EMPEROR Frontman IHSAHN On Making Solo Albums: 'I Learn Something New Every Time'

December 29, 2018

EMPEROR frontman and acclaimed solo artist Ihsahn (real name: Vegard Sverre Tveitan) recently spoke with France's Loud TV. The full conversation can be seen below. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).

On the his latest solo album, "Ámr":

Ihsahn: "'Arktis' was very much outside — it was very much placed lyrically and sound-wise outside in this Arctic landscape, and 'Ámr' is very much inside — much more of an intimate atmosphere altogether, hopefully. The intention at least was to create something more direct, so the sounds are picked to underline that atmosphere. It's kind of the contrast, because even though the music and the scenery for the new album is very close and intimate, I think the perspective of the lyrics are almost like a juxtaposition of that. The opener, 'Lend Me The Eyes Of Millennia', from a very wide-ranging, looking-at-things-from-a-millenial-perspective, there's some kind of juxtaposition in that. At this point in my career, I do many things to skip muscle memory. That's why 'Eremita', for example, my first [solo] album, I wrote the entire album with just a piano sound, and I made my drummer record the whole album [with] just a piano sound. Other times, I do things in a different way, but it's kind of just [to] skip the routines of how I do things and keep perspective for listening. This album, I wanted to use a lot more analog synthesizers and tweak knobs and filters and oscillators, and it just keeps the whole process much more interesting for me, and I learn something new every time. I like to think that if I'm not super-excited about making it and putting that enthusiasm into it, I don't think I can make something that people hopefully will be enthusiastic and feel strongly about."

On the album's use of keyboards:

Ihsahn: "I always write a lot on the guitar as well, but my emphasis on the keyboards was very deliberate. When planning those album, those kind of sounds was what I was hearing. Maybe even if I wrote it for guitar, I would have the synthesizer sounds also in my mind for that. When I had these concepts that I kind of write up before I actually start writing any music,I have a very clear idea of how I want it to feel, an the opening riff — the descent riff for 'Millennia' — as soon as I just coincidentally played that with that sound, I didn't really change it, and I immediately knew that this was the opening of the album, and I basically wrote the song based on that. It's very helpful to have these frameworks beforehand, because it's so easy when a new idea arises, you can hold it up like a piece of a puzzle and you can easily see if it fits."

On the album's guest appearance by guitarist Fredrik Åkesson (OPETH):

Ihsahn: "I think I've known Mikael [Åkerfeldt] from... we met the first time back in 1994, because they were also at Candlelight. I think I met Fredrik when I did my first solo show as Ihsahn. That was support for OPETH in Oslo... We played Loud Park in Japan with EMPEROR, and OPETH was there as well. We started talking, and I told him about my admiration for his playing. Of new guitarists, he's really sailed up to be one of my absolute favorites, because he seems to be so inspired by everything that I love about guitar playing from the past, but he still has the skills of the really modern guitar player, and his choice of notes and his tone is so passionate. I just asked him right there and then — 'Someday, I might give you a call to ask if you want to do a solo or something.' He said, 'I'm in.' Then I found this section for 'Arkana Imperii' that was kind of a tricky one harmonically, but I sent him that, and the result speaks for itself. [It was] kind of a bad idea, because it puts all my solos to shame. [Laughs]"

On no longer using members of LEPROUS as his backing band:

Ihsahn: "At some point, we just realized these two projects will crash [sic] time-wise, especially since they've been touring a lot, so at some point, we can't do it like that anymore. I am so privileged — I have so many amazing musicians that I get to work with, including the wonderful people I have with me on this tour, but they're kind of interchangeable. I have at least two people on each spot, and it all depends who are available for what. It gives me much more flexibility to the stuff I want to do, and it puts hopefully less pressure on individuals that they will kind of jeopardize shows or opportunities because they're occupied somewhere else. It's kind of a very nice dynamic to it, because we play the same songs many times over for different festivals or different tours, and to have suddenly a different drummer in combination with a different keyboard player, where they all have the liberty to choose different sounds and do things in their own way, for me, it keeps things very much alive and flexible. Within the parameters of the songs being the songs, I'm more than happy for them to experiment and express themselves through that. It makes the songs keep a freshness for myself as well, especially for drum parts. Both my main drummers have a similar style, but they do things in a different way."

"Ámr" — described in a press release as Ihsahn's "most eclectic and challenging" solo album to date — was released in May via Candlelight/Spinefarm. The disc was recorded at Ihsahn's own Mnemosyne Studio, except for drum tracking, which was done at Sonic Attic Studios. Mixing was handled by Linus Corneliusson at Fascination Street Studios. Mastering was once again done by Jens Bogren.

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