by Nicola Vinciguerra | Header Image: Anne-Marie Forker
Tusmørke is one of my favorite Norwegian bands. Seeing them perform was one of the highlights of my stay in the magic kingdom of the midnight sun. Mind you that they were having a tour to celebrate the 666th anniversary of the first visit of the black plague to their country. How can you not love that?
Great sounds, volcanic energy, and a perfect attitude: they had everything. While they were playing a composition created specifically for the event, everybody was dancing to the rhythm of the disease that killed almost the whole population of Norway in 1348—and having a blast while doing it. It was a real-life totentanz and quite a sight to behold!
Since then, I have tried to spread their music as much as possible, so what better than an interview them for Heathen Harvest? With a few new albums piling up, this seems like a good moment to get in touch with Norway’s best-kept secret. Enjoy this little chat with Benediktator and Krizla.
HH: First of all, thank you for accepting this interview invitation. I’ve been hooked on your sounds ever since I stumbled upon your video for ‘En verde av i gar’, suggested by a friend in Oslo if I remember correctly. I know very little about the genesis of your band though, so I guess the first question is: How did you guys start Tusmørke, in what format, and why?
Benediktator : Thanks for sending us questions! It’s not like we’re famous or anything though, so I’m not sure if anyone will be interested in reading this. People might not even understand what it’s about; most people are so pitifully ignorant. Not stupid per se, but they seem to lack the references necessary for taking part in meaningful conversation. That’s why my brother and I have devised a Tusmørke curriculum: so that new members can be brought up to speed.
This form of interview (e-mail as opposed to face-to-face or phone) always seemed a bit off to me since there is no direct conversation and no way of showing emotion or giving extra information through gestures. I don’t use emojis or emoticons, so that’s not an option. For the sake of interpreting my answers, you must assume that I am pleasantly good-looking, with a comforting smile that hints at coyness. I am clad in an Egyptian robe and a cassette of Grave Danger by Foreseen is blaring in the background
The band was formed in Skien in the mid-nineties by Krizla, Benediktator, and a third friend who no longer plays music. We wanted to be medieval minstrels, partly because of roleplaying games, partly because of reading Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, but mostly because of Blackadder and Monthy Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail. We wanted to escape from the harsh realities of a mostly working-class small town where there was a lot of drugs, violence, and heavy drinking.
We’ve gone through several incarnations of the band; currently, the members are Krizla, HlewgastiR, Dauinghorn of Jordsjø, the Phenomenon Marxo Solinas, and I. Skrubben aka Space Wulff (Spectral Haze) is an associated member, playing live guitar this summer and scheduled to participate in the recording of the Iron Age Bog Body concept album.
HlewagastiR has been the drummer since 2010 or so; we borrowed him from Wobbler along with Marxo, the synthesizer maverick. Dauinghorn has his own band, Jordsjø, and agreed to join as a temporary replacement for Marxo when he needed a rest. He has since become a permanent member and now switches between guitar and synthesizers, depending on whether Marxo is able to join us live.
HH: Your imagery, lyrics, and aesthetic are incredibly coherent, researched, and interesting. Anybody even mildly into ancient history and religions will find something that might spark some further reading in most Tusmørke songs. Most of all, nothing is cheesy or superficial. Can you talk a bit about your interests and how they translate into Tusmørke’s music?
BE: The artwork is provided by living artists that we know and love. It usually starts with me discovering something that I like at an exhibition. Whenever I can afford it, it ends up hanging on my wall. Then it worms its way into my subconscious and becomes part of the plan for the cover.
I channel most of my several interests into Tusmørke. With the exception of myself, all the other guys have other bands and projects. Tusmørke is pretty much a manifestation of who I am, my world view (culturally pessimistic, wistfully and romantically nostalgic), and my interests (bird watching, local history, mythology, trends). We sound the way we do because we’re not very skilled yet play at the very edge of our capability. There is a lot of anger and defiance in our music; we want so much to sound great while never quite managing to, so we become frustrated and slightly aggressive.
Krizla: The songs I write for Tusmørke are for the most part made up from melodies and texts I hear when I go for walks or am busy doing other things than playing music. As soon as possible, I record the idea by humming into whatever means of recording I have at hand. I have made several songs from old soundbites I had forgotten about and rediscovered when listening through the backlogs. Then, it’s the tedious process of finding out how to play the melodies, preferably on the flute. I regard the best stuff to be those riffs and melodies that have just stuck in my head, often for years, before finally being caught into a structure for a song. Most of the lyrics reflect my interests in occultism and folklore, as well as mystic revelations and visions.
HH: I confess I was never much into progressive rock, but your particular mix (‘funky occult prog’?) just makes me fucking happy. Your songs are catchy and groovy, and there are magic and human sacrifices involved. I mean, it’s hard to beat. Which are your main influences in music and why do you think the Tusmørke sound turned out this way?
BE: (Remember, Foreseen is still playing loudly on the tape deck.) We mostly love British progressive rock like Gentle Giant, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and Genesis; French band Magma; Belgian band Universe Zero; Italian prog like Cherry Five/Goblin, Museo Rosenbach, and De De Lind; Swedish artists like Bo Hansson, Contact, Träd, Gräs och Stenar, Joakim Skogsberg, Pugh Rogefeldt, Änglagård, and Kebnekajse; occult stuff like Graham Bond and Black Widow; folk rock like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Heron, Comus, Folque, the Incredible String Band, and C.O.B.; heavy metal like Scorpions, Dio, and Judas Priest; seventies stuff like Kiss, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, the Doors, and Jethro Tull; psychedelic rock like H.P. Lovecraft, United States of America, Jefferson Airplane, Brainticket, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Love, Electric Prunes, David Axelrod, and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd; Turkish rock like Erkin Koray and Selda; Egyptian classics like Fairouz and Omar Khorsid; German Kraut like Amon Düül II, Can, Faust, Witthüser & Westrupp, Neu!, and Harmonia; industrial and apocalyptic folk like Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle, Coil, Current 93, and Nurse with Wound; and, of course, Norwegian greats like Høst, Prudence, Hades, St. Helena, and Popol Vuh; anything involving Reine Fiske and Ståle Storløkken; Christian rock like Keyx, the Crossing, and Kari Hansa & Gregers Hes, Joyful Singers, and so forth. Our sound turned out this way because we have acknowledged our limitations and ceaselessly strive to transcend them, seeking to emulate our idols. I have an overdeveloped fan-gene. Tusmørke is creation through imitation.
KR: A lot of the sound of Tusmørke comes from emulation of the best music we have in our record collections, but as I see it, it is condensed to shorter phrases or riffs, and warped and adapted beyond recognition, at least most of the time (like sampling, only with crappy equipment and done from memory). Of course, it often takes a few rounds before the reference is even noticed, to myself more than to the average listener. Instrumentation and arrangement is, of course, a huge part of the sound, and this has been our main ambition since the beginning, to not sound like a bluesy hard-rock band, by all—and that is all—means necessary. Except the didgeridoo.
HH: What about the instruments you’re using? The presence of flutes immediately calls to mind Jethro Tull and Black Widow/Agony Bag, but you also have a good array of keyboards and synths, and I saw a hurdy-gurdy on stage once. You also don’t use guitars, which is quite cool in my opinion. Did the instruments change during the years?
BE: Yes, in the beginning there were acoustic/classical guitar, penny whistle, recorder, and bongos. The nylon-string classical guitar was nearly inaudible in concerts; we never used mics or amps. Then there was bass, silver flue, and djembe from 2009. We added keyboards to this. Then we added a drum kit and the djembe was gone. For a while, there were two keyboard players. After stabilizing the bass/flute/drums/keyboard line-up, we brought in hurdy-gurdy and clarinet for a while. Then we changed our minds and now there is bass/flute/drums/keyboards/guitar. Vocals have been Krizla and I throughout. It feels like we are ready to shed the ‘no guitar’ dogma. I am trying not to let my ego get in the way of the quality of the music, but it’s hard for a bassist to accept the attention-grabbing whore posturing that comes so natural for most guitar players (here you must picture me with a slight smirk, signalling that’s it’s just a friendly joke. Or is it? Much can be said between a grin and a wink.)
KR: I work a lot with electronic spaced-out sounds in other projects, and the theremin as well as various synthesizers make their appearance both live and on record. I tend to use such sounds whenever they fit a song so that there is no constant psychedelic effect noodling as part of the sound as a whole. Regrettably, these electronic elements are mostly credited to Marxo Solinas by critics.
HH: Speaking of live sets, I think the Tusmørke gig I saw years ago is one of the best I’ve seen in Norway. It was very energetic, fun, and sweaty, and nobody in the audience could stay still. And you were playing for a large metal crowd since 1348 and Koldbrann were on the bill. Is it as complicated as I think to recreate your songs on stage or does it feel natural? Also, please share any particularly good and/or bad experiences related to gigs.
BE: New songs sometimes feel like a chore to play, but after a while it becomes routine and you enjoy it a lot more. Ideally, the playing is automatized so that you can focus on projecting as much energy as possible on to the crowd. We aim to carry the audience with us on a wave of the forces generated by our sound and movements. We dance, we jump, we pump our fists. The worst experiences are when you tell a joke between songs and there is just a dead silence. In the Netherlands, I was slow-clapped by one guy. That was grim. Other than that, we’ve been attacked on stage by a maniac in Skien and in Bergen someone lobbed a pint at me. So nothing major so far, knock on wood. Good experiences? We like it when people go crazy and rip their clothes off. It doesn’t happen every time, but when it does, it makes it all worth it. We like to inspire bacchanalian abandon.
KR: Making a good show is the only reason for playing live as far as I’m concerned. People should feel that they are invited to have a good time. So, we play a very populistic kind of psychedelic folk prog. The best gigs are the ones where I can jump into the audience and dance along with them, sticking the mike into people’s faces and having them sing along. More often than not, they don’t remember the lyrics though. I have come to doubt the sincerity of some of the fans. The worst gig I had was several years back, where I just couldn’t get into the right key for the singing on the first verse of ‘The Quintessence of Elements’ because I was too unfocused and was not really aware of the song having started. It was a flashback to being a squeaky teenager, trying to hit the high notes of ‘Paranoid’, and going into falsetto. The horrible feeling of time stopping and everything grinding to an awkward, syrupy standstill that would not end. Needless to say, I have since abandoned drugs.
HH: Partially related to Norwegian metal: How do you fit in with the lively scene in Norway? Many people into black metal, stoner rock, psychedelic music, and even extreme noise seem to enjoy your music all the same up there. I know Norsemen are pretty open in their music taste, but maybe Tusmørke make everybody come together?
BE: I think people accept us because we’re not a threat. We do our own thing and don’t cramp anyone else’s style. Not everyone likes us, though; there are sad twats spending their time dissing us in SoMe. I don’t think our music is for most people at all, and I’m quite surprised at the number of people who are interested. When we were teens and started this, our group of friends had a thing called ‘å være på greia’ (‘being on it’), and what we were on was an identity trip where we were furiously individualistic and yet looked (and smelled) all the same: long hair, piercings, bell-bottoms, skateboards, smell of incense. We listened to psychedelic and progressive rock and collected vinyl records. Our local freak fraternity bonded with like-minded people from the Sandvika area and this cultural exchange had consequences years down the line with Les Fleurs du Mal, Wobbler, and Fresh Tea. Anyway, our style was widely despised and ridiculed and we got a lot of shit. So, Tusmørke suddenly being this accessible thing for all sorts of people is odd to me. We need the haters to remind us that the world is still a place of great beauty, but also full of big wankers.
KR: It is a great advantage to us that many metalheads are also great record collectors. I think the metal scene is quite accepting, for the most part, of music that really is not metal at all, just as long as it can be classified as not pop or commercial with a hint of heaviness. The main criteria is apparently that the music is not sappy or soft, or at least that a nerve is there. But I never understand the musical tastes of other people.
HH: You were recently nominated for ‘best rock album’ with your record Ført Bak Lyset at Spellemann (which is a big music prize in Norway). That must have been weird. Any memories from that experience?
BE: It was a shit party, if I’m being honest. The whole experience showed us what’s wrong with the mainstream music business in Norway, which is basically everything. It’s geared towards export/success abroad, pleasing the younger sectors, and generally big-upping those who have already ‘made it’. If you get attention outside of Norway, journalists flock to you. It’s a pathetic display of low self-esteem on the part of the media; they only truly embrace what has been labelled as cool by English or American press. They have no idea what’s going on in Germany or the underground. We were roundly ignored by every journalist there, except for some nice guys from Ordentlig Radio. I don’t want to be famous, but I still don’t like walking around being ignored by people whose job it is to cover the event. Even our local newspaper in Skien failed to notice that we were nominated. The seating in the venue was cramped and we had to buy our own drinks. It was nice to see some friends again, though. Nils Bech’s performance was awesome. So, yeah—we didn’t win, but we’re trying again this year. We’re submitting both our last album, Hinsides, and a children’s record. I think you have to participate if you want to criticize. Norway is so tiny, it’s like one big dysfunctional family. I didn’t say inbred. Or did I?
KR: The event was a failure since it catered to young people and popular music, but no young people watched it on television and none of the popular acts were there to receive their prizes. But I did go, anyway, so as to have first-hand information for the after-party grumblings that continued out in the streets and bars. If anything, it helped define the underground even more and actually bond people together that were nominated and pissed off at the whole proceedings.
HH: And what about the new album, Hinsides, on Svart Records? Do you want to talk about it a bit? The snippet I heard (‘I Feel Like Midnight’) is amazing. I’ll pretend I didn’t release a live tape featuring one of the songs that will be on the album, but if you want you can talk about that too.
BE: The album was a lot of fun to record. It seems like ages ago now. The photo sessions at Ole Jørgen Benedictow’s place and the ruins of St. Halvards were fantastic. Hinsides is our final album on Svart; we’re switching to Norwegian label Karisma now. It seems like the album is getting a lot less attention than Ført Bak Lyset. I’ve no idea why that is. Could there have been more promotional work done? Would it have made a difference if we got the record before half the gigs on the release tour were played? Who’s to say? The artwork is by Arne Bendik Sjur. It seems very few people realize how amazing the artwork is; it’s barely mentioned in reviews. I guess this confirms my opening statement about the ignorance of common folk (insert reassuring smile: it’s important that I can say this without seeming smug or elitist).
HH: Actually, I think it’s worth it to talk a bit more about your upcoming children’s album. Can you tell us just a bit about the concept?
BE: In the children’s record, we try to convey as many positive values as we possibly can. The concept is this: People drive three animals from their home in a tree (pro-ecology). The badger, squirrel, and crow ask the oldest tree in the forest for advice (respect your elders). They move to the city and encounter the evil rat king, a bully who doesn’t accept newcomers (anti-racism there). Then they go to the library (the best things in life are free). They encounter pets in a house who are sad and useless (remain untamed [hello, Turbonegro!]). Furthermore, the songs are about being kind to animals and how the rivers of the city should be opened up instead of running through pipes; city ecology and animal welfare are issues we care about. Then we sing about how mankind will be wiped out by a flood in the future, making room for the animals; this is perhaps our clearest environmental statement, cloaked in an apocalyptic vision. We criticize how philosophers don’t understand the importance of bare necessities and describe how being a mendicant is a form of magic; we explore the idea of the outsider in three different manifestations, the hermit, the wise woman, and the beggar/fool. This might sound a bit heavy for five-to-ten year-olds, but they got idea before you could say ‘tarot deck’. There is also a song about how poor people can be helped through the sorcery of loans and debt—a scathing attack on modern finance. In ‘Animals Live Outside’, I ponder how animals live outside, reflecting on how the Biblical message of not worrying about a thing, so succinctly expressed by both Jesus and the two Bobs, Marley and McFerrin, still is the most impractical and unrealistic advice in the world. ‘The Underdwellers’ is about the layers of history beneath the city, and the final track is an instrumental synthesizer piece designed to scare kids and show that we’re still edgy. This is how I view the album, anyway. Pretty preachy stuff. Tusmørke is a morally superior band.
KR: The next children’s record will be about ritual magic hidden in folklore and games, as well as a conceptual story of Eventyrland being doomed by the replanting of the tree that gives knowledge of good and evil, ending the archetypes of children’s stories. Also, there are two further linked musicals that I work with at Nordstrand Aktivitetsskole; the first is about an artificial intelligence taking over a school in order to make every pupil and teacher part of an anthill hive mind. The sequel will probably be about Enki, master of magic, and how he rescues mankind from the machine so that they may still dream of the gods and prolong their existence.