An interview with Mortiis - Chaos Control Digizine
By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 2004
WIth “The Grudge,” Norway’s Mortiis once again surprises listeners with a new musical twist. The last Mortiis release, “The Smell Of Rain,” shifted further from the ambient style of his early work in favor of more melodic, vocal-driven songs. On the new disc, Mortiis continues with more traditional song structures. But while electronics still figure prominently, guitars are much in the forefront of the music. However, this shift towards more of a rock sounds comes across as a natural evolution rather than an abrupt musical about-face. The following is an interview with Mortiis conducted in August 2004. On the next page, you will find an interview we did with him in 2001.
“The Grudge” seems to have more of a rock feel to it than “Smell Of Rain” did. What made you go for that sound this time around?
MORTIIS: “There’s a lot of live playing. With a lot of these songs, the way they were written differed from the way those on ‘Smell Of Rain’ were written. Very early on in the song writing process I would kind of make riffs. I would come up with something that was kind of cool and then build from that. I’m not sure if it was deliberate or not, but I think I wanted to make songs that I knew were going to work well live. And I didn’t prohibit myself this time from really experimenting with things. Like on ‘Smell Or Rain’ I was kind of scared of alienating myself from everyone. So I was being careful with what I was doing on that one. And I wanted a more aggressive album. I think we managed to do that.
At the same time, there’s still a lot of synths there. You just have to listen to the layers. It’s just so dense now. There are so many layers of stuff, that a lot of things get hidden. There might be some kind of weird shit going on in the left ear. I think it is by and large a headset album, and I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing. It doesn’t have to be, but if you listen to it that way I think you’ll discover a few new things.”
Was there a point in the making of the album that you’d hit on the sound or concept for it?
MORTIIS: “I don’t think there was. We took each song at face value, and went with the flow. If I was going to follow a strict pattern, I can see myself having gone down that path of songs like ‘Way To Wicked’ and ‘Gibber.’ But I didn’t. If I’d wanted to go that way, which is much more guitar driven, I’d have to throw other songs away. Like ‘The Loneliest Things’ and ‘Twist The Knife.’ Because I feel that those are different. But that’s what makes a great album, I think. The variety. You never know how things are going to work out live. To me I think it’s smart to consider that, but then again sometimes you run across something that you think is great but will never work live. For example, I like ‘Twist The Knife’ a lot but we’re not going to perform it live because I don’t think it’s going to work out. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to ditch the song.”
Are there songs that you didn’t think would work live, but did after radically re-working them?
MORTIIS: “Everything that we’ve performed from ‘The Smell Of Rain’ has been radically changed through the years. With the new live set, we’ve thrown away some of the old songs. Our set right now is about an hour and ten minutes.”
Do you change your live set at all based on things like where you’re performing and the type of audience you’re expecting?
MORTIIS: “That’s difficult because we are dependent on a backing tape with all of the synths and samples and stuff like that. So basically, you make your tapes and that’s what you’ve got to go with. If you ask any band of our type, they’d probably say something similar. But then again, we could do different versions, with different track orders and all that. But I think we’re probably too lazy to do that! We’re going on a big tour to support the album, and it might be a big reality check for us. We might find that five of our songs don’t really work live. Last time there were songs that we couldn’t seem to get a great crowd reaction from, so we dropped them.
When you record, do you do much manipulation of the live instrument parts?
MORTIIS: “Yes. We already did that on ‘The Grudge’ and “Decadent & Desperate” for the remixes. It made ‘The Grudge’ sound even cooler, so it’s going to be on the single. On ‘Broken Skin’ we did a lot of that. For that song, we actually put this weird kind of midi gate on it that made the guitar part very tight. It’s an exact replica of the midi that I had programmed . Every time the midi came in, it would trigger and allow the guitar to come out. But what’s really important if you want to do that is that the guitarist has to play the exact same thing as the midi does. So it’s a weird gating thing. I’ve only gotten it to work once. That was cool. On “Decadent & Desperate” I took a lot of the riffs and sampled them up, and then basically destroyed them. A lot of typical effects were used as well, like bit reduction and sample rate reduction and all that. Sometimes it sounds great, sometimes it sounds wrong. But it’s experimentation. ”
What effect has new musical technology, such as software synths and samplers, had on your creative process?
MORTIIS: “On ‘Smell Of Rain’ I just used 2 hardware Kurzweil samplers and Cubase 4. No software synths or samplers. I didn’t even know what that was. So I actually had to teach myself that before making this album. I still use my hardware a lot. I have a Waldorf Microwave, a Nord Rack 2. I use Sounddiver, which is from Emagic. It has a lot of modules for different synths, which allow you open the software for that synth on your computer screen. But it’s very confusing to look at. ”
Do you find yourself spending a lot of your time learning different tools?
MORTIIS: “I think I turn into a nerd. Sometimes I find myself having sat with a program like Turbosynth, which no one has used since like ’95. It’s got all these weird wave shaping tools, which make you sound like Skinny Puppy. Sometimes I find myself having sat for 3 hours screwing around with that. But I’ve learned to understand it more, which is always helpful down the line. This is one of the reasons why I took a lot of time on this album. I’ve been tinkering around with so many pieces of software. ‘Broken Skin’ turned out having 200 tracks on it because I kept fucking around with sounds. It was a nightmare to mix it!”
Have you considered running sequences off of a laptop computer instead of DAT tape?
MORTIIS:” I’ve thought about it. I have a couple of laptops at home. But computers just crash, man. It’s fine when you’re at home. You can re-start. You might lose some work and you might break the screen, which I did once when I was pissed off. But if happens live, you’re screwed and I don’t want to risk that.”
A 2001 interview with Mortis:
How did you come to start recording as Mortiis?
“I think the main reason was that my musical horizons were expanding a lot. I was just really tired of what I had been doing and wanted to do something really different. I was really into the electronic stuff at the time, so it was really natural for me to go down to the music store and buy myself a keyboard to start playing. A lot of my music then, until about three years ago, was basically live keyboard music, not that interesting, if you ask me. And then I started programming in the last couple of years.”
Are there any advances in musical technology that you think have play a particularly big role in the evolution of your sound over the years?
“I would have to say that definitely computer software. This album was the first one where I actually used computers, programs like Peak and Cubase and Kurzweil samplers. And that has had a really big effect on the music, it’s really opened up a lot of doors in terms of flexibility and being able to manipulate sounds.”
Is there anything you’d like to do that the current gear doesn’t allow for?
“I don’t see myself as being that good, in terms of using samplers and software. So I don’t think I’ve reached the point where I think that ‘they should have done this to the program because I want to do this and it’s not possible.’ So that hasn’t happened yet, hopefully it will one day, I would love to see the point where I have outgrown the program. That would be the perfect fucking moment for me! But so far I can’t really say, I mean if there’s stuff I want to do, I usually figure out a way to do it.”
Do you ever find that the technology gives you too much control, making it hard to decide when something is done?
“Yeah, I’ve noticed that. I have a tendency to just add tracks upon tracks upon tracks. I keep adding stuff until it’s too much. There’s all these variations you can make. That’s where I get versions of songs, you can make 15 different remixes of whatever. I haven’t actually gone and taken that step, but I’ve definitely noticed when I’m writing songs that there’s a lot of ideas and I could easily split the song into different versions of it. It’s something that I plan to do in the future.”
Do you have a particular approach to songwriting?
“Not really. I’ve noticed that it usually starts out with a theme, or whatever, a riff or a piece. The sound is whatever I have loaded up at the point, I guess, and I just start working on it, trying to add more melodies and sounds, beats, and try to come up with a vocal line. If I get that far, to the point where a vocal melody will fit in and sounds good, I know I’ve got something going on. I work a lot with MIDI, I can change the sounds later on and see what works out and what doesn’t work out.”
When you perform this material live, will you need backing tracks?
“This album is really different, we’re going to have to use a certain amount of playback. With this music, you can’t really get away from it, the programming can’t really be reproduced humanly. It will be based upon that background, with the rest of us doing out live duties so to speak on top of it and hope it will make a good show.”
Do you use sequencers on stage, or tapes?
“I don’t really trust live sequenced stuff, because that’s really volatile. If there’s a little power glitch it’s all gone. Plus it’s a lot of shit to carry. We used to do D.A.T.s but I wasn’t particularly happy with that either, it’s not flexible. What we will do is put everything on an 8 track, spaced out, so we have the possibility of mixing the levels. I think that’s a lot more flexible than DAT, which is just like one track, you can’t do anything with it..
Have you been using the make-up all along?
“It’s something I’ve done from the very beginning. I think it was mostly due to the fact that I grew up with KISS and that whole larger-than-life thing was always something that I really liked. And then a little later on I started getting into a lot of fantasy literature, especially Tolkien and stuff like that. I think it was just a combination of growing up with people like Kiss and Alice Cooper and W.A.S.P. and reading all that literature and being into the occult and all that stuff.”
Has it changed at all over the years?
“Yeah, it was a lot more primal in the beginning, it wasn’t really professional at all. About three years ago we updated everything, it looks a lot better than it used to.”
When you play live, are you band members also dressed/made up like you?
“They haven’t taken it as far as I do. We already on the edge of almost being tacky, and it certainly has been tacky several times. It’s a very thin line for us between in my opinion cool and being cheesy or tacky. And I think if all of us were to do that, we’d look like a freak show that’s more about the show than the music. Which is not true, we are ultimately about the music. We’ve just had the opportunity powerful things visually as well.”
What are you feelings about the Internet?
“If you have a website, it’s the ultimate way to communicate with your fans, and get the news across.. But at the same time, with certain bands there’s a problem of people downloading the music before it actually gets released. The Napster thing, which I don’t have a problem with. But I know some bands tend to not feel the same way. Of course, the kind of shitty thing is that it gives people the anonymity to go out there and be such fucking smart asses, which can be annoying. But if you know that’s what it is, you grow thick skin in a week and you don’t care.”
What about online music distribution, actually selling music as digial files?
“Personally, I wouldn’t really want to pay for only the music in itself. I want the package, you want to go into a store and buy the album with the sleeve, with the actual disc, the whole nine yards. To me, that’s like a ritual. That’s half the fun, going into a store and just looking through the records to find what you want, then paying for it. Not just going on some site and paying a couple of bucks to get a song. What’s the fun in that? It’s just a file.”
Will you be touring America to support the new cd?
“I’m pretty sure we’ll be over in the States again at some point. Spring next year, maybe. Hopefully getting to as many states as possible. It’s going happen.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“My last words will be this – all nice goth girls should come topless to my shows. That would bring all the guys too and everybody’s going to have a hell of a good time. That’s not meant in a sexist way, of course, it’s all with the best intentions.”See all interviews →