[media stories: english: 1996]

Snah interview

Interview with Snah taken from the
Norwegian musician's magazine
English translation.

Pictures related to the interview:

Since the release of the double album 'Demon Box' in 1993, about every story and review on this band has deemed them 'Norway's best rock group'. We start the quiz-show easily, asking Snah to state the band's view on that matter.

«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.»

And yourself?
«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 that!»

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 sometimes live.»

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 [1993] is the first record to have a mix that's distinctly Motorpsycho?
«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 Martin tribute?
«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 of improvisation.»

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
Guild S-60
Gibson RD Artist
Gibson Les Paul
(licensed by Morten Fagervik [associated member and lightman]).

Lobotomizer 1991
8 Soothing Songs for Rut 1992
Demon Box (single CD/double LP) 1993
Mountain-EP 1993
Another Ugly EP 1994
Timothy's Monster (double-CD/triple-LP) 1994
The Tussler - Music from the Motion Picture 1994
Blissard 1996.

Øyvind Adde