Intro and interview by Mark Lore
Despite not having released any new material in the past four years, Norwegian black metal band Vemod continues to captivate listeners and audiences.
They released their debut album Venter på stormene in 2012, which deftly balances serenity and chaos, and landed Vemod on their second Prophecy Fest in Germany earlier this year alongside bands like Alcest and Völur. The band’s music blurs the lines between black metal, noise and ambient, which has led the members to describe their music as “dark ethereal metal.”
J.E. Åsli started Vemod way back in 2000, and has created and explored music at his own pace ever since. The lulls may be painful for listeners, but it’s likely the very thing that makes the band’s music so captivating. Venter på stormene was recently reissued on Prophecy Productions, which should get Vemod ’s music to more ears than ever.
We caught up with Åsli via email to get a glimpse into his creative process, and to see what’s on the horizon for the band.
Venter på stormene was released in 2012, and is getting this reissue now. Did you feel it didn’t get a fair chance, or was it more Prophecy Productions’ idea to reissue it?
I think both we and the label were interested in reissuing this album now. The first run of it went well and it is not a matter of not getting a chance, but simply a wish on our part to have our music available to everyone who might be interested in it, at all times. We always get a lot of inquiries concerning our releases on various formats and where to get it, so we just want to make it more accessible, as it has been increasingly difficult to get hold of recently.
Why the gap between new material?
The gaps are perceived as gaps mostly by listeners waiting for something new, while for us, they are periods of growth and development, and these have always been fundamental to our way of working and who we are as a band. This is when we take the necessary steps to reinvigorate and reinvent ourselves. And I would say this is a crucial stage. For example, in these years since the initial release of Venter på stormene, we have been steadily broadening our horizons and working behind the scenes to grow forth our new musical selves, so to speak. We have done this while honing our performance craft with select live appearances, which in turn has inspired us to take things in certain new directions as well. So, now, as a result of all this, we feel more ready to embark on whatever comes next than perhaps ever before.
There are many elements to Vemod’s music that have little to do with metal. What else inspires you to make the music you do—both musically and outside of music.
You are right. I think all of us in the band have very eclectic tastes in music and we are all continually exploring new artists, genres, sounds, atmospheres, etc. I know that, personally, after many years of making music, influences have started manifesting themselves in a different way. Inspiration from other artists is rarely direct. It is more like listening as broadly as possible, internalizing all the new impressions over time, and then drawing on the inner pool of influences in an almost subconscious manner when making new music. I find that this way of working benefits from listening to music and sounds very different from our own. Also, gaining some insight into how other artists see their see their own work is fascinating to me, in all kinds of genres and coming from all manner of cultural backgrounds.
Outside of music, I have this sense of awe and wonder towards existence itself, and this is something I try to cultivate through the music of Vemod. This ranges from the most extraordinary of experiences to the most mundane of everyday events, really. Curiosity drives creativity forward. Literature, science, love, death. Inspiration is to be found everywhere. Life as it unfolds itself. A cliché, perhaps, but true nonetheless.
How do you view Vemod?
I think we all view it as a very potent way to channel the very best of ourselves. At least that is what it is increasingly becoming for me personally. My experiences with Vemod, both on an inner and outer level, have inspired me to try my best to become a better person. (Whatever that means at any given time.) And musically it is an open landscape inviting perpetual exploration. It is also a way to share all this with others who might be interested in these atmospheres and interpreting it in their own way, using music as a way to express that cannot easily be put into words. Music as a deep form of communication has become more and more important. And for me, I think all musical activity that I engage in, is about creating abstract spaces to explore all kinds of questions in. Something like that? It is a bit difficult to explain, but that hints toward some of the things we aspire to do, at least.
What was your exposure to music like as a kid/teenager?
Well, I discovered Metallica when I was 8 or 9 or so, and that is when I got truly obsessed with music. I was exposed to music before that as well, but I guess it had much more of a subconscious effect on me. My father would play classical records a lot and my mother was more into various singer-songwriter sort of stuff, so there was always music around, but I first got really conscious about it when I started exploring artists on my own. A world of previously unknown sounds and atmospheres opened up and I dove into it head first. The obsession consumed my entire youth, and it continues to this day.
Did you grow up in Trondheim?
No, me and the bassist grew up in a much smaller town called Namsos, north of Trondheim. We were basically alone there in terms of being into alternative music and having interests outside the mainstream in general. This was also before it become common to have internet access at home so we were left to our own little bubble of buying records on a whim and reading zines obsessively. A wonderfully weird time of intense exploration that shaped us into we are today. I moved to Trondheim to study when I was 18-19 and, except for a couple dead periods, everything started accelerating from that point.
Is it accurate that you started Vemod in 2000? Tell me about those early years.
Yes, that is how I see it myself anyway. That is when I really started making music with intention and a set goal. It was always “the band” for me even though in reality it was only me making music on my own and recording riffs on tape. It was no less important though, it was a formative period crucial for what was to come. This went on until I got in touch with drummer and vocalist E. Blix in 2002 or 2003. I sent him a couple of tapes full of material and luckily he was really into it. Our debut demo tape came out in 2004 and sold out quickly, and by then we had established strong bonds and an atmosphere we felt was our own. We started working a full-length album directly after that, but somehow it dawned on us that we had a lot of growing up to do and a lot of time went by as we found ourselves, so to speak, both as individuals and as a musical entity. In hindsight, I think it was a really good thing that we waited with putting out more material. In terms of maturity, we needed all that time to become what we are, and now we just have so much more to give than what we did back then. I honestly feel we can contribute with something of value now. In such a fast paced world, the advantages of slow maturation is perhaps slightly underrated these days.
Tell me how the project has evolved since the beginning?
It is hard to put into words how much we have grown and how far we have come since the humble beginning. It may not seem as much for outsiders, since we have not put out a stream of records or been very public in any way, but for us, the journey has been long, eventful and transformative. I attribute a great deal of the depth of Vemod to the fact that the project has been with us for so long, and taken us through so many phases of life. How this shows itself for the listener, if at all, is not for me to say, but at least some of the feedback we have received suggests that some people do actually pick up on these things. Music-wise, a lot has happened as well, obviously. We came out of this pretty strict and limiting black metal underground and gradually entered a world of what feels like endless musical possibilities as we grew, and a lot of our time together these days are spent trying to figure out the best ways to encapsulate all the new input within the frames of our little entity. It is interesting times for us, and for music in general, I think.
Tell me about Prophecy Fest. It sounds like you won over some new fans.
Prophecy Fest is special to us. Both the first and the second year meant a great deal. We prepared special sets and the response was much better than we could ask for. That location is like an instrument in itself and we are just very grateful for the opportunity to perform our music there. Also there is a remarkable atmosphere among the audience there, very attentive and respectful, and that makes an artist happy.
How is the new material coming along?
Quite well! It has been maturing for a long time already, and as usual it is a mix of some very old music and some brand new music. We are working on structure and arrangements at the moment, and we are all eager to get something new out and journey on.