ERLEND HJELVIK FROM KVELERTAK KVELERTALKS WITH METALSUCKS
If you’ve read MetalSucks at all in the past twelve months, you know who Kvelertak are. I named their self-titled release the best album of 2010, and that album found its way onto Kip Wingerschmidt and Leyla Ford’s year-end lists, too. Anso has publicly declared his adoration for the group. And then the band headlined our South by South Death party at SXSW last month.
We love this band. They’re fucking great.
And yet, I knew almost nothing about them beyond their music.
Which made the opportunity to chat with vocalist Erlend Hjelvik all the more exciting. I wasn’t going into this interview trying to find fresh ways to ask the same old questions. I was going into this interview because I legitimately wanted to know: Who the hell are you dudes, and where did you come from?
Get the answers from Mr. Hjelvik himself after the jump. In addition to getting some backstory on the band (Did you know that certain members used to play different instruments within the group? I sure as hell didn’t!), Hjelvik discusses his desire to write lyrics in Norwegian, the band’s first American tour, their plans for the next year and beyond, his black metal side project, and more.
A year ago nobody knew who you guys were ,and now it seems like you’re one of the most talked about bands in metal. But you’re not really an overnight sensation. You guys have been doing this for awhile.
We started out in 2006, but we were really shitty at first. Last year we became a decent band.
What changed between 2006 and last year?
In the beginning we spent a lot of time getting the lineup together and figuring out what the hell we were doing and just tried to play live as much as possible to become better at it.
Did the sound go through a lot of changes, or did your vision for the band go through a lot of changes?
The songs were a lot simpler when we started out. I guess that’s codeword for them sounding shitty I guess. We spent time figuring that out and things kind of loosened up when we got the new drummer and people started playing the instruments they were supposed to play. Before our bassist [Marvin Nygaard] used to be the drummer, and we had a really good drummer who was playing guitar in the band [Kjetil Gjermundrød], so it was kind of fucked up like that. So we got that figured out and things kind of picked up.
When you put out the album last year, did you have any idea that it would be this well received?
No, I had no idea, actually. We were really surprised at how well the album’s been received with the reviews and all. I still haven’t seen a really bad review; I’m kind of waiting for that one.
Maybe on the next album.
I hope so. At least there are people talking shit about us.
One of the things that people immediately notice about your band is that your lyrics are in your native language, which makes perfect sense, but we do see a lot of European bands singing in English… I guess for commercial reasons? Was there ever any pressure on you to change your lyrics?
Not really. The only guy who has kind of approached me on that subject was Happy Tom, Thomas Seltzer, from Turbonegro. He felt that we should start singing in English if we want to have a chance of doing well internationally, and especially in the U.S.
It just feels so stupid to me to sing in English. It feels like I’m an actor when I do it. I don’t feel like myself. It just feels a lot more natural to sing in Norwegian. It’s the language we speak. I think it’s weird how many bands from our country and different countries sing in English. More bands should sing in their own language. That’s the point, I guess.
When I first read the English translation of the lyrics for “Mjød,” I was like, “Oh, this guy is singing about partying a lot.” [laughs]
There’s not actually that many party lyrics. That’s only in “Mjød.” That’s kind of the party song.
A lot of the lyrics on the internet are wrong. I guess the lyrics that get translated are about 80% correct.
Does it piss you off to see wrong lyrics?
Not really. There are some amazing ones in Swedish where they write what they hear, and it’s really messed up. It’s like they’re singing about golf. I can’t really remember them [specifically] at the moment, but it’s pretty funny.
Yeah, we threw some bonus tracks on there to kind of sweeten the deal, I guess, since the album came out so late.
…and you recently did your first American tour. How did that go? How did you feel you were being received over here live?
It was excellent. It was one of the most fun tours I’ve done so far. Weedeater and the Zoroaster guys were great bands and really cool guys. I felt the crowds were really good, too — especially the shows at SXSW. Every night they were packed, and the reception was overwhelming. It was a great experience for us.
Were you nervous about playing in front of an American crowd for the first time?
Not really. I always think that it’s fun to play in a new place to see what the crowd is like. I think the American crowd is one of the better crowds out there. They’re a lot more fun than the crowds you see in Europe.
What makes them more fun?
They’re a lot more receptive and not afraid of rocking out. [laughs]
You almost didn’t make it over, right?
Yeah, my backpack got stolen with all of the band members’ visas and passports in it. It was a half an hour before we were taking the train to the airport. That was kind of messed up. I couldn’t believe what happened.
What happened? How did it get stolen?
I had it next to me, on top of my other bag. I was eating and sitting hunched over, and someone must have just grabbed it while I was eating. Suddenly it was gone and I couldn’t see anyone.
We were afraid that we would miss the whole tour, but we only missed four shows. It could have been a lot worse.
And you’re coming back in the fall, right?
Yeah, we’re planning an East Coast tour in October. I don’t have any details yet, but I’ll keep you posted.
Do you have any idea who else is gonna be on that tour?
We don’t know anything yet. We’re still working on it.
Have you talked about a new album, or is it way too soon for that?
Our guitarist is writing songs at the moment. We’re pretty busy, though. We’re hoping to record sometime next year. Hopefully there’ll be an album next year.
So what are you guys doing now? Are you touring Europe?
No, right now we have some days off. We’re playing some shows in Norway this weekend, and we’re leaving for the Comeback Kid European tour next week.
Oh, really? That seems like an unusual bill.
Yeah, it’s pretty weird. But it’s a good move for us to play for a new audience. The venues are pretty big, so it seems like a good tour. I’m not really a fan of that kind of music myself, but my guitarist likes those bands.
Then this summer we get to play everything from Wacken in Germany to indie festivals… we’re playing a shitload of festivals, so we’re pretty busy for the rest of the year. We get to do a lot of different stuff, and I think that’s pretty cool.
Do you have to adjust your performance style when you’re playing for huge crowds at something like Wacken, as opposed to a little club at SXSW?
Yeah, I guess so. It’s not something that you think about, but when you play in front of really big crowds, you try to reach out to everybody. It feels different. It’s kind of hard to put into words what exactly it is that we do differently… but I think both are fun to do.
We play every show like it’s the last show. That’s our philosophy I guess.
Right on. Is there anything you want to add before I let you go?
Yeah, I just recorded a new album with another band that I have.
It’s a black metal band that I’m in.
Is it coming out in America, or just in Europe?
I don’t know, actually. You might have to order it [if you live in America].
Are you doing any touring with that band or just putting out the record?
I think it might just be a studio band mostly. We’ll see.
I didn’t even know you have another band.
It’s really new. I posted [the samples] like two days ago. But it’s cool. It’s pretty old school.