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Friday, February 15, 2013

Interview: Man The Machetes

The rise and rise of the Norwegian punk scene, and the media attention it has attracted of late through the furore surrounding a certain band called Kvelertak, has thrown the spotlight in the direction of many new names. One of those, Man The Machetes, are the band responsible for recently making one member of the Ave Noctum team get especially excited (resulting in the award of a 9.5/10 to their debut album Idiokrati). We duly sent him in to the ring to conduct a battle of wits with their lead guitarist, Erlend Sætren.

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AN: Firstly, may I just say your debut album is staggeringly good. How would you describe your own style of music?

ES: Thanks, man! Much obliged! As for our style, it’s obviously inspired by a lot of different good shit. Everything from ballsy rock n’ roll à la Hellacopters and Turbonegro, to more punky anthemy bands like Comeback Kid and more metal-ish acts like Cancer Bats. In general, we like to say it’s all about the party tunes and letting out some steam. In short, the energy! We only make music that gives us goosebumps, no matter what kind of music that is! Style-wise, that leaves us with goosebump-inflicting energy – as if that makes sense.

AN:  The album title, Idiokrati, is proof enough of how aware you are of your surroundings. What particular social or political factors did you draw on to create the music? 

ES: I guess Chris [Iversen], our vocalist, tends to sing about things that make him angry, be it people refusing to give away their seats to old ladies on the bus or stupid politicians wanting to close our borders to everyone but rich jetsets. All in all, unfairness makes us discharge. Still, we’re a somewhat positive bunch, so we feed on fun things as well, like the beauty of playing hardcore music.

AN: Were there any musical genres or bands that you found yourself listening to whilst writing this album?

ES: Yeah, definitely! We went with Eric Ratz as our producer because we love Comeback Kid and Cancer Bats, especially their latest stuff. Apart from that, we were obviously inspired by the Kvelertak record, but also things like Jethro Tull and Rolling Stones. Deftones was there, Rage Against The Machine, Refused. Things like that.

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AN: Idiokrati‘s guitars, in particular, stand out. Tell me about the riffs and particular tones you were generally aiming for.

ES: Thanks! Morten [Dischington Carlsson, guitar] is a huge fan of the Rolling Stones, so he’s all about the bluesy stuff as well as the solos. As for myself, I’m more the rhythm dude who brings out the punk riffs. Per [Christian Holm], the drummer, often hums something really melodic and Eric [Andreas Larsen], our bassist, contributes with more sombre black metal stuff. A lot of the songs are in D – we usually play in drop D – which is a sympathetic tone. Our aim for Idiokrati was melodic but hard and intense riffs. That was a challenge to get across on record, because a lot of light stuff on the guitars left a space to be filled in the mix, a space important in making the music rock hard, so the bass was really important to fill that gap. When coming up with riffs, we try all ideas, but only go for what makes us tick. That is, heavy and catchy things.

AN: Although most of the vocals are sung in Norwegian, it sounds like there are a few in English. Is that true and, if so, what was the thinking behind doing that?

ES: Actually, it’s mostly in Norwegian, some words may be in English, like swearing and words that are similar to Norwegian, like “Sudan” and “doomsday”. Ratz really focused on the rhythm and accentuation of the singing, so that might have given an English sound to it. We’d love to be understood lyrically abroad as well; maybe the next record will be in English, but for now we’ll settle with getting across the infamous goosebump-inflicting energy.

AN: What would you say the advantages are in having screamed vocals?

ES: Haha, there’s no hassle with singing in tune! Also, it adds a harder element to the otherwise, at least at times, almost pop-like riffs. A harder and more energetic element, so to say. Not to mention that it leaves room for the melody being conveyed by the guitars and the bass.

AN: Tell me about the track “Mageplask” (which I think translates as “Belly Flop”). That made my Scandinavian friend laugh! Why that particular title and what subject matter does it cover?

ES: You’re right! It means belly flop. The lyrics are about daring to take the next step instead of whining about what one could have had and envying others for whatever they might have. The message is just do it, I guess, but not in the Nike kind of way. “Belly Flop” is a funny title, it is in Norwegian too, but belly flops also hurt a lot. Like the title implies, the song is like a happy-slap in the face. At least that’s what we were going for.

AN: How did you come to choose Steven Pierce for the album artwork? Did you work with him closely on it and did you get the result you wanted?

ES: We were super-happy to work with Steve. He’s so dedicated and wanted to make as good a cover as possible. We tend to be really, really picky with things, and that went for the artwork as well, so he had to change things quite a lot. He always did though, with a smile on his face – we like to think anyway. We heard about him when we played a show in Toronto with Skies Beneath, a bunch of super-cool dudes from Ottawa. They told us about him, showed us some shirts that he had made, and then we just went for it. Even though we haven’t met him face to face, we know he’s a good dude and a skilled artist too. We couldn’t be happier with the artwork. Our initial ideas were challenging, to say the least.

AN: I’ve been watching your studio reports on YouTube. You flew to Toronto, Canada to record. What advantages did you expect to get from doing this as opposed to recording in Norway?

ES: Without wanting to hurt anybody, there’s a totally different level of record-producing in Canada. It’s bigger, in all ways. Sure, you can get a more than decent result in Norway as well, but we wanted that Ratz’ sound; that big and ram-the-wall-like sonic assault. So Canada it was. Besides, they have good burgers there and we got to go on a trip together.

AN: What was it like working with Eric Ratz? Did he have much of an influence on the finished product?

ES: He is a great guy who broke the ice right away. Great humour, that guy. He and Chris ended up speaking dubbed Japanese martial arts movie-language between them. He also encouraged us and made us believe in our music. He gave us a professional and constructive perspective on things, helped us cut off all the dead meat, making things catchier and so on. At the same time, he always listened to us and let us know that we had the last word. He used the word “we” a lot, and we like that; being a team, going for the same goal. We were relieved to know that he would never put his name on something bad, so we gave it our all.

AN: You recorded 10 tracks in 23 days. How intense was the process and did you get a chance to record any other songs?

ES: Pretty intense. We had one day off, we went to see Niagara Falls and the city of Toronto, and then went back into the studio. We were there to record, so that was cool. All our time went into these 10 songs though, recording everything as well as we could, testing different amp sounds and cymbal sounds before deciding on just the right one for the different songs. We actually ended up recording most of the gang vocals the last day, listening through and recording the final intro on “Slagen” just two hours before our plane left. Ratz and his team were really good guys, focused and cool at the same time, making our time in Toronto intense, but also really great. We have a lot of spare vocal things recorded though, but no-one will ever be able to use that. It’s nasty.

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AN: From the videos it looks like you still had a blast recording. Tell us, especially, about your love for the fast food restaurant, Five Guys.

ES: Haha, we have some genuine burger-lovers amongst us! But no kidding, those burgers were fantastic! As for the videos, I guess it got to be somewhat of a band joke – always going to Five Guys. We had a blast recording. At nights we relaxed, had some Canadian beer. In the mornings we stopped by Tim Hortons for doughnuts. Haha, I think some of us gained some weight during those days.

AN: What has the feedback from friends, fans and the media on the album been like so far?

ES: A lot of good reviews and some not so good, but that’s life. Putting a record out there is like putting your head on the chopping block, as we say in Norwegian, so it’s been a nervous time. But in the end, we realize that it all comes down to the fact that we’ve given it our all, and that all we want is people listening to our record and hopefully liking what they hear. We’ve had some interest abroad, which is cool, and now we just want to get out there and play for whoever wants to listen – and those who don’t! Back home in Norway as well as in the UK, Europe and other parts of the world. Playing is a huge part of it, showing people what we’re all about live as well as on record.

AN: Right now, heavy Norwegian punk music is getting plenty of worldwide attention. What’s it like being part of the scene at this moment in time?

ES: It’s quite exciting because there are a lot of bands that you can play with, learn from and get inspired by. They make it clear that there’s a place for Norwegian punk rock on the international scene.

AN: You often can be found sharing a stage with your Norwegian peers. You must know each other pretty well by now. Do you ever play tricks on each other and does the drinking ever get out of hand?

ES: We don’t know everybody, but we know some, and they play tricks all the time. We do too – to get revenge. But not only tricks, we also share in singing tribe songs backstage and of course every now and then drink a little bit too much. We haven’t experienced the worst things yet, I guess, like being left behind by the tour van somewhere in the Dutch countryside or something, but it’ll come, surely.

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AN: What’s the real story behind your band name?

ES: Haha, tossing a lot of suggestions about, landing on the one which sucked the least! We’ve gone through some terrible ones though, like Mageplask and Sudan. Imagine googling “Sudan”! You’re not going to find out too much about the band, that’s for sure. Besides, MTM has “Machetes” in it, and I and Chris are huge fans of the Blood Brothers’ record “Young Machetes”. We actually came up with the name in Canada, and people there told us it was catchy, and they know their way around, so we went for it. You can shorten it too, which is a cool thing.

AN: Do you guys have a strong work ethic?

ES: Yep. We have to. Because we’re divided between two cities, we all practice by ourselves with metronomes and so on, before getting together at weekends and rehearsing for hours. Playing music is what we want to do, so we have to work hard, and we expect each man to do his part. The songs on the record have gone through a long process, changing, adding, and cutting, to make them as good as we are able to. Of course there are times when we just hang out, doing stupid stuff, but in general, we work quite hard. If people show up on our shows, we want to give them something in return.

AN: What bands did you grow up listening to?

ES: Stuff like Pennywise, Millencollin, Rage Against The Machine, Nine Inch Nails, Refused, Enslaved, Emperor, Turbonegro, Kyuss, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc. Good stuff!

AN: What’s your best/worst band experience to date?

ES: We’ve played gigs without being able to hear ourselves. That’s always interesting. We’ve also played venues where we’ve had to sell tickets and do everything ourselves. Not too bad though. We’ve gone on stage with an intro song on the speakers and a lot of smoke onstage, but had to go off again because there was something wrong with the PA. We’ve played in front of one person. Not too bad at all really, just a few minor Spinal Tap moments. I guess we’ve been lucky.

The best experience must be being able to release our debut album. Both the recording and getting to work with Indie Recordings are highlights for us. As for gigs, we’ve played the Hove Festival and the Pstereo, which was cool. We’re hungry for more though.

AN: You’ve nailed your debut album . What are you hoping to achieve next?

ES: Thanks, man! We really appreciate it. Our next goal is to get out there and play our music for as many people at as many places as however possible!

AN: Cheers for answering! Any questions you have for me?

ES: What would you rather choose for your ideal punk concert, pyro or laser show and why? What do you think Norwegian brown cheese is made of?

AN: Pyro, every day of the week. Lasers suck. No self-respecting punk wants to be made to feel like they’re at a 90s rave. And having your face melted off is far cooler than being blinded by stray lasers every couple of minutes! As for Norwegian brown cheese – I’d have to guess it was whiskey or beer-flavoured.

[Actually, brunost or mynost is caramelised cheese – a process that involves boiling the milk, cream and whey until the water evaporates and the milk sugar turns to caramel. A side effect of the process is that it becomes a highly flammable substance as Norwegian firefighters found out when they had to attend a recent tunnel fire that burned for 5 days.]

Also online @ Ave Noctum = http://www.avenoctum.com/2013/02/interview-man-the-machetes/
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