FEATURE INTERVIEW: HJELVIK – “‘Welcome to Hel’ is my most personal accomplishment to date” – ERLEND HJELVIK

Posted on by Oran

As HJELVIK, prepare for the release of ‘Welcome To Hel’, the new solo album from Erlend Hjelvik, this coming Friday [November, 20th], Overdrive caught up with the mastermind behind it all. Find out all you need to know about how the album came together, the overall concept behind ‘HJELVIK’ and be in with a chance to win a SIGNED TEST PRESSING! Details below…

Photo by Peter Beste © 2020

Speaking from his residence in Norway, Erlend Hjelvik is in good spirits despite the restrictions of the global pandemic, which will no doubt have a huge effect on the touring prospects for his already, critically-acclaimed new solo debut, ‘Welcome To Hel’.

With very high praise from critics all across the globe, it’s easy to understand Erlend’s chipper mood, as he talks about his journey into the wild with ‘Welcome To Hel’.

Boasting ten-tracks of well-crafted, old-school metal, ‘Welcome to Hel‘ is destined to please even the most elite of metal fans! You know the ones we’re talking about, folks. The permanently grumpy Venom/Bathory warriors who sneer and spit luke-warm vinegar about everything that was recorded post-1986.

Well, if you happen to be one of said ‘rays of sunshine’, then sit back and let us welcome you to Hell…..

OD – First of all, let me congratulate you on a damn fine debut album. ‘Welcome to Hel’ is a huge-sounding exploration into a hybrid of old-school Heavy Metal with a blackened vibe. Let’s start with telling me how long these songs have been rattling around inside your head, as I know the album has been finished since October last year?

ERLEND – Well, the music and ideas for ‘HJELVIK‘ have been with me for about a year and a half. I started writing back in early 2019 right after New Years and it took me about 6-months to write all the music and lyrics. So, I’ve been personally sitting on this album for about a year now. It feels really good to finally be releasing it and even better to share it with people.

OD – When the reality of the Covid/Pandemic situation began to unfold, did you have any hesitations about going ahead with the scheduled release date?

ERLEND – We didn’t have a release date that we had to delay, but what happened was, we had the album recorded before we were signed to a label [Nuclear Blast], so in a way, that took more time to get things arranged and in order.

I’m actually pretty happy with how the timing worked out. I feel lucky that we didn’t rush things and have to deal with the pandemic after we had released the album as there would have been so many logistics that we would have to re-arrange and cancel etc. As far as things go, I’m relieved that we knew what we were dealing with prior to the official release of the album.

I feel like we have a good release date and things are going well considering the issues that we are all experiencing. There seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel with and we are looking forward to planning live shows next year and getting back out there. Also, it will give people to digest the album and be familiar with the songs, which is always a good thing, especially for a totally new project like ‘HJELVIK‘.

OD – From when you left Kvelertak back in 2018, did you start working on ‘Welcome to Hel’ almost immediately, or did you have a break for a while?

ERLEND – Yeah, I took a couple of months to deflate after leaving the band and a welcome break. It felt really good to take a step back from the whole industry. I just did some work around the house and relaxed. It felt really good.

I also just re-introduced myself to music again…almost becoming a fan of certain types of genres that I’d just not had time to listen too, or was in the right frame of mind to totally enjoy.

I got more enthusiastic about music again, like when I was much younger. Also, all the touring from over the years had left a less than enthusiastic, unmotivated reaction towards listening and discovering new music. I was not really listening to Metal as much as I had used to back when I was younger.

OD – Do you feel that you are starting with a fresh clean slate with this new project, where you have learned from past mistakes and experiences etc?

ERLEND – Yes, exactly. I felt really refreshing and liberating to take a break. I began to feel very inspired once again which made me very happy. Writing the whole album as a very positive experience for me, an experience that came with ease. Writing ‘Welcome to Hel‘ was a very natural and organic experience for me.

OD – I get the impression that you started working on this project in an almost organic creative way, almost letting the music guide you rather than you guiding the music. Did you have a clear concept at the start?

ERLEND – Yes! When I usually sit down to write music, I don’t have a pre-conceived idea of what the song/music should exactly sound like. I just sit and noodle around, and a riff might catch my ear, and then I just try to develop on the idea and imagine myself singing over the top of the music and try to imagine how that will sound.

OD – Of course, we know that the album was recorded in Portland, Oregon with Justin Phelps. Tell me about why you decided to record here and with Justin in particular?

ERLEND – Well, there were some practical reasons why I did the album there as my wife is American and also the manager of ‘HJELVIK‘ and she’s doing a great job, which is cool! We have a house close to Portland and that’s why we recorded there. It was really good to get out of Norway for a while and be in a new environment for a while.

So, that’s the reason why we choose to record in Portland. With regards to working with Justin, I liked the work he did with Slough Feg and also, it just seemed very natural and the right choice. I’m very happy with the album.

OD – When did you decide to release this on your own label “Helmet Fire Records’?

ERLEND – It just felt like a good idea because Norway is a very important market and I really wanted to pay close attention here, as Nuclear Blast doesn’t have an office set up in this part of the world.

I guess the plan was to sign with a Norwegian label for a separate deal and we figured instead of doing that, why not just set up a label ourselves and that way we can make sure that the very best attention is being overseen for the album. It takes a lot of extra work which I feel is very much worth it and also, it’s been a lot of fun setting it up.

OD – With Burning Helmet Records, is there any intention to sign other artists to the label or is it exclusively for ‘HJELVIK‘ related stuff?

ERLEND – Well, at the moment we are just putting all of our efforts and attention into this album [‘Welcome to Hel‘], I’m not gonna rule that out but for now, we’re just concentrating on the album. Who knows what’s gonna happen down the line [Laughs].

OD – You’ve taken on a lot of Norse Mythology on this album, would you say that this will be the foundation to ‘HJELVIK’ going forward, or are you not opposed to exploring other lyrical concepts and topics?

ERLEND – I don’t have any plans to branch out. I like to have a clear concept and not set limits for myself. I feel that with Norse Mythology, there are a lot of topics and concepts that I find really inspiring, as well as providing a lot of potential for lyrics. I’m already thinking about future ideas with this concept and am not feeling like I’m getting stuck-in-a-rut.

OD – With this debut album due for release on November 20th do you feel a little nervous seeing as it’s your debut solo effort?

ERLEND – Yeah, maybe when it was completed but not so much now. I’ve been listening to it for so long now that I’m feeling very confident about it [Laughs]. It’s something that I’ve been saying for many years now: “It’s so important to like the music yourself. If you do, that’s a good indication that other people will like it also.

I’m also starting to get reports/reviews back now and it’s all looking very positive, to say the least. So, I’m not really worried or anxious about the release anymore.

OD – You’ve had a great deal of experience over the course of your career from touring the world to sharing the same stage as Metallica [among others] to signing to Nuclear Blast as a solo artist and bringing out your debut album, of all of these milestones, what sticks out as one of the most memorable moments in your career to date?

ERLEND – Well, I’d have to say putting out ‘Welcome to Hel‘.  It is my most personal accomplishment to date. But of course, a good number two for me was going on tour with Metallica. That was a really great long tour, getting to see them every night. Some really great memories for me, that’s for sure.

OD – Of course you have Matt Pike [High on Fire] and Michael Scalzi [Slough Feg] guesting on the album. How did you find that experience and did you ask anyone else?

ERLEND – Honestly, I only asked Matt and Michael. I think anything more than two guests on an album is a bit too much for me [Laughing]. I am really happy they accepted my offer to be on the album. Both their vocals sound very different from each other and just work so well with the songs they are on. I’m very happy with the finished results.

They [Matt and Michael] were so great to work with. I’ll never forget Matt [Pike] coming in and laying down something like fifteen solos all of which were improvised and of the moment. It was crazy to watch and so different from the way that I work. The hardest part of that was having to choose one of those fifteen solos to use on the finished track [Laughing]. That was really difficult as they were all so good!

Also, working with Michael [Scalzi], was such an exciting experience because of the technique he used for the vocals on ‘North Tsar‘. He layered a bunch of different tracks and put some crazy twists on them, which sounds incredible and really complements the song. [see below]. He was like a mad scientist in the studio!

OD – With the unfortunate reality of releasing an album during a pandemic, do you have anything planned for promotion, as I’m sure you won’t be able to tour the album until next year, or possibly the following year; if things don’t get any better?

ERLEND – Yes, that’s that plan. We’re planning for the best and will have a: “Plan-B” as a backup. We’re gonna keep working on stuff for the next year and just keep positive about everything. We’re building a practice space in the basement of our house now just so we can keep working on things regardless of what may happen in the future.

We are hoping to do a record store signing or something like that here in Norway depending on what restrictions we are dealing with. We’ll have to wait and see what we can do. It’s very sad that we can’t actually play any shows to mark the release of the album but hopefully, we can do something to honour the occasion.

One of the positive things that have come from the lockdown is that it’s given us the time to spend on building this new project and band from the very roots which normally, it would have proven to be very difficult with all the other commitments, touring etc. This time has been very positive for us and I’m very proud of where I am now with everything. I feel very excited about the future and being able to eventually perform this new material live.

OD – Are there any new bands or music that you would like to share with us?

ERLEND – So, there’s a finish band called Havukruunu, they are really awesome! They sing in Finnish and have a huge heroic Black Metal sound that sounds so huge. Hmm… oh yeah, I also really like the new Hellripper album ‘The Affair of the Poisons‘. Also, there’s another Norwegian band called Black Viper, who are really good. That’s my top tips for new music [Laughing].

Welcome to Hel‘ will be released via Helmet Fire Records [Norway] here and Nuclear Blast Records [Everywhere else] on Friday, November 20th. You can order your copy here. Check out our review of the album here.

HJELVIK are giving away a super limited signed test pressing of the album and you can get your hands on one by following the instructions via the info in the link below.



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Oran O’Beirne

www.overdrive.ie 2020