Meet: Ivar Bjørnson and Iver Sandøy of Enslaved discuss the new album and life in the band

With their fantastic new album Utgard released to the world. Read our review here. We caught up with Ivar Bjørnson and Iver Sandøy from the band to find out about the album and how they have managed to survive and thrive over the 3 decades of making music.

You have a new album set to be released – how are you guys feeling about Utgard? Are there any surprises to look forward to?  How has the pandemic affected you guys and this album?

IVER (drums, vocals):  I do hope people will be pleasantly surprised! The people who have been following Enslaved for a while should be well prepared for a couple of unexpected turns on each album by now, but also the natural progression from all the previous albums is there, I feel. It’s still 100% Enslaved, we’ve just continued working on widening the definition of just what that is. Very proud of how it’s turned out!
Touring plans and release schedules have been postponed, delayed and cancelled because of the pandemic, but now we’re more than ready to get the album out there. It even looks as if we’ll be able to do a few, limited capacity national shows in Norway. Fingers crossed!

Three decades in the game is one hell of an achievement! How do you think you guys managed it? What’s the secret of longevity, especially in today’s fast paced music industry?

IVAR (guitars): For us the goal has been making our own favourite music – that was the goal when we started and that is still our main objective. So the music grows with our own personal tastes. The world of music is endless, there is always something to explore; both in your own internal universe and outside. We have also always emphasized the social aspect of playing in a band – it is so much more than just playing music together; you have to make sure the group can live and exist together also. We have been lucky with having these two emphasised goals, as they have really helped keeping the focus on what really matters through three decades of mostly ups, but also a few downs. 

How do you feel when looking back over the years? Do you feel like you have achieved what you set out to do?  Is being in a band still what you guys love?

IVAR: I am very proud of what we have achieved, and I now see that sticking to what we believe in has been the right road – even though it might have caused us to climb a bit slower than if we took a more “accessible” route at some points. I do wish we would have done some of the changes even earlier; but then again, we did not know how good they would be for us, so maybe it was not possible to do faster, who knows? Of course we have not achieved everything yet – we have many milestones to pass and explorations to make. This is just the beginning haha! Being in a band, when it is Enslaved, is absolutely something I still love!

With the various members you have had throughout your history, how do you think your sound has been influenced by the different members?

IVAR: They have of course all left their footprints in the sound, particularly on the albums they play on. I don’t think anyone has made such a dramatic and instant influence on our sound like Håkon and Iver who joined us last. The band you are hearing on “Utgard” is really a result of this particular line-up getting together and enjoying it at the same time!

Going back over the years, has your approach to song writing changed? How does a track develop within the band?

IVAR: It has always been me writing the songs, then making demos that are presented to the others, and then particularly the singers have been giving feedback about their concerns – sometimes those concerns lead to alterations in the arrangements of the songs and sometimes they fit their ideas as is. Then of course each instrumentalist makes the rough outline on the demo their own – before we start working together all of us in the rehearsal room before entering the studio. What I think has changed over the years and especially in the making of “Utgard” is that the processing of composing the songs and arranging the vocals have become more interconnected. As Grutle and Iver start demoing their vocals to my demos very early, there is a feedback-loop starting where I am also influenced in my songwriting by their take on the continuous songwriting. That is quite new, and very inspiring!  

With your music moving away from the early traditional black metal and incorporating more progressive elements such as progressive rock, jazz, and other distinct influences – what was the catalyst for the change in direction?

IVAR: These things are hard to respond to with exact data – as we work very intuitively with music and try to avoid too much logic reflection on what it is we are actually doing. Much like bicycle riding, I am afraid we would just fall on our face if we started analysing the creative processes too much. I think it is connected to what we talked about in the beginning of this interview; we are influenced in Enslaved by our own personal musical journeys; progressive and “jazzy” music have been in our collections for a long time, but it takes time to integrate elements that are seemingly “different” in their expressions. The catalyst is simply that we react to various music and if we react strongly that music starts to navigate towards our own music and expression. 

The music industry has changed a hell of a lot over the years. How have you guys found the journey when dealing with the industry?

IVAR: We have been quite lucky to have worked from the very early days with people we have had personal connections with. Ok, so maybe not every one of the 15 albums have been treated, released and marketed as we wished for, but we could also have been more pro-active of course. Getting a professional management to help us handle these things; we now have AISA Music managing us, is one of those things I mentioned where I wish we had acted earlier. But the important thing is that we did indeed find each other and are now moving ahead faster than ever before. Again our own ambition of making the ultimate music for ourselves has been a driver in the process of choosing who to work with: the labels we have worked with have had to respect the musical drive as being in the front seat – changing the artistic essence of the band in order to make it more sellable has never been an option. Nuclear Blast, where we found our perfect home from Axioma Ethica Odini in 2010 and onwards, has always been clear in that they have signed Enslaved for what we are – and that combined with the ability and resources they have to spread our music makes it for an optimal partner.

What songs are you looking forward to playing live when you get the chance?

IVER: The 3 singles that are already out we have rehearsed quite a bit, but the ambition is to be able to present all of them live at some point. I’m both looking forward to, and dreading a little bit, doing “Homebound” where I have to tackle both vocals and pretty hectic drumming simultaneously. 

Going back over the tracks/singles on the album, has your approach to song writing changed over its course?

IVAR: No, the songwriting process was pretty consistent within the album – once I set out to write an album, it tends to be within the same framework and methodology. I guess the exception confirming the rule would be “Urjotun” where instead of writing the basic riffs/ progressions on an acoustic guitar, the starting point was a sequencer pattern made on my Moog Mother32!

Are there any bands past or present you would love to have played with or even been part of?

IVER: I remember when Motorpsycho’s drummer left round 2005, I was sort of delusionally pining for that gig, as I’m sure many other Norwegian drummers were – but I was too shy to contact them, and they were FAR better off with Kenneth Kapstad and now Tomas Järmyr on the throne anyway! Would still love to jam with them someday, hehe.

It’s difficult to talk about future plans, but what does the future look like for yourself and the band?

IVER: It’s guesswork for most people in this business, but one has to plan for better days and just hope it happens. We have been keeping ourselves active with the various online shows, trying to come up with different ways to approach it. That has been a good learning experience, and I feel we are perhaps better prepared for a more normalised live situation because of it. First and foremost, we’re now focusing on getting the album out there for people to enjoy and delve into. At least that is best done from home anyway! Like everyone else, we hope we can get back on the road properly next year.

What music are you digging right now? How do you see the metal scene right now, are there any particular artists you would love to see make it?

IVER: I’ve been listening to the new Motorpsycho album, “The All Is One” – good one! Oldies: I’ve been going back to early solo stuff from Robert Wyatt and Peter Gabriel, plus “Then Play On” by Fleetwood Mac had to get a few extra spins now that both Peter Green and Martin Birch left us recently. I’m working with new music all the time in my “day job” as a music producer, so there are of course several of those bands and artists that I’m cheering on, not necessarily only from the metal scene. Check out Kryptograf and Shaman Elephant, and in the coming year you should also get new music from Lindy-Fay Hella (of Wardruna fame), Tvinna and maybe even Gaahls Wyrd. Time will tell!

Enslaved’s new record Utgard will be released on October 2nd via Nuclear Blast, available to pre-order here: 

Check out single ‘Jettegryta’, below:

Find out more about the band via their Facebook

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