Sing the Body Electric
among the likes of “Nutshell”, “Passing Bird”, “Sua pukee kauneus” and some elderly Entombed ditties, Beyond Dawn’s “On the Subject of Turning Insane” sits firmly in the very slim and totally subjective category of the best lyrics ever, period. Whenever I hear this song, the prospect of leading a life of solitude and repose in a faraway place, at a marked distance from society and other human animals, is rejuvenated. It is one of abstemious grace, this vision.
The article begins with this entry of personal information because it is essential in connecting the different joints and sinews in this ‘ere lad’s appreciation of the Norwegian lot. I think the world of Beyond Dawn because of the lyrics, and I think the world of Beyond Dawn because of the music. I also love them because they are Beyond Dawn. None other like them round, really.
‘norway’s best and least selling act’ (that’s a straight quote from their web site—love the modesty, dearests) are here today in the ethereal form and shape of vocalist Espen ‘Weltschmerz’ Ingierd and drummer Einar ‘Clubshoes’ Sjursø. Espen is catching a cold; I’m having one. Winter is coming and wreaking mayhem from afar. At the same time, the moment, nay, the sensation of hearing Beyond Dawn’s latest studio full-length effort Frysh for the first time wanders further away.
Ah, those lush days of late June. It’s not only because of the totalitarian blizzards and steel-hearted frost attacks which constitute Scandinavian winter that the mind travels back to those verdant times of bloom. It is also about wanting to hear Frysh for the maidenly time again, to get unwittingly devastated by its erupting inventiveness. A diverse excursion to premises of protean electronic pop, dark wave undertow and post rock sublimation, Frysh is so laden with detailed coatings and microscopic technical bravado that sometimes it feels that I actually do hear it for the first time again. Beckoning one to ride the electro lightning, there are innumerable levels of digital hell and analogue heaven to discover within its realm. No wonder it took the cross-dressing scene pariahs four years to deliver this fickly behaving child.
“It wasn’t originally our intention to take that long to get this album out,” Einar starts things up. “However, it was time well spent as we built our own studio and sort of learned how to use it too, recording Frysh. Now we have a fully operational studio that we, or at least 50 percent of us, have full control over, so making new albums will be a walk in the park from now on. Hopefully.”
Take this with a pinch of salt.
“Also, we’ve been a bit lazy I think,” Espen deems, laughing. “We were having problems getting together. We’ve been doing different things. Half of the band has been doing some electronic projects. I actually made an album with a band called Wrongside, which is a more guitar-based album. It might be released. We’re looking for a company to release it.”
When contrasting Frysh with the foregoing BD album, 1999’s somewhat rough and pointed, yet excellent Electric Sulking Machine, it’s crystal-clear there has been some change of perspective within the band towards their music. Again.
“I think the perspectives have changed a lot,” Espen says. “But it has been doing that all the time I think, constantly developing in our minds. It’s nothing revolutionary, it just comes slowly with the kind of music we listen to.”
“We originally wrote the music as a band, then recorded it, then completely disassembled it on the hard disk and finally put it together in whole new ways,” Einar elaborates on the process of making Frysh. “A lot of it is very different from the songs we originally wrote, but I guess they are now more interesting production-wise. There’s a lot more going on and I think that makes the album richer, and gives it more longevity.”
“It comes out something new with just the original melodies I had, or the same chords that I had somewhere but kind of camouflaged or with the guitar parts being changed to an organ or synthesizer—anything,” Espen reflects.
Einar sums it up, “So I guess the perspectives changed from ‘we try to do anything we like’ to ‘we can do anything we like’.”
Accordingly, this artistic facelift is noticeable not only in the music itself but in the stance Beyond Dawn take towards it. At least this is the impression one gets from comparing the band’s current sure-fire confidence to the lamentations they sung a few years back about Beyond Dawn having yet to do anything important for their career.
“Well for our career, hmmm…” Einar contemplates. “Beyond Dawn has never been about having a career I think. If it did it would have been the least successful career ever! But for the development as a band, I guess every album has had some sort of significance. Frysh has been important in the sense that we recorded it totally by ourselves in our own studio and thus accomplished an album we’re more satisfied with than any other album we’ve done. Time is the key factor I guess, and needless to say this is the first time we’ve spent the time necessary to make the album as good as possible. How Frysh stands the test of time remains to be seen, but I have a feeling it will fare better than our previous works.”
“I don’t think we are settled really with anything,” Espen believes. “I think this is the first album I still feel comfortable with when a year has passed. The songs are kind of old now but the result this time was more refreshing. It doesn’t sound like other things I’m listening to, like new rock bands. I feel so different when I listen to it these days. I think it hits you more; it’s more honest perhaps. It’s music you cannot really be totally indifferent to. You can hate it or like it. It’s much more vulnerable as well.”
“The ‘new’ sound is definitely mainly the result of Petter and Tore’s studio efforts. They are truly the robots,” Einar says.
Espen specifies, “When we’re recording, Petter is the boss in front of the mixing desk, and his influences are also coming into the music. We quarrel a lot and then we just come up with great stuff in the end, after all.”
With their ever-constant introspection, I wonder if the old admonitory tale about Beyond Dawn losing many of their old fans as a result of all the stylistic re-routings they take in their music could be raised again. It is an aged story, true enough, but one that seems to acquire fresh characteristics by every album Beyond Dawn unleash unto the world.
“I don’t know,” Einar responds. “I think we always lose some fans when we put something out, but we also gain more new ones. As long as we have our hearts in what we do, it is not important who likes our music. We’re a bit surprised though that so many metal heads still turn onto it.”
“I listened to the first mini CD here one day and I think it sounds kind of great,” Espen notifies. “We’re actually planning to make perhaps a little more noise with an EP or something, perhaps early next year. But we’re not quite back to our roots or anything. I kind of like listening to the old things we’ve made as well, I’m not ashamed of them at all.”
What is it in particular that drives Beyond Dawn to explore and experiment so much with their music?
“Other music,” says Einar. “We have always sought inspiration in what we listen to at any given time while at the same time made a very conscious effort not to copy anything. We set higher standards for ourselves in terms or writing, arranging, performing and producing the music all the time, and when we’re done, we seldom find it good for much longer than a few months. Stagnation and lasting satisfaction is the enemy.”
“I’m kind of optimistic for the future,” Espen relates. “I’m still improving as a songwriter. I just started working on some new Beyond Dawn material, because we will not use four years this time, so I think we will start recording a new album before Christmas. I’m in the process of writing new lyrics. The vocals will be much better for next time, heh. I don’t know what drives us to experiment so much, I have asked the same question myself! We are four very different individuals and I don’t know how we have managed to stay together for this long. We have never been into any particular scene here in Norway or anything; we have always been outside the rock scene in Oslo as well, except in the early days when all our friends were playing death metal.”
“At the end of the day it’s just as much to do with songwriting as having the technology enabling us to shape the music as we want to,” Einar reckons. “You can have the coolest effect in the world, but it won’t do you much good if you don’t have the song. As far as songwriting imagination goes, I guess the only limit is the ability to listen to and find new inspiration in other music. Us being the total music junkies we are, this is not a problem just yet.”
“Yeah, we could go anywhere actually. It feels like it. And I think we’re comfortable being in that position,” Espen says.
“It’s more a matter of just doing whatever one feels like, paying little attention to boundaries,” Einar states after doing a bout of reconsidering. “If one needs to make music for the sake of breaking rules alone, anything good rarely comes out of it. Being at the top of your creativity doesn’t automatically challenge boundaries either, as I don’t think you can measure creativity. Either you’re creative or you aren’t. It’s like Seinfeld says—there’s no degree to wetness. When you’re wet, you’re wet.”
as said, the music on Frysh is quite diverse and has elements from a wide array of genres. It eludes characterisation even in the heads of its makers. While Espen considers it ‘some kind of pop music’ which ‘sounds strange, kind of eccentric’, Einar rejects the question of definition outright, opting for the cut-price “that’s your job, isn’t it?” journalism card.
“I think it’s hard to label music which I like,” Espen reckons, drawing the universal truth upon us like a lithe curtain of clouds.
Have people liked Frysh, then? Espen and Einar tell it has been getting a lot of good reviews. The usual, and then some. “It’s the most attention we’ve ever got I think. I even saw the record on the shelf in one of the larger shops in town,” Espen quips and lets out a nervous chuckle.
“The open-minded music-loving people lap it up while genre-addicts tend to find it ‘too weird’ or something. We can’t all have the same taste, I guess,” Einar muses.
“It’s hard to get out of the typical metal circles when you’re on Peaceville Records and everything,” says Espen. “But I think they’re doing better to promote us. Not just only with the usual metal media. But I don’t actually know how far we reach or how much we sell—we don’t know that yet at all.
“I guess we would be better off with another label some time, just to reach a wider audience. But I’m not unhappy with Peaceville. It’s kind of strange that we are on Peaceville but I think they’re doing a great job for us anyway. It’s very cool that they want us there. I think we will release another album on Peaceville but I can’t say what will happen in the future. We should be better off on another label.”
Later, when asked to enquire into the state of the Norwegian electronic music scene, Espen is not so sure if he would want Beyond Dawn to be in the roster of some label exclusively releasing electronic music (Tèlle Records is mentioned here as an example). Neither is he so convinced of the state of the Norwegian electronic music scene.
“Uh, there are some good things, yeah, but there are also a lot of things that I find kind of boring,” the vocalist says. “Especially the things that became very popular, like Röyksopp and things like that. I think it sounds like boring English house music. But there are some weird people in the underground in Oslo who are creating very cool electronic music. That kind of scene has been really big the last couple of years. I think they’re kind of slowing down a little now.”
Einar, in spite of his position as the head of Duplicate Records, anchors himself and Beyond Dawn far outside this mode of scene-oriented thinking.
“I don’t think we belong anywhere actually. I don’t really delve that deep into any sort of scene, mostly due to time restraints. I trust my friends to push good music on me.”
“Am I that far from showbiz?” is the sarcastic question “Far from Showbiz”, the opening track of Frysh, poses. Beyond Dawn have always seemed to suffer from the idiosyncratic, oddball nature they have been associated with. Even though their music has fared quite well among critics, it’s never been enjoying great success among larger populace. Albeit Espen and Einar both, quite naturally, take pleasure in Beyond Dawn’s autonomy of making their own selective rounds and waves in smaller ponds, their views are heterogeneous to some small degree when it comes to accepting the band’s lack of triumph.
“It has of course been the subject of much frustration, especially considering the amount of time and effort put into the band,” Einar states. “Nowadays we take things a bit more easy. We don’t have any illusions of becoming rock stars or anything. As long as we enjoy making the music we will continue doing it I guess, but on a level that doesn’t interfere with earning a living in other ways than touring our asses off and living off trash.”
“I just think that we’ve always had this independent kind of attitude towards things that we are doing,” reasons Espen. “I’ve never been depressed about not selling records or anything. I think it’s great just to be able to release music. Of course, I want as many as possible to listen to it but it doesn’t change how much I want to make it and how much I like creating music.”
since their inception as a coarse death metal outfit at the end of the 1980s, Beyond Dawn have eaten up quite a bit of thoroughfare dust. Their journeyings, however long and arduous, have not made them overlook the heredity once passed on to them by their early influences. This is, appropriately, underscored by the title of the new full-length opus, Frysh, which refers to a secret organisation operating in Beyond Dawn’s days as a young and struggling band.
Another suitable tribute to the past on Frysh is the appearance of “Severed Survival”, an electronic reworking of the genre-refining death metal classic originally bludgeoned onto reel by every mother-in-law’s favourite dirty death head fiends, Autopsy.
“Autopsy are true heroes, and will always be,” Einar declares. “They managed to take a lot of influences and make a sound of their own that is yet to be surpassed. Listen to albums like Severed Survival and Mental Funeral and you’re immediately struck by how brilliant they were. I could start listening to country exclusively and yet I will always worship Autopsy. Hails! The reason we covered it, apart from the obvious homage, is that we thought it would be nice to do a pop song with those kind of lyrics. I guess the words eventually had some sort of influence because the song turned out quite dark in the end.”
“I think that was the first track for the album that we did,” recalls Espen. “It’s always nice to start with a cover song. We did a lot of versions of it and then just came up with this at the end. It sounds different, haha!”
When we’re speaking of musical heroes outside Autopsy, what bands and artists do you look up to?
“At this point? They are many,” Espen sighs. “Right now I’m listening a lot to the Beach Boys. I’ve been listening to them all summer as well. Captain Beefheart we’re listening to… I’m listening to a lot of old things, and perhaps some hip hop music, and a lot of electronic music. I have no particular one special thing I like at this moment. The heroes change all the time. The Swans was definitely one period. Earlier, The Cure and Joy Division and The Clash and even The Smiths. Early U2 I like. And there was a period when I listened to a lot of metal.”
Einar downplays the presence of idolatry in the band’s artistry. “We used to look up to and idolise a lot of artists earlier, but we sort of grew out of that ‘worship’ mode. Naturally, we respect and admire a lot of people, but their output doesn’t necessarily have a lot in common with ours.”
Then, if not other artists, what is it that gets them going ie. what are the essential ambitions of Beyond Dawn?
“I’m not sure, actually,” Espen responds. “Just to create something perhaps. Something that we could be really satisfied with. It has to be something like that because I think we have given up on the idea of being rich and famous, heh! I’m not sure really.”
“Ultimately, some sort of recognition would be cool, but it’s not like we die if we don’t get the attention we think we deserve,” Einar considers. “There’s probably hundreds of other bands like us who have a small but dedicated following that never amount to nothing. Not that I care, making good albums is the main incentive I guess.”
in the past few years I have tended to have qualms with myself on whether Beyond Dawn are urban and modern or not. With Frysh, many of the arguments for the non-urbanism seem to have dissolved. Einar’s stance on the modernity of Beyond Dawn is unambiguous.
“We certainly don’t aim to be urban or whatever. It’s just a result of what we listen to, and that is both modern and vintage music. But while a lot of bands choose to have a retro sound, we try to go both ways at the same time and make something new instead of just rewriting old ideas.”
“It’s very hard to be modern, actually,” Espen relates. “But we don’t like to play retro music like so many are doing these days. We never consider that we are experimenting but we listen to a lot of strange music. Perhaps we’re not that modern but we have some new equipment and we don’t like to play things that we have heard before. So perhaps we are as modern as you can be.”
One thing is certain, though: there’s no going back to the gothic romanticism Beyond Dawn nailed down on Pity Love and works prior.
“Absolutely, we have done our share of the cry-baby stuff in the past, that’s for sure,” Einar sniggers. “But that doesn’t immediately make our music ‘happy’ sounding. There will always be a certain nerve that’s deeply rooted in our whole way of thinking and writing music.”
“When you grow older the emotions are perhaps getting much harder to really grip without falling into real kind of depression, not like the romantic ones I used to have when I was younger,” Espen speculates.
Espen’s singing on Beyond Dawn’s records often has a relatively cynical tendency to it, suggesting that there might be some shortage of emotion at play. Is this deliberate or something innate for Espen?
“I don’t know because I don’t think I’m a cynical person at all,” he responds. “I try not to be. But also, when I write I try to see clearly, I don’t like to be too subjective. I like to see myself from the outside as well and see things without trying to…” Suddenly, there is a lapse in the vocalist’s flow of words. “Ah, I think I fell out of what I was trying to explain, heh,” he utters. “I’m terrible at talking through a phone, sorry.”
Finally, we approach the part which got this feature started: the lyrics. I confide to Espen that I consider his lyrics (and those of the other Beyond Dawn lyricists) some of the most alluring and heartfelt verse the sphere of popular music has ever put ‘up for grabs’. While oftentimes sombrely narrating instances of sorrow, melancholy and indifference, the lyrics to me are first and foremost a magnificent deification of reality, with some salt of cynicism and irony pinched amid. The objectivism and levels of analysis deployed are other attributes hoarding approval in them.
Looking at his lyric writing from a linguistic point of view, Espen tells he tries to find sentences with a rhythmic figure that is good to listen to. When the thematic is concerned, he tells, “It’s mostly about me and based upon my life. But it’s not that straightforward. I perhaps write one verse and then write about something completely different. Then I just put them in the same song even though they aren’t perhaps about the same thing. I don’t write the lyrics just one song at a time. I have a lot of writings everywhere and then I just try to put them together. But they all circle around the same theme. It’s just about thoughts I have. They’re hard to explain. I try to avoid clichés. I try to make a different picture. But I don’t consider myself a poet or anything. I’m not sure if the lyrics are good or bad.”
A Drip Down the Memory Vein—A Beyond Dawn History
Up Through the Linear Shades 7”EP (1994):
Einar: “The engineer had a mullet, drove a big motorbike and ate a lot of hotdogs.”
Longing for Scarlet Days MCD (1994):
Einar: “The studio was located at my local mall. The credits were extremely pretentious: ‘spawned forth’ and so on, hahaha!”
Pity Love CD (1995):
Einar: “First time in a big studio. Fairly chaotic recording and an impossible label to work with. We still had no clue about how to get a decent sound and the mastering was catastrophic. Still, a lot of people were turned on by it and we gained a lot of goth fans.”
Espen: “We recorded the whole album at night because we worked at daytime. We could only book a studio that was kind of expensive and had to do the album at night time, so I remember I was always very tired. It was very exhausting to do it. It had a big, huge sound. It’s the album I still sometimes have some trouble listening to, haha. The lyrics are kind of very pompous.”
Revelry CD (1998):
Espen: “With Revelry we practiced a lot, played live, started to use a drum machine and got the hang of it. There are some great songs on it. Of course, the sound is very compressed but there are some nice things on it.”
Einar: “This could have turned out so much better if we had dared adding some space and life to the sound. Now it’s basically a lot of very good, yet sadly under produced songs. This one was the first one we partly did in Liverpool too.”
In Reverie MCD (1999):
Espen: “It took a long time to release it.”
Einar: “The one that was meant to come out after Pity Love. The saddest record ever? Actually I find it very nice although the other guys cringe when they hear it. They need to get in touch with their inner feelings!”
Electric Sulking Machine CD (1999):
Espen: “With Electric Sulking Machine, every time that I try to listen to it I think, ‘oh, we could have done it so much better’. It doesn’t sound like one album. I don’t think the songs suit each other all the time. Many of the songs are quite complex and they grow on you as you listen to them. They will get better. This album was also made over a long period so a lot of things changed during the making.”
Einar: “Second Liverpool album. Me and Espen went to Liverpool to sit in on the mix, but ended up down the pub instead, which you may or may not hear. The result is pretty, erm… diverse. Still, lots of cool songs with a production that could have been better but wasn’t. Cool photo session in the rain amongst burnt cars.”
Frysh CD (2003):
Einar: “Nice new album. Buy!”
Espen: “The songs on Frysh started out as some guitar-based pop or rock songs and we just masticated it all during the recording session, haha! It was kind of hard to do it as well because we had to do a lot of compromises all the time, with lots of discussions about things. But when I listen to it today I think it sounds very good. I think I would like to develop that thing a little bit further.”