Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (Weserbergland): “musicians can’t operate in only one genre to survive, and that’s a very healthy thing”

The debut of Wesebergland was way beyond good or a “big surprise” (our reviews here). It was something different, adventurous, experimental, with a clear purpose and no excuses behind it. We had the chance to ask some questions to the mastermind behind the band, the multi-instrumentalist Ketil Vestrum Einarsen, who is also a very kind and grateful person.  

Questions: Vangelis Christodoulou, Dimitris Kaltsas
Translation: Alexandros Mantas

Hello Ketil and congrats for the debut of your new project. Are you satisfied with everything on the album or would you change something?

Thank you. And well… not really. I see the album as a documentation of a time and a process. So, I would not change anything, but I would like to do some things different on the next album.

Weserbergland? What’s in a name and how did you arrive to the idea behind it?

I just loved the idea of doing like Chicago, Boston or Europe, but with a rather unknown German landscape! A landscape that played an important role in the krautrock history as it spawned the pastoral kraut of Harmonia. It’s of course a silly band name, but I thought – if German metal bands can be named after small towns in Norway, I can of course do the same with a German landscape?

Is Sehr Kosmisch Ganz Progisch a concept album?

It’s not a programmatic concept album that one can find in prog (“the story of the wizard of something and the dragon called something-something”). But it’s conceptual in that all the songs are influenced indirectly by different pieces of music (or genres) from different centuries in German cultural history. I see it as a prog homage to the krautrock scene, where I stole or got inspired by certain aspects of compositional techniques from past ages. This meant that I, for instance, created and used certain dogmas in the making of it. I broke them of course, but one example is that I avoided parallel fifths (the good old power chord in rock) on almost all the album, this because I was inspired by baroque choral music, where it’s a complete no-no to do.

What are your goals with Weserbergland? Any live shows scheduled?

We have only played live three times. I was not going to do so, but Gaute was so eager to do it that he somehow persuaded me to do it. And he´s also responsible for bringing a live band on its feet. There are no gigs planned at the moment, but we are ready if people are interested. The live show is a bit different though. We are closer to krautrock live than on the album, as we rely a lot on improvisation.

The artistic process, from inception to execution. What would you say was the most difficult aspect of the process?

Good question. I have to think about that one. Well, two things are hard. On one side, to explain what I want is really hard. To get people to understand a vision, or to play in way that fits the vision, is hard. I could, and sometimes did, try to explain where we were going. But will that give me the results I want?

Also, when people send me their files, it was in reverse: It was sometimes hard for me to accept what people did, because they had a different vision. Sometimes I let go, and something wonderful came out of it. Sometimes I didn’t. So this balance in the communication is very hard, I think. 

How did you choose the musicians you worked with on the album?

It’s more or less family. They sort of picked themselves, I never reflected a lot on who to ask. For instance, the core of the band, Gaute, Mattias and Jacob. Well, I talk to them, if not daily, but almost daily. My brethren in music. And the same goes for the rest.

In my opinion, Sehr Kosmisch Ganz Progisch is one of the most bold and daring prog albums of the 10s. To what extent did the other musicians contribute aesthetically to your artistic vision?

WOW! First of all, thank you so much. That makes me very happy to hear! The album is a complete mishmash between improvised and written things, improvised things that are reworked, and written things brought alive by the musicians. I hope that we succeeded in making all musicians a part of a whole, where they all brought in a bit of their own flavor.

Anthony Bourdain, the chef and food journalist, says about food that a country gets better food by being invaded by other nations (leaving techniques and spices behind after they leave). I think that applies to music as well, and I think that my co-musicians each and all invaded Weserbergland. One example is Mattias. Play Motorik, I said. Did he play motorik? No – he reinvented motorik. I had to rewrite parts of the album because it was so radical. But did it get better? Hell, yeah! A musician like Gaute worked on several levels. Sometimes with the music (like when he played the written solos on Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde, yes – it was written on sheet music, that crazy man played it…) or against it or at least more free, when he did 10 minutes of freeform improvisation on the Die Kunst Der Fuge. All of this would not have worked without Jacob, who with his experience and mild manners managed to be the glue and see it from the outside in the mix and lift the right details.

What about the recording process? Did you record in the same place at the same time and how much of it is live?

I completely avoided recording anything at the same time. And I did not allow anyone to meet to rehearse together. People might think this is a weird thing of me to say, but the thing is that I have seen so many rehearsals that re-radicalized the bands. One tends choose solutions that are tested and tried when experienced players meet. This is of course something that a lot of great musicians manage to avoid, but – I wanted two things to happen. I wanted things to get lost in translation, and I wanted people to have their own approach. As mentioned before, this was the most challenging part of the process. When should I overrun the ego and let the collective approach be the driving force, and when should I do the opposite?

What is your favorite ‘ingredient’ in the album? For instance I would probably pick your flute, organ and programming or Gaute Storsve’s guitar playing (or many many more).

Thank you! And that´s a tough one. One of the two things I like most is the guitar playing on the Fuge, and how it was mixed to fit into the whole. I also love Mattias’ reinvention of the motorik. I also like who all the elements blend into one big mess….

You have been involved in numerous projects while you are a composer for hire and then there’s Weserbergland. How do you balance all that?

Doing Weserbergland took a long time, not just because the project itself was time consuming, but because I had to balance between doing Weserbergland, and well… make money. Weserbergland was the first time I was not a “hired gun” or a band member. It was a lot of fun, but the pay is… well, not much. But I want to do more of it.

I am, by education, a music teacher, and this year I have focused on that. I love teaching, and – it also provides me with the security to do more Weserbergland. So, at the moment, I have written half of the next album and we are in the process of recording it.

Of the aforementioned projects, which do you hold dear the most and why?

Tough one! But, Sacrament by White Willow – it was a very important album for me. I grew up in a small town. I had but a few friends who liked prog rock, mostly I was ridiculed for it. After I moved to Oslo to study music, I very soon met Jacob (mr WW et cetera) and got connected to the Asker prog clan. This was, I think, my first album, and I felt I had met “my  own people”.

Also, there’s a band here in Norway. Motorpsycho. Here it´s cross generational band. And it more or less unites several subcultures. You’ll see punks and proggers and jazzheads in their concerts. But it’s very important for my generation. I am forty. I remember a time before the internet, when we CRAVED anything different. In my old home town you could get beaten up for just wearing black jeans. Anything outside the norm was not accepted. Every school would have some outcasts that did not fit in. And us music nerds, we were like that. In the beginning of the nineties, Norway was still halfway between the 70s (and 80s, when we had one TV channel and watched cartoons from DDR, or men in suits read directives from the government out loud on TV on a Friday evening) and the more open society we have now. And on this backdrop, out of nowhere, came Motorpsycho. They played live on a TV show for teenagers and young adults and it was one of those defining moments. I felt, well, not alone! 

About ten or so years later, Lars Horntveth of Jaga Jazzist (whom I knew from way back, he was from the next town in my county) called and asked me to play on an album by Motorpsycho. Well. I was more than thrilled! The album was great, and they discussed Yes in the studio. At time when people hated prog. Great people. Great music.

Also, I have been working with Lars (Wobbler et ceteral) on music for documentaries. We were working on a documentary about young adults in politics. The documentary followed several young aspiring politicians through good and bad times. It was going to be a part of the election programming of the state TV channel, NRK. We were delivering all the music on a Saturday, and it was a Friday. I planned to meet Lars in the evening for an all nighter. I lay in my bed and suddenly I heard a loud BANG. I said to my girlfriend: unplug my computer. It´s thunder. But the sky was blue. And the bang was an explosion. That evening I could not get to Lars. Oslo was divided in two. I could not get to the eastern part where Lars lived. The subways where closed. The roads were blocked.

The bang was not thunder. It was Anders Behring Breivik blowing up the building of the government. I lived just a few kilometers away from it. It was clear that we could not deliver on time. But the story has more twists to it. The camera team was on Utøya, where he did the massacre, and left a few hours before the terrorist came. So suddenly the cute and fun story about young politicians got serious. Very serious. One of the main characters survived Utøya and tells her story about the experience in what ended up as documentary that was showed in cinemas. We really worked hard on the music and we are very proud of this movie and the music we made for it.

If you were not a musician, what would you do for a living?

I would love to be a chef. I spend a lot of my evenings doing one of two things. One is to sit in my studio in my basement and either record, just for fun, or I explore new music. Or I cook or spend time reading about food or watch food shows. In Norway we eat pork ribs for Christmas. Slow cooked for 8 hours. I have already done the Christmas test meal three times. And my cabinet is full of different spices. I also chanced to live in the most diverse part of Norway, my neighborhood is as international as any similar neighborhoods in NYC or London.

The Norwegian music scene has been rich, diverse and with continuous presence for at least 25 years. It may be frequently asked, but why do you think this is happening? What are the forces that drive culture in Norway?

It’s a complicated question to answer as there are many things happening here. A lot of the culture here operates with funding from the government. Artists can apply for grants to record an album, et cetera. But that does not really apply to prog, we very rarely get anything. White Willow has operated now for many years without getting anything, for instance. But for parts of the scene it is indeed important.

But why prog bands do so well, that’s puzzling me a lot. I really can’t see any cultural factors present here that would make it different from other nations. But maybe it helps to be a small nation? Oslo, the largest “city” has about 650,000 inhabitants. Norway has five million. A lot of musicians can’t operate in only one genre to survive, and I think that’s a very healthy thing. You do a children’s album in the morning and a black metal album in the evening. I think that’s a good thing.

Which are your favorite bands in Norway today?

I love Krokofant, my favorite Norwegian sax player plays in that band. As always… Motorpsycho.

And there’s a whole armada of young prog bands I like. Pixie Ninja, a fresh breath from northern Norway, defying all my ideas about how a small town prog band from the north should sound. Glutton is amazing, with their own brand of indie prog. My friend Trond has several things going on. I especially like Suburban Savages (OK, I do play on the album, but I think it´s great!), Andre Drage is an upcoming artist I really look forward to, sort of prog meets minimalism. Apollon records, the label Weserbergland is on, seem to sum up my taste in modern prog: Leftfield, slightly different prog. Robin, the label manager is a really important person here now, he seems to find a lot of good stuff!

As difficult as it may be, name your 5 best ever records.

Tough one, yet very entertaining, and it´s of course ever changing. In no particular order and right now I’d say these:

Harmonia – Deluxe
King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
Premiata Forneria Marconi – Photos of Ghosts
Terry Riley – A Rainbow in Curved Air
Horizont – The Portrait of a Boy

Which are your plans for the future? Will the second album of Weserbergland be different than the debut?

Yes. We have plans. This time it’s more of a “we”. There´s an actual band now. Also – It will be different. This time it’s not a homage to German music. And on the previous album I tried to work in major scales (not major scales all the time, ftr). The new album will be darker.

The next album is a concept album about the mining in my neighborhood here in Oslo. It seized a long time ago, but the nature here is very much affected by it, and it’s an interesting piece of history.

Also: new dogma. No analog synths. No mellotrons. We will probably not stick one hundred percent to the plan. But I want to break away from the prog sound idiom. Jan Terje, new man on keys, is actually building synths based on arduinos, game boys et cetera. I also have a Synthino XM, an Arduino synth.

2018 is the “the year of the marching bands”. I grew up in, and I am still connected to the marching band movement here. It’s a lot more than marching, long winters here give the bands a lot of time to do great concerts. But I want to honor that important piece of Norwegian culture by using more wind instruments on the album. I do not know if I will have the resources for it, but that’s what I want, so let’s try?

Thank you very much for your time and the wonderful music! All the best to you, we’ll talk again soon!

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