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A Playground for Artistic Freedom & Growing Roots

Jørn Øyhus is a musician with many talents – and many bands and projects. Admittedly, some weeks ago I was unsure whether I could keep track of what's going on in Jørn's camp, and thus I decided to do another interview with one of the founding members of BYRDI, who – what happy surprise! - is back in the band. Nevertheless the main focus was on VARDE, a project that so far released three great songs of Nordic folk black metal in the tradition of the glorious Moonfog era (early Satyricon, Storm, Isengard, Wongraven,...). His partner in VARDE, Koll, also answererd one question.

Hi Jørn! Much has happened in your camp since we had a chat about NORDJEVEL's debut album: You travelled a lot and played quite some concerts with the Northern devils, you recorded the "Krigsmakt" mini album – and now left the band?! You also supported Byrdi on stage at Midgardsblot, and now you're a band member again? A while ago you released a single and an EP with VARDE, and just some days ago you announced your new project NORDEIN... Did I get everything correct – and if so, have I won a prize? Damn, your life in music seems more adventurous than ever...?!

Jørn: Greetings Thor! Yes, I’ve been a busy man the past few years. I’ve been touring and recording almost constantly, and I’ve gained a lot of experience and knowledge both about the music industry and life itself. It’s correct that I’ve left NORDJEVEL after I recorded my parts on the upcoming album. We have grown apart musically and personally, and they want to move in a different direction than the foundation I’ve laid down for the band. I wanted to continue expanding on that expression, but they had made other plans without my knowledge. I wish them the best of luck with whatever they want to do, but I have to be honest to myself and my creative vision. With VARDE I have the freedom to do just that, and the chemistry in the band allows for everyone to express our true selves. Since I have more time now, I also decided to rejoin BYRDI, which me and Nash Rothanburg developed together several years ago. NORDEIN is a personal playground for me, and an opportunity for me to involve all the people I like to work with. It’s a very open-ended project regarding expressions, instrumentation and styles. So basically, yes, you got it all right! My musical life is more interesting than ever!

Glancing at the many outdoor photos you publish on social media, I assume that nature is still a great source of inspiration and power, which keeps creativity and passion on such a high level?

Nature, as well as silence and a certain degree of isolation is absolutely essential for me to be creative. I need to distance myself to the pollution of society, and I find a lot of inspiration in that quiet space. In this day and age, I believe it’s very easy to completely lose touch with reality and your own self. I try my best to maintain rooted and in touch with the forces that are helping me to do what I do.

In my review of the "Asgaardsreia" EP I wrote that Koll sounds as pissed as if he just discovered somebody stole his year supply of beer. He really comes across as if he wants to keep a distance to all those who misinterpret black metal as somehow "lovely" easily accessible music...

I don’t believe you can misinterpret music really, but we just do it the way we feel is honest to ourselves and the message. How the listener interprets it is entirely subjective. But I guess you’re right, Koll definitely has some bones to pick, and he’s very passionate and strong in his musical visions. We didn’t record this music in a traditional studio environment, and that has definitely shaped the nerve and the overall feel we are able to create. I guess you can compare it to the way the first BYRDI album was recorded. We’re all about capturing art in the moment, and it’s an extremely spontaneous and «living» process.

Not many black metal musicians choose to present their new band with a 17+ minutes song, but you do so as if it's the most natural thing to do. I guess this artistic freedom is most important for you in order to express your ideas as well as to challenge yourselves?

Freedom in all aspects is at the core of everything we do. The track you’re referring to, "Asgaardsreien", is based on a very lengthy lyrical piece, several pages long. It was quite a lot of work to add music to the whole piece, but the words themselves served a lot of inspiration. I guess a 17 minute track is quite unusual for this particular genre, but I feel we managed to put enough dynamics and interesting elements in there to justify it. You can turn it around and see it as a piece of storytelling with a musical soundtrack.

With VARDE you pay a.o. tribute to Wongraven and you already mentioned that this stand-alone album made a great impact on you back in the days. For me this is still a prime example of music as a welcome way of escapism and empowering your own fantasy; a quality that nowadays gets lost due to constant media overkill and which must be re-learned even among children whose minds get bombed with all sorts of bullshit. What memories do you link with "Fjelltronen" and in how far did it inspire to travel into the green and/or blue?

I totally agree with you. The whole album/piece to me is a one long journey through something very rooted, yet extremely fantastical and obscure. There’s a spirit in that album that I have yet to find elsewhere. We felt that "Asgaardsreien" needed some of that spirit. The point was not to copy another man’s work, but rather to express a very personal and undefinable emotion. I think that is what black metal in general is about these days. It’s a longing to live out something genuine and very personal for most of the artists. The intention is usually not to reinvent the wheel, but rather to connect to some very fundamental aspects of your very DNA.

In how far has your trip to Iceland sharpened the concept of VARDE?

Me and Koll travelled to Iceland in February 2018, and we got to see and experience some very unusual places. We didn’t just look at the sightings, but we engaged with the landscape and went a bit outside the typical tourist routes. It didn’t shape the concept at all, as that was already in place. Even the track "Iceland" which we released last spring was written long before that. We simply just wanted to soak up the landscape and the spirit of the place. It most definitely gave us a lot of spiritual and creative input, and we’re planning on going back for more.

Already 20 years ago certain people were happily looking forward Nordic black metal disappearing sooner than later because there was nothing new to expect anymore from the genre – which was what they thought. But Nordic black metal has become a traditional style itself, and at least for some – stubborn? – folks it obviously does NOT lose its fascination, similar to the illustrations and paintings of Theodor Kittelsen, some black metal has a rather timeless quality. Would you agree that this is why VARDE is quite independent from any trends and whatsoever?

There was a big shift in the genre during the Nineties, and some people took it in a direction that other people didn’t accept. I think this experimental phase was essential for the genre to take a step back and really define itself. Timelessness is, in my opinion, one of the qualities that makes the genre so aesthetically unique. Quite like the works of Kittelsen as you say, or the lyrical works of Welhaven or Wergeland. There’s something very relevant and fresh in true historical expression.

On "Asgaardsreia" you interpret the poetry of Johan Sebastian Cammermeyer Welhaven, whose name might ring a bell for those who have read it in context of Burzum's "Filosofem". Is it true that some of his poetry is still basic learning matter in Norwegian schools? What fascinates you about his poetry – and maybe the "philosophy" behind?

Koll: I would not say basic, but the period from where he comes from is basic syllabus, along with the writing styles from that period. Some history around the poets and their relations is also well known. The facination is not in one poet alone, it is random that Welhaven was so lucky to have both sides on the upcoming vinyl release. It is more the general era from which they came (ca. 1820-1880). What they wrote about and how they wrote it, that is the essence here. They brought forward the cultural heritage, the old stories and the Norwegian landscapes from the times before Norway was occupied by the Swedes and the Danish. This to rebuild our nations identity and pride. The short story is the love of the fatherland, the interest and fascination for the old days combined with the passion in which they write i guess. It is with this old literature as it is with good music! The more you listen, the better it gets. The philosophy behind the lyrical approach to VARDE, is much the same as the writers intended back in the 1800`s I guess, and to bring these treasures back up from the dusty basements of the Norwegian libraries.

What's up next in the VARDE camp and what aims do you have for the band in the long run, especially since you have already made many experiences with NORDJEVEL?

Next up is the full length album, and we already have quite a bit of material written. Most of the lyrics have been selected, and the overall feel of the album is beginning to show itself. Early next year we will start rehearsing with a full band, and booking live shows will be a priority after the full length is released. The experiences I’ve gained will be put into this band, and we strongly feel Varde will be a force to be reckoned with in the Norwegian live scene.

In an earlier interview you mentioned that you work with ill people with special needs. Are some of those aware of your music or have you even experienced that your music can help in a way beyond what is commonly know as "therapy"?

I work as a therapist in the field of addiction and psychiatry. As part of building relations to your patients, they get to know some selected aspects of your personal life. My musical life is difficult to hide, so most of them are well aware of it. I’m not sure if
black metal is the best musical therapy in relation to psychosis etc., but I know some of them have began following my work. If the music helps them directly, I’m not sure, but it gives them a very real relation to me as a human being. A good open relations builds trust and will that way make me able to reach them on a deeper level. I guess you can say it all plays a part.

Jørn, thanks for your time again, and good luck with all your endeavors!

My pleasure Thor! See you at the next crossing.

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