Interview with Kvelertak — “I really love sleeping on the tour bus. It’s my favorite place to sleep.”

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At long last, Europe is opening up again and concerts are happening here and there without restrictions. After releasing their latest album, Splid in 2020, Norwegian black ‘n’ roll masters KVELERTAK were forced to postpone their Nordic and European tour. While the European tour still has to wait a little while longer, the Nordic tour is finally happening! We talked with singer Ivar Nikolaisen pre-tour about what the band has been up to, how he is looking forward to the upcoming tour, and what fans can expect from the shows. Read the complete interview here…

kvelertak press

Hi Ivar! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. The last time we chatted was at Tuska Festival in 2019. A lot has happened in the world – how have you been since?

I think most bands have had pretty much the same feeling. There’s been a worldwide pandemic, so I think most bands have done absolutely nothing. But we have actually recorded a new album when the whole society, everything has been down. So we’ve done something good, I think.

Yeah, I noticed that you have been a bit quiet on social media. Mostly you just announced, re-announced, and canceled shows I guess.

We have so many shows this summer. Now we are able to do this Scandinavian tour with three shows in Sweden, three shows in Finland, and even four shows in the north of Norway. We don’t play there very often. All these shows are special this time, I think.

Is it the first time you’re going to be on stage again since… well 2020?

No, there were some shows that we did where everyone had to sit and there were a lot of restrictions. We don’t look at it as a proper show. So it’s actually true. These are the first shows since 2019… no 2020. It was March 2020 when everything goes down. We were touring the “Splid” album and we were in Germany at the moment. And then I think it was the 12th of March or the 13th of March, everything closed down in Norway. And people from Norway were like, “hey you have to come home. You have to come home now, they are closing everything down.” We were sitting in the bus outside of Munich, it was a sold-out show – Munich in Germany. Everyone was like, “What’s gonna happen now?” and everyone was so… Well, you know how it was back then; nobody really knew what was going on. Then we… the same day, the show got canceled and we went back home to Norway and everything got canceled – the whole tour. So it was really weird. Right now, it’s a little bit the same feeling with the war.

Exactly.

You never know if that crazy neighbor from the East is going to push that red button. You never know anything. It’s kind of like the same feeling I felt before we went on the tour in 2020.

I know what you mean. I have a similar kind of anxiety as the one I had in March 2020, stemming from a feeling of uncertainty, having to accept a new reality.

You don’t really know anything. You read the news every day. I think sometimes, in the beginning, the first 3-4 days of this war, I was checking the news all the time, but now I feel like I don’t become a better human just because I check the news all the time. I think that sometimes you just have to leave it. It’s okay to play and I think people need to go out and do something else than just to watch the news. I think people need to go out and have a good time in these crazy times.

Are you worried that this whole situation might result again in more cancellations for bands?

If this ends up with more cancelations, I think the world is in bigger problems than my band. I mean, then the whole world is more fucked up. Then it’s okay for us to cancel. There are more important things than letting bands play live when I’m talking about war, so it’s crazy. We have many shows in Eastern Europe this summer. We’ll see, I don’t know. Nobody knows what’s going on. Sometimes you feel like it’s going to be over in a week and sometimes you feel like it’s going to last for many years and it’s gonna spread all over Europe and you never know. Just tonight, when I woke up today. Did you read the news?

Yeah.

The nuclear stuff. The people on the news are talking that the wind is not blowing in our direction right now so it’s not dangerous for us. It’s crazy. It’s like in Chernobyl back in the day, so it sucks but if we have to cancel because of this… I don’t think it’s going to happen now. I know that we are going to play now and everybody is so excited to play again. I think it’s going to be good. I know that people want to go out and have a good time. People are sick and tired of being inside for 2 years now. And when we finally opened up a war… I think this is going to be good for everyone. Just play and pretend like everything is normal at least. We can pretend.

You said that people have been locked up for 2 years in their homes. When the pandemic just started out, people said that the moment the world would open up again, people would go insane during shows. I have seen you guys play live a couple of times and you have insurmountable energy on stage. Do you think that you will have even more energy… destroy the venue?

I’m really looking forward to this. It kind of feels like it’s such a long time ago. I even saw… have you been to any shows since it has opened up?

I have been to a few shows with restrictions, but not yet to a no-restrictions show. Yours will be one of the first and I’m looking forward to it!

Cool! [laughs] I don’t know how people are going to react because it feels new or kind of… maybe I drink a few Lapinkulta and everything will be back to normal. [laughter]

Performing – especially as a singer – is such a physical thing. I’ve heard from other bands that after 2 years of not being able to play shows, they’re no longer in shape. Have you been doing anything special to keep in shape?

Yeah, I’m walking every day. Almost 40 kilometers, almost every day. I spend many hours every day walking. That’s been one of my… I live up in the forest outside of Oslo. If I’m not walking, I’m skiing or something. It’s been good for my mental health I think, just to finish everything because we had these 2 years planned… but I don’t want to complain too much about the whole COVID thing, because many people had it worse than us. Many people got totally isolated and we’re still healthy young men. But of course, it’s been kind of tough, but still, I know that it’s been the same for everyone in the whole world. At least we live in the West so we don’t have to get into really big economical problems. It’s kind of… I don’t want to complain too much. I’m also a bit misanthropic when it comes to not seeing too many people. I think it’s been kind of okay to have a bit of time to relax and just do other stuff, 2 years of whatever we wanted to do. We can do whatever what. If it doesn’t involve too many people, it’s possible. I really like walking in the forest, so it’s been a really good time for me.

I know that you guys are probably looking forward to concerts, but are you looking forward to going back on a tour bus, especially considering you spend so much time in nature?

Yeah, but you know. There are good sides to both worlds, I guess. I really love sleeping on the tour bus. It’s my favorite place to sleep. It’s like being a child again, you know.

I think that’s the first time a musician has ever said they enjoy sleeping in a tour bus. [laughs]

I love it, I can’t wait. This time we’re going to drive really long because first we’re going to Sweden for shows and then we take the ferry to Finland. Then, we drive all the way from Finland to the north of Norway, so it’s going to take 2 days. So we have lots of time to sleep [laughs]. I’m really looking forward to this.

Sounds like an adventure! Let’s talk a little bit about your music. Your songs work very well live and you are kind of a live band. Is that something that you take into account while writing music – that it has to work live?

Not always. Sometimes already when we write a song, we know that this is a song that we’re never going to do live. So there are a few songs on the last album we know that we’re never going to play live. At the same time, after a while when I think it happens… I mean, sometimes you just want to do it live anyway, like the song on the last album, “Delirium Tremens,” from the “Splid” album. I think it’s 8 minutes long. We haven’t played live it yet because we thought when we were in the studio, we cannot play this live. Now we’re thinking to just do that, to play it live. That’s maybe… if you have a good hook and you know where people can sing along and stuff like that, we think about that when we write a song. Because we are kind of – foremost – we’re live band, so it has to work live.

You have four albums out now, that’s a lot of material to choose from. Obviously, for this tour, you are probably focusing more on “Splid.” How did you put the rest of the setlist together? Is there some sort of an arc that you follow or do you fill it up with fan favorites?

There are some songs that we always play live, like the biggest hits. But I don’t think we have any must-anything when it comes to songs we’re going to play live. I think we feel that we have to play certain songs, like from the new album at least, since we’re still touring that album. We know that we have to play some songs off that, but sometimes we switch old songs, not only for the fans but also for the joy of playing so that we can play different songs, just because it is cool for us to do.

This time, we have this song called “Ved Brenden av Nihil,” we’re going to play it live for the first time. That’s maybe one of my favorite songs from the album so I’m really excited to play that one live.

In another interview you mentioned that filming the video for “Crack of Doom” was a Spinal Tap moment for you; being on the horse and being set on fire and such.

Yeah, I looked exactly like Putin. [laughs] At least it’s funny. I’m sorry, what were you going to ask?

Every band has at least some Spinal Tap stories from tour. Has anything ever happened to you guys?

It happens all the time. Almost every show there is almost a Spinal Tap moment. Especially when it comes to pyrotechnics and flames and stuff like that when we have that. Some people push the wrong button and then you get some confetti instead of flames. [laughter] It happens all the time. We haven’t had any really big Spinal Tap moments yet, but I’m sure it’s gonna happen. Still waiting for it. All the bands, all touring bands are talking about it because it happens to every band, the Spinal Tap moment. It happens every time we’re on tour.

You mentioned pyros. When you think about the production level of this tour are there any specific things you are planning to do or are you sort of making up for the budget from the previous 2 years?

[laughs] That’s true. We spend a lot of money on just having a great sound. First of all, the most important part is that it’s going to sound really good. So we have two sound engineers and we have guitar techs and everything, so that everything is going to sound really good. I think that KVELERTAK… I’ve always said to the guys that we don’t need too much production because it’s good enough. I mean, the music and the show stand for themselves. Sometimes I get a little bit disappointed when I see bands. The only thing you think about after the show was the production because of pyros and stuff like that. I want the music to be first and the show from like the energy. I’ve always looked up to bands that can do it simple and good. That’s the goal.

I guess your energy is kind of more like the production, so to speak.

It is, that’s what we’ve been doing our whole life and it doesn’t cost any money! [laughs]

If you have bands like IRON MAIDEN, they even had an airplane included in their last live shows. Is that something you are trying to actively avoid doing in the future as the band gets bigger?

I think that’s hard to say because many smaller bands would say that, but when you get to that level when you get that big, people expect something more. When you see RAMMSTEIN, what are they without their production? When you get a bigger band, you always do stuff like that. But I don’t think we’re ever going to end up there anyway, but it’s always possible to do something original in the production. Do something really cool and I love watching bands also even though it’s never the music that would be the focus, I still love watching bands with a big production. It’s really cool that you feel like if you pay 100€ for a show, you need to get something back, and then I think they put so much money into the production because of that maybe.

I remember that you had some Finnish roots as well. Does that mean you are looking forward to be in Finland again for the shows?

So much! Last time I was in Finland… We played in Finland one time in 2019. I can’t remember, it was a festival, it must have been [ed. Tuska Open Air Metal Festival 2019]… We played one show and that was the last time I was in Finland. When I was in Finland, I was in Finland every year until latest 5 or 10 years. When I was a kid, we went to Finland for 1 month every year, every summer. I get really emotional when I hear people talking Finnish and when I some Finnish food or rahka [curd] or ruisleipä [rye bread]. I always buy so much ruisleipä when I go to Finland, it’s the best bread in the world. I always get really emotional when I come to Finland. My mom is from there and I’m really disappointed I never learned to speak Finnish. I should have done that. I even lived 1 year in Finland back in ’89 when I was a kid, but that was in a Swedish-talking village, so we didn’t speak much Finnish. But I still wish I could speak Finnish. I just know many words, but I don’t know how to put them together. [laughs]

I know what that feels like. I’m originally from Belgium and this language is so hard to learn, so I don’t blame you. [laughs]

Oh yeah, of course you are! So how long have you been living there then?

Since 2013, which is kind of embarrassing if you think about how well I speak Finnish. I don’t think it’s my fault, I tried and I still am trying. The language is just so very hard. Swedish would be easier for me.

It’s something completely different. Absolutely. Where in Finland do you live?

In Helsinki.

So you’re coming to the show in Helsinki?

Absolutely!

That’s great to hear! Yeah… it’s really hard. You try, but also… they also speak Swedish pretty well in some places. Finns are a little bit shy like Norwegians, so they don’t really talk so much… I don’t know if they try to help you to learn Finnish?

I think at a certain point they just give up because forming sentences takes a long time for me. They switch to English because that is easier. [laughs]

Yeah, they switch to English. [laughs] It’s easier, it’s always easier.

Anyway! What can people who would be interested in checking out one of your shows on this tour expect from the shows?

I think as long as our neighbor from the East doesn’t fuck up the whole world, it’s gonna be really good to see Finland again. We’re really looking forward to playing!

Thank you so much for your time. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share with your fans?

Hold on, be strong. It’s really hard to say something about the situation, we just have to… I think that Ukrainian people are… They have so much black humor. When they make these Molotov cocktails and so on. Have you seen that? Have you been to Ukraine?

No, I haven’t.

Let’s just hope that things turn back to normal and we can go to rock shows again. We’ll see, we’ll see.

Written by Laureline Tilkin