So what gives, Void? You’ve only written a few things for DIAG and you’re already rehashing old material? You’ve run out of ideas so soon?
No, of course not.
Here’s the deal; I used to write for a webzine that’s long since gone belly up, with nary a shred of it left online. Shortly after the release of “Nordland II,” I decided I had nothing to lose by emailing Quorthon and asking for an interview. He must’ve been waiting for my email, because three hours later I got a response offering to call me on the weekend. On April 24, 2003, I picked up the phone, I was greeted by an almost cockney accent. I didn’t expect that, but nothing except maybe a pair of Depends could prepare me for the ridiculous stories he would tell me over the next three hours.
The interview to your south was just a small portion of our conversation. Between explaining to me the origin of M&Ms, telling me about accidentally asking a rabbi about a Satanic sacrifice, and laughing at me when I told him I illegally downloaded “Nordland II” (…I eventually bought it), Quorthon’s personality was not what many may have expected (wanted?) from such an influential icon in black and Viking metal. We now know that he was a notorious joker, so I can’t tell you how much of his stories were true; but what I can tell you is that he was appreciative that my questions came from a place of genuine interest in him and Bathory, and that made the interview very easy for my young self. Finally, at the end of our talk, he invited me to contact him again for another interview after the next album.
My interview was published shortly afterwards, but the site was on life support and soon became inactive before disappearing altogether. The interview never really got much exposure and, aside from me posting it on message boards here and there over the years, has largely gone unread.
That second interview for the next Bathory release never happened, as there would be no more new Bathory albums; Quorthon passed away just over a year later. It was a huge loss for anyone into almost any genre of metal, especially after the “Nordland” albums were heralded as a fantastic return to form. I stand firmly in that camp. They ring with skaldic atmosphere, and it’s impossible not to imagine the horseman from “The Messenger” on his steed, galloping away as Asa Bay is engulfed in the flames of war; Nordic warriors chanting the title track of the saga; or a Viking swordsman promising his eventual return to his loved with a gift in “Ring of Gold.”
So with that, I give you my conversation with Quorthon.
Voidhanger: Thank you for taking time out of your schedule for this.
Quorthon: I have no schedule today (laughs). I mean, it’s like… email times, you get twenty-five questions in an email, you just sit down and type the answers till four o’clock in the morning then you go home and take a nap. That’s my job, basically.
V: Could you give us a brief history of Bathory, for those of us who aren’t familiar with the band?
Q: Well, it’s not a band, actually for the last fifteen years it’s been a two-man project, and each and every time I tell people it’s sort of like, “Oops,” and I go, “So, where have you been since the ice age?” I’ve been telling folks that all along, and it’s no big secret, I mean twenty years down the line people still think about Bathory as something very mysterious and filled to the brim with anonymity and stuff like that. But it’s really not anything special at all. It’s just me writing a lot of music for six months and then I go down to the studio with a friend of mine and he helps me out with technical details and we put it on a record and we call it Bathory. And it’s been like that ever since ’89, ever since we recorded “Hammerheart.” The records prior to “Hammerheart” were recorded with either three guys or two guys, depending on whoever was in the band at the time. Sometimes I would finish off playing half the bass on the record. We had never made a tour simply because Sweden is a rotten place when it comes to try to find people suitable for something like Bathory. Probably one of the main reasons for that was at the time when we formed, the band got very big in Sweden and if you make it very big in Sweden you sort of influence everybody from your grandchild to your grandmother, because it’s a very small country. And each and every drummer and bass player that I had coming down to rehearse would look like something you’d fucked the night before, so they certainly didn’t fit in with what I wanted Bathory to be like. You know, leather underwear and spikes and blood and shit like that. We would consider it a joke by the time we made two or three records, and it was basically with the fanzines in Europe, the underground fanzines that were very interested in talking to us. We have changed style and sound with probably every record, and in the past ten years it’s been probably more about trying to keep the traditions and pick things up from the past rather than trying to explore and develop.
V: For the very first Bathory album, “Bathory,” no one seems to know if it’s a drummer or a drum machine. Could you clear this up?
Q: The way we recorded that was we didn’t have a studio, we went down to a garage. That garage was filled with a lot of car parts and mattresses and things like that, and we couldn’t get as many instruments’ amplifiers as we wanted into that small room. So when we recorded we had so much leakage going into the microphones so we used these small, condensed microphones. We sort of scotch-taped them onto the drum skins. And then we used about one hundred percent compressor on top of that. So it sounds very much like a machine, but it’s not a machine, it’s just a snare drum, a bass drum and the right cymbal. That was the drum kit we could fit in that small room. The only album where we used one hundred percent drum machine was “Twilight of the Gods.” The rest of the records it’s probably thirty, forty percent real drums, trigged drums, drum machines. So it’s a mixed affair.
V: Many fans are curious about the legendary album “Occulta.” Though you have suggested perhaps releasing it on a special occasion or when Bathory is no more, why was it never finished and released in the first place?
Q: What it was recorded at about the time during a lot of satanic residue from the past with us, we were going through a transition period at the time. I had read so much about the Satanic stuff and the Christian stuff that I came to the conclusion that Satan was just a hoax created by another hoax, Christianity. And watching my friends who were also in bands but never got a record contract, and here we were recording our second album and I realized if I could put myself in my friend’s position, here I am being able to record an record and I’m just singing a lot of crap. It didn’t make any sense. It’s very cool when you’re fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, to sound like a bull terrier on steroids or something like that or “listen to me, how cool I am with one hundred percent harmonizer on my voice,” but what it all comes down to, you want to tell a story and already on the third album we tried a little bit to arrange our music. “A Call from the Grave,” “Enter the Eternal Fire” and stuff like that. So when we recorded those five songs during the “Occulta” session, we realized why should we go on and make another album that’s basically just “The Return…” part two? So it was more or less for ourselves to prove that we had been developing since we had recorded “The Return…” so we never finished that session.
V: What music have you been listening to lately?
Q: I listen to such strange stuff. The band, classical music, Kick, Bush, Beatles, Mountain, [indiscernible], anything but metal. And with “anything” I’m not including reggae and hip-hop and crap like that, but anything that’s interesting, that’s very different from what you get to hear when you play any of the twenty-five different Swedish radio stations which basically sound just like someone having a heart attack or a seizure or something like that. As long as it’s real instruments, real people and it’s very original, I find it very interesting. And also I’m beginning to pick up a lot of the records that I had when I was a kid, ones that you can’t play anymore because there’s simply no sound left anymore in the grooves.
V: A lot of bands out there draw a great deal of inspiration from you and all the albums you’ve done and pretty much worship you. How do you feel about that?
Q: That has changed. I’ve done so very much in the past thirteen, fourteen years to try and kill the Quorthon myth and the Quorthon legend. In stores I’ve been approached by people asking me if I’m really Mr. Q and I go, “Yes,” and they say, “Well you’re dressed up in jeans and t-shirts,” and I go, “So?” And when people start to write letters to you in their own blood opening the letter by saying “You’re my god,” that will not help you form a personal relationship or believe anything that the person will write further down the letter. I recorded two solo albums with the sole intention to write and record something that was as far away from Bathory as possible because I started to receive letters from people who were sitting in prisons for having eaten twenty-two people and things like that. They made up to be something that I was not, I just wanted to be an ordinary Swedish guy, singer and songwriter, in this “cult” band. I didn’t want to be somebody’s god or somebody’s excuse for cutting himself up. To fucking put it like that. And it wasn’t like I didn’t mind having girls from California sending me a lot of perverted stuff, videos and cards and things like that, but I sort of did mind that bag of earth that came from the graveyard. One girl had laid down on the graveyard masturbating under full moon thinking that the earth would sort of like enrich my magical powers, during my black magic midnight sabbaths, or whatever, and it really doesn’t have anything to do with music. So I’ve done a lot of stuff to try and kill the myth. I didn’t dress up in leather underwear anymore. I’m glad I never did put on any black or white makeup. I remember going to a lot of the magazines here in Europe to make interviews and they sort of pushed me into a room with pentagram curtains and cobwebs and black candles and plastic skulls, and everything that was missing was a pumpkin and a bowl of lemonade and we could have ourselves a Halloween party. I said, “Grow up, this is the nineties.” So I’ve done quite a lot to actually try to distance myself from whatever people make me up to be.
V: Bathory has often changed its sound, sometimes innovating a new sound and sometimes going back to retrace its steps. Why has Bathory’s sound changed so much throughout the years?
Q: Well, you can look at it from two points of view. First of all, a vast majority of our audience, because I hate the word “fans,” they’re very conservative. If Bathory would all of a sudden start to produce an album where you could actually hear the vocals, or guitar solos, or the guitars would sound like the twenty-first century part machine, then it just wouldn’t sound like Bathory anymore. So, we’re not allowed to actually produce records that sound too modern. It has to be old-school stuff, almost underground. I’m at the receiving end of the fan mail, so I get to read their inner thoughts, as opposed to talks in the beer cans at festivals, where people sort of just skim the surface in terms of opinions about Bathory records. I get to hear what they really feel like. If a guy in Russia who makes per year what I make per day, I mean he’s sitting down writing a letter telling me what he thinks about this and that album. And you get a letter from a guy in San Francisco, he’s sixteen years old, and he hears an album like “Under the Sign…” and he wasn’t even born when we recorded it. And if something that you wrote in your kitchen or recorded in a garage eighteen years ago still has substance to it, you have an obligation to sort of mind your trademark in terms of sound and stuff like that. But in-between, every time when we take a small leap in any direction, it’s regarded as a very big step. It’s only when you look back if you play a couple of albums back to back you will hear that there’s a change in the sound. But that comes along with better technology, because a lot of the records or most of the albums in the eighties were recorded in a garage on eight-track equipment. So it’s only natural that the albums will have changed production-wise and some quality-wise.
V: Is there any particular place you go to write songs? Somewhere that inspires you, or frees your mind?
Q: (laughs) Don’t give me like one of those Norwegian pagan magazines asked me a couple of weeks ago, “Is it true that you walk around talking to trees, and sit down at the beach and jerk off, and stuff like that?” and I’m like “Hey, don’t read too much into my lyrics.” No. And when I say this to people, they sort of take this in the wrong way, it’s not out of disrespect for the origins or for Bathory, but I have to say it anyway, writing for Bathory is work. Because I do so many other things, I write sixties’ pop, classical music, I’m just now completing my fourth string quartet, but when you sit down and do stuff for Bathory, you have to get into a specific mode, everything that you do for Bathory has to fit in within under a certain umbrella, sound-wise and style-wise, in terms of atmosphere. So it’s work. But I don’t say it out of disrespect for Bathory, it’s not like one journalist interpreted it, that thought I was a prostitute, and when people had that headline in a Bathory article, it’s very sad. Because it’s very hard to explain, and a lot of times people have these precursive notions about myself as a person and then Bathory and then you try to be very open and personal about it, and you sort of like kill the myth, and they sort of take it very wrong like, “Oh, he’s not into it anymore,” and, “Wouldn’t it be better if he just took a regular job if he can be this frank about it, and opened and detailed about talking about Bathory,” but there’s no other way for me to explain, I mean you’re asking me something and I’m trying to tell you the plain, in detail, and some people cannot take that. They want me to sit here and go “ROOAARRR! I EAT BABIES EVERY DAY!” and things like that, and if you don’t, then they’re sort of like, “Oh, he’s getting old, he’s lost it,” because in the back of their minds you have to kill a lot of old gods in order to make room for the new ones. It goes with panda makeup (laughs). Oh, you asked me where I go when I write Bathory music. I have a little closet; it’s full of stuffed babies and goat meat.
V: Could you tell us a bit about the “Nordland” saga? How it came into being, what it’s about, and what it means to you?
Q: Well we tried it for the very first time to write an album throughout entirely about Nordic stuff, we didn’t say Sweden, because we have no love of Sweden, but because we are Swedish, it sort of lends a lot of credibility to singing about this stuff. If we had been Japanese, we would probably have been singing about Samurais, where we would have been able to pull that off. If we had been Italian it would have been the Roman Empire, probably. If we had been Canadian… um…
Q: Something like that, or hockey, or… what are those guys called, in the red uniforms…
V: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police?
Q: Right. I mean, they would look so cool headbanging. Oh, my mind is wandering off. But once we had actually done that album, people didn’t know what to call it. I even heard one English magazine call it “ethnic metal” because we had Swedish [indiscernible] as part of it in the distance. So the terminology “Viking metal” was born. I’m not sure if that did any good, because we did something later on that was slow and heavy, it was called Viking even though I was singing about exes, or nuclear war. People sort of just interpreted, “Okay, this is slow and heavy, so it must be about Vikings.” So later on when your whole intention is to write something that is “as Nordic” as it can get, you sort of travel back in time and pick stuff up from past Nordic albums you’ve made. So you sing about Asa Bay, that time and that place, a nonspecific time and place, and you do it in a Bathory style because you don’t want to be academic about it. You don’t want to sing about actual names, places or events because people will have a personal relationship to historic things, like the Danish invasion of England in whatever, 962, and you have much more artistic freedom to sing about stuff that is not historically accurate, but Bathory history. And so after “Destroyer…” which was a mixed effort because we really didn’t know what to do. Each and every time we told people, “We’re in the studio and you’ll have an album in six months,” we were drenched in mail telling us, “You’d better do something that’s like this, or like that,” and here we were doing something that was somewhere between, or away from anything we’ve done in the past. We were toying with hardcore mixed with classic music and medieval sounds, and so we sat down and said, “Okay, we can’t wait anymore, let’s just produce an album that’s a mixture, at least in terms of music, fifty percent heavy and fifty percent brutal, but let’s not write about Vikings or satanic shit, let’s try to come up with something else to see if all of those image things are very valuable to people or if they have developed since the last album two or three years before.” And so we wrote a lot about airplanes and war and there was a murder in America a couple of years ago, Harley Davidsons, ice hockey, just to try out the level of tolerance out there, and it was a mistake, because people wanted us to lick the balls of Odin or suck the cock of Satan. And we said, “Okay, let’s do something that’s one hundred percent either this or that,” and that’s when I sat down and wrote the entire Viking soap opera. But you need to have both volumes in order to know who fucked who and who’s the father of what goat or whatever. Yeah, it was a big thing and it was great fun to do it, and it wasn’t till we came down to the studio that we realized we have material for more than two hours. So we had to split it up.
V: Did you encounter any problems when recording the “Nordland” saga?
Q: Yeah, we recorded for the first time using hard drive, because in the past it’s been tape. And usually when we record backing vocals you can sort of alter the speed of the tape to make your voice sound very differently or at least not the same all the time. So you don’t have to stress your voice that much, but now I really had to take those high notes and really low notes, and my voice is extremely limited and I don’t have a very powerful voice at all. And trying to even come near to the type of vocals we can do in the late eighties, that was almost impossible, so that was the biggest problem. Because you can’t pitch your voice and still maintain the note. Using a hard drive, you can’t just use a program to pitch the voice down.
V: With the success of the “Nordland” saga, do you foresee the next few releases to be in the same sort of vein, or is Bathory going change sounds again and try something different?
Q: Black Mark, they of course really want to know, because they’re planning ahead and the distributors ten months prior to a release want to know exactly what it’s going to be about, because they get to receive phone calls from fans and record shops. That’s one of the down sides; you have your hands tied behind your back even a year before the release, because you may want to change your mind. When I wrote the material for “Nordland,” it was just so apparent that this was going to be what it was, or what it turned out to me, and now we have the freedom to do basically what we want even though seventy percent of our audience wants us to do if not “Nordland III” so at least something in a similar vein. But we have to mind the rest of our audience as well. They’re the ones who like to have razorblades up their ass and drink goat’s blood and cut their arms and things like that, and I get very bored doing the same stuff for twelve months in a row. So I’d very, very much like to go back and do something that’s more close to the first three albums than the last two. And also the great thing with Bathory, because it’s a multi-head beast I consider it to be, once people are actually able to pin you down in a corner sound and style-wise that’s when you really want to move. Otherwise you become something that the people will put behind glass in a museum of extreme metal and say, “That’s what they’re like,” and put a label on you.
V: Bathory has been around for two decades now, and when you look back on the large discography of Bathory, are there any albums that stand out as your favourites, or any regrets?
Q: Well if you look back on your life and you have regrets that means that you don’t accept having learned something, and regrets is for suckers. Of course you can make bad choices and do bad things, but the good thing about bad decisions is that you learn from that. But in terms of records, it’s like asking a mother, “Who’s your favourite kid?” I also can’t listen to Bathory records the way other people do because even if I listen to something that was done twenty years ago or eighteen years ago, it’s still work to me. I will hear that guitar, or that bass or that vocal and want to remix it or continue doing it, as soon an album is released I never listen to it ever again. I don’t even remember ninety-seven percent of the songs. I remembered now when I was sitting down at the studio remastering the entire back catalogue. Because we’re doing that as a twentieth anniversary gift to our audience, I can’t remember any of the songs. So I would have to sit down and sort of check the CDs. I couldn’t remember the titles, or anything, and it’s very frightening because a lot of people will send emails to me and ask me, “What about this lyric?” and I go, “Shit, that’s fourteen years ago, you expect me to remember a lyric I wrote fourteen years ago, it’s like you remember that girl you bonked in the back of that limousine down in Brooklyn,” and it just doesn’t work. As soon as an album is released I don’t listen to it ever again. So no, I couldn’t put one album before the other. I have very fond memories of the first album and the funny thing is I remember more recording that album eighteen years ago than “Twilight….” I have no memories of “Twilight…” or “Blood on Ice.” Or with “The Return…” because I was completely drunk during that session.
V: As the mastermind behind Bathory, how would you define the entity of Bathory, and how important is it to you?
Q: Well it pays my rent, it puts bread on the table, it’s an excuse to get up every morning (laughs). It’s a very good excuse not to cut your hair. I have one meter and four centimeters long hair today, and one of my friends asked me, “When are you going to get a job and cut your hair?” Bathory sort of still keeps the fourteen-year-old kid in me alive, and if it hadn’t been for Bathory, I wouldn’t have done all the stuff that you only get to read rock stars doing, you know? All the bad stuff, so to speak. And also I’ve made a lot of friends, I shook the hands of possibly tens of thousands of people, I’ve made a lot of money, Bathory has sold over 1.4 million records, we don’t spend any money on tours or videos, I haven’t had to flip burgers down at McDonald’s for twenty years, so I probably owe Bathory just about everything. Bathory has a life of its own. Because like I said, I was talking to this Norwegian pagan fanzine and they would ask me all the questions about Nordic stuff, and a couple of weeks before that you probably you could sit down talking to a German sadomasochistic black metal magazine and they would only ask me what it tastes like to have the semen of Satan down your throat, and things like that. You’re a very different person depending on whom you’re talking to because everybody has very different ideas about what Bathory’s about. Either Bathory is the original black metal gods that went wimpy, and started to talk to trees, or it’s the original Viking act with a dark past. So you sort of have to do checkups before you talk to someone, otherwise you’ll sort of question, “Did I get the right number?” Because they have these ideas about you as a person. So I guess it’s the same thing with Bathory. But Bathory’s just what’s on the records, if you pick any record in the back catalogue, that represents where Bathory were at that moment in time, and will say absolutely nothing about what we’re doing today or five years before when that album was released.
V: Thank you very much for your time. Congratulations on the release of “Nordland II,” and I’ll leave the last words to you.
Q: (laughs) What are you guys doing to us? It’s like, “Here comes the answer to ‘what’s the meaning of life.'” My standard quip is always “Hail the hordes,” I know it’s a very torn expression there’s no other way to show gratitude to all the wonderful assholes out there who makes it all worth. It’s not because of the media or anything like that, it’s just because it’s all the wonderful shitheads out there who followed you throughout these two decades. I’ve talked to people just recently now because of “Nordland,” and when I can start to give you on a more regular schedule. I get in touch with people who I talked to first time sixteen years ago, and they have three kids and live in a house and have dogs and have two cars and things like that, and it took them less time, they were still in junior high school. And that sort of gives you perspective.
You can find Voidhanger over on twitter talking about screaming, metal, and radioactive squirrels.