EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MANTRIC’S OLE HALVARD SVEEN (EX-EXTOL)
Mantric’s The Descent is really one of the better records to come out so far in 2010. Featuring three ex-members of Extol, The Descent is a whirlwind of metallic soundscapes, NeurIsis post rock, brute force and gentle jazzy psychedelia, rolled up into a modern progressive shell that pushes the outer limits of what is considered metal in 2010. We streamed the record when it came out this Spring, and through a few other posts over the months I can only hope I’ve given the band the exposure they need to reach the ears of you, the potential adoring listener.
Guitarist Ole Halvard Sveen hopes so too. He emailed us to thank us for the coverage we’ve given the band, we got to chatting back and forth, and bang! zip! boom! we ended up with this interview. Click through to read Olehalvard take on the split of Extol, the decision to form Mantric as a new project contain three of the same members, the band’s writing process, the album’s artwork and what lies ahead for the band.
Please tell us a little about how this band came together out of the ashes of the other projects you’ve all been involved with.
Well, first and foremost, Mantric could be seen as the continuance from the last years of Extol. Tor Magne, John Robert and myself have been playing together for eighteen years or something, in bands like Lengsel and Ganglion, and all three of us were parts of Extol from 2004 until David Husvik and Peter Espevoll decided to leave the band in 2007, due to personal priorities. That happened in the middle of a songwriting process that the three of us really enjoyed, so we simply decided to continue without them, determined to record and release a great album. We had actually recorded demo versions of some of the songs on The Descent already as Extol, but since there were no original members left from Extol at that point we decided to change the name of the band. When we had most of the material for the album ready, we asked Kim Akerholdt to join in on drums. We had played with him in Ganglion and knew what he was capable of, and he was eager to pick up the sticks again, a couple of years after leaving Norwegian punkrock-act Silver.
Thanks — glad you like it. We’ve always been very clear that we want to make music that doesn’t sound like a hundred other bands — if we don’t have our own sound with something unique to offer, we might as well do something else. We were also very clear that we wanted things to get more dirty than on The Blueprint Dives (the last Extol-release), adding more nerve and crazy ideas to it. We are also very aware of context when writing music, and this is part of the reason why we make use of these sharp contrasts and dynamic twists. We all listen to a lot of different music (not much metal anymore, I’m afraid), and we simply think mixing different genres makes music more interesting and varied, at least when you want to make something original within hard music these days.
What’s the writing process like? Does one person write all the music, or do you all get together in a room to jam it out?
Most times it has started with me and Tor Magne coming together, sharing ideas we’ve been working on at home on our guitars. Then we start developing these ideas together. Sometimes I switch from guitars to drums after a while, and we start working on the rhythmic parts. When we’re done with the main structure of a song, we’ll record a demo version and start to try out different ideas on the vocals and other instruments, as well as to develop the guitar work further. We also try out the different ideas in rehearsals during the process, letting the other members suggest changes and add new perspectives. During the recording process, we come up with more ideas, details and other instruments — like when Anders Lidal recorded analogue synths and weird sounds, John Robert spent a lot of time developing this together with him.
Well, like you say, it’s inevitable. And this is a good thing with changing the name — now people can compare, but not complain over Mantric not sounding like the “old” Extol, haha… Quite a few of the Extol fans from the Undeceived era had a hard time getting into Blueprint, and would rather want us to make Undeceived part II at that time. People won’t expect Mantric to do so, and hopefully they won’t stand and shout for Undeceived at our shows either. So no, it really doesn’t bother me — actually, The Descent sounds like a natural and positive progression from Blueprint to my ears, so I kind of compare it myself, hehe…
How did your deal with Prosthetic Records come about?
They actually contacted us through our MySpace site, said that they were looking for European bands to sign and that they were interested in Mantric. I hadn’t even heard of them before (which doesn’t say much, since I suck at the business side of music), and we hadn’t even sent them a promo, haha… But we checked them out and found that they actually had a quite varied and interesting list of bands signed, and also big bands like Testament and Lamb of God. Since we know we won’t be making money on record sales anyway, the most important thing for us was to be assured that the album would be released worldwide (and also that we’d get our expenses covered, since I had paid for the recording with next year’s tax-money). We dealt a bit back and forth and ended at a contract we were satisfied with, and here we are…
Can’t really recall how it happened, but we got in touch with this American named Jesse Bartholomew Zuretti, who plays in a band called The Binary Code and also does all their artwork. We liked what we saw, gave him some ideas to work on and waited. He ended up doing the front and back of the album, and we’re really satisfied — it’s got this kind of weird ’70s melancholic vibe to it that I love. The inlay was put together by our friend Timo Sillankorva (guitarist from an old hardcore band called Selfmindead, for those who remember that), and his wife Anki took the band pictures. We all hate photo sessions, so we just asked her to come up with some crazy ideas and to tell us what to do during the session (without strict directions it usually ends with stupid jokes and silly faces, and the best we can hope for is that in the end there will be one single, pretty boring picture where we all look fairly normal).
Do you read any of the critical reactions to The Descent?
Actually, I’m constantly on the look for reviews — partly to find nice quotes for promotional use (no, we don’t have a management) and partly out of personal curiosity. And it looks really good so far — lots of great reviews — though I think it would have been even better if the reviewers had given it even more time. The way I see it, this album contains so much information and detail that it will grow on the listeners when listening to it lots of times. At least that’s what I hope for. Albums that grow on me often last longer…
Do you have any plans to take the band on the road?
At this moment, there are no exact plans. We really hope to get on the road and play the US and Europe, but I guess it depends on the interest and how much attention we’ll be getting. That’s the backside of changing our name — not many people have heard of us yet, so we’re dependent on people to support us and spread the word. My humble view is that lots of music lovers over the world would love the album if they heard of it and gave it a chance, but there’s not much more we can do to make it happen than seize the opportunities we’re given and do the best we can out of it.
What’s next for Mantric?
We’ve got a couple of gigs in Norway in the near future, and we’ll take a short trip to Germany to play Freakstock Festival. And we’ll just have to continue trying to get some attention and gigs. Like I already mentioned, it depends a lot on stuff that we can’t do much about — it’s up to the label, the media and the listeners whether we’ll get around or not — we’ll just have to wait and see. And, of course, we’ll eventually start working on new material — we spend so much time on each song that we might as well get started, so that it won’t take another five years until our next major release…
Listen to tracks from The Descent on Mantric’s MySpace page.