Ivar Bjørnson (pictured, center-right) is the founding guitarist of Norwegian extreme metal band Enslaved. He took a moment between shows on the band’s current European tour to talk with staff writer Alex Newton (center). Topics included inspiration for his compositions, the evolving landscape of metal, and places he would like to play.
Alex: You released another critically acclaimed album last year, In Times, that reached international charts. You obviously have a large following, but what does it feel like to know that your music is still breaking through to new audiences after so long?
Ivar: It’s pretty fantastic, I have to say. You know, it’s not something I would go around thinking too much about day to day or when we’re making an album. We certainly would hope to maintain the status where [we’re] at, that there will be at least some growth and a number of people going to the shows…today it can be kind of confusing with the transition from physical to digital. So when you actually get hard evidence that things are moving ahead, it’s really positive and uplifting. It makes us very grateful that there are people who are really paying attention. We’re neither technologically pessimistic nor optimistic – we’re trying to keep an eye on what’s happening and relate to that. I have a fair confidence that, especially in our kind of music where people actively seek it [out] and it’s not something you’re being force-fed by mainstream media, it’s uplifting that it’s being made available.
Alex: You’re on tour now with Ne Obliviscaris and Oceans of Slumber, two bands that are making waves in the progressive metal community. Do you have any favorite moments or stories from your tour? Has anything surprised you about them or their music?
Ivar: Yeah, a little bit. I wasn’t too familiar with them before so it’s been really cool to see how the package fits together. It’s also challenging because these are two bands that are very professional in what they’re doing – they’ve been touring a lot the last few years and it puts high demand on what we deliver also. We know there are fans coming to see them, and we want to convince them also. It’s definitely a good package.
Alex: What are some of your non-metal influences? Obviously Enslaved is a band that has changed much over the years, but is known for incorporating folk and ethnic music into to the scene
Ivar: We get influenced by anything, man. We collect music, vinyls, all that geeky stuff. At the same time I’m interested in all sorts of expressions. I’m lucky to have a bunch of people around me in the band, and our friends, that are interested not only in the metal thing. The prog rock is big for us, the classics from the Seventies, but also that leads to such an amount of other music. I like to read up on my favorites, a thing like listening to Meshuggah. I was intrigued by their weird harmonies and the scales they’re using in their leads. So I went to see what those guys are listening to and began to find like, obscure fusion and jazz things that I haven’t heard before. That just happened in the last year. Another thing about the digital world is that it’s easy to track stuff like that and go to check out the albums. Anything from jazz, folk music, rock, electronic music…I’m a big fan of ambient music, and of course the whole folk thing that’s getting lots of attention today. It’s very exciting.
Alex: Your first Enslaved record came out when you were only fifteen years old. How is your artistic process now different than when you were younger? Are there are notable ideas or trends that you’ve picked up from other musicians along the way?
Ivar: I guess I’m a little bit more open to influences now than when I was fifteen. Things were more in-the-moment. We would just go with it, so to speak. The music I was listening to was more limited to, let’s say, extreme metal. But with the years I discovered that there’s a lot of things that are heavily related. There’s always influences from somewhere – it didn’t occur out of nothing. Backtracking the whole development of where metal and extreme metal is coming from has been very interesting, and seeing all these parallel moments also. Like how metal came about in the early Eighties, classic heavy metal and how it’s branched out into the point today where I can’t say I have a very good overview of everything that’s going on in metal. Enslaved, we’re a band that’s lucky to be invited to a lot of different festivals, so a day of checking out some of the other bands will make me think, ‘wow, this exists also.’ That’s pretty exciting, I think. I would say that I make music in the same sense, in the same way…it’s all about making something that makes me react, and to have some sort of emotional response, but I’m definitely more open to different ways of achieving that.
Alex: Scandavanivia is a unique and fascinating part of the world that I’ve never gotten a chance to see but would love to. What are some places you’d like to visit or play in that you haven’t yet? Are there any you can’t wait to get back to?
Ivar: We just had our first time to Japan, which was really fantastic. They had a lot of thoughts and ideas, since it’s a major metal market, and that was just fantastic. It’s a lot of the same everywhere – people have that same approach to being a metalhead but also there’s something special there, a very high level of dedication and curiosity that I really liked. So that’s somewhere that I’d like to go back to. I’d really like to explore, or to do anything, in South America. We’ve been as far south on the American continent as Mexico…I guess that’s midde America, but we haven’t actually been to South America yet. And that’s something that we really want to do. Also, I heard that there’s some things happening on the African continent. Zimbabwe has a metal scene, Egypt is going, though it’s up and down – it seems like every second week there’s either a more moderate guy in charge and then the military takes over and so on. But we just met a couple weeks ago, when playing in Romania, an Egyptian act that joined our package for that show. And they gave us a few updates…it doesn’t seem to be that dangerous to be doing it anymore down there. So definitely something in South Africa is a place I’d like to explore. We actually heard from the Norwegian embassy – not us personally, but the Norwegian embassy was telling people that there’s a suprising amount of people in diplomacy that have an overview of metal. It’s kind of bizarre and very cool.