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Svartsinn - Interview

Interview with: Jan Roger Pettersen
Conducted by: T.V.

Norwegian dark ambient act Svartsinn is without any doubt one of the most recognisable names inside the genre today. Svartsinn was founded by Jan Roger Pettersen who creates music of the dark ambient nature since 1999. Under the name Svartsinn Jan already released five albums and almost each one is considered as a proper gem which made Svartsinn one of the most influential dark ambient acts today. Not only that Svartsinn released those stunning albums, he made also some noteworthy collaborations (the one which really stands out is the split with Northaunt, The Borrowed World) and was present on many dark ambient themed compilations. In October last year a new masterpiece, a grand opus named Mørkets Variabler came out through Cyclic Law (read a review over HERE), and with this offering Jan Roger Pettersen serves a deeply immersive sonic opus with so very dense and haunting atmosphere that rare other artists can compose. Svartsinn emerged from the yearning to find a personal outlet and create atmospheric soundscapes that could satisfy the sombre chambers of the soul, to create moods and states of mind. It is the challenging journey to find atmospheres and moods through dark and obscure soundscapes. A journey into a world where darkness is all and nothing. It can be emotions, a mind struggle, the ugliness of the world or the imagination taking you on a journey. In short, the darkness is all around, inside each and everyone of us. It's not the fear of it, it's merely where we want to be, prosper in darkness... Read a very interesting interview with Jan Roger Pettersen in which he revealed to us a lot of things behind his new album, inspirations, creative process, live performances, future plans and yet much more.

T.V.: Hi Jan, first of all congratulations for your new long awaited album Mørkets Variabler! Tell me, what was the reason that we had to wait eight long years for it?
: Well I guess the main reason is that I need some real inspiration and themes that instantly grab hold of me to make music about. And these two things took its time lately. I can't just go to the studio and sit down and make an album in a few months. But also I have used extra much time to improve some of the sound quality and production skills. And it's not really eight years, as I spent a few years to make the split with Northaunt (The Borrowed World) as well, to me it is just as much an important release as Mørkets Variabler, in its own way.
T.V.: Yes, that split with Northaunt is also an amazing piece of darkened art. Tell me where are the main differencies between Mørkets Variabler and the previous album Elegies For The End? What has changed, if anything, in your compositional process?
Jan: I think Elegies For The End was the album where I started to focus more on better sound/production, checking out new software/tools/gadgets too. But Mørkets Variabler surely reaped the larger benefits of that work. Also, Elegies For The End has more personal content than Mørkets Variabler. But I will always choose atmosphere, feeling and moods before a polished sound. Other things I have worked on are track structures, build ups and flow.
T.V.: Mørkets Variabler translates as "variables of darkness". Is the sound on this new album some kind of your own imagination of how "darkness" should sound alike?
Jan: In a way yes, but also a way of showing the many sides of darkness. To most darkness is just a word that leads to bad things, and most people treat it just like that - as a bad and negative thing to get rid of or avoid in their life. But there is so much more to it than that, it is vast and complex and there is certainly a lot of beauty too. But of course, with Svartsinn I do definitely not work mainly with the "pleasant" sides of darkness. On Mørkets Variabler I have chosen seven different themes, seven very different types of darkness: anything from philosophical contemplation, inspirational literature, life struggles or severe personal crisis, even love. And on this album, I can somehow gladly say that not all of these dark themes came from personal experience, but also from events/articles/stories that occured in real life or books (Lovecraft etc).
T.V.: As you mentioned Lovecraft. Why do you think that Lovecraftian themes became so very popular lately among the musician who deal with dark or horror music, especially in dark ambient? Don't you think that it can became overused and kind of a cliche?
Jan: Well Lovecraft has been popular for a very long time, for a good reason - just like for example Tolkien. Lovecraft is simply pure genius, the level of darkness, his unique writing leaving so much to the reader's imagination. His choice of words and often weird and "Way out there" stories as well. Stuff like that is bound to be used, misused, overused and ending up like a cliche at some point. But we love it anyway, don't we?

T.V.: Yes exactly, and it's just like with Tolkien in some metal subgenres or Crowley in occult rock/metal. Now a different theme... Since your beginnings, Svartsinn is signed to Cyclic Law, and it became one of the most, if not the most important act of this label. Tell me, how's your relation with the label and its owner Frederick?
Jan: Cyclic Law is the home of Svartsinn, no doubt about that. Even though I have worked with and might again work with other labels for specific projects, I feel very pleased with Cyclic Law and very happy with the situation. Frédéric is a good friend and I have known him for almost 20 years. The label has many great artists and some of them are also good friends, others I have never met - but I'm sure could be future friends as well.
T.V.: As you mentioned collaborations... you worked together with Cryo Chamber label on their massive collaborative album Nyarlathotep in 2016. Tell me how did it came to this collaboration and how do you feel about such albums?
Jan: Yes I contributed on Nyarlathotep and Azathoth and might do another collaboration album there in the near future, together with a couple of selected artists and with a different theme than Lovecraft. Doing those two collabs was like a breath of fresh air to put it that way. Very inspiring. It all begun when Simon started Cryo Chamber really, he asked me early on to contribute to the label. First thing that I did was a collaborative track with Gydja ("Terrenum Corpus") on the first label sampler (Behind The Canvas Of Time) and then it moved on from there.
T.V.: We talked a bit about this before, but... You worked together with Hærleif Langås (Northaunt) some years ago on the album The Borrowed World. What can you tell me about this collaboration? And are any new collaborations coming up?
Jan: To go all the way to the beginning, I bought the book at the airport after playing  a concert in Prague. Just by reading the first paragraph, I felt this book was for me and had to buy it. I was probably half way through it by the time I was home in Trolla. Straight after finishing it, I recommended it to Hærleif, who felt the same about the book. Moreover, we had a chat about one evening about how fitting this theme and atmosphere could be for dark ambient. I guess it was pure luck and coincidence, but not too long after that, we both found ourselves at the Phobos Festival (as performers) and had a nice chat with the gentlemen of Loki Foundation and they offered us to release a split vinyl on their label. We both instantly knew what we wanted to do. And it took us just three over years to finish it... hehe. I do get many offers to collaborate and I would probably have said yes to more if it hadn’t been for me being very strict about finishing Mørkets Variabler. Therefore, to answer that bluntly, yes there will be more collaborations. I will get back in touch with some of those who asked me in the past and I also have an idea for a collaboration myself, but no more info about that for now.
T.V.: I'll certainly keep an eye open for that. Back to your new album now. What can you tell me about the fantastic cover artwork. How does it connect with music and how did you get in touch with Dehn Sora for it?
Jan: It was a dialogue between Dehn Sora and myself, I told him about the inspiration/theme for each song and gave him artistic freedom to come up with whatever that came to him in regards to those themes. Also been friends with him for quite some time. It of course started online back in the day, but have since met a few times and first time being in Trondheim when I booked him for a gig here in Trondheim in 2013 and it evolved from there. He has been doing quite a lot of excellent work for Cyclic Law and I suspect that will continue...
T.V.: Mørkets Variabler touches the literature on many points. Like for example is the track "Doubt As Sin (Nietzsche’s Lament)". I haven't seen many times, if ever, Nietzsche used as a theme in the dark ambient field. Are you somehow into his philosophy or philosophy in general?
Jan: Some fields in philosophy is interesting, especially Sartre, Kierkegaard, Camus and Nietzsche. I admit I have often felt it was a lot of heavy reading, where I sometimes loose interest. But on the other hand, where I did find perseverance to read on there has certainly been some inspirational material that led to music and the use of quotes for example.
T.V.: You were also active in the black metal band Vandød. Recently an old demo was re-released. Any activity on that side anymore?
Jan: No. Although the demo might also make it on to vinyl, we're not 100% sure yet.
T.V.: But can you tell a bit more about Vandød to our readers, there are a lot of them who are interested in black metal, and Vandød might be an interesting thing to discover.
Jan: Vandød was a rather short lived old school black metal band, five guys from Trondheim playing a style true to the old Norwegian black metal roots, cold and grim yet with a melodic twist. Taking inspiration from the early days of bands such as Ulver, Emperor, Burzum, Darkthrone, Kampfar and Taake. The idea behind the band came to mind by Varskrik (vocals) and myself (bass) in the early winter of 2002, wanting to play old school black metal in a time when most other black metal bands were reaching for the stars. After the recording of the 2004 demo the band slowly fell apart. But I was keeping busy in the shadows so to speak. Spreading the demo where I could, eventually scoring a deal with Ksenza Records and got the demo released on a CD (+ limited wooden box) last year. I had my friend Dehn Sora make an outstading cover design for it. The demo can be heard/bought over at the Svartsinn Bandcamp... not very many left though.

T.V.: Thank you for explaining me about Vandød. I see that you are performing live quite often with Svartsinn. I know that live performances of dark ambient acts might be quite difficult, but what can people expect to get from a Svartsinn show?
Jan: Well, I try to make the show a mix of songs from albums and then change up the rest so that it is a little bit different for each gig. Trying my best to add music the best way I can to a movie projection as if it was a story. This way it is interesting for me, and the audience have something to watch instead of looking at me with my laptop/midikeyboard/ipad hehe. I also try to get a friend of mine, Amund Ulvestad, that plays cello involved on as many gigs as possible, but it adds on the cost for organizers and not all of them feel they can afford that. It surely makes the live performances much "deep and massive". He has also contributed with some cello on my last two albums.
T.V.: You just returned from the WGT festival and I wonder how the show went and about the response of audience? It's one of the biggest festivals for gothic/darkwave/electro music...
Jan: Well, the varied selection of genres at WGT certainly attracts more than "just" goths I think hehe. I also played there once before in 2014 and it was very well received and the feedback after the gig was really amazing. Playing WGT is really something special, this was the second time playing there (and both gigs with Amund on cello) and both times were equally great. Amazing crew at the venue, great sound on stage as well as out to the audience. Very pleased with the feedback after the gig, the venue seemed to be pretty full and people seem to enjoy what they get and that makes me very happy, hehe.
T.V.: Any more live dates planned for this year. Maybe a proper tour or something?
Jan: There are some thoughts about touring next year, but nothing confirmed at the moment.
T.V.: I hope that you'll play somewhere near to or in my country, I would love to see Svartsinn live, especially with a cello featured in the live set. As far as I know you are also involved into the organization of Midgardsblot Metal Festival. I find it interesting that many metal festivals, especially in Europe are featuring also dark ambient and similar artists. Any words about this event?
Jan: I'm not really part of the organization, but after playing there in 2016 as the first dark ambient artist, the boss-lady at the festival told me they wanted explore the dark ambient thing further and add a "dark ambient stage" to the festival. I pretty much fell in love with the festival and the area it is located. Great intimate atmosphere, calm and easy going festival that manages to put together a decent lineup each year. So when they asked me to curate the dark ambient stage by helping them suggest bands it was easy to say yes, it then turned into Svartsinn Dark Ambient Stage which I think is pretty cool and I'm very honored to be asked really. There's a good mix of metal, viking/folk, dark ambient and experimental music spread between several stages (one being the amazing indoor Gildehall stage) but also lectures, beer/mead tastings, tattoo-convention, viking village, great food/beverages, museum, viking grave mounds, amazing camp site by the fjords with a bonfire every night and more. I cannot recommend this festival enough.
T.V.: There was some talk recently how different dark ambient artists use different methods, compositional and recording techniques as well to create the music. Can you explain me how it's this done in the case of Svartsinn?
Jan: Well, for Svartsinn the most important part for me is to act on that need to make music. I cannot just decide one day to sit down and create music for a new album or something. It is a sort of an itch or a humming from deep within, otherwise it won't be any good. When this need surfaces, I start with that feeling or emotion that stirred all this up and work from there either by contructing the base layers/drones or working on melodies. I don't really compose anything before I start, it all comes to life as I sit down and work with it. Sometimes I have ideas in my head for something, sometimes that comes out as I want it and sometimes not.
T.V.: Use of field recordings is almost a common thing in ambient music these days to deepen the atmosphere or to make it more cinematic. How much of it do you use it and how do you approach to it?
Jan: Yes I also use field recordings quite a bit. I use my Zoom H4, record sounds as I stumble over them - or I plan to go for a sound hunt (sometimes inside the house even). Then I just try different effects and processing. Pretty sure that 90% never turns into anything. But I do return to the raw material once or twice some time later and try again (more or less with the same results). Some are used more or less pure, some are manipulated quite a lot.
T.V.: I'm also interested which were the main artists and bands that inspired you during your career? Do you have any recommendations for our readers and what's spinning right now in your music player?
Jan: Probably it goes without saying, but my passion lies with the darker musical genres. Some of artists that were part of inspiring me were Raison D’être, Aghast, Hazard, Desiderii Marginis and In Slaughter Natives. But also acts like Yen Pox, Northaunt (obviously), Tear Ceremony, Bohren Und Der Club Of Gore, Thomas Köner, Robert Rich/Lustmord’s album Stalker, some classical music and certainly some death, black and doom metal bands did their part. A little handful of albums that play here on a frequent basis: Desiderii Marginis - Hypnosis (Johan can be proud and look back on a really amazing discography and I love most of his stuff, but this one has been playing a lot more than the rest), Beyond Sensory Experience - No Lights In Our Eyes (on frequent rotation since it came out really, a stellar relase that conjures some really deep emotions, perfect atmospheres from start to finish), Herbst9/Atrium Carceri - Ur Djupan Dal (this sort of brings out the best of both artists and the result is a very mesmerizing journey), Northaunt - Night Paths (a sort of side track (or back track) to a Northaunt that's darker, more sombre and sininster sounding than his other recent offerings), Raison D'être - Alchymeia (Mr. Andersson offers a strong flashback to the days he pulled classics out of his sleeve). Any of the six latest albums by Bohren Of The Club Of Gore, but especially Black Earth and Sunset Mission are both played ridiculously often here. Urfaust - The Constellatory Practice (one of a kind band really. Atmospheric, hypnotic and ritualistic. A successful mix of black, doom, drone, dark ambient), Howls Of Ebb - Cursus Impasse - The Pendlomic Vows (extraordinary, weird and excellent experimental black/death metal), Chthe'ilist - Le Dernier Crépuscule (very interesting death metal, dark and brutal, technical yet atmospheric), Rope Sect - Personae Ingratae (post-punk, death rock with a dash of coldwave and gothic rock), Light Of The Morning Star - Cemetary Glow (EP) and Nocta (album)  (sort of "lord of the cemetary vampiric gothic/dark metal...thing").
T.V.:  Thank you for taking your time and answering this interview Jan. The last words are all yours...
Jan: All I can really say is thank you for your support and interest in Svartsinn and I hope you enjoy the latest album, Mørkets Variabler.

Svartsinn links: Official website, Facebook, Bandcamp, Cyclic Law