An interview with Kvelertak’s Erlend Hjelvik

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Kvelertak are a six-piece metal band from Norway whose success back home is stuff dreams are made of. Their brand of metal fuses rock n’ roll and punk (and just a tinge of black metal, for good measure) for a seriously playful sound that isn’t exactly customary for metal bands out of Norway. It speaks to the boys’ spirit that they’ve toured with some of the greatest bands in metal, like High On Fire, and it’s a testament to their music that they’ve been signed to a major label (Sony). I, for one, am sold on their music. For my first time interviewing a band, I had the chance to meet up with Erlend Hjelvik, the band’s singer, on their tour bus when they were passing through Montreal, sharing a bill with Mastodon and Gojira (check out some photos of the show and read the review).

Nairi K.: How do you like Montreal so far?

Erlend Hjelvik: I haven’t been able to do much, I just woke up like two hours ago, so just had breakfast and I’ve been hanging out on the bus. But we’ve played in Montreal before, and yeah, I really like the cit. It feels pretty European I guess compared to the rest of North America. So it feels like a good break from being in the U.S., you know?

What’s something that you really miss from home when you’re on tour? Food, activities…

I actually miss making my own food. That’s basically my main task of the day, making dinner and stuff like that, and that’s one of the things I miss. And just hanging out at home I guess, I’m kind of a homebody.

Let’s talk about your music a little bit, because I only discovered you because you’re on the bill with Mastodon and it’s been a really nice, pleasant discovery for me. I’ve noticed your videos are really different from one another, which is super cool, there isn’t one overall look, and in the video for “Kvelertak” there’s a super fun touring vibe. Who documents your tours?

On that tour, the one on which we did the “Kvelertak” video, we actually had a photographer with us, his name is Stian… I forget his last name, I think Andersen? But he has taken photos of Turbonegro and bands like that before, like really good photos, so he just came with us a couple of days on the tour and filmed a lot of stuff and then he made the video out of it and yeah, it just turned out awesome. It was pretty fitting for the song too, ‘cause it was supposed to be a band anthem, so it was cool that it showed what it’s like on tour for us.

Keeping in that same vibe of it being super jolly, which I think most people don’t expect from metal, the video for “Bruane Brenn” is super fun with the kids playing the band.

Yeah!

Who came up with that, how did you guys think of that?

We just asked a friend of ours who makes movies in Norway — he’s a movie director — and he’s made a lot of good movies, and it’s just kind of his style. We just asked him to do a video and he just did his own thing with it and I thought it turned out awesome cause… [pauses]

The kid playing you is super into it!

Yeah! [laughs] Yeah it was great! And I dunno, I guess we kinda feel like kids when we’re playing music and it’s just fun to like, show a different side of the music. Even if our music can sometimes be dark, we’re also a bunch of guys who like to have fun.

I think that shows a lot in your videos.

Yeah it’s important to include that too.

I noticed that in a few videos there’s an owl, and the first time I saw it I thought it was a live owl that you were holding up and was about to fly off. I’m a really big fan of Twin Peaks (Erlend: Yeah!), and I actually wondered if it has anything to do with like, “The owls are not what they seem?” But what’s the deal with the owl?

Yeah I’m a fan of Twin Peaks too, but I don’t think that’s where it’s from. It’s kinda random, it came about when we needed a cover for a homemade demo collection we made back in 2007. Our bass player just came up with the idea of having an owl on the cover and then our guitarist Bjarte [Lund Rolland] made the cover. He found an owl online and just made the cover himself. And it just stuck with the band ever since, he’s kind of become a mascot.

Do you bring him on tour?

Yeah, actually! It’s starting to get pretty beat up, after a while, this owl, or the owl mask. Like a few days ago the tail fell off, and we had already fixed it a couple of times, so we’ll see how long it lasts. But I think maybe we’ll have to do something different on the next one because it’s just gonna fall apart.

Is the tail dead and gone now?

It’s in the box! So maybe we’ll reattach it.

Who’s the artist for the “Evig Vandrar” video?

Yeah, that’s another friend of ours, his name is Torjus [Førre Erfjord]. We just discovered him because he had a band in Stavanger where we live called Ultra Sheriff, and he made awesome animated videos for it, and then he started studying animation and stuff. So the video for “Blodtørst” was actually, I guess you could call it like a bachelor assignment for him. I think he aced the project with the video, it just turned out great I think. He made the “Blodtørst” video and it was so good, so we asked him again to do the video for “Evig Vandrar.” We have a couple of friends who make awesome videos, so we try to use those people as much as we can.

How’s touring with Gojira and Mastodon?

It’s awesome, yeah! We did this same tour before the summer, with the same line-up and it was a lot of different places. It was more on the West Coast and some different places in Canada, but yeah, it’s just a great tour. They asked us to do it again and it was just impossible to say no. It’s a great bunch of guys and there’s really good chemistry among the people on this tour, and it’s just great being on tour with two of the best live bands in the world. It’s really inspiring to be playing with bands that are that good. It makes us better too.

You think it has an impact on how you play?

Yeah, it’s just so inspiring. We try to step up our game when we’re with bands like that.

Plus maybe when you’re an opening and lesser known band and you’re opening for a band like Mastodon who has a huge following you wanna make sure to impress as much.

Yeah, but we’ve been pretty lucky on this tour and last. I dunno, we’re the first band playing but people still show up early and most of the room is pretty packed already when we go onstage, so that’s a great thing. ‘Cause normally it can be a pretty thankless job being the first band but that isn’t the case at all on this tour, so it’s been great.

I did hear that Brent [Hinds, of Mastodon] has been giving some guitar lessons on tour. Have you taken any classes with him, or maybe shared some riffs?

Yeah I don’t know how to play guitar, but maybe you should try one of those lessons one day [speaking to guitarist Bjarte Lund Rolland who has just walked in]. I think they do it every day and they get paid for it so I think it’s just a good side business for those guys. Both Bill and Brent are doing it.

I think that’s most of my questions…

That was easy!

Photo by Adam Reider. 

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