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Written by Barry Lee Dejasu
Modern Fix February 2005

Once upon a time, there was a black metal band called Ulver. No, wait, they're an electronica group. No, they're a...a...say, just what kind of a band is Ulver, anyway?! Like a bored and impatient leg, Norway's Ulver have never been able to keep still in a world of all-too-frequently repetitive and unoriginal music.

Back in 1995, Ulver turned the heads of many a black metal fanatic with their debut, Bergtatt. Sure, they used traditional black metal elements (sweeping guitar melodies, harsh screams, pummeling drums, foggy production), but they kept things fresh with more unusual styles—clean vocals and acoustic guitar passages, namely. Their sophomore effort, Kveldssanger, was even more unusual—entirely acoustic, with much singing and chanting, it was more neo-classical Scandinavian folk than anything else. Then there was Nattens Madrigal, revered by many as THE penultimate black metal album, with its ultra-callous production, buzzing guitar lines, nearly silent bass, and hoarse screams like dying winter spirits. Anyone could tell you—Ulver was by all means a black metal band, if an unusual one.

Then something called Themes from William Blake's the Marriage of Heaven and Hell came along in 1998. When people first popped this album into their players, the LAST thing they were expecting to hear was electronica. But surely enough, that's what they got—Ulver had completely revamped their sound into something wholly different. They stayed within this genre for subsequent releases—namely 2000's Perdition City, various EPs, and a couple of film scores—but with their latest release, Blood Inside, Ulver have re-created themselves—again—with a whole slew of different instruments and styles under their belts.

Founding vocalist/songwriter Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg took some time to share his thoughts on the album, the band, and other stuff.

Over the years, you've gone by several different names (Garm, of course, being the most famous), but also Trickster G., Christophorus, et cetera. Was there any particular reason for changing it?

"(laughs) I guess it's a way to kind of, ah... If I wanted to sidestep this question I guess I could simply blame it on multiple-personality disorder, but I don't really know. As a creative person I have this disposition to...you know, do paradoxical things, and sometimes I feel like a stranger to myself...the way I come across or something. I guess a way to make a statement in that direction is to change your artist name. I don't have a clever answer to it. Maybe I just hate myself... I don't think I've really used Garm myself for many years, but it seems that's how most people like to say my name. In fact it is my real middle name... What I have done (is) I have reduced it down to a single letter. The capital thing, which is kind of self-dissociating. Like X or Y. You know, you can call me what you want."

Well, I guess for this interview I'll just call you "Bob".

"That's great. I'm gonna adopt that for the next record. Bob G. (laughs)"

Blood Inside was the first full-length album you guys released in about five years. What was the cause for the time gap?

"Well, things didn't stand still in-between; we did a lot of things... I did The Sham Mirrors with Arcturus; and after Perdition City we did at least two EP's; three soundtracks for film/movies, there were some curator-duties for the 1st Decade in the Machines CD, and then we did another EP, Quick Fix of Melancholy, which was our way of trying to get back into writing songs—or something resembling songs—and also find out where we wanted to take things. I think after all our work with film, which is very kind of... kind of aesthetically fixed, you know, we definitely needed to make a different kind of... Anyway, we ended up making Blood Inside, so... yeah. A lot of things in between."

Speaking of those soundtracks, do you think you'll be doing more of those?

"Probably; I mean, I'm not young with the bluest eyes anymore. I'm an old and pessimistic man (laughs). I'm concerned with money and stuff. Making soundtracks is a good way of doing that, making money, and still pretend that you are making art."

So was the shift from black metal to electronica a part of becoming an "old man"?

"I probably thought so at the time. That we were becoming sophisticated or what have you. (laughs) I don't really think like that anymore; it probably had more to do with our rebellious impulses, I guess... I know it's childish, but we get kinda nauseous if we are with the in-crowd. We always escape it. I'll let you in on a little secret; I'm absolutely terrified of not being original. And with black metal, it was like, it suddenly became really popular and turned into this generic mess, you know. In the early days every single black metal band was supposed to have their own unique sound and vision, and... Well, visions expand. It just sort of felt natural to proceed along the course of the other interests or influences we were developing at the time. Before Perdition City, we were listening a lot to computer-based, beat-driven—but still very atmospheric—music, like Autechre or Aphex Twin; and that album is certainly influenced a lot by those kinds of acts. Blood Inside is not really that much of an electronic album, but it uses a lot of the technology we learned from our electronica phase. It showed us a different way to make records (while) still following different musical perspectives. They changed all of mine; it's not just true for me, it's true for most people."

It's a part of human nature.

"Yeah, I guess it's the human condition; in some ways, there's no denying that. Some musicians stick to a formula... that works for some people, the whole "keep it real" thing. My main problem with that approach is that I don't believe anything is really real, so to speak."

With all the changes that came with Blood Inside, do you think you'll be doing something similar next, or something completely different?

"I don't think so, because there's always going to be a contraposition. Blood Inside is like a monster kaleidoscope of illusions, very neatly arranged. As it seems now the next record is going to be without all that covering and more humble, with a more... what can I say, heartbreaking atmosphere; it's not going to be the same at all. We are kind of circular; it's reaction, anti-reaction, reaction, anti-reaction... it plays off each other; that's the way we work. As I said, we're not really good at perfecting a formula or sticking to what we know. We'd rather, how do you say, "take water over your head," we'd rather do that and drown. It's a matter of disposition, I guess."

How does Ulver go about writing songs?

"There's really no-one with keen interests; I guess all three of us are terrible at the people game. Generally, talking to people is not something we're good at. I mean, I'm not very good at it, but I'm probably better than the other two, so... Uh, what was the question again? Am I speaking in tongues?"

You're doing okay.

"Well, it's become my cross to bear to—at least try to—keep things visible, even though we certainly do fuck up a lot of opportunities, and miss out on a lot of PR and corporate-ass, so... Yeah, we're really terrible at doing the whole business aspect of (the music industry)."

With that, how do you guys go about doing shows—or do you even do shows?

"Nope, nope. No shows, nope."

Has Ulver ever performed?

"Ah, yeah, but that was, what... twelve years ago? (laughs) It's been a while. We're, what can I say... hermetical about that stuff. I mean, at this point, it's turned into this thing, everybody keeps asking about it, so we have a lot of expectations to live up to. And that means work; we'd have to put a lot of time into it, take the whole repertoire, tell the story, you know... We'd never go out just to promote a single album or something like that. We've been talking about it lately; but you know, with us that's all it ever amounts to... talk, talk."

There was supposed to be an all-stringed instruments re-recording of Nattens Madrigal. Was that still going to happen?

"Yeah, we actually recorded those strings in 2001, right after Perdition City I think; and we've been working a bit on and off with it; but it remains a project we never brought to fruition. That's the way it is with us; things take a lot of time, developing so slowly, and this project you just mentioned is sleeping at the moment. We have quite a few projects that need to be completed sooner or later, some sunny day, if we live..."

So you've recently collaborated with Sunn O))) on their upcoming WHITEbox boxed set...

"That's actually quite a while ago. It's supposed to come out in a real elaborate vinyl box, it should be right around the corner, but we did it back in 2004 or something. I don't remember too well what it sounds like; I haven't listened to it since we did it. Of course it's in Sunn O))) style, but I no longer recall the details. I'm going to have to hear it with everybody else I guess."

Speaking of collaborations, you've also recently worked with Daniel Cardoso as Head Control System...

"For me, an important point of HCS was to test how much of a professional singer I could be. As Ulver kept deviating to the left, people kept telling me I should use my voice more and so forth, so this was a good opportunity to... well, just to sing without being difficult about it. Head Control System is Daniel's baby; and even though he and I see things differently, it was no problem for me to adapt to his way of seeing things in this context. I have a lot of respect for his talent. Besides, I instantly took a liking to his music; I love that kind of music, rock shit, even though it is awful direct to be part of my crooked world. (laughs)"

Were there any other collaborations or side projects you or the other members plan on doing?

"Well, I'm actually about to do something which I haven't started yet, I guess I can say it... Aethenor. It's a project involving Stephen [O'Malley] from Sunn O))) actually, and Daniel [O'Sullivan] from Guapo and Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses. He's a Brit. With favourable leanings. I'll probably be working with them on some kind of chamber, ambient, open-mic kind of music, but it's not really done, so anything can happen. But as far as collaborations go, I think that is what's scheduled for the time being."

Was there anything else you'd like to add?

"Well, hopefully you'll get something out of all that drooling."

I'm sure I'll get something. Thanks, Bob G.!