Interview with Tristania 1

Source: Kogaionon

TRISTANIA, a famous title for Gothic Metal scene, has been covered up by mystery and peace in the past months. Moreover, right after ending the accounts with Napalm, the Norwegians have been looking for better more attractive offers. For the time being they are working on a new album, which is supposed to be released in the summer of 2004. In order to have news and various details I decided to interview the guitar player, Anders Hoyvik Hidle, the one who, alongside Einar, actually "run" the band.

    Hi Anders and welcome Kogaionon's realm. Pretty hard to hear of you and about you these days... what happened? Why so? Some are saying that your silence actually is a strategic manner of gaining time until you receive the most convenient and attractive offer to please you. Tell me, is it all gossip or what?

   "Thanks! First of all: it's not me and Einar who 'run' the band. There are seven individuals in TRISTANIA who run the band together. Each of us represents a necessary piece of the band. Off course, there will always be members who spend more time on the band than others, but I think that is a quite natural thing for most bands. We are currently doing the finishing work on the new album, and we have booked Top Room Studio in Hamar , Norway , for April & May. After 'World of Glass' we did pretty much touring both in Europe and Latin America . We took a couple of months 'vacation' from the band after that, before we started to work on the new songs. The 'silence' has nothing to do with strategy or 'gaining time'. It's all about taking the time you need to become satisfied with the new album. We made a decision on that... we wanted to focus solely on the writing process and to wait with touring until after the next album. It's a great thing to tour, but touring is pretty difficult to combine with song-writing - at least for us it is. Instead of doing the composing fragmented between the tours, we wanted to focus only on this. We didn't want to rush anything, but took the time that we wanted."

   Your last album has reached a real great success but this was not an obstacle for some of the fans to consider the new sound as rather too commercial and to actually suspect you of treating music solely as business- a way to make more money... what is the truth? Is the album exactly as you wanted it to be or commercial?

   "I don't like to listen to our albums very much, because there will always be things that irritate you and things you would have done different if recorded the songs again. I have this relationship with all of our albums, and 'World of Glass' is no exception. Despite of this, we are very satisfied with 'World of Glass' in general. It's probably our most complex album, and also the most diverse one. I think our three full length albums represent three different stages of the band's evolution. It's a natural process when we compose music, and we would not have been able to make albums if we would be that cynical toward our own music. We develop ourselves all the time, and our music reflects that. We will never make the same album twice. Some of the die hard gothic fans may have been disappointed, but we cannot make considerations like that when we make music. It's not about going commercial, it's about being true to ourselves."

   Morten's departure, as far as I know, had as a basic ground the same accusation pointed upper and reproaches of this kind followed. I've read one of Morten's interviews and he explained that the fundamental reason, which determined him to leave TRISTANIA, was the fact you two (Einar and you) thought no more under the artistic perspective but under the financial one... desiring for more and more money. So, this was the reason he left and it seems his new band is prosperous day by day. Right in this period he is about to release the second album. I know you only had a diplomatic attitude so far giving in only general info, yet I really would like to know what your point of you is. Is he right? We still shouldn't forget Morten was one of the most trustable members of the band who meant a great big deal since TRISTANIA was founded, eight years ago.

   "The reasons why the remaining members of TRISTANIA came to such situation like Morten's departure...are connected to the fact that his departure had to do with social and musical differences between us that became too big. As you said, we chose to have a diplomatic attitude in the press when we released 'World of Glass' and we only gave the general info. I still think that it only would be pathetic of me to go into details on these things in the press. However, I have to say that to insinuate that money ever has been a motivation behind the line-up changes is far from the reality. The important thing for TRISTANIA has always been the music, and it still is. Money has never been and never will be an important issue when it comes to our reasons for doing this. What I love about TRISTANIA is that we have always been independent when it comes to our music. On all our albums we have composed the music... like ourselves, and we don't listen what other people say. I guess if we had been into this for the money we would not have released the music that we do."

   Except Morten, the line up remained basically unchanged, which is almost unbelievable for a Metal band. Moreover, you added other two musicians/vocals in a complete formula and one of them is an old faithful collaborator... and I make reference to Osten, of course. Tell me, how did it happen? Do the other members accept with no sign of reluctance whatever you and Einar decide? Don't they have a strong individuality or character either to oppose resistance or to stand their point of view... or the explanation might be that you are rather too democratic so that they would feel ok and really comfortable in any circumstance you create?

   "All decisions in TRISTANIA are being made by the seven members in common. When it comes to Østen, the whole band wanted to have him as a regular member. He has done clean vocals on all our albums as a guest singer, and over the years he has become more and more important for the band. With 'World of Glass' he also was the main lyricist, so it was a natural thing that he became a member of the band. He joined the band together with Kjetil before the World of Glass Tour in Europe in 2001."

   Well, Osten is the eldest of you all and in the same time the newest in the band, officially speaking. THE MORENDOES is a band who acts for many years now and yet had neither the success nor the chance you or THEATRE OF TRAGEDY had so far. Do you have any idea why? Osten's clean voice simply gives a certain charm to TRISTANIA's sound. And I must say that now even the lyrics sound more serious and profound, practically somehow out of the usual Gothic patterns... they seem to be more modern...

   "It's not always easy to explain things like that. There are a lot of good bands that deserves to be signed, but who never get through the demo-stage. There can be various reasons for that, but one explanation can be that some labels don't always go after the artistic qualities. Sometimes you get the impression that companies are more interested in trends and what music sells at a given time. Morendoes was a very good band and it would have deserved bigger success. Unfortunately, the band has ceased to exist, but the former members are still working with new bands and projects. I totally agree with what you say about Østen's lyrics on 'World of Glass'. He writes more mature and personal lyrics than Morten did. I think the lyrics on 'World of Glass' have got more substance than on our previous albums. Our lyrical intention with that album was to avoid the typical Gothic patterns, as you mentioned."

   Kjetil comes from a band with a different orientation, BLINDFOLDED. He participated not at the recordings of the last album but it seemed he had proved to be a good vocalist when TRISTANIA performed live. I actually had the proof myself for such when I was in Budapest at one of your concerts. Still, isn't he rather too aggressive? Was your intention solely to replace Morten's voice or did you have anything else in your mind? On your last album, Ronny's voice (TRAIL OF TEARS) was excellent... during live performance, Kjetil, who is even smaller in height seem to "eat" the microphone... pretty nervous and really really... evil... he, he, he

   "Kjetil became a member of the band because he has the kind of voice we wanted. As you say he is pretty small, but he as an extremely powerful voice. We didn't only want a replacement for Morten's vocals, but we wanted a singer with character and identity in his voice, and we got that with Kjetil. He did a very good job on the World of Glass Tour, and his voice works very well on the new material as well. The upcoming album will be his first recordings with TRISTANIA, and I feel that his vocals are perfect for our sound."

   TRISTANIA counts on vocals in a great measure so that, besides Kjetil and Osten, Jan Kenneth Barkved (ex-THE MORENDOES, ELUSIVE) has taken a big role as well proving to be a reliable and stable collaborator. I noticed he collaborated as well with SIRENIA. What do you actually think about him and what chances are for him to join your band any longer?

   "Jan Kenneth has a really powerful voice, and he is very talented. Personally I think his best appearance with TRISTANIA was on the song 'Heretique' from the 'Beyond the Veil' album. That track is the only TRISTANIA song where he has done the lead vocals. On 'World of Glass' he only did single parts. On the upcoming release I think Østen will be the only one who will be doing the clean male vocals. Østen has a very diverse voice, and I think that he hasn't yet got the chance to show his whole spectre with TRISTANIA yet. I guess people will discover new sides of Østen's voice on the new one."

   Kenneth Olsson was a bass player in UZI SUICIDE, besides Morten and Einar back in 1996. He joined the new band right away and since then he performs the drums. What can you tell me about him? What kind of person is he? Even more, he started to play with Morten long time before that, back in 1992, which means they were good friends. How come he didn't leave TRISTANIA as well?

   "Morten left the band because the remaining members felt that this was the only right thing to happen. After the departure the rest of us were eager to go on and we focused on the composing for 'World of Glass'. Today the band works better than ever - both musically and socially. Kenneth was not the bass player, but the drummer in Uzi as well. He's a great guy and a very talented drummer. On the new album he got involved in the creative process on an early stage. I think his biggest advantage as a drummer is his skills in reading the music, and to play the right things in the right places. My experience is that far from all drummers he can do this. There is a big difference between playing drums and banging them. He is also an extremely reliable drummer in a live situation."

   What about Rune, the bass player? He came in the band in the same time with you, right?

   "We joined the band at the same time, yes. It was in 1996. In May 1997 we entered the studio for the first time and recorded the demo, that later was released as a MCD."

   Einar has always performed the synth part and it seems he really is gifted for such. How do you get along with him and what do you find to have changed in your musical collaboration since Morten's departure? Practically the whole nucleus of command in TRISTANIA's music has been completely disarranged. I understand he has a piano home but he actually didn't try that hard to learn more than what his father taught him...

   "The whole composing process works better now than ever. It really wasn't a problem after the line-up changes, because Einar and I had already started to work more and more together on the song-writing. We have been working close together since the first album. We collaborated on 2 songs on the 'Beyond the Veil' album, and when we departed with Morten, the two of us had already most of the songs for 'World of Glass' ready. The biggest difference on the composing process now compared to earlier, is that the whole band is more involved. It's usually for Einar and me to work out the sketches for the songs, but on the new songs we have worked as a band on the material on an early stage in this process. I think this is the biggest strength with the new song material, and it has added more dynamics to our songs."

   Vibeke Stene's voice stands for a great impressing "weapon" and in the same time a fundamental feature of TRISTANIA's sound. She became an effective member when you became conscious about what impact her voice produced in the band's sound, which was back in 1997 when you released the demo. Where from did you find her? As far as I know she hadn't pretty much in common with Metal scene. In exchange, she comes from a family of musicians and she has serious musical background and musical studies... canto especially... So, she is a pro, probably the only one in the band with a serious musical background...

   "We got in touch with Vibeke through a common friend. In the beginning she was only supposed to help us out with the vocals on the demo we recorded in May 97, but we soon understood that her voice was perfect for our sound, so she joined the band. I think her biggest advantage as a vocalist is her diversity. It would be quite boring if all the female vocal parts would be this opera soprano thing. Especially on 'World of Glass'... Vibeke shows the big diversity in her voice, which makes the whole thing more interesting. Vibeke had no experience with Metal as a singer before she joined TRISTANIA, but she was into a lot of different music styles - Metal included. She is the only member of the band who has taken education in music, and she is talented. I have to add that, to me, music in itself is serious, and I have never accepted to draw a line between 'serious' and other music experience. I think that is somewhat constructed."

   Another essential element in your sound is Pete Johansen's violin and he got involved in Metal scene thanks to his friendship with Terje Refsnes (Sound Suite).... In such light, he worked together with you, TSOTB, MORGUL, SIRENIA... and even founded his own project, THE SCARR.... Where from such partnership with him, who had so little to share in such sonorities especially since he seems to follow rather an Irish sound or classical music...?

   "Pete is a very talented musician, he has got a lot of experience and he has got an extreme musicality. He first contributed on the 'Widow's Weeds' album and he has done violins on all our albums."

   I understood he really got mad recently about the entire Metal scene declaring he was indeed disgusted by some labels' politics such as Napalm, Massacre or Season Of Mist and he wouldn't collaborate with any other Metal band in the near future. This means that with you neither. In fact, what happened? Does it have any connection with the concert in Vienna ... beside Sirenia? I really wonder how TRISTANIA would sound without Pete's violin...

   "It's been a while since I talked with Pete. But last time I talked to him I got the impression that this was his point of view. He was fed up with the whole Metal industry, and I don't think that he is very eager to contribute on metal releases in the nearest future. This is not a problem for us, since we have had plans to record the next album without violins in any way. The violins were a less important element on 'World of Glass' compared to our first two releases, and we don't feel that the new song material will 'need' violins. This has something to do with the structure of the new songs in general. They are more direct, 'in the face', and we will use less elements than we have done on our albums so far. We are planning to use a cello on a couple of tracks on the new one, though."

   When you signed with Napalm, you were only 17! I do know you actually didn't follow any musical classes/courses... but I find absolutely amazing to reach the age of 25 and to be an essential member in a band... this is simply outstanding! Should we talk about luck-fortune or there is more than that? I wouldn't count hard working on this list as there are many who work hard and never come to achieve such... so... probably there is about inspiration... gift...

   "I think there are a number of reasons why we got success at a very young age. We have definitely worked hard since we started to work serious with TRISTANIA in 1996, but, as you say; hard work itself is not enough. For me personally it was kind of coincidence that I joined TRISTANIA in the first place. I went to college on Tau, outside of Stavanger . There I met the other guys in the band. When we got to know each other, we understood that we were into the same kind of music, and we shared visions on what we wanted to do musically ourselves."

   Or maybe a possible explanation is that you are from Norway, the country where, a few years ago, Black Metal made itself known for the large public throughout rebel and violent acts, which had nothing to do with music (crimes, suicides, setting churches on fire... etc... how do you see those acts? What do you think about such?) Do you still listen to BURZUM or EMPEROR? What do you think about actual Black Metal?

   "There used to be a lot of fuzz about all these things that didn't have anything to do with the music. I'm happy that today it seems that the focus is back where it should be; on the music. I have never liked any Burzum albums; I think it is boring music. But Emperor was a fantastic band. Probably the most sophisticated black metal band and they had their own sound that they developed through their different albums."

   Napalm represented a serious reasonable offer and those three albums plus the other two MCDs did benefit of a real and sustained promotion, which reflected in the sales as well. How many TRISTANIA copies have been sold out so far and which album recorded the biggest sales of all?

   "To be honest I don't know our sale-numbers in detail, but I know that 'Beyond The Veil' and 'World of Glass' have sold pretty much the same. Like any band, we want to sell as much albums as possible. But you can't think about this when you are creating music. I guess it's all about being true to oneself, and make the music that feels natural. We have never been concerned with genres and music styles; we leave that to the press."

   Can you live exclusively from TRISTANIA's music? Have you gained lots of money on behalf of music? A way or another, you cannot deny you actually are the "star" of melancholic Metal Gothic scene...

   "Unfortunately we are not able to live from the work with TRISTANIA. You don't get rich from doing what we are... All of us are either studying or working beside of the band. I would love to be able to live from TRISTANIA, but it's not possible at the moment."

   You sustained dozens concerts, gigs... in various corners of the world such as North America or South America . What memories do you have from those places? Any funny memories? Which was the most successful live performance you ever had?

   "I really love touring. It's a fantastic thing to have the opportunity to play for dedicated fans from all over the world. It's a very challenging thing to be on a stage and play your own music. It's a communication thing with the fans and that makes it so special. We work a lot with the live part, and we always try to become a better live band. I have a lot of good memories from tour, both on and off stage. We always have good fun when we are on tour and we have a lot of good memories from partying on the night-liner etc. I guess the most memorable memories we have from our concerts are from our shows in Latin America . The fans we have there are really dedicated, and it's a very intense feeling to play for a crazy crowd like that. We also have good memories from the big festivals - for instance Wacken in 99. We had not very much experience with playing live for bigger audiences back then, and I remember it was an insane feeling to play for over 10 000 people. Touring with Tiamat and Anathema in 1999 was also a special thing. I have been a big fan of both of these bands, and it was a great to tour with them."

   I think, if I am not mistaken, you had a flight of 15 hours to America in order to play for 25 minutes. Stupid ironic fact... right?

   "Yes, it's almost true. I think we played for 35 minutes, so it was pretty strange. It sounds like Spinal Tap.... hehe. We were supposed to play for about an hour I think, but we had to cut our set because the organizers were not able to keep the time schedule. Actually the whole festival was very strange..."

   It is pretty difficult to see the real face of TRISTANIA live... that is why I find it a real act of treason (it is a tough word but true) to perform play back in front of so many fans. Well, it is true... some times there are no other solutions at your hand... How do you see this thorny issue?

   "We always do all that we can play on stage ourselves, and we would never use samples on things that we can do ourselves. But when you do have so many elements that we use in some of our songs, it's impossible to avoid samples. We cannot afford to bring a big choir on tour, for instance. So if a song is based around the choirs we need samples to do it live. It is a good solution, but personally I think that some songs get less dynamics when you do it like this, and Kenneth has to play with click track. This is why I think that some of the new songs will work very well live. There will be fewer elements, and fewer choirs. I think we will play most of the new songs without click track for the drummer, and this way we can get a more dynamic sound."

   One of your inspiration-bands was TOT. What can you tell me about their musical line? Other bands to mark your musical evolution were MY DYING BRIDE or ANATHEMA. Do you still listen to those bands even in the actual terms of change?

   "Theatre of Tragedy is a good band. Personally I prefer their first albums, and I guess 'Aegis' is my favourite. I'm still huge fan of both Anathema and My Dying Bride. I have followed both of these bands since their debuts in the early 90's and it's still a big thing for me when they release new albums."

   Returning to TRISTANIA's music, I can say that all three albums are very different one from each other yet having in common the same unique sound...characteristic to TRISTANIA! From Gothic, Black or Doom Atmospheric Metal shapes and phases you came at the point of reaching Electronic or Industrial touches. In the same picture we can talk about the choral elements and Einar is a real maestro in this field. You have asked for the help of many other collaborators in these choirs, even Vibeke's relatives (it is true not on the last album...) Will we listen to such insertions on the future album?

   "I am proud of the band's evolution. As you say, we have released three quite different albums, but each of them still sounds like TRISTANIA. It has been a natural development the whole time, and this will continue in the future. The new songs are somewhat simpler than much of what we have done earlier, with fewer elements. As I've said there will be fewer choirs in the future. I really feel that we have used this so much, and now more and more bands use it...."

   A propos, what can you tell me about the new sound, the new album... new tracks...? What should we expect?

   "As mentioned above the new songs will be simpler, sounding more direct. We have worked a lot on the dynamics in the arrangements, and we want to focus on the essential elements on the different songs. Some of the new songs are really heavy, and some are softer. What they all have in common is that we are stripping the whole thing a little bit down. There will be less electronic elements than on 'World of Glass' and I think the next one will have a very organic sound."

   Have you signed with a label already? Should I understand that Napalm didn't extent the contract? Well, nevertheless, Napalm is the engine which made you famous all over the world... and you had the main attention there... top-priority, the biggest budget... any surprise-collaborators?

   "We have not signed with any label yet. There are different labels that are interested in us, and we will make the final decision on which record company we want to work with in the future very soon. Napalm is one of the interested labels. There will always be things that the band is not happy about with a label I think, but all in all we are happy with the job Napalm Records has done for us. They have done a good promo job, as you mentioned."

   TRISTANIA name makes reference to sadness..., melancholy and deep sorrow. TRISTANIA's music seems to be just in the same frequency. But I must say that the last album encloses as well a romantic dimension pointed out in a delightful contrasting manner and shape. Tell me, what would make the new album to be different from the previous one? What would make it different from the other albums?

   "'World of Glass' is probably our most diverse release until now, and I think the next one also will be a very diverse one. I think that there will be a stronger link between the different songs on the new one, though."

   Will we enjoy many other cover versions? The Seigmen one, from the last album was a superb cover version... Did you really like this band? What about the new orientation of the band who was re-founded under the name of ZEROMANCER? Aren't they rather too commercial?

   " We have thought about at least recording one or two cover versions in the forthcoming studio sessions. I guess we will await the result before we consider putting them on the album. We have quite a few different songs in mind that we are thinking of. It's also possible that we will include one or two covers in our live set on the future tours. One of the cover songs that we have done lately on rehearsals is 'Exit Music' by Radiohead as a duet with Østen and Vibeke. It's always fun to cover other artist's songs and to add your personal touch to it. Maybe we will include that one in a concert some time. I think Seigmen is amongst the best Norwegian bands during the nineties. During the years they existed they created and developed their own sound that was unique. My favourite Seigmen albums are 'Total' and 'Radiowaves'. Both of them are fantastic. I am huge fan of the first Zeromancer album, 'Clone Your Lover'. The two next ones don't appeal that much to me personally, but they are a very good band."

   Could we see any relation between the name of the band and Tristan & Isolda? Or perhaps with Wagner's opus?


   Who are the band's members in everyday life? How do they earn their existence? How does it go a regular day of their life? Do they have children, families... responsibilities of such?

   "Einar, Østen, Kenneth & Rune all have jobs beside of the band. Vibeke and Kjetil are studying. I am normally studying myself, but right now I am doing my civil service (as an alternative to military service). I'm doing the civil service working at a rock venue, though, so it quite nice. None of us has children."

   I understood you really loved the last SOLEFALD... what other albums made a strong impression on you? What do you think of SIRENIA? What about TRAIL OF TEARS?

   "Radiohead's 'Hail To The Thief' and Solefald 'In Harmonia Universali' were the two albums that were most important for me in 2003. Both of them represent original and innovative music in different ways. Other highlights for me during 2003 were Madder Mortem's 'Deadlands', Massive Attack's '100th Window' and 'Reality' by David Bowie. Now I'm really looking forward to the new My Dying Bride. I have always been a huge fan of that band. To be honest, I have only listened to Sirenia's album a couple of times. Morten is without doubt a talented composer and musician, but the songs on the album sound too much the same in my opinion. Trial of Tears is also a very talented band. The reason why we asked Ronny Thorsen to do the extreme vocals on 'World of Glass' was because we really liked his voice and we are looking forward to their future release."

   Otherwise, David Bowie is one of your essential vocal approaches and your favourite one, besides Fields Of The Nephilim, The Cure or Depeche Mode. Aren't you tempted to found a project to follow a similar direction?

   "The best thing about TRISTANIA for me is our diversity. We are influenced by all kinds of different music. Though we are a metal band, we are influenced by many things that are far from metal. For example, David Bowie is a big influence for me when it comes to composing."

   In TRISTANIA's sound there are to be distinguished some elements of classical music. Is any of you a fan of such category? I heard you used to listen to Wagner's compositions....

   "Like I've said, I like all kinds of music. I also enjoy classical music to a certain degree, though I'm not listening to it very often. I like some of Wagner's work for example, yes. It's probably Einar and Vibeke that have been listening most to classical music of the TRISTANIA members."

   The Metal scene is full of bands who try to copy your style and your sound, which is labelled as a Gothic sound. Maybe it is not the most appropriate labelling but I don't have in mind other term either. Still, what would be your advice for these bands? To quit music? Or to follow up an even more commercial manner?

   "What happened in the end of the 90's was that labels opened their eyes for these kinds of bands. They saw that there was money to make upon these bands, and the result became a gothic boom. This led to that a lot of bands like this got signed, including a lot of bad ones, in my opinion. The essential thing in every genre is identity and originality, and too many bands are just copies of others. I don't want to give advice to other bands, though."

   Any news about TSOTB? They started so good and promising...

   "It's been a while since I spoke to any of them. Although we come from the same area of Norway, we live in different cities. But the last time I met them, they were planning a new album."

   Which are your sources of inspiration? The fact you live in the North part of Europe has any meaning or significance or effect towards your music? What about the Viking issue? History, mythology, geography... they all have an impact in TRISTANIA's music?

   "I think it's difficult to put words on the sources of inspiration, because I believe that a big part of these processes works on a sub-conscious level. When it comes to me and Einar as composers we can get inspiration from all kinds of things. Good music can be an inspiration. People you meet, a movie or a book.... you name it. I think Østen as a lyricist feels it the same way. When it comes to nature, geography etc. it's difficult to tell if (or how much) this has impact on or work. It might have on a sub-conscious level."

   Which is your opinion next to terrorist acts of Saddam, Osama Bin Laden or next to what happens in Palestine? If I am not mistaken you formulated some points of view in "Wormwood", which were initially supposed to act under a different title, "The Sins of George"... Are you interested in politics?

   "He, he... The song was never supposed to be called 'The Sins of George". It was Østen's humoristic working title on the lyrics. There are elements on both 'Wormwood' and other songs on 'World Of Glass' that relate to the situation in the world today. The title for the album is in itself a metaphor on what's going on. TRISTANIA will never be a political band, though. Personally I'm interested in politics, and I'm really worried about what is going on."

   What about religion? A formal answer "we have no religion" type... might be an answer and would clear some issues out but it wouldn't be enough for your fans... therefore... would you be kind to comment a little the idea of religion and its implications...?

   "I define myself as an atheist, and the essence of that is that I do not see any reason why there should be a god or other forces that control this world. So I guess I have to disappoint you on this one. I have no religion. I believe in humans, not other forces. I think it is pretty frightening to see today what is happening. Religion is the reason behind all the big conflicts that are going on around the planet. I hate fundamentalism of any kind, and I think Bush' approach to deal with terrorism very wrong, and it only escalates terrorism."

   Thanks for the interview, Anders, and good luck!

February, 2004


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