Mortiis: “We are used to never fitting in”

More than 16 years ago the Sisters of Mercy went on a strike against dishonesty of their record label and have not put out any official product of their art since, other then an occasional concert. For a while now Norwegian ever-changing Mortiis is also still label-less, rejecting the greed of the music industry. Yet this doesn’t stop the band from creating new material, progressing with original solutions and future plans. Being a pretty stubborn Northern guy, Mortiis’ frontman Håvard Ellefsen is ready to wait an eternity, but can the fans wait as long? And moreover, will this make any significant change in modern music industry and the business “vampires” behind it? Impressively, Håvard holds himself very self-assured, with enough humour and good acting skills, thus this man’s presence conveys certain confidence for the future to come…

How’s it going?
Good-good. So far so good. We just came back from Oulu, travelling the whole night in a small van, it was pretty tight and it was hard to sleep. The concert was ok though, it wasn’t too crowded, not too many people, but it was a good show.

So you’ve been doing a few concerts, how’re they going?
This is not a tour, we’ve been coming back home after almost every concert. Otherwise it’s a small promotional thing for the new record, as we’re playing four new songs at each show, and the record isn’t even out yet, so… It’s more like we’re just doing the gigs. Well, in Russia we got no promotion, so a bunch of people didn’t show up as they didn’t even know about it. It was more like a couple hundreds every day, or something. But promotion-wise there was nothing, no posters, no flyers – nothing. Apart from that we got nice people everywhere, like in all Europe. I like London less and less every time we play there. I don’t want to sound like a racist, but there are too many fucking immigrants, crime every day… I don’t like big cities.

Of course you’re tired from the trip now, but how does it feel for you to be a part of the Trash Fest, being one among many near-to-glam bands that adolescent girls follow?…
We talked about it and we’re kind of used to never really fitting in anyway, whatever we do. We’ve done everything from pure metal festivals to synth&electronica festivals, and this is like a sleezy-wack thing or whatever, rock/punk… Not punk, but you know what I mean. It’s like this New Yorker punk in ’77, like Ramones and this fest kind of falls under this, and again, this is something that we’re used to, not all being like-minded people here… But then again, there are so many bands that sound like Mortiis, and we’ve changed a lot… should’ve really changed the name too (laughs)… And it’s clearly marked: Era I, Era II, Era III, so… But I’m kind of sick of that too now, so fuck this – let’s just do this festival!

You’re sick of being classified, right?
And that too – I get sick of all stuff very quick though, probably that explains all the changes, I don’t know, I’ve to think about it… It’s just how I am.

What is Mortiis trying to say with the music, do you think there’s a mission, concept or a message?
I don’t think there’s so much of a message, I don’t like to tell people what to do. I think people should be their own masters. Mortiis has always been, at least for the past 3 records, pissed off at record labels, old girlfriends (laughs), or whatever – people just really have made my life a fucking living hell at some point, and it’s still about that, and sometimes people’s nature in general can be a pretty bad thing; so judgemental – I fucking hate that. And I do that too, it’s just one of the parts of human nature, we can’t do without. All that kind of stuff trigger inspiration, lyrics, you know…

What is inspiration for you?
What IS inspiration?… [takes a pause] I don’t have a way to evoke it, you know, I can’t force it, it just happens: you’ve got one good idea and it triggers ten other ideas, and when you’re on the road you fucking work for as long as you can. There’s no one special moment, but in the past it’s been something like between 3 and 5 in the morning, when finally things fall into place… But it’s over now, I have a little daughter and I’ve to go to bed at fucking midnight, back up at 5…

How old is she now?
10-11 months…

So you can put her back to sleep with some nice Mortiis lullaby!
(all laugh) Yeah, I could! (does a deep growling tune)

How have you changed since becoming a father?
I need to step up and be more responsible, you know, get up early in a morning, I never sleep anymore.

So then, how do you manage to work on the album?
It’s done already! Yeah…

And just how happy are you with it?
It’s the best we’ve ever done, so far. With this album we’re 98% satisfied with what we’ve achieved, some things I think could be cooler. I mean, we had Chris Vrenna mixing it and he could do only 5 songs, I was hoping he could do the whole album, but that’s not a big problem, whatever. The rest we mixed ourselves. You can hear some difference between those 5 songs and ours, because Chris mixed them quicker, he didn’t have a lot of time. For ours we spent like 3 days on each song, so… Otherwise I’ve 3 albums ready now. So now we have to find a proper record label… If we self-release them again, like we did before with my own label, it’ll take all my time. This is 10-12 hours work a day, and so there’s no time to make music. And that’s why I stopped doing it, I was pissed off and fed up, chasing people to ask them to pay their bills, so I spent more time yelling at people than I got for making music. This is just wrong, this isn’t why I started this. Now we keep on working on music every day and we’re creating new stuff. Maybe one album we’ll put out just for free for downloading, others somewhere, let’s see.

And meanwhile you’ll continue searching for a deal?
Well, not as much searching, as telling people to “fuck off!” (laughs) ‘cos the deals now are not good, labels are so greedy, they want everything… We did everything ourselves, we paid for it, we own everything now, we shot two videos, we’ve got this whole big package ready to go! And so far the offers are coming in, like “we give you this much money, and a shitty deal and we want to own everything”. And I’m like: “oh fuck it, not gonna happen.” We’ve just spent so much time and effort and we’ve got all this talent involved, great director, great people, so you know, we aren’t going to just flash it down the toilet just because the greedy record label wants it for free. It’s not even about the money. I don’t honestly care about the advance and the money, I just want a contract that’s a good deal, that’s able to treat the band fairly, that will actually market the record and give the band a chance to be seen and chance to sell some records, you know what I mean? It’s not about any big money – fuck it! I don’t care! – money comes later, if it ever happens. I just want to be treated in a fair fucking way, because this never happened to us. That’s all I want and so far I don’t feel that any of the record labels offer that. Now I’m totally fine and I can wait forever, ‘cos it’s gone so far now and we stayed so fucking long in this fucked up industry that I know what I’m not going to go back to.

What’s the best revenge?
Winning. Getting what I want, which is basically prove to those people that I can do whatever I want on my own terms.

But I guess it’s kind of near to impossible to predict how will the label act in the future after signing the contract, how the attitude might change…
Well, you just have to look at the contract, you’ve to understand what’s in there.

So then how do you differentiate art from business, as in this industry one can’t go without the other…
I fucking hate business. Some times are hard, I’ve some income now and then. Also my wife has a job, so if anything, I have a safety net, we’ll manage, we’ll survive, it’s not about that. You just have to look at things in a business mode and not think about the art. It’s very hard to look at the contract and not take it personally: “this is what you think I AM worth?! FUCK!” (sighs dramatically)

And you get all insulted, and that’s typical me, that’s the problem I have, always taking things so personal. I try not to, you know… I’m not into the business thing, we have a manager and that’s like how we’re supposed to be doing, but I always want to read the contract and know what’s going on, I need to know what’s there. And so far, every clause in the contract I’ve had so many comments: “this has to change, and this has to change, this is fucking… and this has to go away, this you’ve to put in there, etc.” And of course it never happens, because the record labels want to take care of themselves, so you know…

Do you at least have some choices or offers now?
Yeah, we have some so far… We can always go back, but we aren’t gonna do it! I’m simply fine waiting until the right deal comes along. We’re actively talking to labels, but this stuff takes a really long time, so… Music industry isn’t in the best boat now anyway – everybody’s downloading. So our solution is: if it’s difficult to sell a physical record, then make a physical record even cooler. Put tons of bonus stuff in there, give kids shit loads of cool stuff which you could never possibly download.

That’s true, but if you just don’t have the money – doesn’t matter how cool the record is, you just can’t afford it, thus – downloads…
Well, maybe now because the global crisis and that’s at top of the musical climate, so you’ve got two problems. But even then, record labels just don’t seem to take the responsibility. Lower the price of the fucking product, if you’re gonna sell the record for 20 Dollars, try to sell it for 15, put a lot of extra stuff into it. We wanna put multimedia dvds, with bonuses, desktop wallpapers, and all this fucking cool stuff, put all the tracks to the songs, so people can take them to their computers and breed extra songs, we want to do the same to the artwork, put all the elements there, so people can make their own Mortiis artwork, because this makes any fan a part of the band. I really don’t mind. I was thinking they could upload it, put it on our forum or whatever, be interactive. Obviously this has got to be a screened process, as some people could put a fucking swastika onto my forehead, so you’ve got to have a censor thing. I think you’ve gotta do stuff like that, you can’t just put a usual cd in a jewel case and that’s it, it’s boring now, you’ve got to make it attractive and give more.

You’ve mentioned that the new material has some punk influences…
It’s in the way it’s done, some of the performances, of the attitude – it’s right up in your face, angry, kind of sloppy, couple of the songs are a little bit like that. It’s more like I just got the vibe that this kind of feels punky to me, I mean, I like stuff like Discharge and Amebix… If Amebix ever tours and I was close, I’d fucking cancel anything to go see them. For now at least I can buy their shirts online.

Who’s that dude on your shirt now?
Charles Manson. Why not him?! (all laugh) I like his face. I wanna marry him – no I don’t. If you can fucking convince that many people to do that kind of stuff for you, what kind of brain power does this guy have?!

Like Hitler!
Yeah, only I don’t support Hitler. His philosophy I don’t agree with, there are assholes in every race, I don’t want to exterminate anybody just because of their nationality, but maybe if they are morons, then maybe yes… Maybe he was a political genius, but he took it in a terrible direction… (Levi in the background asks if Hitler made music) Music?! He must’ve not been very good then… I’ve a couple of records by Charles Manson, it’s some folk stuff with strange lyrics…

How ironic that both those guys clearly had artistic talents, but somehow didn’t manage to direct it in a right way and it came out…
…the wrong way? (all laugh) I don’t know, but I’m able to channel my negative energy through music, and finally it turns into something positive, you know? I guess Hitler didn’t do that.

What would you consider as the worst quality in a human being?
Falseness and that could be anything, really: liars, backstabbers, fake people, it’s just irresponsible. This whole rockstar thing to me is just cynical, or false ego: “oh, I’ve sold a lot of records, so I can treat people like shit.” This is just ungrateful, I can’t stand all this, it just fucking pisses me off. Who the fuck create your jobs, who buys your records?! You’ve to respect them, a lot of people forget about that. Some fans don’t respect the artists also, but that happens: “why didn’t you make this record like the previous?!” and stuff like that.

I’ve heard your first visit to the US was rather memorable…
First time I played was in ’97, when Mortiis was still a solo thing, I even think nobody really understood it, it was a weird performance, more like an art-show, with a playback music, I was so embarrassed and it was actually really bad, just bizarre. We’ve played this whole festival thing, and the Great Kat was there. You know her? She’s this crazy guitar chick from 80s, and all this speed metal and she’s i-n-s-a-n-e, we got into a fucking fight backstage, man! She was hanging with all those guys and they were going to fucking kill me! I was just going to grab my bag and she has this massive ego, so for some reason she just started this trouble, I was coming in through the door, just reaching out for my bag and she was “WTF?!” She was playing there with all those strange punk bands and then there was Mortiis in middle of everything… (laughs) This was a pretty long time ago, so I’m not sure how much changed there in Chicago. That was the first time I’ve actually met Alex Zander from MK Ultra Magazine, with his cowboy hat on, so…

At some point you’ve also been touring with Christian Death…
That was a long time ago, also. I remember I made a terrible mistake when I called Valor ‘Rozz’ and Rozz has just committed a suicide back then, and I was like “hey Rozz!” and that was such a senseless thing ‘cos those guys were good friends, so it was a big loss. He just ignored me that day and I think I should’ve apologized, but Valor is quite a nice guy with a huge ego, no doubt about it, but he has his days. If he’s a bad mood, everyone would feel it, but then he’s a good mood and you think it’ll be ok, but it changes… He’s mostly fine though. I had a pretty good time on that tour, it might’ve been my first tour ever, so everything was still new and depressing, because at the same time I didn’t realise how tour goes, how much money you can lose, how expensive it is…

What?! Isn’t the label suppose to pay for that?
Hmmm… (does a very self-explanatory facial expression)

Oh, you’ve had one fucked up record label!
(all laugh) You got it! There’s something called a “tour support” when they cover a fraction of it, but then they’ll deduct that from your royalties later. So at the end it’s always you, those people there are just – c-r-a-z-y – they don’t give a flying fuck about bands, all they care for are themselves. And it’s not just me – it’s any label, so for the bands to survive, it’s very, VERY difficult. Why do you think bands split up all the time? It’s not because they’re tired of being a band, it’s because they can’t fucking afford it!

So how does this financial situation affects band’s insider relationships?
That’s why some people got fired. Every time they want to do something, it’s costing them tons of money, and a band takes a lot of time. You go on tour and you don’t have daily job, nobody will let you go on/off job all the time, you’ll get kicked out. And you’ve to pay your rent, your electricity… I’ve had all those closed off ‘cos I couldn’t pay, so it’s terrible. Since we got out of that record deal and started touring, I noticed that it became a bit easier, we weren’t fighting so much with each other and we had some money left between us, so we were like “hey, let’s go on tour!” So bought the flights and applied for some funding from the government, which I’m very good at, I can get those!

Hey, can you give me some tips later?
Sure! Basically you’ve to lie a little bit and tell them that my music matters to a lot of people, it’s culturally valid and stuff like that – this is what the government wants to hear! So promote yourself in a big way, you know? If you wear yourself nicely and look kind of professional, it took me about four years before they started giving me the money, as I kept getting rejections, and when I was about to give up, they said yes. This was huge inspiration for me – “now it finally works!”

So if you could, where else would you go?
Oh, I’d love to go to New Zealand, Australia, swim with the sharks and see poisonous snakes, spiders… They are creepy, but all fascinating things are! We’ve got very huge spiders in my house, because we live right next to the forest. I didn’t know they exist until like three years ago, they are called wood spiders, or forest spiders… They are big and black and they just stand on my walls. My wife has a phobia of spiders and I always have to catch them. I never kill them, ‘cos I don’t like killing stuff, so I get a glass and a piece of paper and push them out. Man, those things can run extremely fast! So they come inside the house to mate, so they stand on the wall, waiting for another to come…

…party time!
(all laugh) Porno on the wall! And my wife is scanning the house all the time and when I hear her scream, I know what it is, so… “here we go again” (sighs)… And once it was in our bed, crawling over my arm and I didn’t want to freak her out, so I was like “shush, shush…” and she was like “it’s a spider, isn’t?”, so that one I had to kill, I couldn’t catch it. And once our cat pulled in a rat, that was pretty disgusting. The cat broke rat’s back legs, but that thing was trying to crawl on the floor, so I had to pick it up and kill it. We’ve three cats and they drag all kinds of stuff in, birds, mice, and they are always half dead and I’m like “oh, fuck…” Because they play with them, that’s what cats do, so when they are done, I’ve to kill the half-dead-half-broken animals…

Then you can supply the corpses to those Norwegian black metal bands for their stage shows!
(all laugh) To Gorgoroth! They do that, but I’ve not met those guys for years and years, we aren’t in the same scene anymore.

Do you miss those times?
I’ve played with Emperor for about year and a half, but my first band was one death metal band where I was a singer, but they split up after some eight months; then I played bass in another band, but that also lasted some three months.

Maybe there’s a song that you regret you weren’t the one who wrote it?
There’re probably a lot of them, “Thriller” is one. Except the video, where werewolf looks like a cat! It’s got those whiskers and so on, that’s a werecat! I think the whole Michael Jackson thing is cool, man. There’re like 15 minutes of plot and 3 minutes of music, I don’t know anyone else who’d done something like that. If we would’ve done it, no station would ever play 15 minutes of Mortiis video! But if it’s Michael Jackson, he’d get a whole fucking hour. As far as the songs though, “Dragula” by Rob Zombie, “Hurt” by Cash… Stuff like that.

If you were not a musician, what other profession could you take?
I got into the music when I was so young, so I never developed any other interests. But in another life, murder investigations seem interesting…

Imagine, you could’ve been the guy who caught Charles Manson…
(laughs) Right. In 1973, two years before I was born… But it’s a fascinating world! I’ve always thought that the whole serial killer thing was sooo fascinating, but I’m not sure how smart I am for that. So that would be a job I wouldn’t hate.

Hey, now is a small test here: association game. Here’s a bunch of random objects, you’ve to pick a couple and say what comes to your mind first, explain it a little bit.
I take one with picture of the witches [picks up a postcard with four witches in pointy hats] This brings a memory when I was very young and I was standing by a very old house, way out in the mountains and I felt that weird smell… That’s actually how I wrote that “Smell the witch” song later, there’s a certain scent… It comes back every ten years, I’m not that old, but a couple of times that same smell showed up, it’s like haunting in a way. I’ve not felt it for about 10 years now, so I guess it’s soon time again.

Do you believe in karma?
I think I do. I haven’t seen a total proof of it, but I do believe that whatever goes around, comes around. It’s actually kind of logical. If you treat people like shit, sooner or later it’ll turn on you and you’ll be alone in the world, you know what I mean? This is where our former record label is heading…
[picks up a bottle of Jägermeister] like Entombed, they had their wine,
Obviously that reminds me of Jägermeister! We once did a Jägermortiis, we actually had a sticker with a whole logo that said “Jägermortiis”, I think it was part of the Kerrang! awards or something, in the UK. We’ve had it on all the tables, it was funny. And somehow we managed to convince people at Kerrang! because it’s just this typical rock’n’roll liquor, and it makes you a fucking idiot too, you get very drunk and stupid and all that stuff…

But isn’t the same with any alcohol?
Not really. You can do fine on vodka, you can turn into a monster with tequila, this is about how the ingredients power the alcohol, or something. I’m not sure what happens exactly, but liquors give those results. Yeah, I’ve heard enough of pink elephants after absinth. What’s in there, some kind of toxic? Wormwood or something like that?

What kind of effect alcohol has on you?
I get a buzz, but nothing crazy. I’m not a bad drunk or anything, I don’t get pissed. I get an emotional drunk sometimes, watching a movie and then “aw, aw – please don’t die…” (does a sad face)

And what about drugs?
That’s always a sad question, you know? I mean, I don’t do a lot of drugs. It’s down for each individual. If you’re too dumb to be able control drugs, you shouldn’t do them in a first place. You’ve got to give people some freedom. If people want to do them, there should be certain places for that. Like a pub. You’re not suppose to drink beer out on the streets, so you either go to a pub or you stay at home. Or a club, but I say pub, whatever. They could do the same thing with drugs, man. So if you want to do coke or fucking heroin, just go and do it there. I’d rather be in a car with a driver who took a sash of coke, than who smoked a lot of hush. I don’t do that much myself nowadays, but I liked the speed and the coke, it just made me fucking happy. You get this electric kind of feeling, you walk around and you talk a lot and you have all those great ideas. And that’s it. Also, it stops you from getting drunk. It goes so fast in your body, of course depends on your blood. I mean, you can drink 20 beers and barely get drunk, and have a horrible hangover the day after, it’s a nightmare… But from my personal experience, drugs never did anything bad to me. I’ve never freaked out or anything. Some people maybe turn into real monsters, but I was just happy, so fucking happy and in great mood, man.


Marina Sidyakina, transl. S. Mahrer, Photos: Julia Sheremetyeva

GastmitarbeiterInnen / guest contributions

Regular guest contributors e.g. Melanie Kircher, Tatjana Tattis Murschel, Grit Kabiersch, Marina Minkler, Jasmine Frey, Maria Levin, Elvira Visser, Nina Ratavaara, John Wisniewski