[media stories: 2001: english]

i n t e r v i e w

Interview with the band around the Phanerothyme release
taken from the Dutch magazine
OOR #8 / 2001-09-08.
English translation done by Paul Caspers.

  Motorpsycho in the Dutch magazine OOR in 2001
Motorpsycho in Dutch magazine OOR – September 2001.
Gebhardt, Snah, Bent (f.l.t.r.)
all photos: Mieke Meesen

Did Motorpsycho lose it? The pop album Let Them Eat Cake raised a good deal of dust among their fans, then that keyboard player came along and now there's a new album, Phanerothyme, which came about with the help of a hit producer. Digital recording techniques! What's next? A video? No, an interview!

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 instruments...
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 Barracuda.
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 play it.
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.
Snah: Right.
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.

Motorpsycho in the OOR in 2001  

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 composer.
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.
Q: Why?
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?
Snah: ...
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