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MORK - Interview

Photo (c) Metaworks photography,

Only so few bands these days can free themselves completely from any interference when creating their music. One man has done this for decades now without letting anyone from the outside steering his art. He is Thomas Eriksen of the legendary black metal band MORK from Norway who released their album "Katedralen" in 2021. We wanted to know how mastermind Thomas was doing these days, what keeps him going, and what advice he has in the current times.

Interview by Uta Arnold

ViaOmega : Hello Thomas! We are grateful to feature you in our new issue, as there are several staff members in ViaOmega that are fans of your music on a personal level. We are not sure how many people here in The US really know the band (do you have an overview of sales in the US?), but for sure in Scandinavia you belong to the finest pedigree of black metal bands. Obviously you had two festival appearances in The US but no real tour, is that correct (and what are the chances for a US tour in the future?)? We hope with this article that we can let our US readers know about MORK being an absolutely valuable piece of art.

 Thomas Eriksen: Greetings! Thanks so much for the praise. Always a good thing reading such, much appreciated! Mork has seemed to be spreading out somewhat globally since the beginning. Considering that the internet is the new and more effective way of tape-trading and such it’s obviously much easier to reach people these days. Specific sales in The States are a bit out of my control but I do know that we have followers over there. And yes, we have been to your part of the world two times, first time was a Canadian tour spanning Quebec and Ontario.             This came to be because of Mork’s first record deal which was through a Canadian label. The second time was when we were invited to play at Psycho Las Vegas in 2019. That booking came with two additional club shows, one in San Diego and one in Los Angeles. That was a blast, truly. As a Norwegian band, the dream from childhood-onward has always been to have the music pave the way to Los Angeles, you know. This time it did! Regarding the future, we are most willing to make a longer trip out of it, for sure. Hopefully some promoters and key people read this and can set things in motion on that part!

VO: Your latest album "Katedralen" has received quite excellent reviews. Still, if you could go back in time to the recording process, would you change something about the feeling that you have today about your album?

Thomas: Nothing at all. To me each album is a milestone resulting out of that period of time in my life. So then that is just as it should be. I am very happy with the outcome and having it being accepted by the listener is a bonus on top. But at the end of the day I do make the music for myself primarily. It is an exercise in letting out something very personal and it’s an important part of my life. I would be doing this even without a label and/or commercial attention. I suppose that’s why the albums have become looser around the traditional black metal sound and way. As I don’t follow any rules, only the ones  that I make for myself. Though I see that as a strength.

VO: You have some famous guest musicians on "Katedralen". Had you written the tracks already having the guest appearances in mind, or was that something that you decided afterwards?

Thomas: I have never written a track with a guest in mind yet. After a song has taken shape is when I can sort of tell if someone in particular fits its feel. These days I am working on the new Mork album and recently while listening to a new track it hit me that this one singer would fit in great. So, a few days later that person delivered his parts. That’s a cool little bonus in creating music, to do stuff like that sometimes.

VO: You also worked with Dolk of Kampfar. What made you choose to work with him and how was it? How much did Dolk or any of the other guest musicians bring in some of their own ideas? Or did they do exactly as you told them? Sometimes, when I listen to your music, I think "This part could totally have been done by Kampfar!” so I often wonder if they are an inspiration for you sometimes. Furthermore, I see a parallel between Kampfar and you, which is the uncompromising aspect. Would you agree with that?

Thomas: Dolk is a friend of mine, just like the other guests, come to think of it. I have not reached out to people I do not know for guest appearances. However, I  thought Dolk’s voice and attitude were a great fit for that track in question. Usually I write everything and have lyrics and phrasing done in advance, but this time around it was different. Dolk came over for a weekend and we just hung out at my place, listening to the track. He really impressed me that night as he read my lyrics and did a quick analysis and came up with his “answer” to the lyrics. He wrote his own words and made up his own phrasing. We did a few takes and that was it. The outcome speaks for itself. He even joined us on stage at a show in Oslo last year which you can check out on YouTube. Regarding Kampfar as an influence, I have to say no. It’s a great band but they haven’t been a part of what makes Mork what it is. Perhaps it’s just the Østfold-gene, an inside joke.

VO: What bands were your heroes during your childhood? Not speaking about those which influence your music now, but just what got you into paying attention to music in depth.

Thomas: Oh wow, ok, let’s think back. What got me to pick the guitar in the first place was the Sex Pistols, back in my punk days. At thirteen I got my first guitar and started making original music from the get-go. There was something about The Pistols' attitude, aesthetics and sound that really hit home, and it really shaped me. The next big thing was AC/DC, which also became an obsession for years. Hardcore fan years which make an imprint on a young dude’s mind. Then I got into thrash metal, specifically Megadeth. That explains the reason why I now only use the V-shaped guitars. And there’s Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin, all those. But as a music lover and artistic individual I have obviously been into a lot of different bands and genres. In my mind it is robbing you of influence and inspiration to only be into one thing. Black metal became a suitable way for me to explore and express my creativity and inner self. When I discovered the genre, it first scared me, then lured me in.

VO: You often say that MORK will stay a one-man-project/band. What is the reason for this decision? I mean, you have had live musicians on stage now for quite a while. Have you ever tried to go that extra step to include them in the songwriting and share your success with them? What keeps you from going to that step? By the way, how do you choose the live musicians? Would you ever introduce the line-up? How and why did you find and choose each of them?

Thomas: I am an only child, I grew up playing, creating and developing a lot on my own. It’s just the way I am wired. Black metal and Mork to me is a solitary exercise. Keep in mind that there’s a lot of misanthropy in this genre, hehe. Jokes aside, something about the solo project aspect of Burzum and the couple of Darkthrone albums really appealed to me. The mystique was highlighted for me. Mork is my legacy, and it's something I keep to myself, creativity-wise. I am blessed, if that’s a good word, to be doing this together with these guys. Alex Bruun who handles the live second guitar is a long time best friend of mine and we go way back. The same goes for Rob Saxx who handles the bass. Malignant is the newest member of our clan, joining Mork in 2017and becoming a good friend and brother since then. All of us are from the same area and that is also why we became a band. It’s not like I got out there and started reaching out to various black metal musicians in Norway with Mork the live band in mind.  It just happened that one day I kind of asked the guys I knew if they would fancy doing this with me and there were no real ambitions or expectations. That Mork as a recording project and live band would become what it is now still baffles me!

VO: In an interview from 2021 you said that Mork is some kind of a side project for you as a recreational thing. But then again you sell your own Mork coffee as merch and had more than 30,000 visitors in a live stream. Other musicians who do music as a profession can only dream about such success. So I think you might underestimate your art (or the power that it unfolds) in a certain way. Is that a possibility?

Thomas: I think what I meant was that Mork began as a side thing. However, as it grew it also has become a great part of me and my everyday life. So it has become a big deal to me as of years later. Haha, I have had some fun KISS moments regarding merch. We have done three different Mork beers and then the coffee and additional mug. To me that stuff is just for a laugh. I’ve gotten some shit for it by the “real trues”, but I don’t mind. A mug with the Mork logo doesn’t change what’s going on inside my mind when creating my music nor does it make anything less “true”.

VO: Recently you have made a survey on social media about which is the worst MORK track. Maybe you did it just for fun? But anyway, the average reply was that there is no bad song. I only know of a few other bands where the fans find nothing to complain about. So I wonder what's your "secret ingredient" that makes your music outstanding. All bands would of course say they write what's inside their heart, following their spirit and their visions. But there must be something else…

Thomas: A cliché, but I have to say exactly what you mentioned in your question. My way of creating is simply to extract whatever is happening inside of me at the moment that I pick up the guitar. And to this day I am not able to point out any specific bands or songs as inspirations either. It's only my subconscious that is writing the songs. You can hear it too by listening to the MORK albums in chronological order. The first couple of ones do have a more strictly primitive black metal way to them, as the later ones are more free flowing. To that point, I don’t give a fuck about any pre-set rules or expectations. I do what I do.

Photo (c) PunkRock Photos

VO: And of course here is the almost mandatory question these days: How did the Covid restrictions affect your band for the last two years? Scandinavia had less restrictions in general, but it seems that gigs had to be cancelled anyway and all that.  And how do you "celebrate" the end of it now? What if the Covid shit comes back and international touring would be a problem now for many years still in the future to come? Could you accept that?

Thomas: Oh there has been plenty of restrictions and lockdowns over here as well. It has affected us greatly as a band. We lost our first ever real tours due to it. The last two years we were supposed to head out on a full European tour, a UK tour and a South American tour, as well as some festivals. However we have actually been surprisingly active after all. We have been playing shows and live streams up here quite a bit. Real shows with attendance, that is. The live streaming thing turned out to be a very rewarding deal actually; we did a couple and they went pretty well. It’s a strange thing playing to only a couple of cameras, but the people were inside there, from all over the place. After the first live stream we also did a live Q & A which made it even more real for us. This last December we did get to fulfill a tour of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark without restrictions of any kind, which was a breath of fresh air and hope on our part. If this pandemic stuff drags on and continues even further I suppose that will be a huge drag, though there is nothing we can do about it. Some festivals such as Wacken Open Air and the South and Latin America run are rescheduled for this year, so hopefully it will take place.

VO: To continue on this subject, there were other musicians who came up with the following theory: many artists used the past two Covid years to produce new albums and now the market will be flooded with new albums but only few of them will have the standards of the past. What do you think about this theory? And what new albums by other bands did you actually check out lately or are looking forward to?

Thomas: To be honest, the pandemic situation hasn’t had any impact on the creative part of Mork. I have gone about as always, basically. We had never been touring heavily anyway. I don’t stay up to date on much regarding new releases, I’m afraid. So nothing really interesting to comment on that matter.

Photo (c) Jurgen Freim

VO: In "Dødsmarsjen" you sing "Dødsmarsjen er underveis, Destinationen - til enden av livet" ("The march of death is on its way, the destination - until the end of life"). Of course there is a certain context in the song, but it gives me the idea to ask you this deeper question: What is the meaning of life in your opinion?

Thomas: I live day by day. I don’t have any particular philosophies about how and what life is about. You get here, you have to deal with what you’ve got, you pave your own way and keep your head above water. That’s it. I don’t care how someone else defines or live their lives, but to me an important factor is to be passionate about something that keeps rewarding you.

VO: To continue along this subject, in some of your lyrics you mention neverending pain and similar feelings ("Evig Intens Smerte" > Lyrics: "...en pulserende smerte some aldri avtar..." > "...a pulsating pain that never decreaeses..."). It hurts to listen to those lyrics, as it sounds like someone can never really enjoy life. How much of those lyrics and feelings reflect YOU actually? It comes from your brain and heart, so this dark suffering part is obviously in you. But as it looks to an outsider, you also enjoy life (touring, being busy, writing music, doing podcasts etc.). How does this reconcile?

Thomas: Life is all those things, obviously. No one goes through life feeling only one emotion. Have I felt pain? Yes, of course. I also feel love, happiness, anger, indifference and so on. One thing that is laughable is those who act as though they are evil and mysterious all the time just because of the expectations of a music genre. Every single human being on the planet does have the same registry of emotions. Me included. I am not going to go out there and pretend to be a cartoon character from a black metal universe. If I feel jolly, I will smile. Though I do carry my share of darkness. That’s why MORK is a good thing for me, as I like poking at those wounds every once in a while.

Photo (c) Jurgen Freim

VO: You have your own podcast now. For those who don't know it yet, would you describe what's it about, why you started it? Is there a goal you want to achieve with the talks outside of pure entertainment? What are the criteria for chosing your guests?

Thomas: The podcast got started rather spontaneously when the first lockdown happened in Norway in March of 2020. We had a show canceled on the upcoming weekend and I started to realize what kind of era we were headed into, against our will. So, I decided to give the podcast a go. Just for the fuck of it. I am a fan of the podcast platform and have been listening to some, whilst secretly fantasizing about having one of my own. The first episode is about half an hour long or so. My biggest concern was regarding if I was able to speak for longer than a couple of minutes. What fascinated me about podcasts was the great length some of them were. And I wanted mine to be a long form one. So when I began having guests on I surprised even myself when it resulted in long and interesting conversations. Each episode is basically the life story of the guest that’s on. What I can say with a clear conscience is that some of these conversations are the most exposing and honest interviews that these people have ever done. There is something about two people sitting down with a coffee or a beer with a couple of mics in a relaxed setting. What makes this even more down to Earth must be the fact that I am a real amateur and not a professional journalist. It’s been fun and it’s great to see that the podcast has gained a following and some praise. Regarding how I pick the guests, only criteria is that the person has a history that spans at least over a decade. So the episode won’t be over after twenty minutes. Well known individuals within black metal or lesser known ones who I have a connection to. The episodes have been pretty frequent over the last couple of years, but by now it only happens if the planets are aligned, so to speak.

VO: In the podcast you dive into deeper subjects with your guests and they really open up. But on the contrary you yourself don't really like to talk about the lyrics of your albums. Why is this? And has this changed a bit now since knowing how difficult it is to do an interesting interview being "on the other side"?

Thomas: On that it remains the same. On the podcast I am talking and comparing a bit with myself and my own life during the conversations, as anyone does when having a chat with somebody. However in the podcast I am the interviewer and not the object. But I still don’t talk a lot about my lyrics and such. I probably even wouldn’t be able to talk about them, as they were written at a specific time in the past when I felt something that I wouldn’t remember now. Music and lyrics are created spontaneously.

Photo (c) Linda Gabor

VO: Is the podcast maybe some kind of "diary replacement" for you as you also talk a lot about your own experiences at gigs and so on? What have you learned while doing these podcasts and did you get new inspiration for your own work in some way by doing it?

Thomas: At the beginning of each episode I am talking about what has happened in the time since the last episode, though if you listen to those now it would be a bit strange. I do appreciate it when people do listen to my babbling before the guests though as I do promote my own shit. As I’ve said before I have done all these episodes for the listeners for free. So at least hear me out, haha! It felt good doing the episodes, so I suppose that is a bit of fuel for igniting future creative ventures, if that makes any sense.

VO: The cover artwork of "Katedralen" was done by David Thiérrée. Why did you choose him for the second time? How much are you interested in other dark arts outside of drawings and record covers and tattoos?

Thomas: When it comes to art and visuals I know what I like when I see it. I don’t follow anyone or anything in particular. I like working with David as he nails what I am asking for each time. I like his style, and not to put words in his mouth, but I think he feels some connection, too. I can tell you that our work together shall continue. I can share a little plug, though; check out @Ida.darkart on Instagram.

Photo (c) PunkRock Photo

VO: You have been at Peaceville Records for quite a while. When looking at their artist roster it seems they cherry pick only the finest bands, proving good taste in music with their selection. So I wonder how you feel about working with them so far; have you ever gotten an offer from one of the major labels?

Thomas: Signing to Peaceville was a big step up. And, as you mentioned, they are a respectable and old label, which obviously is a huge compliment for MORK and I am honored. I have been offered deals from a couple of the other bigger labels but the deals haven’t been right and Peaceville has been a pleasant ride this far.

Photo (c) Jurgen Freim

VO: What are your future plans at this moment? In two years you will celebrate your 20th anniversary with Mork. Any special plans for an event or release, for example with a retrospect or whatever?

Thomas: There is a special treat scheduled to be released this Summer so keep an eye out for that. And I am now at the finishing stages of the sixth MORK album in the coming days. We will go into mixing at the time that this interview takes place. So there will be new music very soon. The living, breathing entity of MORK continues to evolve and move, but this won’t be out yet for a while. Nicely observed, regarding the 20th year of the band. Let’s just say that we are well aware!

VO: Thank you for your time and good luck in the future! If a higher power would grant you a wish for the future, for yourself or for the world, what would you use it for?

Thomas: For eternal darkness…. Nah! I would wish for fair compensation for artists and for the opportunity to keep expanding our list of places to visit and spread our musical plague. Thank you for your time and see you out there; continue to support the arts and keep the black flame burning!

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