Origins Interview: Årabrot

Sophie Porter spoke with Årabrot, a noise-rock band hailing from Norway, following the band’s set at the Dome in Tuffnell Park, London, on 2nd November 2018. Sophie sat with the band’s founder, guitarist and vocalist, Kjetil Nernes, synth and keyboardist, Karin Park, and journalist, editor and The Quietus co-founder, John Doran, to talk about where it all started, how it evolved and where it’s at now

Sophie Porter: Let’s start with how it all began; what came before the band?

KN: Oh, before the band?

SP: Yeah, what led up to Arabrot?

KN: That’s an interesting question. Such a long time ago, so we had this band… I guess we were exactly like any other crowd of young people who started a band in a small town because there’s nothing else to do and it’s kind of shitty; exactly like every other place in the world, I guess.

I’m from this place called Haugesund on the West Coast of Norway which is very similar to Northern parts of England with the same sort of weather; it’s the Norwegian part where there’s no snow, so there’s a lot of rain and it’s all green through the year; 10 degrees at Christmas, 10 degrees in the summer, you know?

So basically we just started a band.

I learnt to play the guitar, I got into music really late; I was 16, because I got really drunk on some terrible red, strange wine or whatever it was, I’m not sure what it’s called, but it’s terrible and it was at a time when Nirvana was really big and Kurt Cobain died and it was a spot on [time] to get into music, I guess, because my mum had grounded me for half a year because I came back home drunk a couple of weekends in a row in, like, a wheelbarrow! And so I picked up a guitar because I was really bored and

So I learned these Nirvana songs on the guitar and from then on, we started a band. Once we got to the age of 19,20,21 and, it was just, the singer went insane ... he went to the hospital, the drummer did other stuff, the guitar player moved to another city and all of a sudden we didn’t really have a band any more. So we found these other, these new [musicians]… the point is that I would have to start singing and we wanted to keep the band going and we didn’t have a singer so I started singing. That was how it started. A long time ago, 2001. But as a band, we didn’t really start properly until a few years later when we recorded a proper record. Sorry, a long story to get through, there.

JOHN DORAN: He’s left the interesting story out about falling over the fence, escaping from the police, though

KN: Oh, yeah…that’s true

KARIN PARK: He broke both his arms!

SP: Both of them!?

KP: In this story, the day he took off the casts he got into a fight and broke his arm again

KN: Some wild years for sure. It’s been a wild ride for a really long time, I would say. While now, finally, it’s like being inside of a… what’s that called?

KP: Tumble dryer?

JD: [laughing]

KN: You know when it goes really fast inside of a drying machine? But now I guess we’ve kind of landed with... we did an album called the Gospel a couple of years ago and it kind of landed there and now we see a lot of progress going on from there which is good.

SP: And is it with that album that it felt like home?

KN: Yeah, it’s like we were all all over the place and then, finally, BAM! it just kind of came together at that time. I’ve seen some people write about that, the fact that we’ve been going for such a long time; it still seems very vital, it still seems like we’re definitely on the way up which is kind of rare, I guess. I’m not sure, like after 15 years, even more than 15 years, usually bands kind of, I don’t know...

SP: Fizzle? But you persevered?

KJ: We’ll see, I don’t know. It still feels like we can, like we still have more to do, and I think we can even grow even bigger and better, for sure. It’s getting there.

SP: The gig tonight was pure synergy watching you all play together; from the lights down to how seamlessly the songs flowed into each other. I know that you collaborate a lot with other musicians and there’s been a few line up changes in the past, is collaboration really important to you?

KN: For keeping on for such a long time? For sure. I think so. I had a similar question in another interview recently and I’ve been thinking about that, but I think it’s crucial actually to keep on going for that long; you kind of need that input of doing different things and also bringing in different people for sure. That said, I don’t want to change the members of the band all of the time, at all, I would like to keep those, for sure to do different kinds of things. Obviously we do rock records, that’s what we do, but we’ve also done all kinds of things; we’ve done film music as collaborations with just live film music which is totally different, atmospheric music. We’ve collaborated with people like Andrew Liles of Nurse With Wound, [somebody else is cited but cannot be heard on the recording], and other people too, and, obviously, me and John did a thing, a big thing, when he released his book. We did this tour of England; 30 shows in 31 days.

JD: It was 31, actually, because we did two in Bristol

KN: Oh, yeah, that’s true! Ha! In England only! That was galleries, cinemas, rock venues, it was…

JD: A Church!

KN: Church! Oh yeah, yeah, that was a good one

JD: A warehouse!

KN: So, all kinds of stuff, like, very interesting...

JD: Until a week before we set off, we were also going to be doing four Category A, High Security prisons. But I think somebody went, “er, no way, that’s not going to happen”. We were gutted because, y’know? We were talking to this guy who worked a programme and he was like, “Do you wanna play with the general population?”, and in a Category A prison that means essentially murderers. We were like, “Yeah, totally, let’s just do it”, we were like “What are they into?” and he said “They all love R&B!”

ALL: [laughing]

JD: We were like, “We still want to do it”. [laughing] Maybe the next one…

SP: Sounds like that scene in Blues Brothers where they go into the country bar and start playing [blues]…

JD: The Bluesless Brothers…

KN: [laughing] Yeah, it was the Bluesless Brothers. That’s good!

SP: You actually touched on a couple of other things I was going to ask about in terms of collaboration.

[To Karin Park] You have an amazing career with your solo electro music, I was listening today before I came out. I was interested in knowing... you collaborate so much together for this band, how do your two different styles and careers inform each other?

KP: I think it took a while, it felt really far apart and different in the beginning, and then we’ve kind of introduced different types of music to each other. I think we both became a lot more open to other types of music. That went on for a long time, like, trying to bridge that gap, but not really like we were trying to do... you play the music that you love to each other and we started to find our common grounds, and then when we started to play together. I think we actually have more in - we’re very different - but we have more in common than we may be thought to begin with, and maybe people think, looking from the outside, we might look very different but I think we have more in common than most people

KN: In a few years you’ll see how similar it actually is, because then it’ll be more intertwined

KP: We come from different scenes but the way we do things and the way we, especially work with music, is so natural

SP: One of the things I noticed tonight is your synth parts are so beautiful and really lift the heavy rock, and similarly with your vocals; it’s almost like polar opposites, but they just work so beautifully. It just works.

KN: I’m glad you say that, thank you. Cheers.

SP: [to Karin Park] It’s great hearing more of your vocals on the most recent album.

SN: Karin co-produced that one

KP: We were lucky there. I never, ever thought that I would actually play in a noise-rock band, to be honest, but I think what really works as well with Kjetil’s collaborations is that he thinks really carefully about who he’s going to collaborate with, but once he’s brought that person in, you’re free to do anything, so I feel...

KN: More or less [anything]!

KP: ... Yeah, it’s like a trust. He gives you references but he doesn’t tell you what to play. It’s a lot like you can be free within that and that works really well. I think that’s important. I’ve learnt a lot from Kjetil coming to that because I don’t think it’s...I wouldn’t have played in Årabrot just because we’re a couple; I think it really does work with the music. Otherwise it would have been really, really hard, but it’s very organic. 
SP: [to Kjetil Nernes] You were touching on how you think really hard about who you’re going to collaborate with and one thing that I picked up from you [by reading interviews and listening to the albums] is that you really think like an artist; there was a bit [in one interview] where you talk about your home and creative base in the Church; about how you can hear it [the Church] in the recording, the atmosphere of it; you were also saying how you compose music for films; you guys [Kjetil Nernes and John Doran] went on tour together in more of a spoken word format. I was curious to see how you feel your music, art and literature inform each other and about that relationship?

KN: I take that as a compliment, of course. I don’t really think about it, like...my approach is not like i’m going to try to be the artist doing music. It comes very naturally. I find the inspiration for the music, and also especially for the thematic side of things, obviously from arts, books, films. It’s just the stuff i’m interested in. It’s as simple as that really. It seems like, i’m trying my best to make people understand, but it seems like it’s always like “What’s he doing?”, especially in Germany, it’s like “What’s he building, in there?”, like Tom Waits, that song “What’s he building in there?” it’s always question marks.

To me, it sounds like I just try to make interesting and catchy music, in a way, it’s as simple as that, actually, in the bottom of it all, but I’m also interested in sonics and stuff. Maybe that’s where I differ from a lot of other people because I like sonics as in sounds. So I build, I mean build the music itself, the structure; it’s very simple. It starts off really simple, but I’m very interested in the way things sound and adding interesting sounds to things. Maybe that’s why people are very often like “What are you doing? Why would you do that? Why do you have those flags with those symbols? What’s the deal with the hat? Why do you scream so much?” It’s all that kind of stuff that I don’t get. I just, y’know, it’s not that strange, is it? It’s not that strange!
So, I’m curious about it because I see that, even for this last record, I was trying my absolute best to be as open as possible with all of my references, all of my influences, even the stuff that I just basically just stole from other bands, I was just telling it. We had these Arabrot video blogs on Youtube, where the whole point of the thing was to be totally open so that there would be no secrets, but then I see that we’ve had so many reviews now of this new album, Who Do You Love, everywhere around, and England too, is all like “This is good, but this is strange”, “It’s really weird, it’s really good, it’s really weird” and it’s like, I find that weird. Why would all of those reviews be like that? It starts off with, it’s...maybe you would know this better than me [to John Doran]

JD: I do know why this is, it’s a reflection of the time we live in, like, y’know, because I’m an old guy, I was a teenager in the 80s and that was a very conservative time. Before 30 years ago, suddenly music went really good; you had, (apart from metal which was really good in the mid 80s), in the mid-80s, you had nothing. Everything was really anodyne; slap bass, kind of funky pop music, and suddenly in 1988 everything changed.

You had Sonic Youth, Big Black, Acid House, Grindcore, Death metal, Public Enemy, everything; Pixies, everything went fucking brilliant overnight, but in the mid 80s everything was awful. How music is right now at the moment, it’s like the mid 80s; everything was so commodified, it’s so bland, so middle of the road, and anyone doing anything even slightly different, you just look...you can’t help but be a square peg in a round hole. Now, I see that as a double edged sword, because without even breaking a sweat, you can be as weird as you want to be. There’s a lot of space in the left field that just isn’t being occupied.

KN: That’s very interesting, those thoughts are very interesting I think, it’s like… we talk about this a lot, trying to think about how these times are, what’s going on really. We’re doing these kinds of tours too, which is…

KP: Don’t say anything you don’t want to have said!

ALL: [laughter]

KN: No, but I still want to say this because I mean it: I have respect for these people, of course, they’re good guys [the band they are on tour with], there’s just a lot of...I see, from my perspective, it feels like, we definitely feel like the outsiders.

JD: I’ll tell you something interesting about Arabrot; I’ll tell you something interesting about him [Kjetil Nernes]; when Brexit happens next year, when society collapses within six months and this entire country is just in smoking ruins, the one band who will still come back on tour every year will be Årabrot.

KN: [laughter]

JD: What’s interesting about that is I think he doesn’t really care at all what’s going on in fashion and that is, in some ways, to his detriment; but in the most important way is that it’s a very important thing because you said “He acts like an artist”, well yeah, exactly, not just in the way that he talks, because we, probably, have a lot of discussions about surrealist artists

KN: We have

JD: About William Blake, whatever, but also he approaches rock music as an artist, and why shouldn’t he?

KN: Thanks for saying that

JD: There it is. It’s almost like you do stuff, you make stuff and you can’t worry about who’s going to be into it after the thing is made. You make the thing, exactly how you need it to be made, and then you worry about whether anyone is going to like it or not, you can’t do it the other way round.

I’ll stop talking now…

SP: We’ll finish up there, anyway, so you can have your meal!

KN: I hope you can hear it, it’s quite noisy in here

[noise and laughter is coming from the table besides us at which at which the rest of Arabrot and friends are sat]

JD: It’s your band of ruffians!

*This interview was intended to be streamed as part of the Origins podcast series. Due to environmental noise, the recording has been transcribed and edited for length and clarity.

Sophie Porter is a Masters graduate of Fine Art from Norwich University of the Arts, and has been writing, performing and touring as a musician for the past 10 years.

Header image by Cal Hudson. You can view more of his work here.


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