21.6.2011

In the Woods... interview from Qvadrivivm #5 (2008)



Heart of Change

Interview: Kuronen

Listening to In the Woods…’ Live at the Caledonienhall right now, in 2K8, not only does it bring up recollections of the formative importance of this band for my personal psyche in the last several years, it also campaigns distinctly for images and ideas of change. Change, the act or result of something becoming different, does not have to mean a sudden maelstrom-like transformation, an overnight drive into territories unforeseen. Defamiliarisation can also come in crumbs, in near-total quietude. It can remove the self in pieces so small that the totalitarian sensor at the core of the ‘I’ will not notice any modification is happening. This is when the self is altered subconsciously. At some point in such a process, a forever ongoing one, it can become tremendously difficult to identify some of the prior versions of the self.

Now, this seems to be what has happened to me—in the form of my changing and thus momentously distancing myself from the full-blown richness of In the Woods… It seems to have happened also to ItW… vocalist Jan Kenneth Transeth, in the form of his forgetting what exactly it is he was singing about during his teenage years in the progressive-minded Norwegian outfit. It is unavoidable for us to look back at and scour through some old dustbins to locate the starting points of these feelings. Helping to navigate yesterday from the ivory point of today is the aforementioned live album, a powerful bringing together of many of the musical threads that created the enduring fibres of In the Woods…’ career.


“It’s always a bit strange when you make a song when you’re 17 and you have to perform it when you’re 26,” notes Transeth. “There are a few things going on that weren’t there when you were 16, but it’s okay. It’s a little bit weird because you change so much, especially from 17 to mid-20s.”


From the likes of Satyricon, Possessed, Katatonia and Death Angel, among many others, we know that the metal scene has always had its fair share of bands that were receiving international recognition well before they were through drawing logos into their notepads in secondary school. In the Woods… were one of those early birds that had a vision and the means and skills to fulfil it at a young age, to paint it into a complete picture. Hence it is understandable that the meaning, form and strength the Norwegians put into their emotional expression changed quite considerably as the group, and the individuals in it, advanced from one phase in life to another. They, too, weren’t adolescent forever.


“We were 16 or 17 when we started the band, and when you’re at that age you don’t have that many troubles,” says Transeth. “Usually you live at home with your parents and you have none of the sort of usual everyday worries that other people have. Maybe it was just like a slap in the face of reality when we turned 20 or 22. We did
Omnio and the Strange in Stereo album, and some of us could handle it really well while others really had troubles with it. In the Woods… was always some kind of channel or mirror of what we were doing at the time that we were recording. I think that it just channels what was going on at the time. It’s like if I go to check out something on the website we have—like the other day I was looking at a couple of lyrics from Omnio, and when I read them now it’s like a diary for me from what happened seven years ago. So I can read the lyrics and go, ‘Aah, I was doing this at the time’. I was thinking this and doing that and so on. So yeah, I think it was just a mirror of what we were all about at any given point.”

One telling sign of the growth or evolution In the Woods… experienced in their career is the way their stance towards paganism shifted. Early on, pagan themes were quite a pertinent element in the comprehensive structure that formed the soul mechanism of the Norwegian band. However, at one point or another, these ideological views started to lose ground. Jan offers a personal account as to why this happened.


“I think that in the early stages when we did the demo and the debut album I was really heavily into those kinds of things and spent a lot of time reading about stuff and spent a lot of time in nature,” he relates. “I think that especially when we were coming to the Omnio album the interest was still there but we were sort of thinking that, ‘Okay, now we’ve done one album already with these sort of things, so as we shall move on with the music, let’s move on with the lyrics as well’. So I think it was just a natural sort of move in a way.”

It should be established by now that transformation was the imperative gospel In the Woods… were trying to propagate in their time of existence. Hence, one is not to only think of change and In the Woods… as separate components working in individual departments, but to stereo-think them. Jan admits that if the group ever wore a clear life philosophy on their sleeve, it was in all probability one that concerned never dealing the audience the same hand of cards twofold.

“We never could have recorded the same album twice. We had to do something different from what we had done previously. So I think it had to be the philosophy of some of us because we always wanted to check out new grounds and experiment with different things. So that was probably the main thing, and also just to give a fuck about the image and everything else and concentrate one hundred percent on the music.”

With such a burning passion for capricious succession, a perpetual restlessness fortifying the heart of their chameleon-like being, it is evident that enthusiasm for experimentation was the one type of passion that meant the most to In the Woods… This longing for freeform imagination and boundless expression was at times very influential to the general mindscape of their music, which went from the fanatical bursts of emotion of the band’s title track to the more settled, even psychedelic ambiances of Strange in Stereo. The band gradually learnt to handle their emotions in quite a variety of ways.


“I would say that the passion was always present but it just sort of changed form,” Jan accounts. “Like you say, it became more psychedelic. For me it was like another different way to be passionate about what we were doing. I mean, we could never have made an album that we could not stand for. I think that the passion was always present and always strong but it just changed as we moved along.”


As mentioned, the live album, Live at the Caledonienhall, epitomises a large number of the qualities that belonged into the successful blueprint of In the Woods… By projecting many of the band’s fortes, the album also gazes at the range of complications wrought by the variants, contrasts and constituents of evolution that went into the life of In the Woods… With the assemblage of disparate tracks that they amassed on their three studio albums and various EP’s, it is likely that not each and every In the Woods… song
—and the emotions that helped create that song—is burnt forever in crimson letters in the brain tissue of the members. This may bring difficulties in the live process; it may be tricky to put the fire into the performance if one cannot locate the original crux of the songs, the fuel that got them going in the first place. That’s when you have to reinvent the rites of initiation. It all boils down to trying to exist in two widely dissimilar dimensions at once, which can be tremendously difficult.

“I never thought of it that way but I totally agree with you because, of course, there was an entirely different atmosphere. It’s hard to compare the two. For me it’s like two different spaces of time. You can compare them in one way because it’s the same people doing more or less the same things, but still, there’s a few years in between, so there’s a little bit of change in the person. Good point.”

According to Jan, In the Woods… pulled the live extravaganza of playing at the Caledonienhall off in excellent fashion, despite the hardship.


“When we decided to do this final concert we already decided that we wanted to stop the band, so we rehearsed for three or four months and we all knew that the whole band was finished. We of course wanted to put all the passion possible into the last gig because we were recording it and all that. But when you stop doing something, maybe some of the passion is gone and you don’t have the same feeling for the songs anymore. Still, it was really strange because everybody in the band felt after the last gig that they had done the best gig ever. I think everybody agreed on this. I definitely think that what came out with the live album now is probably the best that could have come out of it. I don’t think it could have come any better than that.”

It was in 1992 that the first seismic inklings of the bite and power of In the Woods… appeared on the unsuspecting international metal community. Having quit their previous band, the robust death metal outfit Green Carnation, about a year earlier, guitarist Christian Botteri, bassist Christoffer Botteri and drummer Anders Kobro decided they needed to get another band going. They asked two of their friends from another upstart underground band, vocalist Jan Kenneth Transeth and guitarist Oddvar Moi, to check out the new brainchild they were working on. The latter two came over, and what do you know, it was a chemistry thing with a positive outcome. Things sparkled, mutual musical interests were found and before long there was a functional salvo worth further expansion in their hands.

As Green Carnation had its second coming in the late 90s, incorporating at one point or another several previous In the Woods… members (the Botteri twins, Anders Kobro, Bjørn Hårstad, Synne Larsen, even Jan himself on session vocals) into its fold, it might be good to delve into the relationship of these groups at this stage. From an onlooker’s perspective, the interdependencies between the two bands have been rather intricate and difficult to follow. Tchort, the main sweatmaster behind Green Carnation mark I and II, likes to think of Green Carnation as the predecessor of In the Woods… but not as the entourage that carries onwards the torch that In the Woods… left behind when they disbanded. Jan finds the whole Green Carnation vs In the Woods… story ‘a bit strange’, yet he is with Tchort on the thought that Green Carnation does not really continue from the position In the Woods… dropped out on.

“I know from the first album that Green Carnation recorded
they had this album out in ‘97 or ‘98—that Terje was writing this album together with one of the original members from Green Carnation who was also involved with most of the songwriting for In the Woods… So I think that’s probably how they started the whole Green Carnation project again. They sort of got back together as the old band, only with a new vocalist and stuff. I don’t know, I think after this album the guitarist started writing all the stuff by himself and now I think they’re more established as a band with different new members. I would agree with him on his opinion because it’s a totally different project, really.”

When it comes to upholding relations with the man himself, Jan says he still sees Tchort occasionally—probably on the merit of their living in the same town—but does not ‘know him that much’. At the time of the interview, the last Green Carnation album he’s heard is Light of Day, Day of Darkness, and judging by his comments further GC works are not a priority listen to him, either (“It’s a good band with really good musicians but the music bores me, you know”). That’s that, then.

Built largely on the musical premises of the then-recent Viking albums of Bathory, In the Woods…’ convoluted heathen metal of early years marked the sort of interruption in the scene that was set to raise people’s eyebrows. And, given the fact that the band came from
Norway, black metal’s frenzied land of hope and glory in the early 1990s, it is evident that they really did raise those eyebrows. Thanks in part to Jan Kenneth’s industrious efforts regarding promotional matters, correspondence and his own zine, A 1000 Years… (“Ah shit! That’s been buried a long time ago, haha! It was a funny fanzine to make but after a while the band was consuming so much time that it was impossible to do everything”), In the Woods… was beginning to sound less an obscure, slightly incomprehensible moniker and more a promising entity residing in the metal undergrowth, one that everyone should try to hear as soon as possible. The problem was, they had no official releases out apart from a rehearsal demo done in March 1993. However, when you listen to Jan’s stories about the conditions under which the band rehearsed and existed in ’92 and ‘93, you begin to wonder not so much how they did not release anything proper as to how they managed to stay together in the first place.

“We had a really bad rehearsal place in the basement of a school,” Jan recalls, “and every time we were to rehearse we had to find all the equipment from the bomb shelter. It took ages to put everything up and to even be able to rehearse. It was a truly horrible sound and stuff. That’s probably the first picture I can imagine when I think of that period. You know, we were really young, so we just wanted to try and cope with it and do the best we can, I guess.”

In 1994 In the Woods… released their one and only demo, Isle of Men, which garnered a great deal of attention from both labels and punters round the world. Isle of Men portrayed the band at a point devoid of megalomaniac plans or aims for the future; it was a demo made by a bunch of 70s kids who had spent significant parts of their youth listening to records by Kiss and AC/DC. This gave them the one definite goal they could all recognise and identify with: that of making an album
, a dream they had had since childhood.

“From the first rehearsal we had with In the Woods…, that was the basic aim we had. We wanted to record an album, maybe go on tour and so on, so we were really determined and were really into what we were doing. It was a good vibe in the band in those days, definitely.
“Like I told you, we were pretty young, so what we basically wanted to do was to make some cool music that we wanted to listen to ourselves. That was basically the start of what we wanted.”

The influence of Bathory was instantly noticeable on the demo: the big, lavishly epic tracks marched onwards with the aid of pagan thrust, depicting panoramic vistas of primeval and naturalistic life, and carrying at heart a certain heroism that had not been yet destroyed by oblivious, dime-a-dozen disasters of plastic folk metal. Not only was the Bathory influence at that time ‘really strong’, as told by Jan, it also played a vital role as the paramount denominator between the musical tastes of the ItW… members.

“Bathory was probably the biggest reason that In the Woods… started doing what we were doing,” the vocalist reckons. “Some of us had had a fascination for Bathory for a few years, and I think this was maybe our only common preference when we started doing the band. Some of the guys liked this and some of the guys had other preferences, but each and every one of us liked Bathory. So it was a natural sort of meeting point.”

In Jan’s opinion, it was the sluggishness of proceedings that made Isle of Men differ from the countless Nordic metal demos coming out in
Scandinavia at that time.

“I think around this time when we recorded demos and stuff most of the bands were starting to go really fast, doing a lot of brutal stuff. It is almost like black metal went from going to folk metal back to death metal again. So I think we stood out in the manner that we kind of slowed things down. Still, we had the screaming vocals and we focused all the melodies on guitars and keyboards. That’s the way I see it. I don’t really see the demo as something that really stuck out but I think Misanthropy really saw the potential in the demo and I think they understood what they were doing when we recorded the debut album because I think it was with the debut album that we totally did our own kind of thing for the first time.”

Indeed, Tiziana Stupia of the recently founded Misanthropy Records was among those who ordered the demo and liked what she heard. Misanthropy was not the only label throwing record deal propositions at In the Woods…’ direction, but they were the quickest and most efficient, acting resolutely with the offer. Jan serves the details.

“I remember at the time we were doing negotiations with an Italian label, Avantgarde Music. We were almost about to sign with them but we were still waiting for a reply from them. We didn’t hear anything and in between Misanthropy popped up and this girl, Tiziana, told us that she had just started a label. I was really sceptical because I didn’t know how the music business was working and she was really fresh in the whole thing, so we were just waiting. When nothing happened with this Italian label, we signed a deal with Misanthropy. I don’t think we were shocked at getting a proposal to record an album because we knew that we were good enough to make one, but I don’t think we expected to do anything with an English or Northern European label at all.”

When I ask Transeth how he felt upon hearing that Misanthropy was founded primarily to release the next Burzum record, his initial answer is priceless: “Was that a question?”

It was, my friend, and it was a clear one at that!

“Tiziana told me she was negotiating with another Norwegian band but nothing was for sure so she didn’t want to mention anything. I cannot really remember how it was
if she told me before or after we signed the contract that she would deal with Burzum releases. I’m not really sure. It was more or less at the same time we signed, at least.

“Personally, I didn’t have any problems with it at all because at least back then I was just seeing a record label as a record label, and even though you had two or ten bands on the same label I wouldn’t necessarily think that they would be with the same ideology or have the same sort of preferences. But most of all I thought it was really funny. At the time there was a whole lot of stuff going on with the Burzum stuff and the Mayhem stuff and the killing and all that. There was a lot of writing about it. I think we thought of the whole thing as really like a parody or something. So it was more fun than it was anything else.”
 
heart of
the Ages, the debut album that allowed In the Woods… to ‘do their own kind of thing for the first time’, was a long and troublesome thoroughfare for the Norwegian group. The quintet travelled to Jæren, a town situated in the west coast of Norway, in the winter of 1994 with big expectations, fervently hoping to make an album that would turn runes upside down, jumble the earth and bring them a significant quantity of artistic satisfaction. Driven by this frantic urge, the group ended up overdoing the budget, forging a piece of culture that cost them a precious penny of their own. But the work they came up with was precious as well. In spite of the amount of time and money HEart of the Ages devoured, it did not belie the boatload of hope and anticipation brought upon it by the band. Among releases such as Bergtatt, First Spell, Pity Love and Borknagar, the album introduced a novel perspective on metal, a styling inundated with ambition and innovation that is remembered warmly to this day. It is one artefact belonging to the brand of music that helped Norwegian metal to live and breathe when the profuse Norsecore fad was slowly dying out in the mid-90s. Jan tells the overall feeling during the recording of the album was one of strong determination and willpower.

“I think everybody was determined to make a really good album, so we went to the studio for two weeks, travelling together as a band and living in another place in the west coast of
Norway. That was probably the only recording we did this way, living together and recording at night and sleeping during daytime. So there was a really great band feeling for the whole project. I think we put in something like five or six thousand euros from our own money to finish off the album because we used so much time to record it and we really spent far more than the budget from the label was. So we were really determined to make a good album.

“I think the first album is still our best-selling album. I think that for each album we’ve released we’ve sold less and less actually, which is really funny because we were always thinking that this album is so much better than the last one, this is gonna sell like double, shitloads, haha! And it always happened that it sold less than the previous one.”

One of the outstanding elements of the debut was Jan’s vocal delivery, which went straight for the jugular in the incredible levels of intensity it operated on. The singing on the opening track, “Yearning the Seeds of a New Dimension”, going from jaw-dropping black metal screeches to soaring clean vox, alone fills one’s ears with icicles. Quite appropriately, putting down the vocals was no tame effort for the singer. One thing requiring consideration was the style in which they should be performed, another to actually execute them.

“What I remember best from the period was that just before we were about to go to the studio I told the other guys that I was all fed up with the screaming vocals,” Jan tells. “I told them that I want to do the whole album with clean vocals. The other guys said, ‘Well, we haven’t heard so much of your clean voice’, ‘Are you sure you can do this?’ and so on. We decided to make a compromise as people usually do in bands, so we did like a 50/50 sort of solution on it.


“I think normally when we did rehearsals and stuff there was no problem but the thing was that when we recorded the album we were out of our rehearsal place. We didn’t have a rehearsal place so we didn’t rehearse for quite a few months before we recorded the album. When I came to the studio I didn’t have a chance to rehearse. I was trying to do the screaming vocals but everything got stuck. There was no chance in hell that I could do it. So I was thinking, ‘Fuck, what I’m going to do now’ because we have to put screaming vocals on at least half of the album. I was really desperate in trying to find a solution to this and I think what it ended up with was that I was just thinking, ‘Well, shit, we just have to go; I just have to scream my fucking guts out’. So I started with the first song, which definitely has some of the most intensive screaming I’ve ever heard, haha! I did the whole song in one go, in one recording, and I remember afterwards I had to walk out of the studio, I was walking around the neighbourhoods for four or five hours with the most intensive headache I’ve had. I think I blew quite a few brain cells on that song.”

In line with the sprawling musical posture of the album, HEart of the Ages, with its elaborate themes probing the juxtaposition of man and nature in serious fashion, meant a field day for the thinking metaller. While the lyrics of the album have undoubtedly at some point been of great importance to Jan—why else the grandiloquent, philosophical approach—he cannot make much of them right now.

“To be honest, I haven’t read them in a few years. I was listening to the live album when it came out and there is at least one whole song and a couple of smaller pieces from HEart of the Ages. It was really funny to hear the lyrics because I hadn’t listened to them in a long, long time. Some of it is really basic stuff that you can sort of bring on with you but there’s so much other stuff as well. I wouldn’t write the same stuff today.


“At the time I had this girlfriend and she had horses and stuff so we spent a lot of time with them in the forest. I think it was just a natural thing, for me at least, to write about the idea of ‘man versus nature’ at the time. I just basically spent a lot of time in nature. Usually when I write stuff it always comes from the everyday happenings, basically. I think most of the ideas about that topic came from all this time spent in nature.”Omnio, In the Woods…’ second album, one of the finest moments of progressively oriented metal ever made, was released on Misanthropy in the summer of 1997. It saw the band changing quite considerably from the type of musical output they committed to on HEart of the Ages. In many respects, the two albums were worlds apart. Save a few forceful bouts of old, gone were the pounding and pressing Bathory influences, the horrific screeches and the buzzing black metal guitar antics. Omnio was a progressive opus with its focus turned on the interiors of everything, an effort luxurious and full-bodied in the domain of melancholia, something that offered you minute, prog-affiliated details, sweeping emotion and intricately coiling arrangements in the subtlest of ways. It had violins that outdid My Dying Bride in their own game, clean guitars with the hugest of echoes plus a delightful interplay of voices by Jan and Synne Larsen. It is symphonic for real. Not without reason, Omnio received quite a lot of acclaim round the time it was released.

“I remember some of us were really pissed off when we saw a lot of the reviews,” Jan says. “I mean, I never saw a bad review of that album, seriously, and I don’t think an album deserves comments like ‘This is so good’ from everybody. I was thinking, ‘Shit, there might be something wrong here because it is not natural that everybody likes what you do’. And then it goes the other way: ‘If everybody likes this, then shit, we have to fuck it up next time so that nobody likes it’. You get this kind of ambivalent feeling to the whole thing. But yeah, it got really good critiques from a lot of press. I think the best feedback was from ordinary people who were listening to the music that we got via mail or when we were playing somewhere. But I think it was really strange for us. Sometimes there was a lot of praise about the album but we just didn’t get it. We were working very hard on it—I think we spent something like one and a half or two years just making the album before we recorded it. It was a long process.

“We played the whole album on the live record and I think that was the first time we actually played all the songs live, because we only did a couple of the songs before. I’m not really a fan of the album itself these days, but I think some of the live versions are pretty good in comparison.”

Then came eccentricity in spades. In the Woods…’ third full-length album, Strange in Stereo, was widely held as their most difficult album, and many people still seem to have difficulties grasping the core of that record. Strange in Stereo kept many of the musical standards of Omnio yet it also brought forth a vast array of quite exotic elements that posed a challenge to any old In the Woods… listener. Do you ever feel that you were perhaps trying to achieve a bit too much with Strange in Stereo, Jan?

“Oh yeah, definitely,” the vocalist responds. “Because like I said, after Omnio and all the good critiques we just wanted to do something totally way-out in comparison with Omnio. We had done an album with only five songs, really long, epic songs, so we wanted to make an album with shorter cuts that were more direct, more straight-on in a way. At the time we had people in the band getting in and out of mental institutions and eating pills and so on. 70 percent of the band was really depressed. Those were really bad times, basically, for all of us. On top of dealing with your problems you had to go to the studio every day to record this fucking album. I think the whole thing started to turn really, really weird in the end, heh. It was basically an album we had to do even though we couldn’t.

“I think there are a few good songs on it. The production really sucks. Some of the guys in the band really had problems with the producer we had on the first album, so we agreed that we would never use him again. Then with Omnio people were really unhappy about this producer as well because they wanted so much more with everything we made and nobody was really 100 percent satisfied. So then on the third album some of the guys wanted the old producer back. Without doing too much arguing we said, ‘Let’s have this guy back and make him produce the album’. The way I see it, it turned out really horrible, the production is not really what it should have been. In one strange way I think it fits the songs because it’s a very sick sort of atmosphere on the album. So I think the production is sort of underlining the whole idea about the music.”

In the summer of 1999, soon after Strange in Stereo had been released, Misanthropy, having been the host of In the Woods… for half a decade, folded its business. In the heat of things, parting ways with the British label did not bring any special feelings upon the band.

“I don’t really think we gave it too much thought,” Jan says. “We really respected the integrity of Misanthropy so when they decided to quit I was like, ‘Well, if you don’t like to do it anymore, it’s good for you to stop’. I think all of us had this attitude and we knew that there wouldn’t be any difficulties with signing up for another album with some other label. I think we also needed a little change, so it was good to do something different.”

They opted for Prophecy Productions from
Germany, signing a contract that still continues in the form of collaboration between Prophecy and Jan’s own label, Karmakosmetix. Overall, with the advantage of hindsight, does Jan think Prophecy was the best choice In the Woods… could make when they picked the label with which to co-operating in the future?

“Yeah, maybe. I think it’s the same with all the labels, they have their positive and negative sides. It’s the same with Prophecy as with any other label in that you can make them do things for you to a certain extent but when it comes to certain things it is hard to make them come through. To my knowledge, and the way I see it right now, I think it was definitely a good choice for us. I think we made a deal for five albums, like a collaboration between the two labels, so if it works out, we’re going to continue and if it doesn’t, we have to find some other solutions, I guess.

“With Prophecy there is not special overweight, it’s not especially good or bad, it’s okay. I think that in many ways we have the same sort of ideas about different things so it’s easy to communicate and collaborate. As long as all these things work and they’re able to distribute the albums, it’s a good start. What we’re going to do now is to see how it works out with the first albums and if it works, it’s cool.”

Jan is confident about Prophecy being able to overcome some of their lackings in distributional matters.


“When we were on Misanthropy, it was very easy for them to push albums in
England. But they had a bit of a hard time in Central Europe because they were not present there, basically. I think it’s more or less the same with Prophecy. They have their base in Germany and they have really good distribution in Germany, the Benelux, Switzerland, Austria, all this Central European distribution. I know that the distribution is not so good outside these areas but for me it’s just that if the person in Spain wants the album he can go get it in a special store and that’s okay with me as long as it’s available. Then you know that all the people who really want to get hold of a copy can get it and the others who don’t even know about the band can’t. I was never really concerned about how much an album would sell or if we would get rich and famous by selling a whole lot of copies of an album. We never really had this sort of attitude to the whole problem. I think for now Prophecy are really well-known for their pros and cons. At least for now it works all right with us, and like I said, we will see what happens after the five albums on the contract.”

now that In the Woods… is not a functioning unit any more and there is little need to bottle up energy for the uses of the band, Jan has doubtlessly encountered some personal revelations noticing how much spare time he has in his hands. Equipped with a laborious and ambitious mind, not to mention a seemingly Garmish working etiquette, the protean character has already pieced together a mosaic of activities and works-to-do that is likely to keep him consistently busy for many a future moon. The most significant and time-consuming of Jan’s endeavours is Karmakosmetix, the record label originated for the purposes of pushing the talented yet internationally largely anonymous musical entities of the Kristiansand music scene, including the anomalous projects of several former In the Woods… members. Obviously, Karmakosmetix has bigger urges to quench than just operating as the last straw that keeps the vocalist in the music business—which is not to say the music industry did not affect the decision of founding the label.

"I think the first ideas about doing the label came up when we decided to quit In the Woods…,” Jan notes. “All of us wanted to continue doing music in one way or another. We were thinking that instead of just trying to get record deals from different labels, we could maybe make a base, that we could have a sort of platform or, say, a gallery where we could sort of expose the music. Even though it was not In the Woods… any more, it was sort of like an extension in a way. You have the same musicians, just totally different projects with different interests. So that was the main idea. We were thinking, ‘Let’s do the live album first and get that one released and after that we can talk about what we want to do’.

“We have a couple of releases coming out from this band of Christer, and we have some Naervaer stuff coming out. You know this sample CD with half of the bands being projects from ex-members of In the Woods…? The other half is basically just friends and musicians from the area. I just wanted to compile a CD and try to promote some of the local bands because I think there’s a lot of potential in the music coming out of
Kristiansand. For the past 15 years there’s been a lot of great stuff coming from here. The major attitude among the people round here is that it’s impossible to do anything, it’s impossible to get a record deal, and I think I just wanted to prove them wrong in a way. To tell them that it is possible to do anything as long as you just want to do it, basically.

“I think that now we’re going to try to make a sort of geographical limitation on the label instead of being limited by any special genre. So at least for the next year or maybe two years we’re only going to do projects from ex-In the Woods… members and projects from the area. For instance, we’re not going to sign a new band from
Finland or Denmark or the States or some other foreign country. For me there’s so much potential in a lot of these bands and I’m not too satisfied with the promo CD you have. Everything was happening in a rush and we didn’t have so much time. I’m trying to do another one right now and I think that one’s going to be a lot better.”

Apart from the label, Jan is, as usual, ‘always involved with music’. The span of his projects currently covers Black Bone Chapel, a two-piece Jan has with a friend of his playing a hideous combination of rockabilly, rock n’ roll and psychedelic music, the acoustic escapade into nature that is Naervaer (“The other guy’s studying in Denmark at the moment and he’s been doing so for two or three years so we haven’t been doing that much lately… We’re working now on a release that was recorded last summer, I think”), SO?! (“I think we have half an album recorded already; we have all the songs ready but we just have to find the time to record it”) and Transit, which recently poured out its debut album, Decent Man on a Desperate Moon.

There we have the musical side of things enveloped, but there is more to human expression than the ol’ devil’s notes. What kind of a life is Jan leading at present, in a strip-the-sound-off-the-world kind of way?

“That’s a good question!” he laughs. “When I don’t deal with any kind of music, I like to read a lot, especially novels. Big fat novels for dark autumn nights, haha. I’m also doing a couple of language courses, I’m studying Russian and Spanish. I always had a big interest in language in general; that’s really nice. For the past couple of summers I’ve been doing a bit of skateboarding as well. I used to skate a lot before I started doing music, when I was 14 or 15, really healthy and a non-smoker, heh. I used to skate a lot but then the music industry caught me! I then became really lazy and bohemian, with preferences only to music. Now I wanted to do something a little bit more physical, so skateboarding is really fun.”

Have you settled in
Norway for good now after doing quite a bit of travelling round the world?

“Shit, that’s also a good question, because I still have a really big urge to go places, to see new places and stuff. So in case I win a million in the lottery or something, I always have a back-up plan for where I could travel. Right now I really want to go to
Mexico. I don’t have any family, except for a girlfriend, so when you’re not bound to a place I think you might as well go travelling if you have the urge and the need.

at this
point it is time to start the concluding part of this interview, the excursion with the big, heavy, jarring and gruelling questions that will delve straight into the core existence of In the Woods… Oh, scrap that. You might as well just consider this passage a bit more abstract and opaquely retrospective than the typical new-album-out-how-do-you-find-the-sound? lingo of professional magazines.

Saying that, of course, conceals the fact that In the Woods… too had a relatively fresh album out when this interview was conducted, a product that put Jan before an endless string of interviews, most of them consisting of tedious questions inquiring as to how he feels about the gig held in Kristiansand on 29 December 2000 and how does Live at the Caledonienhall fare as a staying testimony of that show.

These are, however, questions one has to ask. So, Jan, what kind of feelings do you have of the final In the Woods… gig in
Kristiansand these days?

“Uuuuhh, it feels like I’ve been answering the same question the last couple of months,” the man sighs. “I don’t know if I’ve settled with finding a proper answer because it’s almost three years now since we recorded it and it seems really far away. The only thing I remember from that night is that we all wanted to do a really good gig because we knew we were going to record the stuff. Also, I think most of us were really happy that the whole thing ended. We had spent the last eight years, so much time and effort, on the project and it was really nice to get a break from this sort of intensive working with music. Most of the guys from the band were really pleased that it was the last call.”

Do you think the live album stands as a good representation of the gig?

“Oh yeah, definitely. The way we did it was really nice. We split the whole gig into two parts with a long break in between. So we can hear the first part on the first CD and the second part on the second CD. We had to take out a few songs to make it fit into two CD’s, of course. But I definitely think with the sound, the atmosphere, the way the songs were played and everything it is a really good testament of what really happened that night.”

There is a certain fatigue in Jan’s voice when he says this. Obviously, doing interviews and answering questions regarding something that inevitably belongs to the past is not all jubilee to the man. We’re speaking of bones that were buried many years ago now.

“It’s really difficult sometimes. Because I don’t miss anything about it, I don’t have any special nostalgic feelings about it and I don’t have any feelings in particular…”

At this point I interrupt Jan and tell him to hold his train of thought for a second, as I have to turn the tape. This turns out to be something of a misfortune.

“Shit, I had a good point when you were about to turn the tape, haha. That’s always difficult, the best points come when the tape is gone,” the man says, punctuating his sentence with an exclamation mark. After some thinking, he is able to catch the tail of what he was about to say.

“Have you ever had a job that you needed for the money but didn’t have any feelings for it? This is the way I feel when I do interviews for In the Woods… It’s like I have to go to work even though I don’t want to. Of course, with a job it’s for the money; with In the Woods… we never made any money, haha. If people still have an interest in the band, it’s really cool. interest for the band. I was really surprised; I thought most people had forgot us after all these years. It’s not like it’s boring to talk to you but it’s strange to talk about all these things because you don’t have any feelings for them anymore.”

As has always been the case, Jan is the one doing the vast majority of the promotion for the group.

“Ever since we started the band and I started to do a lot of underground activities, I was always the guy doing tape trading and reading fanzines and ordering fanzines and writing letters and stuff. I don’t know, it just became sort of the natural extension of the band.”

A lot has been said and written about the progressive and creative nature of In the Woods… And indeed, In the Woods… were always a highly imaginative band, one whose twists and moves remained unprecedented to the very last day of their time. What has not been delved into often enough, however, are the reasons for this restless inventiveness—the compulsions, needs and dreams that made the Norwegian troupe be this way. In the Woods…’ creativity was a product of a mix of influences, personalities, working methods, ambitions and visions on the band’s future that grew to make their existence full of anxiety. As one might expect, quarrels over musical matters were common fodder for the group to consume in order to make it to the next day. At the same time, there was a strong unison over certain matters, some of them aesthetic, some promotional. To use one of art’s greatest clichés—and perhaps most accurate truths—they had to go through a series of grave complications to achieve something they all felt was weighty and meaningful. Jan offers a string of comments and notions that help to understand the tensions and undercurrents that were floating at the band’s feet.

“Like I told you, we started out with a lot of different preferences; all the band members were listening to totally different music. We had sort of like a common preference, which was Bathory. I think especially after the first album we had all the people in the band experimenting with their own music and also in different projects, listening to a lot of new stuff. When we rehearsed there was always someone coming up with an idea and when we put all the ingredients into the bowl it was sort of… You know, there were so many different influences that it had to be something strange coming out of it. I think that’s probably what made it stand out from a lot of stuff released at the time.

“I think after a while, especially in the Omnio period, everybody had a great kick out of early psychedelic 60s stuff. We were all starting to get into the later albums of The Beatles, White Album and Abbey Road, and also bands like King Crimson, especially the early stuff, and Zeppelin, early Floyd, all these kind of things. For us the most important thing about that period of music was not necessarily the music itself but more like the urge to sort of—how can I put it—not only to do something that was done before, not to copy a lot of things that had happened before, but more or less the innovation of it. We didn’t really try to copy any of these bands but I think the best thing they gave us was that they proved that it was possible to make something that stood out and to experiment and just to do stuff your own way.

“Musically it was really troublesome all the way. There was a lot of arguments all the way. First off, we were really different people, so different that we hardly see each other anymore because we don’t play in the same band. So there was a lot of arguing and all the stuff you have in a band, but somehow we always came to some really good compromises that everybody could live with. Instead of doing one song in five rehearsals, we used something like thirty rehearsals to do the same song because there were lots of arguing and different opinions.


“I don’t think we had any problems with public relations because all of us were really into the idea that fuck the whole photo thing. Let’s focus on the music and not spend a lot of time in front of the camera doing this and that. We just wanted to keep the whole thing really clean and just focus on the music basically. I remember there were a lot of editors who didn’t want to do interviews with the band because, ‘Uh, you sent us pictures of Norwegian forests, what the fuck is this? We make a magazine about people, not fucking nature’. Heheh. We just said, ‘Well, if you don’t want to use it, then we don’t do the interview. It’s no problem’. And they were like, ‘Well, you know, we can always try to figure something out’. In the end, when we did Strange in Stereo, the whole thing had became sort of like a parody of itself so we just wanted to take the whole thing and bring it on. So we made this funny photo session. We had a good laugh.

“I think we managed to some extent to fulfil our aspirations but I think at the same time we were too many people. Some of us liked to do it all the way, like do it so fucking far out that nobody would be able to listen to it, while other guys were holding on to some of the original ideas of the band. That was also what some of the arguments were about; some of us just wanted to do it so far out. I think we managed to some extent as a metal band to do something different and innovative. But I think that if we had done the same thing today, it would have been a totally different story.

“I belong to the persons who wanted to take it far out, definitely. So we had some serious arguments in the studio sometimes. Personally I wanted to make it more psychedelic-like, not to use too much of machines and all that but just do the old-fashioned sort of psychedelic rock band in a way, with no special goal other than to see how far it was possible to take it, basically. That was probably the main idea about doing the far out version.”

Do you think your ambitions have changed in the last ten years?

“Yeah, definitely!” Jan laughs. “It is more or less ten years since we started the band—it’s more than ten years. And of course you change a lot of perspectives and stuff from when you’re 17 to when you’re in your late twenties. I used to collect a lot of fanzines and stuff, with old interviews. I don’t have them anymore but I used to have them and sometimes I was doing like a retrospective on opinions of things that were discussed in interviews and stuff. I remember it was really funny to look back on some of the opinions back then. It’s pretty obvious that when you’re 17 you have a totally different perspective of life than when you’re 27.”

Was there or is there anything that’s sacred to you about In the Woods…?

“Uhh, maybe there was, but I don’t think there is anymore. As I said, I don’t have so many feelings for the whole project anymore. I think that basically we just wanted to continue doing our own things without being influenced too much by what happened around us in a way. I remember that when we were supposed to find a name for the band we came up with different ideas and most of them were really bad. In the end we were sitting at the drummer’s place, he had this poster on the wall and on the bottom there was written ‘Still in the woods?’ with a question mark at the end. I was like, ‘You know, in the woods, it’s like some sort of thing that lives and breathes on its own’. It doesn’t necessarily need energy from the outside to exist. That was basically the whole idea of using the band name In the Woods… and I think that was probably the most—if you can call it sacred—thing that we had with the band: that we wanted to develop individually from anything else going on around us.”

Even if In the Woods… existed without receiving any significant energy resources from the outside world, they certainly functioned as an outer energy for a few bands and so helped them to make some advancement on their careers. Jan is not entirely convinced of the amount of heritage and influence that In the Woods… left behind in their time. He sees the band’s impact on the current Norwegian metal scene as virtually non-existent, for instance.

“I’m not sure about our influence really because before we recorded the debut album, I stopped listening to all these kinds of music, especially from the underground. I wanted to find new challenges and discover new music. I think all of us sort of left the kind of thing where you constantly check out what’s going on and which albums are out and what they sound like and stuff like that. I don’t know, it’s hard to make a comparison to anything because I don’t really know what’s going on. And I don’t know what’s been going on for the past ten years, heh. But yes, I think that if you look at the Norwegian stuff now, via papers and stuff, you have bands like Satyricon and Dimmu Borgir, which are really doing well. They sell a lot of albums and they seem to have a lot of integrity. I think it was more like these kind of bands that have influenced the next generation of metal musicians in
Norway. In the Woods… was never a part of that scene, if you want to call it that. We sort of always had another thing going on, so we never mingled with any of those guys. I think maybe we had a bigger influence on bands abroad; we received demo recordings from bands from England, from Germany and from Southern Europe that actually did cover versions of our songs and stuff, which is of course really funny. So I think we had more impact on other European groups and musicians than Norwegians, actually.”

Is there anything Jan misses from In the Woods… nowadays?

“No. Nothing!” the singer laughs.

Strange.
“That’s what they all say, haha! I’ve been in a few bands, and this is the fucking strangest thing I have ever been into. There were always some problems with some of the guys in the band. Like I told you earlier, in one period we had two or three people in the band running in and out of mental institutions. A good metaphor about this is, we had this friend of ours, the tour guitarist on Omnio, he’s called Bjørn (Hårstad)… He used to be a friend of ours a long time before he came into the band and he used to be this happy guy, he was always telling jokes and the whole band was laughing their heads off at rehearsals because he was a really funny guy. I remember maybe three months after he started playing in the band he got all the same like the rest of us! Really dark-minded and depressed and he never wanted to tell any jokes anymore and he was always talking about problems. This sounds like a cliché but it was like this curse, this old type of classic curse had put these hard claws around the band. With In the Woods…, there was always so much trouble, so many problems with different stuff that I think that when we finished it off everybody thought, ‘Yeah, it’s been some good years, but I wouldn’t want to do it again’.

“We were sometimes thinking, ‘Shit, we have to stop this’. What’s the most important thing, to keep people alive or to keep the band alive? Sometimes we found that the band was choking people. Like slowly killing them mentally or something. It was really weird. When I tell this to some people, they say this is not possible and we’re just hallucinating something. Of course, there are some things that are inevitable when you play in a band but I tell you, it was really fucked up at times! Really, really bad.”

By now, the ex-members of the band have got past the curse that was In the Woods… by merging into society in different ways.

“Some work and some study,” Jan informs of his former band mates. “Like Christer, he’s a sound engineer, he’s been studying that for a few years now and he is working in
Oslo with a lot of different studios. He’s going to become a really good producer. The girl who was in the band (Synne), she’s studying psychology. One of the guitarists, he’s running his own music store with instruments and stuff.

“Some of the guys have got kids in the last few years so they’re spending time with their families, doing the usual adult stuff, I guess. But I think the good thing about it is that… you know the theory that you always have when you’re a youth, of really becoming an adult and doing all the boring stuff that you’re parents always do? I think it’s a good thing when you have a really passionate hobby like music because then it’s hard to lead a regular, dull adult life. You have a lot of things going on in your life. That’s a positive thing, definitely.”

If there’s one thing Jan hasn’t had the chance to say about In the Woods… in all these years, what would that be?

“Oh, wow. Let me think… Ah, that’s a tough one. I can’t really come to think of anything. I still have your e-mail address, and what I can do is I can give it some thought and send you an e-mail or something…
What’s the name of your fanzine?”

Qvadrivivm.

“What does it mean?”

Fast-forward long-winded, imprecise explanations. I never seem to get this one down right. Learn it for yourselves, basically.

“A-ha, cool. If you don’t hear anything for a few days, just remind me.”

Later on, an e-mail arrived in my inbox. It contained the following piece of text:


“The way I see things now, three years after we stopped doing In the Woods…, I see that we should never have been a band at all. In some strange way, it was all the problems we faced as a band that kept up the creativity within and kept the band together. This almost fucked up the whole lot of us… Considering this fact, we would probably have been better off today without the presence of In the Woods…”

So the interview ends, and it’s time to thank Jan for the time he has been able to share.

“Thank you. It turned out to be a pretty long one, eh? Haha. But it was good. Definitely one of the most challenging in a few years. It was great. Good work—good research. Enjoy the autumn in
Finland, eh.”

So I tried, but to no avail. The autumn was stressful beyond belief, a narrow black corridor without exit, and part of the problem was that there were absolutely no sources of outer energy.

It figures.


Yin & Jan: Views of the Brick-Gatherer

Seeing as Jan Kenneth Transeth is a fellow with many an opinion bubbling under his skull, I thought it might be a plausible idea to hear his personal views on a few topics. Be ready for some telephone-mediated free association, not perhaps always thoroughly argued but heartfelt and spontaneous nonetheless. Sincerity is the best compensation for anything, say.

Individualism:
“It’s a good thing. I think people are egos in one way or the other. It’s the only way to survive, I guess. When it comes to individualism in the sense that people want to stand out because they don’t want to be like everybody else, like when it is sort of forced, I think it’s really stupid. It ruins or takes more than it gives.”

The Western world:
“Arrogant. The Western world has always thought that the Western world is the best. On the other hand, if you would go to the
Middle East they would say that Islam is the best. So I don’t know if the Western world is more arrogant than any other part of the world. For instance, I think that Chinese people are also arrogant in their own kind of way. The way a lot of things are heading sucks big time because people are getting far too lazy for their own good. When you don’t miss things so muchlike wild life kind of things and welfare mattersyou get lazy.”

Globalisation: “That is probably the best thing that will happen to the world in the next years. For me globalisation is a question of one world or not. When I discuss this matter I always go back to the Bible, for instance, because it says in the BibleI’m not a Christian or anything but the Bible has some really good metaphorsthat when people were doing so much evil, God separated the world into so many different towns that nobody understood each other. It seems like the way things are going now, the world is getting closer again. It’s reverse in a way, the whole idea from the Bible. I think globalisation is probably fulfilled when the whole world has the same colour of skin, which should be something like light brown or so. It’s the Nestle colour, haha.

“What is culture in the first place? We all came from the same place to begin with. The way I see it is that we’re getting back to that. Culture is not something that is constant. People have the tendency to think that the culture of
Finland for instance has always been with the sauna and the Finnish tango but it’s not always been like that. It’s been changing and evolving all the time. Like if you think of the Saami people that you have in the Northern part of Finland, it’s a culture that has been alive for a long time, but I think that the way many of these native people behavethey feel so fucking sorry for themselves. A lot of these people are really complaining that everything is so bad instead of doing something about their own situation.

“I went to New Zealand a couple of years ago, that’s a good example; I lived together with some Maoris, the native people, for a week or something, and I heard a rumour when I came to visit them that before the Maoris came to New Zealand there was another native people living there. What the Maoris did was they came there and slaughtered the whole fucking bunch. They just killed them all. I told this to the Maoris, who were always whining about their being the native people and the European people having ruined the whole island. I told them: ‘Well, when you came, you were also intruders. What happened to the original people here?’ They totally lost interest, looked in other ways and said things like, ‘Well, they probably just died’. So I think this thing about culture isn’t necessarily a good thing. It’s always evolving and always changing.”

Well-being:
“The best example must be that if you wake up in the morning with no worries, then there is nothing that can stop you from having a really good day. That’s well-being for me. If I wake up feeling that it is a good day, then it has to be a good day for people around me as well. Killing or slaughtering people, it’s not really spreading you any good vibes, heh. Is that an answer to your question or am I really far out now?”

Change:
“I think it’s like with culture and with globalisationthe whole world history is a constant wave of change. You can be a politician and you can stop changes but it’s just a force that moves individually from everything else.”

Paganism and nature:
“Like with the Western world we were talking about previously, I think modern society demands so much from everyone that it’s really hard to try to get away from the whole civilisation even though you live far away in the forests of
Finland, for instance. You still have to pay taxes; you still have to do this and that to fulfil the commitment to society. I think that some of the moral ideas about paganism can still live freely in a world like this, to make commitments to society and stuff like that, but I think the situation is totally different than it was a hundred years ago on this matter.

“I went on vacation to the northern part of Norway a couple of weeks ago and that’s the first thing that springs to mind when I think of the word nature because I woke up every morning with this massive chain of mountains in the fjords, with snow on top of them. It totally blew me away, the northern lights in the night and stuff. It’s a necessity. I think that even though you live in
New York you cannot do it your whole life, you have to go out and feel some of the originality.”

Philosophy:
“It can be good for some things, but I think you need a strong psyche to try philosophy because if you don’t have one, it’s going to break your neck. Philosophy is something that started to become visible throughout history in times when people started to establish societies, like the old Mesopotamian and Greek societies. I think philosophy comes out of good times. When people don’t have to work all the time to earn a living, they have a lot of spare time and what they use their spare time for is they sit down and think about whether this spare time is good for them or not. So in this manner I think philosophy really sucks, but I think that when it’s done in a proper way or manner it’s a good thing or has some uses.”

Love and light as opposed to sorrow and darkness:
“I think I had too many years in the last category, haha.”



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