given one by moving one hand around an antennae in the
instrument. This makes for various noises and sounds, over a broad
frequency-spectrum which he's using with us on the records, and
The interviewee now dives into a short explanation of the greatness of primitive
synthesizers, and Robert Moogs merits at attaching walls of different sounds
to only one keyboard, whereafter the writer due to time-shortage is forced
to lead the interview back to the topic of guitars.
Do you use particular techniques, making music on your guitar?
«I've been experimenting with tunings, especially on the earlier Motorpsycho-albums.
One example is Plan # 1 on Demon Box. Sometimes, a D-A-A-tuning is all it takes
for inspiration to come, and you see new ways out. I have been tuning as low as C#,
but on blissard I keep them tuned in regular E-tuning.»
Do you search for new chords?
«No! There's another of my weaknesses. I usually put together two notes in different
intervals, that is I set up a pedal tone and listen to the moods I get when I add one
ore more notes. It's much the same thing when I play octaves over a pedal tone defined
by Bent's bass. The Golden Core from Timothy's Monster is an example.»
On songs like Step Inside [8 Soothing Songs For Rut], The Nerve Tattoo [Blissard]
and maybe first and foremost on the intro to The Wheel [Timothy's Monster], you show
an estethic ability to merge bass and guitar around each other. Do you work much and
closely with Bent to achieve this?
«Yes, Bent and I have been playing together for almost 10 years, so we
know each other pretty well. But we do work closely all 3, so
Motorpsycho is a lot lika a submarine living. We either do a record,
are on tour or rehearse 5-6 days a week in a room in Trondheim. The
musical communication has become so good that the others well may work on
an idea for a riff or a tune while we're playing. Then we play it until
it's there, refine it by arranging and keep playing around it again.
In fact, we play and improvise more than we rehearse, and that's a point.»
I accidentally played the intro to The Wheel in double speed on a tape recorder.
As a result, the guitar-bass-intro sounded suspiciously like synthetic ambient-acts
like The Orb?
«Haven't tried that ourselves, but when we made The Weel, we felt we moved towards
an organic ambient-mood. Much due to the repeating main-riff, so we just let it go
as long as we felt for it [17 mins]. Maybe also to show that it's possible do do that
with guitars, now the machines have taken over a lot. It seems we are a dying species
in being a guitar-band: looks like fewer and fewer people sit down with a guitar and
build a song around a good melody.»
Here, the journalist can't help pointing at scientific theories like 'evolution'
and 'darwinism', but at the same time tries to avoid a serious conflict by letting
the interviewee finish the train of thought:
«Yes, I realize that, but it's true for synths like anything else; it's the persons
using them that count. I find exciting things in 'machine-music', like Biosphere
and Aphex Twin. But there is still a lot to explore in guitar-based music.
Listen to Sonic Youth; they sure has done a lot to revitalize guitar-rock, and
give it an updated expression.»
You seem very aware of your sound and to most of the engineering on your records
yourselves. Demon Box  is the first record to have a mix that's distinctly
«Yes, there was a lot of attention when we released that. It was recorded at
Brygga Studios in Trondhein, with Helge Sten and Lars Lien engineering and
co-producing. Especially Helge helped gettigna heavy, dark sound, as there's
a lot of amplifiction in the lower frequencies in the Deathprod-contributions.
During the 11-12 days the recordings lasted, we had squeezed the studio to the
max by trying every idea and possibility that came up.»
Like for instance to add music to the poet Matt Burt reciting his own lyrics in
the song Plan # 1. How did he come into this?
«Another asociated member of the Motorpsycho-family! Matt is a figure from Chicago,
USA, who's now a student at the Trondheim school of arts, but we got in touch with
him through Helge around 1992. He's a strange guy who has about 40 hours of poetry
recorded on dictaphone. We had a song we'd been playing a while, we'd even recorded
it, but not released it. At some occasion it was suggested to try to fuse Matt and
us, and we looked at the tune again, played it over one of his tapes, synced, and
suddenly it was there: Plan # 1. The people around us were awed, and went for it.
It's one of the songs we like the most to play live, and it's loved by the audiences.»
You gave the record a stereo-sound like Sgt. Pepper, where bass and guitar is
in two channels, and drums and vocals somewhere in between. Was this a Beatles/George
«Not really. It could perhaps be due to Lars Lien being a Beatles-fan, but the working
methods were more like Pink FLoyd's studio workshops around 1970 in that sense. That
is, we dragged all kinds of gear into the studio to to try out their sounds and
posibilities, to develop the songs and our sound. The mixing, by the way, was marked
by this experimenting and the ever-present time shortage. 24 hour shifts and 8 hands
over the mixing desk at a time wasn't unusual. Scenes where I was attempting to direct
a guitar-delay, while the others were adjusting the other tracks.»
The following Mountain EP got very much the same sound expression?
«Yes, and the song Mountain is on the vinyl edition of Demon Box. The other material
was recorded at Brygga Studios only a few months later, so there's plenty of the
dark, heavy moods in there. On the other hand, we ended that period there in many
ways, especially with the tune The House at Pooneil Corners. It stretches the
sound-concept to the limits, and we let out a lot of gloominess at the same time.»
Then you changed course, first with Another Ugly EP, then the triple EP Timothy's
Monster. Why did you choose to leave the sound which made Aftenposten [Norwegian
conservative newspaper] write 'this is rock as art', among other things?
«It was in order not to get stuck. We'd been playing the song Demon Box (about 20
mins) live about 120 times, and was tiring of the metal-thing. Grindcore on
Timothy's Monster is I guess our final goodbye to that side of music. It ends
in a riff that's just repeating, then noise in loop; sort of a image on how easy
it is to repeat yourself and move in circles musically. At the same time, we moved
from sound-searching to sound-focus, that is paying more attention to 'the good
melody' if you like. It turned into more pop, and at the same time we relieved
the sound of the lowest frequencies that marked the Demon Box sound.»
But you chose to keep the out-of-tune guitars?
The man on the other side of the table looks up, a bit confused.
«Hm, are they?»
Well, during the middle part of The Golden Core, there is an octave chord
that doesn't fit into the rest of the tonality?
«I can recall Bent saying there was something strange there, and he wanted to redo
it, but I didn't want to, and asked him to keep it. I don't hear that kind of thing,
I just feel it's got to be that way.»
Blissard is a single-CD, and contains 'only' 10 songs, and they are quite short
by your standards. Have you quit making long songs by improvising?
«No! But we've been thinking more of arrangement and discipline. The songs have
become shorter, but contain more at the same time; we say more in shorter time.
That's the result of improvising ideas in some time, and then putting the best
part into a well directed song. I guess it's got somethign to do with us trying
other types of music lately too. Especially the country-thing made us switch
focus to the songs and the supporting element in them, the melodies that is.
We also worked more on backup-vocals, and that paid off on Blissard. Also, it
was very exciting to be contacted by The Source for that gig at the Kongsberg
jazz festival. That brought a brand new way to relate to our old songs, as it's
a rather new music tradition. We solved it by rehearsing together in 4 hours,
and then sat down to discuss how to deal with communication. There was a lot
Why did you choose to record Blissard in Stockholm?
«We'd been working mostly in Brygga Studios in Trondheim, and were tiring of
working there. We had in a way tried out every possibility there, so a representative
for our old company [EMI] arranged a good deal with Atlantis Studio in Stockholm.
That was a good thing for the moods, and we certainly didn't feel constrained by
its technical possibilities. We decided to use 14 days for recording; one for
taping and one for mixing. We burned ourselves there! You get a little 'deaf'
and lose some perspective on what you're doing in studio, so we should have delayed
the mix. When we listened to the tapes back in Norway, it sounded all wrong.
The songs were in there somewhere, but it sounded wooly and weak. As a result,
Bent and Helge took the DAT's and went to Lydlab at Grünerløkka to mix everything
from scratch with Ulf Holand, and luckily, it could be done. It was mainly a question
of boosting the higher frequencies in the sound; brighten it.»
You were two on guitar during the recording of Blissard. How did it feel like
to relate to another guitarist in the Motorpsycho-concept?
«I am perhaps a little stubborn there, but it's no unusual, to have two guitarists
in the band. Bent has always played various guitars on the records, especially
acoustic. In addition, he straps on guitar during some of our songs live. We
then play play the guitar the both of us, while I operate a Moog pedal-synth bass
which delievers the punch in the bottom end.»
At this point, Snah has to end the session to go to a soundcheck at Rockefeller.
We tail him, to get an answer to the question we've been eager to ask since the
start of the interview:
Have any guitarists replaced the old guitar-heroes?
«I don't listen specifically to guitars when I listen to music. For me, it's the
whole that counts. But if I have to name guitarists that are interesting in their
own, I'd mention Keji Heino, who does 'japanese supersonics', shortly guitars in a
strange, urban sound. And not least Michael Karoli from the german avant-garde
group CAN, you should catch him!»
Mosrite -The Ventures
Guild Starfire 1966
Gibson RD Artist
Gibson Les Paul
(licensed by Morten Fagervik [associated member and lightman]).
8 Soothing Songs for Rut 1992
Demon Box (single CD/double LP) 1993
Another Ugly EP 1994
Timothy's Monster (double-CD/triple-LP) 1994
The Tussler - Music from the Motion Picture 1994