I Am The Working Class: The MetalSucks Interview with Fenriz
When MetalSucks rings Fenriz (Gylve Fenris Nagell) at 8 a.m. our time, we’ve barely had a chance to organize the day. Fenriz, however, has finished his day at the Norwegian postal service on the other side of the planet and is digging in for more work on his many creative projects.
Fenriz estimates that we are fifty-sixth or fifty-seventh in the cycle of interviews to promote Darkthrone’s new album The Underground Resistance, yet another fast and dirty album that will leave those pining for a return to A Blaze In the Northern Sky in mourning but excite the rest of us who know better. Since Fenriz has been asked every question multiple times about this record and his career (not to mention black metal) we thought it would be wise use of our Norwegian phone card to take a closer look at how he spends the bulk of his time: in the office.
Despite his legendary underground credibility, Fenriz is a two-decade plus working stiff like many of our readers (except for those unemployed or unfit for work). When we caught up with him he’d just finished hours of working a letter sorting machine. Fenriz talked to us about his life outside of Darkthrone, and how what many view as mindless work has been the impetus for much of his music.
How are things going at the post office?
It’s more like the postal industry. I never actually worked in a post office. I had to do training classes about twenty-three years ago. I delivered mail for three weeks. But that was a crash course. I’ve been working in the postal industry for twenty-four-and-a-half years. Now I work part time, twenty-seven hours a week. Through all these years I’ve done different chores. But for the past 20 years I’ve always had a headset on. If I work a seven hour shift I get to listen to seven hours of music, which is also sort of a job. It works out fine.
I think everyone in America has the impression that Fenriz is a mailman.
[laughs] Like Charles Bukowski? No, It’s not like that at all. And Charles didn’t do that, either. He was sorting mail. Today, I was running a machine that sorts 40,000 letters an hour. The rest of the day was coding letters. It’s not laid back. You have to code like a motherfucker. But it’s quiet and I get to listen to my headphones. Darkthrone did a general working class song (“I Am The Working Class” on Circle The Wagons) but people seem to really attach to the mail thing.
Maybe people just daydream that Fenriz will show up at their door with a bunch of records they ordered.
[loud laughter] I don’t know how it is there, but in Norway you need to go to the postal office to fetch the vinyl. I order so much that I save all the notices up and go to the post office every other week. I don’t have thirty minutes to go every day. If anyone still does CDs here, those are still delivered. If I would have been a postman I would have delivered them. But, alas, no.
I’m not thinking you listen to music on an iPhone.
I use an MP3 player now. Before that it was a Discman and before that it was a tape player. As a DJ I still get tapes and vinyl. When I get vinyl I need to make them into files for my computer. It takes an hour even if it’s a single. I have to transfer the files and then mark track IDs.
If you didn’t have the ability to listen to music at work, what would this job have been like for a quarter-century?
I remember in 1994 or ’95 I forgot my Walkman at home. At my lunch break I went out and bought a new one and new earplugs because it was unbearable. During that three hours I did plan out a few albums and two fanzines. To not get burned out I have to fill my head with other’s people’s music instead of my own ideas. From 1994 to 95 I did like nine albums and got burned out. So I decided I need to fill my head with other people’s music.
So, you don’t spend a lot of time on the job thinking about Darkthrone?
There are times I hum things into my MP3 player. Since 2007, I’ve been doing that. Lyrics usually come to me when I’m at work. Maybe 50 percent of them come at work. Things are so clear when I’m at work because I feel on top of everything. When I’m home I have a lot of creative work around me and it drains the energy. The lyrics really flow when I’m at work.
Do you talk to your colleagues about Darkthrone? Do they even know you are in a band?
I’ve always worked in this industry. And there are all kinds of people here, every sort and every age. There are some people that are hip to what’s going on. Other people are like your grandma or son. There are other people in other bands working here. There are metalheads and non-metalheads. Sometimes people want to take your photo, like if they are interns. If they’ve been there a long time they don’t suddenly want to take your photo (laughs).
[The attention] is also because I did television over here concerning nature and the forest. I’ve been saying yes to a lot of TV because I get to talk about the forest. So, more people at work know me from nature shows. When I get to work it’s sort of like a holiday. It doesn’t drain me at all. You don’t want people to listen to your band because they are your workmate. People should just get into your music because they like metal or hard rock. It feels funny when people ask about it, especially if they probably like The Eagles. [laughs]
I imagine it would be weird to have someone ask you to explain Transilvanian Hunger in the break room.
It’s worse when they just say “Can I get a CD from you?” I do get these strange questions like “Do you listen to your own music?” People are sort of into the idea that a guy who is in a band would walk around listening to his own band. No one into music would walk up to me normally and ask if I’m listening to my own music. But the general population does. It’s pretty fascinating.
You’ve done a lot of interviews over the year. What percentage would you say is people wanting to talk about Varg, church burnings or Transilvanian Hunger?
I did a lot of interviews before any of that happened. And after that I sort of lived a party and fuck-off lifestyle. From 1998 on I saw how many rumors had come along after all this radio silence. So I went at it again. I guess I’ve been doing about seventy or eighty a year since then. There are still a lot of people who are only interested in 1993 and 1994 and don’t even try to hide it. A lot of them are younger and missed that or it’s what got them into metal. For them, it’s the most interesting thing in the world to ask about. But you are right. Quite a few people only ask about that.
Maybe I’m in the minority, but I feel like your music has become more interesting and fun since The Cult Is Alive.
I’m always happy to hear that. But it’s understandable that people want to get into the more dressed up stuff. I was into an early period of Rush, especially the Moving Pictures era. In Germany, the new Rush albums still sell on top of the charts. I’ve wondered why the band has aged in such an interesting way. I’ve always been the first one to jump ship on a band. It’s not as much the changing it’s changing in the wrong direction. Some people have said we’ve done the same thing.
A lot of people want you to be grim and frostbitten and then miss all this music that’s great because they are looking in the rear view.
I’m as serious about the speed metal type stuff as anything we’ve ever made. This style is just more right. There’s a lot of freedom to it. It goes really deep. When we started playing black metal here there were two other bands doing it. And when we started doing speed metal no one in metal was playing it and no one was writing about it. It’s going to take a lot of time to win people over. Internationally there are a lot of speed metal freaks that get what we’re doing. It’s spread even more because of the Internet. The Internet enables us not to be shunned or crippled by opinions. We’ve rediscovered this old metal and we’re allowed to connect with a family. That’s where my head is now. I’m not bitter about black metal. But that’s nothing new, sir.
You’ve mentioned a few times in passing your run with depression in the late ’90s.
It was depression with no clear reason. It was very frustrating. I think it would be beautiful if when I died I would get a sheet roll of every time I was sick, whether it was mental or something like a cold or flu. And I would know what exactly caused it. There’s always a question mark about what caused it or what got you sick. That would be more fantastic than God, to get this fucking sheet. This is what made you sick.
I didn’t figure it out even though I thought a lot about it. It might have been a lot of working and playing hard. There was some burn out. It started to seep back in around 2002 but we were still able to do Hate Them.
How did you get out of it?
I had a special trick. I had a note in my locker. In our industry you have a locker. I had a list written down for inspiration. I could only watch sit-coms, things that were like twenty-three minutes long, nothing that could remind me of anything negative. There was no way I was going to medicate myself. I did more walks in nature from 1998 to 2001. I took a lot of photos of people and friends and taped them on walls so I wouldn’t think about crap but think about something good. I figured my own way out. I don’t even know if I read about [depression]. I just figured a way out. But it was still way too long to be like that. It fucking sucks. There were some good lyrics but no music. I don’t wish that on my worst enemy. Wait, of course I do! [laughs]
Did anyone recommend the clichéd methods like therapy or medication?
Probably, but I didn’t want to go there. It was only later that I read that if you get through one depression when you hit the next one you’ll know you are able to survive it. At the time, someone might have tried to tell me something but I didn’t want to go there.
While it’s interesting to think of you showing up to deliver the mail, it’s even more interesting to think of you showing up at group therapy.
[laughs] No, I’ve only seen that on television. I’ve never been close to it.
What excites you most about The Underground Resistance?
It allowed me to get closer to doing more Agent Steel stuff. There are a lot of bands in that vicinity, like the old Swedish speed metal bands. I explained in the cover what riffs were inspired by what music, if they were inspired. I got to sing more with clean vocals. The other thing that excited me is that I wanted Ted [Skjellum, a.k.a. Nocturno Culto] to write his own lyrics. It’s often more convincing when people write their own lines. Now, his vocals are almost scary to listen to. Those are the coolest things.
What is the appeal of getting out in nature and into the woods?
I did some filming about 10 months ago and got the same exact question from a small film team that was doing a nature show. It’s so rudimentary. We have all of these forests around Oslo. Even the kindergartners have trips out into nature. Everyone knows that it’s enjoyable. In their teens a lot of people tend to go in the cities and do something like computer games. I can remember when the Commodore 64 was awesome. [laughs]
When you get into your 20s you realize that you need to chill out. And something from your childhood mind just says to go into the forest. You can also use the forests in all seasons here, even for things like cross country skiing. Those trails are even close to where I work. It’s in the identity of Oslo.
I’ve tried to explain it more deeply in lyrics. It’s even hard in the lyrics. You just have to be there. The thing is it’s so close. We don’t have to travel to get there. It’s here, it’s around us. I’m looking at pines and spruces right now.
It’s good to have someone who recorded some famous black metal who actually spends time in nature.
I have one final fantastic line about that. There were two guys from a German band called Old who came here to camp. I got a text message from one of the guys who said “Evil is when you walk in the forest without a camera!” If you are out there living that life without a camera it’s a good thing.