Interview with the band around the Phanerothyme release
taken from the Dutch magazine
OOR #8 / 2001-09-08.
English translation done by Paul Caspers.
And thus the Norwegian trio moved into the Hotel Winston in Amsterdam in mid-august, in
order to inform the people about the ideas behind the new album and the plans for the
upcoming tour. For yes, Motorpsycho was one of the few bands in the world that didn't
play at Lowlands. At least there are some club gigs to look forward to (September 26 and
27, in Tivoli and 013). There you will hear songs from Phanerothyme (a word the group
came across in a poem by Aldous Huxley) and probably from Barracuda which was released
earlier this year and, although being filled with leftovers, still sounds better than 9
out of 10 new rock bands from England or the US.
While singer / bassist Bent Sæther is on the phone with Schiphol in order to
trace his lost luggage, the exubarant drummer Gebhardt and the quiet, subtly
smiling guitarist Snah start to philosophize about Motorpsycho's working methods in
the year 2001.
Q: Let Them Eat Cake was different from earlier albums in many ways.
Geb: At the beginning of last year, we were really insecure about how our
fans would appreciate that sound. And how we woulc deal with it ourselves on
stage, if it would feel good. Well, it fealt great. And we learned from
that. It felt like a major leap forward. This time we were solely lead by
the music, there was no prefab plan as to where to take things. And so there
kept coming demos without much effort. It appeared the new songs still had a
sort of pop-perspective, like those on Let Them Eat Cake, with a lot of extra
Snah: The songs we recorded for Let Them Eat Cake were split up with Let Them
Eat Cake and Barracuda as a result. Now there is more unity in the recordings.
We have songs that all radiate the same feeling.
Q: But it's still going from softly accoustic to almost old-fashioned loud
to melodically with a retro-feeling. That makes Phanerothyme still very versatile.
Snah: And still there is no such contrast as on Let Them Eat Cake and
Geb: We made demos of forty song for the new album and sent them to
Deathprod, our regular producer. He went through them and made an A-list and
a B-list. Then we tried to boost those weaker songs. Eventually we picked
sixteen with a certain coherence, and we recorded those.
Q: Not all of which made it onto Phanerothyme.
Geb: It was really hard to choose. I mean, we're used to double albums, but
we didn't want that anymore. Not this time. I think CDs nowadays contain too
much. Most CDs play for over an hour. So then I programm five songs that I
liked the first time and forget the rest. We wanted to avoid that this time.
The CD had to last exactly that long that when it was finished, err...
Q: ... you'll want to put it on again.
Geb: Yes, that should be possible. So that you're not exhausted. Try that
with Demon Box. If you made it through that one, you deserve a day off.
Q: I think you're underestimating your fans.
Geb: True, I know, our fans are hardcore, so it's not that bad. Did you know
there was a local radio station in Norway that played one of our songs
non-stop for 24 hours? I know there are people that sat through the whole
thing, with coffee and pills...
Q: Which song was that?
Geb: That was Vortex Surfer from Trust Us. A golden oldie, even though it's
only, let me see... three years old.
Snah: The last few years there almost hasn't been a concert where we didn't
Q: Don't you get sick of it by now?
Snah: Not really, no.
Geb: It's still a mighty song to play. But because we don't want to feel
like we HAVE to play something, we sometimes skip it. We have so much
material to chose from...
Q: You could do a 24-hour long gig without having to play one song twice.
Geb: O sure, no problem.
Snah: But the last thing you want is to sound like your own cover band.
Rehashing some old songs is pointless, I think. Approaching them in a
different way, that's satisfying.
Q: The first songs that stuck with me when I played Phanerothyme was Go to California.
There is an undeniable Doors-influence on it, the break at the end of the
piano solo comes straight from Light My Fire. On Let Them Eat Cake it was the Beach Boys
and the Allman Bros that were so prominent. Are you still conciously trying
to honor your heroes:
Bent (who just joined in, his suitcase was retrieved): We've been playing
Go To California for some time, and the more often we played it, the longer the solos
became. Our keyboard player Baard Slagsvold has an electric piano and that
mostly made decided the atmosphere. O and that break... we had to end that
solo one way or another. We knew it's a lot like the Doors. We admit. But
they're not doing it anymore, so...
Q: Heartbraker from Barracuda has a riff that sound a lot like Heart of the
Sunrise by Yes.
Bent: I was thinking more of Ten Years After when we played that. Anyway, we
don't do that on purpose. We just play things that sound good. If it turns
out the material already exists, so be it.
Q: Okay. Then tell me about the string and horn arrangements on Phanerothyme. How did
those come about?
Bent: When I developed Painting..., I had a cool jazz-like image in mind.
Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, that kind of thing. When we played it, it became
what it is now, with Baard making up the horn parts. He's a great
Beatles-fan, but he also knows what kind of phrasings and chords we like the
most. That's where he starts working.
Snah: But we often have some idea of melody. We give Baard a theme and tell
him: we can hear a trumpet here.
Geb: We're lucky that we know people who know so well what we're doing.
Deathprod has been our technician from the beginning. Baard spent hours
listening to Charles Mingus in the tour bus with us. So he knows what kind
of sound we like and don't like.
Q: I thought you'd arrive with four right now.
Bent: Yes, but he has his own carreer with another band in Norway. We three
write so many songs and we know each others musical insights so well that a
permanent fourth band member wouldn't work. If we need him, he's ready for
it. Like now, for the upcoming tour. There are so many parts for him to
play, he'll even have to play with his nose.
Q: Isn't there something inside you that tells you you'd rather do the job
yourselves? Just the three of you?
Bent: No, we've been the rock'n'roll power trio for so long, that it's nice
to hear our music through different instruments now. We can afford it, the
horns and the strings, it enriches and [????] the songs, so why not?
Geb: We use the vocals as an extra instrument, and also there it's nice to
have a fourth man to sing. That makes it easier to divide the parts.
Bent: One more thing: we worked with digital recording techniques for the
first time. We transferred the analogue recordings to ProTools so that we
could edit them more easily. For the first time we could relax and work on
the vocal parts.
Geb: Our demos were recorded with a clear idea on how the vocals should
sound. We knew that we would need sixteen tracks on some songs.
Bent: We worked with Ulf Holland, a technician who also worked with A-Ha and
Lene Marlin and other pop acts. I found it interesting how his 2001-feeling
went hand in hand with our music.
Geb: Deathprod sat down and listened and twisted knobs more this time.
Q: A technician famous for commercial projects, digital editing... Imagine
the conservative Motorpsycho-fan. He'd be scared to death for your next step. Because
that would have to be a number one hit in a duet with Lene Marlin.
Bent: I hope so. But I'm just counting on a successfull record.
Geb: It has to be fun for us too. And it was. This was something different.
Now we let it go. If we sell a lot, then we're proud of the album because it
was made the way we wanted it. We're behind it for 100% percent. And we
wanted to have the best possible production. But we're still outsiders in
the record industry and we can still support ourselves.
Q: You're still not known in the UK and in America. And yet there were plans
for a release on the now bankrupt Man's Ruin label of Frank Kozik?
Bent: Yes, but that didn't work out. The communaction was worthless. So we
thought fuck it. Forget America then. The only thing that happened through
that connection was that the recordings we sent them were distributed on
Napster. That was the entire Barracuda album. So there you have it, dealing
with professionals... So we decided to release it ourselves this year as a
sort of mini-album.
Q: What are your other plans? There are always so many things going on
simultaneously with you guys.
Bent: Well, we still have six songs left from the Phanerothyme recordings. They
would have fitted between the other ones perfectly, but three of them weren't mixed and
we weren't very satisfied about the mix of the other three. We didn't want to wait any
longer, so we'll get back to those later. Maybe we'll record some more songs. First we'll
see what happens with this album and the tour.
Geb: We also have a recording ready that might become Roadwork vol. 3. Made
in Bergen. We were asked to do a totally free improvisation with a film
screening of Joe Coleman. He's a New Yorker who's famous for his paintings
of American icons like Harry Houdini and Ed Gein, the serial killer. He made
a film about his work, that runs for about half an hour. And he wanted us to
do the music to go along with it.
Bent: We did two performances together with Deathprod and recorded both.
Coleman was very happy with it. And so were we. It makes a nice contrast
with the arranged sounds of the new album. Just sit down and start to play.
Q: Geb, you have your country-duo HGH and you play banjo here and there with
others. Is there anything else going on that you can't use for Motorpsycho?
Snah: Motorpsycho is all I can handle at the moment.
Bent: I'm doing some production for some friends in Trondheim in a local
studio. Nothing big, but it's nice to be working with music without being a
Geb: I made two albums with HGH now. I write a lot of songs and many of them
are just not compatibel with Motorpsycho. That's why I have HGH. A good division. You
know, it's refreshing to be working with other musicians after all those
years with Motorpsycho.
Geb: Because then I realize how amateuristic most people are! How little
feeling there is for others, including your own band members. Even
professional, respected artists, they're just fucking around.
Q: Give me some names?
Geb: No, never mind. But I know now that unconciously we've become very good
at what we do, if I may call it that.
Bent: Motorpsycho is focussed. We don't just hang around in the practice room smoking
joints and talking football.
Snah: We're working on our music.
Q: Is there really nothing else in your life?
Geb: Well, it always has something to do with music.
Bent: Wait! I play in an indoors football team. Although I can't remember
the last time I played with them.
Mark van Schaik