After much anticipation, Vemod will finally unleash their sophomore album The Deepening this January via Prophecy Productions. Having earned a reputation as one of Norway’s preeminent bands, Vemod’s mastermind Jan Even Åsli is in my opinion one of the country’s highest regarded composers.
Jan Even founded Vemod at the start of the millennium when he was 12 in his native Namsos, though the outfit is currently based in Trondheim. He’s also known for co-founding the now disbanded powerhouse One Tail, One Head, which is likewise revered by the black metal community.
So it was with great excitement that we got to sit down with Jan Even Åsli himself. After hearing from leading music authority Finn Håkon Rødland that The Deepening was on its way, we only waited impatiently for about a year in order to be able to have this interview.
Congratulations on the forthcoming release of The Deepening. This album is much different from your previous effort, Venter på stormene (2012), which is already a classic, in my book, and was reissued this year on vinyl. For the sake of readers, I’ll also mention that Vemod has put out two fantastic demos, Kringom fjell og skog (2004) and Vinterilden (2011), as well as a split, Moestæ Qverelæ (2011). It’s incredible that you’ve written all of The Deepening’s music and lyrics yourself. Four of the songs are quite long, and the final track is over 16 minutes. Could you please describe the songwriting process and perhaps the challenges of crafting such epic compositions?
Yes, sure, I can give it a try. First of all, I have to say that the album has not been in the making for 12 years, as some might assume. I think that the particular shape that it has today eventually emerged around 2015-16. Our process is not very linear. Meaning: As I compose, I always work on and off on certain projects, certain album ideas or just song sketches and other projects that are going on at the same time. I go back and forth between these, depending on mood or season, as I’m usually very affected by the landscapes around me. It’s much the same when we rehearse and work together as a band as well. But of course, at some point, we had to choose and move forward with this particular record that we have here now, The Deepening, although even then the last wasn’t entirely straight.
I’ve been making music for this band since I was only a child, basically, so it’s very second nature by now. I will say that the influences and inspirations were sort of internalized a long time ago. It’s not always clear to me where it comes from, if you know what I mean. It’s a pool of treasured influences and inspiration, somewhere deep inside. I just have to get into that state of mind for making music, with Vemod in particular, which is a rather special headspace, a condition almost, that is very important to me. I try to get there as often as possible. It’s very closely connected with who I am as a person, and it very much reflects the most contemplative side of me, I think. There is much introspection expressed through the music of Vemod.
As far as more practical matters are concerned, my day-to-day routine of making music and sort of setting up for this particular mood to occur is very normal and unexciting, I guess. I’m a morning person. I like to get up early if I have the luxury of not having to go to another job that day, and I can go directly to work with the guitar, with pen and paper or in front of the computer, have my coffee, just try to cut off the rest of the world as much as possible, and have a few hours on my own. It’s hard to say how it ends up being the way it is after, you know, twenty years of doing this, but I think I have found my way, even if I’m very slow and we as a band are very slow in general. I’m still happy with where things are at right now, so something seems to be working.
It’s interesting because when speaking about One Tail, One Head, you also said that you wrote your music in the morning. I should mention that One Tail’s historic album — Worlds Open, Worlds Collide — turned five this summer. So, anyway, the lyrics for The Deepening, as well as your other releases, are gorgeous. After the instrumental opening, the text to “Der guder dør” amazes us. That is, of course, a mind-blowingly excellent song. I saw that “Inn i lysande natt” was inspired by Hanne Aga. Is there anything else you’d like to say about your lyrical inspirations?
I try to be as intuitive about the lyrics as possible. On this particular record, there are two pieces in English. The rest of the lyrics are in Norwegian. I think my lyrical inspirations are mostly people just like Hanne Aga, not extremely well-known writers, but Norwegian poets and authors that I’ve discovered just by visiting the library and picking stuff out, just always searching for some sort of writing or language that will resonate with this particular atmosphere that we’re trying to communicate in Vemod. There exists a number of such poets in Norway. She is one. There’s another man, now sadly passed away, named Stein Mehren. It’s not like I studied these people or know their work that well, but, again, it’s this intuitive reading, entering the language, and accessing the feeling that resonates with me and with this particular music that we’re making for this band. There is also a number of nature poets that are, I’d say, rather well-known here in Norway like Tarjei Vesaas and Hans Børli. They are able to somehow communicate the feeling of being at one with this landscape that we have here, which is also very important for this band and what we are trying to do. Reading them but also reading widely is a big part of just assembling the lyrical world of this band, and the rest is intuition. It’s just trying to paint a picture, trying to paint an atmosphere with words to go with the music to the best of my ability.
Having Eskil and Espen on your team must be great. Obviously, Eskil, like you, is respected in the scene. He’s remarkably accomplished and has even won a “Spellemann” / Norwegian Grammy — something we’ve mentioned a lot on this column. You’ve played live with Eskil’s project Black Majesty, and he’s performed live with One Tail, One Head. So, I was wondering if you could speak at all about working with those two fabulous people.
Yes, absolutely. I mean, there wouldn’t be Vemod as we know it without Eskil. That’s very clear. I was 12 when I started Vemod. It was only me recording riffs on tape for a couple of years there. But then, in 2003, I got in touch with Eskil through the internet actually and one of his very early bands that I was a fan of, Grenjar. So, yeah, we hit it off right away. I was lucky that he was, at that time, really interested in playing drums in a band, which he hadn’t done up until that point. So, I sent him a cassette with riffs on it, the songs that I had made for Vemod, and he composed drums for it. We hadn’t met at this point, so I didn’t know if he was good or if it would work at all. Then I travelled to Trondheim. I got together with him, and we had our first rehearsal and recording session. The rest is history. We’ve been very close since then, and I think that our work together in Vemod is something that has been very important for us. Our friendship is also sort of an anchor in the sense that we always had it, even if we had a lot of other projects going on — we did a lot of other things throughout the years. But between us, we always had this thing together. Even if it may seem like it wasn’t the main focus, Vemod has always been at least my main focus. To have Eskil along beside me for this entire journey has been incredibly rewarding and fortunate in all kinds of ways. He’s an incredible resource, not only musically but also as a friend. As you know, we work together on all of the designs and the layouts, everything non-musical, basically, all aspects concerning Vemod. He has the skills to make all of my ideas become reality in terms of design. I could never do any of that by myself.
Espen is my oldest friend by now. We grew up close to each other, I think there were four or five hundred meters between our houses when we were kids. So yeah, we are really childhood friends. We discovered metal together and all that in Namsos. It’s a really small town. There’s no metal scene. There was a youth center with a live stage and sort of a rock or punk scene in a way, but at least for me, there was nothing that could satisfy my curiosity for the stranger and perhaps darker elements I found myself attracted to. There weren’t shows we could see or anything we could be inspired by from there. So, it was just us in our childhood rooms discovering all this stuff in the record stores and in the magazines and all that. And we had the landscapes around us, which set the tone for everything to come. There was a strong bond already there. Today, he has got a degree in musicology, and he’s an amazing musician. He has an incredible talent for always adding just the right thing to anything that I make and has so many good ideas and so many qualities that are really important to Vemod. He’s been with us for 10 years as a full-time member, but he was involved even before that, like for the first demo in 2004. The photographs that we used for that cassette layout were his photographs, so he’s been there in the background all the time, always a creative sparring partner for me. In the meantime, he hasn’t been involved much in the metal scene. He hasn’t really played in other metal bands. He’s been more in the rock and blues scene in Trondheim ever since he moved there. The fact that he’s been a bit outside of our metal thing that we have here is sort of a blessing in a sense, because that is just what we need in Vemod. We want a broader scope. And it works out wonderfully, as I hope people can clearly hear on the album.
One Tail, One Head was obviously a fantastic band. A lot of people say that it was one of the best groups to witness live. It was very-very different from Vemod, but the similarity is that neither one falls into any specific category. People observed different things in One Tail, One Head, and I think the same is true of Vemod. As a result, various terms have been applied to Vemod, such as “Dark Ethereal Metal,” black metal, and darkgaze. None of them do Vemod justice. I hate labels, so I am a bit hesitant to ask you this, but what would you call the style of Vemod in 2023?
Yeah, that’s a great question, and I don’t have a good answer. That’s why we have all of these silly terms thrown around that aren’t exactly accurate. And also, good observation there on One Tail. We had the same thing going there in a different way. No, I don’t know what I would call it today, so I guess it has to be up to the listeners out there to find words or terms that suit them. Vemod is definitely black metal-inspired music, black metal-adjacent music. The classic recordings from the mid ’90s from Norway, especially the Grieghallen productions, are absolutely fundamental to what we are doing. Even when it’s not metal, there’s always just a hint of something from that era. It took me years and years and years to formulate any kind of clear thought about what we’re trying to do with that, but I think, for me, those old black metal records from the ’90s have such a special atmosphere, which fascinated me deeply. There was a mysterious feeling that’s very hard to describe, but I think everyone knows what I mean. It’s sort of intangible in a way. I would very much like to take some of that feeling and try to strip away the black metal in a way, you know, the ideology and the hatred and the corpsepaint and all the stuff that isn’t really relevant to what we are doing, and then try to do our own thing with it. I really want to explore that mysterious feeling further, attempt to grasp it, somehow, and work with it. Of course, we have lots of other influences from a variety of different genres, artists, musical eras, sets of production values, and all kinds of things. I think somewhere in between all of this, we want to create a home in music and atmosphere for Vemod.
And one thing I should also note about The Deepening is that it’s so varied. In my opinion, the songs are so different from each other for the most part, and they can start off one way and go through so many changes. That obviously contributes to an intensely rewarding experience. So, do you have any plans to bring this material on the road? I know that you are booked to appear at Unholy Congregation, which will include Slagmaur and Thorns this year. In the past, you did a really cool mausoleum show, which was part of Inferno Fest — you returned there this April. It would be great if you could arrange something like that again.
At the moment, there are really no concrete plans to do anything really. That said, we will consider any offer that comes our way.
Have Beyond the Gates book you again!
That might happen again, when I don’t know. I don’t know how many times we played there, but it’s been a few. It’s always a pleasure and one of our favorite festivals. Of course, if we get an offer again, we would very much like to return. There are so many high-quality, well-put-together, and smoothly organized festivals on that level now, so all of that is interesting for us. We feel very much at home at several of these festivals like Beyond the Gates and Prophecy Fest, and we’ve had great, great times there. I think it’s a good time for festivals in a way. I think the more bland ones are fading away now because it’s harder to keep them going. We see a rise in really high-quality events that manage to push through. It’s a hard time for everyone, but it’s interesting to see where it all goes. We would like to be a part of that for sure.
About the mausoleum show, I would very much like to do something like that again, but it would require the right timing. It was a lot of work to put that first one together, and we would need some time — surprise! — to prepare for a thing like that again. It was definitely a very cool thing to do.
Speaking of Prophecy Fest, where I heard you gave yet another stellar performance this year, Vemod is signed to Prophecy, which is clearly a great label. In the past, Vemod and One Tail, One Head worked with Terratur, which is one of the two best black metal labels along with The Sinister Initiative, in my opinion. Terratur, of course, is run by Ole A. Aune, who is fantastic — a true staple of the scene and one of its most important figures. What was it like working with Terratur?
Yeah, it was wonderful to work with Ole. Ole is a great friend of all of us, and we had a solid working relationship too. Everything was splendid, really. He definitely played a big part in establishing the audience that we had today. We had some of that beforehand because we distributed and spread our demos quite widely, but that record with Terratur, of course, really made an impact and was quite the milestone for us. Many of the listeners who came in at that time are really dedicated, and a lot of them have been with us ever since.
You had your own label, Fossbrenna Creations. You released content by Vemod; One Tail, One Head; Skuggeheim — really great band; Knokkelklang — amazing as well; Askeregn; Jammerskrik — you played on their full-length; Min Kniv; Unbeing; Istorn; Vilains Bonshommes — that featured Eskil; Astral Winds — a project of yours.
It was not really a record label as such. It was just a demo cassette imprint sort of thing. I started that in the mid 2000s. At that time, it was not as common anymore to release your demos on cassette. I discovered, of course, the whole demo or DIY tape culture that existed in the ’90s and the ’80s. I wanted to experience part of that vibe, and bring it back, into my own life if nothing else. I just wanted to create something similar and do everything myself at home. That’s exactly what I did for a great many years, but then I had other commitments and just didn’t have the time anymore. That’s where I still am at the moment. I would love to do it again if I could carve out the time for something like that. No matter how far we progress with all of our bands and in our lives, that particular feeling of demo tapes and the cassette aesthetic is always a source of nostalgia. It’s also just a great format, a wonderful aesthetic item, and affordable, too. But, of course, times have changed, and back then all of those bands that you mentioned were all unknown bands. I had this idea that I really wanted to promote them as well, so I spread their tapes widely. It took time and effort. I traded a lot with other underground labels and distros throughout the world and many of those bands spread that way, including Vemod. I really spread a lot of copies of the Vinterilden demo. Good times. If Fossbrenna Creations came back now, it would be all about very limited items for the few individuals with a special interest, surely.
The late Steingrim Torson, who played bass for One Tail, One Head before “Andras Marquis T.,” Andreas Tylden, is celebrated as an artist. Could you please tell me how you would like Steingrim to be remembered and a bit about your experience working with him?
The way I remember him is as a very, very good friend, a loyal friend, a trustworthy friend, and a creative partner in all things, really. You could always bounce ideas with him, and he loved to do that. I think if he had lived, he would have been a great source of inspiration for all of us. There’s no telling how far he would have gone and what he would have done with all of his creativity. It’s a pity that he’s not here with us to bless us with all of that. I miss him greatly.
He was able to achieve so many phenomenal things in his lifetime, and I hope that even more non-black metal fans will come to understand that. To change the topic a bit, you collaborate with V. Einride of Whoredom Rife, Manii, and Syning — all superb bands. V. Einride performs live with Vemod, and you perform live with Whoredom Rife. Is there anything you would like to say about playing with Whoredom Rife?
It’s an arrangement that suits us both well. It’s mostly a practical solution for both of us, I think. I’m not deeply involved with Whoredom Rife. I just do what I’m told. I’m quite happy to do that because it’s a bit of a relief not to have all of the responsibility and not having to think about everything, which is completely on the other side of the spectrum from my role in Vemod. I can’t speak on V. Einride’s behalf, but when playing with us, he has musical freedom to do his thing the way he wants to do it, of course. What we end up doing is rehearsing a lot together and just tightening our musical relationship. It’s been very good for both of us, I feel.
(Pre-order Vemod’s The Deepening here. The album drops on January 19 via Prophecy Productions.)
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