In the woods March 1999 Mindview



 Experimental music as therapy


Norwegian In The Woods has always been one of my favorite bands. Their new masterpiece "Strange In Stereo" is once again a very complex, wonderful piece of inventive music, a quest to the deepest corners of the human soul. When Jan (Ovl Svithjod) calls me on a dark rainy evening, we have a looooong chat about music, feelings, some pholosophy and of course the meaning behind "Strange In Stereo".

March 1999

Jan kicks off immediately with great news for the fans: 

Right now weíre doing some rehearsals and usual stuff that bands do, you know. We actually go back in the studio in a monthís time to record a 7Ē. 

A nice new 7Ē again? What can we expect from that one?  

Itíll be another cover song, of King Crimson this time, together with a self-composed new track. But youíll have to wait and see. 

Most of the bands members seem to avoid media attention, am I right? 

(thinks carefully before answering) Well I canít speak for everybody but most journalists seem to have a very straight opinion when reviewing cds, usually very far from the truth. I think that the music, in many ways, should speak for itself. Of course when Misanthropy sets up interviews, we do them and we try to cover as many fanzines as possible because these are at least equally important as the major magazines. We donít try to avoid the media attention but we do try to avoid the clichťs and focus more on the music, basically. 

Where in Norway do you come from? 

The southern part, almost the southernmost town, people call it the gateway to Europe. Thereís a ferry going from there to Denmark and it takes about two hours or something. Itís okay like any other place but itís important to get out once in a while and view it from an objective point of view. Iím very much into travelling but itís an okay place for a start. Iím not sure whether we settle down here or not, it all depends... I have a lot of vagabond blood in me. 

You must have been around the world then?  

(wishful sigh) Not really, as usual itís always the money thatís standing in your way. Making a longer journey costs shitloads of money. Furthermore we donít work fulltime, most of us still study so there you go, no funds... 

Do you still study too, Jan?  

Actually Iíve been working for a few years but I stopped doing that a couple of months ago. I was actually doing carpentry, like building houses and stuff but I figured its wasnít really my cup of tea. Iím probably restarting my studies but I donít know exactly when because Iím getting ready to travel again in a couple of monthís time and Iíll be away for quite a few months and may restart studying after that. 

Shit, that must mean that weíre not going to see the band perform live?  

It seems like the live situation in Europe, especially in this underground thing, is hardening. Iíve heard from a lot of people and a lot of bands that there seems to be so many bands on the road all the time, thereís so many options, so many different gigs, it gets hard to make people come there. You donít make any money on tours like that. Each time we tour or do individual gigs we lose a lot of money. If there comes a good offer before our travel we would probably do that but if weíre still gonna lose money on playing live I donít think itís really that important anyway. Weíre not really striving to reach any goal, if thereís an option that pops up with good conditions then itís fine, we donít have to make a lot of money, a zero profit is even fine. But itís not really that important for us go and play live on the road. 

Wouldnít your music be extremely difficult to perform live? 

Itís not that bad, each time we rehearse songs we usually come out with different versions for the songs. As for a live situation we donít see the point of copying the album live on stage but we try to make them sound a bit different. When I go to see a band I expect them to play something different that on the albums, or else you could just playback the album and hang up a photo of the band, same experience. 

Which bands would you like to tour with? 

Oh thatís a hard question. I havenít been following the underground for the past 3-4 years, itís hard to see things moving down there but the best option would be to make the organizers find a local band because itís good to support a local act without a record deal and give them a chance. 
Organizers also should try and make a happening of it. I donít believe in just coming to venues and just play songs, I want something extra to go with a live situation. 

Besides playing in In The Woods and travelling, do you have other interests?  

Yeah sure, Iím very much into reading, especially the long heavy novels and Iím fascinated by history too. Itís very important to see the lines through history to understand why things are like they are at the moment.  

Would you ever write a book as an outlet to your imagination and feelings?  

I dunno, I write a lot of poetry in Norwegian but I have no ambition in that field either. I use it as some therapy towards whatever I may feel. I really like writing but I have no ambitions at all. 

The new album is even more like a therapy than Omnio...  

Some of us had a lot of problems during the past years and most of the band members had a lot of personal problems during the period "Strange In Stereo" was written, we came together as a band and used the whole thing as an outlet for those kind of feelings and emotions. Many topics are about love, not only about love for the opposite sex but love between people in general. The albums is related to the theme of lost love but thereís also a lot of longing in both the words and the music. Sometimes is describes something better that the present situation. 90% of the music is about emotions, 10% is intellectual stuff: we donít think about our music that much, we just let go and see what comes out of it. 

The more I listen to this masterpiece album the more Iím addicted to it.  

Thanks a lot! It was a lot of hard work and thereís a lot of depth to each of the albums that we do and it takes quite a few listenings to get into that.  

What would you advise to someone who has never heard of In The Woods before and listens to "Strange In Stereo" for the very first time? 

Oh itís very hard to view that from an objective kind of view when youíre in the middle of a process. But I think itís very honest and contains a lot of opposites. Some parts may be very heavy and others very calm, weíve always used that as an effect. It creates a lot of tension and gives the music a pulsed-like feeling. We focus a lot on variation and thatís also why we have two vocalists now. On the next album weíll probably have three! We try to evolve and do something different for each album, push the boundaries. Our music is very experimental in many ways.  

Youíre so experimental that I describe In The Woods as a subtle delicacy for a happy few people. 

Yeah I reckon that in many ways. If you take a look at the artists or bands that sell a lot of albums, with a few exceptions of course, most of them do the usual trivial things. In todayís music industry thereís not much new. We donít really see the point in doing what thousands of bands have done before, I think music is about trying to expand the horizons and try out different ideas. Our evolution is also quite natural, not like many bands who suddenly change styles drastically because a new style is more interesting for selling copies and becoming rock stars. Itís always possible for an experienced ear to hear wether a bandís evolution is for sellout or for artistic reasons, you know. 

Thatís why I call In The Woodsí music real art!  

Thank you, thatís a nice compliment. 

In The Woods  has slowed down quite a bit, the music is more melancholic than in the early days. 

Yeah I guess so, but yet some parts on the new album are the heaviest things weíve ever done. It sounds very heavy because of the big opposite between the calm parts. Weíve always said, from the day we started, that none of the releases that weíd do are gonna sound the same because we want evolution, we donít wanna do the same album twice. When youíve been listening to heavy metal for 15 years, somehow you wanna try out different things, you know.  

The only drawback is that you use less strings than on Omnio. 

Thereís a very natural explanation for that: concerning the sound of SIS, the strings wouldnít fit in as much. Omnio is a very epic album with very long songs, the string parts fitted in very well there, as opposed to SIS which is more compact. But when we took out the strings we replaced them with something different, weíve used a lot of different guitars this time as a substitute for the strings. On Omnio we found that strings were very necessary, this time around we used one guy with a viola on a couple of songs. Maybe they might be a bit more present again in future releases, who know? 

Surprise us! 

Definitely, donít worry!! (laughter) 

Iíd like to ask a few questions about the lyrics, Iíd like to give you my interpretation after reading them and maybe you could comment on that to see if I got them right or wrong? 

If you read the lyrics and make your own interpretation in a way, you can never be wrong, the lyrics are written very open, they can be seen from loads of different points of view. Whatever your interpretation is, youíre just as right as I am, we leave a lot of things up to the listener and make the whole thing a very individual experience. 

Still I'd like to give it a try... "Vanish In The Absence Of Virtue" ? 

It has to do a lot with the deep moral of each and everyone of us. I can put the whole lyric into one saying, it goes like this: ďAnd what is good, and what is not good? Need we other people to tell us these things?Ē I donít think people should tell us what to do but I think we should go into the depths of ourselves and find out what is good and what is not good. Moral is very universal in many ways but it depends on your personal background. 

The most fantastic title is ďGenerally More Worried Than MarriedĒ. 

Ah youíre not the first one :) Its a sort of funny wordplay, joking around with something which is more serious in the first place. Iím very into using metaphors that may sound like childrenís rhymes for instance, itís a good effect to make the seriousness of something come through. Metaphors help bring forth the actual tension in each lyric. What do you get out of it? 

(reversed interview mode)  
I think itís about someone who lives in an appartment and who might be secretly in love with a neighbour women but she doesnít know it. Itís about longing and solitude. 

Yeah itís about longing, more specifically the fear of being abandoned or alone. Also a fear of yourself in a way, and if you canít figure out your own fear then youíll never be able to give anything back to the people around you. It might be very easy to find a girlfriend but if you donít have the necessary peace with yourself, your girlfriend probably wouldnít gain from anything you say or do. 

The nicest piece of poetry is in my opinion "Path of the Righteous". These must be the final thoughts of a dying man? 

Thatís a fine way of putting it, yep. 

"Titan Transcendence" must be about a mourner who thinks back of his beloved one a week after her death, something like that. 

Wohoo, you might be getting close :) 

Ahah, is there a special story behind it then? 

(tries to find a way out) You donít necessarily have to experience everything you write about yourself, but trying to create a microcosmos about another person that you write about is a very interesting thing to do. Yeah youíre getting close..................  (no further comment). 

Thatís just the interesting thing: you always find new things in an In The Woods album no matter how many times youíve listened to it. 

Thatís the whole point indeed. Like I mentioned, we provide a lot of work on the songs, we do a lot of rehearsing usually before we enter the recording studio. When we rehearse the songs over a period of 1-2 years, they change their own in a way because we always do small different kind of things, they change without us even noticing. With this band, the songs take their own direction, we just go with the flow.................