Interview: Nordvargr

Nordvargr has always been a very peculiar beast, whose many facets have rendered it impossible to pigeonhole. It's undeniably dark ambient in nature, though, and one could even say that it was one of the forefathers of the second wave of dark ambient, among similarly attuned Scandinavian artists. With only days until the reissue of the project's first album, the mastermind behind Nordvargr, Henrik Björkk, has literally gone back to his roots. Therefore, I was more than eager to inquire about recent developments and take a look at the cross-section of those roots.

Hello, Henrik. What’s been going on lately in your relentless artistic life?

It’s been hectic, but good. Been working on the third collaboration with Merzbow, remastered/restructured “Awaken” (Code666/Eibon Records, 2002) and on improvisational pieces for modular synthesizers.

The latest Nordvargr release is the reissue of the debut album, “Awaken”. However, this isn’t a mere reissue; it’s more of a re-recording, actually. What inspired this idea and why “Awaken”? What was your approach when you decided to go through with this project?

“Awaken” has been a special recording for me ever since it came out. It was initially triggered by loss - I lost my first child before he even was born, and I buried myself in the studio as a result.

The strong emotional ties to that recording in combination with the fact that I was never satisfied with the sound of the album (too murky and obscure mix) made me want to go back and correct it. I also had a lot of unused materials from the recording sessions (mostly field recordings) that inspired me to work some more with the old masters.

Can we expect other material from your rich discography to get the same re-treatment? Perhaps projects other than Nordvargr?

At the moment I can’t see which one would need a similar treatment. I’m quite content with my other offerings.

I’ve always dreamt of making a complete Nordvargr vinyl box of some 10 LPs or so, but no label dares to print something of that size. It is a shame, my music sounds better on analogue equipment.

What else can we expect from you in 2011? Any exclusive info you’d like to share with us?

I hope to finish a 7” debut from a new band I’m a part of - Öeth - signed to Malignant Records. Then, the Partikel III CD with Merzbow should also be out before the year ends. The rest of my year will probably be spent making the new MZ.412 album.

With so many active projects at once, do you know exactly what you’re composing for which one, or do you let ideas take shape first, and then decide which context you’ll insert them into? How conscious is that process on the whole?

I usually just sit down in the studio and compose. What comes out is usually based on my mood. The question is then later on to decide what the recordings reflects and what it can be associated with, but that is usually very clear to me early in the process. To me, there is a big difference between my projects.

You’ve had your personal label called “205 Recordings” for a decade already. What made you start your own label in the first place? Do you intend to keep it underground as it’s been up to now, or will you perhaps expand your publishing activity a little?

I wanted to try to get my own label going and grow it to be a real business that could support me and my family, but I soon discovered that it took too much time and generated very little money, so it never really took off. Instead, I used it to release my own stuff in small quantities when I felt like it – totally randomly. The last few years, I’ve also invited other artists to do releases, but it is still very underground and small scale. So I guess it’ll expand when I find the time, get in the proper mood and the right artist things happen.

Speaking of record labels, how difficult is it to establish and maintain relations with a reputed one these days? After all, this type of music has never been able to fit into the elaborate corporate scheme of publish an album – get the artist to tour – recoup invested money through album sales.

I’ve been releasing on many labels over the years, but only a few have been long and ongoing companions. It is getting harder each day to release and sell music, people just don’t buy albums any more. Only the strong will survive…

You’ve cooperated with many record labels throughout the years, usually even at the same time. How do you decide on which label is right for which project? Do the labels approach you for various releases or vice versa? Which label have you had the best treatment from?

It’s been taking care of itself… My projects found their homes as years passed by. The labels that have been releasing my music for the past 4-5 years are all first-class labels with wonderful, supporting, creative and stand-up people. I will not name the traitors, exploiters and rip-offs. They will all be judged by the Lord in the end.

What’s your stance on live appearances? Can we expect you to perform live with Nordvargr material in the foreseeable future?

I love to perform live, but not as Nordvargr. I’ve done it, but I do not wish to do it again. Even though you bring a nice video backdrop or something like that, it’s still just boring to watch. A man with a laptop and abstract art projected on the back wall? C’mon. Maybe if you have seats, so that people can sit down, relax and be consumed by the music, it would be worthwhile, but to play in a classic club… No.

Music is a studio product, not something you play/perform.

Prolific as you are, do you ever get tired of it all? Do you ever get the urge to leave everything and enjoy silence for a few months?

Yes. And I do. Sometimes I don’t compose anything for half a year. But the urge always comes back, as well as the inspiration.

You seem to be more cooperative than most musicians in this field, as you’ve had countless collaborations with all sorts of projects. Don’t you find it hard to keep track of all those requests and whatnot?

I get a lot of suggestions for collaborations, but I’m selective about who I work with. I need to feel inspired, or it will fail in the end.

Can you survive solely on your artistic activity, or do you have a completely unrelated day-to-day job?

Ha! I couldn’t even live in a single-room flat with the money I make from my music… Much less feed my family. I have a full time job.

Much of today’s quality dark ambient, industrial and related music is coming from Scandinavia. What do you think is the reason behind this?

Tradition to some extent. Climate. But I think that it isn’t as Scandinavia-centred today as it was 10 years ago. Unfortunately, the demise of Cold Meat Industry has shifted the focus to other parts of the world.

With so much time spent on your own work, do you have any desire left to listen to new music at all? What are your all-time favourites? Do you have any recent release recommendations to make?

All-time faves must be Severed Heads, Morbid Angel, Klinik, Morton Subotnick and Sparks. I don’t listen to music as much as I used to… But recently, I’ve enjoyed Lightning Bolt, SONOIO, Shining (NO), Abre Ojos and Portal.

When you look back on your entire artistic work so far, what do you see/think/feel?

I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and I still feel full of ideas.

The only thing I’m a bit frustrated with is that I haven’t reached a wider audience. I’m not thinking about making more money or getting famous – the frustration is that I’d like to affect more people and make more people aware of my work, so as to empower them.

Finally, what’s the one thing that you’d like to be remembered for as an artist?

Not sure… But I’d like to be remembered as someone who brought something special/new to the table.

Official Nordvargr website
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