Håvard Ellefsen is in a surprisingly chirpy mood as he settles down to talk about his alter ego, Mortiis. With his latest studio offering ‘The Great Deceiver’ being hailed as a tremendous and formidable return to the public eye, the Norwegian native is eager to talk about his journey in making this album and his plans for the follow-up.
OD – How did you feel about selected live dates you have done for “The Great Deceiver” and are there any highlights that stick out to date?
MORTIIS – Well, I wouldn’t call it a tour, it’s more like some select shows here and there, but yes, the dates we did went remarkably well. We were kind of been out of the spotlight for a while, so it was nice to get back into things with a few shows rather than a huge tour.
I’m being realistic about things and know very well that we need to rebuild the name with people again. We’re not getting the same numbers that we used to get from back in the day but all the same, it’s been going really well and it’s very nice to be back playing live again.
To be honest the idea of touring up until about a year and a half ago was like “fuck, I can’t handle it anymore” (laughs) and then of course I was thinking to myself “am I going to be any good”, so we did the Mushroomhead tour which was in October of 2015 and at that point the new album was scheduled to be released in January, but due to some really annoying fucking factors that were kind of out of my hands, we had to push it back to March of this year. I’m glad I did that tour and even though it was the longest tour of my life because of some details that I would really not like to get into, but yeah, I’m glad I did it.
OD – That was a pretty crazy time back then anyway right?
MORTIIS – Definitely, that’s for sure. We just kind of kept to ourselves and stayed on the bus as some of the places that we played were like something out of a fucked up movie. There were some people at the shows with shorts and cowboy boots on. That just fucking blew my mind! There were lots of the confederate flags on display and a real hillbilly presence at some of those shows. Imagine like an Insane Clown Posse crowd and you’re halfway there. That whole experience was just so far removed from what we are used to dealing with, so as you can imagine. It was just really fucking bizarre.
OD – As you have already mentioned, you have been on a hiatus for about four years, how much of that time was spent writing ‘Great Deceiver’ and do you think the break benefited you creatively or did it hamper you?
MORTIIS – To be honest, I think that it hampered us. When we decided to get back to things, we spent the first half of the year revisiting some of the music and recording some ideas. A lot of the time I was feeling like keeping this music for myself was safe. You know when you put things out there and it’s up for judgement from the public, but I know personally that the music is kind of like my baby and I don’t want to let it go, or for it to have to undergo a change. So that was kind of like a weird experience but part of that time was trying to find a suitable record label, preferably not fucking vultures, like most of them out there today.
We had a few on the hook and at times it was all looking good then all of a sudden things would change and the realisation of them being just like all the others was becoming more and more frequent. If I had a crystal ball, I would not have wasted so much time on several labels because we were having these long drawn out conversations that lasted for months and months, which basically ended up whit the same shitty result. It was insane man, like “are you fucking serious, we’re just been speaking to you for the last eight months and now you’re pulling this shit?”
OD – I can only imagine when you’re sitting on an album for that amount of time, it’s almost impossible to not keep going back to it and tinkering with things over and over again. Was this the case with ‘Great Deceiver’?
MORTIIS – There are definitely some parts on the album where I have thought, “I could have mixed that differently” or “Perhaps I should have left that part out” but that’s just the nature of recording and releasing music. It’s so funny about the length of time we took to make the album as we were making Guns n’ Roses jokes all the time and to be honest that was the reality of the situation. Our own personal ‘Chinese Democracy’ (laughing). We were almost thinking that nobody was going to remember who we were by the time the album came out.
OD – Well, I loved the album and think it’s more complex than ‘The Smell of Rain’ which is pretty layers as it is, yet heavier than ‘The Grudge’ but how hard is it to translate all of that in a live setting?
MORTIIS – You tell me? (Laughing) I haven’t had any bad feedback, to be honest, and the reviews that I read have really been positive. I tend to not really give a fuck about stuff like that anymore as it really doesn’t mean anything to me and the people who want to listen to it enjoy it and the people who don’t want to listen to it can go somewhere else.
OD – I can imagine that all of the frustration with the record labels has only helped the aggression element with the writing of the album?
MORTIIS – You go that right!! Maybe I’m bitter but I just needed to channel all of that aggression and frustration into something artistic, turn it around and do something useful with it. I actually always try to do that and no matter how fucking shitty things get, there is always a way to use that emotion and do something positive with it.
When I’m feeling really fucking down, I just try to write it out of me and turn things around and when you feel better – which you inevitably will do after some time, you’ve got something to show for it. I try to never forget to do that, even if it’s just one line or whatever because that one line could be fucking magical.Then I just have a good cry from every angst session (laughing). You have got to have a sense of humour about things because if you don’t then you’re a fucking dead man. I joke to survive and it’s been working for me for a long time.
OD – I saw recently the picture you posted on line of your camp bed you were planning to sleep in while on tour. Was this just a financial decision or do you like to keep things very punk rock while on the road?
MORTIIS – (Laughing) That’s actually just the reality of life on the road. I remember that bed for sure. We had one day of pre-production in Oslo, as we all had to come from different locations and it was just convenient to meet up there and do some rehearsals before we hit the road. I don’t see the point in paying for a fucking hotel room, so I just got a camper bed and put my head down. You have to save a bit of money here and there when being on the road as it’s just so expensive. I had a good sleep that night anyway (laughs).
OD – The Great Deceiver is obviously far more layered and complex than previous albums. Did you handle the bulk of the writing process or was it an equal endeavour between yourself and Levi?
MORTIIS – I basically do all of that but what happens in these situations is that Levi and I would get together and got through some small ideas and pieces of songs that I have been working on and we just loop up parts here and there which is one of the techniques that we use to form a loose wireframe of a song. From this, there is something like 5% percent that we can use and in that 5%, that’s where we are like “fuck, this is really incredible” and we can usually work on filling in the rest of the composition based on that one idea.
We then start cutting things out and creating all these layers, which begins to form the overall structure of the song. We also spend a lot of time trying many different types of pedals and modulated effects, plugins and anything that makes noise really. A lot of what we do doesn’t turn into anything that we can use and is usually just bullshit, but we also have a lot of what I like to call “happy accidents” where we come up with something that is totally unpredictable and completely organic and natural. Throughout this process, we are always very much in control of what we are doing and fully aware of what we are looking for, even though, it’s hard to explain at times. We like to force all of these little experiments into something that is more structured.
Throughout this process, we are always very much in control of what we are doing and fully aware of what we are looking for, even though, it’s hard to explain at times. We like to force all of these little experiments into something that is more structured.
Then, of course, we have our main melodies and guitar riffs and vocal lines which we then incorporate into each composition. The best way to describe it would be that we have a selection of pretty normal sounding stuff that we then mix up with loads of really wired fucking shit. (laughing)
I’m hearing so many bands these days that seem to just put everything through a box and it’s like “bang”! I just think that stuff just doesn’t sound very creative at all. It’s like they are making “angry” music for the sake of making angry music. To me, it just sounds like static that I just can’t get on board with, as it just sounds so far removed from anything that’s really passionate. I just don’t find that kind of music believable.
OD – You’ve mentioned in the past about your job working in the mental health sector. Does anything that you see from doing this job influence your music or is it all introspective from a lyrical point of view?
MORTIIS – I can’t really say that I’ve been too inspired from watching people freaking out. But in saying that sometimes I have been a little envious. For example, there was this one guy who had never actually spoken in his life and one day I found myself just looking at him and thinking “you’ve got no worries man”. I don’t work in that place anymore but I remember doing the late shifts and just looking at this guy who loved walking and never spoke. He also took medication doses like an elephant! His tolerance levels were just through the roof, as he was an elderly man, but he just seemed so at peace with things.
OD – The trilogy of videos that you have released for the ‘The Great Deceiver’ are somewhat disturbing, to say the least. How important was it for you to have no boundaries stylistically when putting the video concepts together?
MORTIIS – It was pretty great and I actually remember when we were doing the video for ‘Decadent Desperate’ video and I was communication with the director and was saying “no one is doing anything cool anymore, like what NIN used to do”, I really wanted to do some messy, crazy shit. Everything today is just so polished and nice, which is just so fucking boring. So he was just like “yeah, I totally agree, let’s do some fucking fucked up shit” which was just music to my ears.
We didn’t do those videos for attention like “hey look at us and how fucking crazy we are” it was more because nobody is doing things like that anymore. Unfortunately back in the early days, I was signed to Earache Records and they heard about what I wanted to do and were like “No! You’re not doing that because no one will play the videos and MTV won’t touch it” because that was still a big deal back in those days. So, we had to scrap so many ideas like the one where we were going to have this flesh suit and the video was just going to be one big fucked-up torture session. (laughing)
I kind of remember myself saying back in those days “it’s a really bad idea because it’s not gonna be shown anywhere” but looking back on it now, I wished we had just said “fuck it” and went ahead and made it. I was just so frustrated with record labels back then I was like “I just want to make a crazy-ass video and see what happens”. Of course, they wouldn’t have any of it and although the video is still really good, it’s nowhere near the original idea.
So it was really cool to do these videos and have the creative freedom to get as fucking weird as we really wanted. The first two videos were done with a girl called Robin Van Swank and she had only directed something like three videos in her life and went back to doing photography which is what she really does full time. We were able to do whatever the fuck we wanted and we managed to get a hell of a lot out of a really small budget.
We had a crew of like six or seven but none of us made any money from it. Everyone that was involved with the project was there because they loved being part of the concept and the artistic involvement, which was really cool.We had to sit on those videos for a long time before we could put them out for the public. That was just so frustrating for us all as they videos were tied up to the albums and we had all of these problems with the labels that I was talking about earlier.
Looking back now, it was just so liberating to balance ideas on set and improvise with things.I’m not entirely sure if this is in one of the videos or an uncensored version but I had just pulled a tooth from my jaw prior to one of the days we were filming and I decided to bring the tooth on set and I pretended to pull the tooth from my mouth, which is actually my real tooth! It wasn’t fun pulling it out for real, but when I did I was thinking “fuck it, I’m gonna use this for something really cool”.
OD – You’re very active online with regards to vinyl and rare merchandise trading, was this part of the main funding for the record or did you go back to the old Black Metal roots and steal some Church collection boxes?
MORTIIS – (Laughing) Seriously, that was a big source of funding for the recording of the album. I sold a huge chunk of my vinyl collection and managed to buy it all back also, plus more. I used to have about three thousand records and I sold the lot and now I have around about three thousand again. I went fucking crazy for a few years and I was buying so many.
OD – I’de say your wife loves you for that (laughs)?
MORTIIS – Yeah totally!! (laughing) I have to sneak it into the house. She’s looking at it and saying “it just seems to be growing, what’s going on? Are your vinyl records fucking and having vinyl kids?” (laughing)
OD – What are your thoughts about the up and coming ‘Lords of Chaos’ movie?
MORTIIS – There is no way that they are going to make that movie as crazy as it actually was in real life. The thing about the ‘Lords of Chaos’ was that it was a book that was written by an American guy, who was never there. I didn’t really read it but I just had the distinct impression that the book was a little bit on the right wing side of things. I find it very interested that Hollywood is making this movie as I think – and I could be totally wrong, but that guy seems really right-wing to me. So to me, it’s just really weird that Hollywood is getting involved with it at all! You have to wonder if they even researched the story of what it’s all about.
I just know that it’s not going to be like anything that was really happening in real life. Back in those days, it was pretty out there that all of those murders and Church burnings were happening but it’s not like all of that shit was happening every day. There were little time slots of things happening and it wasn’t like it was happening every week but the media really did their best to blow it all up and make it out to be something way bigger than it actually was.
To be honest I don’t really have an opinion of the movie and I don’t’ really give a fuck as I have no intention of watching it when it comes out.
OD – On a lighter note, how good does it good to be back on the stage again and do you find the live aspect or the writing aspect of the music to be any more cathartic than the other?
MORTIIS – To be honest, I get more out of writing the music rather than the performance side of things. Performing music is kind of like short bursts of energy and you’re there for just a moment but I just can’t get the adrenaline part of it. I’m always nervous-as -fuck when I’m just about to go on stage. In saying that, I tend to put more into the performance because of that feeling.
I hate everything around it but everything before that really bothers me. The waiting around and the travelling part of the tours just really bothers me. Once I get off the stage and it’s a good gig, the feeling is really great but I just get that all the time from when I’m in the studio. That’s when I’m most happy.
OD – Regarding the next album, will it be a follow-on to ‘The Great Deceiver‘ or have you not planned that far down the line yet?
MORTIIS – I would say that it’s going to be a continuation of ‘The Great Deceiver‘. I have a shit-load of really great lyrics that I’ve been building up on over the last while, so I guess I better do something with them (laughs).
For more information on Mortiis, visit this link.
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