Far From Showbiz

Story online since:  26.11.2009 / 00:10:23

Hello Espen! Please have a sit. It's really pleasant to welcome you to our infamous hall of musicians... How is everything for you nowadays?

I'm fine thank you.

It's been a while since I've heard of any news from you as the singer and guitarist of Beyond Dawn... It seems like ever since your last album Frysh, and the following remix album, everything went downright silent. What would you say really happened within the band?

I guess time was up for Beyond Dawn. I think it's impressive that we stayed together for so long. 10 years and seven albums, we never made a dime and we were hardly recognized, it was solely out of musical and artistic idealism if you believe that. I think the album Frysh is a good album, possibly our best but the making of it was not always that inspiring. We didn't communicate that well and I think we had very different ideas of how it should sound. I had made bass and guitar arrangements on most of the songs and the vocals were meant to be sung over something completely different than how the songs eventually turned out. The mixing process was often painful, I didn't feel there was much room for discussion and I lost interest in the whole thing. Still I like the weirdness and the fragility of that album when I pay it one seldom visit. I guess we never officially broke up so who knows? Maybe we'll do a comeback in ten years.

Before we get moving, a turning point in Beyond Dawnís career was I think your fourth album. What do you remember from the recording sessions of Electric Sulking Machine? For me that was when Beyond Dawn definitely went beyond their musical dawn so to speak. Itís still one of my favourite albums from the lot. Groovy indeed.

Violence Heals, On the subject of turning insane, Pacific blue disorder and Fairy Liquid were written and arranged (maybe except for all the drums) by me alone on an acoustic guitar. Usually I instructed the others on these songs when we rehearsed them. The rest were just ideas we worked out together on rehearsals or in studio. Pop ist verboten (stupid title) was written by me alone in a small Liverpool apartment and recorded hours later (reminds me of The Smiths, though I did not think about it at the time). Petter is responsible for the production and a few guitars. Tore wrote the lyrics for Cigarette and we arranged the song together. I arranged the trombones and the rest of the lyrics. All the synth and drum programming is Petter and some of the bass lines is Tore. Einar invented most of his own drum playing, with some guidance. The electronica sound is mostly Tore and Petter, though I was also totally into it.

This is the Beyond Dawn album where most of the credit is mine actually, so I'll take it as a compliment if it's your favourite. Though I am not sure if it's the best.

At the end of the day, regarding Beyond Dawn, how have you actually lived the fact of being totally unknown and devoid of any recognition from the 'larger' audience?

Honestly I'm quite comfortable. I'm not interested in exposing myself on a screen and definitely not in being any cool pop star clown thinking Iím clever or important. Yes I want recognition and I want what I do to be heard by as many as possible, but I'm also aware of how things work and what I would have to do to achieve all that. But of course we could have done more promotional work to at least reach a thousand more people, I guess it's just lack of interest, incompetence or laziness that has prevented us from sharpening our shoulders to do so. But we'll see about this new one [Two Trains], maybe weíll try to get a little more attention this time.

Yeah, if we turn our eyes to one of your present-day band, Two Trains Ė how would you distinguish it from Beyond Dawn?

It's not a continuation of Beyond Dawn in any way. I still write, play the guitar and sing but the setting and the sound is very different. I'm talking about the new release because itís very different from the last one. It's music for 2 guitars, one bass, one set of drums and vocals. These are the constraints, we don't experiment or explore that much with sound or technical possibilities or being cool. It's more like digging into something uncomfortable and filthy. There are no overdubs and it could have been recorded live though it's not.

I understand youíve been recording it throughout the last years. With Apollyon living far away from everyone, was it hard to all meet in the studio and jam those songs together?

We actually recorded all the drums, guitars and bass before he moved. The creation and rehearsing started almost four years ago, right after the first release. We recorded everything in a small garage studio owned by Sverre, a guitarist from a thrash band called Audiopain (don't know if you've heard of it). It took two weekends and it's probably three years ago now (I can't exactly remember when). After we recorded it we became a bit separated, Apollyon moved far away, Olav got a wife and a job, I became a student and a father and Einar was just busy. The album has been mostly mixed and produced by me and Sverre (who has done an excellent job by the way!) and it has taken way too long with months of silence between each session. I have been recording the vocals at home as the lyrics slowly came to me. Now itís almost finished, I hope. When it is I can go back and finish my own solo project, which is also in the making.

Do you have a title for the album, and will it be released by Duplicate Records again?

We donít have a title yet (open for suggestions), not even to all of the songs. I think we will send a few songs to other labels to see if anyone would be interested, but the album will be released and it might be on Duplicate.

When you look back at the first self-titled Two Trains album, what comes to mind?

I had just bought this used G4 Macintosh and was eager to create music at home. Beyond Dawn was laid on ice and I wanted to start a new project. I contacted a friend of mine, Olav who had played bass guitar in a band called Lamented Souls. This band was not my kind of music but I knew he had an open mind and ear and I respected him artistically. We started making riffs and themes at my place and also experimenting with electronic sounds on the Mac, I arranged them into songs and we decided to start a band for rehearsals. Well Einar was available on drums and later Apollyon joined in on second guitar. We rehearsed the songs in a small rented room and later we recorded them on very primitive equipment in a bedroom and a kitchen where I lived (often before they were finished). I produced it in the end and added a couple of solo recordings as well. It became a mixture of what we played live and the other sounds we created on the computer. Not unlike what Beyond Dawn would sound like, but with a different feeling. I'm kind of proud of most of the songs on that album, the sound is very compressed but I think it suits the music. The album was totally overlooked, but that was expected. We did not do much to promote it, Duplicate Records is a small label and we only played one gig.

Why did you not want to include the lyrics in the first albumís booklet?

The lyrics I write are words often conceived with a melody to them. They are meant to be heard, rather than read. I don't consider myself to be a poet or anything like that. I put time and thought into the words I write but I seldom think that they can stand on their own without music to them. I know my lyrics have been included in some of the Beyond Dawn cd booklets but that was more or less against my will. So I do not plan to include them this time unless someone persuades me to do so.

Well I wish I could. The lyrics you've been giving shape to for the new Two Trains Ė are they exploring any sort of thematic or systematic pattern?

Nothing intended. I seldom try to express any specific theme or feeling when I come up with the words. It's like another part of me speaking. Someone I donít know so much about. That's why I find it very difficult to explain or even talk about the lyrics. Though they are sometimes very personal and recognizable, I don't understand them and when they have been sung I don't read or think about them anymore.

Shifting the conversation, what is the solo project you mentioned earlier on all about?

It's all about me I guess. No seriously it's a project of all loose ideas, riffs and available instruments to become something interesting and beautiful, at least for myself. It does not sound like a rock band and itís more electronic. There have been different names, among them Brian Maiden or Espen Insane. I have not settled with anything yet. Now it's over twenty unfinished songs and I know I have to start finishing something soon. Many of them are almost there but new ideas are coming regularly. I guess I'm trying to make a difference, and to some extent I think I do.

Electronic, you say... Would you quote any references you think you come close to in terms of atmosphere? Are you singing?

I guess there are a lot of references but none specific. Yes I sing in there too and I think it sounds closer to what Beyond Dawn did rather than Two Trains. I donít try to create any particular sound or atmosphere but I use my ideas and the tools that are available to me as I go along.

More generally, are you also into electronic music? What's usually on your player?

Iím not deeply into it these days but I like and I listen to a lot of electronic music. I got very into it twelve years ago or so and I was a fan of Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk already in the eighties. The music that I fell in love with out in the nineties was stuff on Warp Records like Aphex Twin, The Black Dog and Autechre. I also got very fond of the early Detroit style of techno with artists like Jeff Mills, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Plastikman and a few more. I still listen to this music from time to time though my wife hates it. Swans did also come out of my speakers around that time.

Nowadays my choice of music can be of any genre. Lately Iíve been going through the old American classics of rock music like Zappa, Beefheart, Dylan, Byrds and many more. But it can also be soul music, experimental jazz like Coleman, Davis or Coltrane from 65 (A Love Supreme and later moves me like little else these days) and Sun Ra. The symphonies of Shostakovich and Mahler has always been my favorite classical music, also Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Stravinsky, and sometimes Iím in the mood for old Jamaican reggae or dub and maybe some cool hip hop like Quasimoto or something like that. Today I have been listening to The Fall and The Pogues, which are also old favorites. Sometimes I donít want to listen to anything and sometimes I listen to Death metal. Last time it was Aura Noir and Carcass. Iím not a stranger to country music either, at least not from Neil Young, Townes van Zandt and Gram Parsons. It can be anything. I just want music which has that little extra you know. I agree that much of the music I listen to is very old, thatís mostly because I donít check out the new interesting scenes, I guess I donít know where to look. Yesterday I went to see Morrissey and his band playing here in Oslo. Iíve always felt a close relation to his writing and singing, though musically I favor what he did with the Smiths. Sonic Youth inspired me a lot when I was 20 wondering what I could do with my guitar (though I never wanted to copy them), and before that it was the Clash or the Cure, Joy Division, even Christian Death, Sisters of Mercy or some punk or hard core and much of this is still sometimes on my record or cd player. All of this is on my player and much, much more. I like to buy cdís or vinyl albums, I seldom download stuff from the internet.

You certainly sound like a very open-minded listener. Do you feel itís important for music to constantly evolve into new forms, and for musicians to constantly explore new ways and push the envelope so to speak? Many of the composers youíve mentioned were trailblazers in that respect, so I wonder if as an artist the so-called "avant-gardeĒ makes any sense to you.

If something is labeled as "avant-garde" today I would be very interested to hear it. Maybe "avant-garde" was a term that only could come out of modernism. In this so-called "post-modernĒ world, I guess nothing can be avant-garde. Iím not a post modernist though the description may well fit to significant aspects of our society. I believe in exploring new territory and pushing borders, but I think every kind of music made with honesty, imagination and dedication will be unique and interesting. I would never consider myself as "avant-garde", and it's not something I try to be.

Now that I remember it, you also took part in the band Sulphur 8. Would you mind telling me a bit more about the bandís genealogy and the overall atmosphere you guy are trying to put into form?

Sulphur 8 is actually an older project, which does not exist anymore. It consisted of me, and musicians not related to Two Trains or Beyond Dawn. You have probably heard one song on MySpace, I believe that was recorded around the time of Beyond Dawn's Electric Sulking Machine along with 7 or 8 other tracks that we never fully finished or released. We have talked about re-recording the songs, the drummer guy is especially eager to do this, but I don't know if or when this will happen. I'm not totally uninterested in doing this cause we really had something good going on. The other songs are even better with really nice guitars on them but I would do the vocals differently today, I think I was a bit too influenced by Michael Gira of Swans when I sang them. Sulphur 8 started in the mid 90's and ended around these recordings but I really can't remember when. I'll have to ask someone in the band to find out. The atmosphere is aggressive and melancholic and typical for that period of my life.

Aggressive and melancholic were typical moods back then. Would you say youíve changed quite a lot over the years? I mean, becoming a father, for instance, must have been something quite new and meaningful in your life...

I think the melancholy will always be with me like any other thinking human being but itís not that romantic or pompous anymore. Iíve been changing all the time but Iím not sure what impact my changes of social status have had on my taste or my own music. Itís like I live several lives. When Iím working on my music, I enter some kind of secret world thatís completely my own. Yes, having a child has been a great experience and has added a greater element of meaning into my life but I donít think it has dramatically changed my artistic or creative ideas or my attitude. My musical perspective has widened over the years but I still feel like an idiot punk rocker by heart. I feel more stupid than ever and I hope I still can cling to the naivety and my belief in music and that it matters.

Earlier on you said you had become a student. What were you studying exactly?

I think it's called pedagogy, I've completed it now, I have started working full time again. I'm responsible for the environment of learning and administration for one unit or base in a kindergarten. It's kind of strange when I think about it, but I'm dedicated to my work and I find it very interesting, demanding and rewarding. Still I sometimes wish I could do music full time.

Is it sometimes hard to maintain your creativity 'up there', having to work all week long?

It's hard to find the energy and the willpower to really sit down and work when youíre really tired in the evenings. I think my creativity will always be there but my productivity sometimes worries me. I really should get rid of the sofa and the TV.

Regarding the music, are you a natural composer, I mean someone who doesnít have to wait for inspiration and just go with the flow any time he wishes, or is this much more complicated than that? How do you actually enter into your secret world?

Ideas come naturally to me. It can be a guitar riff, a simple melody or a written line and if I manage to sit down and work on it I will usually develop them into a song. I guess I do work best under a certain pressure. I often sit down on perfect lonely evenings with excellent wine, or maybe a spliff but very often this will result in nothing. I donít think I need a special mood or setting to create, the music will come if I really decide to work on it. Itís more complicated than this, but I know I can enter this world whenever I want to, though it will acquire all my attention and itís best being alone.

And are your wife and your child into your music at all?

Yes but in a more healthy way, I guess they don't analyze everything like I do. Though we might not share the exact same taste in music, sheís more conventional than me but still sophisticated enough.

As far as I'm concerned, there's always been this particular tone in your voice which makes you sound kind of detached and distanced from what youíre actually singing... Would you say you are a contemplative person?

That's an interesting perception. I do not feel detached or distant from the words when I'm writing them but maybe self criticism and a general insecurity makes me sound like that. I donít know. I have to look up on the word "contemplative". Ok, yes I think I am contemplative. I donít like reading what I have written a day later because the critic and the analyzer in me will shred it to pieces. Ideally I should record my voice instantly after the words are written and then forget about them. I'm never satisfied with my lyrics when I'm finished, I just hope the listener will think differently and let them go by.

Be it in Two Trains or Beyond Dawn or solo, when you record your vocals, do you have all the melodies in your head before recording or do you sometimes also improvise? On Frysh for instance, there are so many vocal layers that it's actually hard to believe you had it all worked out in your head beforehand.

I usually have a guitar riff or a bass line before I think about the vocals, then usually the melody comes first. I seldom or never improvise except sometimes live with the melody. I usually have a rhythm or a melody. Then I have to write. The words usually donít come easy. I have never felt I had anything important or significant to say.

Frysh is special because when I recorded the lyrics the songs sounded different, at least in my head. I had written most of the songs and the lyrics and I arranged all the vocals and recorded them with this sound in my mind together with the bass and guitars already recorded, but Hi-Fi Haavik changed and removed a lot of them afterwards without my involvement. A lot of studio work was done when I was not there. Guitars disappeared and bass lines were changed into something much more electronic and completely different. I felt robbed at first but now I feel cool about it. My vocals worked out quite well anyway though I would have done them a little different if I knew their final surroundings. I like to have most of the sounds ready at least in my head before I do the vocals. I donít want to work like the Frysh sessions turned out and at the time I just knew we werenít on the same track. Too many ego's in the band I guess. And unable to communicate and cooperate properly we had to split.

I agree my vocal sounds somehow laidback or maybe as you said a little distant from the words. Thatís because I donít pretend I am someone important, Iím not a preacher or someone who thinks he has any particular message to his listeners. My vocals are usually meant to be an instrument to blend in with the rest of the sound, along with all the instruments and not on top of it all. I could not be a rapper or sing soul. Iím not basically a crooner.

When you look back at your discography and personal history as a musician, what are you the most proud of, and what makes you feel more uncomfortable?

I donít know if I can answer this question. Listening to myself always makes me a bit uncomfortable unless Iím intoxicated to a certain degree. Still Iím mostly proud of what Iíve done. My favorites will always be the newest material because I will feel more and more distant and uncomfortable with it as time passes. Though everything Iíve done has gone unnoticed by a larger audience, I feel I have achieved something. I feel confident in my own abilities, I donít feel particularly inferior to any other artist in terms of potential. But I donít feel like looking back and rest upon whatís there. I have much more to create and personally I know the best is yet to come. A boring answer I know...

Perhaps boring, but at least it sounds promising for the people whoíve been enjoying your work. Speaking of the "fansĒ, you did one concert with Two Trains as well as having been through some many gigs in the history of Beyond DawnÖ Do you intend to repeat the experience if possible?

I will play live. How or with whom, I do not know.

I remember you were supposed to do a cover of an Immortal song for a compilation. Keeping in mind how you took Autopsy on Frysh and lovingly (mis)placed it under a groovy light of its own, I wonder how this one came out sounding.

I did not put my heart into it. I just took the lyrics, and though they made no sense to me I made a new song that was not punk or metal or anything at all except a bit of pop music. I'll mail you the result. I don't think it ever was released. I don't know the guys in Immortal though Apollyon plays with them. I don't know if they have heard it and I have no idea if they would like it and I don't care.

* * *

As a gift, Espen accepted to share this song with us, so enjoy it!

Beyond Dawn's Storming Through Red Clouds And Holocaust Winds

Sons of Nothern Darkness
Under the Throne of the Moon
United with the Forces of Evil
And Infernal Doom

Lords of Tragedies Storm
As the Valleys Gates Opens
Decayed Lands of Sorrow Waits Below
Storming through Red Clouds and Holocaustwinds

Demonized by the Closing Nordic Lights

Lyrics © Immortal

* * *

By the way, during all those nineties years, did you keep an eye on the whole Norwegian Black metal movement taking shape around you?

Yes but I was only interested in the music. A lot of good music came out, in fact there was only a few people who drew the attention elsewhere. Becoming murderers or burning down churches. Satanism can be a good artistic "platform" but when some thought they could live it out becoming quasi-religious or doing "evil" things it turned to banalities. Later some people became very nationalistic, or wanted to live 1000 years ago and even turned to racism and worse. Some people were having these serious "issues" that the Black metal scene could certainly do without, I think.

Quite obviously, Beyond Dawn came from a more "metal" background, so to speak, at least with the demos and the first few ep's. On the other hand, you did not sit well at all with the metal scene (laughs). Wasnít that getting kind of ambiguous after a while?

We were a little misplaced to say the least. I think the first two demo tapes is the only thing Beyond Dawn did that can be labeled as metal. Then we just kept changing. Everyone who signed us got something totally different from what they had originally signed. We were only happy to get those records out. I donít think any so-called "indie" label would ever have the guts to release us anyway. I think the metal scene is (or was anyway) much more real, honest an open minded. But we were of course impossible to sell.

'Impossible to sell' Ė that pretty much summarizes your career as a musician indeed. Being a man responsible for the learning environment in a kindergarten, do you think it's possible to open the children's ears to forms of music other than what they will see and hear on television, radio and such? So that in the future of our strange planet, bands like Beyond Dawn will perhaps get a bit more recognition...

I like to play all kinds of music to children and to talk about and discuss what we hear. Iím fortunate to have a large library of it and so I like to share it. I like them to know that only imagination can set limits to what music can be.

To your last assumption I don't know. But maybe I can help them becoming better than myself.

Oliver Side

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