About Me

Interview with Borknagar

Øystein Garnes Brun is an inescapable name on the world underground scene for being the founder and mentor of the inimitable Borknagar... with the 11th album "True North" about to be released, Metal Imperium talked to the guitarist.

M.I. - How have you been doing with the excitement of the new album and all?

Well, we are really excited about this album. At the same time, I’ve been working a lot for this… putting bits and pieces together, promotional work, possible tours, so many things that I didn’t really have the time to think that much about it. But we are really excited and we really feel this is the best album we have done… and we have done a couple of albums in the 25 plus years. (laughts) It feels like the first album we are doing because we feel so happy and satisfied with it. It’s fun to release it.

M.I. - Andreas, Jens and Baard have left the band. How much impact have these changes had in “True North”?

I would rather turn it around and say how much of an impact had the new guys had on the band. The new guys and the new guitar player are awesome, suit perfectly the music. This may sound a bit harsh but I always had a very clear idea of where my music would go and this was part of the plan. We knew the drummer wouldn’t be around for a long time because of his work with Leprous and his own project and stuff. We knew that he wasn’t going to stay around. The same with Andreas, he’s not doing tours anymore. We came to a point where we just had to part ways. I still consider him as one of my best friends but we had to move on in regard to reality.

M.I. - How strange is it seeing longtime members depart permanently? Weren’t you scared? 

Yeah, I get your point and for me it’s mostly on a personal level because I love the guys and I’ll continue working with those guys in a sense. I don’t feel scared in terms of music because I know what I am doing. It might sound a little bit cocky but we have to move on. It’s really sad to see good friends leave the band, that’s always painful and I am a human being but I always tried to make the band to be something more than a sentiment, not depending just on one or two musicians in a sense. I haven’t been too worried to be honest. I know the fans will miss Andreas doing the lead vocals but that’s always the case. There will always be people who prefer the first albums and don’t like the new ones. Yes and no, it’s not a fun thing to split with long time members but life has to go on. If I wanted to continue the band, I had to make some decisions. Yes, it was tough but we had to do it, or there wouldn’t be a new album.

M.I. - Having new blood in the band has contributed somehow to the intensity, greatness and freshness of the new album? Were they very active?

Yes, I would say so. All the songs were written before we started rehearsing with the new guys in September last year or late Summer and the album was written and pretty much ready to be recorded by then. I always had a philosophy of how to utilize the best of the quality of the musician. With the new drummer we spent some time rehearsing, talking… so for me it was about giving them the freedom to set a footprint on music. When recording drums with the new drummer, we had some ideas and overall plans about the album but we gave him a lot of room to find his quality, the same with the guitar player. The guitar player and I sat in my studio, locked the door and we just had very creative days recording, talking, trying to find his quality as a guitarist in the context of my music. I love what the new guys have done on the album. The drums are all over the place. We kinda utilize the best of their potential. That was the mission!

M.I. - There’s a significant difference in the writing/production of “True North” when compared to “Winter Thrice” and you’ve worked more collectively than before. Do you prefer to do it this way or working individually?

Well, it depends. We worked in each of our own studios sometimes. But doing the vocals, the drums, the important things on the album, we sat together, recording, producing and we hadn’t done that in quite some time. This time we spent some time and some money to travel back and forth to Oslo where we did the drums and, in my studio, we did the vocals. It felt so natural doing that. The old line up didn’t manage to do that because there was no money, time, it didn’t really happen even though we wanted it to happen. This time everybody wanted to sit down. I’ve been doing everything by myself for albums and albums… for this album, to sit down everybody, drink some drinks, have a good time and make some music in my studio peacefully in the countryside for 3/4 days recording vocals and doing barbecues… it was amazing to go back to the old way of recording albums.

M.I. - “Winter Thrice” was a chart-smashing album. Do you have the same expectations for the new album, “True North”?

(laughts) You never know in this business. I don’t know what to expect. It might be or it might not be. I believe it might do quite well because there’s no reason why old fans wouldn’t like it. Personally, this is the best album we’ve ever done. In terms of music quality this should be… (laughts) But this world is a strange place. 

M.I. - This album has more clean singing and the lyrics are more perceptible and it might be a bonus when helping you reach the charts…

I get your point. That was some of the intention. This was the first time we worked together, Lars and I, because we felt that we should work close as a unit. For all the previous albums the lyrics have been quite philosophical, not easy to get in a sense and we didn’t want to do lyrics that were obvious, we wanted the listener to find out what it meant to them. But for this album we had some more precise ideas, things I would like to say. We wanted to be more direct and have crystal clear lyrics, against religion and all sorts of bullshit whether Christianity or other religion. We are in 2019, let’s cut the crap, let’s leave this Norwegian mentality and move forward. I just felt I had to do it.

M.I. - You said the band has pushed the limits of your musical exploration while your musical roots have grown deeper into the northern ground. What do you mean exactly?

Yeah, definitely. That’s always been my philosophy in a sense. In order to progress we kinda have to know where we come from, not in a cocky way. But in a musical sense I am going forward and it also means going backwards in a way, to form a bond with where we come from as a band. For me to make music, I need to be very honest. In order to be as real and authentic as possible as a musician you need to do some soul search, know what are your values, what’s your grasp on life and you have to be personal and the more personal it gets, the deeper I dig into my soul, my ancestors, my history, the more real I am able to be towards my fans and that’s my philosophy.

M.I. - That’s the way it should be because releasing 11 albums mustn’t be easy, you need to keep the creativity flowing…

It’s not difficult because I’ve done this my whole life but, in terms of the artistic side of things, you need to dig a bit inside yourself. I must try to find the spirit of youth in myself. Find a really basic reason why I do this in the first place, what ignited me back when I was 15 or 16. And I need to dig onto myself and it is a natural thing. I need to have a good idea of what I am because I love doing this.

M.I. - I love there is so much clean singing from Vortex because he has the best voice ever. Is Black metal still the best description for you these days?

Oh… I don’t really know what to answer to this… I tried to do my own thing, trying to establish my own universe of music. I don’t really, really care but we have some elements of everything and that’s the signature of the band. We have a variety of musical styles, there are elements of black metal with the screaming vocals but, on the other hand, we have basically a ballad… we are all over the place. If that’s BM or not, I don’t care. The label asked us this because people need to know. For me as a musician it doesn’t matter. I have tried to avoid rules. I have been a free spirit my whole life. We cherish that a lot on this album, we didn’t want to be bond by anything. The true essence of the band is doing some soul searching to our mental roots. That was one of my main goals. I always felt the need to do my own thing, to be independent, to be free. I hate authorities, I hate legislation, I respect them and I follow them but I hate it, I hate that my life should be governed by anything else than myself. The idea of being bond by rules is something that always upset me as I am a free spirit and I basically love to do what I want to do as long as I don’t hurt anybody else. That’s the basic idea behind the band… we want to break loose from all this.  

M.I. - On the 2nd of August was released the video for the first single “The Fire that burns”.

Yeah. It’s not a proper video yet, but that’s the starting point for the release of the new album. People get a glimpse into what we are doing.

M.I. - Why have you chosen it? Does it reflect the essence of Borknagar at this “stage”?

Yeah. We have been around for many years, have done 11 albums, we are in a position in which we don’t even need to consider “why am I doing this?”. I just could sit back and relax but we ask ourselves why do I do this? That’s the fire that burns in a sense. This very basic thing in life that makes life more probable than death. Why do we fight, why there’s a will to survive? A will to live? This is an ever burning fire. So, symbolically, this was the right song, I’m not sure it’s the best song in the album but it’s a very traditional song and it’s crucial in terms of the band we are now. To me it’s like a musical breach between “Winter Thrice” and “True North”.

M.I. - You’ve surrounded yourself with the same artists you’ve used before such as Marcelo Vasco and Jens Bogren once again… do you believe one mustn’t mess with a winning team?

Kind of. A winning team is a way of putting it. The other way is that I work with people I feel comfortable with. That makes me do my best job. I know that Marcelo understands me and we reach our goals together, he understands the lyrics and the elements of the album. With Jens it’s the same. It’s a man I trust, I know his work, I know it will be great! Back in the day, we would spend shit loads of money in famous studios and producers but we didn’t really know what to expect from them. Did they understand the music we were doing? Did they have the right mentality? We didn’t know that. But the fact that you know there are a bunch of people that are professional and that are gonna deliver on time… it makes my life more comfortable and relaxed. It’s a winning team in a sense. It’s more about being comfortable and to work with people you trust. The same thing happens with Century Media… we signed with them and I trust those people. I know what they are doing and they know what to expect from me and vice versa.

M.I. - So, one can assume you’re a guy who prefers long term relationships…

To some extent, people know I can be pretty hard when it comes to achieving my goals. The whole thing with the band, I have crystal clear goals with the band and sometimes, in order to achieve them, things have to change and I am not afraid to do that if that’s necessary, even though it´s painful sometimes.

M.I. - In a funny Facebook post about the new album you thanked Jorn Veberg for making grumpy old men shine. 

M.I. - You often refer to yourself as old. Do you actually think you are old? 

It’s a fun thing. I’m 44 and I don’t feel old in that sense. I have a lot of years left. But I have been consistently around for almost 30 years. I started tape trading in 88/89. It’s a bit of humour but I have seen so many people come and go. When I go to Bergen, there’s a new generation and I don’t know anyone! They seem to know me but I don’t know them. The world was a different place before the 11th September, there were no smartphones. Things have changed quite a lot. It’s scary at times but we have to deal with it.

M.I. - You mentioned there will most likely be a tour… any plans so far? With whom? Will Portugal be included? 

That might happen yes, I am struggling to put all the bits and pieces together. We are currently working on a European tour probably in December and we have plans to tour with a big Norwegian band that I can’t name yet. I believe we are going to a festival in Spain so we’ll be in the area as far as I know. But I can’t say more as we are still sorting things out as there are a lot of tours happening at the end of the year. But I hope a lot will happen next year.

M.I. - Anyway, many thanks for all the talent you share with us and the great music you create! Would you please share a final message with Metal Imperium’s readers and Borknagar fans? 

Cheers to everybody and I would love to get this tour going in December and hope we get to see you. There is a lot of energy and passion in the album and hopefully people will like it! Let’s see how it goes! Thank you!

For Portuguese version, click here

Interview by Sónia Fonseca